Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy, has come into possession of a vital clue that may lead him to his ultimate goal: a cure for death. The path is vague, however, and certainly treacherous as it takes him into strange territories that, quite literally, no one has ever seen before. The task is too dangerous to venture upon alone, so he must seek assistance, comrades for the coming travails.
So assistedably and otherwiseby his vampiric brother, Horst, and by the kindly accompaniment of a criminologist and a devil, he will encounter ruins and diableries, mystery and murder, the depths of the lowest pit and a city of horrors. London, to be exact.
Yet even though Cabal has risked such peril believing he understands the dangers he faces, he is still underestimating them. He is walking into a trap of such arcane complexity that even the one who drew him there has no idea of its true terrors. As the snare closes slowly and subtly around them, it may be that there will be no survivors at all.
The Fall of the House of Cabal is the fifth book in Jonathan L. Howard's acclaimed Johannes Cabal series.
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, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, The Brothers Cabal, and Carter & Lovecraft, as well as the young adult novels Katya's World and Katya's War. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and daughter.
Read an Excerpt
The Fall of the House of Cabal
By Jonathan L. Howard, Linda "Snugbat" Smith
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Jonathan L. Howard
All rights reserved.
THE GRAND PLAN
It is a damned place, is Perkis Moor. Perched high on the spine of the country, there is little up there but sheep and the crows that feed upon the corpses of sheep fallen in gorges, trapped in gullies, tumbled down scree. The shepherds do a good enough job, but they do not enjoy their work and are happy to retire of a night to their huts of millstone grit and turfed rooves, brutal little boxes with small windows in hulking walls that seem as much defensive as simply shelters.
The wind blows across Perkis Moor; it is the only thing that wanders freely, for it is a damned place, and even ramblers show little inclination to labour across the broken, unhappy earth. Ask a local — which is to say, ask anyone who lives by the moor, for no one would claim to live upon it, only to sojourn briefly until they can return to a proper place, fit for decent souls — ask a local why the place feels so baleful, so full of mindless, lolling hatefulness, and they will tell you it is haunted. The spirits of five thousand pagan dead are trapped there, so they say, from a time before Constantine, from before Christ. A great battle, fought with weapons of wood and rough iron, took place there. The culmination of a war between nameless tribes, for unknown reasons, they met there and offered no quarter. Five thousand dead and the grass fed by gallons of their gore. A terrible thing that scarred the land itself, a festering wound that seeps spectral blood into the here and now still, after all these years.
The shepherds say sometimes at night they hear the cries in strange languages long lost from the throats of living men, the screams, the clash of weapons. The shepherds know better than to look out of the small windows in the hulking walls of their millstone grit huts on such cursed nights or storm-threatened days. What they may see can do them no good, and an immortal soul is worth far more than assuaging a moment's curiosity.
The locals say no merchant travelling with his wares will cross the moor, not even in daytime, for fear of making poor progress and still being upon it when the sun dips below the distant horizon. Once, an itinerant tinker did, they say. He scoffed at the legend and set out upon the dreary sheep path with liquor in him when he really needed wit. The shepherds found him the next day, cold and dead by the path, staring up at the grey clouds, eyes and mouth open to gather the drizzle. All the rain in the world could not wash away that expression of terror, though, the outward signifier of an experience that froze his blood and stopped his heart.
The archaeologists say 'Bollocks' to all that. There isn't a shred of empirical evidence that such a battle ever took place. They say that it's a myth and the old tales of a great spectral battle fought periodically upon Perkis Moor are simply the product of bored people in a boring place making things up to entertain themselves. In this, they are largely correct.
But not entirely.
* * *
The tall, pale man in the black suit and walking boots caused a huge sensation amongst the locals of the Perkis Path Inn, which is to say they went a little quieter when he entered, nodded covertly at him to their drinking partners when his back was turned, and marvelled at his accent, which was as alien to them as Ancient Assyrian. That the accent was German says little for the cosmopolitan nature of the locals.
