The sickle moon looked like it was cutting open the mountain and the red dawn blood spilling from a wound. “A bad omen,” Alarra thought.
The glow of the dawn illuminated the world with a red hue though it was still dark.
She had no need of light to see so Alarra made the climb despite the dangerous path full of sharp rocks that could pierce a man and deep dark holes that dropped into an abyss. She got to the arc that led to the dead city of her birth. The sword began whispering with the voices of the damned.
The gateway was covered in runes and made of black stone. Beyond laid Wybrim. It was a city of magic. An old thing the city was. Wybrim was unlike any city in the world. The rest of the world was ignorant and did not value the pursuits of the mind. Out of their fear and ignorance they had scorned practitioners of magic and students of science, those practitioners and students came to Wybrim. The world celebrated when the gods blessed them with rain or prayed for their children to live a year longer. In Wybrim the Warlocks made those things happen with nothing but their will.
Thousands of years ago it was founded by her ancestor, Queen Wys the Blacksword. She had reigned for thousands of years and so had her son King Isria. No one knew where the Warlocks of Wybrim came from but they claimed they were descended from the gods. The Warlocks were blessed with the powers of magic, or cursed some would say, and they were an unusual people with their white hair and the Warlocks of Wybrim lived for many years.
Wybrim went deep in the mountains and underground for miles. It ran so deep that her mother often joked it was a foot above hell. Wybrim was also at the edge of the ocean. Large trees that stood taller than giants filled its waters. Alarra could not see much of the city for it was covered in mist, but she remembered the path. The roads and houses were made of gray marble with statues of gargoyles, dragons, and sphinxes everywhere. They seemed to be watching her and it filled her with dread. As she walked she noticed the bodies of the dead were not where she last saw them. At the very least I know the necromancer has been here. Alarra thought.
She looked up and saw the four towers casting their large shadows over the city. When the Warlocks of Wybrim still lived the towers would have been lit with fire making them look like giant stone candlesticks. Sometimes the fire would burn so bright that it would seem as if there were five suns instead of one. The night the Warlocks all died the fire burned a ghostly pale white instead of red and orange.
It was foolish to come back here on the whim of a sword and a dream. Elren might not even be here. Alarra thought. Her hand went to her side to check if the horn was still there. The city and its people had stood through countless wars, mad monarchs, freak storms and apocalypses of many kinds. Despite all of that her people were no more leaving Wybrim a city filled only with dust.
Alarra heard faint whisperings coming from the sword. “Elren, Elren, Elren.” It repeated quietly. Elren seemed to be the only thing it wanted to say. The blade was as black as night and had magic runes carved on it. The sword was said to be forged from a magic rock that fell from the sky. The hilt was black as well with the head of a dragon with white pearls for its eyes. The hilt was made from the dark bones of the beast that it was based on. Anyone who was slain by the sword soul would be trapped in the sword left to do nothing but whisper. It had been Queen Wys’ sword in the old ages then it was passed down through the royal family and was given to her grandfather. Alarra had taken from him when the Warlocks died. “Elren.” The sword whispered again.
The swords, city, and Alarra were all that was left of the Wybrimians. Elren too I must never forget Elren, my grandfather. Alarra thought. A fortnight before the death of the Warlocks Elren had an audience with a necromancer. The whole of the royal family was there. The necromancer’s name was Maris and he spoke softly. He had wanted to use the Warlocks’ dead for his spells. When asked why he said there was power in the blood of Wybrim and in their corpses too. Intrigued by this idea her grandfather asked the necromancer to stay. They spent many a day shut in Elren’s solar conversing. A fortnight hence death came to Wybrim. The necromancer drove Elren mad and doomed us all. She thought.
She could still remember the day the Warlocks of Wybrim died, how all the people collapsed and their life drained from them. She remembered the chorus of screams that faded into a whisper, and then the silence that settled after that. Before the chaos her mother came for her and hid her in the Hall of the Dead. When Alarra left the hall her mother was sprawled out in front of the doors, with her jeweled eye crack. After it became quiet Alarra looked for survivors.
She had found the family sword next to her barely alive grandfather. “You did this.” She remembered saying calmly. “It was the only way. The blood of Wybrim is vile. We are kin to demons” He replied.
