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Authors: James Blish

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Black Easter

BOOK: Black Easter
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BLACK EASTER

James Blish

www.sf-gateway.com

Enter the SF Gateway …

In the last years of the twentieth century (as Wells might have put it), Gollancz, Britain's oldest and most distinguished science fiction imprint, created the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series. Dedicated to re-publishing the English language's finest works of SF and Fantasy, most of which were languishing out of print at the time, they were – and remain – landmark lists, consummately fulfilling the original mission statement:

‘SF MASTERWORKS is a library of the greatest SF ever written, chosen with the help of today's leading SF writers and editors. These books show that genuinely innovative SF is as exciting today as when it was first written.’

Now, as we move inexorably into the twenty-first century, we are delighted to be widening our remit even more. The realities of commercial publishing are such that vast troves of classic SF & Fantasy are almost certainly destined never again to see print. Until very recently, this meant that anyone interested in reading any of these books would have been confined to scouring second-hand bookshops. The advent of digital publishing has changed that paradigm for ever.

The technology now exists to enable us to make available, for the first time, the entire backlists of an incredibly wide range of classic and modern SF and fantasy authors. Our plan is, at its simplest, to use this technology to build on the success of the SF and Fantasy Masterworks series and to go even further.

Welcome to the new home of Science Fiction & Fantasy. Welcome to the most comprehensive electronic library of classic SFF titles ever assembled.

Welcome to the SF Gateway.

Author’s Note

There have been many novels, poems and plays about magic and witchcraft. All of them that I have read – which I think includes the vast majority – classify without exception as either romantic or playful, Thomas Mann’s included. I have never seen one which dealt with what real sorcery actually had to be like if it existed, although all the grimoires are explicit about the matter. Whatever other merits this book may have, it neither romanticizes magic nor treats it as a game.

Technically, its background is based as closely as possible upon the writings and actual working manuals of practising magicians working in the Christian tradition from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries, from the
Ars Magna
of Ramon Lull, through the various
Keys
of pseudo-Solomon, pseudo-Agrippa, pseudo-Honorius and so on, to the grimoires themselves. All of the books mentioned in the text actually exist; there are no ‘Necronomicons’ or other such invented works, and the quotations and symbols are equally authentic. (Though of course it should be added that the attributions of these works are seldom to be trusted; as C. A. E. Waite has noted, the besetting
bibliographic
sins of magic are imputed authorship, false places of publication and back-dating.)

For most readers this will be warning enough. The experimentally minded, however, should be further warned that, although the quotations, diagrams and rituals in the novel are authentic, they are in no case complete. The book, is not, and was not intended to be, either synoptic or encyclopedic. It is not a
vade mecum
, but a
cursus infamam
.

Alexandria
(Va.)
1968

J
AMES BLISH

Preparation of the Operator

It is not reasonable to suppose that Aristotle knew the number of the Elect.

ALBERTUS MAGNUS

The room stank of demons.

And it was not just the room – which would have been unusual, but not unprecedented. Demons were not welcome visitors on Monte Albano, where the magic practised was mostly of the kind called Transcendental, aimed at pursuit of a more perfect mystical union with God and His two revelations, the Scriptures and the World. But occasionally, Ceremonial magic – an applied rather than a pure art, seeking certain immediate advantages – was practised also, and in the course of that the White Monks sometimes called down a demiurge, and, even more rarely, raised up one of the Fallen.

That had not happened in a long time, however; of that, Father F. X. Domenico Bruno Garelli was now positive. No, the stench was something in the general air. It was, in fact, something that was abroad in the world … the secular world, God’s world, the world at large.

And it would have to be something extraordinarily powerful, extraordinarily malign, for Father Domenico to have detected it without prayer, without ritual, without divination, without instruments or instrumentalities of any kind. Though Father Domenico – ostensibly an ordinary Italian monk of about forty
ae
, with the stolid face of his peasant family and calluses on his feet – was in fact an adept of the highest class, the class called Karcists, he was not a Sensitive.
There were no true Sensitives at all on the mountain, for they did not thrive even in the relative isolation of a monastery; they could not function except as eremites (which explained why there were so few of them anywhere in the world, these days).

Father Domenico closed the huge Book of Hours with a creak of leather and parchment, and rolled up the palimpsest upon which he had been calculating. There was no doubt about it: none of the White Monks had invoked any infernal power, not even a minor seneschal, for more than a twelve-month past. He had suspected as much – how, after all, could he have gone unaware of such an event? – but the records, which kept themselves without possibility of human intervention, confirmed it. That exhalation from Hell-mouth was drifting up from the world below.

Deeply disturbed, Father Domenico rested his elbows upon the closed record book and propped his chin in his hands. The question was, what should he do now? Tell Father Umberto? No, he really had too little solid information yet to convey to anyone else, let alone disturbing the Director-General with his suspicions and groundless certainties.

