by Chris Bailey
The floor in this room is made of human hair, long tresses tightly braided and packed together. The walls are made of human bones, femurs, tibia and ribs, locked and imbricated. Inset skulls hold candles. The flames burn green.
I sit and I watch and, in time, the gloom is suffused with sparkling atomies, motes of light which swirl and dance as they slowly gather into a shimmering globe. A soul!
I reach out with the fingers of my mind. I squeeze and mould the globe to a little ball. As I do so, it darkens and reddens. I squeeze and compress until it is like a tiny, vivid ruby.
And I drop this bead of soul-blood into my champagne flute. The wine turns a trembling, delicate pink. After I have drunk, my own soul is fused with that of the soul I have engrossed and for some days I am not in this room. I am wonderfully elsewhere.
Today it is execution day at the prison, and I shall perform an experiment. Why savour just one soul at a time?
I send out my desires, and they reel the souls in. Eagerly I anticipate tasting the spirits of murderers, kidnappers and arsonists– and not just one of them, but twenty-one!
I add the twenty-first bead and now the wine is mellow red. I am trembling with excitement. Finally, to experience the greatest –
Who’d be a Knight nowadays? Sometimes you’re simply left a list. Corporate streamlining, they call it. Efficiency savings. No audience with the King, no pledge of a Domain, a Table or a Lady once you’ve finished. Just a Questing Schedule, stuffed in your pigeonhole.
First thing I always do, soon as I’m round the corner – chuck the armour, the Grail-case and the lead casket. (That’s for any bits of True Cross you may find.) Hit the open road and travel light, that’s my motto. Sword and shield are quite enough, and the horse goes twice as fast. Sooner done the better, and so far this Quest I’ve deposed the wicked Eirenarch of Calix, seduced Plectrudis of the Bructeri, rescued Cephesus the Lost Hero from the Underworld, and polished off two standard-issue dragons and one (bogus) orc.
Next on the agenda: terminate the foul activities of the Soul-Snatcher of Mystia.
The places they send you! Mystia is everything I’ve come to expect: hovels crowding up to a gross marble palace, seething markets selling putrid foodstuffs, beggars banging their bowls, livestock jamming the streets, heat and noise and stench. I shoulder my way down narrow alleys, grease dripping down the walls, dung and slime underfoot, and barging aside the stunted Mystians until I can find someone who looks functional.
It’s always a pain, interrogating the natives for clues. The form-book says to approach the elderly. They’re supposed to be knowledgeable and wise. Experience suggests otherwise. All I ever get is doddering old men who mumble inanities and wizened crones who speak in impenetrable riddles. I find the street urchins are more useful, at a price. One exceptionally lippy and expensive ragamuffin put me on the right track and now I’m moving through fetid cellars, somewhere beneath the palace.
A faint green light shines from beneath a door. I crash it open. You get used to uncouth sights in this job but the creature which now confronts me is the total pits – a bright green slimeball. Perched on a miniature throne, it flutters dozens of little tentacles. In the centre of what might be its forehead it has one huge sky-blue eye. Which it turns towards me.
I feel my skull being pulled, dragging me towards the horror. Air is whistling out through my nose. My vision blurs and I sense my eyes bulging. The contents of my head seem to be migrating to the front, pushing against my face. My whole essence is being drawn towards the vile creature. I am stumbling and, more alarmingly, I can feel my arms becoming slack and weak. I focus grimly and with one final determined effort I raise my sword and strike. And then fall senseless.
When I awake, I’m stiff all over and there’s a fierce burning in my throat. It’s as if my body’s moisture has been sucked away. On a small table next to the throne and the shrivelled slimeball’s corpse there is a glass flute of red liquid. I rise unsteadily to my feet and sniff it suspiciously. Ah – wine!
The floor in this room is made of human hair, long tresses tightly braided and packed together….
No. Too confined a place for the likes of me. Give me the open road!
And who’d be a Knight nowadays? I would! The opportunities – murder, kidnap, arson! I find a Questing Schedule in my bag, filled with inane busywork. I’d better draw up a real Questing Schedule worthy of a real Knight!
Yes, Questing! This will be a saga the world will not forget…!
About the Creator
Chris Bailey lives in Sheffield, UK, where he works as a college administrator. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Andromeda Spaceways, Shoreline of Infinity and others.
World’s Shortest Creator Interview
If, due to some very poor logistics, you had to survive several days in some random tropical wilderness, what would you do to find food, and what species would your imaginary companion be?
Being English, I am able to survive exclusively on tea, and am never without a private supply which is cunningly concealed in various pockets of my Harris Tweed suit. My companion, Lady Evangelina Upcock-Gusset, acts as my personal teapot-bearer.
If your brain were an extinct animal or mineral, what would it be and why?
A unicorn, of course – an elegant, intelligent creature, and one which indisputably originates from these splendid isles.
About the Artists
Our very own D Chang is a designer and game writer from Austin, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Avast, Ye Airships! and the Cryptopolis science fiction anthology, and he has a janky retro JRPG on Steam. He does the Space Squid illustrations, editing, and other squid stuff.