FREE FICTION

This month’s free short story is a previously unpublished tale of the Royal Occultist. Like several other stories in the series, including last year’s “A Whisper of Soft Wings”, it’s loosely based on a horror film – in this case, the William Castle/Vincent Price joint, The Tingler. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s worth it for the ridiculous LSD scene alone. In any event, I hope you enjoy the story – and if you do, be sure to drop a buck in my Ko-Fi link at the bottom of the page.

Now, without further ado, on to our feature presentation…”The Fear-Collector“.


His mouth was full of teeth in a white row, fearful and daunting…

– Hesiod

“Fear is the great leveller,” Chapin said, giving his brandy a swirl. He was a scalpel of a man, all sharp angles and edges. He took a sip, gave a sigh of pleasure and added, “Don’t you agree, Charles?”

“Never gave it much thought, Warren old thing.” Charles St. Cyprian replied, studying his own glass in the firelight. He was fairly certain Chapin had slipped something into it, though he wasn’t sure what that something was, just yet. Not poison – a sleeping draught, perhaps. And yet he didn’t feel tired. He considered asking his host about it, but decided against it for the moment.

“I’m surprised. I’d have thought you’d be more interested in the subject, given your time in the trenches.” Chapin took another sip of brandy. “Ypres, wasn’t it?”

“Among others.”

“I was at the Somme, myself. Refresh your drink?”

“No thank you.” St. Cyprian set his glass down. “You were talking about fear…?”

“The great leveller,” Chapin said.

“You mentioned that bit.”

“I thought it pithy enough to repeat.” Chapin’s lean face was positively skeletal in the firelight. He was a tall man, cadaverous but nonetheless aristocratic. In contrast to his host, St. Cyprian might’ve stepped from a Leyendecker canvas. They sat before the fireplace in Chapin’s study. Outside the room’s tall windows, London sank into the quiet of evening.

St. Cyprian wondered if he’d made a mistake, paying a call on Chapin. The man had to know that the police suspected him of the recent spate of killings in the East End – killings of a sufficiently curious nature so as to also attract the attentions of Charles St. Cyprian, His Majesty’s Royal Occultist. It was St. Cyprian’s duty, if not privilege, to investigate the unusual and outré in the name of His Majesty – and Chapin’s handiwork was certainly both. Half a dozen corpses scattered across the East End, found with grimaces of fear and backs flayed open to the bone. The question was – why?

As if reading his thoughts, Chapin smiled. “Are you certain I can’t get you something, Charles? You look somewhat peaked.”

“Fine and dandy,” St. Cyprian said. He felt somewhat drunk. Rather more than somewhat, in fact. Not a sleeping draught then. He blinked. The fire was looking at him. He shook his head, and the leering face vanished. “I say, did you see that?”

“Hallucinations are a common side-effect,” Chapin said, somewhat absently.

St. Cyprian glanced at the other man. “You did slip something in my drink, then.”

“It’s a chemical derivative of ergot,” Chapin said, his smile widening into a cruel rictus. “I developed it myself. It heightens the subject’s perceptions and loosens the tongue – I am curious to see what it does to a fellow such as yourself. Up until now it’s been all drunkards and addicts – those already prone to mental weakness.”

St. Cyprian tried to rise but stumbled and nearly fell. His glass bounced off the rug and clattered across the hardwood floor. Chapin caught him easily before he could join it. The man was wiry but had a certain strength.

“Easy now, Charles. Can’t have you cracking your skull open before I have my wicked way with you, now can I?” Chapin laughed and drew St. Cyprian to his feet. “For shame Charles – I knew what you were after as soon as you started sniffing around my practice. Did you truly think to take me unawares?”

“Thought I’d take a punt,” St. Cyprian slurred. The world was going soft and porous at the edges. He shook his head, trying to focus. “Wasn’t sure you knew that I knew, what?”

“And what do you know, Charles?” Chapin gave him a light slap. “Here now, focus up. What do you know?”

“Everything.” St. Cyprian paused. “Oh dear. Probably shouldn’t have admitted that.”

“Don’t trouble yourself Charles. This was always going to end the same way, whatever you said. The march of science cannot be gainsaid.”

“Is that what you call it?”

Chapin raised an eyebrow. “Why, what would you call it?”

“Murder.”

