On the demonic manipulation of temporal dynamics
She looked up at Jenny with a doubtful look on her face.
“Yeah, that’s about what I thought.”
“It looks feasible. I mean, there’s nothing completely insane in there.”
“Time travel isn’t insane?”
Jenny smiled. It was the first honest smile Andi had seen on her face in a long while. Still, she thought it felt fake. She couldn’t help but think it. “It is. Good thing this isn’t time travel.”
Andi blinked. “But I thought…”
“It’s time manipulation.”
“You can’t jump around in time, but you can bend it a bit.”
“Well, you can make it flow more slowly. Or faster.”
Andi just blinked again. She seemed to be doing that rather a lot.
“And not even in that large of an area. But big enough, I guess.”
“Big enough for what exactly?”
“Oh, all sorts of things.”
Despite the light tone of her voice, Andi knew full well when Jenny was avoiding answering a question. “Like what?”
“Well, think about that cop.”
That probably wasn’t the best thing that Jenny could have said–Andi still hadn’t entirely forgiven her for that–but she had to admit that she was right. She’d already come up with a dozen half formed ideas and she hadn’t even read the chapter.
“Right when he got here, we could have stopped time and snuck away. He never would have been any the wiser.”
“Or paused time long enough to get our story straight…” It slipped out before she thought about it.
Jenny looked at her askance. After a moment,s he nodded slowly. “Yeah. I guess that’s true.” She didn’t apologize though or make much of any comment about how much she had screwed up. It would have been nice, but Andi really wasn’t expecting much on that front.
“What else were you thinking?” Andi said instead, trying to direct the conversation to less potentially objectionable topics.
“Well…” Why is she hesitating? “Remember that demon on the train?” How could she forget? “Well, I think I figured out how it kept anyone else from noticing what was going on.”
Andi’s mind rushed ahead. “It froze time?”
But that didn’t make sense… “But then what about me?”
Jenny stared. “Huh. I didn’t think about that.”
“Perhaps it has something to do with my own summoning?” She’d already made her burner by then. That was something at least.
“You mean something like sorcerers are immune?” Andi nodded. “I thought about that. The book didn’t say anything specifically about that, but it seems possible.”
Andi thought a bit more. “Well, what’s the alternative?”
She had an idea, but she didn’t like the implication. “Well, perhaps they did it on purpose.”
Yeah. That was exactly the possibility that Andi hadn’t wanted to consider.
It was bad enough that there was a rogue sorcerer–or something worse–out there. But it was even worse, the idea that they might actively be targeting to her.
Especially since she had no idea why.
Even the most basic temporal demonic augments required some pretty intense material components. Most seemed thematically appropriate–pocket watches of various makes and models, along with sundials and other things. Still, between the two of them, they thought they could get a basic acceleration going.
At their core, almost all of the time based enhancements centered around either slowing down or speeding up time. Everything else was a matter of range and extensions. For example, you could slow everyone down for a few city blocks to the point that they didn’t even seem to be moving at all. The more Andi thought about it, the more she thought Jenny was probably right and that’s what the demon that had attacked the train had done–with an exception for herself and for Percy apparently.
But that was expensive. To extend the range over that large of an area and for that long of a period… Like she’d seen, everything a demon did required energy. She couldn’t even begin to calculate just how much that energy that had to have cost.
But you could achieve much the same effect with a much smaller scale acceleration. Take a single person and accelerate them a few thousand times past the norm and suddenly everything seemed to be standing still. It was the perfect plan–and they had just about all of the supplies.
“Another ring?” Andi asked. She still had the steel ring, but she was actually a bit surprised to realize just how used to it she had gotten. Until something else brought it to mind, it sort of faded into the background, just another part of her environment. It was only when she really thought about it weight ever so slightly on her hand.
Jenny considered. “That just seems so cliche.”
Andi snorted. If she thought about it, Jenny was completely right. In any sort of media you considered–Tolkien being the prime example–magical rings just seemed to be the norm. Those and swords at the very least. After all, what would it take to make something a little more interesting?
“Some other sort of jewelry?”
Jenny shook her head. “I was thinking something a little more direct.” She held up the pocket watch. It had been a gift from Andi’s father, but she’d never really known what to do with it. She had resisted the idea of binding it into the summoning–which so far had always seemed to destroy the ingredients in one way or another–but Jenny’s cool logic–that her father had never once asked about it or even seemed interested in it–had convinced her.
“Don’t we need that?”
“That’s the best part.”
“It goes both ways.”
Andi bit back a comment and asked instead. “You can use something as a component and physical shell?”