How, then, to find out more? He looked ruefully to his right, at his crystal. He had never been able to make it work – probably because he knew all too well that what Roger Bacon had really been describing in
The Nullity of Magic
had been nothing more than a forerunner of the telescope – though others on the mountain, unencumbered by such historical scepticism, practised crystallomancy with considerable success. To his left, next to the book, a small brass telescope was held aloft in a regrettably phallic position by a beautiful gold statuette of Pan that had a golden globe for a pediment, but which was only a trophy of an old triumph over a minor Piedmontese black magician and had no astronomical usefulness; should Father Domenico want to know the precise positions of the lesser Jovian satellites (the Galilean ones were of course listed in the US Naval Observatory ephemeris), or anything else necessary to the casting of an absolute horoscope, he would call upon the twelve-inch telescope and the image-orthicon on the roof of the monastery and have the images (should he need them as well as the data) transmitted by
closed-circuit television directly to his room. At the moment, unhappily, he had no event to cast a horoscope either from or toward – only a pervasive, immensurable fog of rising evil.

At Father Domenico’s back, he knew without looking, coloured spots and lozenges of light from his high, narrow, stained-glass window were being cast at this hour across the face of his computer, mocking the little coloured points of its safe-lights. He was in charge of this machine, which the other Brothers regarded with an awe he privately thought perilously close to being superstitious; he himself knew the computer to be nothing but a moron – an idiot-savant with a gift for fast addition. But he had no data to feed the machine, either.

Call for a Power and ask for help? No, not yet. The occasion might be trivial, or at least seem so in the spheres they moved, and where they moved. Father Domenico gravely doubted that it was, but he had been rebuked before for unnecessarily troubling those movers and governors, and it was not a kind of displeasure a sensible white magician could afford, however in contempt he might hold the indiscriminate hatred of demons.

No; there was no present solution but to write to Father Uccello, who would listen hungrily, if nothing else. He was a Sensitive; he, too, would know that something ugly was being born – and would doubtless know more about it than that. He would have data.

Father Domenico realized promptly that he had been almost unconsciously trying to avoid this decision almost from the start. The reason was obvious, now that he looked squarely at it; for of all the possibilities, this one would be the most time-consuming. But it also seemed to be unavoidable.

Resignedly, he got out his Biro fountain pen and a sheet of foolscap and began. What few facts he had could be briefly set down, but there was a certain amount of ceremony that had to be observed: salutations in Christ, inquiries about health, prayers and so on, and of course the news; Sensitives were always as lonely as old women, and as interested in gossip about sin, sickness and death. One had to placate them; edifying them – let alone curing them – was impossible.

While he was still at it, the door swung inward to admit an acolyte: the one Father Domenico, in a rare burst of sportiveness,
had nicknamed Joannes, after Bacon’s famous disappearing apprentice. Looking up at him bemusedly, Father Domenico said:

‘I’m not through yet.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Sorry … I was thinking about something else. I’ll have a letter for you to send down the mountain in a while. In the meantime, what did you want?’

‘Myself, nothing,’ Joannes said. ‘But the Director asks me to tell you that he wishes your presence, in the office, right after sext. There’s to be a meeting with a client.’

‘Oh. Very well. What sort of client?’

‘I don’t know, Father. It’s a new one. He’s being hauled up the mountain now. I hear he’s a rich American, but then, a lot of them are, aren’t they?’

‘You do seem to know
something,’
Father Domenico said drily, but his mind was not on the words. The reek of evil had suddenly become much more pronounced; it was astonishing that the boy couldn’t smell it too. He put the letter aside. By tonight there would be more news to add-and, perhaps, data.

‘Tell the Director I’ll be along promptly.’

‘First I have to go and tell Father Amparo,’ Joannes said. ‘He’s supposed to meet the client too.’

Father Domenico nodded. At the door, the acolyte turned, with a mysterious sort of slyness, and added:

‘His name is Baines.’

The door shut. Well, there was a fact, such as it was – and obviously Joannes had thought it full of significance. But to Father Domenico it meant nothing at all.

Nothing, nothing at all.

The First Commission

[In] the legendary wonder-world of Theurgy … all paradoxes seem to obtain actually, contradictions coexist logically, the effect is greater than the cause and the shadow more than the substance. Therein the visible melts into the unseen, the invisible is manifested openly, motion from place to place is accomplished without traversing the intervening distance, matter passes through matter. … There life is prolonged, youth renewed, physical immortality secured. There earth becomes gold, and gold earth. There words and wishes possess creative power, thoughts are things, desire realizes its object. There, also, the dead live and the hierarchies of extra-mundane intelligence are within easy communication, and become ministers or tormentors, guides or destroyers, of man.

A. E. WAITE
,
The Book of Ceremonial Magic

The magician said, ‘No, I can’t help you to persuade a woman. Should you want her raped, I can arrange that. If you want to rape her yourself, I can arrange that, too, with more difficulty – possibly more than you’d have to exert on your own hook. But I can’t supply you with any philtres or formulae. My speciality is crimes of violence. Chiefly, murder.’

Baines shot a sidelong glance at his special assistant, Jack Ginsberg, who as usual wore no expression whatsoever and had not a crease out of true. It was nice to be able to trust someone. Baines said, ‘You’re very frank.’

‘I try to leave as little mystery as possible,’ Theron Ware – Baines knew that was indeed his real name – said promptly. ‘From the client’s point of view, black magic is a body of technique, like engineering. The more he knows about it, the easier I find it makes coming to an agreement.’

‘No trade secrets? Arcane lore, and so on?’

BOOK: Black Easter
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