Chapin frowned, and started to walk St. Cyprian towards the door of the study. It was an awkward process, but Chapin seemed to have some experience with carting around reluctant patients. “An ugly word. Especially for one who’s not, last I checked, affiliated with the police.”

“Not the police, old man – though I am a servant of His Majesty’s government nonetheless.” The words flowed freely, despite his best efforts to staunch them. He tapped his lips loosely. “Shh. Can’t say anymore.”

“Are you a spy then?”

“I wish. Bloody easy, that.” The office of Royal Occultist had a fine pedigree, stretching back to the rule of Good Queen Bess, but few, if any, of His Majesty’s subjects had heard of it. Which was even as it should be. Some things man was not meant to know – unless he was extremely unlucky.

“Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’d deduced that my time in London was coming to an end. I procured tickets for Channel ferry this very morning, in fact. By this time tomorrow, I shall be in Calais, and you shall be in a shallow grave in Epping Forest.”

“It’s always a shallow grave, never a standard plot,” St. Cyprian lamented blearily.

“Better than a muddy trench in Belgium,” Chapin said. “Now one foot in front of the other please – there’s a good chap.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Downstairs. To my private operating theatre.”

“Ah. That sounds dashed unpleasant.”

“Depends on which end of the scalpel you’re on, I expect,” Chapin said, with a slight chuckle. “But never mind. You’re going to help me with one last experiment before I go.”

“Deuced swell of me.”

“Yes, it was rather nice of you to just…bumble in as you did. Saved me the trouble of going out, at the very least.” Chapin hefted him out into the corridor and towards a narrow door at the far end. The door opened onto a set of stone steps that went down beneath a wooden beam, and into a brick cellar with a low ceiling.

Unlike many cellars in London, it was dry and free of damp. It had been plastered from floor to ceiling, though somewhat shoddily, likely to cut the noise. Shelves had been set up against the walls, and an examination table occupied the centre of the room. Rolling trays and benches filled the rest of the space. As Chapin said, it was an operating theatre.

Chapin manhandled St. Cyprian onto the examination table and strapped him down. The drug in his system kept him from putting up too much of a fight – or even thinking about it. By the time he considered swinging a fist, he was already restrained.

“What were you looking for?” St. Cyprian asked. At the other end of the examination table, past his shoes, was another shelf – this one covered by a drop-cloth.

Chapin paused. “Who says I was looking for anything?”

“Weren’t you? Isn’t that why you took a Liston knife to all those poor blighters?”

Chapin laughed softly. “I suppose I was.” He was silent for a moment. Then, “I was a medico in the war, you know. A battlefield is no place to conduct surgery, but one perseveres.” He looked up suddenly. “Did you hear that?”

St. Cyprian followed his gaze. “No. You were saying?” In fact, he had – and he was fairly certain it had been the tell-tale sound of someone busting out a pane of glass, possibly in an upstairs window. But no need to tell Chapin that.

“That’s where I first learned about fear – not the puny fright of a child, but true fear. True, bone-chilling fear. Fear that grips and breaks a man as easily as a mortar shell. It stalked the trenches like a phantom, unmanning even the stoutest tommy.” Chapin paused and lit a cigarette. He dragged a stool over to the table and sat beside St. Cyprian. “Fear is what started the war, you know – all wars, really.”

“Funny, I thought it had to do with some fellow getting shot.”

Chapin ignored him and took a long drag on his cigarette. “It is the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind, and it drives our most pernicious actions. I became obsessed with it, seeing it as a – a disease. An affliction to be combated and cured, though I had not the faintest idea how to go about it. Not initially.”

Chapin paused again. “There it is again – I’m sure I heard something.” He looked up, as if seeing through the floorboards into the rooms above.

“I don’t hear anything,” St. Cyprian said quickly. “How did you get from obsession to carving up drunk sailors in the East End?”

“Patience, Charles. I’m getting to that.” Chapin blew a plume of smoke into the air. “It was near the end of the war when I made my discovery. They brought a chap in, ripped all to blazes and suffering from shock – kept trying to scream, but couldn’t. He’d been caught in the open during a barrage – you remember those don’t you?”

St. Cyprian didn’t reply. Chapin nodded as if he had. “I expect you do. Like divine thunder. Never seemed to end, and when it did, you were deaf for hours. Anyway, I had my assistant roll the fellow so I could get at his back and lo – there it was.”

