By Garon Whited
“By Naz’rathkelos! By Kathulluachor! By the Sacred Name of Berekolovoth! I summon thee! I summon thee! I summon thee!”
The cowled wizard brought his hands down sharply. The intricate diagram on the shone a pale, lambent blue. The candles blazed white and poured streamers of smoke into the air. The book before him, on the pedestal, trembled as the stone floor shook. It went on and on, the power rippling visibly in the air, until…
A bright flash and a thunderclap smote the world and he turned his face aside.
So, there I was, minding my own business. I stepped into the shift-booth in my closet and fully expected to exit through the shift-booth in my laboratory. Nope. Much to my surprise, there was a bright flash and a lot of noise—a sort of screaming, screeching sound, like tearing metal. Then I was standing in what, at first glance, looked like a summoning circle.
Son of a bitch. I would never have thought I could be summoned.
At least it was still night where I landed.
The wizard looked again, ready to shield his eyes from some hellish, malformed monstrosity from the depths of some incomprehensible Hell. Instead, he beheld a man. A slender man, clad in strange garments, all in black and grey. A strange cloth, bound about his neck, was the only color, a dark red. His hair was dark, his jaw clean-shaven, and his expression wry. He appeared to be a youth, with skin smooth as cream, but his temples bore the grey of age’s earliest frost and his eyes bore a strange stamp of ancient days.
“Speak, demon! Name yourself!” he commanded. The thing in the circle looked up from the designs and, for only an instant, there was a flicker of an incalculable rage, a promise of wrath more terrible than fire or death.
I looked over the summoning circle. It had some peculiar elaborations, but I was right. It was clearly a summoning and containment circle. It didn’t look too precise, though. I couldn’t find anything specifically naming the Thing he was after. Given that I just appeared during a shift-booth transfer, I might have run afoul of a path-of-least-resistance error. While I was in transit, his summoning must have latched on to me and grounded the transit charge, diverting me to this location.
As an entity of chaos—at least partially—I didn’t think I wanted to mess with the circle. As a wizard, though, I could probably finagle my way out. Then I’d be in a fight with a wizard. Presumably, a prepared wizard on his home ground. I didn’t have Firebrand or Bronze with me, either. All I had was my cloak, disguised as a sport coat, and my usual magical jewelry.
I never thought I’d sympathize with a demon. I mean, they get summoned up and their summoner binds them, demands services from them, and the only thing they get in return is turned loose.
He demanded something of me, probably my name.
“Hold your horses, dickhead,” I told him, and then activated the translation spell off my amulet.
“Sorry,” I lied. “I didn’t get that. What did you say?”
“Name yourself, demon!”
“I can’t name myself ‘demon’,” I reasoned. “However, you may call me ‘Smith,’ if you like. What’s on your mind?” I asked, smiling my friendliest smile.
“I adjure thee and compel thee, laying upon thee this geas—”
“Hang on a second, son,” I interrupted. He looked aghast. “You’re not going to make much progress with the whole compel-and-enslave routine. It never turns out well. All it does it piss off the person you’re trying to compel. They resent it and do what you tell them, but they try to find ways to do it that ruin your intent. It’s never a good thing for you. So, how about you just tell me what you want and I’ll see what I can do—in a fashion that doesn’t screw you over and doesn’t annoy the hell out of me. How’s that sound?”
The wizard took a step back as the demon spoke, interrupting the charging ritual. Demons were tricky, but he’d never heard of one that could resist the spells of compelling.
He licked his lips, suddenly afraid of what he might have conjured.
Still, he listened to what it said and considered the offer. At least some of it was true, and there was an implied bargain to be made. A demon had no choice but to abide by the terms of a bargain, which made defining those terms so important. Those who failed to do so adequately got their wish, but never in a good way. This, however, was an offer of aid in exchange for… what?
“You claim you will assist me?” he queried.
“If I can.”