“Maris has driven you mad.” Alarra said. He picked up the sword with strength a man his age should not have and charged her saying “Our line must end.” She remembered how angry she was and thought. Everyone I ever knew died while that madman still lived. Alarra had remedied that mistake but it did not last for long. It never did. The sword whispered again.
Alarra sighed and her hand went to the horn again. It was a dangerous weapon that could call forth a storm that could shatter the sky. It had a silver blow piece at the smaller end and a silver band at the wider end. The rest of the horn was gray and black. The horn had runes and drawings of a storm all over. The witch who gave it to her said it was named Cataegis.
As she went further into the city memories of her and her brother Wys came back to her. Playing in the street, their mother’s jeweled eye gleaming as she taught them how to use swords, their father teaching them magic. She could not remember any of their faces.
Alarra wandered through the Dread Tower, seeing all the family portraits, magic weapons, and books. She then went out into the city to see the Garden of Faces where plants had the likeness of people. They were all dead though, when she touched one it fell apart. She saw the guardhouse, The Volran Library, and the Black Falls. There was one place she had not visited yet, the Hall of the Dead. It was on the other side of the city and took a while to walk to.
When Alarra got there she noticed her mother’s body was not there. Something is wrong. She thought. Before she arrived at Wybrim Alarra had a dream of a storm over Wybrim, with the faces of the dead pleading for the gift of mercy. Elren was crying in the middle of all of it with blood on his lips.
She walked up the steps and saw that the doors were different and new. The doors were at least eight feet tall and made of black wood before it was made out of stone with a carving of Queen Wys and other honored dead. Alarra pushed hard on the door but despite her unusual strength it would not budge. The door had no lock that I can see. Why can I not open it? She thought. The necromancer or Elren put some spell on it, she assumed. The whole of Wybrim was built on top of the hall. It was a maze with so many twists and turns that someone could get lost in it never to be found and many had. Every stop in the hall was filled with tombs of the dead. The doors had sliver all across the door with runes asking protection for the dead on them. For the dead or from them. Thought Alarra.
The Warlocks had a bloody history. Wybrim had produced the blackest villains and the most noble of heroes. Some had fought to save the world, others to control it. They all had been powerful warriors and mages like Alarra herself. Say what you will about the morals of the Warlocks but none could argue that we were great. Alarra thought. Many had been her ancestors. And every single one of them is locked in there. She thought.
She sat down on the steps. The sword whispered again. That’s why she had come to Wybrim because of the whisperings of a sword. There were so many voices, language, and they all said very different things. There were cries for blood and pleas for mercy. One day it whispered Elren to her, it was the one of the few things the spirits said together.
Alarra, feeling tired, found some dead tree to sleep under. I will figure out how to open the Hall of the Dead tomorrow. She dreamed of the dead whispering to her. A dream she had dreamed many times. She saw the shades of her family, the librarian with his droopy face, the cook who would sneak her sweets during dinner, the smith, the gardener, her mother with her jeweled eye, the rest of her family, and all the other people she had known in Wybrim. Her father came up to her and started shaking her by the shoulders, he was crying. She could hear the whispers getting louder. Alarra saw her grandfather, Elren, rocking himself back and forth on the ground. He was smiling at some secret jest only he knew. When he looked at her she woke with a start. She looked up in the sky and saw the quarter moon through the dead trees. They looked as if they were grabbing at the moon.
As she sat up and stretched she saw a bright light coming from the seas and rising above all the distant trees and the tall mountains. Someone has lit Vernis Tower. There was a bridge that led to it. No one has taken care of the bridge to the tower in many years. All of it would be rotted wood by now. Alarra thought. The bridge went through the coast line and into the sea to Vernis Tower. The tower looked somewhat like a lighthouse with a large brazier at the top and a group of caverns under it that could go all the way to the bottom of the ocean Elren might be there; it would be a good place to hide if that’s what he intends. Alarra thought. She grabbed her sword, satchel, and the horn Cataegis.
When she got to the bridge she found that the front part of the bridge was completely gone, the rest was soaked through with water and covered in algae. It seemed as if a gentle breeze would tear it apart. The wind was howling and shaking the bridge and yet it still stood. Alarra climbed down onto the rocky area below. She saw the bridge did not look much better from below.
Sounding the bridge and throughout all of the ocean mighty trees stood tall blocking out the sky. The trees were so massive that they went from the bottom of the ocean floor to the sky. Sea serpents were warped around the roots of the great trees.
