“Couldn’t you just have gotten his phone number or something?” Jenny was obviously joking, but there was just enough of an undercurrent of truth there that Andi couldn’t well ignore it.
“As I’ve told you a dozen times, he doesn’t even have a physical body. How could he have a cell phone?”
Jenny smiled, but she wasn’t about to let the point go that easily. “Yeah, but he has to be some sort of demon or angel right?”
“Or something stranger…”
Jenny went on as if she hadn’t heard her. “It seems like they would have figured that out by now. Some sort of demonic wireless.”
Even in the past few day’s reading, Andi hadn’t seen anything quite like that, but nevertheless she was sure that it was possible. Perhaps the demon powering Computational Demonology was older than cell phones and hadn’t quite adapted to the technological advances? Was that even possible? She made a mental note to ask it if it had anything about that later. It was never possible to tell if the book didn’t actually have something or if it just didn’t think now was the time to tell you, but either way it didn’t hurt to at least ask.
In any case, it didn’t matter. Even if Percy had a cell phone, neither of them knew the number. That left only one way to contact him.
“I still don’t know why I couldn’t just go and pick you up again,” Jenny said.
Andi couldn’t figure out what problem just what problem her friend had with the trains. She never rode them if she could avoid it–and having a car, she could avoid it most of the time. She never really mentioned why either, it was just one of those things that Andi had learned to work around.
“I told you, if we’re ever going to figure out who is actually after us, we’re going to have to ask someone. And Percy seems to know as much as anyone.”
So far as Andi knew, Jenny hadn’t been making quite as much use of the pocket watch as she had that first night. Still, they’d both had plenty of time to worry about just what was out there looking for them. Andi had felt an almost constant feeling of being watched that she couldn’t shake. It would have been nothing, if only she hadn’t mentioned it to Jenny–who had confirmed that she’d felt much the same.
Were they just being paranoid?
Was someone spying on them?
“I agree,” Jenny said. “But I still don’t know why I had to be here…” She was a bit more fidgety than normal. Ever since she’d pushed herself a few more months into shape over night, she’d seemed to have more energy, but this was different. This was a constant jittering sort of nervous energy. She did not like trains.
“The two of you haven’t met. It’ll save us all a lot of time if I don’t have to keep acting as go between you and Percy.” She kept close guard on the real reason that she wanted her along. She had a feeling that Percy had some echo of the same abilities that the book had. Perhaps he could tell her once and for all if Jenny was the sort that could handle power–or if she couldn’t.
If she couldn’t, it would be better to know, wouldn’t it?
“Someone said my name?”
Andi jumped, feeling Jenny do the same on her other side. Neither had heard so much as a peep nor seen anyone coming down the aisle–they’d specifically sat at the end of the car for just this reason–but there he was sitting in the seat right across the aisle from them.
“Yeah,” Andi said, “we had a few more questions.”
Percy had just started to smile when Jenny cut in. “Exactly. Like what’s your cell phone number?”
“Jenny!” Andi hissed, but her friend just smiled innocently and pretended to ignore her.
Percy smiled for real this time. “I don’t have a cell phone.”
“Come on, everyone who is anyone has a phone.”
“And you were under the impression that I was anyone?”
Andi blinked. Jenny was more than quick enough on the uptake. “Oh, we already know that you’re not human. You’ve probed that to my friend her time and again. But that doesn’t mean that you never need to get in touch with anyone.”
She hadn’t exactly raised her voice with that whole ‘not human’ part, but she hadn’t really lowered it either. Andi glanced around furtively, at their neighbors in the car, but none of them seemed to have heard a thing–as always, just before Percy showed up, the car had somehow miraculously emptied out. Not even a teenage couple this time around.
He had to have some sort of abilities of his own. They couldn’t just be getting that lucky time after time. But what did that mean? So far as she understood, it would be possible to do what he was doing if he were a demon, but he’d already denied that particular point. Angels on the other hand had their own kind of magic relating to remaining hidden which seemed like they might apply. But he had already claimed that he was neither angel nor demon–but rather something else.
