The others reached us and we began to run, Merlin in the lead, guiding us uncannily through the maze of streets. The city increased its pace back into the pit, carrying us with it. The the streets were now filled with screams rather than the seductive whispered of earlier. We seemed to move at an incredible pace but in fact, we only edged a few dozen feet beyond the pit. The city’s fall aided us though. As it slid back into the Beyond it drew the outer walls closer even as our steps propelled us towards them.
The black, moldering stones roared around us. The voices of the city screamed. Merlin was shouting the incantation that would open the gates. The archway with its gauzy doors rushed towards us. The street beneath our feet hurtled over the edge of the abyss. As the last stones fell away I leapt and the others leapt with me.
The noise of the city went suddenly silent.
I looked up. The storm clouds were breaking apart over Lunden. The Temes rolled lazily. A bird trilled a cautious call. Nekropolis was gone, all save for the gates, the tall arch of stone which towered above us.
“It didn’t work,” I said.
Merlin stood, and with a word cleaned his white robe.
“Nonsense. The city is gone.”
“But the gate.”
“What of it?”
“It’s the entrance of Nekropolis!”
As if to emphasize the point, a figure stepped out from beneath the arch, fading into existence before our eyes.
I dare not call it he or she for it looked as if it were both and neither. I cannot even now try to describe its features. It was beautiful and terrible, paler than moon light and clad in shadows that writhed and billowed around its thin, towering figure. Its hair was long and white. Its feet and legs were dark and wet with blood up to its knees. In one hand it carried a sword, black as night and impossibly long. In the other it carried an hourglass filled with sand as fine as ash and as pale as bone.
It looked at us and even Merlin was struck dumb.
Then it spoke.
“I cannot pretend not to be displeased,” its voice was quiet but I know that it could be heard a mile away. “But know this, I have been given this realm. You cannot banish me. You haven’t the power.”
It turned to depart but it had pricked Merlin’s pride. Our leader mastered his fear and stepped forward, brandishing his staff.
“I will one day!”
It stopped and slowly glanced over its shoulder.
“No, you will not. You have not my talent.”
“And what talent is that?”
Death smiled. I trembled uncontrollably and tried to keep a grip on my sword.
“Patience,” it said and stepped beyond the arched gateway of Nekropolis. It faded away, leaving us alone under the thin light of a stormy sky.
Death’s servants rushed upon me in a wave of horror. They spilled through the distorted streets of Nekropolis and swooped down from the festering sky.
I gave them lightning. Blazing chains of it shot from my sword blade and tore into their ranks. The power arced and leapt from black armor and pale swords. The creatures wielding them burned. The thunder of my attack rippled out over the city.
I continued to speak the incantation. The light of the banishing spell grew ever brighter, until I was blinking against my own radiance. The power coursed through me. I could feel it pulsing in my veins and filling my belly, straining to tear me apart from the inside. It was getting harder to focus on the vocalization while keeping my internal castings separate.
Unfortunately, Death’s army was in no mood to help me focus. Another wave came forward, this one comprised of huge creatures with man-like proportions. They bellowed and lifted great scythes that dripped and ran black. I sent lightning at them and they shrugged it aside. I sent fire and they staggered. I unleashed every weapon in my arsenal of spells. Wind, fire, water, stone, shards of magical glass, beams of pure light. Some they ignored. Some slowed them, but none destroyed them.
I lifted my silver sword, drew a warding sigil before me that blazed blue and then vanished. I was struggling to continue the invocation. There were only ten words left in the spell, but I was breathing hard, the wells of my power depleted. I was out of energy and time.
Ten words. I would speak them before I was swept away.
The first great scythe swept towards me. It struck the sigil with a sound like a ringing gong. The creature stumbled back and I lunged forward. My sword cut deep. The creature screamed as its power was leached away. My sword is vampiric. It drinks the power of those it wounds and kills, and I have killed many. Another scythe swung and this time the sigil shattered. I ducked the blow, and countered with one of my own that clove the enemy’s weapon.
Five words left.
Another blow. Another dodge. Another stroke of my miraculous sword.
There were a dozen creatures assailing me. It was all I could do to focus on the words I spoke and hold them at bay. The will to hold onto the banishing spell and not speak other words, words that would give me power, consumed my mind. One great hand reached for me. I hacked it off. A scythe tore through my cloak.
The words faltered on my lips.
I would not be the one to fail. I gathered my will, my focus and resumed.
“Solei deius gloria!”
The world turned white. The power of the spell building within me exploded from my body with the force of a hurricane. Dimly perceived shadows and dark shapes were caught up in the light and wind and whipped away. I staggered to my knees and when my vision cleared, my enemies were gone and the city was sliding back into the abyss at an alarming rate.
I could see the others of the Order across the city running towards me. The roads they followed were being drawn back beneath their very feet, making their progress tedious. Merlin, ever the show-off took to the air, flew across the pit in a blur of white and alighted next to me.
“Now we just have to get out of here alive,” I shouted.