It took hours but she finally got to the ocean and the sea serpents only tried to eat her twice. Alarra saw that a part of the bridge was completely caved. Alarra began looking for a safe place to enter the water as she did she discovered a broken boat and three broken paddles. More proof that I am not alone here. She thought.
Alarra jumped into the water and made her way to the collapsed part of the bridge. She was not able to grip the trees well so she had to climb the broken bridge. She put a firm hand on a part of the wood and began to climb. She put her hand on one plank then another and another and another. Up and up she went. Alarra went to place her hand on another plank but when she did it snapped in half causing her drop. She reacted quickly grabbing hold of the rotted bridge and she steady herself.
The bridge began to sway more back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. A gust of wind blew her cloak off her shoulder and her white hair out of its braid. Alarra heard the creaking sounds the bridge made as it swayed. It’s going to fall. She thought. Alarra began to climb again. She heard the crack of wood under her but still she climbed. She pushed herself up and up and then she was on the top side of the bridge. Alarra rolled over and laid on her back letting her feet dangle off the edge. She stayed like that for a couple of moments to catch her breath. She sat up and checked to make sure she had her sword, bag, and Cataegis.
Alarra began walking. The wood made a sound every time she moved. She pulled a piece of hard bead out of her satchel and ate as she walked. Alarra had magically enchanted the bag to keep all that was in it safe and well kept. The sky was gray as it was most days in Wybrim and it was windy. Waves rolled against the bridge threatening to tear it apart. Water was sprayed everywhere and her clothes and white hair was soaked through.
Vernis Tower was in the distance rising above all the trees. As Alarra got closer she saw that the tower was the same as when she was a girl. The great structure towered over the trees. It was so tall that she could barely see the top but the great fire was in view. The fire was twirling in the wind like many dancers. When she got to the door she heard footsteps. Hastily she climbed under the bridge and perched on a rock straining her ears over the wind and water to listen. The opening of the door and then nothing. Someone or something was standing in the doorway. Something is wrong with that thing, why won’t it move? She thought.
Moments later there was still no sound but the ocean and wind. Alarra quietly climbed up the rocks and peered into the darkness of the tower. Nothing is there, the wind blew the door open. She thought about trying to reassure herself and yet her heart was racing. A shadow moved and Alarra went back to her rock and listened. “Dead, dead, dead,” the sword said and she was tempted to throw it in the ocean to keep it quiet.
It heard the sword and it knows I am here. It was silent for a while. She was about to climb back up but then she heard tap, tap, tap. She heard the tap, tap, tap again. It is walking towards me. Alarra thought. Tap, tap, tap. Then it stopped. It is right above me. Alarra thought. Taking no chances she divided into the roots and water, losing her bag in the process.
In the dark water she could only see the shadows of the trees and the caverns. She put her hands on the outside of the caverns so she would not lose her way. Alarra cast a spell that allowed her to breathe underwater and went down deeper into the water. She ran hand on the rock until she found a hole large enough for her to fit in and slipped into the caverns. Now certain that she would not be seen she called forth the secret power only the Warlocks knew and drew a flame. It brightened the caves and revealed many openings. She then began to search for a path to the upper caverns. Alarra went through the cave on the left that went up. She went up for what felt like hours, there seemed to be no end. Then she finally emerged from the water. She pulled herself up onto a ledge in front of her. She still had her sword and Cataegis at her side. To her left there were stairs.
While going up the stairs every so often Alarra would hear a screech or some other distant noise but it always sounded far off. As she went up the stairs she passed many doors and rooms, most were abandoned and empty. She heard screeching once more, it was closer this time.
Alarra kept going up and she arrived at a room with a door at the end of it. There was a small table with a lantern, cups, and some food. Two men were asleep in front of the door. Alarra quietly crept closer to the door and realized the men were dead. They had cuts and holes all over their bodies. They looked pale and boneless as if there was nothing to them but skin. Someone bleed them. Alarra thought. She carefully stepped over the bodies and slowly opened the door. She got in the room beyond and closed the door as slowly as she opened it.
The room was large with strange instruments hanging from the ceiling and runes carved and drawn on to the floor. She could tell that whoever was here had made a magic circle. The runes on the floor were ones for death, resurrection, and rebirth. In the middle of the circle was a body lying face down and she stepped closer to investigate. “I was wondering if you would come.” A voice said gently behind her. Alarra whipped her head around “Maris.” She said.
