Autodidact: self-taught

Nov
26
2012

Johannes Cabal

by V. L. Craven

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard
-01- A bit of that silver tongue of yours and people won’t be able to sign up for damnation fast enough.
-02- “ Pre-production schedule. ‘Carnival of Discord’ Project.” He flicked through some other sheets. “Proposed by Leviathan, seconded by Balberith. That’s a novelty, eh, Slabuth? First time he’s ever agreed with anything. Oh, here’s why. Function: to tempt to contentiousness, to blasphemy, argumentation, and murder. Typical, only Balberith would think that people want to go to the carnival to have a good bicker, spit on a Bible, and then kill each other. No wonder it got shelved. Still, the rest of the proposal has Leviathan’s paw prints all over
-03- Satan’s periods of good nature—in common with many managerial types—lasted precisely up until the moment he was challenged. He scowled monstrously, the smile falling from his face like a greased pig off a church roof. Quickly, over a period of seconds, the lava lake cooled. The glowing red rock turned dirty grey and then black. It was getting distinctly colder. Frost started to appear on the stone walls.
-04- His voice became that of the inferno: a rushing, booming howl of icy evil that flew around the great cavern, as swift and cold as the Wendigo on skates. “I am Satan, also called Lucifer the Light Bearer…” Cabal winced. What was it about devils that they always had to give you their whole family history?
-05-The frost was gently melting from the frozen lake as it started to warm up again.
-06- he marked the revelation with a filthy curse in a language that had been dead eight thousand years, so managing to be amazingly erudite and amazingly uncouth in the selfsame instant.
-07- “Of course,” said Cabal, who spoke Bare-Faced Liar like a native when the situation called for it.
-08- “Oh, yes,” he said over his shoulder. “They’ll come from miles around for this. ‘Roll up, roll up. See the world’s largest collection of antediluvian signage. Gasp at the decrepitude. Be astounded by the grammar. A fascinating show rivalled only by the lint in your navel.’ I’ll have to fight them off with a stick.”
-09- Those who do want their bodies interred have different visions of how they’d prefer the environs, as if it would make a difference to them at this juncture. Some imagine a green churchyard on a spring day, the sound of bells calling the faithful to worship, the immaculate grass verges, the white pebbled paths. Some—usually the ones who wear a lot of black and think that Byron must have been mad, bad, and fabulous to know—dream of tenebrous graveyards in the shades of monstrous Gothic churches, beneath a dark, lowering sky that threatens thunder and lightning any second. Being near a mountainous sea wouldn’t hurt, either.
-10- “With all the best will in the world, Johannes, you’re as much fun as a leper at an orgy.”
-11- “The Carnival of Discord. It was mothballed, apparently for reasons of internal politics. Can you believe it? One would have thought immortal beings would have better things to do.” “Pointless and time-consuming. Seems perfect for passing the millennia. Carry on.”
-12- Denzil thought in the detached way of the fairly dead. It was pretty close to the way he’d thought before Cabal had murdered him, so the adjustment had been easy.
-13- He smiled a smile that Cabal had seen make spiders run for cover.
-14- His face moved into something that, by strict dictionary definition, was a smile.
-15- And so, its welcoming smile widening until the fangs showed, the carnival began its first night.
-16- Cabal knew more than enough about the intricacies of the endocrine system to appreciate that a man who goes pale with anger is a great deal more likely to strike out than one who goes red.
-17- “Please! He’s not worth it!” Cabal—who at one time or another had been pursued by village mobs, town mobs, the police, the army, two Inquisitions, and sundry other concerned citizens—was entirely positive that he was worth it.
-18- For Ted, on the other hand, he had conceived a strong dislike, and those for whom Cabal developed a strong dislike rarely prospered.
-19- …he was looking at an oaf doing quite well for himself in an egotistical show of physical superiority. He might as well have been watching professional sports.
-20- He felt the vague sense of evil being directed through him—a sensation somewhere between grief and toothache,
-21- Cabal had already had several run-ins with wilful young lads who seemed to believe that their age and sex gave them some sort of dispensation to commit petty acts of vandalism. One such had particularly infuriated him and was now a permanent fixture in the House of Medical Monstrosity.
