“Ignorance is death. A closed mind is a catafalque.”Anna Quindlen
“Remember, your body is the vehicle that your soul is using here on Earth. If you don’t pay attention and take great care with your vehicle, it will break and become useless. Then your soul will be released and return.”
Author: Sister Souljah
This is another short story for this month’s prompt. All characters have been silenced, as this is the first appearance of the Necromage.
Dragon Stone: Chapel of The Dead
Even long dead bones trembled in the darkness. A once proud Elder Mage was reduced to a withering wreck before releasing the rune lock. Satisfied, the Necromage released his grip and opened the door. The first time in centuries that an unknown civilisation created and then abandoned the necropolis, leaving its library of the dead waiting for a future custodian.
The ease with which the granite rolled back was unnatural for something that had lain closed for millennia. Credit to the builders. Most of whom dwelt on the shelves within. He could hear them shuffling into dark recesses in an attempt to avoid the Necromage’s glare. It worked not as he sent tendrils of his craft as a reminder not to refuse enquiry.
As he entered, sconces lit. Automated ignition devised through arcane conjuration. It displeased him. Darkness was his domain, not light. It served one purpose only. To show the racks of dead extending into the distance. Tier upon tier and to one side, an exclusive collection of Elder Magi predecessors. In chronological order, which stretched back in time for aeons. He searched rapidly through necromancy. Older and older as his mind drifted through the corpse spirits. Somewhere in these dead courses, there was a catafalque. Upon the was his predecessor. At least, that was the inference from the screaming dead.
It was in the Prophecy of the Skull, too. Seek the necropolis, and deep within shall the acolyte find the master. Except he was no acolyte, not now. It had taken four hundred years to unravel the puzzle and a further half-century to pass through the rune door. During this time, the War of the Elders had come and gone, dragons were vanquished, and what remained of the Elder Magi were being hunted down by his hunters, The Magi of Enigma.
He had lain inside a conjurer’s bubble for half that time, waiting for some fool of a dwarf to unlock it. So much manipulation and patience to get the elf and him to leave the Keep and begin the other prophecy. Tendrils of the puzzle were left in libraries throughout the world, each dripping the Crow until imbeciles took over and avarice followed. Man was a predictable species that ran in cycles. Ignorant of the past, uninterested in the future and wrapped in greed. It was a simple game of solitude, waiting until the cycle dipped and pushing the nearest dead thing to start the wheel turning.
Cresswell had his uses, and by the time he worked out whose side he was on, matters would be long passed. These thoughts drifted through the shroud as he began the search for the Originator.
Corridors spewed left and right, tier upon tier of alcoves holding bones and rotted garments. Some distant artisans of the dark arts arranged it all. As with the Vault in Tor Angra, long ago, these halls would be full. Except these would be fighting against the light. Echoes of their words rippled as he moved through the layers. Steps led down; their risers worn by ancient use. Stopping, he listened.
Close Necromage, the source lingers like an aftertaste.
The Matriarch was right. Now, he paused to let tendrils of his craft flow among the holes in the rock. He could sense another waiting. The right word, but was it that or baiting? No research had revealed anything before the Elder Magi. Though he was older than that civilisation, all paths led to false trails. Lies and deceit shielding the truth. Even his mastery of those traits failed to unlock anything.
Dragons, he was certain, knew more but deflected all attempts to reveal their knowledge. Of all creatures, alive or dead, these were immune to his ministrations. He inhaled the scents of death and tried not to let anger consume him. One day, he would know more and then all worlds would crumble. For now, it was the Originator. That would know the secrets of the Time Library and how to collapse it.
Ahead, he felt a spasm of fear from a crypt. He tipped the serpent staff forward and found a High Elf lying in unrest. Another Gate Keeper. That meant another rune door and, if The Matriarch was right, behind that was a cubiculum containing the catafalque. His mind searched the bone pile, moving into the space beyond where souls drifted in an ethereal emptiness.
“Fear me not, Gate Keeper. Speak freely, and no harm will come to you.”
“I’m dead fool. What can you possibly do to me now?”
The Necromage smiled, “Have it your way.”
Time passed, slower for the Gate Keeper as strands of dark magic flowed beyond this world and into the next before wrapping around the essence of life that was. Grinding the remnants and breaking bones that should no longer have sensation. Yet here in the dark arts, all was reconnected. The difference now was that pain alone was inescapable. No death or fainting, just endless torment and screams as each bone shattered, reminding the Gate Keeper of misery long forgotten when the builders left them to rot inside bricked-up loculi.
As the door slid open, the Necromage drew the ancient soul with him. As with the others, it entered the collection trapped in the weave of his shroud. His knowledge was now part of the mage’s library. Joining a plethora of others now suffering eternal torment. It pleased him.