To be continued…
The city was colorless, filled with whispering voices. They muttered things I could not understand, but which were filled with malice and seduction. They called me to my death. Part of me wanted to follow the whispers into oblivion, but I doggedly pursued the rest of the Order. Merlin’s pagan staff glowed with a werelight, guiding us through the city’s gloom. A few of the others also conjured lights on the tips of their wands or at their shoulders.
We progressed through twisting streets, black with shadow and mildew. Merlin led us unerringly, pausing neither to consider a juncture nor to double back. The whispers grew more intense, but never could I hear individual words.
We reached the pit.
Never have I seen something so benign twisted into something so horrible. It was a vast black and bottomless hole rimmed with festering pitch. Out of its maw the city slowly crawled, maybe a foot an hour, just fast enough to be perceived. My mind tried to compensate and make sense of the city’s gradual expansion, but it could not. I felt dizzy.
Merlin turned to us.
“I will take position to the east, across the pit. The rest of you spread out around it, north, southeast and southwest,” the chief of our Order said softly. He looked at me. “Hold this position. It is our only means of escape.”
I nodded. The others did too, and with that, our party dissolved. Two went round the north rim of the pit, two went south. I stepped to the oozing edge of the pit. All down the sheer walls the shadowed shapes of buildings jutted, marching inexorably upward. The whole of Nekropolis was coming.Its darkness seemed to stare back at me and I stood transfixed, hearing only whispers and seeing only doom. Then one of the whispers transformed into a voice and shattered the spell lain upon me. I looked up. Merlin was shouting to me. The others were in position. I had stared for a long time, lost in Nekropolis’ dark power.
Merlin began the banishing spell. I shook off the last of the city’s enchantment and followed suit. The words I had learned flowed from my lips. Around the pit the five of us began to glow in the darkness as we gathered our power. We were beacons in the night. Beacons to which the Death’s servants flocked.
It is a fairly easy thing to cast a spell with a vocalization. It is harder to cast with merely a thought. It is harder still to cast one spell with your lips and another with your mind at the same time. But we were masters, we were the greatest wizards and witches alive. It was for this ability to multicast that Merlin had chosen us.
I saw the bubbles of protection, walls of fire and light flicker to life around my companions as swarms of spirits converged upon them. I knew I had not long before I too must defend myself or perish utterly. I continued to speak the banishing spell and turned my back on the pit. For a moment the vacant streets remained empty, but then like a rising tide, the whispers grew louder. Surging out of the shadows came Death’s army, thousand strong. It was made up of black armored forms with burning eyes and glimmering blades and hooded scabrous creatures that stretched pale skeletal hands towards me. They all seemed to glide forward, riding on the mists that filled the city.
Fear fell away.
I lifted my sword.
I was a war wizard. Battle was my home. Destruction my element.
To be continued…
Death’s city crouched atop a stony hill overlooking the old Roman ruin of Lunden. The ghosts of walls and towers undulated in the week light of noon. There were no sounds of birds or insects.
I gripped the hilt of the silver sword I used rather than a wand and looked to the other wizards in Merlin’s Order. They all looked as apprehensive as I, all save Merlin himself. He seemed unaffected by the sight of Death’s phantom fortress. He stepped to the front of our small group, his white robes flapping in the wind. His young, lean face had been marked with blue Welsh war paint. His staff was decorated with a fox’s tail and the feather of an eagle. He looked as savage and primitive as the people he had come from.
“Do not fear, brothers and sisters,” Merlin said quietly, but his voice seemed to carry for miles. “We shall drive Death back into the beyond and make this place safe again for mortals.”
I wish I could say I believed him, that my heart swelled with pride and courage but in truth I was terrified. We were the mightiest wizards in all Europe at that time, but still I feared that translucent city. I feared its ruler. I feared him and that place like nothing I ever feared before or since. But Merlin stepped forward and his force of will dragged us behind him, until the shadowy walls of Nekropolis towered over out frail mortal forms.
One feature of the city was solid and real, the gate. It was a huge soaring arch of gray stone. The gates were insubstantial, transparent and rippling like silk in a breeze, but everything had gone still. The dank air hung cold and thick around us, as oppressive as Nekropolis’ unholy presence.
I realized I had drawn my sword. I was shaking.
Merlin stepped forward and lifted his barbaric staff.
“Patefacio! Lux lucis of vita subigo vos,” the master wizard shouted and at first nothing seemed to happen. Then a tiny flash of light appeared at the seam of the undulating gate. The darkness of the city seemed to press in upon the glow, but Merlin lifted his staff higher. The light blossomed and grew, folding the gates slowly back until the opening it formed was wide enough to admit us.
“Come!” Merlin shouted, though all was silent. “Before the gates close.”
He strode through the gates. The others followed him and they all seemed to fade away as they passed into Death’s city. I trembled violently at the sight and ordered my feet to move, but they would not. The light began to recede. The shadow gates crept closed.
I am already dead, I reminded myself. If we don’t send this place back into the beyond.
I sprang through the closing doors and left the living world behind.
To be continued…
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