You may have heard of Johannes Cabal; he is a necromancer and a little infamous. He is also very sensitive to attempts on his life. When a murder of crows tries to... well, murder him, and the contents of his bath are transmuted into hot nitric acid, he suspects someone may mean him harm. The trail leads to one of the less travelled parts of Hell itself, and there Cabal will need a guide.
As Dante had his Virgil, so Cabal employs the services of a devil who is a monster, a predator, and -- most alien of all to Cabal -- a woman. The devil Zarenyia and he delve deep into Hell, even into Satan's greatest mistake, to confront challenges quite outside the ken of any mortal. But one should always use a long spoon when supping with a devil, and Cabal soon realises the unthinkable, a horror beyond his experience. He is actually beginning to like her.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
JONATHAN L. HOWARD is a game designer, scriptwriter, and a veteran of the computer-games industry since the early nineties, with titles such as the Broken Sword series to his credit. He is author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Johannes Cabal the Detective, and Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, as well as the YA novels Katya’s World and Katya’s War. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and daughter.
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A Long Spoon
By Jonathan L. Howard, Greg Ruth
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2014 Jonathan L. Howard
All rights reserved.
Johannes Cabal wasn't used to being quite so overwhelmed in the presence of a woman, but overwhelmed he was, and a question, as impertinent as it was pressing, forced itself from his lips.
"Madam," he said, knowing enough to be embarrassed by the asking, "forgive me for being so forward, but might I enquire—and you must feel in no way constrained to answer if you do not wish to do so—might I enquire, are you exothermic or endothermic? Your metabolism, that is?"
The lady in question regarded him with coquettish amusement. If she had possessed a fan, she would surely have fluttered it. She did not, however, answer.
"Poikilothermic, perhaps?" ventured Cabal.
"Poikilothermic," she repeated slowly, each syllable divorced from its neighbour by a full second of silence. She smiled. "I like you," she said. "You're funny. I don't think I've ever met a funny human before."
Cabal hesitated; he wasn't used to being found comedic, either. "I assure you, madam, it is in no way my intention to ..."
But she wasn't listening. "Poik," she said, savouring the sound. "Poik, poik, poik."
This was not going the way most summonings of supernatural entities usually went. He had some experience in that direction and knew them to involve a great deal of preparation, a precise understanding of the ritual's ontological aspects, and patience. In this case, however, he had barely begun the ritual before the concentric summoning and warding circles were filled with a great deal of ... he wasn't quite sure what. He had summoned creatures from other plains, lost souls, and demons in the past, but this was the first time he had summoned a devil, which is to say a demon with more autonomy than the common herd.
The choice had been forced upon him by circumstance. If he summoned some common or garden demon, it might feel beholden to report his business to Satan; that would never do. He and Satan were not entirely sympathetic to one another these days. If Satan maintained a Christmas card list—which is not as unlikely as it seems—then Cabal was surely off it.
A devil, then. A reasonably free agent that did its acts of wickedness and subversion off its own bat rather than kowtowing to the great Lucifer and his menagerie of generals in the lowest ring of Hell. Johannes Cabal had gone through his extensive library harvesting the true names of any such things he could find, and then, by deduction and lot, settled upon one rarely summoned and therefore likely more tractable to the wiles of a cunning mortal such as himself. The disadvantage of such a method was that he had found no indications whatsoever as to the nature of the devil commonly—a very relative term in this circumstance—called Zarenyia, though whose true name was mottled with glottal stops, apostrophes, and—unavoidably—small sprays of saliva.
Cabal had therefore duly glottal-y stopped, apostrophised, and spat his way through the summoning and been rewarded with the diabolical manifestation that now stood before him, going "Poik."
Cabal had been braced for all manner of hideous forms, anything from a body built from maggots to an evil-minded shade of pink, but he was slightly nonplussed by Zarenyia's actual appearance. She was undoubtedly female, and probably very attractive in a shallow "really rather beautiful" sort of way. Her hair was short and red, her skin pale, her form gamine, her countenance open and attractive, her bosom pleasant without being overbearing, and her legs ... Well, there were rather too many of them, by a factor of four.
From the waist down, Zarenyia was a great spider. Her abdomen was smooth and black, her legs arched and powerful in appearance within the articulated chitin.
Cabal had chosen to summon her in—what appeared to be from the outside—a shuttered metalwork business in a railway arch. In reality, it was one of Hell's sundry backdoors, known as "Kemch" amongst those who tabulated such rarities. Beyond the breezeblock and corrugated steel wall was a cavern that in no way correlated with the dimensions of the arch in which it was based. The cavern was some twenty yards wide at its narrowest point, the outer entrance sealed by the inconsonant urban wall, but the inner trailed off to a tunnel that pitched into a slow descent. Torches burned eternally in sconces there, fuelled by the souls of hedge fund managers and other such low creatures.