St. Cyprian pulled at his restraints, but there was no give in the leather straps. “There what was?” Chapin didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he rose and went to the covered shelf.

“Best I show you,” Chapin said, as he yanked the curtain aside. On the shelf was a row of six large jars, each containing a squirming…something. Chapin beamed like a proud father. “What do you think of them, Charles? Magnificent, aren’t they?”

St. Cyprian grimaced. “That’s certainly one word for them.” The creatures were ugly things – somewhere between a scorpion and a centipede, with what looked to be a dash of leech thrown in for good measure. They writhed frantically in their jars, leaving oily, iridescent smears on the glass.

Chapin chuckled. “No need to be diplomatic, Charles. They are ugly things – and dangerous. Ugly because they are the result of man’s fear. Dangerous – as a frightened man is dangerous.”

“What are they?”

“The hounds of Phobos,” Chapin said, as he tapped on one of the jars. The creature grew agitated and the jar rocked slightly. Chapin smiled indulgently and turned. “You know who Phobos was, don’t you Charles?”

“Son of Apollo, wasn’t he?”

“Ares, actually. As per Hesiod, a most frightful chap.”

“Sorry old man. I always get those Roman chappies mixed up.”

“Greek,” Chapin said, pointedly. “Are you trying to annoy me, Charles? If so, I should mention that I am prepared to perform this operation sans anaesthesia.”

“And what operation might that be?”

Chapin tapped a jar. “I’m going to extract one of these from your spinal column.”

St. Cyprian blinked. “I dare say you are not.”

“Oh, but I am.”

“I think I’d know if I had one of those in my back, Warren.”

“Everyone has one,” Chapin said. He indicated the jars. “A form of psychic parasite. They grow within us as we feel fear – and perish as we engage in cathartic relief.”

“And what’s that when it’s at home?”

“Screaming, Charles. We scream, and the blessed children of fear cease to be.”

St. Cyprian tested the restraints. “Is that so?”

“Indeed.”

“And you came by these how?”

“I ensured that cathartic relief could not be obtained.” He lifted a steel syringe. “Another solution of my devising – a local paralytic. Injected in the throat, it causes the vocal cords to stiffen and become unresponsive.”

St. Cyprian frowned. “That sounds unpleasant.”

“It was. But one must be prepared to make some sacrifices in the name of science.”

“How did they feel about it, then? Your patients, I mean.”

Chapin shrugged. “I could not say. Regrettably, none of them have survived to share their thoughts on the process.” He smiled. “Perhaps you will be the first.”

“I am rethinking my participation in this procedure.” St. Cyprian’s testing of the restraints became more urgent.

“Most people do, sadly. Still, we persevere. Onwards and upwards.” Chapin unrolled a leather bundle, revealing a startling array of unpleasant looking tools. “How are you feeling by the by?”

“Perturbed.”

“Afraid?”

“Annoyed.”

Chapin frowned and selected a scalpel. “The drug I gave you should have you feeling more than annoyed. Do you have some resistance I should be aware of?”

“Well, hate to admit it, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been drugged, old son.”

Chapin paused. “No?”

“Oh, twice a week sometimes,” St. Cyprian said blithely. The truth was, his heart was racing and his pulse was pounding. Not panic, not quite. Not yet.

Chapin looked down his nose at his prisoner. “That doesn’t sound like something one ought to be proud of, Charles.”

“Perils of the profession, what?” St. Cyprian tested his restraints again, more surreptitiously this time. “You’re not the first mad doctor to want to perform unnecessary surgery on me either.”

“Maybe not, but I daresay I’ll be the last.”

St. Cyprian didn’t care for the sound of that. The feeling of incipient panic grew stronger. He forced himself to remain calm, trying not to think about what might already be growing within him. “Why?”

Chapin paused. “Why what?”

“Why collect these – these things?” St. Cyprian jerked his chin towards the jars. The longer he could keep Chapin talking, the better. “What is the point of this…coterie of horrors?”

“I intend to study them, of course.” Chapin turned back to the jars, his expression one of admiration. “Each one is unique, though you can be forgiven for not noticing, being a layman. This one, for instance -” here, he tapped one of the jars, agitating its prisoner, “-came from a man with a fear of drowning. My concoction made him believe he was doing so, albeit in a grimy back-alley.” He hefted the jar and brought it close to St. Cyprian’s face. “Notice its coloration, and the odd swelling here – just under its pincers.”

