Chapter 15: Questionable choices
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
If Deecee Young magically teleported into Farnham, then Candy and Marge are probably already lost. That doesn’t stop Sanderson from whipping out her phone. “C’mon,c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” is all she says. And then, “Damn, damn, damn, damn,” before she punches in another number. After a few seconds, she looks up at me, frightened. “I can’t get through to Mac or Doc back in Farnham.”
Maybe Deecee and her demon have taken over the regular humans, but not the magicians in town, at least not yet. I pull out my phone, telling Sanderson, “I’ll call Marge Winter. No way the demon could have taken her out in only a few minutes.” Well, maybe it could, but I’m not telling Sanderson that. I punch in Marge’s number. Nothing. It doesn’t even go to voicemail.
I look up at Sanderson. She knows. She says, “We need to get back to Farnham immediately.” She hauls out the brooch and looks at it. “If only I could use this thing to stop Deecee.”
“Harry.” It’s Amelia. She’s conscious again. She’s almost whispering, her voice is so faint.
I hope Amelia can tell us more about what’s going on, though she looks barely conscious. “What is it, Amelia?”
I look over to Sanderson. She looks blankly at me. And then she holds up the brooch. “She means this?”
A faint “yes” comes from Amelia.
Sanderson brings it over and sits on the side of the bed. The moment she holds it up so Amelia can see it, the effect is dramatic. Amelia locks onto the brooch with her eyes. After a jerk or two, she says, “Help me to sit up, Harry.”
I help Amelia up. She’s very weak, but she’s determined. So I keep supporting her. In a feeble voice, she asks Sanderson, “Where did you get that?”
“It’s Deecee’s. I took it from her dresser in San Francisco.”
Amelia shakes her head. “No.” She looks at it again. “What’s it made of?”
Sanderson answers her again. “Silver with jewels in the points.”
Amelia looks puzzled. “Can’t be.” She closes her eyes, I think she’s going to faint, but she opens them almost immediately. I can tell she’s making a tremendous effort. Very distinctly, she says, “Run the star, Sanderson. Reverse the magic.” And then she passes out again.
Sanderson looks over to me. “What does she mean by that, Harry?”
I don’t know, but I guess. “I think she wants you to reverse what Young and the demon did to her and the others.”
Sanderson looks quizzically at the brooch. “I have no idea how to do that, Harry.”
“Amelia knows her stuff, Sanderson.”
“Yeah, but I’m the one who has to do what she knows.”
Sanderson grimaces. “Okay, but don’t blame me if this doesn’t work.” She holds the brooch in her right hand, palm up. “Run the star, eh?” She uses her left index finger to run one of the silver lines that make up the star, and when she reaches the next point, turns and starts running down another line.
It works! As she turned the point, the jewel in the point lit up. And as she continues “running” the star, each point in turn lights up with its jewel. Sanderson is smiling broadly as she reaches the end. The star’s jewels are fully lit up; even the silver paths seem to glow. And then Sanderson looks up at me, a frown on her face. “I suppose there is something specific I should do next, but I don’t know what. So I’m going to try something.” She holds her hand out over Amelia’s unconscious body, which I’m still supporting in a sitting position.
I’m surprised by what I see. “You know your night feathers have turned silver again, Sanderson.”
She nods. “That’s why I’m hoping this works.” She raises her voice and announces, “I, Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson, magician proved by trial, do hereby invoke the powers within me and within this star to undo, reverse, and repair all the magic that has been done to harm Amelia Laveau by the agency of Eurydice Young, the demon which possesses her, and all instrumentalities they have used. Let it be done. YAAAAAHHH!”
That last clearly is not part of the invocation, but Sanderson’s surprised exclamation as a silver beam of light shoots out of her feathers into Amelia. I can feel the magic entering her body. It’s as if Amelia’s taken a massive jolt of caffeine. Her eyes fly wide open, her body shakes, and she lets out some incoherent shouts. And then the light stops.
Amelia sits up on her own. She looks at the two of us and says, in a completely normal voice, “Where the hell have you two been, besides hell?”
Sanderson jumps in. “That doesn’t matter. We have to get back to Farnham immediately.”
Amelia stands up, gives herself a shake, and looks down at Sanderson. She is emphatic. “No. You listen here, Sanderson. If, and I say ‘if,’ Young and the demon are in Farnham, they’ve already done whatever they planned to do. And don’t even be sure they’re there.”
Sanderson looks bewildered. “But you said . . .”
Amelia puts her hands on Sanderson’s shoulders. “Whatever I said, whatever I thought I remembered, is what Young and the demon wanted me to believe. Do you have any proof they’re in Farnham?”