“Suffice it to say that I do not have a cell phone,” he finally said.
“So how are we supposed to get in touch with you?” Jenny asked.
“And you are?” Percy asked.
Andi blushed. She couldn’t believe that she had missed that particular detail. It was the first thing she should have done. “Percy, this is my friend Jenny. I’ve known her for years–and she’s helped me deal with a few of the demons.” He looked thoughtful. “Jenny, this is Percy. I don’t know what he is, but I’ve told you everything that I do know.” It was the rougher sort of introduction, but given how little she actually did know about him, it was the best she could do.
“You still don’t know why you can’t remember most of our previous conversation?” he asked. He sounded generally confused.
“I still don’t know? I thought you were looking into it.”
He bowed his head slightly at that. “I looked. I haven’t found anything yet.” She couldn’t think why he would have a reason to lie, but something sounded off to her. She just couldn’t put her finger on it.
“And what’s to stop it from happening again?” she asked.
He looked at her for a long moment before answering. “Nothing.”
Not the answer she had been hoping for. Jenny jumped in to the rescue though, before Andi could ask any even worse questions. “Well we’ve been introduced now. How do we get in contact with you?”
“And I’ll ask you again. Why?”
“What if we have more questions about demons?”
“Ask her book,” he gestured at Andi who held up both hands defensively. She didn’t particularly want to get into the middle of that particular discussion.
“The book doesn’t have all of the answers though. Plus, it would be nice to have a real, live human–or human analogue–to ask questions of.”
“One–” He held up a single figure as if to emphasize his point. “How do you know? I’ve never met a single soul that read everything thatComputational Demonology had to offer. I’m not even sure it’s possible.”
Jenny started to respond, but he snapped a second finger up and cut her off. “Two, as we–” He gestured broadly to include Andi as well. “–established last time we talked, even if she cannot remember, I am neither human nor human analogue. I am something far more interesting.” He had a smile on his face as he said that. In the normal case, Andi would have interpreted that to mean that he was joking–but with him she wasn’t quite sure how to interpret it.
“And three.” One final finger. “You already know almost as much about the present situation as I do.”
Andi and Jenny looked at each other. Both had caught the one key word, even if hadn’t meant it to be. As one, they turned back to Percy and asked. “Almost?”
He opened his mouth only to shut it again. Had he not meant to give that particular tidbit away? Why not?
“I do have one lead…”
“And?” Andi couldn’t tell if her or Jenny had asked first, they had both agreed that they wanted to just be done with the situation, even if it lead to a fight. Granted, Jenny seemed almost spoiling for a fight, while Andi wasn’t sure that they were quite ready–no matter how far they had advanced, the likely case was that whoever their adversary was had had many more years to hone their art.
“There’s a man living out north of the city, up in wine country…”
“A man?” Andi asked.
“Nothing supernatural?” Jenny continued right on top of her.
“Well, not originally. He started out just as human as you did.”
“Started out?” Jenny asked first this time. “Wait, what do you mean as we did?”
He smiled. “You’re really going to have to stop asking quite so many questions at a time.” He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful. “Yes. No. Yes. And you’re a sorcerer now.”
Andi tried to think back to the exact order they’d asked the questions in, but she was drawing a blank. “Yes he’s basically human?” Percy nodded. “Which means no, he’s not naturally supernatural.” Percy thought for a moment at the odd wording, but it at least made a little bit of sense to Andi, so she hoped it made sense to him as well. Finally, he nodded again.
“So what did you mean about the not quite human any more?”
“Like I said, you’re a sorcerer now.”
“But I always thought of that more like a job description. Like, I work in a call center, nightlighting as a sorcerer.”
He nodded. “That’s right to a point. But there’s more to the story. That same process that you go through when you’re summoning a demon isn’t only bending the world to your will, it’s changing you as well.”
