Horst Cabal has risen from the dead. Again. Horst, the most affable vampire one is ever likely to meet, is resurrected by an occult conspiracy that wants him as a general in a monstrous army. Their plan: to create a country of horrors, a supernatural homeland. As Horst sees the lengths to which they are prepared to go and the evil they cultivate, he realizes that he cannot fight them alone. What he really needs on his side is a sarcastic, amoral, heavily armed necromancer.
As luck would have it, this exactly describes his brother.
Join the brothers Cabal as they fearlessly lie quietly in bed, fight dreadful monsters from beyond reality, make soup, feel slightly sorry for zombies, banter lightly with secret societies that wish to destroy them, and―in passing―set out to save the world.*
*The author wishes to point out that there are no zebras this time, so don't get your hopes up on that count. There is, however, a werebadger, if that's something that's been missing from your life.
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JONATHAN L. HOWARD is a game designer, a 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 the author of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, Johannes Cabal the Detective, and Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute 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.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
IN WHICH THE DEAD ARE RAISED, BLOOD IS DRUNK, AND EAVES ARE DROPPED
The party travelled through the flatlands, guided by an unhelpful map. They were a sombre and sober group, ten men and three women, who wore hiking clothes and impressively stacked backpacks. An astute observer would have noted that their clothes and gear were all new, and that several showed signs of blisters due to their boots not being properly worn in, and that none looked happy in a woollen hat. There were no observers, however, for the flatlands are unutterably tedious and usually lacking in things worth the observing.
Their leader paused and consulted the map again. This took the form of a large square of predominantly blank paper upon which the legend and gridlines had consumed far more ink in the printing than any physical features. There were a few paths—even to call them ‘lanes’ would be an aggrandisement—a few ditches with pretensions towards being streams, and one long earthwork that travelled into the centre of the map and then petered out, as so many things in the flatlands tended to. Drystone walls, interest, lives … all fading away.
At least the earthwork had the decency to stick up: a long railway bed for a spur line to nowhere, abandoned decades before. They could see it was heavily overgrown on the steep sides of the artificial ridge, but there were also signs that, relatively recently, much of the heavier undergrowth had been cut back or felled. They clambered up onto its top, past the unhealthy bushes and saplings that grew there, and found themselves on the rail bed itself, still bearing—slightly surprisingly—sleepers and tracks. Even more surprisingly, there was a train there, hidden behind the trees and shrubs.
This discovery certainly surprised the hiking party, and even overawed them. The locomotive, although matte with rust the shade of dried blood, still exuded an air of exultant mechanical malevolence, as if somebody had crammed a black dragon into a giant jelly mould in the form of a steam locomotive and, with the wave of a wand, transformed the creature into the machine. But no; a wand would be insufficient. A magic staff perhaps. Or an enchanted caber. In any event, the iron dragon now slumbered in the sleep of years. Behind it was a train of assorted carriages, flatbeds, and freight cars, all once painted in black with red detailing, the exquisite work now peeling and forlorn. Just readable on the side of one of the cars was the legend The World Renowned Cabal Bros. Carnival.
The leader of the group looked at the words for a long moment, and then smirked a very superior smirk of the type that starts at the corner of the mouth and finishes with trouble.
‘This is the place,’ he said. ‘Start the search.’
* * *
The search went uncommented upon by passersby because there were no passersby. The flatlands went nowhere in either geographical or metaphorical terms, and no one went into them without the explicit intent to come out again, quickly. It was, in theory, an ideal place for footpads to operate, but the lack of potential victims had always kept its criminal population low, dwindling to none in relatively recent times. So there was nobody to see as twelve hikers, chivvied on by the thirteenth, dutifully dumped their packs, split the area into a search grid, produced strangely wrought weights on lengths of cord from identical pouches each had in their duffel coat pockets, and proceeded to methodically dowse the squares of the grid one by one. As an activity, it combined the mundane with the strange with the clandestine, and thereby rendered itself sinister. This was fair, for their intentions were sinister.
Nor was their apparent efficiency a chimera. Within ten minutes one of the hikers was excitingly calling to their leader. He came over, as did the others, to see the hiker’s plumb weight swinging in a manner harsh and angular, showing a brutalist disregard for physics that would have made Galileo enter the priesthood. They watched it twitch in silence, watched it marking out a pentacle in the air.
‘Here?’ whispered the hiker, aquiver with excitement.
‘Here,’ said their leader with magisterial certainty.
