The Devil’s Bargain

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My terrible drawings are back! Hooray!

Grey ran. In the distance his pursuers shouted insults that distorted and reverberated, assaulting him from all sides. Tears stung his eyes, narrowing the world into a series of blurry passageways. Grey ran, and the voices followed snapping at his heels and driving him on deeper and deeper into the abandoned tunnels on the edge of the town.

After an eternity of wild flight, when the voices finally began to fall away, Grey felt his legs turn rubbery, and he pitched forward landing in a crumpled heap. The voices were still with him, echoing in the dark but they were remote now, more whispers than shouts. After a long moment where he lay sucking in lungs full of the musty air, his heart started to slow, and he pushed himself up on a skinned elbow.

Looking around it quickly became apparent that there was good news and bad. In good news, there was no sign of the gnawed bones that would indicate the dangerous beasts that stalked the tunnels. The bad news though, was that no matter how hard he looked, Grey didn’t recognise anything. He was well and truly lost. Grey sat thinking for a long moment, then when thinking didn’t seem to help much, he dragged himself to his feet, picked tunnel at random and started to walk.

The tunnel led slightly upwards, but the air remained musty and still. As he continued to trudge through the semi-darkness carvings started to appear on the walls. Trees, bowing figures and some flowing script Grey couldn’t read. Grey reached out a hand and ran his fingers over the wall, following the lines, and as his fingers brushed the strange writing, they began to tingle. He stumbled and when his hand came off the stone the tingling vanished. Grey wiped his hand on his tattered cloak. Whatever this place was there was power here and out in the abandoned places power trouble.

“Come out, come out wherever you are.”

Grey’s blood ran cold. How had they found him in this maze of tunnels? It wasn’t possible!

“There’s nowhere to run a little rabbit. Don’t make me follow your trail all the way back to your warren.”

Grey looked down. His gashed knees were oozing blood, and he had left a trail of small red drops behind him. Cursing wiped the blood away and bolted up the tunnel. After a few hundred yards, the tunnel levelled out, and Grey burst from the corridor into a tall, round chamber. There was a stone bench in the centre facing an altar that, like everything else in the room was covered in intricate carvings. One of which caught his eye, carved into the wall above the altar was a horned figure wreathed in flame. The details washed over Grey in a second, but he dismissed them. All he saw was what was missing; a way out.

Grey cursed then flinched as it echoed around the room.

“Ho, ho, ho! There you are little rabbit,” called the voice from down the tunnel. “Stay there we will be along to play presently.”

“Please, please, please,” whispered Grey sprinting to the altar. It was rectangular maybe eight feet in length and four feet tall and was covered in a thick layer of dust and on closer inspection he saw it wasn’t an altar at all, it was a tomb the sides carved with lines of flame that whipped up to a thick stone lid that was three inches thick. With a despairing sigh, Grey slid to the floor and pressed the back of his head to the tomb.

“Welcome little one.”

Grey started and spun looking around the room, but he could see no one. Then out of the corner of his eye, he noticed something.  One corner of the tomb had a small hole between the lid, and the base like someone long ago had tried to pry it open with a  crowbar. Curiosity overriding his common sense Grey leaned in closer. A breeze that carried the smell of smoke, dried herbs and ancient things flowed from the hole.

Welcome to my home.

The voice echoed in Grey’s head, a deep musical voice that had nothing human in it.

Please forgive the mess it has been some time since I’ve had visitors.

Grey clapped his hands over his ears as a strange pressure started to build.

Now listen little one. They are coming to hurt you. Coming to break your bones and drink your blood.

Grey dropped to the floor with a groan. Eyes squeezed shut, hands clamped to the sides of his head, the pressure unbearable.

They’re coming little one… to do unspeakable things…

Grey could barely make out the voice over the buzzing in his ears. Then when he was sure his head would explode the pressure vanished, and Grey was floating looking down on the cavern, as five men entered. Four could have been any of the desperate people who scraped a living in town.  Grey’s eyes washed over them and dismissed them, it was the leader who held his attention. He was young but had a man’s size with a barrel chest and arms thicker than Grey’s waist. He had short blonde hair so pale it was almost white and the simple shirt and trousers he wore made him look like a prince compared to his companions.

“There’s nowhere to go little rabbit,” said the leader. “You may as well come out.”

Grey watched as behind the altar, his body started to stir.

“If you make us come looking for you this will go badly for you,” the man looked over at his companions. “More badly I should say…”

Grey’s body sat up jerkily like a poorly controlled puppet. With a sigh, the leader waved a hand, and the men spread out, two going left and two right, cudgels raised. Grey could only watch as his body burst from behind the tomb darting forward to squeeze through the swiftly closing gap. For a second he thought he’d made it, but then they tackled him to the floor. He looked so tiny locked in that cruel embrace that struggle as he might he knew there was no escape. Struggle he did though, and with each bite or swing of his leg, he took a blow with a cudgel or a kick on the chest. They beat him until he lay shaking in a pool of his own blood.

The fight finally out of him the leader stepped forward between his men and stood towering of Greys body a sick smile on his pale face.

“I’ll show you what we do to freaks like you girl,” he said licking his lips.

“No!”

Grey fell back away from the tomb and looked around in confusion, the room was empty. He rubbed his face with his shaking hands. It was just a dream, or a hallucination, or something but try as he might he couldn’t shake the feeling that was real in some way he didn’t understand. He had the coppery taste of blood in his mouth and the stink of the men in his nostrils.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I can help you, make you strong.

Grey felt an alien presence reaching out for him, the strange breeze caressing his cheek as gentle as a lover.

I can be your second chance as you can be mine. Just reach in and take it.

“No!” cried Grey. “Leave me alone!”

“Or what?”

Grey’s head shot up, and he saw a pale face smiling out at him from under a pile of unruly blond hair.

“No! No! No! Leave me alone!”

“Why would we do that when we’ve been searching so hard for you?” the man nodded his head and his accomplices spread out cutting off Grey’s escape.

“No! Just leave me alone. Don’t make me… Not again…”

The man laughed, a hollow sound with nothing of amusement in it. At his signal, the ruffians started to close slowly in on Grey. “Don’t make you what girl? What are you going to do?”

Grey dove forward thrusting a hand into the gap in the tomb. As the men darted forward to grab him, he felt his hand close on something cold and hard. A great wind seemed to come from nowhere. The men were pushed back, straining to hold themselves up as the wind battered them, blasting exposed skin with like a sandstorm. Then as quickly as it came, the wind died down leaving Grey standing straight behind the tomb palms upraised.

“Call me girl again,” he whispered his voice low and dangerous.

The man ground his teeth, puffed out his chest and took a step forward. “Listen, girl…”

Flames burst into being writhing around Grey’s hands as he locked eyes with the pale-faced man. “Big. Mistake.” Grey’s eyes flashed, and for the next few moments, all that could be heard over the screams of the dying was the young boy’s laughter. Bright, glorious and mad.

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