Jenny sounded honestly surprised. “Yeah. Didn’t you read that chapter?”
She was really going to have to get that book back and do some catching up. That would have been something rather nice to know…
“Does it make it any more complicated?”
Jenny shook her head. “No.” She paused. “Well, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so or you don’t know.”
“Well, honestly, it’s been a while since I read that part.”
“A while? You’ve only known about the book for two days!”
“Well, it feels like a while! I’ve been reading a lot.”
Andi knew the feeling, although it had been a while since she’d really lost herself in a good book. Computational Demonology had done that to a large extent, but that didn’t matter when she’d been so crazy busy for the last few days–not to mention that Jenny had had the book.
“You know,” Andi said, “I bet that he’ll ask about it. Just the universe’s way of keeping me from getting cocky. As soon as we make his gift into a timey wimey time bending pocket watch, he’s going to ask me about it.”
The summoning seemed to drag on forever. Given that they were making a pocket watch capable of accelerating human being to a hundred times their normal speed, it just seemed ironic.
They didn’t make any mistakes though, working together in a dual summoning just as well as they had the first time. As they worked, Andi’s suspicions of her friend seemed to just fade away. Her previous misgivings just didn’t seem as important, what with how well they were working together. You couldn’t very well work this well together with someone so dynamically opposed to yourself such that you could handle power and they could not.
Right at the end there was a moment of tension as both women moved at once to the key point where the final binding was to take place. Andi had thought it obvious that she would take the lead–after all, it was her pocket watch and her book; even if Jenny had read far more of it–so much so that she hadn’t even considered making it clear. Jenny moved at the same time, although Andi couldn’t have said what was running through her mind at the moment.
For a moment, there was tension. Andi caught Jenny’s gaze and the two of them were still. Time stretched out, a second, then two. The tension was thick in the air, thick enough that it felt hard to breath, just as it had in Andi’s dream. Thinking of the dream was possibly the worse reaction that Andi could have had at that particular moment. She didn’t need to think of Jenny as her enemy–much less as a demon–she needed a friend. But as the fight or flight response took hold, it at least accomplished one thing. It made Jenny back down.
Andi couldn’t tell what her face must have looked like, but Jenny looked down and backed a step away. Andi took that as the sign it was that she was to finish the summoning and stepped up to the circle. The words sprang out of her, fast and thick as they always did at the climax of a summoning. She still couldn’t have said why that was, it just felt the most natural way. The only way.
She watched the demon–feathered, oddly enough, and a light shade of blue for some reason–fade into the pocket watch, sinking into the golden surface. There was a shimmering glow too, almost like the threads that made up the very words she was reading from in Computational Demonology. That wasn’t something she’d ever really noticed before, but perhaps it was an aspect of the more complicated summonings.
And then it was done. The watch sat for a moment, still glowing, with a shifting pattern of threads running across its surface. Then then faded, blinking out after only a few seconds. It lay there then, looking just as it had before they had started the summoning. That was one of the stranger parts about binding a demon into an inanimate frame. In every case so far–burning, ring, blanket, and pocket watch–the demon’s host had looked exactly the same. Perhaps it was a natural way to keep the secret. Perhaps the demons themselves were doing it to stay hidden.
Still, it was strange. She could have been interacting with demons hundreds of times every day and she never would have known it. Without the spoken key for activation–if the demons even had a keyword–they were indistinguishable from normal objects. There had to be a better way. Andi made a mental note to ask Jenny about it. Later though. Now, they had a new demon to test out.
Running at three hundred miles per hour takes some getting used to.
Granted, it was all a matter of perspective. To an outside observer, they could have been moving at a normal speed and everyone else barely moving at all. Or they could have been whizzing around, almost a blur, and everyone else could have been moving normally.
For the moment, they were running in traffic.
It was Jenny’s idea.
Or at least that’s what Andi kept telling herself as she darted between cars at a breakneck pace. Given that they were still moving at a good sixty miles per hour, it wasn’t that they were standing still. More like they were ambling around at a slow walk to her outright sprint.
From time to time, she would look into the cars, getting some of the strangest looks from the drivers. If she ever stopped, even for a moment, the looks got even more severe. From their point of view, it must have seemed like she appeared out of nowhere, only to vanish a second later.
After a while, she was starting to feel the strain in her muscles. The demon had run out of its own energy and was taking her own–but the human body just couldn’t maintain rates like that for long.
“My turn!” Jenny looked so into it and full of energy that Andi hardly could tell her that it would probably be better if she waited for a moment so that the demon could recharge itself.