“Indeed,” he said. His eyes went to the sword and he said. “Oh look you have the sword.” Alarra heard a noise behind her. I will not look away. It is some trick. She thought.
“Why are you here, Maris? Where is Elren?” Alarra asked.
“You shall see your grandfather soon, child.” Maris replied.
Alarra then felt hands wrap around her neck. She jerked and tried to break free. She grabbed her sword and hit whoever was behind her but their hands did not move. Her vision then faded to black and the last thing she heard was the sword chanting “Dead, dead, dead.”
When she came to the first thing she noticed was the ropes tied around her wrists and the blindfold over her eyes. The second thing she noticed was the two men arguing. One was yelling and the other was speaking gently. She recognized the voices, the former was Elren and the latter was Maris.
“I have already told you the sword shall cleanse your bloodline.” Maris said calmly, though he sounded annoyed.
One of the men stepped closer to where she was laying. “I am just making sure you are certain of this old friend,” her grandfather said.
Silence settled over all of them.
“It is time Elren. The twilight of the Warlocks has finally come, come with me to the Hall of the Dead,” Maris asked.
Elren sighed and walked back to Maris.
“What of Alarra,” he asked.
“While she shall die with you and the vile city of Wybrim,” Maris replied.
“Very well to the hall,” Elren said.
When the footsteps faded she broke the ropes and removed the blindfold. Alarra saw the stone creatures staring down on her. Before their lifeless eyes filled her with dread now they just made her sad. They saw the Warlock’s death, will they see mine? Alarra thought. She stumbled to her feet thinking they must have taken my things, my sword and Cataegis is gone. Alarra looked around at her surroundings, runes and other symbols were carved on everything. They had similar meaning as the ones at Vernis tower, a pale light then washed over her face. When she looked to the sky she saw the four towers burning bright against the dark sky. Whatever dark spell they have planned has begun. Alarra thought as she ran towards the Hall of the Dead. As she went she saw more runes with the meanings of death, resurrections, and rebirth.
When she got to the Hall of the Dead Elren was sitting on the steps holding Cataegis in his hands. The doors of the hall were closed tight. Where is Maris? Is he inside? Alarra asked herself.
“Was it not enough to kill all of our people now you must destroy their memory as well?”
She asked Elren. He looked at her with small red eyes that were so pale they looked pink. When she saw him last they were a bright red. Elren said nothing so Alarra kept talking.
“How many times has Maris brought you back from the dead? Four? Twenty? A hundred? And for what to destroy a city that does not even have the bones of your victims left.”
Elren then stood up horn in hand he looked more bone than flesh. He looked at her with those pale red eyes and said, “You noticed the bones as well.”
He was quiet for a moment then began to speak again.
“Not just us the city too. Our blood’s evil mark on this world shall not be cleansed until you and I are both gone,” mad fool, Alarra thought.
Elren had a knife at his hip she could take it. He looks so frail, pushing him over might do the trick. Maris will be in trouble though and he has others with him.
She thought, “Where are the rest of your friends? I would like this to be a fair fight for you,” Alarra said.
Her grandfather looked surprised at her words.
“We have no others with us. Only Maris and myself could be trusted with this necessary task,” he said
Talking will not work with this man it never has. I should kill him now and be done with it, Alarra thought.
She began walking forward to him when screech rang out. The chorus of hellish voices made cracks in the stone and shattered window. Alarra felt blood spill from her ears. She collapsed onto her knees, covered her ears with her hands and shut her eyes. Then it stopped. An eerie silence came and engulfed her. Alarra opened her eyes and saw a shadow standing over Elren and the doors to the Hall of the Dead were wide open. She realized the shadow was her great grandmother, Queen Alris the tall. Queen Alris had been dead for over two hundred years though she stood just as tall as Alarra remembered her. Her eyes were shining green as was the rest of her. Green light flowed through her body but Alarra still saw the pale dead skin and the skeleton of where the skin had peeled off.
“Mother?” Her grandfather’s voice was shaky. He then got to his feet and began yelling fearfully. “Maris, what is this? What have you-” Elren was cut off, Queen Alris had put her hand through his chest.