Once inside, the cubicula defied the confines of a catacomb. In the centre was a stone chapel surrounded by a liquid pool of mercury. A small boat lay on the opposite side, linked to a chain anchored to an iron ring set on a rune-etched standing stone. His hand of bone clenched, and the chain creaked into motion, drawing the craft toward the oak platform he now stood upon.
Inside the chapel lay a granite sarcophagus. Dark runes scribed across its entire surface. This rested on a black catafalque. Inside the tomb, a long-dead eye opened on the desiccated husk within. Satisfied that the builders had left each organ preserved in jars and resting alongside the remains of his life, it began reassembly. As the Necromage entered, a silent alarm initiated rebirth. In silence, the stone lid slid off, and it waited for the Necromage.
It has woken Necromage. Beware the trickery of this one.
The Matriarch already knew of the mistake, yet the Necromage had no time to consider how. She had sensed an awakening suggesting she knew of the creature within the chapel. Had they once been in a union? If so, it presented a black mark on his trusted wyvern. A warning was one thing. Failing to inform him of what he now faced was treachery. That said, dragons were not known for divulging their secrets readily. It could wait until the path was clearer. He tightened his grip on the staff and felt The Matriarch become angry.
Ahead, a stone bridge arced over more mercury. A double moat poisoning any who entered with life. He already knew that beneath the surface lay a bone field. Some were discarded after construction, a few early grave robbers and many were the followers of the Originator. He listened. Most were not thereby consensual agreement. The weave on his shroud fluxed, waiting to harvest more souls. One he had located already that was prepared to unveil what he intended to approach.
“Your arts of darkness are not required, Mage. I give freely after millennia of unrest.”
“Speak on Builder.”
“Inside lies death. What you are he once was. A master of Necromancy that cut all living creatures from existence once this necropolis was completed. Be warned, he rests among his organs, waiting for such as you to offer up a new existence.”
The shroud fluxed once more as the bone hand gripped the serpentine staff. “Come then freely and enter this weave. For you, there shall be salvation from this liquid metal.”
As his grip on the dead builder eased, it retracted with another to add to the collection. Focus turned to the bridge and an arched oak door resting on blackened iron hinges. The chapel itself was no house of God. Crafted to resemble one, but not here in the depths of a necropolis where catacombs stretched ever on, filled with cubicula lined with loculi. From the builder he knew, branched corridors fled into the darkness. Each home to sarcophagi. All spread from a pentagram with this unhallowed chapel at the centre. Suppose the Originator rose again, then so too would each arm’s host and, no doubt, the legion lying below this cavern.
He paused. Long years kept his mind sharp. Legend spoke of a husk waiting to rise again. This was the Prophecy of the Skull. A wanderer would approach a tomb and be consumed by fire. From the flame would come an ancient enemy. Rebirth from the ashes of the fool. There were many such prophecies. The crow was one, the Elder Soul another.
The Necromage searched for outcomes using chronomantic aftershocks. Fingers of time flowing away, holding possible futures. One held him. War. To turn and leave left no ally. The Matriarch was torn between two, and the horde locked in battle with the undead. His dominion was in limbo as eternity pulled them in. Light prospered, dragons returned, and the Time Library began transcribing.
Another path showed alliance, power, and death. His time stream ended in betrayal. How was unclear, but Matriarch and Originator were hovering at the end. He drew on something Delalande once said, “To divine a future is unwise. A poor choice will alter the course of time unfolding. Of course, that might well be supposed to happen, in which case the flow of nature directed the choice. But know this: if you choose a path, then learn from the vision. Always clues lie in the minutia.”
The Necromage had once enjoyed listening to the Scribe. Something he could do while locked in the conjurer’s bubble. Not too disparate from the powers of the accursed Amanuensis. That plan was hatching. But first, what he desired was inside this sanctuary.
Enter and beware, Necromage. This is a God.
A warning from The Matriarch. Did that mean she had chosen her side? He moved across the bridge. The door opened soundlessly, revealing a chancel. Instead of an altar, the catafalque rested. Sconces ignited their torches with black flames. The Necromage remained in the door arch waiting. He could see the sarcophagus was open.
Outside, under the mercury, screaming began. This he heard and felt the tremors of the dead. It struck him that within this necropolis, there may be unexpected allies. None seemed eager to embrace their past. Treachery, the great betrayer. Knowledge he knew well and why he permitted the lies to propagate. All he needed was a seed. Man used that all by themselves until the lie became truth. Only when the untruth was discovered did they seek blame. That was not his way. Truth crystallised and was a power far greater than the rambling of politicians and priests.
As he waited, a bone hand gripped the edge of the sarcophagus. The Originator sat up.