Given all the space, Cabal had decided to allow a larger than usual circle for the summoning, and the serendipity of that action he now appreciated. The torch light glimmered from the dark armour of Zarenyia's body and legs, and it occurred to him that she was not an exact analogue of a true spider; there was something mechanical about the abdomen and limbs that made them perhaps even more disconcerting than simply being an unfeasibly massive arachnid. Her forebody would have made her stand at least as tall as Cabal's six feet and one inch had she been possessed of more conventional legs. The spider-like aspect of her made her stand a good yard taller than him, and the tips of her legs circumscribed the inner edge of the broad summoning circle in all its five yards easily.
"Poik," said the great spider-woman devil. She sighed at such fun. "What's this all about then? Which particular whim would you like me to fulfil, O mortal?"
"I abjure thee, O spirit, to be bound by this covenant!" said Cabal in a firm voice that brooked no shenanigans. One had to be firm with demons and, he presumed, devils. "By the power of the great Adonay, I ..."
The devil was looking at him in astonishment. "Are you trying to bind me? You are, aren't you? You're trying to bind me!" The expression gave way to a flirtatious wink. "You naughty boy."
"There is no trying about it, madam," said Cabal. "You're not leaving that circle until I have guarantees as to your obedience and my safety."
"Well, here's the thing, darling. You don't mind me calling you 'darling,' do you?" Without waiting for Cabal's opinion on the matter, she continued, "If I were a demon, you'd be doing the right thing. They are all mixed up in fealties and duties to one another. Terribly feudal, I know, but it seems to work for them. So, you call in favours from the higher-ups to gain power over those lower in the chain, yes? The rub is, I am a free agent. That's what a devil is, at least by my understanding. The upshot of it is that the great Adonay can whistle for all I care. You can't bind me. Sorry."
She shrugged and seemed genuinely saddened by events.
Cabal was nonplussed. His plan depended on having a devil as an agent. He could not see how to proceed if such a simple prerequisite was unavailable to him. "Oh," he said, and sat on a boulder. "This is disappointing."
Zarenyia shrugged sympathetically once more, but offered no suggestions.
"I don't entirely understand how devils are bound, in that case," said Cabal. "If there is no fulcrum upon which to bend your obedience, how is it done? I have read of devils helping sorcerers many times."
"Ah!" said the devil, raising her index finger to nail the important point Cabal had inadvertently raised. "Did you hear what you just said? 'Helping.' It's just a thought, but you could always try asking nicely."
"Nicely?" Cabal shook his head wearily. "Madam, I am tired and dismayed. Do not mock me. I am very much not in the mood."
"I'm not mocking you, sweetheart," she said, slightly offended. "I'm being perfectly serious. Look, you want a guarantee? A devil's word is her bond, just as much as it for demons. We're far more reliable that way than humans, yet we're the evil ones?" She spread her hands at such injustice.
Cabal found his interest piqued. "You mean negotiation?"
"Exactly that." Zarenyia smiled pleasantly. "Give me what I want and you can have what you want, which includes my promise that I shall not hurt you, enchant you, or otherwise ruin your day."
Cabal rose and walked to the edge of the circle. "And what would you want?"
The devil looked off into the middle distance in deep thought, her expression that of a child formulating a letter to Father Christmas. "Well," she said after some moments of consideration, "I haven't been summoned in a very long time, and I'm bored. Whatever you want me to do, it had better be interesting. Also, it would be lovely to kill a few people. So ... yes, those are my demands: murder and fun."
Cabal looked up at the spider devil Zarenyia and crossed his arms. "Madam," he said slowly, "I believe we may have a deal."
* * *
It all began, as so many everyday tales do, with the quest for immortality. Cabal's own interest was largely academic; life was offered impetus by its very brevity in his opinion. To take away the briefness of life was to rob it of necessity, and so immortality was simply a breathing death. On the other hand, immortality necessarily depended on the manipulation of vital forces, and the manipulation of vital forces was a subject close to the fist of flint he called a heart.
While those who historically claimed to have happened upon the secret of eternal life had usually let themselves down badly by subsequently dying, there were certain cases that the fine-toothed comb of Cabal's researches had turned up that deserved further investigation.
One such (Cabal informed Zerenyia, who—upon a nest of folded legs—listened with gratifying attention) was the Chinese sorcerer, Luan Da, who live in the time of the Han Dynasty. Luan Da has not weathered the waves of history well; since his life in the second century before Christ, he has been lucky to escape a sentence that did not also contain the word "charlatan" or "fraud." He was attached to the court of Emperor Wu for the express purpose of making contact with supernatural entities that would furnish him—and thence the Emperor—with the secret of living forever. During a retreat in which he was to make such contact, he was shadowed by a spy of the Emperor who observed the great sage walking alone at a time when he would later claim to have been conferring with the spirits.
Wu was profoundly unamused on hearing this, and Luan Da was executed horribly for his perfidy by being sawn in two at the waist.