'You'll be wanting a room, then?' The landlord leaned heavily upon the counter and glowered at the strange stranger, with his fancy spectacles and gloves. The locals didn't hold with such fripperies; if the Good Lord intended one to be terribly myopic, then it was not given to man to correct this defect. Much better that man wander around tripping over things. He might fall down the stairs or use bleach for flour, but at least he wouldn't die horribly in a graceless state.
The man removed the blue-tinted spectacles, and it became apparent to the landlord that they were intended to protect the man's eyes from the glare of daylight. He himself had never seen the glare of daylight, but his grandfather had once told him that the sun was actually a fiercely radiant object in the sky and not merely one area of the permanent overcast that glowed slightly more strongly than the rest. In some distant, foreign places like Egypt or China or Barnoldswick, it was said that sometimes the cloud cleared away and you could see the sky above, and the sun, and — at night — bright objects that defied rational explanation. The landlord had always been of the opinion that his grandfather had been making a joke. As if such things might be in a godly world.
Looking at the stranger's strikingly blue eyes, eyes that hinted at an incisive mind and a calloused soul, it occurred to the landlord that there might be many ungodly things in a godly world, after all.
'I shall,' said the man in his ungodly accent, removing his ungodly gloves, and casting an ungodly eye upon the regulars, who returned their attention to their dominoes rather than suffer it for longer than necessary. He turned and looked through the mullion window, the road beyond distorted by the bullseye panes and thereby rendered far more interesting than the reality. 'The moor is in that direction, isn't it?'
'It is. Thinking of going for a walk there later?'
'I was considering it.'
'Don't,' said the landlord, with a great satisfaction that echoed around every local's heart in the public bar.
'You don't want to go up there,' said a drinker. 'Not good to go on the moor if you don't need to.'
'Perhaps,' said the stranger, 'I need to.'
'Don't look much like a shepherd t'me,' said a dominoes player, and there was much amusement at this bon mot, the merriest thing ever said within those walls since they were raised 234 years earlier.
'Why?' The stranger's tone was neutral. 'Is it haunted?'
The landlord leaned yet more heavily upon the counter. It would have groaned under the stress if it had been some profane, foreign wood, like Norwegian pine from a profane fittings showroom. But it was good English oak, and it was used to the meaty forearms of stout English yeomanry leaning heavily upon it.
'What if it is?'
The cold blue eyes turned to regard him. 'Tell me all about it.' And he produced a good stout English ten-bob note, and all animosities were shortly forgotten.
* * *
The stranger left the tavern some hours later, a room for the night secured and the locals rendered glazed and garrulous by the application of a multitude of ten-bob notes and the ale thus purchased.
In truth, they had told him little he did not already know, but the investigation was not purely based upon what they said, but upon how they said it. They believed every word of it, that much was plain. Every word was, of course, nonsense, but they held those words with a fervent regard. Even the most aggressively masculine of them would not venture upon the moor at night without an excellent reason, and that intrigued and satisfied the stranger, who was Johannes Cabal, a necromancer of some little infamy. This job description he left off the battered ledger the inn used as a guest book, instead entering 'Gentleman scientist'. In a rational and well-ordered world, he would have been perfectly happy to write 'Necromancer', but the world was not rational, and little enough of it was in any sort of order of which he could approve. Had he used that word, he would likely have received sour looks, poor service, and a lynch party, and so he did not.
The landlord looked at the not entirely inaccurate substitute term and wrinkled his brow. 'So what are you doing here?' Clearly the locals didn't hold with any of that newfangled science stuff like evolution or gravity.
'My current interest is folklore and legends,' replied Cabal. 'The tales of the moor drew my attention. I am considering a monograph upon the subject.'
'A monograph, yes.'
They looked at one another, both men with secrets. Cabal's was that he had no intention of writing a monograph. The landlord's, that he had no idea what a monograph was.
