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Prices

October 31, 2010

As the sun sank behind the mountains to the west, a long shadow crept up the road. This particular road, just another nameless path of well packed dirt in the country, had one person standing upon it that evening. He had been walking since that morning and had pressed on to try and make it to his destination by nightfall. His hair was jet black and drawn back into a tight tail, making his startling blue eyes even more noticeable. Even as the small man read over the slightly crumpled paper in his hands, he kept stealing glances at the surrounding countryside, watching for he knew not what. His eyes were the only spot of color in the landscape, everything else seeming to fade into the drab dark colors of his clothing and the tattered long coat he pulled tight against the wind. It was the note that had drawn him down the road away from the comfort of the village. The words of it echoed in his head and passed his lips in a soft murmur as he looked over it a final time, a mantra to fend of the cold.

Dear Mr. Petrus
We regrettably send you this letter as a notification of the death of your associate Mr. Arthur Penn. He suffered a violent heart attack and was pronounced dead on the night of October the Twenty-First. His will names you as the party to which his most recent property acquisition is to pass in the event of his death, if you are willing to move in immediately. Please notify us of your intentions, as the old chapel is to be auctioned for charity if you hold no interest in it.
Finneas Thorrn

Jarvis Petrus drew a long breath of cold air, fussed with his coat for another moment, and looked down the small path branching from the road he had traveled in on. Jarvis had not even considered giving away the property. As a bastard son, he had nothing else waiting for him, beyond an insistence he not make too much of himself. That he not draw too much attention to his father’s wanderings. A home far off from anything seemed as good a place as any to stay quiet.
Jarvis made the long walk into the countryside. It seemed silly that an old chapel would be built so far from anything, but the people in town had informed him that a new town was planned and the chapel was built in anticipation. Something happened and people abandoned the idea with just the chapel finished. Nobody seemed to know what. Since then, the chapel had bounced from owner to owner. Most recently, Arthur bought it. Now Jarvis would have his shot at making something out of the old building. He had some vague ideas about converting it into an inn. An escape from the bloated city.
Jarvis folded the paper and tucked it into his pocket, picked up his two battered suitcases, and hurried down the path. The trees flanking the path wove a ceiling of half dead branches. In the dying light they seemed a solid tunnel drifting towards the chapel. He reminded himself that what money he had should be spent refitting the building, not spending the night in the next town over. That and night was crawling quickly across the countryside. The old chapel was far closer.
As he walked, the branches scraped one another with a low grinding noise. Leafs and twigs snapped under foot in a symphony of disconcerting noises. He looked about warily, refusing to run. Refusing to give in to childish fear. That was what his discomfort had to be, childish fears bred from the stories of drunken old men. Ghost stories to explain away the continuing failures of the old chapel. Jarvis should not have stopped for a drink.
Before he could entirely bury his fear in logic, he came free of the trees. The effect was almost paralyzing. The path had been cut in such a way that a clear view of the building was not available until you stepped into the clearing the building occupied. A clearing slowly being swallowed by the surrounding trees. The church was large enough to house the entirety of a town, comfortably. A bell still hung in the tower, looking aged and cracked. White paint peeled away from the building to show graying wood beneath. The front door stood solid, but the stained glass window on the right side had been shattered into the surrounding weeds. Some boards had been used to fill in the window. The window on the left side was an image of what was probably Saint Christopher, his hand held out in invitation. A small crack ran through the figure’s mouth, changing the smile into a grimace of pain.
Jarvis shook himself free of the scarred Saint’s gaze and walked up the steps to the large doorway. He set the suitcase in his left hand down and pulled a ridiculously ornate key from his pocket. He could not imagine why someone would bother making something so impractical. With a reluctant groan the lock turned and the door swung inward. Jarvis slowly tucked the key away as he leaned his head into the dark room.
“Hello? Is anyone in here?” he said.
His own voice echoed back at him softly, almost mockingly.
Jarvis shook his head, annoyed with himself. Why would anyone be sitting around in what was now his chapel in the middle of the night? He was just being ridiculous again. A good night’s sleep was what he really needed. That would clear his head of all the non-sense. In the morning he could start cleaning the place.
He carried his two suitcases into the room, and then pushed the door shut behind him. The latch gave a solid, almost echoing click as the door stayed in place. Jarvis stood a moment in darkness, then pulled a book of matches from a pocket and lit one. The soft glow pushed back the darkness enough to give him some idea of his surroundings. The ceiling was lower then the building was tall. A second level then. That suited Jarvis’ plans.
At the front of the room was a set of half-rotted, formerly grand chairs on an other-wise empty platform. The windows set behind them were boarded over. A few old benches were pushed forward in something that almost resembled order. The middle of the room was almost entirely bare. Candles and sconces lined the walls. A pile of broken benches lay stacked near the door. To the other side, past the window, a small confessional stood. Just past that a doorway leading to other parts of the building, the door closed tight.
Jarvis found a candle before the match could burn down to his fingertips. He was just too slow and the match burned down to his fingers as the candle lit. He muttered a curse as he tossed the match aside, the gust of air from his hand blowing the candle back out. Darkness engulfed the room again. Sucking his fingers and pondering the effects on one’s soul for cursing in an abandoned church, he pulled his matches back out to try and light the candle again. This time, without incident. He carefully picked up the candle and moved along the wall, using it to light other candles.
The sconce on the left side of the door leading further into the church building resisted the candle’s flame. Jarvis began to look for something to stand on so he could get a better look and see why it might not be lighting when a large wet thud seeped through the nearby door. Several smaller squelching thuds followed after, almost like a broken melon rolling down a flight of stairs. Jarvis straightened his coat a little. With his free hand, he picked up a piece of broken bench leg, and slowly approached the door. He put his ear against it to listen.
