Thirty-two

The book felt unpleasant the moment he took it in his hand. It was bound with boards, covered in some sort of animal skin that was smooth and pink and hairless, a bit like… a bit like…

It couldn’t be a baby’s skin, could it? Henry almost dropped the book in panic. Only the thought of Blue’s contempt stopped him. But the closer he looked at it, the more he felt it, the more he thought it must be a baby’s skin. It had the right texture, the right feel and if you peered really closely you could even see the little pores. It was stamped in old gold leaf with the words, The Book of Beleth. Henry shuddered.

All the same, he opened the book.

It was like nothing he’d seen before. For a start, the paper was strange. It was thicker than ordinary paper and had a funny smell. The surface was rough to the touch, slightly porous. And it wasn’t a printed book. Somebody had handwritten every word, hand-drawn every picture. Different inks had been used, including one that looked suspiciously like dried blood. On the page he had opened, there were crude drawings of an eye, a hand, a foot, a crown, a crest and a set of long, curling horns. To one side of them were peculiar sigils. One that looked like the Roman letter I falling forward on its face was captioned ‘Oblique’. Another, which consisted of six lines cross-hatched, had the word ‘Manifold’ beside it. None of it made any sense to Henry.

He closed the book and opened it again at the beginning. There was a sigil on the first page, inked in black and composed of curls and loops so that it looked for all the world like somebody doodling. Except there was a deliberate feel about it that made him certain it was no doodle. Below the sigil were six words that made the hair crawl on the back of his neck: Beleth holds the keys to Hell.

Henry found himself in the peculiar position of holding a book that actually scared him. He couldn’t shake the feeling it was like something out of a horror movie. In his mind’s eye, he could see the innocent young hero stumble on a tome like this in some vampire’s crypt. Open it, or even touch it, and the minute you turned your back it would start to glow. Shortly after that, smoke would billow out to form something with large teeth and long claws.

He glanced across at Blue. She had the other book Atolmis had brought open on her lap. It was a lot smaller than the one Henry was holding and a lot less scary. He wondered how she’d feel about a swap, then dismissed the thought as unworthy. And stupid. He looked back at the thing in his hands. At least it wasn’t glowing yet.

Henry turned another leaf and came upon a contents page. His nervousness increased. Listed in an ornate hand were:

Concerning Works of Hatred and Destruction… 5

Concerning the Hand of Glory… 22

Concerning the Mirror of Solomon and Vessels of Brass… 30

Concerning the Sanctum Regnum and Binding Pacts… 36

Concerning the Rite of Conjuration… 39

Concerning the Almadel… 55

Concerning the Arbatel of Magic… 61

Concerning the Enchiridion… 70

Concerning the Seven Mysterious Orisons… 80

Concerning the Black Pullet… 88

Concerning Fortitude… 93

Concerning Virgins… 100

Concerning the Silken Cloth and Wands Various… 109

Concerning the Mystery of Books… 120

It all seemed very spooky to Henry, most of it the sort of thing you shouldn’t be reading at all. And none of it seemed to have much to do with Pyrgus. Henry decided to start at the beginning and work through, skipping anything that wasn’t relevant. He turned to page five, Concerning Works of Hatred and Destruction.

It was a nasty chapter and, despite a resolve to read carefully, he found himself skimming it. But by the time he reached the end he was fairly sure there was nothing in it about Beleth and certainly nothing about Pyrgus.

The Hand of Glory described in the next chapter proved to have a ghoulish fascination. To make one, you waited until they hanged a murderer at a crossroads, then cut off the right hand of the corpse, wrapped it in a piece of winding sheet and squeezed it firmly to get rid of any remaining drops of blood. You then put it in an earthenware jar along with nitre, salt, long peppers and zimort.

‘What’s zimort?’ Henry asked Blue, frowning.

‘Shhh!’ Blue said.

After two weeks you took the hand out and exposed it to the sun during the dog days, or dried it in a wood-burning oven fuelled by fern and vervain.

‘When are the dog days?’ Henry muttered.

‘Oh do be quiet!’ Blue snapped impatiently.

While the hand was drying out, you made a candle from the fat of a hanged man, mixed with virgin wax, horse dung and sisamie.

‘What’s sis -?’ Henry stopped himself and went back to the book. You jammed the candle between the fingers of the dried hand and the Hand was ready. Now all you had to do was light the candle and anybody sleeping in the house would be unable to wake up until you blew it out again.

Was that all there was to it? A cure for insomnia? It seemed a lot of trouble for very little, even though the book assured him that after it had been used a few times, the Hand of Glory took on a life of its own and would crawl about the place looking for somebody to strangle. You had to keep it in a locked drawer at night for your own protection.