St. Cyprian leaned back as far as his restraints would allow. “Yes…lovely.”

Chapin set the jar down on the table and gave it an affectionate pat. “You seem disconcerted, Charles. Could it be that my little friend here…bothers you?” He smiled down at St. Cyprian. It was not a pleasant expression.

St. Cyprian grimaced. “Not the best with insects, if I’m honest.” The admission came out before he could stop it, and he silently cursed Chapin’s skill with chemicals.

“I was hoping you might say that.” Chapin carefully worked the jar’s stopper loose. “I was telling you about the chap I treated during the war. When I found the first of them – it very nearly killed me. It seems they’re quite aggressive, once detached from their host. I believe it has to do with their shortened life span – these six are my most recent specimens, and already the oldest of them is beginning to wither.” He gestured with his scalpel to one of the jars. The creature in it wasn’t writhing as much as the rest, and its color was a trifle duller. Beyond that, St. Cyprian couldn’t see much difference.

“I’ll take your word for it, shall I?”

Chapin went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “That is why I must seek out new specimens, new fears. The old ones fade so deuced quickly. But the stronger they are – the more potent – the longer they can survive away from their host.” He upended the jar, but its resident refused to emerge, even after a few stout whacks on the base. Chapin sighed, set his scalpel aside and reached for a set of forceps.

“Why study them at all?” St. Cyprian asked, trying not to stare at the creature as Chapin wrestled it from its glass prison. “What’s the point?”

“Weren’t you listening, Charles? Fear. Fear is the thing that keeps man mired in the mud of the Somme, of Ypres, of a thousand other bloody fields. And if it could be cured, think of all that we might accomplish.”

The creature emerged from the jar and fell onto the examination table with a wet, gurgling splat. It sat for a moment, curled into a glistening, pulsing ball. Then, slowly, it extended its pincers towards St. Cyprian’s trouser leg. Chapin watched, as proud as a parent with a newborn. “But before it can be cured, it must be studied – catalogued and categorized. I must know the shape of every man’s fear…including yours.”

The creature hesitated, as if thinking over its next move. Then, with a suddenness that was startling, it jabbed its pincers into St. Cyprian’s thigh. The pain was excruciating. He spasmed in his restraints, bucking fit to knock over the examination table. Chapin stood, still smiling. “Hurts, doesn’t it? Rather like the sting of a jellyfish – only worse.” He finished his cigarette, dropped it, and ground it out with his foot.

St. Cyprian groaned through gritted teeth. The world had turned a startling shade of red at the edges and seemed about to fall in on him. Pain ran up and down his nerve endings. Pain and something else – a familiar chill, rattling along his spine. His breath came in short gasps, and suddenly, it was as if he were back in the mud of Ypres, listening to the whistle of falling shells – wondering which would be the one to end his life.

“Do you feel it, Charles? The fear?” Chapin leaned close. “Something to do with their sting, I believe. Puts one right into fight or flight territory. When that first one stung me, I ran screaming into the night. Nearly broke my neck falling into a crater.”

“Shame you didn’t,” St. Cyprian croaked.

Chapin chuckled. “You seem to be made of sterner stuff, though perhaps the restraints help some. I wager you won’t scream for some time. In fact, I hope you don’t – and if you look to be on the verge, well…” He indicated the syringe.

St. Cyprian didn’t reply. The creature, as if satisfied by its test, slithered further up his leg. Its journey was punctuated by occasional jabs. He swallowed his cries, though he allowed the occasional curse to slip. Chapin nodded and took notes in a small notebook.

“How are you feeling, Charles? Don’t spare any details. This is for posterity, after all. Has the panic set in, yet? The urge to flee? The desire to scream?”

“Loose these restraints, and let’s see,” St. Cyprian panted. Panic gnawed at him as he watched the thing pulse and swell. It moved with a sinuous, squirming motion that made him ill. It was growing agitated, its cilia flicking against the air and with every twitch, St. Cyprian heard the crump of mortar shells.

Chapin chuckled. He made to speak but was interrupted by a sudden thump from upstairs, and the subsequent creaking of floorboards. They both looked up. “Don’t pretend you didn’t hear that,” Chapin said, without looking at St. Cyprian.

