“Souls! Souls! This way, sir!” the enchanted shadow calls, his form is pitch-black except for the white shirt indicating that whoever he was stolen from was wearing a suit, “Souls, souls, souls! Big ones, small ones, angry ones, loving ones… This way, sir, we have them all.”
I nod and step into the well-lit store. This is not the Dark Ages anymore. We have electricity and modern amenities, like this shopping centre hidden in plain sight. There is a booming economy that spans the globe, but there are also the nine layers of the Underworld that tuck into the roots of the World Tree as its swaying branches far above hold Mount Olympus and Valhalla.
“What are you looking for?” the shadow assistant standing next to me asks. His form is completely black. I cannot even make out a mouth or where his voice is coming from.
“Yeh, I’m looking for a good worker for the house. Something chore-related, perhaps?”
He nods and leads me to a back shelf in the shop. Bottles and lamps and other containers are everywhere on the shelves with labels like ‘Strong Warrior – 10gc’, ‘Wiccan Lover – 15gc’ and ‘Malchavian Assassin – 100gc’ written on them in old Arcane scrawl.
“Here’s the ‘Old Housekeeper’ product, sir,” the Shadow says, handing me a small glass bottle with a swirling green mist in it. His touch–or the bottle–is cold. I peer inside and there is a being swirling in and out of shape in there. It looks like an old lady.
“What’s her story?” I ask, intrigued. You have to vet these sort of transactions carefully. No one wants to buy a bad soul.
“Quite standard, sir. Nothing out of the ordinary,” the Shadow says cheerfully. I get the impression that it is smiling: “Sold her soul for long-life and magic, mixed potions and the like from her old house in the woods. She can cook, clean, has good basic knowledge and is not dangerous. Answers to ‘Merve’, but we can alter her Contract with any special requests you may have?”
“Great,” I nod, “I’ll take this one as she comes,” I reach into the hidden pocket in my robe for the fifteen gold coins it will cost.
Back in the castle, I read the instructions and then open the bottle. There is a soft gust of wind that sighs from it and the ethereal form of an old woman slowly materialises in front of me.
“I’ll cut you and cook you, I’ll kill you and clean you–” a distant wailing begins to emanate from her as her face distorts and she starts to advance upon me.
I calmly lift the dusty, old scroll that came with the bottle in front of me. She stops dead, her wailing dying out.
“Merve, do you remember your Contract?”
“Yes, yesss,” her form blinks and hazily shifts a little in front of me, like a hidden wind was blowing through it, “Yes, I remember the wicked little man and the blood on the page. Yes, yesss…”
“Great, Merve,” I smile at her, “The demon’s Contract that gave you power during life was ceded to another and I have bought it. That means that your Contract now lies with me.”
I was met with silence. Sometimes the souls need a little time to adjust.
“Merve, you work for me now,” I try to smile welcomingly to her. It is always better if they accept things willingly.
“Yesss, Master, how can I serve you?”
I smile and lean back in my armchair. Life is good.
Three month’s later, the banshees are wailing outside the castle and the black candles are lit through the chamber. My family is there in all their oddity as well as close friends and even a couple strange, silent observers of the Arcane Lore scratching away in their old, leather-bound notebooks.
“I have lived a long, rich life,” I rasp, on my deathbed, “but–Merve, will you write this down–” Merve appears through a wall in my crowded bedroom and floats over to my desk for a scroll, quill and ink, “I have lived a long, rich life, but all things end…” this time I am interrupted by a fit of coughing. I wipe the blood away and continue. So this is how it ends, I think, strangely disappointed.
“In this order, here is my final will and testament: To my brother, I leave this castle and all that is in it, save those items I mention now. To my sister, I leave my spellbook, wand and I cede all my Contracts. To my nephew…” and so I continue until all the hordes are satisfied, including myself.
Later that night, I find myself staring at my body on the bed. Around it sit, slump or skulk the few family members that remained overnight. Many of them are asleep and the couple that are awake do not seem aware that I am no longer sleeping, but dead.
“Yes, you are dead.”
The slightly high-pitched voice by my side startles me. It is strangely familiar and as I turn to look, it all makes sense.
“You. So this is happening after all,” I state looking down at my ethereal hands rippling in a hidden breeze.
“Yes, of course, this is happening. What else would be happening? Here is the Contract, please verify that you are happy with it,” and the wicked, little man with pointed teeth hands me a page written in my own blood. It is a page that I signed a long, long time ago when I was a lowly apprentice of a lowly wizard. It is a page that offered me a way out of the destitution of my family and a way to fill my life and me with great, history-changing magic.
“Yes, that is the Contract,” I sigh. It really is time. There is nothing I can do, because he has the Contract and I can feel the inescapable tug of its words on me.
I have a last look at the room with my body in it. My family still has not realised that I am gone. Suddenly, I am being pulled down. The room is getting bigger, or am I getting smaller? Glass walls spring up around me, and then a glass ceiling slams shut.
No one hears me start screaming.
“Come on, this one is worth a couple hundred, at least?” the wicked, little man with pointed teeth pleads in his high-pitched voice with a shadow.
“I am sorry, sir,” says the Shadow; they are sitting in the back office of the store with a glass bottle with a dark, purple soul flickering in it, “Demand and supply.”
“Exactly,” hisses the wicked, little man, “Exactly. And there aren’t many great wizard souls these days. Worth a lot, no?”
“No,” sighs the Shadow, “because there aren’t all that many people who want a powerful soul that can curse them with magic to help around the house or the office. You got to invest in protection spells and so on. Those dark souls get expensive to maintain. People don’t like them anymore. 50gp, or nothing. Your call, Agares.”
The wicked, little demon, Agares, glares murder at the Shadow, but its form is so black that not even he can see its expression.
“Fine. Fine. I’ll take fifty, but you are robbing me. Back in the day, these were worth something. Bloody electricity and technology; all this bullshit is ruining the old economy and none of them run off souls!”
The Shadow stands up, walks to a chest and take outs a little bag of gold coins for the demon Agares. Outside, the shopping centre is opening and the store doors are swinging open. Soon there will be hordes of people–some aware and some oblivious–crawling all of this place.
The Shadow flicks the bag of gold to the demon, Agares, and picks up the glass bottle with my soul in it. I am no longer screaming, but rather I am contemplating my escape. Before turning and walking out into the shop floor, the Shadow pauses and–perhaps in a show of sympathy–offers the dejected demon a final thought, “Come on, Agares, it’s not all that bad. The future offers opportunities too. Perhaps you should consider a career change? We’ve started stocking iPhones and iPads. The kids love them. Perhaps, instead of selling souls, you should sell some Samsung gear? I hear that Azazel is making a killing with Android stuff or something…”
The dejected, little demon snorts, and that is the last I see of him. My round, glass prison is carried by the Shadow and put on a shelf surrounded by other souls that signed similar Contracts.
In my little, glass bottle, no one hears me screaming bloody vengeance and plague over all the living.