“And what do you demand in return for your service?”
“I figure it’s easiest to see what you want than to fight my way out. If it turns out you want to be king, you’re on your own. If you want something simple, I can probably help you out. Whatever lets me be laziest. I have other things I need to be doing.”
“I want to be rich!” declared the wizard, laying one hand on the book. It shivered under his touch, like a live thing, and he grasped it firmly, muttering at it to be still. It ignored him and continued to shiver.
“Is that it?” asked the manlike demon.
“What do you mean, ‘Is that it?’”
“You just want a huge pile of gold?”
“An insanely huge pile,” he clarified. “I want not mere riches, but wealth!”
“Okay. Where do you want it?”
“You want a lot of gold. Fine. You won’t want it dropped into this room, do you? If I suddenly fill this room with gold coins, you’re going to die, drowned and buried in your money. Where are you going to keep your money?”
“Oh. Ah. Hmm.”
I tried not to roll my eyes as the wizard started to think. I don’t know why, but I got the impression he’d never done this before. Judging by the way he was failing to control his Tome of Summoning or whatever the book was, I might even be looking at a case of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” I wondered if his hypothetical master knew he was playing with the Big Boy toys.
While he thought about the details on his wish for wealth, I folded my legs and sat down, waiting. I’m learning to be patient, but it’s a journey, not a destination. I rested my chin on one fist and doodled idly on the stone floor with one fingernail. Given the nature of the containment diagram, it could probably be countered, canceled out, by an equal-but-opposite magical effect from inside. If I could neutralize it, that would be great. Failing that, it didn’t seem to be too effective against multidimensional access. A small gate, a hundred gallons of high-pressure seawater, and the diagram would be shot to hell…
“Can you—no,” he began, and started over. “This is the basement,” he said, finally. “If I have you fill an upper room with gold, it will simply come crashing down…”
“Probably. We’re talking tons of it.”
“I should like to put it all down here, but, as you say…”
“Look, here’s the deal. You want me to fill this room up with treasure, right?”
“In return, you’re going to dismiss me back to whence I came, right?”
“My other option is to crack your containment spell and fight for my freedom, right?”
“Since pouring several tons of gold into your basement is less hazardous, how about we make a deal?”
The wizard sighed in relief. At last! A bargain!
“What sort of deal?”
“I agree to provide you with the requested gold. You let me out of the containment so we can get everything out of the basement and out of the way. Then I give you the gold. Since I’m free at that point, I just go away on my own so I can be about my business. Does that strike you as a fair deal?”
“Good. We have a bargain.”
The demon sat there, smiling, waiting for the wizard to open the wards. Seconds passed while he hesitated.
Demons have a reputation for being tricky and clever. But they always, always kept a bargain. This one would be freed, would fill the room with gold, and then leave. What was about to go wrong?
Try as he might, the wizard could not think of a way to pervert the deal. He knew he was inexperienced at this, but it seemed difficult to warp such an agreement.
He spoke the words and raised his hands, unbinding the Circle.
I stood up and stepped out. He didn’t cringe, but he moved back a half-step.
“Okay, now that we’ve got that sorted out, do you want to move all this stuff? Do you have someone to help carry it all?”
Two tables, a pedestal, four bookcases, and I don’t know how many bottles, pots, and jars later, we had everything moved up to the ground floor. The ground floor looked like a rummage sale, but the basement was empty of everything but stains, old wax, and some mold. The wizard was drenched in sweat. It’s the stairs, I think. I carried the heavy stuff, but he still made a lot of trips.
Then I borrowed some chalk and a chair to do some drawing on the ceiling of the basement.
“May I ask what you are doing?” he inquired.
“Keeping my end of the deal,” I told him. “You might not want to stand around down here. Just wait upstairs and listen for the sound of metal hitting the floor. I’ll be up in a few minutes.”
He went up the stairs and I went back to humming and drawing.
