“Rune Lore is an art lost on the tides of Time. They exist everywhere and remain riddles simply because deeper studies reveal they are not all the same designs. Strongly suggesting our perceptions of history are ill conceived.” Lecture on Philosophy, Jeremiah Delalande.
“Our feet are planted in the real world, but we dance with angels and ghosts.”John Cameron Mitchell
“That old black magic has me in its spell, That old black magic that you weave so well; Icy fingers up and down my spine, The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.”Johnny Mercer
This is another short story for this month’s prompt as I explore the world of the Necromage.
Dragon Stone: Rune Lore
The Necromage paused, waiting to see what the husk sat upon the catafalque might do. That it was known to The Matriarch had been made clear, but how and in what capacity remained unknown.
It waits for you.
He remained at the chapel threshold, the serpent staff before him, as if expecting conflict. I see it, Dragon.
Behind the catafalque was an altar. It was here that his gaze moved while the staff’s serpent remained locked on the desiccated creature. On it was a large scrying glass resting in a hand of bone. Whose digits clutched the glam was obvious. Yet the husk did not appear to have lost any appendages.
It regenerates Necromage. Olde magic that needs careful removal of organs and enchanted mummification. The runes circling the pentagram describe the process.
The Necromage returned his stare to the creature before him. No longer a worm-ridden corpse but one beginning to find life again. And those within the lake of metal are builders and sorcerers. Sacrificed so the secrets remain such.
Not to you fool.
The Necromage found that amusing. None save The Matriarch dared call him such. Most are willing to assist, given their eternity of emptiness. The mercury holds them down. If it did not, they would rise against this creature.
Another voice entered the fray. Find the drain rune. There is a temporal cycle that empties and refills the lake. More chapels lie below and above. Each holds a dark mage.
The Necromage frowned. More chapels? Was that the key binding worlds together? It was unsettling to think others came before and would come after. Where is this rune, Builder?
At the chapel centre beneath the catafalque.
That made sense. Beneath the resting place of something they feared. His eyes joined those of the serpent and fell upon the thing before it.
“I have waited long and long, Necromage.” The voice grated dryly as if sand dragged across the floor. “The Prophecy begins, yes?”
The Necromage raised his staff and tilted it forward so the serpent could better prepare. “That you know already.”
“Why are you here, Necromage?”
“Curiosity and a dragon that knows of you.”
“The Matriarch still lives.” There was surprise drifting through the sand.
“She does and has a vested interest in this catacomb.”
The shade shifted as un-life began running through his veins. “Still not hatched, then?”
“No. It is my view that they require a Dragon’s Breath. That falls upon the deaf ears of a dragon unused to the truth.” The Necromage shifted his position as The Matriarch entered his mind. Be warned. He stalls. This is the weakness before a God rises.
Deep within the shroud’s cowl, his mind ran war games. Rune Lore Dragon. What know you of this?
Enough to win this round if your eyes can show me.
Can you see its thoughts?
He moved forward, glancing down at the floor to appear nervous while sending runes to The Matriarch, before focussing on the creature.
He probes Necromage. Thinking he can return to what was. There was an edge to the send. His mind put this down to concentration, and… he paused over the next thought… fear. What is it?
A trap. The runes are old, and few now know their meaning. The drift of time erases everything. These are configured for the unwary. Move no further forward. Some glyphs are treacherous.
The Necromage reviewed his previous thoughts. The Matriarch was afraid, and had no desire to reunite with this olde friend. The Builders despised it, and the Library of Souls screamed in the darkness of eternity telling him it was down to this entity and those before it.
“Come, Necromage. I could do great things with you at my side.” It was goading him.
On the altar, the glam glowed soft blue. The Eye of the Matriarch. This was new. Stones he was familiar with, but a scrying orb. What else? Heart Stones and now an Eye. Was there a link to all senses locked in other relics? Something to investigate. A furtive smile crossed inside the cowl. He was in a library of the dead. Unlimited knowledge of the Elder Magi at his command.
“I think not Husk. The world has moved on. New alliances are forged, and war is coming. Your time lies in the past.”
Anger raged from the creature The Matriarch called a God. “Do not test me, Necromage. The past is the future. I have seen it in my dreams. The Library of Time is dying. The core bleeds under your ministrations. That is folly.”
“We think not, Husk.” The Necromage raised his staff. The eyes of the serpent upon it glowed crimson. As he brought it to the floor, rune tiles twisted and fell into an abyss. Behind the catafalque, the glam flared, throwing blue dragon fire forward, sufficient to melt stone.
The Husk rose, an arm flicking up, creating a defence shield that flared as the Dragon’s Breath made contact. The force threw it forward. The Matriarch was right. It oozed overconfidence and was still waking. Power was evident in the shield wall. If allowed to reform, would it truly become the God spoken of by the wyvern?
He struck more stones on the floor. To one, he directed a temporal well. His staff breathed more fire as the serpent glared at the creature in front. The Husk growled in anger, throwing the flames back at the Necromage. They fell upon emptiness on striking the Weave of his shroud.