Luckily though, she saw the wisdom in that. Instead, they talked about what they would be able to do with even this little bit of messing with the average flow of time.
While they were talking, Jenny was playing with the watch in her hands. She’d swing it back and forth in one hand, catching it on the other only to swap. Back and forth, back and forth.
The motion was mesmerizing. Andi almost couldn’t keep track of what Jenny was saying, she was paying too much attention to her hands instead. She would have been annoyed at that, if only it wasn’t the one thing that saved both of their lives.
The demon came out of the sky.
Andi shouldn’t have been surprised–after all, with all of the super powers a demon was seemingly capable of granting, flight had to be one of them.
The stranger part was that the demon resembled nothing so much as a giant ball of feathers, beaks, and claws. It was as if someone had taken an entire flock of birds–crows, chickens, hawks, anything they could get their hands on–and shoved them into a blender. It shouldn’t have been alive, let alone able to move, but move it did with surprising finesse.
As soon as it hit the ground, Andi could feel a sense of something pulling on her. The very air around her seemed to thicken and things all around were slowing. The people in their cars seemed completely unresponsive; as did the children playing in the nearby park. Their swings were slowing, slowing, until finally they settled into place.
“Jenny?” She turned to her friend, but she’d already reacted while Andi was still watching the demon. With a burst of speed that should have been impossible, she had run right at the demon.
It looked surprised.
For the life of her, Andi couldn’t have explained how a mass of bird-puree could look surprised but somehow it managed.
A moment later, it had reason to be surprised. Jenny had jumped it and appeared to be trying her best to tear it apart with her bare hands. Tufts of feathers came away as she jittered from place to place, leaving an effect much like snow settling to the ground all around.
The demon cried out, its voice the hunting cries of a thousand birds. It could have been fear or pain, but it just as easily could have been a challenge. With a sudden motion, arms folded out from the demon’s side and began to bat at Jenny. Or at least they vaguely resembled arms. Andi shuddered when she realized that they were likely more closely related to the demonic tendrils of her dream…
“A little help here?” Jenny’s strained voice came from within a maelstrom of feathers, resulting from both her efforts and the demon’s.
“Oh,” Andi said. “Right.”
She knew there was no real change, at least not yet, but she could almost feel the ring on her finger. It felt eager. Then again, it was a demon. Perhaps it really did feel eager. That was something else she was going to have to ask Jenny at some point: what did demons–beings of pure Mind–do when they didn’t have a voice or the like to interact with the world?
Andi looked around for a weapon, settling on a thick branch lying at the base of a tree near the park where the children played. It wasn’t a metal bar, but she thought it would do the job just the same.
Bird demons are messy.
Something about how clearly inhuman it was had really let Jenny and Andi as well let loose. When they had fought the Morris-demon, it had still looked human. This time, there was no such reservations. They really went to town.
The demon had been strong. Andi had a few bruises and thought she might have a cracked rib. Yet another thing to ask about–could demons be used to heal things like that? But other than that, the two of them had torn it apart.
Someone was going to have one heck of a time trying to explain that. As the fight was winding down, Andi had noticed that the people around were starting to wake back up. The processes wasn’t instantaneous, but it did seem related to the demon’s demise. At least that meant that they didn’t have two demons on them, other than that she wasn’t sure what to think about it.
The problem though, was that as people were starting to wake up, it was only a matter of time until they noticed a rather large pile of feathers in the middle of the street with two women standing in it. Nothing something she particularly wanted to be known for.
So they had split. It had taken Andi a moment to get Jenny’s attention–truth be told, perhaps a bit more than a moment–and she’d wanted to get a few more blows in. But finally she agreed. By then, there were a few people looking around with vague looks of confusion that Jenny was sure would be forgotten before too long.
One man in particular had watched them the entire time that Andi was talking Jenny into leaving. He hadn’t seem to have unfrozen other than his head as that was the only part of him that turned to follow the women as they moved. Still, it was creepy the way he watched them, almost as if he knew something that they didn’t even know. Andi considered pointing it out, but the way that Jenny was amped up at the moment, she thought that it probably wouldn’t be the best idea.
Not to mention that they’d likely never see the man again in their lives.
Back at home, it was finally time for Jenny to go home. Both of them had work the next morning and neither could particularly afford to skip. Rent wasn’t cheap, particularly in an area famous for venture capital money.