Again, their activities were efficient yet strange. Quickly they doffed duffel coats and woolly hats and map cases. Quickly they donned robes and then struggled to strip naked beneath them like a charabanc party changing at the beach of a Whitsun weekend. When the undignified hopping and kicking off of trousers was complete, they hastened to create a circle of blue powder about the spot they had detected, and then they gathered around it as the dying sun sank beneath the horizon. It wasn’t a happy circle—they were now all barefooted and the area was scattered with chippings from the rail bed—but it was a disciplined one, and they awaited the words of their leader.
When they came, they were incomprehensible.
‘Vateth He’em!’ he cried, excellent projection betraying a thwarted career in the theatre. ‘Oomaloth T’y’araskile!’ And so he continued, booming forth an apparently endless litany of dreadful names and imprecations from memory, all bedewed with apostrophes. The hikers-turned-cultists chanted the occasional response, a ‘Gilg’ya!’ here and a ‘Ukriles!’ there, and kept their eyes turned to the ground, for the grey skies were darkening and a wind was rising. Something was coming, and none dared to see its arrival.
Around them, the air swirled, centring upon the blue circle. The powder was blown, yet remained in the place, stray motes caught and carried back into it. The breeze was not dispersing the circle; it was concentrating it.
The landscape flickered under silent lightning, and those present scented a change in the air, a mixture of rage and blood that dizzied the mind and turned the stomach. Something wrathful was coming, a creature of death, and their fear was mixed with triumph, for all this was planned. The wind turned and dust was drawn in from their surroundings, drawn in from across the circle to grow in the middle, skittering particles the colour of bone, dancing from their hiding places between stones and from the soil itself. Nearby, a tattered and faded jacket fluttered where it lay at the base of the earthwork.
Then, with a roar that they felt rather than heard, the circle was filled, and they all fell silent in the awful presence, an aching tintinnabulation of the soul sounding a single peal within their hearts that turned their knees weak with dread as it faded.
‘Master,’ said the leader of the cultists. It came out weakly, his mouth and throat dry. He swallowed and tried again, stumbling over his carefully prepared words. ‘Master, you bless us with your baleful … personage. We fall in obeisance before you.’
It took a moment before they collectively realised that they’d forgotten to fall, and there were a few seconds of hasty kneeling and sharp intakes of breath as bare knees found jagged gravel.
The leader was belatedly realising that he could have organised the circle a little better before now and he was reduced to hissing urgently, ‘The sacrifices! The sacrifices!’ until the three women in the group were gathered before the monster in the circle.
‘Master,’ said the leader, eager to recover face, ‘Lord of the Dead. Please accept these sacrifices we humbly offer you, that you may feed and gain strength after your long and dreamless sleep.’ He lowered his head and hoped that three would be enough. Even among their fanatical ranks, it had proved difficult to find three who would willingly sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
Then the Lord of the Dead spoke.
And he said, ‘I won’t say I’m not a bit peckish. Famished, in fact. But not nearly as much as I’m surprised. And naked. I don’t suppose anyone thought to bring along a spare pair of trousers, did they? There are ladies present, and I was raised to believe that being naked in front of strange ladies is something reserved for special occasions.’
They had not, in fact, remembered to bring along any clothes for the Lord of the Dead, indicating another failure in planning that would later result in some sharply worded memos. One of the cultists was, however, about the same size as the Lord of the Dead, and was pleased to give him a change of clothes from his pack. The Lord of the Dead thanked him and promised that he would give them back, freshly laundered, as soon as he was able. The cultist said it was fine, really. The Lord of the Dead insisted, and also said that everybody should stop calling him ‘Master’ and the ‘Lord of the Dead’, and just call him ‘Horst’ instead, because that was his name.
‘My Lord Horst,’ said the leader, who was slightly scandalised that any puissant supernatural force of darkness and destruction should want to be on first-name terms so early in their acquaintance, ‘you must feed.’
It was true; Horst did not look well after his period as dust. His eyes were sunken deep within their sockets and bone showed beneath the parchment of his skin. He looked like a corpse in the mid-stages of mummification, and his borrowed trousers would not stay up without assistance.
The three women who knelt at his bony feet were quickly running through personal variants of ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done’, and drew back their cowls and exposed their jugulars to him.
‘No,’ said Horst, shaking his head slowly, the best speed his desiccated neck could manage. ‘No, no, no. That’s not enough.’
‘Not … enough?’ The leader looked around the circle of his acolytes and saw faces as worried as his own. ‘How many will you require?’
‘Well, if I just feed from these three … Hello, ladies … I’ll kill them, and that’s not very polite. If I take a little from all of you, nobody has to die. I’m sure everybody would be happier with that, don’t you think?’
The leader was slightly baffled. ‘But, master…’
‘My Lord Horst, you are the embodiment of Death. You live without breath or vital spark in the umbral shadows, you are the wolf that preys upon we mortal cattle, you are…’ The leader’s voice was no longer very magisterial, just petty and wheedling. ‘Well, you’re a vampire, damn it. We brought these three here specially.’