-22- The strange emotional turmoil he was in still frightened him, and because it frightened him, it also angered him. It felt so … imposed. And, of course, it was. He felt foolish for imagining that its root had been within him at all. It was from outside. It was from … He looked up at the station. It was coming from here. The vague feelings that had so disturbed him were replaced with cold logic as he put them in their place. It was some form of empathy, he knew now, almost certainly supernatural. He still felt the fear and the loneliness and the dreadful sense of loss, but now it no more touched him than being warm or tired could emotionally touch him. It was simply a sensation, something that his body had detected and that he’d stupidly assumed to be part of him.
-23- Cabal smiled, and, just for once, it wouldn’t have frightened children and old people.
-24- I thought he was making quite a good recovery from what the previous director had unhelpfully referred to as “a soul-searing, sanity-dissolving, profoundly malevolent appetite for power and revenge.”
-25- “An army of lunatics. Fancy. There’s a football match on, then?”
-26- “Maleficarus. Self-styled warlock and Great Beast. Actually, rather a—what’s the term?—wanker. Stole some esoteric tome from one of the great universities, after a lot of work managed to read it, after a lot more work managed to comprehend it. Which is, of course, the last thing you want to do. All that knowledge needed lots of space inside his head, so it heaved his sanity out of his ears. Casting himself as some sort of manifestation of pure evil on Earth, he made unwholesome sacrifices to his dark gods and demanded great power in return.”
-27- “Dark gods?” said the official, dismayed by such wickedness. “Extra-cosmic entities with names that sound like they were typed up by a drunken
-28- Flowers and kisses were a novel change from burning torches and lynch ropes. Not that he liked them much, either.
-29- Cabal dimly recalled that the musical genius who’d decided to put on Necronomicon: The Musical had got everything he deserved: money, fame, and torn to pieces by an invisible monster.
-30- Rufus had finally spotted him and, throwing up his hand in a gesture suitable for halting a column of war-elephants, advanced alone.
-31- Even behind his blue-tinted spectacles, you just knew that his eyes had narrowed.
-32- “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” “I don’t like you anyway, so it makes few odds. I don’t like you happy, sad, beamish, or maudlin.
-33- The vacillating man was already back at his game of croquet, his recent brush with death—less of a brush and more a full-on head-butt—having changed nothing.
-34- Rufus ignored him, muttering in the lost tongue of a pre-human civilisation that had worked great sorcerous happenings yet had never invented the vowel.
-35- Cabal had little time for politicians at any level in the normal run of his scientific career. Well, perhaps the level marked “live experimental subjects,” but that was all.
-36- Cabal hadn’t felt like pointing out that the carnival’s governing body—Hell—only has the sort of health and safety regulations that make sure both are seriously threatened.
-37- He had accurately doubted it would have done their case any good. It had taken the carrot of a large brown envelope stuffed with used bank notes, and the stick of a midnight visit from Phobos the Nightmare Man (who was pathetically grateful to have been seconded from Tartarus: “It’s good to get out, meet the punters. Gets you back in touch, you know?”) to clear things up.
-38- “To let people have … fun,” replied Cabal as if he’d soiled his mouth with the word.
-39- Butler realised he had a visitor by the knock at his door. Actually, it was more the way the door was knocked down, torn out, and lobbed into the next county that was the clue.
-40- Never discuss murder plans with the victim, he reminded himself. It takes all the spontaneity out of it.
-41- “I have a sixth sense,” said Cabal as he gave Joey the look of a man who knows where to lay hands on a pneumatic drill and isn’t afraid to use it,
-42- “And what does your master think of this?” “What? Cheating? He thinks it’s a frightfully good wheeze as a rule.”
-43- Wheatley’s The Satanist. “It’s a rum way to warn people off from worshipping me,” Satan commented, indicating the book. “It seems to be lots of fun, according to this. Still, I bet they all die horribly at the end. Oh well. Who wants to live forever?”
-44- Thomas Nashton Cream—“The Incompetent Killer.” Attempted murders, one. Actual deaths, twenty-seven, all unintentional. Intended victim escaped unscathed. Frederick Gallagher—“The Brides in the Inflammable Electrified Acid Bath Murderer.” Limited threat. Kills only for insurance money. Is prone to overplanning.
-45- Wich is a laff as he has the cat like stelth of a dead pig on rolla skates with a polise siren on its hed.
