Stories from The World, Chapter 1: The Television Demon
Right. Token of sincerity. That's the spit.
I'd found the entry on "geis" in THE HISTORY during my random reading. A geis was basically a transfer of power between two sentient things. Two parties sincerely agree on terms, then make a token of that sincerity and the geis is laid.
It could be something bad, or something good, basically, and it could be for a limited time or forever or until certain conditions are met. There weren't really a whole lot of restrictions on what a geis could be for or about - anything that is withing the power of each party to do, grant, obtain, or perform. The concept was very simple in theory. In practice, well, I was learning about that part still.
"Vidnar, no offense, but I'm not satisfied with the details. I'm going to need to know how much you're charging per hour and your terms of payment, and I'll also want your guarantee to work to your ability, no shirking or milking the clock. And I'm not agreeing to an open-ended compulsion."
He nodded, slowly, and lowered his head slightly. Then, he smiled. His very large upper incisors were made of some dull, bluish metal, and inlaid with what looked like silver in incredibly intricate loops and swirls.
"Yuuta's very confused about you, you know. I was only going on what she'd said, and what I had observed. Clearly you are no mark."
"Yeah," I said, "It's funny you should say that, I was just explaining that very same thing to the demon."
His smile drooped back into passivity, his voice again carefully modulated. "Ten thousand dollars per hour for the first two hours, and five thousand per hour afterwards. Same discount terms apply for unwanted results, whether information, material objects, or a geis. Payment in cash, two weeks. I'll work the best I can given the circumstances, and you will take a compulsion to pay should you be late. You may dismiss me at any time and pay for services rendered to that point. I may quit at any time and you pay nothing."
I made a quick mental review, repeated the terms back, and we had a wet, squishy shake on the deal. The palm of my hand itched and there was a brief metallic buzzing in my plates.
He turned and walked into the livingroom, ball of pink yarn unspooling behind him, and I walked into the kitchen to wash my hands.
When I emerged, Vidnar was sitting cross legged, rooting around in his weird bag, and the demon was gone.
I immediately questioned Vidnar's approach to demon containment with a low "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh-", and one of his hands emerged from the bag to gesture with one index finger towards the ceiling, where the demon was backed up as far as it could get from Vidnar, waving its claws, and baring its teeth.
I could see its chest heaving periodically, and its tongue was uncurled and fully extended like a pennant. There was a continuous whoosh like a huge air leak coming from its disgusting, oily mouth, and I winced at the sound of hooves grinding into the popcorn ceiling. There were thick strings of brown drool slowly leaking out of its mouth, headed downwards with gravity, leaving trails along its face. A few had started to gather on the tip of its nose and forehead, and stretch downwards.
"He is using one of the few powers he has, one for which I fortunately have a specific countermeasure. I will work on preparing certain things until he realizes its futility."
"Oh, yeah. He -" Well, I'd been thinking of him as an 'it', but that's how much I knew about demons, "- did the same thing to me. I just waited in the kitchen until he was done with his little fit, and then we talked for about five minutes before I figured I'd better call a professional."
His hands, which had both returned to the bag, stopped moving, and his head slowly turned towards me. He asked, "You prepared a countermeasure and then removed it? Why would you remove it?"
"No no no," I said, shaking my head, "I just waited him out. He was throwing a fit and I couldn't get a word in edgewise, so I let him have his tantrum and sat in the kitchen until he was done."
"You were exposed directly to his cries?"
"Yes, they were not exactly pleasant. He quit after a while, and we did a little talking, but I didn't want to risk losing a battle of wits. So, he's hollering again, and you, uh, muted him or something?"
I continued talking and Vidnar nodded, then stood up from his bag as I approached the edge of the circle. I was feeling a little big for my britches, what with a professional there to back me up.
I waggled my finger at the demon. "Hey, little guy. You already tried that with me, ok? It's annoying. Knock it off."
To Vidnar's visible discomfort, and to my delight, it worked. I was certainly pleased at having had the little prick obey me, but I was more so at having gotten anything but a smooth, collected reaction from Vidnar. The guy was like a statue. The perfectly neutral gray suit was indicative of his entire demeanor.
You'd think that a guy who had, you know, crazy metal teeth, hoverboots, what appear to be gold nuggets carved into skulls woven into his hair, and a magical purse, would be a little more gregarious. But no.
I handed Vidnar his pad and pencil. He took it, read what I'd written, and said, "This is it?"
I shrugged and asked him what he thought I should be getting after instead. He shook his head and told me that it wasn't his place to do that.
I shrugged again and told him I'd let him know if I thought of anything else.
"I will get to work then. You, perhaps, should be occupied elsewhere." He was rooting around in his bag.
"Right, I'll be in the kitchen. Let me know if you want a drink, or, something."
