by JP Relph

I ask that they bring me a ruined man; only those who know ruination can serve as vessels for Mayhem.

They run to the church cells, fear-stinky with their decision to use Spellworks, to use me.

Banished, chased into the hills, a hardscrabble life selling remedies to those who still believed, when they came to my door, I longed to chase them back. To their prayerbooks and cacophonous hymns, their divisive faith. To be hunted, slaughtered. Yet, I knew the enemy they faced. An enemy sure to find its way to the hills. So, as they clutched their useless amulets, I picked up a spade, dug beneath the bent firs.


He’s a beaten man, but not broken. A strength that’ll stand him well. He committed some act they deem sinful, has been under their cruel hand for some time. His eyes are pieces of flint though, honed with vengeful need. That, I can use.

They tie him to a bentwood chair. I laugh, no bindings will survive this transformation, but they know only control. I smooth oil over the pocked skin of his fresh-shaved skull until he shines in red candlelight like a warning. I lift my cutter.


The enemy were once just men. Men that revelled in cruelty and oppression. Grown bored of a benevolent God, they called to the Fallen Ones, the Broken. Made pacts with stained souls. The alliance twisted them further into darkness until their bodies were recast to equal it.

We call them Snagglers. Some remain on two legs, others run as beasts. With curved fangs like prehistoric cats, or mouths crammed with rodent teeth. Skin shining like beetles or an impenetrable hide; razor-nailed hands or snapping crab craws; the composite eyes of flies or the flat-grey of sharks. However transformed, they have a single mind–for brutalisation, destruction, annihilation. Killing with ease and great pleasure, while being almost impossible to kill. A few trophy skulls adorn villages, displayed on church gates to pacify. If Snagglers collected such trophies, human bones would crunch underfoot all the way to the sea.


I press the Snaggler tooth to the glistening scalp, its curved tip glides, carves the sigils. Blood sheets a scarlet veil over the ruined man’s resolute expression. He doesn’t flinch, even as I daub the wounds with poudre—an astringent, foul mix the Old Ones can’t resist.

I feel them twitching, salivating in the red-dark, growing tumescent with the possibility of light. I feel them all, summon just one.


When I first settled in the hills—an abandoned cottage rotting slowly into heather banks—I wailed nightly into starlight punching holes in the roof. Then a man collapsed at my door. A traveller, documenter of places and plants. He’d fallen days earlier, sustained a wound growing suppurant. I laid him by the fireplace, reached for my decoctions.

He stayed beyond his need. Writing of the strange roots and fungi that I scavenged from the hillside. Soon, the village acolytes learned of him, determined him unholy—consorting as he chose, with a Mistress of Spellworks.

They came for him as I returned from the river with fish and herbs. Beating me back with sticks, the threat of steel, I could only watch him dragged away, his journals already ash.


The ruined man is quiet as death. Blood a brown mask, sigils frothing feverfew-yellow. I recite from the book I once buried at the foot of two firs, deformed into old crones by the last snow. Buried in a carved smokewood box lined with laurel. The Daemonicum was passed to me by a Mistress two-centuries old. Bound in human skin long softened and tanned as buck leather, the ink used to form the Spells purple with blood and berry.

His face twitches, as if troubled by a passing spider, then bones shift. Metamorphosising in hideous screech and grind, his body is forced to accept the summoned, to reform to its repugnant need. He becomes monster; stretched and cracked, flint eyes filling with fire. Then the monster cowers back and, in its place, something pure evil slithers into the yielding form.


I mourned the loss of a love that had found me so unexpectedly. A gentle man who never feared or despised me, longed to learn the secrets of the plants that healed him. That healed us both. I mourned and wailed again into the stars.

Something wailed back.

With the promise of vengeance too brutal for my most toxic potions.

I dried my eyes, waited for them to come. To beg.


Bone tired, I slump into the bentwood chair. It’s night-dark now, votives rendered molten red, a great crack in the church roof slippery with moonlight. Outside, the screaming abates, the crackle of flame less thunderous.

Mayhem has torn open this village, already seeks more. He’ll encounter the Snagglers eventually, eradicate them as requested, but not before he has his fun. My vengeance. I asked that the ruined men be spared and, as they file into the church, all but one drop to their skinny knees before me.

He is beaten, but not broken, and all the bruises of his ruination can be healed. I thought him utterly lost to me, buried as a book in a nameless grave. As he limps closer, his gentle eyes mauve-brown as my heathered hillside, I look up at the slice of stars and scream my gratitude.

Mayhem’s laughter crashes across the land, crushing everything in its path.

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