tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Bargain with the Dead

A Bargain with the Dead


On the night of the dead, which the locals called Samhain, Port St Jean, grand dame of the southern cities, sweltered and festered in her party finery. Along her winding avenues and crooked alleys the scent of wood smoke and cooking spices was added to the more familiar smells of sweat and decay. Torches and braziers blazed along all the main streets and stood guard at her many crossroads, banishing the dark from all but the very heart of the city. Along the whitewashed walls of her buildings a macabre collection of yellowing skulls leered and winked in guttering candlelight, paying silent heed to the people that strolled below. On her porticos and porches, sinister jack-o'-lanterns stood like sentinels. Heedless of the oppressive heat people thronged the streets: sweltering in fanciful and sinister costume - the better to appease the dead - and the clash of cymbals and the skirl of pipes added to the susurration of the crowd as it went about its business.

Into this maelstrom Lyssa the thief sprinted from the mansion like a startled fawn, careering headlong into the maze of narrow alleys inked across the city -- her prize, a dark box wrapped in soft leather, gripped tightly in her hand -- but it was not a clean getaway. Behind her the dark was filled with shouted orders and the baying of hounds...and perhaps worse.

Dressed more for the boudoir than the backstreet, Lyssa was initially grateful for the crowds - at least she didn't look entirely out of place in the thin nightdress she wore - but they quickly obstructed her path, slowing and jostling her, and soon she cursed them. All around, the streets were choked with people: standing, chatting or buying from the many stalls set out to tempt them. As she struggled through, she drew attention: men leered at her heaving breasts, barely obscured by her flimsy dress, or ogled her long legs; women frowned disapproval or glared maliciously from behind their masks. Lyssa knew she was in trouble. With the pursuit close at her heels it would be impossible to fence the item through her normal contacts and she knew of no living soul in this place that would, or could, protect her...no living soul.

All too soon, Lyssa felt herself tiring; the heat was oppressive, draining. Her chest heaving, she collided with another group of revellers - almost knocking a brazier flying in her panic - ran on, ignoring their angry shouts. She headed for the heart of the city, the cemetery. Behind her she could hear more shouting, gauged her pursuit by it...they were closing. She saw the mouth of a narrow alley - less crowded - made for it, sprinting downhill with a flash of pale legs. The air here was acrid: stale urine, rotting food, the stone floor littered with clumped garbage. She glimpsed a drunken man, his demon mask askew, relieving himself against the wall, a second man lying in the shadows: drunk or dead - it mattered not. From the darkness she heard the shrill giggling of a woman, the sound of scuffling. Gradually the sounds of revelry fell further behind, the way ahead was quieter, less well lit.

Wisps of mist started to gather, drifting from the noisome swamp about which the city was thrown. She reached a crossroads, heavy with gathering fog. Despite it, her way was clearer now. On this night, of all nights, the superstitious people of the city had no desire for close proximity with the unquiet dead and the area surrounding the cemetery was both inky black and utterly deserted. Eventually, the alley brought her out next to the high wall that surrounded it. She paused, gasping, eyes casting about frantically -- which way to the entrance? Behind her, the baying of hounds, distant but unmistakable. Gulping desperately for breath - her cropped hair slick with sweat - she picked a way at random and ran.

The gate emerged slowly from the thickening mist, a massive construction of iron railings and ancient stone. In contrast to the forced gaiety of the upper city, here, at its heart, a sepulchral silence held sway. This close to the swamp mist drifted thickly along the streets, drowning what sounds she made: the click of her heels, her panting for breath. Lyssa stopped at the gate, beyond she could just make out the wild shapes of willow and palmetto trees - their branches shadows in the moonlight - and, scattered amongst them, the crypts and tombs of the city's dead. She fingered her prize pensively. In the distance, a long drawn out howl split the air, turning her blood to ice: they had her scent. Hastily, before she had time to reconsider, she squeezed through the wide bars of the gate and passed into the city of the dead.