-46- Cabal twitched with surprise and looked at the townsfolk. He smiled wanly. Somewhere, a churn of milk went sour.
-47- “And whom do I have the plea sure of addressing?” he asked with politeness, but not enough warmth to thaw a crystal of helium.
-48- his brother, the tallish, blond pale man who only ever seemed to deploy a smile as an offensive weapon,
-49- “QUIS EST ISTE QUI VENIT”
-50 -The vicar smiled back. Cabal felt a need to check his own smile in a mirror to make sure it was still the thing of fear that he’d carefully cultivated for years.
-51- The crow had obviously got bored of hanging around the carnival and come to investigate the town. It sat on a nearby wall that somehow looked a lot less scenic for the addition. It looked at them; first with one eye, then with the other. Then, to show it was a polymath among crows, it went back to the first eye.
-52- It’s so nice.” He said it as an imprecation.
-53- Fate”—he said the word pointedly, as if he were on poor terms with it—
-54- “I used to like Lapsang Souchong in my adolescence.” He looked Barrow straight in the eye, and Barrow almost expected him to add, “And now you know my secret, you must die.”
-55- He blinked the pain away and tried to marshal his arguments. They weren’t having it and remained an undisciplined mob.
-56- Evil. The word had lost its power through overuse. Now it just meant incomprehensible to the uncomprehending.
-57- a very unpleasant smile had crept across his face, like a melanoma in time-lapse.
-58- I’d hoped for some sort of great emotion from those whose lives I took. After all, being murdered for no other reason than because a pallid little man—I am under no illusions as to how you perceive me—wants to prove a point, you would think it would make people angry at the very least. It would seem unfair, would it not? But all I ever got was faint expressions of surprise. You know, I don’t believe they noticed I had murdered them. I really don’t. They just seemed faintly put out, as if it were a bit of bad luck, an act of God. ‘Oh, my carotid artery has been severed with an open razor. I knew I should have cut down on greasy foods.’ ‘Botheration, I’m being belaboured with a fourteenth-century battleaxe. What are the odds, eh?’ I was standing there in front of them with a sub-machine gun or backing over them with a rotary cultivator or whatever and shouting, ‘I am Alfred Simpkins! I am killing you! Will you please take a little bit of bloody notice, please?’ But they never did. So I kept going. Hope springs eternal, after all.”
-59- “Ain’tcha got homes t’ go to?” His manner implied that if anybody didn’t, then he knew a nice hospital that they could spend the next few weeks in as an alternative.
-60- The higher centres of Barrow’s mind, his Ego and Super-Ego, were aware that all was not well and were hammering on the bridge door of his mind. Unfortunately, the beastly Mr. Id wasn’t receiving visitors today,
-61- Barrow’s Super-Ego was standing on his Ego’s shoulders and bellowing through the air vent to the bridge, “We are in big trouble unless you do something, you hairy oaf! Fight or flight! Fight or flight!” Id wasn’t listening, naturally. He just sat in the captain’s chair with an unseemly tent in his jockey shorts
-62- “Yes! Yes, I’m a necromancer, technically a necromancer. But I’m not one of those foolish people who take up residence in cemeteries so that they can raise an army of the dead. Have you ever seen an army of the dead? They’re more expensive than a living one, and far less use. A shambles; they march ten miles and their legs fall off. Napoleon would have approved—that really is an army that marches on its stomach. Until it falls out.
-63- words failed him (although he could probably have made some grunting noises that put his feelings over adequately).
-64- Rocks began to fall from the walls. Cabal looked around in sudden fear for his life. Surely Satan couldn’t go back on a deal, especially one that he’d made that very minute? Tiers started to thrust out of the walls. Flying things in swarms settled upon them, imps bundled out of small tunnels that opened like geological sphincters in the walls. Several immediately fell in the lava, but that’s imps for you. Satan rose to his feet and stood, massive and malevolent, his head almost lost in the reeking clouds. Behind him, the floor shivered and shattered as his generals, princes, and barons rose behind him: Balberith, Beelzebub, and Carreau; Melmoroth, Shakarl, and Mr. Runcible; Olivier, Leviathan, and Yog-Sothoth, who just happened to be there because he couldn’t help it.
-65- Look, Johannes, my boy, you and me, we go right back, maybe we can work something out?” “The only thing I’d like to ‘work out’ of you is your liver with a cold chisel.”
