EXCERPT FROM A LETTER WRITTEN BY DR JOHN WATSON TO SHERLOCK HOLMES
Well, you did warn me that matters were likely to get stranger! I have told you as much of Crowley’s story as I can recall, I would have made notes but it seemed rude in the circumstances and so I had to rely on my memory. The story was certainly unusual and startling enough for me to state with some certainty that it is accurate, though I admit I may have got the odd detail (such as the names of the rituals) wrong. It seems to me to confirm something of what we know, however, namely the ring I found in the forest by Ruthvney Hall. “To S.L.M.M.” it said, might I suggest that to be “Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers”? At least one piece of this puzzle falls securely into place.
You asked that I should be prepared to believe, I have since begun to wonder why. If you had been sat in Crowley’s drawing room during the telling of his tale you would hardly have been able to remain silent. I am sure you would have been deeply sceptical of all he said. It occurs to me that that is why you made yourself absent: some of us can remain politely silent in the face of things we disbelieve, others must make themselves heard!
I will confess that while a great deal of what Crowley said sounded entirely implausible, I am no longer of a mind to dismiss it as readily as before. The experience on the train still hangs over me and try as I might to find a logical explanation I cannot. And if that was exactly what it seemed then did Crowley’s experiences sound any stranger?
I give up trying to form an opinion, I will deal with matters as they come. I pass on the information and you must make of it what you will.
If Crowley’s long speech was full of arcane terminology and references, it was nothing compared to the response from Carnacki.
“You said you bought this house in order to perform a ritual,” he said, “might I ask which one?”
“Certainly, it is the Abramelin Ritual, Boleskine fits all the necessary geographical prerequisites.”
“The Abramelin Ritual?” Carnacki asked, seemingly incensed by the idea. “Are you mad?”
“I take it this ritual is dangerous?” I asked.
“The Abramelin Ritual is a process whereby the darkest powers imaginable are contacted and brought into our world.”
“And forced to do good,” Crowley countered. “That is rather the point is it not?”
“‘Forced?’” shouted Carnacki. “‘Did you not recently accuse Mathers of such blind arrogance? The thought that you could control something so primal, so ludicrously dangerous? You, sir, are a bloody idiot!”
“And you are a guest in my house,” Crowley replied, calmly, yet with a force that made it quite clear he was not a man one would would wish to have as an enemy. “So please have a care.”
Carnacki, unwilling to back down, did at least have the good sense to change his tone. “It is not just I that need have a care,” he said, softly, “should the ritual not go as planned then we will all be in dire peril.”
“The ritual will not fail.”
Carnacki, only too aware that he would be wasting his time arguing further, concluded the conversation.
“All of this is beside the point,” Dr Silence declared, “for if we are not able to assist in your surviving the night, you will hardly be in a position to complete the ritual.”
“True enough,” Crowley agreed, “but it’s not just a case of tonight, we need to take the fight to Mathers and his people before they unleash Hell on us all.” He looked to me. “If only your colleague was still with us, Dr Watson, I fear that while he concentrates on the minutiae of this case, he is blind to the greater concerns: if Mathers and his allies aren’t stopped, it won’t be the death of a couple of nobles that concern us, it’ll be the death of whole nations.”
“And what do you suggest we do, sir?” I asked. “We can hardly go to the police, not with a story like yours.”
“Precisely why Holmes would have been an asset,” Silence said, “with his connections both in the police force and, indeed, the government itself, we might just have been in a position to act.”
“Well,” said Carnacki, “he isn’t here so might I suggest we concentrate on the assets we do have? There are only a few hours until sunset and from thereafter we will likely have a fight on our hands. If Mathers is worth his salt at all he must have spies reporting for him – Hell, a simple scrying ritual would tell him – he must know that you are no longer alone in this fight.”
I didn’t dare ask what a scrying ritual might be, only too aware that I would neither like nor understand the answer.
“Indeed,” Crowley agreed, “it is most fortunate that we have such a skilled army on our side. I dared not share my concerns with any other members of the Order, who could tell where their allegiance might lie? But clearly we have no need of them, your abilities combined with ours should give Mathers pause. We shall soon number one more, then our ranks will be complete. I contacted another associate of mine, an expert in demonology. In fact,” he glanced at his watch, “he should be with us within the hour. Until then may I suggest we prepare our borders!”
It cannot fail to surprise you that there was little for me to do. It was a distinctly odd sensation as an ex-soldier, watching these three men dashing around preparing a major defensive operation but not with guns, barricades or explosives but rather mounds of salt, chalk marks on the wainscoting and a liberal spraying of what I took to be holy water. It was quite ridiculous. And yet terrifying also, because the earnestness with which they went about the task allowed me no room for doubt: they were preparing to fight for their – our – lives.
Crowley’s final guest arrived. He was a small, portly figure with hair that made up for what it lacked on top by flapping about at the sides of his egg-shaped head. The only concession to his... (what? Hobby? Vocation? How is one to describe these people?) was a Mephistophelean beard, black and coming to a point at the chin that lifted towards his nose. It was quite the most bizarre facial hair I have ever seen.
“Ah!” announced Crowley, greeting the man with an overjoyed embrace. “So we are all together! My friends meet the foremost expert in demonology and ancient curses in the country, if not the world: Mr Julian Karswell.”
Karswell gave a little bow. “I must say, Aleister,” he said in a voice that was every bit as feline as his poise, for despite his shape he moved with considerable grace, “this was all terribly inconvenient. I was due to host my annual party for the local children today, they do so love my conjuring tricks. And my mother’s ice cream of course...” He looked at all of us in turn. “Such a gathering,” he said. “Dr Silence I know, of course, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem familiar...” He looked to me. “Is it not the writer? Watley, Whates...”
“Watson,” I said, not wanting to watch him struggle indefinitely, “and I’m a doctor really, writing’s just a hobby.”
“Really? Oh but you must know a few people in the business I dare say, I would so love to discuss it with you. I have a book that I’ve just completed you see, A History of Witchcraft, the definitive word on the subject, rather.”
“Sounds fascinating,” I said, lying through my teeth of course, “but I really only know magazine publishers I’m afraid, and I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing that they...”
“Oh indeed not,” agreed Karswell, “never mind. I had just thought a review or two... One doesn’t like to send it to too many places, especially not to those who would not be receptive... I’m really not a man who warms to criticism... And you are?” He looked to Carnacki.
“Thomas Carnacki, another expert in demonology, still I dare say you can’t have too many.”
“An expert, eh? One would have said you were too young. Yes, far too young.”
“I might surprise you.”
“Indeed you might. Very well,” Karswell looked to Crowley, “shall we begin then?”
And thus, the preparations continued, with the new arrival chipping in his views on the matter. I decided it was by far the best idea for me to stay out of the way. I had McGillicuddy order up some sandwiches and I’ve polished those off while writing this to you. Soon it will be dark, the night falls quick and early this far north I imagine. Then... Well, then, we shall just have to see won’t we?
More later. One hopes.