Silence.
He juggled his weapon and light, finally setting the bit of wood aside so that he could properly open the door. The candle in his hand slowly penetrated the darkness, the other candles seeming to shy their light back from the newly opened door. He pressed the candle in slightly ahead of himself to ward back any waiting surprises, and then peered into the hallway. From that vantage point, a glint of silver caught his eye for a moment. Silver could be valuable.
Jarvis reclaimed his weapon and stepped into the hallway, his courage lifted by the possibility of some good luck and his make-shift weapon. His footsteps echoed back, distorted. He paused, trying to orient himself in the small stone corridor. It seemed to slope slightly downward, and the odd echoing almost made it sound as though he were being followed. Jarvis tugged his coat lightly, and then continued on to the spiral stone stair-well at one end of the hall. It continued both upwards and further down. Another passage lead off to what he could only guess might be extra rooms of some sort. None of it was the glint of silver that helped draw him in.
Jarvis reasoned with himself that if he checked down the stairs, he would know for certain that the noise was nothing, and could then easily enough drop off to sleep. Once morning came he could thoroughly look through the building and put all of the foolish thoughts from his head. The walls around the stairs closed in on him as he walked slowly down them. Each step seemed slightly smaller than the one before, until he had to turn slightly sideways to continue down the last several steps. He held the candle high and looked at the ground. A gasp escaped his lips. The floor appeared to be covered by a large puddle of blood. Jarvis scrambled back and tripped. The resulting hard land on the stairs jarred him.
Sitting closer to the ground, he could see that it was actually just a small circular rug placed at the bottom of the steps. In the candle light it was indeed a deep blood red color, but still only a rug. Jarvis laughed lightly to himself, a slightly maniacal tint to his voice. “All I’ve done since I arrived is jump at shadows. It is a good thing that no one is here to see me making such a fool of myself,” he said loudly into the darkness, purposefully adopting the overly proper speech he used when trying to pass himself as upper class. “Ghosts leave churches be, everyone knows that. Even deserted as this is, it is still holy ground.”
A breath of cold stale air washed through the room and over Jarvis. He scrambled back against the stair, brandishing his club. His own laughter from echoed back at him, softer, but warped in a way that it seemed laughter more fit for an asylum than the world at large.
Jarvis pushed himself up, trying to squeeze his way back up the stairs, mumbling to try and re-assure himself: “It’s just a drafty basement. Just a hole in the wall catching wind from outside and echoing me oddly. I’ll find something to plug it up. In the morning.”
He spun and rushed head-long up the stairs, forgetting about his earlier troubles getting through. Without turning, he forced himself through the narrowed passage way. The force from pressing through the small gap sent him pitching forward. He managed to catch himself on the stairs ahead, gloves keeping his hands safe from scraping, if not from bruising. His candle clattered across the stairs, somehow staying lit. A sharp cry echoed through the stones a moment, then died. Jarvis stood up and leaned back against the wall, wondering when he had screamed. With his teeth, he pulled the glove from his left hand and checked for injury. No reason for him to have screamed.
“I was just startled. I yelled a bit when I fell and it just echoed in a strange fashion,” he said to himself, before carefully reclaiming his candle and club.
The rest of his retreat up the stairway was slower and more cautious. The door loomed ahead, shut once again. “More drafts,” he assured himself. Jarvis leaned close to examine the door latch. In the flickering candle light, Jarvis saw something that he obviously did not want to be seeing. From this side, the latch mechanism was nothing more then a grotesque wolf-head with a key hole. Jarvis tossed aside his club and dug about his pocket for the key. He had to imagine that a place like this could only have one key.
Relief washed through him as he drug the key free from his pocket. Then faded. The key looked more like a grotesque body then stylized patterns now. Before he could study it any further, the key shot from his fingers and bounced off down the hall in the direction he hadn’t explored. With an annoyed sigh he stepped after it. All of the jostling left the candle unevenly burned and starting to grow dim.
Jarvis looked about, and then moved to light a nearby wall sconce. As the candle touched the first sconce flames leapt nearly to the ceiling. Jarvis drew his hand back sharply, dropping the candle. Two other sconces flickered to life, illuminating the end of the hallway clearly. The stone was spattered with blood.
Jarvis went wide eyed in terror. He couldn’t help but take a few steps further into this new area, retching slightly at the sights. Chained to that wall were two bodies. One was little more then bones with a few scraps of flash and cloth clinging to it. The next body was still whole enough that the expression of horror remained transfixed to its face.
The wet thudding noise came again, echoing in a way that made them seem to come from everywhere. Jarvis clenched his coat closed with a white knuckled grip as he slowly turned around. Coming ‘round the corner was a fur and feather topped head with a wolf-like muzzle. Leathery wings drug across the ground, but the sound of them was drowned out by the noise of the body the demon drug along. The corpse was a bruised mess, as if it had been drug up and down the stairs repeatedly for days.
Jarvis backed into the room slowly, pale and shaking now, looking for anywhere to run.
A quiet voice rasped inside his skull, “You cannot run. You accepted the key. All who take the key are mine.”
Jarvis shook his head, “No. This is just a dream. Just a dream.”
“You had your chance to break the curse. Face me and face your fate,” the demon said.
Jarvis stopped, not willing to back into the bodies chained to the wall. His eyes locked with those of the demon. The gold and silver eyes flooded Jarvis’ mind. He could feel the demon rifling through his thoughts.
A low, hollow laugh came from the demon. “You wish to make a bargain then? Trade your life for the life of someone you care about?”
Almost without hesitation, he began babbling, “Aidan. Aidan Ross. He’s a much bigger prize then me. I’m just a poor bastard. Take him. Take him instead.”
“It is done,” said the demon, and stepped to one side.
Jarvis hesitated for a moment, watching the demon. Finally, he ran. He ignored his bags. He ignored the darkness. He ignored the path, just seeking to put distance between himself and the church.
The church closed itself up behind him.
Inside, the demon walked over and picked up the key. He turned and motioned with his free hand as he chanted in a dead language. A paper folded into existence from the air and text slowly crawled across the page.

