Fiction

Rich Foreign Soil

The soil in Kerchetti Province is prized beyond imagining. Unparalleled in it’s fertility, it also gives off a marvellous fragrance when mixed with incense, and can also serve as a powerful disinfectant for poison, gangrene, burns and other flesh wounds. But there are rules to it’s importation and use: one must never ingest the soil, and under no circumstances must a notable amount of the soil be stored collectively outside the borders of Kerchetti.

Kerchetti Province has had many tenants who thought themselves masters. The land is harsh and unforgiving; trees bear little fruit and the spring winds often bring pestilence. Kerchetti has always been seen as a no-man’s land amidst nations that coveted the wealth and territory of their neighbours. The existence of Kerchetti forced an uneasy peace in the region; in order to invade a nation with anything worth taking, your armies had to cross the sands of Kerchetti. The very country itself seemed to resist the otherwise unstoppable momentum of the war machine. Your men would starve and wither. The locusts and gnats would keep them awake all night and bring the madness of sleep deprivation. The constant dust storms would rust the weapons and blind the cavalry. If your army was successful in passing into the nation they wished to seize, they would be in no state to conquer anything.

These historical examples couldn’t prevent various distant empires from attempting occupation, many of whom wished for a central foothold in the region. These imperial legions fared much worse; at least the locals knew of Kerchetti and it’s malevolence. They knew the old sayings which warned them from bringing war to Kerchetti: ‘Those who spill blood upon this earth shall remain to defend it even in death.

It had been some time since the last attempt at occupation. The memory of what awaits any army which marches on Kerchetti would fade in time for another tyrant to futilely attempt to lay siege to that immovable stretch of sand, soil, mountain and blood. The relative peace of the era permitted tentative trade with Kerchetti, and the rich earth of the land was valued tremendously highly.

But many chose to ignore the warnings of swarthy, inscrutable vendors. They purchased vast amounts of the soil, moving it from the small, ornate glass bottle it was sold in and decanting it in large containers and silos. In but a few days they would learn too late the cost of their arrogance.

It is said that Kerchetti province has seen blood run through it’s valleys to an apple’s depth. Locals, foreign invaders; they all bleed the same, and the thirst of Kerchetti’s wrathful soil is never slaked.

The homes and manors of many noblemen and ladies across the moneyed nations were subject to bizarre and total destruction. Explorers and collectors of rare curios, those who operated salons, spas and parlours frequented by women of high society were found torn to shreds, bled totally dry amid their smouldering, shattered homes and places of business.

Witnesses of these reavings eventually began to relay similar testimony: that the victim’s supply of Kerchetti soil had stirred and become animated. The soil had seemed to disobey natural laws, ascending into the air and whirling about at increasing speed, the arid grit sanding and scratching at surfaces, knocking things to the ground. Those who attempted to somehow accost the elemental force before them were enveloped in it, and were seen thrashing painfully amidst the storm before falling dead, covered in lacerations and with blood coming from their torn, dried lungs.

The soil storms would then seem to consolidate into humanoid forms, solid golems of soil, welding equally solid blades which seemed forged in the Kerchetti style. These homunculi of sand, soil and scorn would tear apart the homes, possessions and families of those who had, like vultures, picked and fed at the tatters of their homeland.

These occurrences would not be warning enough to dissuade the generals of future empires from marching on Kerchetti, and the blood of their sons would feed the next generation of bitterness, wrath and vendetta.

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Fiction

Collections

My name is Luke. I’m 240 years old, same as America. My work keeps me young. I’m a procurement agent for certain forces and parties who find it difficult to operate openly.

What my bosses want are souls, or at least the nourishing parts of them. Being so involved with their bartering, extraction and transportation puts me in the position of receiving a ‘contact high’, as it were, and this marginal osmosis effect is what has kept me so vital all these years.

My line of work has me rubbing shoulders with some real pieces of shit. I’ve met mass murdering Satanist warlords who trembled when they saw me, afraid they’d accidentally summoned me for an exchange. Soul trafficking is a racket for only the least scrupulous out there. The majority of my mortal clients are psychopaths with ESP who fancy pulling a Faust one. And like the eponymous soul-trader of that fable, they all think they’ll somehow outsmart me in the end.

Take right now, for instance. I am stood outside the estate of an up until now cooperative trader. Sold his soul 10 years back for 3 years of unbridled (if trite and unimaginative) excess, and has been delaying final payment with the souls of others, mostly teenage runaways. But as we keep reminding him, the Pact was for his soul and it’s ours by right. He hasn’t provided us with any alternative payments this year, so his account has moved into ‘collections.’

It’s 2am in Hollywood and it’s raining. I expected to manifest in his bedroom but I’m on the street, which means he’s laid down some protective glyphs inside. Irritating. I’m still mortal, I simply work in a field which allows me certain supernatural benefits. When you cut me, I bleed. And when I get rained on, I’m wet, so I’m already in a bad mood tonight. I press on his buzzer (no need to leap straight into the mysticism) and see, in the corner of my mind, a trembling hand pushing a plant pot off a balcony and into the wet night. I watch it fall towards me and step aside, seeing terracotta shatter into a hundred earthen, soaked fragments. I feel a gaze from the camera above me and stare blankly into it.

