A short story.
The offer she presented was cash in hand if he gave her a bit of a discount. How was she to know he was an inspector? Sly bastard. Life was hard, money was scarce, but repairs still needed doing. And she got the notice in the mail, a court appearance because she didn’t pay the fine.
Self-representation – what was it they called that? A fool for a lawyer, that’s what it was, but her funds were going, going, and about to be gone if she didn’t find a way to either sell her small apartment on the now-seedy side of town, or sell her soul to the devils who wandered the streets offering their wares.
Cheap, of course. Oh, so cheap. Until they had you in their claws, hooked for life and death.
Not drugs. No, she didn’t think drugs would help, but one of those tiny little demons … all they wanted was a bit of her blood, a bit of bone, and a hank of hair. In exchange, they’d make sure your life had no more problems. Not with accommodation, nor food, nor with money.
Well, not this little old lady.
She walked into the courtroom, sat in the front row when instructed, and waited.
It was the snore that woke her. Not from anyone else. Her snore. She’d fallen asleep. Where was she? What happened? She looked up at the judge’s bench.
A demon sat there, glowing red under his black accoutrements.
“Shoulda known,” she huffed. “How much to get it over and done with, Your Honour?”
“I like you,” the man-shaped creature said without moving his lips. “But you dishonour my children. You dishonour your race. You must be made to pay.”
“In blood or honour?” She knew this game. All gamblers knew this game.
“For you, it is both. You will be bled until I say, and all your assets will be assigned to myself.”
“Fine,” she said. “Do it tomorrow, so I can sleep one last time in my own bed.”
He slammed the hammer. “Done. Return here tomorrow at the same time, and you shall be incarcerated for the term of the punishment.” The grin on his face touched his ears.
Silly rules. Gambler’s rules. She went home, pulled the door off the hinges, dragged out the pinions that had held it steady all these years, and stabbed them into the hearthstone.
The ritual took all night, songs and dances and words thrown to the winds and wails of her future, fuel to the fire and blood to the stone. Sometimes, her memory faded and she did things twice, but it didn’t matter at this stage. She finished with a few minutes to spare for a shower and a change of clothes before returning to the court.
“As promised, Your Honour.” She held out her hands for the restraints.
“That won’t be necessary,” he said, “you are too old to give rise to problems.” His eyebrows rose to sharp points.
She smiled, shrugged her shoulder, closed her eyes, put her hands in her pockets and pressed fingers around the small piece of coal. “Burn,” she said. “Burn it all. Burn the demons, burn the devils, burn their children and their laws. No man, beast, or otherling can take my life, or my possessions gained through the power of my faith.” She threw the coal into the air, blew air under it, watched it redden and hiss before it exploded. The centre of the flames opened into the blackness of the void.
Chairs floated to the ceiling, fled through the gap and into the new rift in reality. The hammer flew from the judge’s hand and smashed a water jar in its race to the nothingness. The judge’s robes billowed and burst into flame.
“Why?” he screamed, “Why now?”
“My offer was refused, and you chose to punish me through the use of your blood magics, but you did not consider there were other magics in a world such as this.” Her other hand pulled out the pinions, and she clasped them like spears.
“All the stealers of bloods for misuse will follow this divining rod. It is fused to your emanations, your auras, and you cannot avoid it. All the items you have despoiled will go with you, and at the end of the journey, you will find peace.” Of a sort. Surely, nothingness was peace. She threw the first rod.
Dozens of bodies crashed through the walls and windows of the court house. All surged into the swirling smoke that led to the central black hole. She threw the next rod, and ducked as hundreds, thousands, of demons destroyed the building with their bodies.
“Who needs a Pied Piper when we have the Ravening Rods to remove the detritus from our haven?” She bowed her head to the swirling void, and threw the final pinion. No blooded demon could deny the pull of this power.
She picked her way through the rubble and mess and went home, hoping it wasn’t too damaged by the buildings surrounding it.
And she still needed a plumber, and a carpenter for the new door. Neither of which she could afford if she was to replenish her rods, and infusing iridium into tungsten steel was an expensive, specialist job. But one must always be prepared for strangers at one’s door, or suffer for the lack of foresight.
Maybe someone would be willing to accept a cash-in-hand offer to help out an old woman.