The creature ceased retaliating. “Impressive Necromage. Join me, and we shall rule as it was before the Elder Magi corrupted the chaos.” It disguised a hidden gesture. One that drew from the catafalques above. Increasing the weight.
As in this floor, not all runes rendered the floor solid. Three floors up, ceilings began crumbling and falling. The Necromage could hear distant rumbles drawing closer.
Beware, Mage, he triggers the runic collapse. Move back swiftly.
As time slowed, he knew these words came from a builder. One he would commune with later. Above, the noise was reaching a crescendo. He stepped back, not quite fast enough. Now Dragon.
The Dragon’s Breath increased from the glam. Caught unaware, the Husk was shunted toward the temporal well. As the dust from above pre-empted a full ceiling collapse, the Necromage closed his fist. The well opened as the Husk was beaten toward it by the sheer hatred riding the Breath of The Matriarch. It tried to spin in order to mirror the attack and return to the sarcophagus to await the dust settling. A miscalculation as the temporal well opened creating a vortex that sucked in images of the room.
In the darkness, the ceiling fell. The glam light vanished as dust and debris rained down. The Necromage stumbled back but could not avoid everything. His world turned black, and his life rested alongside those he would commune with.
Do you still live, Necromage?
He heard but did not answer. There would be time for that later. As his consciousness returned, he was walking amongst those below the mercuric lake. They did not cower as those in the Library. These were steeped in rage and eager to rest elsewhere. When trust is betrayed, faith is destroyed.
“Are you dead, Mage?
The Necromage turned. In his live dream, these were no longer shadows but real people. “You may decide it would be better if I were Builder.”
“And the creature who would be God?”
“Dealt with for now. But as with many things, new prophecies are being written.”
“You say the drain rune lies below the sarcophagus.”
The Builder nodded.
“Then, on my return, shall it be activated.” There was a pause as he looked around the dreamscape.
“Out of interest, where is the God.”
“Locked inside a conjurer’s bubble.”
Another voice entered the communion, “They are not impregnable.”
“I know, Elder Mage. I am proof of that. This one is a variant created to address your flaws.”
Do you still live, Necromage?
This time, the send was more powerful. It burst the live dream, and the Necromage found himself half-covered in debris. Battered and reminded that he was not a God. Old, yes, but not invincible. I do, Dragon, and I believe we have trapped a deity.
Deity, by his definition, not ours. Now release the Builder’s souls and put them to work in the hatchery.
That they will not like, the Necromage half smiled as he concentrated on shifting debris. Sorcery was more efficient than builders. Times like these were potent reminders of many things.
On his staff, the serpent snarled. Ahead, there was a spectral aura.
“This ends nothing, Necromage. In time, I will grow stronger. Both you and The Matriarch would be wise to flee before my return.”
“I think not Husk. Your place in this world is over. All that you were is now ours. The Prophecy of the Dead will lie here in the ruins of your empire, guarded by those you betrayed. None shall ever find it, and you will rot in an eternity of spiritual repentance. We do not need lies and deceit.”
“You underestimate me, fool.”
The Necromage watched as the ghost faded. The glam still rested on the stone altar, as did the catafalque ruin rendered into molten rock and ash by the Breath of the Dragon. He stood near the door, observing the rocks from crumbled ceilings scatted across what remained of the rune field. What he sought now was inaccessible.
Anger began to fuel his recovery. The Weave shimmered in the darkness, and beneath the cowl, eyes glared as if spiralling galaxies falling into a singularity. Builder, is there another way?
Obviously, when faith is shaken and the end clear, we build to aid those that follow.
Two floors down in the centre of the Chapel of Unrest lies a hidden stair. It rises in a spiral to the chamber below the catafalque. There, you will find the runestone and keystone. Each layer holds such, and what you see here is replicated in time and space in the many tiers within this catacomb. This Necropolis is the antithesis of the place known as The Vault.
Light within the darkness. A proverb from Tor Angra and the Guild of Philosophy. Time was with him. Not so for others as the chronomantic aftershocks gained speed. Soon, the past would catch the present, and the Keep would fall, sending the future into chaos. The Necromage turned back toward the entrance that led to the cavern containing the Chapel of the Dead. There lay passageways leading to both higher and lower levels.
Be warned, Necromage. Deeper is older. We mined down from the Chapel. What lies outside is unknown beyond the portal door that an Elder Mage crafted. It will accept any who carries a Stone.
Older is deeper. That thought had touched him before. Layer upon layer unseen for eternity. All marking the passing of civilisations long forgotten as the years passed. Even in the Keep, lore was stuck at the Elder Magi. One prime reason his time there was brief. Although even that was relative. Sufficient to ascend and gain access to the Time Library as a Key Master. Learn the ways and find what lay deep inside the Vault before using it to leave and return to the darkness.
Matriarch, we have a path. Once released, these souls will activate the hatchery. To work, it requires the Breath of a Dragon.