The Three-Eyed Goat
1st of October, 1341
Reaping a man’s soul is not a pleasant experience. Still, by now you would think I would be used to it.
I have already described the pearly yellow liquid on the man’s lips – those droplets turn into a gaseous mass, escaping from the dead body like something drifting out of an alchemycal factory in the Arsenal. Once the magic has begun, that mass will find its way to me, no matter where I go, how far away I hide. Trust me, I have tried. One woman’s soul once followed me around for three days.
This time, I gave in to the process with little more than a sigh. I backed up against the wall, closed my eyes and opened my mouth. The old man’s soul parted my lips and began to seep down my throat. I gagged as more and more of the soul matter forced its way into my mouth, like oily smoke, rolling down my throat and into my stomach.
Every soul has a particular taste. Murdered souls taste like rancid milk, burned earth and a hint of copper. The old man’s added a sprinkling of old bark, a thread of mothballs and a whiff of piss to the mix. And the unmistakeable silvery tang of magic.
As this soul entered my body, I began to see glimpses of the dead man’s life. They were flashes, pictures without words, smells without substance, sounds without context.
I heard applause, followed by a woman’s smiling face and then the thick smell of spilled blood. I saw a dragon hidden amongst trees. Heard a woman’s scream. Felt the release of an orgasm. The sensations began to come faster and more intensely. The cry of a baby. The sweaty breasts of a fat whore. A woman’s scream.
The stink of shit. The pain of a switch across my arse. My hand shaking as I crumpled a piece of paper. A full moon over the woods. A woman’s scream.
A doorway filled with mist. A young woman’s face, tears running down her cheeks. A woman’s scream.
A theatre stage. Magic pulsing through my veins. A woman’s scream.
My fist breaking nose and cheek bones. A woman’s scream.
Again and again and again, fragments of this man’s life flickered through my mind’s eye.
As usual, the experience left me breathless and drained. Every muscle ached as if I had been fighting in a bear pit. And it wasn’t over. As the fragments drifted away, I tensed for the grand finale. The soul settled and then the screams began.
- Let me out! I’m still alive, you hear me? Let me… Wait! Where am I? What’s happening? Where am I? I have to get out. Have to find her. Have to get out. Where am I? What is happening to me where am I have to get out where am I where is she she needs me I have to help her I have to make it right I have to get him the spell I have to get it back curse him curse her curse them all where am I what is happening!
From experience, I knew that few dead souls come out of a reaping with their sanity intact. Whoever this man had once been, his soul was teetering on the brink of the abyss.
- Listen to me! I shouted in my mind
The man’s soul ignored me. I shouted again, but the shrieks and screams and demented cries steadily increased until it was all I could do to keep from screaming myself. By the Goddess, I hated this part. The headache I had been nursing since the summoning started to build in intensity. Closing my eyes, I did the only thing I could.
- Lucan, I need your help.
As quickly as that, he was there. His soul was all dry amusement, accompanied by the mental image of an old fop with his eyebrow raised.
- You yelped?
- I assume it has something to do with our latest… lodger?
I gritted my teeth. My new ‘lodger’ had begun to scream shrilly. I started to rub my temples.
- Yes. Can you do anything with him?
I had discovered that Lucan had an effect on my ‘lodgers’ the day I reaped the soul of an old whore. She wouldn’t shut up, keeping me awake all night with every sordid tale she could think of. Her exploits – if true – would have been enough to make her a legend. Instead, she’d died at my hands for blackmailing one of my mistress’ friends. I think Lucan eventually silenced her out of self preservation more than anything else – if she had carried on I really think I might have thrown myself in the river Groan and let myself drown.
- What is his name? Lucan asked now.
- I’m… working on that.
Lucan grumbled something under his breath. Or would have if he had any breath. I get lost sometimes in all of this; having another man living in your head, sharing your mind, is as unnatural as you can get.
- I’ll see what I can do, he muttered.
For the next five minutes, I listened as Lucan tried cadgoling, tempting and teasing, using gentle sarcasm, harsh words and comic routines, then whispering, whistling and finally shouting, all in an attempt to convince the newcomer to stop screaming. Lucan’s years and years of experience were all for nought. None of it worked. In the end, I felt him grab at the little ball of energy that hovered just behind my forehead and then he tugged the old man back into the darkness somewhere. It always ended that way – Lucan would attempt diplomacy and resort to force. I was just damned happy to have the screaming out of my head. I could still hear the old man, but distantly, as if through a thick pane of glass. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I would have to remember to thank Lucan later.
For now, though, my main priority was to get out of this damned room. If someone found me here with the body, I doubted even Tess could get me out of trouble. I walked round the body, avoiding the blood that splattered the floor and went to the door.
My hand had just touched the doorknob when someone knocked from outside.