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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

HIS RETURN


I was shaken roughly awake by a hand on my shoulder.

What? I was extremely disorientated and despite the perfect brightness of the day that lit my room, it took me a few moments for my vision to clear. I rubbed at my face, aware that someone had awoken me, yet I could so easily have fallen back asleep, my mind was that sluggish.

Have a drink of water, said a familiar voice, it may help.

Holmes? I asked, my voice cracking, throat dry.

I looked over to find him sat beside me on the bed, propped up on my spare pillows. Scattered all over the bed and floor were pages of writing. My letter, I realised. I was about to remonstrate with him when he placed his finger to his lips and smiled.

Keep your voice down, my friend, he said, I have no wish to disturb the rest of the household as yet.

I took a drink of water as he had suggested, to clear my throat. You mean they dont know youre here?

I entered via your window, he gave a dry chuckle, though I have left some of the most complex and absurd dance-patterns in the sand outside Crowleys temple, Im afraid I just couldnt resist!

Oh Holmes...

Never mind that. Ive read your letter and must say that Im enthralled. What an adventure youve had.

Perhaps you wouldnt have been so enthralled had you been forced to experience it. I have never been so... Words failed me for a moment as a surge of emotion choked me. That was immediately replaced by a sense of extreme irritation. I knew my friend could hardly relate to such feelings and the last thing I wanted was to appear weak. I growled in anger and drank some more water, if only so as to engage myself with something that was neither speaking nor crying.

I know, Holmes said gently, proving that he can at least have some empathy, forgive me, I should not joke. But you must see that all of this represents the most intriguing set of circumstances to cross my path for years. He sparkled, as alive on the events he was mired in, glowing as bright as Carnackis Electric Pentacle had the night before. He had the same violent excitement that he used to seek from cocaine, that fizzy stimulation that was his preferred state. It is a wonder to me Holmes was ever able to grow old, he really didnt have the hobbies for it.

But do you believe it? I asked, quietly, afraid of course of being made to feel foolish.

I believe you saw every single thing you say you did, he replied, picking up a few stray pages of the letter and flinging them to the floor. And I believe we are close to a resolution in all this.

But the Breath of God...

Blows at the command of another, Holmes interrupted, and that is where we must concentrate our energies.

He got to his feet. I have observed from a distance for long enough. Its time I re-entered the fray, he announced, unlocking the window and swinging one wire-thin leg out of it. But I shall do so via the front door, as a guest not a cat burglar.

And before I could say another word, he had dropped entirely from my sight.

It occurred to me to check my watch and I was startled to see it was already half past three in the afternoon. I had certainly been tired to have slept so long. In fact, if Holmes hadnt roused me, who knows how long I would have continued?

I rang McGillicuddy and asked for some hot water, also enquiring as to whether anyone else had arisen.

No, sir, he said, his disdain almost completely hidden, but that is not unusual in this household,

I see, I replied, slightly awkwardly, it must be difficult to run a household on such a chaotic timetable, eh?

McGillicuddy eyed me with a sort of dilute incomprehension. It is as the master wishes, sir, he said and left the room.

Once again I had failed to make friends with the staff.

I washed, dressed and went downstairs. Maybe Id manage to find some breakfast. Or lunch. Or afternoon tea.

I had negotiated for a cold collation and was settling down in the dining room in anticipation of it when the front doorbell rang and, as expected, Holmes announced himself. I could only guess at McGillicuddys professional confusion as he wondered how to announce a guest to a master who was resolutely asleep. He was saved the difficulty as I heard Crowleys voice echo across the entrance hall in greeting.

Soon they joined me in the dining room and I decided to be nice and affect surprise at seeing Holmes.

How marvellous that you were able to make it, I said, and so promptly! It seems no time at all since I last saw you.

Holmes smiled and took a seat at the head of the table. I was forceful with Mycroft, he replied, as you know I can usually wrap him around my finger when I need to.

That was hardly my experience of their relationship but I wasnt about to argue. Especially as Crowleys response was so enthusiastic.

I am so pleased to hear it, he said, because there is no doubt that we will have need of his assistance.

Really? Holmes replied, pretending to be completely in the dark. What possible assistance can the government be in these matters?

Mr Holmes, said Crowley, the entire country, nay the world itself, is in the most terrible danger and it is only through the actions of people like ourselves that it can be safeguarded.

He proceeded to tell Holmes everything that had happened, with particular emphasis on the fact that Samuel Mathers and his colleagues within the Golden Dawn were poised to attack and time was of the essence.

Then let us act, said Holmes. You say yourself that this is a business in which experts are needed, you are those experts, so do what needs to be done.

But without the support and approval of the government? These are important people we are rallied against. I hardly exaggerate when I say that some of them have the ear of the Queen herself.

He began to reel off a list of names and I can confirm that he did not exaggerate. According to Crowley, the perpetrators of this scheme were amongst the very best of society. He listed businessmen, statesmen, figures of such unassailable pedigree I began to fear even more how we were ever to succeed against them.