I add in my two cents. “I couldn’t reach Marge by phone. Not even voicemail.”
Sanderson concurs. “Same here with Mac and Doc. Nothing.”
Amelia steps back and looks at the two of us, and shakes her head. “Sounds like someone’s using magic to block your phones, and they could do it a lot easier from near here than from Farnham. In which case we need to be ready if they realize you’ve reversed some of Young’s magic and come back to attack us. Harry, see what sort of magical protection you can set up in the next five or ten minutes. Sanderson, you’re going to work that trick on the others here. And then you are both going to tell me just what the hell is going on.”
I manage to construct a weak protective field around the room. Nothing magical is coming through without an effort. And with Amelia’s help, Sanderson reverses the magic on Polly and Stan. Even so, both are still wiped out, so now they’re sleeping in the two beds. Amelia sits us down in some chairs near the door and interrogates us on what we’ve been up to.
Once she’s finished, she asks Sanderson to hold out the brooch again so she can study it. Sanderson tries to give it to her, but Amelia tells her to keep it. “It’s in your custody, Sanderson, and you’re able to make it work. Besides, I wouldn’t touch it if you paid me.”
I ask Amelia, “You know what it is?”
Amelia scrunches her mouth up. “Sort of. My grandmother had stories from her grandmother. Always heard you had to draw the star on the floor, like conjurors do with a great circle. Never heard of the magic being bound up in a jewel. You say this is bound to Young?” The last to Sanderson.
“And yet you can work it.” Amelia looks thoughtful. “It reminds me of how you raised that ghost. You’ve got some sort of magical affinity for silver, Sanderson. I think that’s why you can use it safely.” She turns to me. “You know what would happen to us if we tried to use it, Harry?”
I state the obvious. “It wouldn’t work.”
Amelia chuckles. “Oh, it would, after a fashion. It would try to kill us. That thing is powered by some form of dark magical force, although it’s not demonic.”
I recall what Abigail told me. “Then Sanderson shouldn’t be using it. It could turn her into a dark power.”
Amelia shakes her head. “No. At least not the way we’ve used it here. She’s reversed demonic magic. Somehow the silver that thing is made of is enough to protect her. And that suggests the next thing to do. Sanderson, I want you to use that amulet to try to separate Young from the demon possessing her.”
Sanderson stares at Amelia, eyes narrowed. “You’re serious.”
Amelia replies, “As a heart attack, or as a drowning in a bathtub. That demon has used one of our agents to kill another one. And I’m surprised it hasn’t tried to attack us again. So you need to try to get the two of them apart, now.”
Sanderson frowns. “This could kill Deecee if I get it wrong.”
Amelia leans forward until she’s almost in Sanderson’s face. “Scary, isn’t it?”
Sanderson is surprised, but nods in agreement.
Amelia pitches her voice low, but I can hear the tension in it. “Now you listen to me, Persephone Whatever-Else-You-Are Sanderson. You know what the scariest thing in the room is? You are. You hold an amulet in your hand that would kill Harry or me, and you can work it without even knowing how. You know exactly how scary you are? If I’d known you could do what you do, I’d never have wanted you on my team, because I’m damned frightened of what you might be capable of doing. Me, a descendent of Marie Laveau’s! But you, me, Harry, even Deecee Young, we’re all in the same boat, up against a demon that controls one of our own, and right in your hand is the best method we have to save our colleague, to save your friend. Are you on board with us or not?”
That is probably the best pep talk I’ve ever heard from Amelia, and it works. Sanderson nods, stands up, and holds out the brooch in her hand. Each time she’s used it, it’s lit up and her feathers have turned to silver, only to revert to their normal state immediately after. So the feathers are black, but they’re not lying flat as they usually do. Instead, they are already twitching. Sanderson begins running her finger along the star’s lines.
The moment she rounds the first point, lighting up the jewel there, the room begins to shake. Something is trying to get in. I try to strengthen the shield around the place, and find that Amelia is joining me. She says to Sanderson, “Keep going, girl.”
Sanderson’s finger rounds the second point. A jewel lights up. There’s a loud boom as something magical tries to force its way in.
Sanderson steps up the pace and rounds the next point. I feel the blow coming, but can’t stop it. The door explodes open, the blast hurling me back against one of the beds.
I stand up, just in time to see a goliath demon smash its way into the room. Looks like there are more behind it. I whip out my bowie knife and start preparing a spell. I see Amelia falling back to protect Sanderson, who’s just lighting up the fourth jewel.
