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The Master Of Demons

I was in correspondence with Ramsey Campbell for much of the 1970s. When he became president of the British Fantasy Society, I joined the organization (the original anthologies in which most of my fantasy and horror appeared were all British anyway). At Ramsey's request I then wrote "The Master of Demons" for the club's fantasy magazine, Dark Horizons.

Dark Horizons didn't pay for its material. My warning to Stuart about the value of gift stories might be recalled here. Having said that, I felt free to experiment on this story. I'm not dissatisfied with the result, though this stylistic form isn't one I've ever tried when I expected to be paid for my work.

The core of the story is the fact that William the Conqueror swore, "By the face of Lucca!" Lucca is a shrine of the Virgin in Northern Italy, but the source I used stated that the meaning of the oath was unknown. William's career and the fact that his father was called Robert the Devil gave me the basic notion.

The story's set in Late Medieval Europe, when there was a unique climate for learning. Classical science and literature were returning to the intellectual mainstream, but much was being discovered for the first time as well. Scholars all spoke Latin, so a Catalan and a Bohemian might meet in Bologna, for example, to discuss Arab researches into optics.

The division between what we now consider science and what we call mysticism were less obvious some hundreds of years ago also. (It's useful to remember that Newton developed calculus to simplify astrological computations.)

I wish I could have gotten more of the wonder of the period into this story; but I hope at least some of it comes through.


There is a hierarchy in Hell and this Hermann of Prague knew; but the way of it he failed to grasp, so this is the story of his pride and his ignorance and what came of them. Perhaps he had been born in Prague, but at the end he lived alone in a room cut from the rock of a sea-pounded crag on the western edge of the continent.

His tower of glass was the key, the tall helix squirming into the air from a bulb of purple fluid, without that the parchment of Andromedes would have been worthless, mere words in the darkness.

And even possession of the memoirs of the bitter Greek stemmed from the dreaming glass. There had been rumors, hints; but only that until Hermann lit an oil lamp beneath the base of the helix. Then, nude, he smeared his body with an ointment of fats and belladonna before reclining on a couch to watch the purple liquid stir and bubble, lighted by the one lamp alone. As the sluggish blobs of color mounted in the closed tube and the drug took hold it seemed as if the helix lengthened immensely, and Hermann's mind followed the bubbles into a height of discord and whispers. In time the lamp burned out and the fluid dripped back into its reservoir, but when Hermann awoke he knew where the manuscript was hidden and how it might be had.

* * *

Even so it was three years before Hermann had the parchment to hand, but to argue with necessity is time ill spent and there had been no other way. It was a short chronicle of knowledge and failure, of wisdom made useless by the inadequacy of its goals. In the midst of the Greek a single line in Latin stood out, not a gloss for it too was written in Andromedes' own crabbed hand: QUICVNQVE+DAEMONEM+LVCCAE+DOMINVM+CLAMARE+FECER IT+CONSPICABITVR+POTESTATEM+INFINITAM. Whosoever shall cause the spirit Luccae to cry "Master!!" shall glimpse unbounded power.

This line drew Hermann's eyes as the Great Bear does a mariner's and as he read and reread it he began to tremble at its implications. No longer did he dream of the Earth, its castles and fertile vales, but of power that stalked among the aeons and diced with suns.

In the end he turned again to the ointment and the purple whispers that never questioned, never advised, only answered the questions put to them with a hard, icy truth. He was afraid, now; for though Hermann had no conception of the fullness of the forces he dealt with, he knew of Luccae and dreaded it. But to stop was to die in his own time, and the pride was on Hermann to take what fate offered. And so the tower, and so the dreams; in the morning his fear was greater for knowing more of his task, but he began his preparations.

And this too was a slow business, for it demanded much of the true mercury with which to lay out the pentacle. If Luccae was to be caught there must be no chance for it to escape later. First the hydragyrum, then the two spells to commit to memory. The first to send him into the place, the time where Luccae danced and waited for the sun to explode; the second to return him and it, at the split-second that would leave Luccae within the pentacle and Hermann outside it: else the magician could crouch in lone safety while all the world besides melted into unholy alchemy.

So Hermann waited until the pentacle was ready and the stars had united in such a way to make the unthinkable possible. Then he spoke three words that stilled the mutter of the city around him, three words and a fourth that was drowned in the thunderclap which tore a hole in the universe and hurled him through it.

The great sun hung right overhead, a gorgon that licked at the sky with long serpents of fire. Across the barren rocks writhed the shadows of the three dancers: the first, washed purple by the deep red light, pounded his splay feet in time to the sound that howled through his nose, as long as he was tall. The second pranced, goat-footing it over rocks that sparked beneath him. His mouth was twisted into a rictus of delight and never a sound came from it.

The third was perched on a low pedestal: it was Luccae and only its face danced. One eye, as moribund as the sun, burned in the center of a thousand shifting patterns; every one of them a dead damned soul, each of them Hermann himself.

But Hermann stood and whispered the syllables of return without a pause or stumbling. The wailing and click of hooves continued but only Luccae remained, only its face warping and growing and weaving a net for Hermann's soul. But he was drunk with dreams of power and could not be bound; the words rippled off his tongue heedless of the shape that expanded before his eyes until it filled the whole world. As the final word rang out in the sudden silence Hermann stepped back without looking and the sound of sea crashed around him.

He was safe, and Luccae glared within a prison as ceaselessly changing as its own face.

And then to the mastering. For the first time the magician's dream spiral failed him and he woke from his stupor with nothing but the memory of fruitless chittering. Hermann was numb with terror by then, but he could not stop; Luccae squatted in his mind though he had curtained off the pentagram. Sooner or later he would make a mistake, would break the line. Unless . . .

Hermann's lore was as great as his recklessness in using it to do what his dream had told him could not be done: to crush Luccae to the point it must admit his dominance and lordship. And here Hermann misunderstood as he had been intended; but it was too late by then and his fate was closing on him.

He took a great smoky garnet and strung it on a silver wire to the ceiling. From his cabinets he took a tiny box of orange crystals and a phial of deep blue liquid. The box he opened and set beneath the stone. Then, though he need not have done so, Hermann ripped away the hangings between him and Luccae. The red eye glared at him and the garnet blazed back. Hermann unstoppered the phial and began chanting the words of congruity. On the twenty-first syllable he tilted the liquid into the box and stepped back as a serpent of smoke shot up to seize the garnet.

For all the power of Luccae it was trapped beyond self-preservation, for the stone was dead and the smoke that hissed about it was horribly alive. The psychic leverage on the garnet washed Luccae's face to a frozen gray, glazed the fire of the single eye, and held the flicker of souls to a muddy trembling. A minute, another minute—

—and Luccae spoke.

It was a sound without earthly counterpart, but Hermann heard it and understood in the final instant his mistake. Then the sea and rock boiled together as Luccae's Master came to free His liege.

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