The Walk For Bread
"Accused Charlatan, step forward," the man with a black helmet and beak visor demanded as his plated finger began to hug the crossbow trigger.
A simple ragged man stepped into the cold antechamber, there was nowhere special for the man to stand but underneath the candle light of the chandelier. He withstood the ominous eyes the gallery of twenty-three masked men and woman. A single old judge stood behind a golden pedestal designed with a thousand humans holding an orb wrapped by a skeletal snake.
"Charlatan, place thine hand upon the world and proclaim your crime," the snake masked judge ordered. The man walked ever so carefully, hesitant to touch the golden globe and dirty it with his coal painted hand. Ever so slowly did he grasp the world entire and proclaim to everyone present, "I am guilty of stealing bread to feed my starving daughter!"
"I have heard of the noble being nefarious, but the nefarious being noble, what has the world come to?" a butterfly masked man said.
"Tis the end times it is," a leopard masked woman bobbed her head in agreement, "World serpent be dead, and its corpse be rotting every crop field from kingdom come and tribes past."
"SILENCE," the judge smashed the side of the world with his fist, resonating a long clang. "The Charlatan may choose penance if he is of noble body, heart and soul."
The man gave a slow nod, accepting penance as part of his fate for his crimes. The judge fluttered his regal and purple robes, as his closed fist offered an archaic bone knife glazed in purple slime. Its edge was as sharp as a king's pillow and as sturdy as stacked rocks. Its hilt was spine like and its blade was half of a skull from a snake. As strange as the custom may be, the judge had no worries about his own personal safety, not only was faith his armor but a well trained bolt from a crossbow was divine intervention if needed.
The man wavered at the thought of penance the moment he felt the serpent's spine, meeting the penance dagger with an endless amount of tears and convulsing legs. It was but one faint memory, a small cramped space with his daughter and sharing a moldy and mushroom infected blanket. She asked a simple question, "When will daddy make enough money for us to eat? I'm tired of chewing on pig nails…"
When the man came back from the brief vision his legs were anchored and his nerves were steel. Purpose made itself very clear and his right hand, the same hand that stole a loaf of bread, was slit from pinky to thumb with black blood dripping onto the golden world.
"Your penance is black blood, not only will the world shun you," the old man limped with a satisfying agony to the Charlatan as judge hissed in pain. "The life given by the saliva of the World Serpent, will be taken by the venom of the World Serpent, as is the course of nature; day and night, good and evil, Yitz and Yatz."
"Thank you milor-"
"Mind your place, Charlatan!" the gravelly voice of age was usurped by a surge of hidden vigor. "This was but your penance of your choice mind you, punishment still awaits thee."
A huge iron door crafted as a miniature maw of the world serpent laid behind the pedestal. Its metal brace latched open and the door was ajar. The antechamber became noticeably hotter as the gallery fluttered hand fans to defend against the belly of the beast.
"Here comes the main act we were all waiting for," a snobbish dog masked man snickered, "I say he has ten steps before he's consumed by the Serpent's Belly."
"I say four steps, I do," the woman chimed in again.
"No, that black blood will only get a single step," hawk beaked man declared.
"Silence!" once again the judge struck the globe with a mighty force than before, leaving every ear ringing. "Judgement awaits you, Charlatan."
The thought of his daughter Angelica was the only thing that moved the man's foot forward. The venom quickly ate at his vitality and wrapped around his muscles. It felt like a thousand snakes constricting around every inch of his body. Sluggishly he made his way to the Serpent's Belly, as the doors opened, a mirage of heat escaped like a breath from a dragon. Behind the maw was a hallway of about twenty steps that led to a single egg-shaped glass vial. The only thing between the man and the vial was white fire the lined both melted walls.
His first step into the hallway was the easiest, all he felt was the searing flesh on the sole of his right foot.
The second step wasn't the hardest but it was quite difficult, as his leg dove his entire body into the hellish sauna.
The third step was indeed the hardest step of all, the flesh from his right foot fused with the hot black tiling. He had to rip the foot from the ground using both of his hands, which made black blood drizzle onto the ground and blossom black steam from the ground.
The fourth step was equally as hard as he repeated the process, slowly walking on darkness. It was the fifth step that proved more troublesome that hard as the man tripped and fell hands first onto the fiery floor.
Hands stuck to the ground and feet unmoved, the man was hunched over as opposed to flat on the ground. Still, the man moved his hand forwards, leaving behind a fingernail or two.
Than again, he moved his other hand, luckily he only lost some skin on the palm of his hand. Through sheer willpower, the man inched himself forward with a crawl that was only worth half a step. Although with each little success, the stimulation of the venom became more unbearable with the blood boiling heat. Muscles began to cramp and spasm more frequently with furiousious vigor.
By the time his body no longer obeyed him, he was but a mere five steps away from the cure, a simple two second walk in any other situation. Against his will, his cheek found comfort in merging with the floor. His eyes began to sink into a beautifully numb sleep...until a single light found its way into his dark vision. A blond girl around four years old held out her hand to the man, an apparition of every virtue he held dear manifested.
That sweet girl of his, Angelica, gave him a hand. An invisible force helped lift the man off the floor, but his cheek refused to join the man as he rose. Ever so slowly, his hands ripped from the floor and his legs buckled as the man smiled with an open cheek.
With two quick lunges, the man wrapped both of his hands around the antidote and drank the blue elixir with some of it spilling out of his torn cheek.
"Tis fate…" said the butterfly masked man.
"Tis fate, it is' said the woman.
"Tis fate!" everyone shouted.
The doors behind the potion pedestal shot open with the winds of winter, blowing out the flames and chilling the room instantaneously. Two black mailed men carried the man underneath his armpits and dragged him back to the spotlight illuminated by candles.
The man didn't know what happened next, but he stumbled his way back to his cramped home. Waiting to see his savior greet him back home, he wasn't gone for long but three days was still three days. What met his gaze made him remember why he was accused of being a charlatan, a moldy piece of bread and small unmoving child.
All he could do was carefully lay down and hug Angelica. He held his rotting prize in his hand and admired the hell he went through for a single loaf of moldy bread. Within a single bite, something became obviously clear as the bread fell out of his cheek.
"Tis fate...I chose to steal long after you left me."