St. Cyprian didn’t reply. Chapin frowned and set his notebook down. “I won’t be a moment, Charles. Try not to scream.” He selected a scalpel from the instrument tray and headed for the door. St. Cyprian heard the door click shut, and found himself alone with the creature slowly climbing up his leg.

As before, it paused every so often to give him an exploratory jab, and he tried to dislodge it. The restraints made it all but impossible. Even so, he managed to shake the table enough to dislodge the jar. It shattered against the floor, and the creature tensed, as if startled. But its hesitation lasted only a few moments. Then it resumed its journey towards his upper body, and more quickly this time.

He winced as it heaved itself onto his chest. Its weight seemed to increase, and he thought of being buried alive – of mud sloughing down atop him, burying him in a grave with all the rest. Every inching motion it made was like the echo of a gunshot. The world flowed and the cellar crumbled up and away from him, becoming something like the automatic drawings of Masson. Fire lit the skies of France, and he heard the creak of barbed wire in the hell-wind. He was no longer on the table, no longer in England.

He stumbled through knee-dump mud, holding his chest – was that blood on his hands? Had he been shot? – and the ground shook beneath his feet. He heard screaming, but saw no one. Saw nothing, save smoke and fire. It ensnared him like some great serpent, crushing him in its coils, filling his lungs with choking death.

It wasn’t real. None of it. He knew that, yet his heart continued to pound. He felt a pressure on his spine, as if something had grabbed him by his backbone and given him a vicious shake. His pulse thundered in his temples. The pain in his back increased, growing stronger by the second. He sank to one knee and was unable to rise, as if some great weight was pushing him down.

Vague shapes emerged from the smoke. Caricatures of men, in uniforms the color of ash. The closest of them had a face like a waxen mask, and as he raised his rifle, the mask slipped and a questing antenna emerged. He opened his flaccid mouth, but only the buzzing, wet tones of a monstrous insect emerged.

The rifle thundered. St. Cyprian did the only thing he could – he screamed. The sound reverberated outwards, and the flames, his attackers, all of it became as still as an oil painting. The pressure on his spine faded immediately and a cold sensation flushed through him. France wavered and faded, and then he was no longer standing in the smoke, but laying on the table. The creature on his chest was thrashing and emitting a thin whistle of pain. On instinct, he screamed again, and the thing reared up like a cobra.

A pistol barked. The creature flew off of his chest as if yanked by unseen wires, and splattered against the far wall. St. Cyprian sagged in his restraints with a groan of relief.

“Well, isn’t this another fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into?” a woman’s voice asked. St. Cyprian twisted in his restraints as Chapin stumbled into the room. He had a red-stained handkerchief pressed to his nose, and his face was flushed with anger. Behind him came a short, unkempt figure, dressed like a dockworker, in a man’s duffel coat and a battered flat cap. He felt a flush of relief as he recognised his assistant, Ebe Gallowglass.

Gallowglass was small and dark, with a pugnacious gleam in her eye and a tendency to regard every problem as a nail in need of a hammer. She gave Chapin a shove. “Don’t move or I’ll top you, so help me,” she growled, indicating the heavy shape of the Webley-Fosbery revolver she held in one hand.

“Impeccable timing as ever Miss Gallowglass,” St. Cyprian said. “I was beginning to worry that you’d forgotten me.”

“You said an hour. I gave it an hour.” She looked around the room, her eyes widening as she caught sight of the jars and their contents. “Came in through the parlour window, only I think he heard me. You were supposed to keep him distracted.”

“Perhaps you could save the chastisement for after you’ve gotten me loose,” St. Cyprian said, fighting to keep his voice level. He could still taste smoke, and feel the heat of the flames on his skin. Likely he would for some time.

“Quit whinging,” she said, working at his restraints with her free hand. “What are those things in the jars? Bloody centipedes, innit?”

“Bit worse than that, I’m afraid. Get me loose, then we’ll deal with them.”

Gallowglass gave a feral grin as she freed one of his arms. “Bloody easy, innit? Just step on them. Oi!” She whirled with a curse as Chapin lunged for the instrument tray.

“No! I won’t let you destroy my work!” Chapin snatched up a Liston knife and slashed wildly at Gallowglass. Startled, she dropped her revolver onto St. Cyprian’s chest and fell back as Chapin came at her. She caught his wrist, but was hard-pressed to keep the knife from her throat – Chapin was the taller, and outweighed her.