-66- Everything was as it should be, everything in its place, that which he had left dead was still dead. That always simplified things.
-67- This was far more satisfying: summoning up the ghost of Aunt Matilda for an insight into next week’s lottery numbers was dull; a maniac with a pointy beard unleashing an army of skeletal warriors, however, was fun.
-68- I’m at the mercy of a demented chain-smoker, thought Cabal. Oh, happy day.
-69- “This is a fine country you’ve got here,” he said to Antrobus II. “Such a fine place. A nominal leader who should have been in a sepulchre a week ago and a military full of inbred psychopaths.” They walked a little further. “A little bit like Imperial Rome, really.”
-70- Meissner pulled himself up to his full height, a little over six feet, and looked dignified, an expression lesser mortals could assume only with the aid of lemon juice and alum.
-71- In the last few months, he’d found himself prey to strange twinges that, after some research, he had discovered to be his conscience. This unwelcome quality took exception to many of the perfectly logical actions he had previously committed with the regularity of habit.
-72- The savoury aroma of hot vengeance was wafting through the air. The Italians might prefer it cold, but they had girlie sabres, too, so what the hell did they know?
-73- Cabal wasn’t a man given to apologising, but he could see that he’d got off on the wrong foot here and was drawing attention to himself. He leafed quickly through his memory until he found an image of somebody smiling apologetically, and then mimicked it.
-74- He balled his hands together in what he sincerely believed to be a contrite posture and simpered slightly. Facial muscles that had never been used previously for anything other than stony implacability and the occasional sneer screamed under the strain.
-75- Cabal knew from past experience the peculiar horror that is the weak punster.
-76- He despised acting; the whole conceit of concealing his personality was distasteful in the extreme,
-77- he would have to spend the entire evening pretending to be something he wasn’t, and the forfeit for failing to be convincing was death: it simply wasn’t conducive to having a good time. On the other hand, he disliked the company of others at the best of times, and being forcibly surrounded by the well-to-do and very smug burghers and spouses of Mirkarvia intensified that dislike by a comfortable magnitude or two. Perhaps he could plead airsickness and retire early. Then he considered well-meaning matrons pestering him for the rest of the voyage with patented gippy stomach remedies, many of which would involve raw eggs. No, he’d just have to tough it out and be distant, offhand, and generally unfriendly. He perked up slightly; the evening was looking more interesting already.
-78- He tried to speak, but his vocabulary had studied the situation and taken the evening off.
-79- “You really do think that you’re superior to everybody else, don’t you?” “Don’t be absurd,” he answered, while trying hard to think of somebody he looked up to. There didn’t seem to be anybody.
-80- “Don’t think you can quantify me and put me in a thesis. A census taker once tried to test me. I let my front garden eat him.”
-81- They served to remind Cabal—should a reminder ever be necessary—why his social skills were so poor: people were loathsome and not worth the practise.
-82- She addressed the question directly to Herr Roborovski, but he just looked blankly at her like a rep actor who was considering what to have for supper instead of watching for his cue. After a moment, Frau Roborovski said, “He’s a cabinetmaker.” Her husband jumped slightly, like a rep actor who has finally decided to have Welsh rabbit for supper and returns to the here and now to discover a stage full of his fellow actors glaring daggers at him.
-83- Cabal activated the muscles that careful research had revealed would create a supercilious smile. It was one of his more convincing ones.
-84- Cabal looked at him. The expression “if looks could kill” does not begin to describe the pure corrosive abhorrence that he put into the glance. If, however, the steward had suddenly found himself transported far away and nailed, through his genitals, to the steeple of a church in the middle of a violent electrical storm, a more exact impression may be gained.
-85- Now he’d allowed himself to get rattled and it had slipped his mind. Johannes Cabal hated being rattled. It was so … human.
-86- Cacon seemed to live in his own little world, and where the real one impinged upon his it was always … disappointing.
-87- Cabal smiled, too, a purely technical exercise.
-88- Next to the colonel was a floppy-haired youth, which is to say, he was perhaps five or so years younger than Cabal. Cabal had, however, worked hard to cram such grotesque quantities of responsibility, activity, and learning, both theoretical and practical, into every one of his days, that his years became akin to dog years.