The goliath advances on me with a roar. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving behind Sanderson, and shout to Amelia before rushing to meet the demon. At the last moment, I kneel and use a spell to trip it up, spinning about and plunging my knife into its back where it has fallen.
One demon down. I look over to Amelia and Sanderson. There’s a third person there. With horror, I recognize that it’s Ben Keller. Young and her demon must have reanimated the corpse as a zombie. Amelia’s distracted by the sight of Keller, and doesn’t see the demon come up behind her to strike a blow.
I don’t see what happens next because I have to deal with another goliath, even as more surge into the room. I manage to kill two more, but the press of them is forcing me back against the bed. One of them knocks me over, and I fall onto the bed. I can see its giant fist coming right at me.
A blast of magic comes from my left. I turn and see Stan Yee sitting up in bed, using an amulet of his own to slay the demon. “Behind you, Stan,” I shout, as another comes at him from the other side of the bed. Cripes, we’re surrounded. I roll off the bed, land at the feet of another demon, and stand up, savaging its leg and torso with my knife as I do so. Bad move. The demon falls forward onto me, and I get thrown off-balance. Before I can recover, half a dozen fists crash into me, and I crumple down onto the floor. A foot comes down on me, and I hear my bones breaking. Kill me quickly, I think to myself. I don’t want to be turned into a demon.
Another foot smashes into me, and I hear more bones break. Off somewhere in the distance, I hear Sanderson’s voice, “I, Persephone Désirée . . .” Another foot, and this time I scream from the pain.
Astral projection is not one of my talents. Potentially, any magician can do it, but I’ve never succeeded. But sometimes a near-death experience will do the trick. That must be what’s going on here. I’m standing up in the motel room. There are goliaths all around me. At my feet is my own body. I glance at it and look away. I don’t think my legs can work in those positions.
Off to my left, a demon has seized Stan and is trying to convert him. It’s only while looking at him that I realize that time has stopped for me. I’m outside of my body and outside of time. You know, this would be great during sex.
Deecee Young is standing in the doorway. She’s clearly still possessed. She even looks a bit demonic, which is hard to believe, given how childish and innocent she used to look, but that’s cruelty and hatred in her eyes. Fear, too. All these feelings seem to be directed against Sanderson, who’s standing halfway across the room, holding the glowing seven-pointed star in her hand, her feathers a shining silver. There’s a circle of light around her that no demon can cross, which is fortunate, because Amelia is lying at her feet, demonic claw marks on her back. Keller’s corpse is down on the floor, dead again. I look behind me, and see a demon taking possession of Polly Joshi, who is too weak to resist.
Overall, things don’t look too good for our side. I look about and wonder if there’s anything I can do to change things.
“Nothing, Harry.” I look to my right, and Amelia is standing there. Well, her astral projection, that is. She says to me, “There’s nothing you can do. It’s too late to change what’s about to happen.”
“What’s going to happen?”
She frowns. “Sanderson is taking on Young and her demon, but it’s not going down like anything I’ve ever seen before. It looks to me . . . well, it looks to me as if Sanderson is going to free Young of the demon by taking possession of it herself.”
There’s something about Amelia’s wording that strikes me as odd. “Sanderson’s going to take possession of the demon? Don’t you mean the demon’s going to take possession of Sanderson?” I ask, but I already know the answer.
“No. Sanderson’s going to possess the demon. It’s hard to explain, but it looks as if Sanderson and Young are entangled somehow, as if there’s some sort of swap going on. I don’t really understand it, but that’s what it looks like from where I am. Look, Harry, if any of us survives this, it’s most likely to be you.”
I interrupt Amelia. “I’m being stomped to death by demons.”
“Still, at least they aren’t taking control of you, Harry.” Amelia waves back at Stan and Polly. “I figured you’d better see this, so that if you survive, you’ll have some understanding of what happened and can report on it. And now I’ve got to return us to our bodies before another moment passes.”
Abruptly, I find myself back in my body, screaming in pain. I try to look up and get some sort of view of what’s going on. I can hear Deecee Young shrieking something, Sanderson announcing an ascension, Polly crying out in terror.
And then magics fills the room, ravenous magics, chaotic magics, opposing magics, magics striving against other magics. Now it’s not just Polly crying out in terror, it’s everyone and everything in the room as magics overrun every aspect of our selves. The very last thing I see, thanks to an improbable shifting of the intervening demons, is Amelia lying on her back down on the floor, looking up at Sanderson. And Amelia is every bit as frightened of Sanderson as she earlier pretended to be.
End of chapter fifteen
END OF PART I: SEARCH FOR THE DEMON