He skimmed the next two chapters then started to read about the Rite of Conjuration. At once he realised this was in a completely different league to the superstitious nonsense that had gone before. It was like a step-by-step technical manual, telling you how to call things up out of Hell. It described machinery you could set up, precautions you had to take, all the – Henry stopped dead. He’d just had a brilliant idea. The most brilliant idea of his whole life. ‘Blue – ‘ he said excitedly.

Blue closed her book with a snap. ‘This is useless!’ she said angrily. ‘He mentions Pyrgus. I knew that already. There’s stuff in here about some stupid pact with Beleth and how they tried to kill Pyrgus and how Pyrgus got away. But there’s absolutely nothing about what’s happening to Pyrgus now or how to rescue him or anything. Useless! Useless! Useless!’ She pounded the book with small fists in frustration.

‘I know how to rescue Pyrgus,’ Henry said.

With Blue’s eyes on him, Henry’s confidence suddenly ran out and he hesitated.

‘Well?’ Blue asked impatiently.

He had to say something. But he couldn’t say what he’d been about to say – it was just too loony. The trouble was he couldn’t think of anything else.

‘Well?’ Blue asked again.

He was committed now. Henry said, ‘The thing is, the Rite of Conjuration is sort of general instructions for calling something out of Hell. At least I think that’s what it is. It talks about Beleth because this is The Book of Beleth, but you could use it to, you know, to call anything. I thought if Mr Fogarty was right and Pyrgus really is in Hell, we should be able to, like, conjure up him.’ He hesitated, then added weakly, ‘It would get him out.’

Blue was staring at him, her face an absolute blank. Then she said briskly, ‘Worth a try.’

Blue led Henry up a flight of narrow steps to an empty tower chamber with a lockable door. ‘If we try this in my quarters we might be interrupted,’ she explained. ‘But nobody ever comes up here – and if they’re looking for me, they won’t know where I’ve gone. Now tell me what stuff we need and I’ll go and get it.’

Henry consulted The Book of Beleth. ‘There’s trapped-lightning machinery, but that’s only if you’re calling Beleth himself. And there’s… oh – ‘ He stopped.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘You have to kill an animal and skin it to make the circle. I’m not sure I could do – oh, wait a minute: that’s optional.’

‘So what is it we actually need?’ Blue asked him patiently.

Henry looked at the floor, which was bare wood boards without carpet or any other covering. ‘We need something to draw a circle on this floor. And a triangle. I suppose chalk would do, something like that. And we need charcoal and incense – ‘

‘What sort of incense?’

‘Doesn’t say. Oh, wait a minute, I think it must mean you use camphor as incense. Camphor. Yes, camphor.’

‘OK.’

‘And something to burn it in. Incense burner or a brazier, something like that?’

‘OK.’

‘And we need verbena wreaths – ‘

‘How many?’

Henry consulted the book. ‘Two.’

‘OK.’

‘And two large candles in their holders. It says black here, but I think white since we’re trying to get hold of Pyrgus – black’s all witchy and demonic, isn’t it? Sort of thing they used in the old Hammer movies on TV.’ He caught her expression. ‘You wouldn’t know about that, would you? Anyway, two large candles. In holders.’ He frowned. ‘Do you know what Rutanian brandy is?’

Blue nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘We need a small bottle. And something called haematite – have you ever heard of haematite?’

‘Bloodstone,’ Blue said. ‘I can get a piece. Is that all?’

Henry consulted the book again. ‘It says you need a blasting wand, but if you read ahead that’s just so you can control the demon. I don’t expect Pyrgus will cause us much trouble.’

‘If it works properly.’

Henry looked at her. ‘What’s that mean?’

‘If it works properly,’ Blue repeated. ‘If your idea works. If we call up Pyrgus. If we don’t end up calling up Beleth or some other demon by mistake.’

Henry felt a sudden tightness in his lower abdomen. ‘You think we might?’

‘It’s possible.’

‘So we do actually need a blasting wand, just to be on the safe side?’

Blue licked her lips. ‘Well, to be on the safe side.’

‘Do you know where to get one?’ Henry asked.

‘No.’ She stared at him. ‘I mean, if we had more time I could probably send one of the servants… but not if we’re going to do this now; soon, I mean. No.’

After a moment Henry said, ‘We’ll just have to do without the blasting wand then. I’m sure it will be OK.’ He glanced back at the book. ‘The only other thing is something called…’ he stumbled over the pronunciation. ‘… asafoetida? Asafoetida grass? Do you know what that is?’

‘Yes, of course,’ Blue said. ‘You use it in cooking. I can get some from the kitchens.’

‘Oh, no, wait,’ Henry said. ‘You burn that to dismiss the demon you call up. We don’t want to dismiss Pyrgus – that’s the whole point.’

