Within the next half-hour, Warren Oldham thought, he would either be successful or dismembered. At the thought, all the worries that had romped through his mind ever since he opened his eyes that morning froze or dove for cover, and Warren stood up taller. He felt his bones balancing on each other and the muscles that held them in place, the nerves that sent messages to them with pinpoint accuracy, the brain that generated the messages, the mind that thought them up, the soul that determined what the mind would come up with, what defined him as Warren and nobody else. Warren had called up a demon every weekday morning for almost twenty-eight years, and every time he did the preparatory inventory he felt this satisfaction and confidence. It was a sign of having chosen the right career.
He shut his eyes for a moment, swaying backwards and forwards a little, and thought that anyone who looked at him would have seen a stout pink-and-white man with a little tonsure and a large mustache--a man with no worries.
"Well?" James Kalin said.
"Ready," Warren answered, opening his eyes, and took a half-step forward toward the golden chain inside the pentarium.
"Too far!" James warned, from his left.
"Not far enough," Russell Cinea said, from his right.
Warren concluded that he was just right. He raised his voice in the first syllables of the summoning charm, and the rest of the Demonology Department joined in.
"Inquiring spirit," they intoned. "Adventurer in the arcane realms, Lord of Darkness, seeker of knowledge, hear us! Teach us!"
Warren was invoking his colleagues as much as the demons with these epithets, and he mentally divided them into those who knew this and those who didn't. The senior faculty nearest him--Russell Cinea, James Kalin, the herbalist Anders Regan and Cham Ligalla the exorcist--knew it. Their powers, more subtle and self-aware than their colleagues', made the foundation of the circle of magic beginning to fill the pentarium.
The pentarium at the Royal Academy of the Arcane Arts and Sciences lay belowground in a cavern under the Magic Building, dug into the ley-line itself and humming with power. A circular room, plated with gold and almost featureless except for the door and the safety switch in the wall behind Warren, it shone with a pale yellow light. The thirteen magicians of the Demonology Department stood outside a gold safety chain that stretched, knee-height, between five gold posts set a meter in from the chamber's edge. Within the chain lay the pentacle itself, drawn in blood.
Warren stood at the side furthest from the pentarium door, where he could look across at the junior faculty who stood by it. That was the only perk of heading the Demonology Department. He got to stand furthest from the door, so if anything went wrong the demon would have more time to dismember him. That was how one got out of heading the department, Warren had said, but it wasn't true. Only two administrators had left that way.
The demonologists wore blue paper smocks, belted with gold chains from which hung the Academy's ward and other protective charms, and all had gold chains around their necks. Warren's chain was a gift from his wife Lilian and his mother Bosie, made of square medallions so heavy they needed a counterweight at the back of his neck. James Kalin wore a thinner necklace, decorated with gold roses. Some of the roses had fallen off, leaving unsightly lumps of solder, but it was a gift from Kalin's daughter and he wore it nevertheless. Cinea, a bachelor, wore the standard chain available from any lab supplies catalog.
When they began the second verse of the charm, Warren always took what might be a last look at his colleagues. They stood in a lopsided circle and a row of reflected magicians stood behind them, with their backs to the circle as if they were uninterested in their fellows.
"Spirit of knowledge, enlighten us," they chanted, flattering the demons and themselves. "Join our discourse. We open our minds to your wisdom; we invite you."
This was Theodora Whin's language, and her magic glowed warmer with every word. Even though she had pulled back to lean casually against the wall, and Warren could only see her nail-bitten hand reaching around the curve of the circle, her power stretched across the room as if she were willing to define the entire project, if invited to.
The same language enraged Linus Ukadnian, the geomancer who towered over the other side of the circle. Linus was the only person wearing anything around his neck except a gold chain; he had on a bow tie, but he was so fierce that nobody dared smile at it. The next clauses were more to his taste. "Sages of the nether realm," he chanted, as if every word were a reproach to his colleagues. "Seekers after truth, hear us!" Linus and Teddy between them sent an arc of clashing magics right across the pentarium, and their colleagues' powers--cold and warm, crisp and relaxed--filled in the chinks around it.
The junior demonologists in front of the door kept up the chant without adding much of their own personalities to it. Neil Torecki spoke with the most energy, his red curls bobbing. He cheated every few minutes, reading from crib notes written on his arm. Isaac Graham's face was screwed up as he concentrated on remembering the spell. And Hiram Rho, the natural philosopher standing right in front of the door, odd man out at this, his first conjuration--Rho was a mess.
Rho was in his twenties, a little, wiry, tree-climbing sort of man, with blond hair that stood out horizontally over his ears and pale blue eyes. His hands were small and filthy. His expression was sour. His stance was belligerent. What would happen, Warren wondered, if Rho were so grubby as to not make skin contact with the colleagues holding his hands? He looked the kind to be wearing a broken chain, mended with old twist ties... Warren shivered, imagining the circle broken and his faculty disemboweled. 'How did this happen?' the dean would ask. 'Did you know the man was incompetent? Did you suspect it?'
He felt himself go cold and then a comforting thought burst on him like sunlight. He was the one furthest from the door. He'd be the one disemboweled, not the one answering questions. Warren gave a sigh of relief and noticed that he was even colder, shivering harder, and the other magicians were all looking to him. They all felt the cauld grue that meant a demon stood among them, lured into the pentarium by the summoning charm.
Warren stepped forward another half-pace and raised his voice in the final verse of the incantation, the others chiming in at each word, and he felt his magicians come back from wherever they had been. All their attention was on him and on the words they were speaking, words about themselves and how much they wanted to meet and talk with one of the most powerful arcane creatures. With every word, Warren felt pleasure and anticipation rise warm through his whole body and out into the circle, his magic meeting, clashing and harmonizing with his colleagues' until they formed one thing greater and more complex than any one of them, something any self-respecting demon must investigate. Red smoke began to rise in the inner pentacle, whirling like a distracted tornado, and its cold hit against the circle as if it were feeling for places it could pry apart, and finding none.