Spaewife: Secret in the Tower of the Ancients

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


The maiden of the nightmare is the captive audience of the vile elfin hobgoblin....

Submitted: September 09, 2018

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Submitted: September 09, 2018

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The soft amber glow of citronella torches flickered with witchy foreboding as a chill night breeze floated in from unseen distances of the vast dusty desert, eerily ringing the ghostly chimes that hung like silvery metallic fingers from the dreamcatcher ornamenting the patio in the small courtyard behind the palm reader’s shop.  The mysterious vesper rustled the fronds of date palms along the low adobe wall surrounding the small outdoor enclosure.  A sliver of sulfurous crescent moon drooped low in the western darkness accompanied by a bright star that might have been a planet.  

The presentient clairvoyant psychic medium shuffled the Tarot deck, then dealt the cards in an equal-arm cross.  The strawberry blond sitting opposite the fortuneteller reached to the middle of the little round table, picked up a card, and closed her eyes.  All Sveta ever wanted was a soulmate; love - pure, true, and everlasting.  The divination card trembled slightly in her supple fingers.  With a yearning fragile as grief, she murmured under her breath, “Please let it be the Lovers!  Please let it be the Lovers!”  The hopeful girl turned the card face up.  When she opened her fluttering eyelids, she beheld major arcana, sixteenth trump - the Tower.  The nightmare was beginning, again.

Prophetic visions are said by some to come with a price.  If such was the case, then the price for Sveta was fear.  Wearing to the darkening, the lonely maiden didn't know why the tower haunted her dreams, nor had she any explanation for how she knew what she did about the lofty edifice that was somehow sinister in its brooding silence.  The old tower had stood since time immemorial upon its prehistoric granite foundation, by all appearances as ancient as the barren desert over which it lorded.  

Before the Druids raised Stonehenge as a doorway to unseen dimensions and before the great ziggurat at Ur had even yet been thought of, the firmly established remote antiquity of the enigmatic tower was whispered of in cloistered corners of shady roadside taverns where weary travelers paused in their endless journeys long enough to wash the dust from their parched throats with a tankard of the house’s best while listening with fascinated wonder to frightful legends of the dreaded archaic tower.

Alone on the uncharted arid expanse of the bleak stony landscape of the fabled desert of Dreersin, the great marble tower remained solid and immovable throughout countless ages, pointing like a ghostly skeletal finger into the star-jeweled indigo curtain of cool clear nights, eternally watching in knowing silence over the limitless sweep of the unforgiving xeriscape.  

For young Sveta, the hideous night terror always began the same - she would see the mighty edifice of the ghoulish tower rising in the bewitching undulations of a grim shadow that burst forth from a radiant shower of emerald-green fairy sparks.  The monstrous tower expanded before her, looming in shadowy menace, immediately after which she would hear a sinister knock at her bedchamber door.  

How she got to the beach was another inexplicable conundrum, but the sea in dreams is always symbolic of immense undiscovered knowledge, a latent talent, unwise use of which can have disastrous consequences.  The dream-riddle of the ancient tower was a hobgoblin bearing Sveta’s antagonized soul inexorably toward a profound truth - an astral providence that was her born destiny.  The irresistible hand of fate was knocking at the door of her very soul.

When you’re alone on a dark and stormy night, and a stranger knocks at your door, a piercing sensation of fear sinks deep into the pit of your stomach, an alarm of primal instinct from a remote past, consciously unknown, yet permanently stamped in the haunted memory of the blood racing through your throbbing veins.  In the morbid dreamscape, Sveta was alone and the chill night wind was beginning to rise.

Every time the wind squalled down the steep slopes of the snow-capped mountains and across the stony beach out over the illimitable mysterious sea, the ugly twisted scar on her throat tingled as if something was about to happen.  Six long harrowing years ago that traumatic near-death experience had altered Sveta’s young life forever.  Why had they cut her neck open and dug the chicken bone out from where it had been grotesquely lodged in her windpipe?  Why didn’t they just let her choke to death?  Since that portentous afternoon amid the smoking candles of her thirteenth birthday, the lovelorn dream-stalked girl had not been the same - because that’s when the nightmare was born.  That’s when the ghoulish tower reaching out to her in creeping slumber-vision first reared its apocryphal head to taunt her consciousness in daemonic anguish and mocking torment.

A bolt of viridian fire from the crenellated crown of the mighty tower zapped her wide fear-stricken eyes with a jolt of nerve-convulsing shock whence the gripping mythical scene radically altered so that Sveta found herself standing at the diminutive arched doorway of the grim low-roofed cottage on the pebble beach at the base of the colossal mountains whose jagged peaks were obscured by the dark billowing nimbus of a rapidly approaching storm.  Behind her, the thunderous crashing surf of the swelling fog-shrouded sea locked her in with no perceivable avenue of escape.  

The latch of the eerily undersized entrance clinked sharply.  The heavy wooden door lumbered slowly open on its groaning hinges and there, framed in the lurid portal of that macabre stubby opening, her hypnotized watery gray eyes met the excited flicker of the sapphire-blue orbs sunk deeply into the coarse skull of the pudgy little man - so repugnant with his disproportionately large head, mouth, and eyes - that gleamed and twinkled with a spectral unearthly light, as though faerie dust were sprinkled over his horrid features - the torpid pointed hat he wore, his whole abnormal aspect an insult to the sane mind.  It was a fateful fork in the road of Sveta’s destiny, that ill-omened moment at the entrance to the foreboding stone hut when the stunted man’s impish high-pitched voice triggered within Sveta’s sleep-ensorcelled mind some awakening alarm of desperate warning, a lurking threat of danger and treachery.

That was the pivotal moment, had there been the least hope of escape, when she could have turned and ran as fast as her quivering legs would carry her away from that awful lair, set like a trap, yet, in her foul nightmare, a despondent Sveta always yielded helplessly to the wickedly abhorrent little fellow’s lurid summons.

“Good evening, my sweet.  Welcome to my humble abode,” that high piping voice made her flesh crawl as it droned incessantly onward without opportunity for rebuttal, “Some think me a hermit.  There are even those who whisper scandalous rumors that I practice witchcraft.  Perhaps, such flattering sobriquets are not so very far from the truth.  I hope you find the cozy comfort of my littoral cottage agreeable.  I have another much finer dwelling far up the mountain slope in the thin air of the higher elevations, but when I know the storm is rising, I always come down to the seashore.  The tempest never fails to wash up something interesting from the deep.  But I digress!  Heavens me, where are my manners?  Come over here, my dainty child, take this cup of herb tea and seat yourself at my hearth.  Let the radiant warmth of the crackling blaze sooth the chill from your weary bones while I lay open the heavy talisman-engraved cover of the Disjecta Membra, a chronicle of yore penned by an unnamed priest of Dagda who died screaming when he was hurled headlong from a sky-scraping craggy butte by a diabolical beast he conjured during a stormy night, not unlike this one, while reading arcane formulae contained in this very same grim tome of the Forbidden Occult.  

“Let your weary mind drift from the present moment as I narrate for you woeful legends of the ancient age of darkness that reigned terror before the beacon of civilization eked out a meager foothold to cast its feeble light upon a world that, even to this day, lies teetering on the brink of madness, cowering in the merciless grip of unrelenting fear.

Many centuries ago in a place that is very hard to get to from here - a wretched desert of gloom and desolation known as Dreersin - a profoundly disturbing horror was enacted upon the barren landscape of that desiccated sand-choked waste.  The dry alkaline plain, relieved occasionally by the gnarled hideousness of wind-sculpted gullies and stark low mesas, had ever been a merciless executor of foolish adventurers who dared pit their stamina against its relentless sun-scorched days and icy subzero nights.  Scarred and eroded by flooding rains that had long-since ceased to fall thousands of years in a remote unrecorded past, Dreersin was a veritable hell, the brutal waterless inner reaches of which have never been seen by mortal eyes.  

With the exception of a mysterious species of firefly and small scaly things that only come out at night to crawl stealthily among gnarled stony precipices and occasional clumps of poisonous prickly saltwort, nothing lives in or on the rocky acrid soil of the vast dusty badlands of Dreersin.  

Amid the empty desolation of a dreary horizon that sweeps bitterly as far as the eye can see in all directions, except the southeast, there lies a distant border of the impenetrable uncharted desert which is prone to blinding sandstorms - a death sentence for anyone caught exposed to the unforgiving elements.  The arid wind always howls upon the abandoned frontier outpost of Xoldan, driving haggard lifeless tangles of grotesque tumbleweed over the sun-bleached bones of lost draft animals who wandered aimlessly to their deaths when their human counterparts had finally succumbed to the lethal unforgiving wilderness of eternal searing heat and drought.

When, in this hostile bleakness, the bat-winged gryphon silhouette of a leviathan fire-breathing dragon is superimposed upon the blood-red orb of a setting sun, it is enough to cause even a warlock ensconced in the aloof sanctum of a castellated tower to tremble in the icy shadow of creeping ominous foreboding.

Turning away from the high open window, the old alchemist shook his head in worried consternation.

“What’s wrong, Master?” whimpered the timid apprentice who had always been sickly wan and pale.

The impoverished orphan of a peasant family, young Mortimer Tilshire had only been with the alchemist for thirteen months.  Before that, the troubled lad had watched in helpless terror as his loved ones had been felled one after the other, their blackened pustule-ravaged corpses laid in shallow hurriedly-dug graves by the merciless lesion onslaught of Plague.  The traumatized youth fell into fits of nervous agitation anytime his aged tutor showed signs of worry.  The epidemic had left the sad boy lame in his right leg that trembled uncontrollably under duress of strong emotion brought on by alarm of fear unstoppable.

“Listen to me, Mortimer.  I want you to remain in the tower tonight.  Do not go gazing at fireflies in the courtyard below.”

“But, Master, there’s the moat and the great rampart fortification to protect us.”

“There’s danger in the air tonight.  We must remain in the tower.”

The old alchemist had a way of expressing warning that took the little remaining spirit of youthful impulse completely out of Mortimer.

“Bring me the Codex Cacodaemon.  It’s time for the feeding.”

In eerily subdued silence, the wary apprentice made his way through the clutter of the tower laboratory to the ceiling-high shelf of ancient mystical tomes.  Choosing a large leather-bound volume, he hefted it from its place, then carefully lugged the mysterious burden to the Pedestal of Bones for consultation.

As the wizard lay open the enormous cover and began pouring over the occult contents of the huge book, Mortimer wondered how, on some occasions, his Master’s fingers were tipped with darkly colored long sharp nails like Stygian daggers, while at other times, like tonight, his fingernails were trimmed and neatly manicured, pink as the bloom on a scullery maid’s cheek.  There must be a reason.  There was a hidden pattern that Mortimer determined to ferret out.

“The elixir is ready, Mortimer.  Stand at the Scrying Well while I read aloud the incantation.”

Taking up the bronze goblet of foaming vaporous potion, the ghostly potency of which curled around his small hand in a cold swirling fog, the quivering apprentice approached the well and gazed in horror at the gold-flecked cobalt liquid in which he saw his face cast back to him as from a mirror.  Mortimer hated the Scrying Well.  It was an abominable thing with inscrutable powers of diabolical witchcraft.  He didn’t like to see his reflection in that faerie pool.  His fears were well-founded.  Whispered rumors warned that if you peered too long into the Scrying Well, you would bear witness to the future moment of your own death.

“Master?”

“Yes?”

“I had the dream again last night.”

“Oh really?  How very interesting.”

“I was in the Starvale.  I saw the beautiful Buckskin Connemara”

“Ah, yes, I see.”

“She was drinking from the shallow brook that weaves its way through the center of the ancient verdant like a scintillating ribbon of icy silver.  The elfin army of Killybegs was amassed on the west bank, the murderous horde of Dethmurger’s lecherous bands of cutthroats and thieves lined the east bank.  The Starvale was cloaked in dense equinoctial fog.  The opposing hosts could not see each other, yet were conscious of grim threat as they waited in anxious silence.  I felt tremendous nerve-straining tension in the gloomy atmosphere, my dreaming mind racked on tenterhooks.  I feared that when the fog lifted, a bloody battle of brutal carnage and merciless slaughter would begin.  The supple Connemara, powerful sculpted flanks glossy damp in the roiling mist, seemed unaware of danger as she lapped the cool clear water that bubbled over the smooth round stones of the vale brook.”

The old alchemist was quiet, intensely pouring over the great book that lay open before him on the Pedestal of Bones.  He seemed unaware of his apprentice’s dilemma.  From his wrinkled neck to his silk-shod feet, the grim necromancer’s tall gaunt frame seemed eternally lost in the voluminous folds of his iron-gray linen robes.  His nails were now sharp and a deep purple color as his long bony index finger traced anxiously over esoteric formulae with the beguiling power to invoke primeval secret forces of elemental nature.  The faulting voice of the apprentice begged guidance, “It must mean something?”

“Probably does” muttered the adept.

“Can you tell me?  Is it a prophecy?”

“We don’t have time right now, Mortimer.  The sun has disappeared below the horizon.  The curtain of night draws down upon us.  Is the crucible ready?”

“Its contents are simmering over the blue camphor flame.”

“Excellent!” exclaimed the raspy voice from the hooded visage peering with electrified zeal out of the flowing fabric of the draping garments, excited emotions rising to fever pitch as his milky cataract eyes gazed out the open window watching for twilight to fade into deep darkness of moonless night.

“Why do you send it into the future to feed?” Mortimer’s questions did not disturb the aged necromancer.  He knew the lad’s curiosity was key to acquisition of occult knowledge, the innate passion requisite to the budding adept.

“What do you think is the reason?” the gray-cloaked savant spoke softly to encourage his apprentice’s fervor.

“The nourishment is healthier there?”

“By no means, my dear Mortimer, if anything, it’s not as good as here.”

“Well, then, is it because there is more wickedness in the far distant future?”

“Ah, there is wickedness in all ages.”

The apprehensive apprentice shrugged his glum shoulders, “I do not know.”

“We send it into the far distant future so that its feeding patterns can’t be detected here in our own time by those greedy meddling spies who creep and lurk and watch from the shadows.  Their wicked lust for power makes them treacherous, Mortimer.  We must use every precaution to preserve our advantage.  This is how we keep our thaumaturgy strong and inviolate.”

In the darkening desert far down below the tower laboratory, a grubby band of miscreants led by a hulk clad in a hauberk of chainmaille was approaching from the southeast.  For a grueling distance of over thirteen leagues they had traveled across the barren wastes of the waterless terrain of the ill-omened desert of Dreersin.  The somber group of riders seated in well-worn saddles upon Friesian warhorses crept up to assemble in a loose body at the brink of the moat circumscribing the alchemist’s sanctuary as a first line of defense against siege.  The barbaric leader of this shabby cadre of scoundrels, rouges, and villains was a tall swarthy outlaw whose muscled form was made even more intimidating by the long coarse hair and rough red beard that draped down over his broad shoulders and barrel chest.  This captain of malfeasance sat high and dominant in the saddle, assured and proud of his steed, sired from a powerful Visigothic breed which had gained notorious prestige on battlefields for over four and half centuries.  

Beneath their leather jerkins, the hostile outlaw’s squad of ruffians wore silk tunics.  Should a projectile pierce the jerkin, the flexible strength of the expensive silk would wrap tightly around the arrowhead so the barbs wouldn’t mutilate flesh when pulled out.

Reigning his muscular stallion up at the brink of the moat, Dethmurger raised his hand to halt his followers.  The squalid pack of hired henchmen would obey their leader, but they were not to be entirely trusted.  Cutthroats and backstabbers every one, Dethmurger kept a watchful eye on the parasitic wastrels.

At a signal from their leader, the dirty band of roughs dismounted.  The moat was an unexpected obstacle, but the cunning alpha-thief didn’t dare let his surprise show before his dirty subordinates.  Being experienced with unexpected contingencies encountered during numerous hazardous years of looting raids, Dethmurger had come prepared.  He wondered how, in such a dry rain-deprived desert, a moat could be brimful with water.  At least sixty meters in breadth, it would be the widest moat he had ever crossed in pursuit of illicit gain.

The venal leader of the unscrupulous gang spoke in a gruff baritone, yet with a twinkle in his execrable eye, “All right, you sulking louts, here’s the target of our assault.  Within that dusty old tower lies the legendary precious crystal, the primeval gem stolen by a vulpine thief of yore from the seething cauldron where dragons are forged, the witchy sphere that gave birth to sorcery on Earth - the mystical Jewel of Aquatainia!”

A hushed and reverent silence of awe sank down upon the bloodthirsty robbers.  They cast glances of disbelief at each other, their sinister lust for ill-gotten loot rising to full fury, yet tinged with a subliminal hint of fear.  All knew the warnings of death associated with that fabled omen-shadowed jewel.  Dethmurger pushed ahead with his lusty rabble-rousing rant - his aim to steel his motley crew of hired thugs into adamantine craving for riches and power, “With the coveted Jewel of Aquatainia, we’ll conquer at will!  We’ll crush all opposition!  None will be able to stand against us!  All the women of Clairvoya shall be ours!  We can choose from among the most beautiful daughters of each kingdom to be our concubines and obediently serve our carnal pleasures!”

“You don’t care anything about the pleasures of women,” the ill-advised rebuttal came from Roebalthar, a tall sinewy rogue, the only miscreant of the morally defunct pact with a modicum of active intellect, “you want to mine the Starvale.”

Dethmurger laughed mockingly at his insolent subordinate, “The Starvale?  Valley of the Twin Sisters?  Why would any man with world conquest as his sole object want to mine a flowery meadow?  The place is for sissies.  A paddock for idlers and dreamers to lounge away the worthless hours of their meaningless lives contemplating natural beauty and counting white puffy clouds that drift aimlessly across the sky.”

“The Starvale is the only source on this world for Astrarium,” the subordinate retorted, his voice falling toward the end of his allegation as he faced a menacing glare rising in his commander’s vindictive eye.

“What’s Astrarium?” queried Joss, the most gullible of the degenerate bunch.

“It’s the only known element capable of exceeding the speed of light,” another of the double-dealing crew whispered into a deformed ear of the muddling Joss.

“Capable of what?”Joss had a stubbornness that often led to his abuse by others, but Roebalthar, seeing he was not alone in his scheming instinct to ferret out the truth about the night’s proposed larceny, ventured to dig deeper into his devious leader’s true ambitions, “All other elements become infinitely massive as they approach the speed of light, whereas, the physical properties of Astrarium are not altered by hyper-speed.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Joss blurted, not entirely sure of the theory he was questioning, “if no one has ever traveled faster than the speed of light, then how can anybody know what would happen to this Astrarium at such fantastic velocities?”

“The warlock who inhabits this tower has done it.”

“That’s a rumor - gossip, hearsay,” Joss pressed the issue seeking to win favor above the others by rallying to Dethmurger’s alleged motive, “Why would our fearless leader want to travel faster than the speed of light?”

“Because he has cosmic aspirations.  His ambition isn’t merely to conquer Clairvoya.  He wants to bring the entire known universe under his dominion.”

“Silence, insolent fools!” Dethmurger’s temper had an exceptionally short fuse when would-be ill-gotten loot was at stake, “bring forth the bamboo poles.  Lash them together to make the rafts.  When we cross the moat, have the grapple hooks ready.  And remember, no talking!  We scale the rampart and climb the tower in stealth.”

Kladbert, Dethmurger’s first cousin and second-in-command, stepped forward and spoke softly to his boss while the others were constructing the bamboo rafts, “That tower must be two hundred feet high.”

“Two hundred and thirteen feet, to be exact.”

“There are no handholds, and nobody can hurl a grapple that far.  How are you going to climb it?”

“In case you weren’t paying attention earlier, we have a wizard on our team.  Does your backbone need to burn in order for you to become a believer?”

Kladbert glanced down at the elfin troll.  It’s hideous disproportionately large head mounted on those squat shoulders was a grotesque obscenity.  The foul creature leered at Kladbert, who shuddered in repulsion.

Barsteb, the nastiest of the ill-mannered gang, dropped an armful of bamboo poles near the brink of the moat then stepped forward to confront the imperious ringleader of the treacherous raid, “Damnit, Dethmurger, you told us you had plotted easy pickings for tonight!  This assault was supposed to be smash and grab!”  

The others, though carrying on with their raft-building task, watched in lewd silence, half expecting their fierce commander to strike down the audacious subordinate, but their sadistic leader remained curiously silent.  

Barsteb pushed obnoxiously forward with is overtly offensive insults, “This is the legendary fortress stronghold of Dagnomen, the oldest most feared and powerful warlock in all of Clairvoya.  You surely don’t think you’re just going to walk in there, grab the Jewel of Aquatainia, then leave unharmed?”

“It’s a feeble old man and a crippled peasant boy.  Besides, we have Bunko, a notable wizard in his own right.”

Barsteb’s upper lip curled cruelly as he sneered down at the pudgy dwarf “Wizard, indeed!  Bunko Bunkor, what sort of name is that for a thaumaturge?  That sawed-off stump of a wannabe troll with a head half as big as his stunted body?  What’s he going to do?  Entertain us with his buffoonery?  I’m surprised he can waddle without falling flat on his huge ugly face from being so top-heavy!”

Barsteb’s ranting diatribe was cut short when a sharp burning sensation suddenly ignited in his backbone.

“Quick!” he yelped in excruciating agony, “my back’s on fire!  Somebody pour water on me!”

Even though they saw no flame or smoke rising from Barsteb’s back, the others in the raiding party did not laugh.  They realized, as much as such dull-witted brutes can, that they were witnessing a potent demonstration of their leader’s control through the dark arts of the elfin sorcerer at his command.  Discipline was focused into strict obeisance as the group marveled fearfully at the sight of the brawny Barsteb dropping to the ground where he rolled and rubbed his back in a desperate effort to extinguish the imagined flames that scorched his costume and seared his flesh.  With a grin that was like to rive his mouth, Dethmurger watched with a tyrannical sneer as his elfin wizard taught the insolent Barsteb a harsh lesson he would not soon forget.

A nod from Dethmurger indicating that the point had been made and Bunko Bunkor waved his stumpy hairy hand, whence the spell was removed.  Barsteb stopped flailing about and lay there on the rocky desert sand gazing up in wide-eyed embarrassment.  He rose to his feet and resumed his place among the raft-builders, muttering vile oaths that swore revenge at the earliest opportunity.

“I hope your wizard is worth his salt, cousin,” Kladbert whispered, “Parlor tricks that tinker with the simple minds of oafish henchman are one thing, but pitting wizard-craft against a known master of the dark arts is an entirely different affair; one that can rapidly deteriorate into crisis.  Nobody knows who built this place.  It was abandoned for centuries before that old warlock took up residence.  Dagnomen is no dim-witted brute recruited from a festering slum.”

Dethmurger’s reply was terse and to the point, “Bunko can hold his own.”

A glance down at the repugnant dwarf showed the hideously malodorous thing leering sickeningly.  Kladbert’s flesh crawled.  He looked back to Dethmurger, “I hope so, cousin, for our sake as well as yours.  I’m telling you, I have bad feeling about this night.  There’s elder magic in this place, sorcery of unknown origin.  There are grim allusions in all the old folklore concerning this frontier fort.  This fortress is a dangerous labyrinth of deceit.  Derelict frontier outpost though it may be, Xoldan is evilly-shadowed by dire warnings of lurking unseen malice.  Faeries are rumored to haunt this walled citadel.”

“Faeries?  Well, what of it?”

“I don’t like faeries.  They’re pranksters, deceivers.  You never know their true intentions.”

With a wave of his heavy hairy hand, the hulking leader of the robber band dismissed his kinsman’s apprehensions, and turned his brusque manner toward his minions, “Make the straps fast!  I want that bamboo tight as a dungeon rack!  I don’t want to be dunked in the putrescent sludge of that filthy moat!  And hurry, the twilight fades!”

Working quickly to secure the flexible poles into stable rafts, the shady band of robbers felt a chill of fear in the dusky desert air.  They were loathe to cross that moat and its swill of slimy oily dark water.  With mounting apprehensions about the night’s possibly ill-advised raid, the band of hired thieves wondered what foul aquatic vermin lurked beneath the surface of that lurid tarn.

Another quarter of an hour and the two bamboo rafts were ready for service.  Crossing the fearsome dark moat, Dethmurger and his tower-raiding squad alighted on the farther bank whence they scaled the ages-old rampart using grapple hooks.  Once inside the stone wall, the hired henchmen, according to plan, remained on guard at the base of the immense tower while Dethmurger, Kladbert, and Bunko, their hands and boots anointed by some mushroom paste the elfin wizard provided, scaled the cylindrical marble tower with the ease and dexterity of a spider.

In a short time, they were halfway to the open window at the castellated crown of the tower through which an eerie red glow emanated.  Excitedly they climbed upward anticipating only the least feeble resistance from the old alchemist and his limping assistant.  After several more minutes that seemed to drag out into eternity, Dethmurger was growing increasingly suspicious.  In a gruff whisper, he demanded an explanation from his rented wizard, “Bunko, you had better have an explanation for this treachery!  We’ve been climbing far longer than would be necessary to reach the top.  We should have been to yonder open window by now, yet we’re still only halfway up the tower!  What is the meaning of this diabolical illusion?  If you’re toying with me, it will mean your life!”

The dwarf wizard whose eyes were normally beady and sly now gaped wide in the panic of genuine fear, “It’s a trap!  The old warlock knows we’re here!”

At that fateful moment of grim realization, sounds of horrified agony shot up from the darkness below.  Kladbert glanced down, but all he could see in the dense gloom were faint flashes of sword metal flailing wildly amid deeper shadows that seemed to move with lightning speed.  

“Quick!” the elfin sorcerer shouted, “climb back down!  We must get out of here, fast!”

The trio began scampering down the tower wall, yet after a moment’s desperate descent, they realized with rapidly growing alarm that they were no closer to the ground than when they began their retreat.  Dethmurger scowled at his hired magician, “Do something, Bunko!  Can’t you see that old man’s sorcery has got us trapped on this miserable tower?  Do you want us to hang here like meat on a hook until those devils attacking the men below rise to tear us to pieces with their infernal fangs?”

Bunko’s magical power was waning quickly as if being drained from him by some unseen mystical force stronger than any craft he had ever encountered.  The stumpy wizard had but one trick left up his short sleeve.  Using his crooked yellow teeth, he dragged a small pouch from the pocket of his leather jerkin.  He bit hard on the wrapper which burst it open.  A grainy powder glowing phosphorous yellow in the deepening darkness spilled out into the chill night air of the desert borderland.  The terror-eyed dwarf spat an incantation that sounded as gibberish to the two would-be thief warriors beside him, “Speekun, Zeekun, Fratt!”

In an instant, the bewildered trio found themselves back on the reassuring solidness of terra firma, albeit amid the maddening welter of the brutal thrashing of the psychotic slaughter wreaking havoc all around them.  Their blood raced wildly through veins that throbbed violently from the pounding of their overtaxed hearts.  Hideous unnameable things on leathery wings were swooping and diving, viciously assaulting the gang of cutthroats who were defenseless against the supernatural onslaught.  Through the flailing swords and screaming death-shrieks of their doomed companions, Dethmurger, Kladbert, and Bunko, with swords swinging furiously, they cut their way through the bloody butchery that raged chaotically in every direction.

Gasping for breath with hammering hearts, the trio raced to the rampart, clambered over, and leapt aboard one of the makeshift rafts.  They thrashed the foul water of the wide moat in a vigorous effort to cross away from a mocking danger spawned of vilest mage-craft.

They were only a few paddle-strokes from the farther bank when a slime-soaked monstrosity surged from the dark water of the oozing green tarn to wrap one of its grotesque tentacles around Kladbert’s booted ankles.  The moat beast pulled the strong man down with surprising ease and quickness.  As he was being mercilessly dragged over the side of the flimsy raft, the foully stricken warrior rogue, in mind-destroying panic, shouted for help, “Dethmurger!  Quick, your sword!”

Bunko Bunkor glanced momentarily at the unthinkable horror, then returned with redoubled effort to uncoordinated impulsive swipes at the water with his bamboo pole, the elfin wizard now totally depleted of his own sorcery was frantic with desperation to reach the farther bank and escape.  He paid no heed to the ruthless act of his unscrupulous employer who shouted, “Let go of the raft, you fool!  You’re tearing the straps loose!”

Kladbert was utterly staggered, shocked at the treacherous betrayal, “Dethmurger, please, I’m your cousin!  We share the same blood!”

Totally unmoved by his terrified kinsman’s pleas, the harsh unfeeling Dethmurger stamped down hard on Kladbert’s fingers.  A sound of crunching bone and the helpless Kladbert’s grip slipped away from the unraveling straps.  With one last pitiful cry of panic-stricken madness, the ill-fated warrior thief was yanked down into the malodorous inky depths of the accursed moat.

The raft was rapidly falling apart.  Only a few feet remained when, to keep from succumbing to the horrible aquatic nightmare, Dethmurger and Bunko leaped wildly for the bank.  Splashing knee-deep into the disgusting slime at the edge of the grim tarn, the two fleeing desperadoes crawled manically out onto the rocky red ochre of the sandy rim of the murderous tower moat.

Being bred for battle, the hugely powerful Friesians, in spite of the terrible din of the brutal carnage, hadn’t bolted.  Dethmurger and his hired wizard leaped upon their saddles giving free reign to their trusted steeds.  The mighty stallions bolted into full gallop with a sense that those they bore upon their strong backs were scramming for their very lives from an unnameable cruelty.  

Away they rode into the moonless night with 13 leagues ahead before reaching the cover of the scraggly fringe of petrified forest that lay between the deadly fortress of Dagnomen and the outlying settlements at the barely habitable fringes of dreaded Dreersin.  The cool dry desert wind blasted their heavily perspiring faces, the terrified death-agony shrieks of their doomed companions clawed at their mortified ears.

Bunko began blurting pleadingly any rationale he thought might save his hide, for, with his magic weakened by battle, he feared the wrath of his merciless barbaric boss, “I don’t understand what happened!  There’s no wizard alive that can wield that much potency!  His power is being augmented by a terrible force outside himself.  Something’s going on high in that awful tower - something rare and dangerous.  I’m not sure what it is at present, but I may know someone who might be able to shed light on the damnable mystery.”

“What external source?  What is this nonsense you babble?”

“Dagnomen has a secret.  His magic is being amplified beyond the scope of any sorcery I’ve ever encountered.  I entered the Craft four hundred years ago, and in all those centuries I’ve seen wonders to shake the soul, but never before this ill-fated night have I met with the awesome sinister terror that foiled us on that tower of doom!”

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Bunko!  You’re merely making excuses for failing at the task for which you were hired!”

“Damnit, Dethmurger, you’ll be wise to listen to reason!  I’m telling you he’s got a secret weapon!  No witch or wizard I know could have stood against that old warlock tonight!”

Dethmurger, in spite of his seething chagrin, could sense sincerity as well as fear in his little wizard’s importunity - deep-seated fear reaching far beyond dread of reprisal from his mortal boss - fear of the unknown.

“Well, Bunko, what does your four hundred years of experience tell you?  What enigmatic force is Dagnomen exploiting to raise his sorcery to such fiercely dominant diabolism?”

The elfin wizard was silent for a moment.  The heavy breathing and thundering hooves of the big Friesians flooded the icy air of the desert night.  At length, Bunko spoke with resolute determination, “I’ll tell you right now, Dethmurger, and this is as solid a truth as any in all of Clairvoya.  There are only two mystical creatures I know of who can augment a wizard’s power with such fearsome efficacy.”

“Well, speak, elf!  What are these two mysterious sources of unstoppable power?”

“A dragon or a faerie.”

Back in the lofty laboratory of the ominous tower, the young apprentice limped to the far side of the ancient round room where he opened the grill of a metal cage, stepped inside, then pulled the cage door closed, locking himself in securely.  Gripping the metal handle of the iron winch that was solidly mounted in the stone wall, young timid Mortimer began cranking.  The winch slowly turned, setting in motion a thick length of coarse hemp rope that was looped through the stout wooden wheels of a block and tackle pulley bolted into the heavy timbers of the tower ceiling.

A massive square of dense iron that barricaded the entrance to a tunnel lying otherwise unseen in the floor of the mighty tower laboratory slowly began to move.  Inch by inch the four foot square sheet of rusted metal raised until the charnel aperture below it was fully opened.  A hollow space of deep shadow had been uncovered.

Locking the winch in place so that the iron door dangled from the end of the strong rope, the wary apprentice watched from the narrow security of his cage.  

“Rise, oh great and terrible Skelgor!” the old alchemist quavered violently all over with strong emotion as his purple-nailed bony fingers clawed the air above his head with a frantic motion of compelling.  Blue-green fire sparked in his fearsome animated eyes.  

The noxious vapors of a seething red miasma oozed from the open pit in the floor of the ancient laboratory.  A low ominous noise as of a loathsome swamp beast growling deep in its deformed leviathan chest reverberated from the Stygian lair.  Poor Mortimer closed his eyes tightly and plugged his ears with trembling fingers.  He could hear a nerve-torturing racket of steely talons scraping against stone steps as the fiendish monstrosity crawled from the pit of cold shadow.  

The wizard exhaled a frosty breath that condensed the air before his face with an icy mist as the frightful abomination crept in all its horrifying muscled bulk across the laboratory where it disappeared into the luminous enchanted doorway opened by the potion that had been poured into the Scrying Well as Dagnomen chanted the powerful incantation.  The awesome mystical portal led through the time and space of millennia into an unimagined future.

In a centuried farmhouse with a low thatch roof, a young man named Liam O’Malley, while loading his double-barrel shotgun, was recalling with fondness sweet memories of his childhood amid the lush pastoral beauty of his family’s farm in verdant County Claire.  Being born the son of a yeoman was a great honor.  The nurturing soil of the primordial fertile glen was in his blood.  

He knew the land-thieving agents from the extension office would have to travel several miles south around neighboring farms before turning north on their way back to the city.  Liam would take the path across the west pasture and be waiting for them when they came back by.  The road was seldom traveled.  It was highly unlikely that there would be any witnesses.

Slightly over two years ago during a visit to the city, Liam’s mother and younger sisters were killed when a gas main exploded in a densely crowded shopping district.  Since that time, it had been only Liam and his father to work the farm and carry on the family business.  When Liam’s father died of a ruptured aneurysm, the wise prudent dad had left financial affairs in order.  Even after inheritance tax, there was enough money for the farm - ever prosperous via sheep and potatoes - to continue in the green, yet poor Liam wasn’t born with the highest IQ.  

A capable farmhand in every respect, when it came to the mathematics of bookkeeping and managing financial accounts, simple-minded Liam was out of his intellectual depth.  A UK syndicate was to purchase the flourishing farm.  Though he hated to see the land (that had been worked by his ancestors for generations dating as far back as the seventeenth century) fall into the hands of strangers, there was at least the consolation that young Liam had been promised employment when the syndicate took over.  That, however, was before the field supervisor of the syndicate had met Liam.

The hard-nosed supervisor, all business all the time, was a Londoner who had never set foot on the Emerald Isle in his entire life of only 26 years - making him four years younger than Liam himself.  That a foreigner could toss Liam off the land where he had been born was an effrontery to a very strong sense of birthright.  The farm was to undergo a process of modernization - sweeping changes entirely alien to the old ways of doing things in which Liam had been dutifully immersed since drawing his first breath of life.

“I’ve had my chief of human resources examine him,” the heartless supervisor told Brayden and Hugh, “The lad is not trainable.  He’s a dolt.  There’s no way he could ever get a handle on the new equipment.  We have no place for him.  He’ll simply have to go.”

Brayden and Hugh were a pair of middle-aged paper pushers from the county extension office.  Being lifetime acquaintances of Liam’s family, the pair were sent to break the sad news to the rustic farm lad.

After informing Liam of the final decision handed down like a judge’s sentence from the syndicate supervisor, Brayden and Hugh departed the farm in the gloom of a stormy afternoon.  During the long drive back to the city, Brayden expressed deep sympathy for the big-hearted farm boy, “Neighboring farms would have been all too happy to take the lad in, but alas, times are tough all over.  People are having to tighten their belts as never before - cut losses, trim fat.  It’s all anyone can do to keep their head above water these days.  I feel so sorry for Liam.  How wretched it must be to have ones home and heritage taken away by an unfeeling corporation.”

Hugh replied with an effort at the practical, “Yes, the poor lad has my sympathy as well, but there may be a silver lining in the dark cloud.  This rocky wind-blasted coast isn’t fit for habitation, if you ask me, and besides, his chances of fairing well will be brighter in the city.”

Hugh shuddered as he gazed out the rain-streaked window at the bleak countryside, “If I were Liam, I’d be happy to escape this dreary place.  I never have liked passing through this melancholy stretch of the county.  There’s something sinister about this glen.”

Rounding a curve, the agents saw a dark figure blocking the road.  Brayden hastily applied the brakes.

“What the devil is that?”

“I think it’s Liam.”

“Why is he standing out here in this miserable equinoctial gale?  He’ll catch his death of pneumonia!”

The pair of suit-clad government officials watched in perplexity as Liam approached the passenger door of their car.  Hugh rolled down the window, “Liam?  What on earth is the matter?  Why are you out here in this abominably foul weather?”

For answer, Liam grabbed the handle and yanked the door open, “Git ou’ oh th’ kaire.”

Brayden and Hugh couldn’t believe their ears.  They glanced at each other, then back at the hulking farm lad.  Squinting his eyes against the icy spattering rain, Hugh spoke with forced civility, “Liam, have you gone mad?  It’s pouring rain!”

The bulky youth tightened his finger on the trigger of the shotgun.  An earsplitting BOOM! accompanied a blast of belching blue smoke that sparked fire from the muzzle of the lethal firearm.  The shocking blast ravaged plastic and metal to rip a huge hole in the dash of the small sedan.

Brayden and Hugh were like statues frozen in fear.  All the color drained from their faces.  Liam repeated his ominous command, “Oy sed, git ou’ oh th’ fooken kaire.”

Without another word, Brayden shut off the sputtering engine.  The terrified extension office agents slowly stepped out into the freezing rain.  Low rumbles of distant thunder echoed in the tumultuous downpour of the brooding atmosphere.

Liam motioned with the shotgun for his captives to walk ahead of him into a narrow path that led along a centuried low wall of gray fieldstone.  Their captor was clad in a heavy hooded ulster that shielded him from the frigid rain, but Brayden and Hugh were getting soaked to the bone.  They shivered uncontrollably as they hiked along the mysterious sheep path, the brawny farm lad at their heels with the loaded shotgun.  

