Chapter 44


The match sprung to life with a flick of Byron’s ochre-bronze thumb. Beneath its dancing light, the fragile pages of the Goetia Cornubia trembled, fearful of the flaming sword of Damocles that hung over their heads. A single moment of inattention and its radiant, omnivorous light would reduce centuries of knowledge to leather-bound ash, purging from the world a multifaceted soul and all its nuances of observation and acknowledgement.

Before such tragedy could occur, Byron plunged the flame into his pipe. Book burning was a crime of such magnitude that even the deepest depths of Hell could not punish its perpetrators. Unlike the human soul, able to transcend death through the miracle of transmigration, the soul of a book—of anything unaware of its own being—survived only so long as its physical anchor. Destroy that, and everything it contained, all the knowledge and the wisdom it had amassed across all its existence, would vanish in a flash, a momentary explosion of colour glorious in spectacle yet as fickle as dust caught in the winds of time.

Few understood such things, of course, least of all the denizens of Malkuth and its sextet of sisters. To them, books were an unwelcome distraction, a threat to their web of half-truths and hyperbole, their pages but fuel for the fires they used to warm their frigid hearts. That was why Byron, a collector of truths and connoisseur of tales, did his utmost to ensure no book, no matter how insignificant, fell into the fiery flames of fascism, Or, indeed, that no book was left to rot away inside the murky miasma of ignorance.

Such had been the case with the Goetia Cornubia. In exchange for a pouch of smoking herbs, a bottle of whiskey, and an hour of his time, Byron had procured the fragile grimoire from a ragged ghoul of a man he discovered hiding down a Bolventan alleyway, whose stories of sacrilegious summonings and contracts corrupt implied a long and tumultuous association with the aethereal arts.

Like so many local goetias, it was a slender tome, its pages autumn crisp and its words the product of a dozen hands across a multitude of generations. Its earliest entries, dating back to an age when the dates themselves were but vague celestial observations, told stories of wayward spirits haunting the moors, malevolent remnants of the Old World that preyed on its survivors and gorged on their fears.

None of those stories spoke of Ketos, however, nor did they mention Avalon or its secretive Matriarch. Interesting and enlightening as such tales were, Byron skimmed their details and turned instead to more modern recollections from the era of humanity’s re-emergence and the foundations of what would one day become an island prison draped in delusions of paradise. Here the monsters took new forms. Gone were the lingering sentiments of wrath and mischief, replaced instead with machines of war, such as the giants Comoran and Galigantus, whose battle showered the moors with shattered stone, the sea witch Zennor and her hound, the Conomor, who rode titanic tsukinami as a barge might drift down an underground canal, and the Bestes Enys Brenn, who prowled the fields and hills of Bodmin and devoured whomsoever was unfortunate enough to cross their path.

But still the name of Ketos eluded him.

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For once I don’t think I’ll struggle to think of any footnotes!

Did you know that Jack and the Beanstalk has it roots in Cornish folklore?