-89- Cabal disliked him instinctively, having identified him as a man still prey to his hormones while his intellect puttered around in the background like an embarrassed parent.
-90- Pudding, however, still lay a little way off into the future. The main course came next, steak cooked in the Mirkarvian fashion—so rare as to be just this side of stationary. Miss Barrow looked at her plate as red juices oozed from the flesh. “What am I supposed to do with this?” she asked Cabal in an aside. “Eat it or resuscitate it?” “Thank your stars that you asked for it well done,” he replied. He’d asked for his to be cooked medium rare, which in Mirkarvian cuisine meant it had been shown a picture of an oven for a moment and then served. A very brief moment, mind.
-91- As his fellow diners had their full attention on their plates as they laboriously sawed away at their meals—less fine dining, more like a bayonet charge—Cabal
-92- When her eyes met his, there was no sudden looking away, or even glances laden with meaning. She looked dispassionately into his eyes, as she might those of a statue or an animal at the zoo.
-93- As an afterthought, he leaned slightly towards Cabal, and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “She’s English.” This bombshell delivered, and etiquette satisfied, he dumped the food into his mouth with all the delicacy of a steam engine’s fireman shovelling coal into the firebox.
-94- Cabal did not recall ever having heard an apocalyptic disaster resulting in death and horror characterised as Pouf! A disciple of understatement himself, he warmed slightly to DeGarre.
-95- There was a limited choice between the famous Mirkarvian dish, tschun—which not only sounds like a sneeze but looks like it
-96- “Humanity is a despicable mass, Herr Zoruk, and ill-suited to the compassion of romantics. Sometimes it requires culling.” “Oh?” said Zoruk. He sounded worn out and depressed. “And who would choose who lives and who dies?” I would, ideally, thought Cabal. I’d make a more informed job of it than most.
-97- Cabal managed to reduce a full roll of the eyes to a momentary interest in the carpet’s pattern, and entered the fray.
-98- Cabal slept lightly. This was as much a learned behaviour as a natural aspect; far too many people and other entities had trod lightly towards him as he slept with less kindly intentions than tucking him in and kissing his brow. He skimmed through the dreaming edges of deep sleep like a man on ice skates, standing rigid, arms crossed, and wearing a disapproving expression, as his subconscious mind threw phantasms, childhood memories, and random elements of his recent past in his path with more optimism than expectation.
-99- Cabal sat in the darkness, his hands clasped, his index fingers extended and tapping rapidly together as he fought his curiosity.
-100- She herself was wearing a red-and-blue tartan gown over a white winceyette nightdress. In purely aesthetic terms, her nighttime apparel made Cabal wonder how the English ever managed to find sufficient motivation to breed.
-101- “How,” said Cabal, wondering how far he could let the uncomfortable persona of Herr Meissner slip in safety. Every degree was a relief.
-102- Pure brute logic overruled any silly murder shenanigans by pointing out the suicide note and the locked room, and then proceeded to wave Ockham’s razor around in a threatening manner.
-103- He disliked extemporised activities, not least because going without preparation usually meant being unprepared.
-104- Johannes Cabal disliked many things, despised fewer, loathed fewer still, and reserved true hatred for only a handful. Understanding how intense his personal definition of “dislike” was, however, gives some impression of how hot his hatreds ran. This is a man who had, after all, shot men dead for making him faintly peeved. Johannes Cabal hated people trying to kill him. He hated it, and he hated them. Certainly, most people aren’t keen on it, but few have actually experienced it, and fewer still on the regular basis with which Cabal was familiar.
-105- Cabal by degrees had grown more inured to the actual event of an attempt upon his life, but he never could gird himself effectively against the intent. He didn’t so much find it hurtful as ignorant. To kill him would either be the work of a Luddite, fearful of his necromantic studies, or a vandal who tried to destroy him simply because that’s what vandals do. Thus, for Johannes Cabal, was the world arranged: Luddites, vandals, and a vast chorus of the undecided.
-106- Fortunately for him, the animal part of his brain that so irritated him with such base desires as eating and sleeping had different priorities. To expedite these, the uppermost of which was “Don’t die,” it had dumped a large quantity of adrenaline into Cabal’s bloodstream, and had—after locating one of the rungs by the hatch edge during a panicked fumble—affixed his right hand to it with a grip of stone.