At first, Jenny tried to take the book with her. But she knew every bit as well as Andi did that she didn’t have an argument to stand on. It was Andi’s book after all, even if she’d never actually paid for it–at least not in cash. Not to mention that Jenny was a dozen chapters or more ahead. If Andi was ever to catch up, she was going to have to read more than she had time for the way it was. She briefly–briefly–even considered skipping work just to try to catch up in the book, but she figured that she would have enough time when she got home.
Finally, Jenny headed home. She did take the pocket watch with her. Technically again, it was Andi’s watch, but Jenny argued that Andi had a trio of demons to protect her–just in case. And it was a reasonable argument at that, even if to Andi’s mind only the ring and perhaps, maybe, the blanket would actually be useful in a fight. What would the burner do? Make an attacking demon a nice pot of tea?
Andi offered to swap her for the pocket watch–actually thinking that she could use it to catch up in the book. If it accelerated time uniformly a hundred times, then theoretically you could get an entire night’s sleep in less than 5 minutes and catch up with Jenny in no more than an hour more. But Jenny was having nothing of it. Apparently using it as her own weapon in the fight against the bird demon had cemented her mental picture of it as her demon.
Plus, she had a point. They each had a weapon now. Just let the demons attack them.
Work was uneventful.
She took calls–and thought about demons.
She went to a meeting with her boss–and thought about tweaks to paired summonings.
She had lunch with a work friend–and spent the entire time drawing summoning circles in her mashed potatoes.
No one seemed particularly perturbed by her general lack of attention throughout the day–after all, it was significantly better than just how cranky she had been the previous week. She still couldn’t believe that she’d done that…
When she arrived at home, Jenny was waiting on her couch.
“Long time no see,” she said with a smile on her face.
“No… kidding. What’s up?”
Jenny’s smile just widened. She shifted her weight slightly and looked over at Andi but didn’t say anything.
Andi shook her head. She wasn’t really in the mood to deal with any crap right now. It had been a long day–even if not a productive one–and all she wanted to do was to make a small bit of dinner and curl up with the book for a while. Perhaps narrow the gap just a bit.
She was actually a little surprised that Jenny wasn’t reading the book when she came in. She got off earlier than Andi and had a car, so she could easily have been in her apartment for an hour and change. But so far as Andi could tell, the book was still sitting on the end table beside her bed where she had left it the night before. At the very least, it wasn’t out in Jenny’s hands.
“Notice anything different?” Jenny asked, when it became clear than Andi wasn’t going to bite.
“Different?” Andi said, only half paying attention even now. At least this time it wasn’t demons or sorcerer’s business that had been on her mind the entire day. This time it was a choice between a frozen burrito and last week’s leftovers.
Jenny did the shift thing again, although Andi only saw it out of the corner of her eye. Jenny was right–there was something different about her–but Andi couldn’t quite make out what it was.
“How about you just tell me?” Burrito. Definitely burrito.
“Because then it wouldn’t be a surprise.”
“So?” The problem with burritos was that they never heated evenly the first time. You always had to go back and nuke them a bit longer.
“So I want it to be a surprise.”
And you couldn’t even try to game the system by heating the burrito longer to begin with. It would still have cold spots. It was just the way of the universe.
It was odd to hear Jenny quite like this. Usually she was a fairly assertive person–and Andi had never really known her to care one way or the other about surprises. But something was clearly on her mind.
For the first time since she’d arrived home, Andi gave Jenny her full attention.
Jenny shifted that same odd way.
Finally, it clicked. It wasn’t a surprise that it had taken Andi so long to notice–the change shouldn’t have been possible. Schemes promising such quick physical changes were a dime a dozen, but those that actually delivered… Well, she’d never heard of one anyways.
Still, she was definitely different.
“How did you do that?”
Jenny smiled and held up her hand. Even if Andi hadn’t seen the golden chain dangling there, her mind would have figured it out by then.
The pocket watch.
She didn’t have to be more clear than that.
“Pretty much all night.”
Andi didn’t know quite what to say about that.
Assuming that she meant an eight hour night at a hundred to one acceleration, that worked out two 800 hours. Over a month. If she had taken a bit more of the night…
Jenny’s smile faded.
“Jenny, we don’t know what sort of effect that could have on you!”
“What do you mean? I feel great!”
“What did you eat?” Andi wasn’t sure why that was the first thing she had thought of, other than remembering just how hungry she had been the day before when she’d tried the pocket watch out. She couldn’t imagine running it for quite so long.
Jenny went quiet.
“I had to.”
“Had to what?”
“I needed something to eat.”
“Jenny, what did you do?”
She turned away, remaining silent.
Andi’s mind was awash with possibilities–none of them good. She didn’t think that she would have done something so serious as kill someone; at least she didn’t think she would just for food. Did she steal something? Hurt someone?