* * *
Presently, Cabal left the inn to 'go for a walk' and 'get a breath of fresh air'. These claims were true, as both were unavoidable. His main aim was to carry out an experiment that was esoteric in both field and morality, true, but he would have to walk to get to the location he had chosen for the experiment and would doubtless have to breathe one or more times en route.
Cabal wore a soft Homburg in a dark grey bearing a sedate curve, an unimposing pinch, and a small black feather in the band, the loss of which had surely not inconvenienced the bird from which it came in the slightest. His suit was dour, but hard-wearing, and his boots — as mentioned previously — eminently suitable for tramping around on rough terrains. He carried a Gladstone bag and a cane topped with a tarnished silver skull. If one maintained a mental image of how a gentleman scientist might conceivably appear, it would certainly have been along the lines of Cabal's wardrobe.
He walked in a brisk line along the road that bordered Perkis Moor until he was safely out of sight of the pub, and then performed a sharp left-hand turn that took him directly onto it. There was not a great deal of daylight left, but that was all to plan.
He did not need to go far onto the moor itself, just up onto a ridge at its edge that he had noted on the Ordnance Survey map of the area. The area it overlooked was a natural arena, a wide, flat depression rising into the flat of the main part of the moor. A natural arena, or perhaps 'theatre' was a better term. The vast majority of sightings of the unusual happened in or near this area. The closeness of the road was perhaps the primary explanation for the place having the most witnesses. The closeness of the pub was often mooted as the primary explanation for the sightings themselves, perhaps unkindly.
Perhaps not. Having found himself a dry spot at the ridge's edge to sit upon, Cabal wasted no time tying a length of rubber tubing around his bicep, flicked the skin of the inside of the elbow to bring up a vein, and injected himself there with a syringe he drew from a sterile metal cylinder he took from his bag. The syringe contained a rare and potent narcotic that might threaten addiction if overindulged. This was not a concern; Cabal did little enough for recreational purposes as it was, and even amongst these rare hobbies and pastimes, becoming a junkie came very low upon his list of life goals.
The act done, he loosened the tubing and placed it, the syringe, and its container back within the Gladstone bag. In their stead he removed a small tripod with telescoping legs and set it up by him. From its apex dangled a length of fine silver chain and upon its end a small silver sphere, its surface regularly pitted and a seam around its equator, where it might be unscrewed. Thus prepared, he relaxed and allowed himself to take in his surroundings, looking without seeing, hearing without listening.
The day died around him, and the night grew in its stead, unhurried and unheralded. Somewhere a lonely meadow pipit called. The sound was allowed into his ears and to merge with his awareness without him troubling to identify the bird, even down to naming it (Anthus pratensis) as was his usual wont. In the common run of things, this degree of mental slackness would have been impossible to him. It was the duty of the drug he had taken intravenously to render his mind less focussed, less capable, less analytical, or — to put it differently — more like those of normal people.
He relaxed as deeply as he was capable, a great deal more deeply than he might have managed without narcotic aid, and measured his breaths, focusing entirely on the steady metre of inhalation, exhalation. He allowed the outside world to become nothing, the interior not much more than that. He sought a state of semi-consciousness, in which his awareness of the mundane was blunted, and his perception of those things less mundane equivalently sharpened.
Beside him, the silver plumb upon its silver chain swung gently in the light evening breeze that blew up across from the moor before him. Presently it stopped moving with a sudden shudder and hung canted at an angle of some twenty or so degrees from the vertical. Slowly, quivering as if base iron in a strong magnetic field, it swung degree by degree upwards further still, up until it was pointing directly into the centre of the large, low basin before him.
Cabal was unaware of it, but that didn't matter. The tripod was not some manner of indicator, although it could fulfil that role, too. It was more in the nature of bait.
Somewhere far, far away and yet so very close at hand, the note of a sword striking a sword sounded. Cabal heard it, but his eyes had sunk shut and he did not trouble to open them. Not yet. The time was not yet.