-107- he hung by one hand like an apple from the bough, and wondered, with a degree of objectivity that surprised him even at the time, whether panicking might help.
-108- The slipper fell from one foot and whirled into the void and out of sight. That settled it. The thought of his corpse being found largely naked but for one slipper (should it stay on during the fall) and a dressing gown that was a definite crime against aesthetics spurred him into action. He looked up and started to swing his free hand to grab on to the handle. As the edge of the hatch was almost within range, a gloved hand reached down and slapped his away. Oh yes, thought Cabal. Somebody’s trying to kill me. I’d almost forgotten. His assailant, hidden in the shadows of the conduit, gripped the little finger of Cabal’s right hand and very deliberately started to bend it back. This was really too much. There was nothing for it—his attacker had to die.
-109- Cabal slowed his chewing for a moment. Then he took a sip of black coffee, swallowed, and said, as if it were a common subject for conversation, “Last night, somebody tried to kill me.”
-110- Cabal could not have been more horrified if she’d pulled off her face to reveal a gaping chasm of eternal night from which glistening tentacles coiled and groped. That had already happened to him once in his life, and he wasn’t keen to repeat the experience.
-111- Cabal hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, but he could see the truth in her words. He never went out of his way to damage people’s lives—not except in some very deliberate cases, anyway—but people would insist on getting in the way. Now he considered it more carefully, he began to appreciate just why quite so many bullets, knives, and the occasional crossbow quarrel had whistled past his frantically dodging head down the years.
-112- His first instinct was always to keep his business to himself, not least because his business frequently carried a death sentence.
-113- Then again, he had been dealing only with the ophidian Count Marechal, a bargain-basement Machiavelli if ever there was one.
-114- Cabal assumed that they took the Daily Obvious, and perhaps the Sunday Truism of a weekend.
-115- he had realised early on that the best way to avoid assorted blowhards and rapscallions bursting through the door declaiming “We meet again, Mister Cabal!,” or some such nonsense, was simply to kill them the first time around while they were handy and vulnerable.
-116- Still, as a working practise it had a great deal to recommend it. Even the trail of murder it left was of little import, since—first—most of his victims were already under sentence of death for crimes against God, Nature, and Humanity, and—second—Cabal himself was already under sentence of death for crimes against God, Nature, and Humanity, so another few corpses on the tally sheet would hardly concern him unduly. They could hang him only once.
-117- An unsympathetic observer might have said that when one embarks on a career as a necromancer—consorting with demons, digging up the dead and bringing them back to life, or at least something fairly similar to life—one can hardly complain when things become complicated.
-118- But Cabal had problems with simple things. His was a complex life, and when something simple was called for he generally had to sidle up to it in a long series of lateral steps, circling it like a crab of the intellect. After some minutes of mental scuttling, his face was transformed by a smile. It was not a nice smile. It was the smile of a criminal mastermind who, on capturing his nemesis, decides to forgo the circular saws and piranhas and just shoots the man.
-119- Cabal was filled with a presentiment and a strange foreboding that he hadn’t felt since the last time he’d watched the nightmare corpse city of R’lyeh rise, effulgent with the ineffable and fetid with fish, from the depths of the Pacific.
-120- Given the cavernous dimensions of the stein, this meant there was enough alcohol in it to burn down a mid-size bonded warehouse. Cabal was only an occasional drinker, and knew that he would be singing about goblins before he was even a quarter of his way through it.
-121- Whenever she sees a man who interests her in a certain way, she isn’t happy until that man has joined her for an evening of sport.” It was obvious from Cabal’s face that he was working down a list of possible sports. The slight expression of consternation indicated that he had arrived at cricket. Leonie decided to put him out of his misery. “She’s a bike. A tart. A slut. She’ll be buried in a Y-shaped coffin. A baggage. A hussy. She’s the good time that was had by all. A wanton floozy.” She looked closely at him, but he still seemed to be stuck on cricket. “A nymphomaniac.”
-122- He was pining badly for his laboratory. Things were so much simpler there. If something proved problematical, he could just drop it in the waste bin and start again. Sometimes, admittedly, whatever proved problematical didn’t especially want to go into the bin and he might have to smite it several times with a retort stand or perhaps shoot it before it would behave, but these were procedures he understood, and used. This great social laboratory within which Leonie Barrow seemed so at home was a horrible mystery to him, and he especially despised being used as an experimental subject.