‘Maybe we should get some anyway,’ Blue said. ‘Since we don’t have a blasting wand.’

‘Great idea. Yes, get asafoetida. Get lots of asafoetida.’

She was only gone fifteen minutes collecting the things they needed, but it was the longest fifteen minutes of Henry’s life.

Henry held the book and called out instructions while Blue painstakingly drew the circle and the triangle. ‘Like that?’ she asked as she placed the candles.

‘Bit closer, I think,’ Henry said.

‘Like that?’

Henry said, ‘They need to be nearer to the triangle.’

‘If they were any nearer they’d be in the triangle,’ Blue snapped. She looked ready to throw them at him.

‘OK,’ Henry said.

They finished eventually and stood back to inspect their work. ‘Oh,’ Henry said.

‘Oh? Why are you saying Oh? Is something wrong? Have I somehow managed to get it wrong despite your detailed instructions?’ She glared at him.

Henry licked his lips. ‘It’s just that you’ve drawn the full circle.’

‘Yes, Henry,’ Blue said. ‘I have drawn a full circle. You told me to draw a circle, so I drew a circle. Odd thing for me to do, but there it is.’

‘It’s just that you’re not supposed to complete the circle until you’re inside it. Otherwise it isn’t proper.’

For a moment he thought she was going to hit him, but she only said, ‘Tell you what: I’ll rub out a bit of the circle with my kerchief – it’s only chalk. Then we get inside the circle and I’ll draw it back again. Will that do?’

‘Yes,’ said Henry quickly, although he had no idea whether it would or not.

In a moment they were both standing inside the circle, carefully redrawn where Blue had rubbed it out to make them an entrance. Henry licked his lips. ‘Which of us is going to do this?’

‘The ceremony? You are.’

‘Why me?’

‘You’re the one holding the book,’ Blue said.

He couldn’t believe he was actually doing it. He was actually going to attempt some sort of black-magic rite to rescue his friend from Hell. It was ridiculous. What was even more ridiculous was that it might go wrong and leave them facing something nasty. Something very nasty indeed. He didn’t want to do it. But he didn’t want to chicken out either, not in front of Blue. The thing to do was overcome the sheer terror and get on with it. He took a deep breath. ‘OK, you – oh…’

‘If you say oh to me just one more time…’ Blue began. She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them again. ‘What is it? What’s gone wrong now?’

‘We’re supposed to light the charcoal and burn some camphor, but I forgot to tell you to get matches. Or a lighter.’ Or a tinderbox or whatever they used to start fires in this world: he realised he didn’t have the least idea.

‘Fortunately I sometimes find it possible to think for myself,’ Blue said. She touched the charcoal with a slim rod about the size of a pencil and a blue flame sprang up briefly before the charcoal began to glow red. She added camphor without a word.

Henry opened The Book of Beleth, turned to face the direction of the triangle, rolled his fear into a tiny ball so it couldn’t interfere with what he had to do, and started to read aloud the opening prayers.

When he came to the name Beleth, he carefully substituted Pyrgus. He hoped to heaven it would work.

It couldn’t work. It was absolutely ridiculous. Standing in a circle calling something out of Hell? How weird could you get? Nobody believed in this sort of thing any more. Nobody had believed this sort of thing since the Middle Ages.

Same as nobody believes in fairies or portals to another world, a voice whispered in his head.

Henry closed his eyes. ‘I call upon thee, Be – Pyrgus – I call upon thee Pyrgus to come forth within the Triangle of Art, fair of form in such shape as will be pleasing to me, so that we may – ‘ And so on, following the heavily repetitive instructions laid out on the page before him.

After a while, he found the camphor fumes were getting to him. Blue had fed a lot on to the burner and he was beginning to feel a little dizzy. At least he thought it must be the camphor fumes because when he opened his eyes, the whole room looked funny. All its edges were softened and everything he looked at writhed and shifted, as if they’d fallen underwater.

It had to be the camphor fumes because he was getting nauseous now and there was a ringing in his ears. He thought he might be leaning at an angle, but when he checked he still seemed to be standing upright. Was there a thunderstorm brewing up outside? Something was rumbling in the distance and it sounded just like thunder.

There was a huge amount of smoke in the room. He tried to signal to Blue not to burn any more camphor, but for some reason his arm wouldn’t move. He was still chanting the ritual words from the book. Or at least his throat and mouth were still chanting the ritual words from the book because the rest of him didn’t feel he had anything to do with it. The rest of him felt as if it was about to pass out or fall over or possibly go blind from camphor in his eyes.

The incense smoke was swirling in a cone above the triangle. It formed itself into a human shape.

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