And you have proof? asked Holmes.

Mr Holmes, we experienced the proof last night, it is only thanks to the extreme efforts of all concerned that we survived to fight another day.

With all due respect, said Holmes, being attacked in such a manner hardly proves the identity of your attackers. Is there nothing to show a conclusive link between these names and the actions you ascribe to them?

If there was then I would hardly be appealing to you! Mathers wishes to stage nothing less than a coup using the Magick at his disposal, and unless we act soon he will be utterly unstoppable!

I understand that but Im afraid my brother would need more in the way of proof.

Hell have proof enough when the country is in ruins and the devil is abroad!

My brother is like me in that he doesnt altogether believe in the devil.

It matters not one jot, said Crowley, angry, because the devil believes in you.

How flattering, said Holmes with a smile. Forgive me Mr Crowley, we will, of course, do everything we can and let us hope that they can be convinced.

Crowley nodded. Oh theyll be convinced all right. If my suspicions are right we shall know for sure by midnight tomorrow.

Midnight?

The beginning of the new century Mr Holmes! A potent date indeed. If I know Mathers then that is when his plans will come to fruition. He will wish to claim the twentieth century in the name of Magick!

After their heated exchange, Crowley, ever the gentleman, became the perfect host of the day before. He roused the others from their beds and my cold collation was exchanged for a full dinner.

Due to the lateness with which we had all arisen, it was already getting dark by the time we began to eat and it was accepted that, however short time may be, there was little we could do for that day.

I feared another attack from Mathers but Crowley seemed to think this unlikely, believing that our enemy would not risk another drain on his powers so close to the execution of his plans. All would be reserved for a a final showdown, he assured me, and that we would do well to learn from Mathers example and take the time to gather strength. In the morning we would make our way to Inverness and, from there, to London, in the hope that we could intercept Mathers plan before the suspected hour.

I expected the others to join Crowley in his insistence that Holmes rally the support of Scotland Yard and those he knew within the socalled Corridors of Power. However, perhaps sensing that he was not a man to change his mind readily, they resisted. Crowley, no longer the exasperated fellow of earlier, simply sipped at his wine and assured Holmes that come tomorrow night nobody would be in any doubt as to the threat. His only hope was that between us we would have the power to avert the worst.

I was fascinated to watch Holmes discuss the supernatural. His attitude certainly seemed to have changed. While he was still sceptical, he had the air of someone who may yet believe. He enquired about the principles of what each man did, the different ways in which they fought similar threats. His was the enthusiasm of someone who has discovered a new science and wishes to know more. An analogy which Carnacki certainly shared:

It is nothing more than a warped branch of physics, he insisted, and I have no doubt that in the years to come it will be embraced just as the many advances of recent years have been.

We will accept the existence of ghosts just as we accept the light that comes from electric bulbs or the telephony messages we send over the wires, said Holmes.

Exactly! Carnacki declared.

I cannot agree, said Silence, these are ancient arts that we have forgotten, not skills of the future. Mankind should be in less of a rush to progress, for what it leaves behind while running blindly towards the future is a loss it will not live long enough to regret.

True, said Karswell, all I know I gleaned from research, from the study of the past.

But with that knowledge you are creating new ideas for the future, no? Carnacki believed strongly in his subject. Take my Electric Pentacle, even the revolver with rounds of rock salt and silver.

Old ideas given a new veneer, said Karswell, nothing more.

Well, said Crowley, as much as I am attracted to the modern advances, I am inclined to agree with the others. Magick is old and comes from the heart not the head. It is a system by which we can alter reality using the power in here. He tapped his chest.

It is a natural creation, added Karswell, something that rises up from the earth we stand on. He settled back in his chair swirling his port and clearly on the cusp of telling a story.

I first became aware of its potency as a child, he continued, walking in the grounds of the estate I now call my home. We have a maze, probably planted centuries ago. A circular design in evergreen, now carved out, but when I first explored it as a child it was an overgrown nightmare of a place. The hedges were too tall and distended into wedges, thick brambles wound through them that would snag at you as you tried to walk past.

I was forbidden to explore of course Mother was always a worrier but I could never resist.

Then, one day, predictably enough, I got lost, burrowing deeper and deeper into the heart of that terrible jungle. Why it was allowed to get in such a state, I dont know. After father died mother abandoned certain parts of the upkeep. Also, I think she was scared of the place, I would often catch her gazing at it, as if convinced there was something on the other side, pulling its way out slowly and painfully through the tight-packed branches.

I screamed and screamed for help, all the while trying to find the exit. But I was turned around and instead I found my way to its very centre.

The plants were surprisingly sparse, and I managed to peel away the brambles and bindweed to spy a central decoration: a stone plinth topped by a celestial globe. The metal was surprisingly hot given that the sun could barely penetrate, and as I dashed my hand back, fearful of it being burned, the globe toppled, the metal no doubt corroded over the years. The globe collided with the plinth and cracked open like an egg. I can still remember the smell of the air that issued from within it, older than God it seemed to me, filled with the scent of burned earth.