Andi took a step closer to her. “Jenny, it’s okay.” At least she hoped so. “I just need to know.”
“It was just so easy.”
“Taking what I needed.”
So stealing it was.
“What did you take?”
She looked thoughtful, almost as if she were mentally counting. It took a moment before Andi cut in. “Just food, right?”
Jenny almost seemed relieved and nodded. “Yeah, just food.”
“That’s good at least.” Jenny started to open her mouth, but Andi held up a single finger to silence her. “You’re still going to pay for it though, aren’t you.”
Jenny opened her mouth again to answer and then shut it again without saying a word.
“I’m not sure how that’s going to work, but just because we have these powers doesn’t mean that we can use them however we want. We have to use them responsibly.” She couldn’t help but think again about Percy’s warning–that some people just weren’t responsible enough to handle the knowledge and power that being a sorcerer could bring…
Still, Jenny was her friend. She had to support her. “So what all did you do then?” she asked. She wouldn’t forget that prior thought though.
Jenny brightened up visibly at that. “You know all of those thing that you always tell yourself you’d do if only you had the time?” Andi nodded. “Like get in shape, learn a new language, go see the world, all of that?”
Andi knew what she was getting at, but she couldn’t quite believe that she’d actually managed to travel the world under the power of the demonic pocket watch. She would have the time to make a pretty good dent in the distances involved, but with what they’d made at least there was no way that she could extend the time warp to a vehicle. Even walking at three hundred miles an hour, you were still walking. The United States alone was a huge place, the rest of the world was even bigger.
Still, it should have been entirely possible to make a good start towards learning a new language–albeit without the ability to practice, so she wasn’t sure what good that might do.
And she could already see the results of Jenny’s physical transformation.
Jenny had never been particularly out of shape, she was just small. Now though, she looked particularly toned. She looked just like someone that had hit the gym for a few hours a day, every day, for months.
How in the world had she kept up that pace? Andi thought she would have gone mad… Especially since there were limits to what you could take with you into the acceleration. Clothes would move with you–although there were limits. The air around you would shift somewhat, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to breath or even move. Smaller items, like books–or tree limbs–would move with you, but larger or more complicated machines, say, a car? Forget about it. And if you tried to read a website, you would find the connection incredibly sluggish.
Had she downloaded hundreds of hours of music and loaded up her phone? Perhaps a dozen new podcasts? Something else?
“Jenny, you can’t keep doing this,” Andi said. At the very least not to this scale. There was just no saying what the ill effects of long time acceleration on the body might be.
“Why not?” She looked honestly confused.
She had to know the answer… The book had been pretty explicit about that. At the very least, she would be physically out of sync with how old she should be. Although it wasn’t apparent yet, she was now at least a month older than she should have been. Things like that had consequences. “It’s just not natural.”
Jenny raised an eyebrow. “None of this is natural.”
She had a point at that. “It’s not safe either. What if you had an accident?”
“Then the demon in the watch would stop.”
There was something in her voice… “What happened?”
Jenny at least had the sense to look abashed. “It wasn’t much.” She shifted. Perhaps it was unconscious, but now that Andi knew that she was looking for something, she noticed the way that her friend was favoring one leg rather heavily. “All I need is a little more time and it will heal naturally…”
“What? It’s just a little sprain.”
“And you kept working out on it?” She wasn’t perfectly versed in workout eddicate, but that just seemed like common sense.
Jenny just shrugged. “I had the time to be careful.”
Andi started to nod agreement, but the way Jenny shifted also only helped to point out that her friend was in better shape than she had been just the day before–and that that was a terrible idea. “Didn’t anyone else notice.”
Jenny snorted. “What do you think? It took you long enough and you at least know that it’s possible.”
It was Andi’s turn to be speechless. She had a point at that. Even if she personally wouldn’t have considered using quite so much extra time–not to work out at least!–she still hadn’t noticed the difference in Jenny until she had pointed it out to her. Someone with less interaction with her would never have a chance.
She thought she remembered a saying something like that–when you start working out, you’ll notice changes in a few weeks, but even those closest to you won’t notice for a few months; friends and acquaintances won’t notice until well after that.
“Just… be careful.” She considered asking for pocket watch back, but the same reasons that she couldn’t hadn’t the night before–or months ago from Jenny’s point of view–was the same reason that she wouldn’t now. They were in this together now. It was only a matter of time until whoever was out there sent another demon after them–and it would be a lot better if they both had a demonic weapon to fight back with.
If only they could figure out who was after them…