‘I’m sure their mothers … Hello, ladies … didn’t raise them to be all-you-can-eat buffets. As for me, I’ve beaten up a few people in my time, but I’ve never killed anyone. Never felt the need to. I’m not saying I’m incapable of it, but it’s not something I’ve ever really aspired to, yes?’
‘But you’re the Lord of the Dead!’
‘No,’ said the monster in the loose clothes. ‘I’m Horst Cabal, and I don’t murder for the sake of a snack. Now, as you pointed out, I need to feed. I shall only take what each of you can spare.’
The leader was feeling peevish that the sacrifice that he had so selflessly ordered others to make was being snubbed. ‘We dragged those three all the way out here for nothing,’ he muttered furiously under his breath. Unhappily for him, inhumanly sharp senses are common amongst vampiric folk.
‘I think,’ said Horst, regarding the leader with a wolfish expression, ‘we’ll start with you, shall we? Leading from the front, and all that.’
‘Me?’ The leader was certainly intending to protest in the strongest terms, but then he made the mistake of looking at Horst’s eyes and whatever he had been intending was lost in a sudden simplification of his mind’s working.
Horst flicked back the leader’s cowl with an offhand gesture, took hold of his hair, and pulled his head back to expose his throat. ‘Yes. You.’ Horst’s lips parted and unusually long canine teeth showed as he leaned in. He paused and said to the silent onlookers, ‘The rest of you, form an orderly queue.’
* * *
About halfway through the ad hoc transfusion session, Horst noticed that those that had already donated were clearly envied by those that hadn’t, and those that hadn’t were being patronised by those that had. He wondered vaguely if, in the time he had been away, vampirism had become fashionable. How long had he been away, exactly?
He was feeling sated before he had finished with the ninth. Not completely revivified, he knew, but he was conscious of taking too much too quickly. He had been careful the first time he had drunk blood, and that had proved wise. It would prove equally wise to stop now, but then he looked at the faces of Victims 10–13 and felt he couldn’t let them down. Sighing inwardly, he finished with 9 and wearily gestured over 10. It would just be a nip, but at least duty would be honoured. His situation was not improved by 13, the third of the women, who insisted on making orgasmic noises at the first graze of his fangs. Under the circumstances, it seemed ungentlemanly to be perfunctory, and so he soldiered on until she’d run out of expressions of passion. He straightened up, feeling replete, reborn, and generally resanguinated, but also irked that performance anxiety should pursue a fellow beyond the grave.
‘So,’ he said as the cultists—practically, if unromantically—passed around a box of sticking plasters, ‘now what?’
‘We must take you to the castle with all dispatch, my lord,’ said the leader, who it transpired was called Encausse.
‘The castle. Of course. Should have known there would be a castle involved. Which particular castle would that be?’
Encausse looked uncomfortable, and Horst guessed he was wrestling between a conspirator’s natural desire for secrecy and a conspirator’s equally natural desire to tell everyone how brilliant the conspiracy is. ‘I am not permitted to say, my lord.’
Horst considered softening his mind a little until the concept of ‘permission’ became more malleable, but reined in the impulse. After all, that was the sort of thing real monsters did, and Horst didn’t care for it.
‘Well, is it far?’
‘Yes, my lord. It will take several days to transport you there. I am sorry.’
Horst looked down at his newly reconstituted hands, and rubbed them in the manner of one getting down to brass tacks. ‘The inconvenience … Well, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve resurrected me, which was decent of you. We’ll just consider ourselves even between that and the inconvenience.’
Horst was finding all manner of things not to like about the situation, and nestling high upon the parapets of his misgivings was why such a band of well-equipped and well-informed eccentrics had gone to all this trouble in the first place. For the first time he felt a small pang in his slowly beating heart. He hoped Johannes was still alive somewhere and he wished he could be here. All this occult malarkey was much more his brother’s meat and drink. Johannes would have identified the group concerned, insulted everyone, and probably settled into a spirited gunfight by this juncture. The pang troubled Horst again; to his profound surprise, he was missing his brother.
He looked at Encausse and saw the man was nervous. Horst guessed he’d got it into his head that vampires kill people willy-nilly for every little disappointment. Perhaps they usually did. How would he know? Nobody had ever given him an induction lecture or even a pamphlet on the subject. He spoke to defuse the tension as much as anything. ‘And how do you intend to get me to this castle? I think my passport has probably run out by now and, anyway, wouldn’t being dead invalidate it?’
Encausse waved away the point, his relief at not being s...
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