When she pulled it out her grandfather fell to the ground and blood began to spill on the steps. Cataegis dropped from his hand and slid to Alarra where she picked it up. Queen Alris then looked to Alarra. Many more shadows appeared behind the dead queen. The faces of her uncles, aunts, and dead ancestors appeared. She heard footsteps behind her. Alarra turned her head and saw her brother, her mother with her jeweled eye, and all others killed that fateful night. She was completely surrounded by the head.
“Stricken by the faces of your dead?” Maris asked behind her.
Alarra turned her head to look at him. The runes carved into his face were dripping blood and glowing green. In one of his hands was her sword. He controls them, I see enough dead to cause unimaginable horror and destruction. Alarra thought. His eyes went down to the horn in her hand. I have the horn I could use it and destroy him and the army, all of Wybrim as well. She thought. “How did you raise them? Why,” she asked Maris.
He laughed for a long while and then said, “The sword my dear. The souls are no longer in the sword but in the dead around you. Can you hear? The sword no longer whispers. As for why, well to scorch the earth, to take it and ruin it and make it mine.”
It was true the sword was quiet. Maris began talking again fearfully “Hand over Cataegis and I shall allow you to leave,” he said, almost trembling.
The horn was all that stood in his path to victory.
The world, she thought I should think of the world. Not my family or the city or the knowledge that will be lost or that in the end my grandfather will get what he wanted. Alarra looked at the walking corpse of her family and all others who once lived in Wybrim. Alarra looked at the faces of the deceased. Forgive me. She thought as she raised the horn to her lips and blew as hard she could. The sound of thunder that came from it was deafening. Lighting came crashing down onto one of the still lit towers. The tower fell over onto the Volran Library. The smell of burning books filled the air and pale white flame rose from the ruins of the library.
She rushed toward Maris who was praying for protection and ripped her sword from his hand and then plunging into his heart. Alarra then pulled the sword out of his chest, blood came from the wound and into his clothes looking like a blooming red flower. Maris’ death set the dead off; they began screeching though not as horrible as before and began tearing off their skin. By then it was raining heavily. The pooled at in feet and it ran down the steps of the Hall of the Dead.
More lighting flashed. Everything was on fire and it was so bright. White, red, orange, and blue flames danced through the city. It looks very beautiful. Alarra thought. Another building came crashing down behind her and dead men came for her. She slashed at them and they fell. Another came after the one before and another after that. One corpse ran at her and she used a spell to burn them up from the inside, they erupted in flames. Alarra then turned and ran in the other direction.
Rain extinguished the fires only for them to rise again. Thunder roared. Alarra looked up and thought the sky was falling apart. Flashes of lightning struck through the sky and on to the ground over and over and over. She ran toward the main gate of Wybrim only to be blocked by the waves of the dead tumbling over each other to get out. Many were on fire and their cries almost drowned out the thunder. Alarra surveyed the sea of dead; there were too many to go through and a fire was raging behind her. She climbed up some pieces of a fallen building onto the roof of another. I could go back to the Volran Tower, the ocean, and the giant trees. Alarra thought as she climbed but that was a lost cause for the ocean was on fire.
Volran Tower was so lost in the smoke and raging flames that she could not see it. The trees were burning flames engulfed them as a mother would a chins and they crumbled and fell into the sea. Lighting struck once more and then thunder road. Alarra then noticed she was falling; she crashed onto the ground and lost consciousness.
Alarra awoke to rain splashing on her face. It was not as heavy as before but it was not gentle either. The air was so heavy with smoke it was hard to breathe. She sat up and pain shot through her head, despite it she got to her feet. Wybrim was a ruin, before nothing was left but ghosts but now not even that. The bodies of the dead were piled on top of each other. Alarra looked to the mountains and saw they were not much better. The lightning had broken off pieces of most and completely destroyed others.
Now I am truly all that is left. She thought. Alarra went to where Maris’ body laid, at the very least she assumed it was his body. It was so badly burned Alarra could not tell. The sword laid next to him, she picked it up and heard it whisper. The whispers were obscure and they did not speak in unison.
The people of Wybrim were gone, their culture and knowledge. We Warlocks knew things science and magic, things that the highest of kings and the most common of people do not. They are all gone but I am still here. I know these things I should share with them to make them wise. From the east a purple dawn cast light and hope into the ruins of Wybrim.