Off the paved street, the ground was softer, wetter. The air was thick with damp, the decay of rotting vegetation. Away from the sounds of the upper city the air hummed with insect life: the chirrup of crickets, falling silent as she passed. Lyssa picked her way carefully amongst the tombs. Soon, the gate slipped from view and, with it, all sounds from the city beyond. Finally, deep inside the cemetery, she stopped. In all directions crypts peered from the mist, tombs like houses. How did one seek an audience with the Lord of the Dead?

Gradually, like a shroud, a stillness drifted over everything, stilling even the cicadas. Lyssa found she was holding her breath. Then, far away but far too close for comfort, she heard the crash of something heavy falling, something that sounded far too much like a crypt door. She spun about, in the mist it was impossible to tell from which direction the sound had come. She heard another crash, this one closer, up ahead. Instinctively her hand dropped to the small knife strapped to her thigh: someone - or something - was moving through the swamp towards her. No - a number of people. She heard shuffling steps, a low, inhuman, groaning sound: in front, behind - they were all around her.

Slowly, figures started to appear out of the mist: misshapen, twisted, parodies of human form. The stench of decay clung to them like their tattered grave clothes, sweet, cloying in the heavy night. The sight of them turned Lyssa's blood to ice. Frantically, she searched for an escape: seeing none she clambered desperately onto the flat top of a chest high stone sarcophagus. Close now, the lead figure - a crabbed old man little more than bones in his grave garb - saw her and let out a blood-chilling moan. The cry was taken up all around: a sound that spoke of loss, of hunger - of an inhuman lust.

All too quickly the dead surrounded her, made her an island in their midst. Already the first had reached the low fence surrounding her sanctuary and she knew that she had to act fast or be pulled down and killed - or worse. She lifted the box above her head, calling out in a clear voice:

"I seek to parlay with the Lord of the Dead." Her voice echoed across the swamp.

A pallid eyeless face, its lower jaw missing - leaving nothing but a rotted hole - appeared over the rim of the sarcophagus and she flinched away. "I seek to parlay," her voice was shrill, a note of panic. More of the dead reached her, hands clawing out, trying to pull her down.

Desperate now: "I have the rod of the sorceress, Karina. I seek to parlay!" She pulled her small dagger free, dancing away from the grasping hands. The smell of decaying flesh was sweet, cloying: they were thick about her now, cutting off all thoughts of escape, crowding her, reaching for her.

"Please," she sobbed, gathered her thoughts. "I seek to parlay with the Lord of the Dead!" A hand closed around her ankle, little more than bones it gripped her like a steel vice causing her to shriek in shock and pain. A voice boomed:

"What do you bring, thief?" It echoed strangely, as if the speaker called from the bottom of a well - or a crypt. In its wake the dead paused. Her ankle released, they drew back, just beyond her reach.

"I...I have the rod of the Crimson Sorceress...Karina." Lyssa cast about for the speaker.

"What is it you seek?" Again that strange echo, the voice like dust, lacking human inflection.

"I would trade it...for safety." She spun about, trying to place the speaker.

"You seek safety in the city of the dead?" The voice remained monotone, but Lyssa imagined a touch of mockery. She paused, waiting. The speaker emerged from the mist and before him the throng melted away. Little more than a skeleton, the speaker was shrouded in a thick robe, his presence almost physical. He stopped, standing just beyond the crowd that hemmed her in. "It is Samhain...the night of the festival of the dead. On this night it is given to us to enjoy the pleasures of the living once again." He fell silent, Lyssa fidgeted.

"The rod contains great power...I took it myself from the Lady Karina's bedside."

The Lord of the Dead laughed, then, a horrible grating sound with no shred of human comfort. Lyssa shivered. Eventually, he fell silent once again. It was a long time before he spoke.