Andi felt her eyes go wide, but when she turned to see how Jenny was taking the news, she seemed completely non-plussed. Either she had already read that particular detail in the book or it just didn’t bother her.
“How do you mean changing?” Andi was torn. She wasn’t sure that she wanted to know the answer, but if it was going to happen to her anyways–and it was going to have to be something pretty terrible to get her to stop summoning–then perhaps it was better to know.
“Well, for one, a sorcerer from the very first summoning gains a measure of protection against other’s demons.”
Andi flashed back to the attack on the train. Was that why they hadn’t slowed when everyone else on the train had? It made more sense than thinking that the demon had been specifically designed and told not to affect her, but then that left open the question of how they knew the demon was after them at all.
“Yes,” Percy said abruptly. “To what you’re thinking.”
Andi’s head snapped up. “Wait, you can read minds?”
He smiled and shook his head. “I wish. No, I just have a fair bit of people experience. In your situation, there aren’t terribly many situations that you would be thinking about next. Not magic, just psychology.”
She wasn’t sure that she believed him. A few days ago, she would have been willing to take him at his word, mostly because she didn’t have a way to fact check most of the things he brought up. But now that she’d seen him almost explicitly lie to her–albeit a lie of omission–she was starting to question that previous assumption.
Still, this was one lie she was going to choose to believe for the time being. The idea that there were those out there that could just arbitrarily read your mind was a little bit terrifying. Although come to think of it, hadn’t she proved back when she’d first summoned the base demon that they could answer questions if only you thought them–that you didn’t even have to say them aloud.
“So the demon wasn’t looking for me specifically?”
There was another slight hesitation before he answered again. Now that Andi was primed to notice it, she was seeing him do it all of the time. Not at all helpful.
“I’m not sure.”
“I thought we already knew that,” Jenny piped up. “Either the demon was after Andi or she was after you. Either way, it seems the real target was Computational Demonology.”
They both turned to look at her. The first part had been exactly what Andi had been thinking and she thought Percy thought much the same. But the second part hadn’t really occurred to her. Although now that it had been brought up, she couldn’t say why. It made a lot of sense.
She turned to Percy. “This mysterious man in the north. He wasn’t by any chance one of the sorcerers you told me about the other day, was he?”
She realized that she still hadn’t actually filled Jenny in on those particular details–she was still a little worried about her being one of those sorcerers–but she thought the question was vague enough.
Another slight hesitation on Percy’s part. “Yes,” he said after a moment. She didn’t think he was lying, but it seemed certain that he wasn’t thrilled with telling her those particular details at least. If only she could get him to tell them why.
“So perhaps he’s looking for Computational Demonology to finish his training?”
Jenny was looking at her now, there was no doubt about it. She must have figured out that there was something that Andi wasn’t telling her. Just so long as Percy was intuitive enough to not reveal the rest of the issue–at least not yet.
“Yes, I think that might just be possible.”
That wasn’t the definite answer that she had been hoping for. But at least it was a new theory.
“Wait,” Jenny cut in. Both of the others turned to look at her. “Let’s assume the moment that he was looking for the book rather than the either of you. That still leaves one pretty big question. How did he know you had it?”
None of the three of them had a satisfactory answer for that one.
Either Percy didn’t have more detailed contact information for the man up north, or he wasn’t giving it to them. Either way, they were left with little more than a name and a winery about an hour north of the city that he was known to frequent.
From there, Percy had mentioned that the two of them were going to have to do some legwork. He cautioned against directly confronting the man–at least not yet–but that they were going to have to figure out something. Worse yet, Percy claimed that he wouldn’t be able to help them. He didn’t give them anything more than that–even when pressed–but there was nothing much they could do to compel him.
When they left the train, he once again remained behind. Andi was beginning to think that perhaps there was something between him and that train. She had yet to see him anywhere else and so far as she knew, he didn’t even get off at the end of the line when normally everyone had to vacate the train in order for it to turn around.
