Fictober, Prompt 21 – “What did I say?”
Original fiction, dark fantasy/horror. A follow-up to this piece (Day 9).
Warnings: murder (off-screen), blood sacrifice, eldritch horrors, violent death.
I walked carefully through the ruins of the basilica, lifting my robes with one hem to keep them from the dirt and soot and rubble strewn across the floor. Fire raged elsewhere in the building, and the roof was long burnt away or caved in. Smoke obscured the overhead view, but I knew the night was overcast beyond the conflagration.
The flames had swept quickly through this part of the building, mostly stone as it was, so it was a bit more intact.
The Pact-Makers did not understand the concept of mercy.
I did not much understand it myself, anymore, time having show me too much of its results.
Sound ahead alerted me, and I quickened my step as much as possible. If I had found the one I sought at last, so much the better.
“The Voice” as his followers had worshipfully styled him for so long, was on his knees, scrabbling in the soot behind what was left of his throne, a crumbling wood and scorched metal seat. As I approached, quiet, he pulled out a large pack and nearly tore it open, desperate to look inside.
Whatever he saw relieved him, for he fastened it closed again, and then rose, pulling it on.
I thought he would bolt when he saw me, and a brief twitch of his middle-aged but charismatic features told me he wanted to. He fought the urge, however, and turned to face me, stepping out from behind the burnt throne.
“Have your demons had enough, sorceress?” he taunted. “Are you reduced to fighting your own battles now?”
“They are neither demons, nor mine,” I corrected, coming to a stop a few arm-lengths away, allowing my robes to fall and making sure I had a certain grip on my staff. “They are Pact-Makers, the Ones From Outside.” So naming them, I lifted my staff and tapped it upon the ground with intent. They would find this man no matter where he ran, but I wanted this finished now, and was happy to help guide them to their goal. “That you still know none of this, so many years later, marks you for the evil man you are.”
A roil of emotions crossed his face briefly, but then he calmed, baring his teeth at me in what could not quite be called a smile. “I have been careful not to involve myself in your heretic ways, sorceress. That does not make me evil.”
“It does, when you have ‘avoided’ the proper path by stealing that which rightfully belongs to others,” I said, keeping my own expression placid as around us, the air began to twist and writhe in an uneven pattern. “What did I say? What message did I send through your men those years ago? Did they not convey my words?”
“They did,” he allowed, flippant, “but of course we could not take heed of—”
He trailed off, at last noticing the twists of space that surrounded him. They widened, color and light shifting in ways that human eyes could not easily accommodate.
“What- What is that?” he asked, and for the first time sounded as frightened as he should be.
“As I told you,” I said, bowing my head respectfully as the first of the Pact-Makers came through, and receiving its version of a nod in return, “the only forbidden practice is to use another’s blood instead of your own. I told you that there were no circumventions of this law. I told you that there was always a price – the price of your own blood. And you,” I closed my eyes briefly to let an old echo of rage pass, “you did not take heed. You did not wonder if there was a reason. You did not suppose that you would have to pay the price.”
More and more Pact-Makers entered now, and I kept my gaze fixed firmly on their target. It was wiser to avert one’s gaze, with so many of them gathered together. To try to behold a crowd of them was to risk an unsound mind.
His eyes darted wildly between me and the Pact-Makers, the beginnings of a break already clear in his face. When he opened his mouth, sound emerged, but it was no longer intelligible.
“This one law of practice is absolute because the Pact-Makers do not allow an uneven bargain. When we make a Pact with them, it is to trade blood for power, and the only blood we can promise is our own. When we are robbed of the power that we contracted for, then the bargain is unfulfilled, and they will not allow that.”
His mind was not quite gone even if his words were lost, and he turned terrified eyes to me that begged for mercy as the Pact-Makers closed in.
I stared back, merciless. Today, I would see justice done.
“It may take them a longer time to find the perpetrator when you do not actually spill another’s blood and claim it as your own, but they can always trace a thief. When you murdered that young man for blood power? Then you became easy to find.”
He had kept that action hidden from all but a chosen, trusted few of his followers, of course, but for those of us connected to the Outside, the effects of such things reverberated and were known.
There was no more to say, then, and just as well. They were upon him, and a gurgling scream was the last sound he made. He did not have enough blood to pay all of his debts, of course, but they would extract every drop they could in recompense, and take what little could then be scavenged from his flesh and spirit.
I stood in respectful silence.
When the Pact-Makers had taken what was owed so that they could balance their Pacts as much as possible, they passed back to the Outside, some acknowledging me as they went. I gave my own respects in return.
Then, alone as I had been when I arrived, I turned for home.
I would make sure that the truth of what happened here was known. It would not stop everyone, and not forever, but for a time, we might all be a little safer in our work.