-123- “Doubtless,” said Miss Barrow, smiling. It was the smile of a large predator just prior to driving its fangs into its prey’s cervical vertebrae.
-124- “Wouldn’t kill them to crack a smile now and then.” That this was the most rank hypocrisy, coming from a man for whom cracking a smile himself would probably prove fatal,
-125- There is possibly no insult so calculated to sting the English as the suggestion that they may at any time be considered foreign, as this flies in the face of the obvious truth that the whole of Creation actually belongs to the English, and they are just allowing everybody else to camp on bits of it from a national sense of noblesse oblige.
-126- Sighing heavily, for he disliked violence generally and murder in particular, Cabal set off to commit violent murder.
-127- Cabal was a great fan of dignity in general and of his own in particular, and managed to keep the hopping down to two low springs before overcoming the sharp and penetrating pain.
-128- Only now did he remember that using Miss Barrow in any ploy that involved being within calling-for-help range of an officer of the law while he stood right next to her was akin to searching for a gas leak with a flamethrower.
-129- “However … I can smell blood.” She looked at him in astonishment for a moment, and then sniffed experimentally. Perhaps it was just his words playing on her imagination, but she thought she could scent something warm and metallic on the warm evening air. “Oh, God. I think you’re right. Where’s it coming from?” Cabal looked around, questing. “I think it’s coming from—Ah. Actually, you’re standing in it.” To her credit, Miss Barrow reacted in no more melodramatic a fashion than stepping back to study the dark wet patch that had formed between the cobbles at the end of a small shadowed pathway that led down beside the church before joining the road. It looked black and oily under the yellow glow of the warming gaslight mantles, high atop their lampposts. “That’s a lot of blood,” she said with more detachment than Cabal would have expected. “Not necessarily. A little blood goes a long way,” he replied a bit ruefully, the voice of experience. For her answer, she daintily dipped the toe of her shoe into the patch. It went in quite a way. It seemed that the patch was just the surface of a deep pool that had formed where a cobble was missing. “That’s a lot of blood,” she repeated, and Cabal couldn’t argue with that. It had to be the best part of a litre, and people tend to get very distressed when they find themselves missing such a large portion of their vital bodily fluids. That, or dead.
-130- “Where are you going?” “For reagents. Not the ideal circumstances under which to gather them, but I think I can throw something together in a hurry that should give the hapless Herr Cacon one last shudder of animation.” Miss Barrow did not seem convinced. Impatient, for the first few minutes of a person’s death are the most vitally important minutes of opportunity for a necromancer, Cabal added, “Look, I have to go. Without the necessary chemicals, we’ll lose whatever wits are still floating around his cooling brain. The only more immediate alternative that I can think of is a Tantric ritual involving necrophiliac sodomy and, frankly, I don’t think my back is up to it. So, if you will excuse me?” And he left, inwardly treasuring Miss Barrow’s expression.
-131- Cabal smiled quietly at suchlike—a smile he had spent painstaking minutes in front of the mirror bringing to a high finish, a smile that said, I will indulge your attention for a few seconds, but then you should really look away, with a pitch-perfect subtext, barely discernible at a conscious level, that went, Or I shall run an open razor across your eyeball. Everybody looked away.
-132- his thoughts went off in other directions and had to be dragged back into line by the scruff of the neck and spoken harshly to.
-133- he heard the happy shrieks of children, and the sound curdled his enjoyment of the day somewhat. He had once been forced by circumstances to be vaguely polite to children for a whole year when he ran the carnival, and the experience had scarred him.
-134- When dealing with devils, demons, and the ungrateful undead, hiding one’s emotions is a survival skill. Cabal—being a well-practised necromancer of several years’ experience and still alive to boot—had long since nailed that particular talent down,
-135- Cabal raised an eyebrow and smiled a smile at Count Marechal so dry that you couldn’t have dragged a molecule of water out of it with fuming sulphuric acid.
-136- Johannes Cabal was, though it pained him sorely to admit it, only human, and it is human to err. In his chosen profession, however, to err was to risk lynching, immolation, or ingestion. Cabal had so far kept his errors mainly on the small side—a singed eyebrow here, a deranged imp with a meat cleaver there

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress