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. No birds sang. No insects buzzed.
I gripped the hilt of the silver and ruby encrusted 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 encroaching on reality. He stepped to the front of our small group, his off-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, though 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 stood trying to control my trembling limbs. I feared that translucent city. I feared its ruler. I feared them like nothing I ever feared before or since.
"You're sure about this? You're sure this is even possible?"
Merlin did not answer. Instead he simply strode towards the city. His force of will dragged us behind him, until the shadowy walls of Necropolis towered over out frail mortal forms.
"I am already dead," I muttered the words of the battle mantra that usually calmed my shaking hands.
This time they did not.
The gate posts of the city alone had entered our world fully, and stood solid and substantial above us, a soaring arch of gray stone. The gates remained insubstantial, transparent and rippling like silk in a breeze. Everything else had gone still. The dank air hung cold and thick around us, as oppressive as Necropolis’ unholy presence.
I realized I had drawn my sword. Cold sweat and mist made my clothes cling oppressively to my skin
Merlin stepped forward and lifted his barbaric staff.
“Patefacio! Lux lucis of vita subigo vos,” the master wizard shouted. 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 could admit us.
“Come!” Merlin shouted, though all was silent. “Before the gates close.”
He dashed through. 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.
"Godrick!" Merlin's voice echoed from far far away. "Stir yourself, Godrick, there is no time!"
"I am already dead," I reminded myself. "I am already dead."
I sprang through the closing doors and left the living world behind. The world seemed to shift around me. Color left the world. Whispering voices rose up around me. 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 tore my mind free and found myself standing before Merlin, his pagan staff glowing with a werelight.
Merlin scowled. "You cannot hesitate."
"I know. It won't happen again."
"It has already happened! Are you able to do this?"
I could not answer.
"Are you able?" Merlin pressed. "We must know or the whole of the Order will die here and with us, the world."
"I can do it."
He looked at me a long time before nodding. "Then let us be swift."
Merlin guided us through the city’s twilight gloom. A few of the others lit lights on the tips of their wands, but the light seemed to intensify the darkness rather than abate it. 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.
Then we came to 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. Specters, shades and wraiths in tattered and hooded robes flitted through the feted air, oblivious to our approach. My mind tried to make sense of the cities gradual expansion, but it could not. I felt dizzy.
Merlin turned to us.
“Now we must separate. I will take position east, across the pit. The rest of you spread out around it.” He looked at me. “We will rally here once the spell is finished. Godrick, hold here. It point is our surest means of escape.”
"I will. No matter what."
"And to you."
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 Necropolis crawled into our world. 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 the city’s dark power.
Merlin began the banishing spell and the rest of us followed suit. The words I had memorized flowed from my lips as I gathered the power necessary to force Necopolis back beyond the veil. All five of us began to glow in the darkness. 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, and I knew it would be an instant before I too must defend. I continued to speak the banishing spell and turned towards the street we'd followed into the city. For a moment it remained empty but then like a rising tide, the whispers grew louder. Surging out of the shadows came Death’s army, thousands strong, black armored forms with burning eyes and glimmering blades and hooded scabrous creatures that stretched pale skeletal hands towards me. They came gliding, gliding forward, riding on the mists that filled the city.
Fear fell away.
I lifted my sword as the grim joy of battle came over me.
"Come then," I thought. "Come and see what a war wizard can do! Battle is my home.
Destruction my element."
Death’s servants rushed upon me in a wave of horror. They spilled through the distorted streets of Necropolis and swooping 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 and power of the banishing spell grew ever brighter, until I blinked 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 became 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. Water, stone, shards of magical glass, beams of pure light. Some they ignored. Some slowed them, but none destroyed them.
Out of options.
I lifted my silver sword, drew a warding sigil before me that blazed blue and then vanished. I struggled to continue the invocation.
"I cannot fail not before the invocation is finished."
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 told myself. "I'll speak them before I'm swept away."
The first great scythe swept towards me. It struck my sigil with a sound like a ringing gong. The creature stumbled back and I lunged forward. Silver and rubies flashed in my own angelic light. My sword cut deep, drinking the creature's power. The creature screamed as its fell. Another scythe swung and this time my sigil shattered. I ducked the blow, and countered with one of my own that clove the enemy’s weapon, and absorbed still more power.
Five words left.
Another blow. Another dodge. Another stroke of my miraculous sword.
A dozen creatures came at me in a rush. It was all I could do to hold them back. 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.
"No! I will 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. My enemies, now only 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 had vanished. Beneath my feet the city slid 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, flying across the pit in a blur of white. He alighted next to me.
“Now we just have to get out of here alive,” I shouted.
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. The seductive whispered of earlier transformed into wailing screams that filled the streets, and tore at my sanity. We seemed to move at an incredible pace but in fact, we'd only edged a few dozen feet beyond the pit's festering edge. 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 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 over Lunden broke apart. The Temes rolled lazily. A bird trilled a cautious call. Necropolis 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, Death's gate...”
“What of it? A gate is not a city.”
“It’s the entrance of Necropolis and it's still here!" I tapped my swords blade against the stones and the silver rang with a sweet chime. As if to further emphasize the point, a towering figure stepped out from beneath the arch, fading into existence before our eyes.
|Death by Ella McPhearson
It looked down at us, head just shy of the great gate's peak. None of us could move under that gaze. Even Merlin stood frozen in silence.
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.
"I will have power over you one day," Merlin said.
“No, you will not. You have not my talent.”
Merlin's eyes widened, glittering with lust. "Talent? What talent is that?”
Death smiled and the world grew cold. I trembled uncontrollably and tried to keep a grip on my sword.
“Patience. I have patience you cannot dream of. In the end, even you Merlin master of wizards, founder of the First Order, even you will grow tired and unwary and then, like everything else, you will be mine.”
It stepped beyond the arched gateway of Necropolis and the towering figure faded away, leaving us alone under the thin light of a dispersing storm.