Their struggle rocked the table. St. Cyprian snatched up her revolver. “Gallowglass – if you would,” he shouted. She gave a desperate shove, momentarily forcing Chapin back. He stumbled, arms windmilling. St. Cyprian fired. The shot went high, skidding off of Chapin’s shoulder and sending him flailing backwards into the shelf. Jars tumbled to the floor, and glass shattered as the shelf toppled over onto Chapin with a heavy crash.

Gallowglass hurriedly helped St. Cyprian to free himself from the remaining restraints. As he swung his legs off the table, he saw that Chapin had collapsed beneath the shelf. He handed her the pistol back. “Help me get it off of him – quickly!”

Together they managed to lever the shelf up and off of Chapin. It was immediately evident that there was no help for him. His creatures had ensnared him, their pincers embedded in his flesh at various points. His face was contorted in an expression of utmost terror and agony. As they watched, the creatures reflexively tightened their grip on their unmoving prey. Gallowglass levelled her pistol, but St. Cyprian pushed it aside.

“No need for that now, I think.”

“What happened to him?” she asked, softly, as she lowered her weapon. “He looks like something scared him to death.”

St. Cyprian stared down at the dead man, wondering what horrors Chapin had endured in those last, agonizing moments. Too many to endure, obviously. A sudden thought occurred to him, and he sank to one knee beside the body. He rolled it over, careful not to disturb the creatures more than he had to. “What are you doing?” Gallowglass asked.

“He didn’t scream.”

“So?”

St. Cyprian didn’t reply, too consumed by the thought that now gripped him. He flinched back as he saw what awaited him, and Gallowglass hissed in disgust. “Bleeding nora, what is it?” she asked.

Chapin’s back writhed beneath his shirt, as if something were wriggling beneath it, trying to get out. As if privy to their thoughts, its struggles grew frantic. It was larger than the others, perhaps because it was the result of many fears, rather than one. “Find that Liston knife, would you?” he asked, hoarsely.

Chapin’s body began to twitch and tremble. St. Cyprian climbed to his feet, watching in sickened fascination as, one by one, the creatures fell from the corpse to lay twitching on the floor. They couldn’t survive long outside their hosts – but what about inside?

Chapin rolled over and clambered clumsily to his feet. His face was slack, his eyes empty of life and humanity. Whatever was piloting his flesh, it had nothing of Chapin in it. The corpse took a tottering step towards them.

Gallowglass fired. Chapin’s head snapped back, but his body didn’t fall. “It’s in his back,” St. Cyprian said, backing away as Gallowglass fired again, causing the corpse to sway sideways. But still it refused to fall. He didn’t like to think what might happen if it got its hands on them.

“Well get him to bloody turn around then,” she snarled, putting the observation table between her and the corpse.

“I have a better idea,” he said, hunting around for the Liston knife Chapin had dropped. “Keep it occupied.”

“No worries there,” she said, backing towards a shelf. The corpse shoved the table aside, ripping it from its moorings and sending it crashing to the floor. She fired a third time as it reached for her, but the impact barely slowed it. St. Cyprian spied the knife, snatched it up and turned to see Chapin’s corpse looming over his assistant, hands groping for her throat. She emptied the Webley-Fosbery into the dead man, to no seeming effect. “Now would be good,” she shouted.

St. Cyprian sprang for Chapin, knife in hand. Without hesitation, he plunged it into the corpse’s back, where Chapin’s shirt stretched tight across some hidden mass. He stabbed again and again, furiously – fearfully. Chapin arched, flailing at him. St. Cyprian continued to thrust the knife into the dead man’s back.

Finally, panting, he stepped back. The corpse sank to its knees, then toppled over with a thump of finality. A black ichor oozed up from the stab wounds, bubbling like hot tar. Something tore itself free of the corpse, stretching the remnants of the shirt up like a shroud – then, abruptly, it deflated. St. Cyprian looked at his assistant. “Are you in one piece?”

“Barely,” Gallowglass said, looking down at the body. “What was that all about?”

St. Cyprian tossed the knife onto the body and reached for his handkerchief. His hands were trembling as he cleaned them. “He wanted to know the shape of every man’s fear,” he said, softly. He looked at his hands and then at his assistant.

“I suppose that was his.”


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