It made me light-headed and I stumbled, rolling into the brambles where I hung suspended by their weight, looking up at the sky and not daring to move. If I struggled I might work myself even deeper and the thorns were pressed against my face, hands and legs; if I moved would it not encourage them to break the skin? To my childish mind I feared that once they had got a taste for me, they might not stop.

I shouted, convinced that sooner or later someone must hear, if not my mother then the groundsman.

Slowly, above me, the sky began to darken and I knew the shadows of the trees around me would be lengthening. I wondered what might fill those shadows. I knew. Absolutely knew, that were I still bound in those brambles suspended between the earth and that fast-moving sky when it became utterly dark then I would find out. Because the light was the only thing keeping those creatures away. They were animals of night and shadow and the sun would burn them. And I knew that, unless I was rescued before the darkness came, there would be no boy to find by the morning. I would have been lost, pulled into the damp drifts of pine needles to rot.

So I reached out with my mind, imagining the scent of that old air that had been released from the celestial sphere. I was charged by the ancient and mystical qualities I knew it must have possessed to have sat there so long. I let it fill me, possess me. And I called! Projected my need for help as if it were the biggest scream the world had ever heard, as if it would have shaken the entire house to its foundations.

And soon, he said with a smile, they came. I heard both my mother and Perkins the groundsman crashing through the undergrowth like elephants. I called to them then and soon I was being cut free and lifted up in Perkins great arms, strong with the smell of sweat and soil.

My mother wanted to have the entire maze cut down but I wouldnt let her. The maze had shown me its secret that day and offered me my first taste of magic.

I keep it well trimmed now, and often sit at the centre, still marked by that stone plinth and its toppled, cracked sphere. I have never moved them, nor allowed them to be moved. It is my sanctuary, the place where all my magic is born.

There was a moment of silence as we absorbed Karswells tale. Then Holmes spoke: It is about conviction too, he said, is it not? You were certain that your voice would be heard and when they found you, you had no doubt as to how they had done so.

Belief is key, Crowley agreed, on both sides.

Both sides?

Belief on the part of the person casting the spell and belief on the person at the receiving end of it. Belief is power, the more you believe in the efficacy of what you do the greater its effect will actually be.

So magic is not a practice for the insecure? Holmes asked.

On the contrary, Carnacki said tactlessly, I would say that its a common personalty trait amongst many robe wearers and incense chuckers!

The look of disdain which Crowley offered Carnacki was almost tangible enough to be shared out as an extra food course. You have a singular lack of respect for something you appear to have dedicated your life to, he observed.

I have no interest in practicing magic for the sake of self-development, Carnacki replied, for that I have cookery. I study magic so that I know how to defend people who need it. If the practicing of magic were banned tomorrow I wouldnt shed a tear, though Id probably grow rather fat.

Holmes laughed and clapped his hands, then suddenly exchanged his look of glee for one of remonstration when he judged the mood of the room.

Lets hope your studies are up to scratch then, Crowley said to Carnacki, for tomorrow you will have the fight of your life.

Over brandy and cigars the scrying ritual was begun. Holmes and I stood well back, allowing Crowley to take centre stage a position he was clearly accustomed to.

The ritual seemed to involve the use of a map, a couple of crystals and a pendulum made from heavy golden chain. Crowley placed the crystals at the top and bottom of the map, allegedly to focus their energies over the area we were concerned with. The pendulum was then suspended over central London. Crowley closed his eyes and, slowly, the chain began to revolve. After a few moments it came to a halt over a particular spot on the map. At this point, Crowley would check the position then replace the map, using a greater and greater scale so that he could pinpoint the location with accuracy.

All magic has a signature, Silence explained to Holmes and I at a whisper while Crowley worked. Like any art, the work can be related to the artist by recognising their styles and signature. Crowley is isolating Mathers signature most particularly with reference to the events of last night and searching for the greatest concentrated traces of that signature within the city.

Surely that would be the temple of the Golden Dawn? Holmes asked. If any building in the city is dripping with the residue of magic, it must be there.

True, said Silence, but the trace also fades over time. Mathers will be working somewhere that he knows to be safe and also central to whatever demonstration or attack he has in mind. He will be there now, preparing for whatever rituals he intends to conclude at midnight tomorrow. He knows well be looking for him so it will be somewhere hidden.

Holmes nodded.

We didnt have to wait long, Crowley was soon convinced of where we would find Mathers.

Tottenham Court Road, he announced, folding away the maps.

Hidden and safe? asked Holmes with some sarcasm.

More hidden than you might think, said Crowley, taking a sip of his brandy. As far as I can tell he is some considerable distance beneath the ground.

The Underground? I asked.

Indeed, Watson, Holmes agreed. They are working on the new line there are they not?

Then that is where he is, said Crowley, and, one hopes, where he will remain.



CHAPTER TWENTY A LETTER (CONTINUED) | The Breath of God | CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO BACK TO THE CAPITAL