He grabbed the handles of the bag, and pulled them in opposite directions. The bag stretched like taffy, and stayed that way when he shifted his grip.
I watched, puzzled, as he stretched it ever-larger, comically large, and didn't understand until he lifted it into place as a floor to ceiling divider. I noticed the pink yarn running underneath the divider, unbroken. I briefly considered giving it a tug, but thought better of it.
Two mugs of tea later, the divider tipped, fell to the floor, and began to shrink back into itself.
"That was, uh, faster than I expected."
He shook his head and asked if I had any salt.
"Sure, first door on your right, in the bathtub next to the chalk."
He gave the rapidly melting black blob a nudge with his foot, and it reversed course into its previously enormous shape as he walked down the hall.
The demon was as close as he could get to me, within micrometers of the chalk border, and he looked pissed. His tail was lashing back and forth, and he was digging his claws into his palms. Thick rivulets of black ichor were running down his knuckles.
I stood up so fast I almost spilled my tea, shouting "HEY! HEY! Come on! Not on the floor! Come on now!"
He bared his teeth. All of them.
Vidnar came back with a bag of salt over his shoulder, and laid it down. He looked at me, and then at the demon.
"Yes, problem. He's getting his nasty black shit all over the floors! I don't suppose it matters with all the hoof prints, but it's gross as hell! And it probably stains!"
Vidnar laughed. A deep belly laugh. "Well," he said, stifling the laughter, "If you're worried about that, you're not going to like what comes next."
Before I could ask him what he meant, he was pulling the divider back up, leaving me to sulk with my tea and wonder if there was a magical floor-repair service in The Speaker's classifieds.
He was back there for three hours before the divider fell again. The demon was standing quietly, head bowed. The floor inside the circle was, well. I don't want to talk about it.
Vidnar handed me the paper, my terrible handwriting now balanced by his precise, rune-like capitals.
"Can I, uh, go talk to him?"
Vidnar nodded, wiping chalk dust from his hands. "Do not disturb the marks I've laid around the circle."
I realized now that there was a practical upshot to hoverboots - you didn't have to worry about chalking yourself into a corner.
"Right, I'll be careful. And help yourself to whatever you want in the kitchen."
I crept as close as I dared to the intricate weave of chalk, salt, incense, powders, and what seemed to be multicolored dyes that covered the livingroom like a huge, ugly quilt.
"Hey," I said, glancing at the paper, "Thorivos."
The demon's head and eyes snapped up to meet mine directly.
"So. Listen. I have your name now. You know what that means, right?"
No response. Just a blank stare.
"Listen to me. I'm trying to have a civil conversation with you, something you might have found was a much better choice to begin with. So, you can stand there like a mute idiot and I can tell Vidnar that I want him to do the worst things he can think of to you, or, you can let me know that won't be necessary."
The demon pursed its lips, or at least made the attempt to. His lips caught on a few dozen snaggleteeth.
"So, I know your name now. You know what that means, right?"
"But here's the deal. I don't want to mess with you. I really don't. I have no desire whatsoever to interrupt your duties. I just want two very simple things from you."
He canted his head to one side, ear nearly touching his shoulder, quizzical expression like a dog's.
"First: Stay out of my TV. If I find out you're enhancing any demon-sponsored commercials on any television I'm within sight of, I change my mind about not messing with you."
His eyes narrowed, and his mouth opened and shut a few times before he rasped at me.
"I do not have the power to grant this request, it is outside of my empowerment."
"No. Don't you bullshit me. I know your name, and I know your empowerment. Anything you told to Vidnar, I know now. You mess with the volume, and spy on people, and implant subliminal messages in commercials for companies sponsored by demons. That's what you were doing when you found me and decided to take me for a ride."
He scowled again. The more I thought about it, the more I figured that the scowl was just the shape of his face when he wasn't contorting it into something else. When he spoke, it looked like only his upper lip moved. "To make such an exception would be most difficult for me, not to mention a great risk should my superiors discover it."
"Do you know what would be even more difficult for you, not to mention even more risky? Being summoned with a no-contact invocation every time I see a demonic commercial on television. Break your concentration just long enough for the spells to peter out. Guarantee bossman notices that one. And how about all this time you've been dicking around here? Think he hasn't noticed?"
His lips pulled back from his teeth in either a rictus or what might have been intended to be a smile.
"I see. I have no choice. I will agree to this. What is your second demand?"
"Clean up this mess, no tricks, no other actions whatsoever, and then leave immediately. I'll plug in the TV so you can go back the way you came."
His eyes followed the sweep of my arm as it traced circles around the room and then across the ceiling. His shoulders slumped.
"That is most unusual. But I will comply."
"Vidnar?" I called. "How do you typically seal a geis with a demon?"