N ightingale took a piece of paper from his pocket. On it were instructions that he’d copied from Aleister Crowley’s diary. He looked around the pentagram to check that everything was in place, then he ignited the mixture of herbs that he’d placed in a brass crucible. They caught fire easily and crackled and hissed as they burned.
Nightingale began to read from the paper. ‘ Osurmy delmausan atalsloym charusihoa,’ he said, trying not to stumble over the unfamiliar words. He spoke for a full minute, taking care over every syllable. When he’d finished, he took a deep breath. ‘Come, Lucifuge Rofocale,’ he said. He held the parchment with its bloody drawing over one of the north-facing candles and watched as it burned. ‘Come, Lucifuge Rofocale,’ he repeated. ‘I summon you.’
He narrowed his eyes, not sure what to expect. In the diary Crowley hadn’t been able to describe what Lucifuge Rofocale looked like, saying that he chose one of many forms depending on the circumstances. The burning parchment scorched his fingers but he barely felt the pain.
The thick smoke rippled and then began to spin in a vortex at right angles to the floor, faster and faster in a motion that was almost hypnotic, and Nightingale found himself leaning towards it. He took an involuntarily step forward and then another, but he gritted his teeth and forced himself to stand still.
There was a deep booming laugh that echoed around the room and then the vortex folded inside out and a short, squat figure appeared, less than four feet tall. At first Nightingale thought it was a child, but as it moved through the smoke he saw that it was a dwarf, with a large head topped with curly black hair, a thick body and short bow legs. The dwarf thrust his chin square out as he stared up at Nightingale with blood-red eyes. He was wearing a crimson jacket with gold buttons up the front, black jodhpurs and shiny black boots that made Nightingale think of a toy soldier.
‘You are Lucifuge Rofocale?’ asked Nightingale. ‘I command that you speak the truth.’ In his diary, Crowley had said that the devil sometimes sent emissaries in his place but an emissary could not lie about his identity.
There was a blast of heat, so hot that Nightingale gasped. A wall of flame flickered along the edge of the pentagram, red at the bottom, yellow at the top, then the flames leaped higher, sucking the air from the room. Nightingale put his hands over his face and he could feel the heat singeing the hairs on his skin. The flames grew higher until they were as tall as he was, then they began to swirl until they formed an impenetrable mass of fire. Nightingale whirled around but, whichever way he faced, the heat was unbearable.
‘I summoned you to talk!’ he screamed, and in an instant the flames vanished.
The dwarf was glaring at him. ‘You dare to summon me?’ he hissed. ‘Do you know who I am?’
‘You are Lucifuge Rofocale and I command that you speak the truth.’
‘You command?’ roared the dwarf.
The ground shook and the walls fell away and then the floor vanished and Nightingale was standing on the pentagram in the middle of darkness. There was nothing above him or below him and the air was ice-cold. There was no sign of the dwarf.
‘You are Lucifuge Rofocale and I command that you speak the truth!’ shouted Nightingale. His voice echoed into the distance. Then suddenly the pentagram began to plummet down in free-fall, the air rushing past his face so quickly that he couldn’t pull it into his aching lungs. Nightingale closed his eyes. ‘This isn’t happening,’ he said. ‘I’m in Gosling Manor, inside the pentagram. None of this is real.’
He opened his eyes again and he was back in the bedroom. The flames had gone. He looked at the back of his hands; the hairs there were singed and the skin blackened.
The dwarf’s upper lip curled back. ‘Happy now? Or do you want more?’
There was a flash of light so blinding that it hurt, and Nightingale shaded his eyes with his hands. The dwarf had gone and in its place was a creature so large that its head was against the ceiling and its leathery wings scraped the walls on either side of the pentagram. It had a pointed snout, jagged teeth and reptilian eyes, and when it roared the stench was so overpowering that Nightingale almost passed out.
‘Do you want more?’ the creature screamed and Nightingale staggered back.
‘I want only what is my right: to summon you and for you to speak the truth.’
‘Right?’ roared the creature. ‘Who are you to talk of rights?’ The creature opened its mouth and a stream of flame flashed over Nightingale’s head.
‘My name is Jack Nightingale and provided I stay within the pentagram you cannot harm me!’ shouted Nightingale.
The creature roared and there was another flash of light. Now the dwarf was back, scowling up at him. ‘The pentagram is a sanctuary and a prison,’ he hissed.
‘I’ve been told that,’ said Nightingale. ‘I want to talk.’ He fought to steady his breathing; he could feel his heart pounding in his chest as if it was about to burst.
‘You are either very stupid or very devious,’ said the dwarf. ‘Which is it?’
Nightingale shrugged. ‘I’m not sure,’ he said. ‘A lot depends on the way things go over the next few minutes.’
There was a loud bang and a flash and a foul smell, like a bad drain.
Lucifuge Rofocale folded his arms. ‘You tricked Sugart and he is not happy.’
‘I didn’t do anything. My sister summoned him. My sister sold her soul in exchange for escape.’
‘While you distracted Frimost, who had first claim on her soul.’
‘It’s hardly my fault if Frimost took his eye off the ball, is it?’
Lucifuge Rofocale glared at Nightingale. ‘You planned this. You planned it all.’
Nightingale wrinkled his nose. ‘It’s not my problem, is it? They’re both your subordinates. All you have to do is choose which one gets my sister’s soul.’ He put his hands in his pockets. ‘Of course, whoever loses out is going to be pretty pissed off, right? And I reckon no boss wants a pissed-off subordinate, even in Hell.’
‘You know nothing of Hell, Nightingale,’ said Lucifuge Rofocale. ‘Yet. But your day will come.’
‘This isn’t about me,’ said Nightingale. ‘This is about my sister. Her father sold her soul to Frimost thirty-one years ago. She has now sold it in good faith to Sugart. It seems to me that they both a have good claim on it. Both can make a good case and neither is going to take kindly to being told that he’s lost out.’ Nightingale grinned. ‘So you’re going to have to decide, right? And I’m guessing that souls are indivisible, which means that there’s no judgement of Solomon.’
Lucifuge Rofocale said nothing. He stared up at Nightingale, his lips set in a tight line.
‘So here’s the thing,’ Nightingale continued, taking his hands out of his pockets. ‘They both have a claim on her soul, no question about that. And neither will accept the other taking it from him. The way I see it, there’s only one thing you can do.’
‘Neither of them gets her soul,’ said the dwarf.
‘It’s the only way to keep the peace,’ said Nightingale. ‘It’s the only decision that they’ll both accept.’
‘You’re a clever man, Nightingale.’
‘Not really,’ said Nightingale. ‘But I’ve been involved in a few negotiations over the years. So we’re agreed? My sister gets her soul back?’
‘This won’t win you any friends, you know.’
‘I can live with that,’ said Nightingale.
‘Sugart and Frimost will blame you. They will want revenge.’
‘They know where to find me,’ said Nightingale.
Lucifuge Rofocale nodded slowly. ‘So you have what you want. Your sister has her soul back. You must be feeling very pleased with yourself.’
‘Not really,’ said Nightingale. ‘I just want this to end. I want this threat lifted from her so that she can get on with her life.’
He took a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read.
‘Wait!’ said Lucifuge Rofocale.
Nightingale frowned. ‘What?’
‘We haven’t finished,’ said Lucifuge Rofocale.
‘I have,’ said Nightingale. ‘There’s nothing else I want from you.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘What about Sophie?’ Nightingale shivered as if an icy finger had been drawn down his spine. ‘Don’t you wonder what happened to her?’