Just once, I’d like someone to conduct themselves with a little dignity during a collection. It’s always a snivelling, pleading farce and always leaves me with a sour taste.

I feel the space, invisible sensory tendrils creeping up to the house. I can’t sense beyond the glyphs on the threshold, but I can feel them out like brail markings.

Hm… camphor and silver… plush… ah, should have guessed: Thelema, the Taekwondo of esoteric systems. I close my eyes and make a quick trip to the Abyss. Well, one of them. Moments after ‘arriving’ I feel Choronzon bristle in the darkness. I sense acquiescence at once and depart. Me and It have something of an understanding; the Powers I represent are worth more bother than the Lurker in the Abyss can really handle, so he grants me immunity as and when I need it.

I’m back in my body and I feel something give behind the door. I glance at the lock and it clicks open. I phase forward-

-and I’m in the house, glyphs and sigils just smouldering scorch marks on the hardwood floor now. I can feel the whole building now.

Fear. Fear hangs in these halls like the reek of cheap incense. I can work with fear. I consider just appearing next to him in his wardrobe but I’m still wet and feeling pretty raw about it, so I walk, slow and heavy, and with every step the stench of panic rises and almost chokes me. Panic smells like wet aluminium on a hot day, if you’re interested.

——

As I walk up the stairs to the first landing, I can see him through the walls. I am able to perceive several spectrums unavailable to the unaltered human eye. UVA, UVB, thermal, auras, even a bit of past and future, though that’s mostly a composite of everything available and a bit of guesstimation. He’s still in his walk-in wardrobe, trembling behind several fur coats. Urine is hot on his legs. How to explain… the way it looks to me is as if this entire house and everything in it suddenly became made of purple glass. He’s bright as day, a white human shape with a pink outline, flaring dirty yellow sometimes when his fear rises. It looks as though I could walk straight to him, but I can just about make out the surfaces around me. Walls and doors stand in my way, though at this point the sigils laid down are entirely useless for preventing my approach. If Choronzon obeyed any kind of ethical structure it’d most certainly have breached it here; no doubt this poor bastard paid dearly for those ‘protections’. If he was given protection on the weight of his word alone, I’ll probably drop him off in the Abyss when I leave. I don’t owe Choronzon anything, but I feel a bit bad about just swooping in on it’s action and leaving it high and dry. Even soulless husks can provide the Lurker with a little entertainment, and he’s never been one to forget a courtesy.

I’m on the landing, and a dog is staring at me from the other end of the hallway. Doberman; lean, aggressive, ears clipped. That really annoys me, when people mess with their pets to make them look better. The dog is staring me down, and though his stance, stare, teeth and tail are all blaring “DANGER, DANGER, BACK OFF” signals at me, there’s an unmistakable lilac mist coming off the animal. The dog can smell that I’m not… right. I phase forward and am suddenly in front of the dog. It darts it’s head up to look at me, but doesn’t react with surprise. She sussed I wasn’t human soon as she saw me.

I look deep into this dog and I see abuse, I see fear and hunger. I see loud noises, attack training in backyards with car parts strewn about. I see a dog who has never known the love of her owner, and as such cannot conceive of it. I lend a hand; I gently blow a small parcel of light towards the dog’s face. It snuffs the air above it, trying to figure out if it’s some kind of treat, when the light suddenly darts into the dog’s forehead. There’s a moment of confusion, and then the parcel splits open inside and the emotional understanding of affection and loyalty are suddenly clear as day to the animal. Without another thought, it pads past me, down the stairs and out the door. It knows now; there’s nothing for it here.

I’m outside the bedroom now, and I can see that our man must have not had total faith in his glyphs; there’s an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes, all of which in the service of ensuring that an old double-barrelled shotgun on the dresser will fire if the door opens. I’m bored now. In an instant I’m in the room, and it’s nice. Not as tacky as I was expecting, though there is a… Hellenic vibe, which I always find unsettling. Maybe one day it won’t mean what I’ve come to expect, but I’m still waiting.

I sit on the bed and think about how I should proceed. In a moment it comes to me; I close my eyes and concentrate. Inside the wardrobe the trader has stilled. He hasn’t heard anything in a while, but isn’t feeling brave enough to venture out. Suddenly, he hears a violent growl, two barks, the sound of claws skittering across hardwood and a harsh scream, muffled out by the growling and sound of tearing. There’s a sudden burst of footsteps towards the bedroom, claws clacking behind it, and then the trap gun bursts into brief, volatile life, both barrels. Then nothing, not a sound. After five whole minutes, the trader stands up, shoes wet with urine, and pokes his head around the doorway.

The guy from outside is dead, a steaming chest cavity black with gunpowder and ruin. Behind him the mutt, head entirely pulverised by the other barrel. Oh well.

For a brief, blissful moment relief floods him. He’s still free as a bird baby.

He smirks as he walks towards the corpse, then freezes. The corpse is gone. It didn’t fade away or disintegrate; it just isn’t there anymore. What’s more, there’s no dog, the door’s closed and it doesn’t smell of gunpowder anymore. He turns in confusion and sees me on the bed.

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