BREACHSPACE: Fiendish Profiles, “The Quill Contract” by E.J.Tett
A priest had summoned Quill from Hell a hundred years ago. The man had taken him from his duty as jailer of the darkest souls and forced him into work for the church. Quill collected souls for Hell and, for a long while, had enjoyed it. But when the priest died Quill didn’t return to his old work, as he had expected. Instead, he became trapped hunting wrong-doers and non-believers.
Killing his victims, well, that was all well and good, but working for the church? Ridding the world of evil? It was infuriating.
The church – an ancient, grey-bricked building in the village of Romana – was the first thing he saw every day when he emerged from his lair at the foot of the mountains. Its graveyard was close enough that once, during a flood, corpses had lifted from the ground and floated into his cave. He grinned at the memory of a hesitant priest asking him to return the skeletons so they could rest in peace. Of course, he hadn’t returned them and had instead added them to his collection.
Bones, yellow and grey and a few recent ones gleaming white, were pinned to his walls as grizzly trophies. He liked the skulls best – the sightless eye sockets made hanging them so much easier.
“Please…” The man tied at the back of the cave sounded desperate at last. He’d been cocky at first. Not any more. “Don’t do this. I’m innocent!”
Quill turned from glaring at the church and approached the man. He lashed his tail and the barbs on his body bristled threateningly. “I know you are innocent,” he said. “But the church says you are not. So you are mine.”
“Just think about what I said!”
Quill gave a derisive snort. “You cannot help me.”
The man’s name was Andrei Popescu, a miller accused of stealing from the church. Quill knew it was the man’s wife who’d stolen the coins but he’d get her, in time. Andrei’s face shone with sweat and he scrambled backwards as Quill came closer.
“Wait! Wait! Just listen!”
“I have listened. I am bored.” Quill needed the man’s blood to warm his spines. He cracked his tail like a whip.
“I can free you from your servitude!” Andrei cried. “I swear it. The priest had a son!”
A mouse darted along the bottom of the cave wall and Quill stabbed out and skewered it on the point of his tail. He held it, twitching, in front of Andrei’s face and watched as the man’s Adam’s Apple bobbed. “So?”
“So that’s the reason you’re still here,” Andrei said. “The priest had a son and that son had a son and while he lives, you’re trapped.”
“The priests do not take wives,” Quill hissed. If this fool thought he could trick him…!
“No,” Andrei agreed, shaking his head. “But this one had a child.” He laughed a little, some of his cockiness returning. “I’m surprised you didn’t know! Though he was good at hiding it – hiding it from the church, from you. He must’ve thought you—”
“Quiet!” Quill yelled. He tossed the dead mouse aside and strode to the cave entrance to gaze at the church again. “The grandchild,” he said. “Where is he now?”
He looked back to see Andrei shrug his shoulders. “I don’t know. Not in Romana. Anyway, I can’t tell you, you’ll kill me as soon as you have the information.”
“I will kill you anyway. Information or no.” He moved away from the entrance, swishing his tail thoughtfully. “So you do know where he is?”
“No. Okay, yes. But I won’t tell you.”
Quill grabbed Andrei around the neck and hauled him to his feet. The man choked and struggled. “Tell me.”
Andrei’s face started to turn red. His eyes bulged. “How about… I show you… where he is?”
Quill dropped the man, placed a foot on his chest to stop him moving, and ripped him free from the ropes. “Show me,” he agreed.
Andrei sat up and rubbed his neck. He glared at Quill briefly and then got to his feet. “I’ll show you, just don’t kill me. Once you kill him you’ll be free anyway so you can just let me go.”
Quill nodded. Maybe he’d kill Andrei, then kill the grandchild and then he’d be free. Darkness had fallen and the moon shone over the church as he followed Andrei across the graveyard.
Andrei crept closer to the church, signalled for Quill to be quiet, and then disappeared around the side of the building for a moment. He returned with a triumphant look on his face.
“He’s inside. Come on!”
Quill frowned. “He is in the church? You told me he was not in Romana.”
“I lied. Come on!”
Quill followed Andrei to the small wooden door at the side of the building and hooked a finger in the gap to pull it open a little more. He peered inside, saw a shadowy movement and then spotted Father Macek lighting candles. Father Macek had accused Andrei of the theft and Quill wasn’t surprised he’d ratted him out so easily. He grinned, baring his white fangs.
“You wait here. I will deal with the Father. If you run, Andrei, remember that I will find you and your wife.”
Andrei nodded quickly. “As soon as Father Macek’s dead, you’ll be free to go where you like, do what you like… I am your humble servant.” He bowed low.
Quill snorted, opened the door wider and slipped into the church. Father Macek had his back turned. The man reached over the rows of candles to light the final one and then blew out the wooden splint. He turned and jumped in surprise.
“Oh! It’s you. Popescu is dead?”
“Soon,” Quill said, advancing on the priest.
“What are you doing?” Macek asked, eyeing Quill suspiciously. “Wait—”
Quill grabbed hold of the man and forced him towards the door, gripping him tighter when he struggled, ignoring his shouts. He couldn’t kill inside the church, or harm a priest – the orders had been bound in the summoning – but he could tie the man up somewhere and leave him to die.
He tried the door but it wouldn’t budge. He rattled it in the frame and then yelled, “Andrei?”
He could smell smoke. Pressing against the door, he could hear the crackle of flames. Father Macek let out a little yelp and he dropped him to the floor.
Andrei had set fire to the church. Quill stood back, a grim smile on his face as Father Macek hammered at the door. Didn’t Andrei know struesi were immune to flame? That his kind revelled in the fires of Hell?
Father Macek was coughing now, holding his long sleeve over his mouth and nose as the church filled with smoke – his eyes red and streaming.
Andrei would kill Father Macek. Quill would wait until the fires had burnt out and then… then he’d kill Andrei Popescu.
Popescu! Quill almost laughed. The name, he remembered, meant priest’s son.