After a trod of several minutes that seemed an agonizing eternity to the frightened city-dwellers, they found themselves facing a curious heap of stone and wood.  The eerie hodgepodge was apparently a dilapidated shack, a leaning hovel.  Liam walked around in front of the trembling agents.  Facing them, his piercing glacier-blue eyes seemed to stab right down into the very souls of his bewildered prisoners.  After a long contemplative moment of menacing silence, the big farm boy spoke, “D’ye bleeve in faeries, gentlemen?”

Brayden and Hugh stood speechless, blinking their hunted eyes in the pouring rain.  To their surprise, Liam simply turned and walked away, leaving them standing at the rickety door of the curious shack.  The place was malevolent to look upon - sinister, like a witch’s lair.  Though they couldn’t have put into words their growing vexation, a warning deep in the bowels of their subconscious minds told them something was dreadfully wrong.

When the ratty door of the grim hovel slowly began to creak open, Hugh and Brayden, still blinking their eyes in the flooding rain, leaned forward to peer at the gloomy darkness within.  As the hideous abomination emerged from the foreboding shadows of that grimy ill-omened shanty, the officious bearers of bad news wished they had never been born.

“Great God!” Hugh shouted.

Brayden could not speak.  Hugh slapped his partner’s arm as he turned to run in wild mad panic from the ghastly unspeakable thing, but Brayden was utterly immobilized by the sheer size of the colossal putrescent horror crawling from the ramshackle dump.

As the terrorizing bulk of the vile monstrosity towered above him in the icy pouring rain, Brayden W. MacTiernan’s last muttering words on earth went something like, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women.  Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

The immense razor-sharp talon, raised high on a grotesquely muscled arm, fell with lightning speed to deal a strike of death.

Tattered remnants of corduroy suits stained with blood and sickening chunks of entrails were all that would ever be found of the missing extension office agents  The motorcar sat alone and silent on the road in the splashing downpour.  Sparsely travelled is that stretch of rocky coast in the outlying farm district of gently undulating countryside perched high on chalky limestone cliffs overlooking the mysterious deeps of the frigid North Atlantic.  Night’s curtain of darkness was settling all around before the abandoned vehicle was finally reported.

Does anyone truly know why down through the mist-shrouded ages the raven, above all other birds, has been feared as a harbinger of doom?  Upon a leaning tombstone, the somber funereal inscription of which was near totally effaced by centuries of harsh exposure to the relentless scourge of the elements, was perched a shadowy feathered entity.

In the deepest catacombs of the occult - those secrets forbidden to general knowledge and kept hidden by cryptic arcana - one may discover sundry reasons, amid allusions of superstition and diabolism, why the old burial ground of Castle Griswoade invited the grim winged harbinger watching with cunning intent as the heavy darkly billowing storm cloud approached from the west.

Built before the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170, Griswoade Castle has withstood over 800 years of fierce waves of attack by foreign invaders, all of whom stopped shy of the outland of the Griswoade domain.

Strongbow did not trespass against Castle Griswoade or its vast sprawling four thousand hectares now stretching into three counties.  Not even the Vikings were brash enough to risk incurring the wrath of the ancient Curse of Griswoade.  Dark rumors surround the mysterious old stone hut said to have been built on the Griswoade estate ages before the Druids engineered Stonehenge as a doorway to unseen dimensions and alternate universes.

Owing to an invisible specter of the macabre, eloquent as ghostly poetic stanzas, the last Griswoade heir in direct line of descent, now a forlorn male figure, stood alone in the ancient chapel of Griswoade, dolefully attired in grey herringbone tweed.  Donegal cap in hands that trembled pitifully under the soul-crushing anguish of unbearable loss, his noble head bowed in mourning standing over a casket in the private sanctum of the legend-haunted medieval fortress.  

Lying motionless as a statue in the richly upholstered casket with her eyes closed - long supple eyelashes sensually alluring even in the morbid pallor of death - the silent cadaver of an eerily beautiful maiden swathed in an exquisitely handcrafted muslin shroud was the morose object of the young heir’s pitiful grief.

Her delicate features utterly hypnotic in the grim repose of death were yet a glimpse of nature’s highest aspirations of physical enchantment.  A blood-red rose juxtaposed like a warning on the glossy deep steely-blue of the metal casket seemed somehow connected to the doves circling outside high overhead.  The early morning sun was suddenly blotted out by the rapidly approaching storm, a ghastly preternatural tempest closely observed by the feathered entity perched on the lichen-covered tombstone outside the heavy stone walls of the gloomy sanctum of death.  Thunderbolts, lightning streaks, surging gale force winds - the granite foundations of the ancient fortress shuddered and quaked reverberating with subtle intimations of scores of whispering voices.  A piercing icy chill rushed through the hushed chapel swirling in bewitching mist over the casket to caress the mortuary cadaver.  The sensual eyelashes of the haunting pale corpse burst open.

A subtle sound as of someone or some thing entering the sanctum behind the mourning Griswoade heir caused him to slowly turn his head - an instinctual movement cut short before it could be completed when a marble hand cold as clammy death unexpectedly clamped down hard on his trembling wrist.  Horror-stricken, the baronet didn’t recognize the ghoulish voice emerging from the sensual scarlet lips of the corpse.  He knew not what was worse, the thing in the coffin or the thing creeping up behind him with blasphemous claws scraping the cold stone of the chapel floor.  Those dastardly inhuman talons were wet with the red blood of a recent kill.  

The ghastly voice from the morbid coffin uttered throaty ghoulish speech “Don’t look, Beathan.  Do not resist.  Show no fear as it creeps up behind you.  Remain perfectly motionless.  It has come to feed.  No matter what you hear, or smell, do not turn to look at it.”


© Copyright 2018 Sean Terrence Best. All rights reserved.

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