Dear Mr. Aidan Ross,
We regrettably inform you that your friend Jarvis Petrus has gone missing and is presumed dead. It is his record wish that this piece of property
should pass to you. If you are not interested, please return the key to the
care-taker, present at the mentioned address. Finneas Thorrn

The letter folded around the key. An envelope folded into existence and the letter slid in. Finneas laughed his hollow, rasping laugh. All of the candles in the room extinguished themselves and Saint Christopher’s grimace seemed to grow slightly. The envelope faded into darkness. Finneas settled in to finish his meal.

In a small room of a large stone building Jarvis huddled in the corner, gently rocking himself, fingers clenched in a death grip around small scraps of coat. The shutter on his door slid back and a doctor peered in for a moment. A key rattled in the lock and the door opened. The doctor stepped in with a large man behind him. The doctor stepped forward and crouched down in front of Jarvis. “Are you feeling any better now? Perhaps we can talk.” said the doctor.
Jarvis shuddered softly and then went still. Slowly his eyes focused on the doctor, seeming to peer into the depths of the man’s soul. The doctor shifted a bit uncomfortably. Jarvis continued to stare. As the doctor stood to leave, Jarvis began to talk. “I traded my soul and I traded my friend. I thought that would be enough. That he would let me go. Only, there is no escape. I can still hear him. Whispering. Waiting.”
The doctor frowned and looked back to the orderly. “I believe it is time to begin treatment.”
The orderly nodded, walked over and picked Jarvis up. Jarvis gave no resistance, just a soft, pained laugh as the orderly began dragging him off down the hall.

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