The wizard waited, trying not to bite his nails. Down below, the sound of humming and scribbling continued. Soon, he felt the surging of power, like the tide coming in, deep and inexorable. It swelled and grew, now less like the tide and more like a massive wave, towering overhead, ever-higher, climbing into the sky before it broke.
The power came crashing down, blazing as it came, and something in the basement clattered and clinked and roared and thundered. The tower shook like a wineglass on a struck table. If not for the spells holding it together, the stones would have shivered apart, each from the others, and all would have come down in a heap. He dove under the heaviest table and muttered incantations for good luck.
When the tumult subsided, he lifted his head and lowered his arms, looking around. Aside from some shattered jars, all seemed well.
I locked each of my gates on to the nearest—in this world—sizable piles of money. None of them was entirely gold, but there were gems to go with the silver, so I figured it was close enough. The effects of an unstable, still-forming wormhole on the metal and gemstones was unpredictable, but none of it was alive. A strangely-shaped coin is still gold. An oddly-shaped gem might be even more valuable for its uniqueness. The biggest headache, really, was fitting the gates under the treasure. If I was using even a wire gate, it wouldn’t work. There was no room. But a chalk line is ridiculously thin. I can brute-force that between a coin and a rough, stone floor.
I’m just glad none of the gates needed to be a full-sized, ride-Bronze-through-it gate. All I wanted to do was let a pile of treasure pour through. A meter or two across was plenty.
I moved to the stairs and triggered the gates. They swirled and snapped close, opening under the piles of treasure. Four fountains of wealth poured into the room, dropping tons of coins, nuggets, bars—all the forms of money known to man or nature. Along with this came miscellaneous stuff—swords, shields, goblets, and all the usual stuff in a treasure pile.
It was hard to hear over the clanging, banging, clinking ruckus, but my ears are good. I’m pretty sure I heard someone shouting for guards, but I know I heard three full-throated roars of outrage.
The gates closed and the money settled. I went upstairs and dug a coin out of my shoe, tossing it back down. The last thing I wanted was any of the treasure on me. It might be traceable.
My summoner went half-down the stairs and gaped.
“Close enough?” I asked.
“How did you do this?”
“That’s not part of the deal,” I told him. “You asked for the money. You didn’t say anything about how to get it or about explanations.”
“True. Very well. I discharge thee and release thee, thus to return whence you came.”
“Thanks,” I told him, although I didn’t need it. I drew a circle on a blank section of wall and prepared another self-destructing gate spell.
“By the way,” I added, as I was about to depart.
“You summoned me once and got something out of it. Normally, I don’t do anything for people on the basis of ‘Do it and I’ll let you go.’ I don’t negotiate with terrorists. So, just for your edification, next time you summon something, have something it wants beyond that. You’ll get along better and have a much better chance of getting what you want without suffering for it.”
“This went surprisingly well,” he pointed out.
“Yeah, well, you summoned me and I summoned the treasure,” I told him. “That doesn’t mean I went to any effort to make your life easy, dickhead. It’s up to you to keep it, considering who and what is likely looking for it.”
I activated my departure gate and stepped through as he asked the obvious question.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s your treasure now—and your problem. But whose was it ten minutes ago?”
The manlike demon opened a gateway and stepped through. The wizard swallowed heavily as the chalk on the stone wall burned away and a thin layer of wall crumbled to dust as the gate closed. He hurried down the stairs as far as he could and conjured a light, looking over the room in more detail. It gleamed. It shone. In places, it even twinkled.
He sat down on the step and stared at it, the racing of his heart slowing to normal. He laughed aloud, rejoicing in his newfound wealth.
True, there would be problems. Hiding it, concealing it from thieves and tax collectors, all the usual difficulties of the wealthy. But those were for another day. For now, he was rich, rich beyond his greatest expectations.
His laughter stopped when he heard a noise. Suspicious of thieves already, he listened more intently.
Was that the sound of wings?