A scream now. A single solitary scream of mortal agony and the fear of death brought close and immediate. It died away, as the man who had once screamed it must also have died away. The whinnying of terrified horses rose in a faint chorus, borne to him on the breeze. The clang of swords, both great and broad, echoed above it, the dull battering of a struck shield, the rattling of the horses' tack and barding. Cabal's face showed some small phantom of emotion. Specifically, disgust.
There was a sound like thunder, but it was the roar of cannon. Ancient artillery firing in an ancient battle. Cabal's pupils could be discerned through his eyelids as small bumps in the skin, and these bumps swung high and around. Cabal was rolling his eyes.
The individual sounds grew together, forming a soundscape, an auditory painting in action. Men grunted, horses snickered, blows were given and taken, warriors killed and died. The timbre grew, the sounds became more distinct, the silver pendulum pulled so hard towards the sounds, so filled with unnatural vivacity, that only the fact that the tripod's legs ended in spikes driven into the sod kept it upright at all.
When the phantom battle was all but bellowing in Cabal's face, he deigned to open his eyes.
And there it was in all its spectral glory, the great battle of Perkis Moor more sharply defined than any man or woman had ever seen, this thanks to the precision of Cabal's preparations. Men-at-arms clashed with knights, musketeers of the English Civil War engaged Roman legionaries, naked men painted in blue woad charged Napoleonic artillery pieces and were duly cut down by grapeshot. It was, in purely historical terms at any rate, bollocks, just as the archaeologists had always said. It was also, just as they had said, very exciting indeed if one's job consisted of watching sheep for lengthy periods.
Perhaps once, a very long time ago, there had been some small fight here. Not even necessarily a fatal one. Perhaps Og of the stone tribe had grunted something needlessly deprecatory about Ug of the fur tribe's mother, and Ug — who loved his mother dearly although not in the manner alluded to by Og — had struck him smartly in the face, putting him on his arse with a split lip.
In the retelling, the blow had become a fight, the fight a skirmish, the skirmish a battle, a pebble of truth gathering the moss of invention as it rolled down the years. And people were so stupid, they couldn't tell one period from another. Cabal had once seen an early medieval Bible lovingly illustrated with men and women dressed in clothes contemporaneous with the age in which it was created. Jericho was shown being besieged with siege engines a thousand years out of their time. In uncountable minds' eyes down the centuries, the Battle of Perkis Moor was fought in whatever best pleased the daydreamer. Knights in gleaming armour to please the heart of Malory, soldiers of the War of the Roses, swords and spears, crossbows and muskets, rocks and rockets.
It hardly mattered; all that was important was that the device worked. He wasn't even convinced that the drug had been necessary and would try the operation again the following evening, this time without. In the meantime, the drug hadn't so purged him of reason that he couldn't be judgemental of the sideshow for fools playing out before him. This was the least of examples, he was sure. One clumsily glued together by generations of unimpressive intellects. He was after greater fare. Out there were five particular sites, and his suspicion was that they had been created deliberately by methods that escaped him. Not that he needed to know, of course. He had no great interest in replicating such things, only in exploiting them. Exploiting five. It was no small undertaking. They would be cathedrals of the intellect as compared to Perkis Moor's small mud hut.
Excerpted from The Fall of the House of Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard, Linda "Snugbat" Smith. Copyright © 2016 Jonathan L. Howard. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
THE GRAND PLAN,
THE FIRST WAY: JOHANNES CABAL, THE NECROPOLITAN,
THE SECOND WAY: LEONIE BARROW, GREAT DETECTIVE,
THE THIRD WAY: ZARENYIA, PRINCESS OF HELL,
THE FOURTH WAY: HORST CABAL, LORD OF THE DEAD,
THE FIFTH WAY: RUBRUM IMPERATRIX,
THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF CABAL,
Also by Jonathan L. Howard,
About the Author,