"I offer you safety, Lyssa Badpenny, and you can keep your precious rod - it is of no worth to me," her eyes slipped unbidden to his: where they should have been she found cold, dark holes, deep, unending. She swayed with sudden vertigo - wrenched her gaze away. "To earn it...you will need to offer me your prize in another way." He stopped. Once more, the silence stretched until Lyssa could barely stand it.

"I don't know what you mean?" She gripped the box before her, noticing for the first time the softness of its worn leather cover, again the Lord of the Dead laughed, setting her teeth on edge.

"Take out your prize, Lyssa. Use it! Here - now!" His voice was touched by emotion for the first time, an unpleasant sound, rich in lust.

With shaking hands, Lyssa unwrapped the covering. Beneath, the box was midnight black - lacquered wood - touched by golden clasps. She crouched, setting the box on the lid of the sarcophagus and slowly unfastened the clasps. Within, nestled in folds of black velvet, lay a finely crafted, silver phallus. Lyssa's heart lurched. For what seemed an eternity, she couldn't move: then she reached in and withdrew the object. As soon as she touched it, a frisson of excitement swept across her body, almost causing her to drop it. Despite her horrible circumstances her nipples hardened and wetness touched her sex. The phallus was perfect : gleaming silver, cold to the touch and slightly larger than the cocks of real men. As she lifted it from the case, it moaned, the sound audible across the swamp - not human, but unmistakable. Waves of pleasure swept over her, drying her mouth and distracting her. She swallowed.

"If I refuse?"

The Lord of the Dead regarded her impassively. "Make no mistake, one way or another your body will satisfy the hunger of the dead that surround you."

Lyssa closed her eyes, allowed the sensations from the phallus to sweep over her, tried to blot out her surroundings. Eventually, she reached up, behind her neck, and unfastened the cord that held her nightdress. Slowly, hesitantly, she peeled it from her sweat slick skin, exposing her sweat slicked breasts - dimly heard the throng moan, a sound of hunger - then gradually, by degrees, pulling it over her boyish hips and letting it fall from her. The air was thick with lust, swirling around her like swamp mist. Eyes still closed, she hooked her thumbs in the waist of her panties and slid them from her. The moan from the dead was unmistakable this time and she knew that if their lord had not been present they would have been on her.

Opening her eyes, she turned to face the leering visage of the dead's master. Slowly, hesitantly, she stepped sideways, opening herself. She took the phallus in both hands now, her fingers tiny against its length. Around her, the dead stirred, pressing in: she could feel their eyes on her, like the crawling of insects over her skin.For a long time she remained unmoving, allowing the sensations from the cock to sweep through her, steeling herself. Then, eventually - slowly, so slowly - she tentatively pushed the tip of the phallus against her waiting sex.

Lyssa's world exploded. As soon as the cool phallus touched her waiting flesh pleasure spasmed through her body, banishing any conscious thought: the world beyond dissolved into a whirlpool of sensation. She found herself on her knees, the cold phallus buried deep - so deep - inside her, her body convulsing in time to the throbbing of the phallus - tears rolled down her face. The thing was alive, moving, thrusting inside her like a real cock - taking her. Distantly, unknown hands pushed her onto her back. Her own - free of the phallus, now - flashed to her breasts, her sex, rubbing, teasing. Wantonly she lifted her breasts to her mouth, licking them shamelessly, tonguing herself with a desperate intensity. She was heedless of the audience now, lost to her own pleasure. The cock fucked her - harder, deeper now - she heard herself gasping, moaning, crying out. She needed release - was desperate for it - but there was no end, the violation went on, pushing her to the edge, keeping her there - gasping, moaning, writhing. Finally the sensations changed, she felt herself tipping over the edge - became frantic, her hands working her sex manically - until, finally, her body jerked in orgasm. Release washed over her, drowning her, pushing consciousness from her. In that last moment her eyes snapped open. For just a moment, outlined in the first rays of the dawning sun, she thought she saw, crouched above her, a monstrous silver demon - then it was gone and her vision faded into blackness.

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