This, the history books tell us and, as far as they go, they are correct. The unspoken assumption, however, is that Luan Da must have been a charlatan, because clearly there is no such thing as magical immortality. To the mind of Johannes Cabal, such a conclusion was fallacious. There was only one way to be sure, and that was to ask Luan Da.
Twelve weeks beforehand, Cabal had organised a little séance, having first polished his Hokkien and Tang dialects so he would have a fighting chance of speaking with the dead man's spirit. These preliminaries had proved unnecessary; he could not find Luan Da's spirit to converse with it.
This in itself was not unusual; most dead people enjoy the taciturnity of eternity and don't care to chat. At first he assumed this was the case, but subsequent ventures with lot and circle confused him. To borrow a modern analogy, calling Luan Da did not result in a ringing tone via the celestial switchboard that went unanswered, but instead admitted to nothing more than a dead line.
It is possible for the dead to be entirely unreachable or undetectable in the afterlife, but it is usually because their souls have been consumed by powerful otherwordly entities and this is a rare happenstance. Why this should happen to Luan Da exercised Cabal's curiosity, and he proceeded with a programme of experiments to find the truth of the affair.
It was as he embarked on these experiments that he noted that small, odd things were befalling him. As a necromancer of some little infamy, he was not unused to small, odd things befalling him, but these were odd even by his lights.
First had been an attempted murder by crows. He had been making his way back to his house from the nearby village when a parliament of perhaps fifty of the animals had decamped from a stand of ash trees and done their level best to peck him to death. It was only through the intercession of the crow that lived by his own house and that fondly believed itself to be Cabal's pet—it was alone in this belief—that the flock broke off its attack to indulge in a great deal of cawing at one another before repairing back to the ash trees to consider their behaviour. Cabal evolved the impression that its aberrance was confusing even to them. He retired to his house to cast some bacon rinds to his unexpected benefactor, and to dab at his wounds with iodine.
That was odd, but the next incident was extraordinary. Cabal had been running a hot bath and withdrawn to his room to recover a dressing gown. On returning to the bathroom, his sense of smell told him that all was not well, and his stinging eyes only served to reinforce this. He closed the taps and looked with dismay at the disintegrating remains of his loofah floating apart in the bath water. He left the room quickly, coming back only when he was swathed in protective clothing, rubber gauntlets, and an army surplus gasmask. Brief investigation demonstrated that the bath water was no longer anything of the sort, but was now highly acidic. Laboratory testing demonstrated it to be nitric acid of distressingly high molarity.
Cabal was intrigued to know which of the many agencies that would delight in his death would visit such an outrage upon his loofah, and began a process of deductive reasoning. While his list of enemies was extraordinary, they mainly cleaved to a markedly puritan sensitivity with regards to magic. Indeed, it was Cabal's dabbling in magic that had earned their opprobrium in the first place. That, and the grave robbing.
Enemies with magical skills were far fewer, and those capable of penetrating the defensive wards about his home brought the short list down to none at all. Deduction having failed, Cabal was forced to conclude that this was some new enemy, and one of great puissance. He wondered what he might have done to aggravate such a person, and done so recently when the only thing he was currently engaged upon was the hunt for a Chinese sorcerer dead for, as near as dammit, two millennia.
The realisation dropped upon him like a wet mammoth. "Oh," he had said. "It's like that, is it?"
* * *
"So you're saying that this dead Chinese fellow disintegrated your loofah?" said Zarenyia.
"I am," said Cabal, "and he did so with the intention that I would be scrubbing my back with it at the time. If I hadn't taken a minute to fetch my dressing gown, I would have been in the bath when the water was transmogrified into hot acid."
"You have to admit, this Luan Da has a bit of style about him."
"I'm not here to award points for originality," said Cabal, "I'm trying to find out why he's being so damnably defensive."
"Mysterious, isn't it? Well, darling, it's interesting enough, but what about the killing?"
"Yes, I was going to ask you about that. Why specifically do you wish to murder? You don't strike me as especially cruel."
"Oh, I'm not," she said, seemingly irked at the imputation. "Demons and imps and that lot may go in for the petty sadism, but we devils have more refined tastes."
"Do you indeed?"
"We do indeed, yes. To be exact, I'm hungry. I can last a long time on a small snack, but a girl likes to have a bit of an indulgent blow out now and then."
"You intend to ... eat them?"
"Not exactly," she replied, and smiled winsomely.
"I cannot promise that there will be opportunities for killing ..."
"But ... there is a good likelihood of souls for the devouring, if that's what your intent truly is?"
"Good enough," said Zarenyia. "I'll trust you. You have an honest face."
"Oh, splendid," said Cabal. "I feel so very validated now."
"Super!" said the devil, impervious to irony. "Now if you'd let me out of this circle ...?"
"Not so fast, madam. I shall need your word and bond before that happens." He produced a notebook and fountain pen from his inside breast pocket, selected a fresh page, and proceeded to write.
Excerpted from A Long Spoon by Jonathan L. Howard, Greg Ruth. Copyright © 2014 Jonathan L. Howard. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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