It wasn’t that it was the same trains either. She’d checked. Each time, they’d been on the same line of course, but there were a dozen or so different trains running back and forth day in and day out, each with their own identifying numbers. She didn’t know the odds, but each time she had found Percy to talk with him–including that first night when he’d sent them on that merry chase–had been on a different train. So he was always on the trains, but never so far the same one. It was a bit of a puzzle, but at the moment they had a different puzzle to work on.
A man named Maxwell at the Clerk Family Winery.
It wasn’t much to go on, but it was all they had.
It was going to have to be enough.
Even with a car, it took a while to get out of the north side of the city. The first part of the journey was pretty enough. Lightly rolling hills and slightly less insanely expensive houses dotted the landscape. Then they started heading up the coastline.
“It’s a good thing you don’t get carsick,” Jenny said. Her hands were white on the wheel as they passed through one hairpin turn after another, the traffic building up behind them. It wasn’t that she was a bad driver; just that being born and raised in the city, she wasn’t particularly used to country driving.
Andi didn’t say anything. Traditionally, she didn’t get carsick. Sometimes though…
In wine country, they had to crack out the GPS. Neither of them had really had an idea for just how many wineries there were north of the city. It seemed like the entire world so far as the eye could see had been turned to the making of booze–which, granted, wasn’t far off of the truth.
After driving beyond their seventh winery, Jenny pulled over and they looked it up online. It was a good thing too, they had been doing the entirely wrong direction, in a road parallel to where they needed to be.
From a distance, the Clerk Family Winery looked like any other they had passed over the past half hour. There was an outdoor viewing area in the back with a few tables if someone happened to want to try their wares. Otherwise, it seemed entirely like a business.
“Let’s go check it out,” Jenny said.
Andi looked over at her. They were driving a bit more slowly than the speed limit, but there wasn’t any other traffic. “Isn’t that exactly what Percy warned us not to do?”
She shrugged. “So?”
“So…” Andi honestly wasn’t sure. He hadn’t really lead them astray before–and this suggestion did make a certain sort of sense. She didn’t know for sure that sorcerers couldn’t detect others of their kind, but she had a feeling that it was. “What happens when he figures out who we are?”
Jenny considered. “Yeah, I thought about that. But even if he figures out that we’re sorcerers–which requires he even be there in the first place–how would he know that we have the book that we’re looking for.”
“If he could read our minds…” Andi still hadn’t found a definite answer to that in the book either. It seemed to always be that way. Any of the more esoteric questions she had in mind always lead to a bunch more.
“Nah. Sure he could, but that takes a crazy amount of energy to maintain. The book says that it’s really rare for a sorcerer to keep it on all of the time.”
“Really rare,” Andi clarified, “but not impossible.”
But by now, they were out of time. They had reached the entrance to the winery, so it was either turn in now or they were going to have to turn around a few miles down the road. And if anyone were paying any more than a bit of attention to the road, they might just notice one of the few cars on the road double backing to their winery.
Andi opened her mouth, but Jenny was already spinning the wheel to take the sharp turn down their sharp drive. She snapped her mouth shut and didn’t say a word until they were parked. “Well then. Let’s go meet a sorcerer.”
Maxwell wasn’t there.
At least, not unless he was actually a woman. Andi supposed it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, just unlikely. She’d met a few women named Max, but it was always short for Maxine or a variant. Never Maxwell.
In this particular instance, there were two women working in the wine shop. One acted as hostess and took them to a table, the other was working in another room half open to the dining–possibly a cook?
The woman that seated them introduced herself as Laura Clerk and took their basic order. Like most wineries, they apparently had a basic supply of salads and sandwiches along with their wine. This one in particular also had the interesting addition of a cheese menu–Andi didn’t recognize half the names on the list and most of the other half she hadn’t actually had the opportunity to try.
She took their orders–just water for the moment, although Andi figured that they might as well get some food while they were there. Perhaps they could ask around a bit about Maxwell while they dined. Subtly of course.
Subtle wasn’t a particular strong suit of either Andi or Jenny. On the other hand, Laura didn’t seem particularly surprised that someone was asking around about Maxwell. She was more than happy to answer any questions they had about her little brother.
It seemed that Maxwell had quite the reputation as a ladies man. He was always bringing a different girls back to the family house–“just over the hill there”–where he still lived, despite the fact that he still lived at home with his parents at 22.
That was the second thing they learned about him; that he had just finished college and was currently in the process of ‘deciding what to do with his life.’ His sister obviously didn’t approve, but she didn’t explicitly come out and say it at least.
One question that Andi would never have thought to ask–and probably not asked had she even thought of it–Jenny just spewed out. “So, does he have any weird habits?”
Laure was quite for a few moments. She’d sat down with them several questions ago, even bringing a glass of water with herself. The other woman in the back room–likely another relative Andi assumed–had vanished.
“What do you mean… weird?” she finally asked.
Andi wasn’t sure where exactly Jenny was going with that, so she let her do the talking. It didn’t seem that she had an answer either and she stumbled for a moment before coming up with “Like, does he ever seem to do things? Like things that he shouldn’t be able to do?”
Andi mentally winced. She didn’t think that Jenny could have been less subtle if she had tried…
Laura stared at her for a long while. It must have been at least a minute, maybe more. Her eyes shifted from Andi to Jenny and back, never quite coming to rest. When her gaze was on Andi, she could feel the weight of it. She was seriously considering something and Andi could only begin to guess what.
“I should probably go get him,” she finally said. “I’ll be right back.”
“Wait…” Andi almost shouted. She didn’t mean it to be quite so forceful, but her sudden decision came as something as a surprise. They weren’t ready to see him–what even would they say to him.
Either he had sent a demon or two after them or he wasn’t related to the situation at all. Either they did not want him on their tail or this entire conversation would be completely useless.
Andi honestly wasn’t sure which she would have preferred.
“Yes?” Laura had paused mostly standing and was presently leaning over Andi’s shoulder.
“What do you know?” Andi asked. “About what he can do?”
She didn’t need to be specific. Laura knew something. That much was clear from how she had reacted to Jenny’s query. Perhaps they could get a little more information.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do.”
Laura hesitated. Andi couldn’t say why.
“We’re just looking for answers.” She wanted the implication to be that they wouldn’t hurt her brother–but she wasn’t entirely sure that was true. If he actually were at them what else would they do?
Laura sat back down and sighed. “This is about the drugs, isn’t it.”
Andi just blinked at her. She glanced over at Jenny and noted that at least she looked every bit as confused as Andi felt.
“I knew it,” Laura said, shaking her head. “I knew he was up to no good.”
“Oh yeah?” Andi said. She thought she had managed to keep her voice relatively stable.
Laura wasn’t looking at her anymore though. She had her hands together over the table and was looking down at them instead.
“It all started a few years ago. He fell in with a really bad crowd…”
The story that she told wasn’t new by any stretch of the imagination. Good kid falls in with a bad crowd, starts down the road to darkness. Moments of redemption, but never enough to quite pull them back. A final burst of good, then a slide into the darkest moment yet.
That was where Maxwell was now. Apparently he’d gotten into drug dealing, at least so far as his sister knew. She knew that he suddenly had a lot more money than he had before and that he spent a lot more money out at the shed he’d appropriated on the far end of the vineyards. What was more, he’d painted over the windows and put a lock on the door so no one could tell what was going on.
Laura had gone down to the shed a few times while Maxwell was inside. She heard strange noises and what sounded like someone talking to himself. She didn’t bang on the door or anything, just headed home. A few hours later, Maxwell had come back in with singed eyebrows and a faint chemical smell trailing him. That had to be drugs, right?
Andi made the appropriate noises to keep her talking, but all the while she was trying to figure out two things: What did any of this have to do with demons? And why in the world was Laura telling them all of this?
They’d just met for crying out loud. She had no reason to believe that they knew anything at all, other than that they had claimed to know something was up with Maxwell. She had to really be desperate–and likely at wit’s end–to trust completely strangers with something like this.
Even when her story began to run down, Andi still hadn’t heard anything that unequivocally pointed towards demonic activity. The chemical smell and odd sounds could have been a summoning–although the chemical smell was a new one. But it could just have easily have been drug related just as Laura seemed to think.
When she finally fell silent, Andi didn’t say anything for a while. Laura was looking from one of them to the other, but she didn’t say anything either. She didn’t look particular expectant, but rather just patient. She was waiting for something.
Jenny figured it out before Andi did. “You left something out.”
Laura’s eyes narrowed, but she nodded slightly. Andi hadn’t picked up on that at all, but apparently Jenny was onto something.
“He… changed. And more than drugs would account for.”
“Well, growing up, he’d always been a little bit on the chubby side. Around the same time he started heading out to the shed, he suddenly got in shape.”
Andi glanced at Jenny, who at least had the self awareness to look a bit ashamed. But that could just as well have been that he was working out in the shed.
“Also, he stopped wearing his glasses. He should have been as blind as a bat without them, but all of a sudden he just didn’t need them. And… you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try us,” Andi said.
“I think he can see in the dark.”
Andi nodded slowly. That was something that would be a little harder to account for without demonic intervention. She’d even come across a few demons that would have been able to make a change exactly like that. She didn’t need them personally, but just the same as Jenny’s desire to get in better shape, she could imagine the draw.
“You don’t think I’m crazy?”
Andi smiled and shook her head. “No. Actually, I don’t.”
Laura studied her for a moment. Andi was starting to get the distinct feeling that she wasn’t exactly in the loop when it came to the world demonic–but she wasn’t completely immune to the idea that there might be something stranger out there either. She had seen things.
“So you can help him?”
Andi and Jenny shared a look. That was what she was about. Andi had been wondering. Somehow she had gotten the idea that they were here to help him–for reasons still unknown to them.
“All we can do is try,” Jenny said.
Andi glared at her. She didn’t want to make any promises that they couldn’t keep–and they weren’t here to fix anything. At least not about anything else. They were here to find answers.
On the other side, perhaps this was the way towards answers?
“Is he here?” Andi said. If they were going to do this thing, they might as well commit to it.
Laura studied them from a moment, perhaps wondering about the sudden change of heart. But in the end, it seemed that her desire to help her brother won out over any suspicion. “He’s out in the shed right now. I can take you out there.”
That wasn’t exactly what Andi had been hoping for. On the worse case, the shed was the heart of any demonic powers Maxwell possessed. Looking for answers was all well in good, but that wasn’t quite the same as running up to poke the lion in its den.
Still, now they were committed.
The shed was nothing like Andi had imagined. She had been thinking of a run down affair, wooden sides still barely holding together after long years in the weather, small enough to be deserving of them name, but still large enough for a few pieces of equipment.
This building… she didn’t really have a name for it.
For one, it was large. It was easily larger than her apartment, probably two to three times the size.
For another, it was extremely modern looking. The sides had a nice southwestern style that wouldn’t have looked out of place in some of the less busy areas of the city. The windows were wide and sweeping–although as Laura had mentioned, they were blacked out on the inside with what she had thought was black paint.
On the front door, Andi had pictured a thick padlock, although come to think of it that didn’t make terribly much sense. How would a padlock work from the inside? But instead, there was a modern looking touchscreen displaying two rows of numbers in faintly glowing red.
Abruptly Andi realized that she’d come to a stop. She looked over at Jenny who was staring at the building much the same way. Laura was watching both of them and faintly smiling. She had known that they were going to react like this. She must have, given that it had been her that had described the building as a shed in the first place.
“Shall we?” she asked, gesturing at the front door with the glowing keypad.
Andi nodded silently, still not quite trusting herself to speak.