Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2004

 

 

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Dead Wizard

Copyright © 2004 Clint Wilson

 

 

 

 

    The cold, lifeless, pale-faced body of the dead wizard lay under glass as it had for a thousand years.

The school children gathered around to gaze upon the famed hero's perfectly preserved remains. The transparent coffin was completely airtight. He looked almost exactly as though he had in life so many centuries ago. Portraits hung in great tapestries on the walls around them, showed him to be slightly fuller of face and darker of skin then. Most of the children now standing before him could not trace their own bloodlines to the time of his death a millennium earlier.

Dressed in his black robe, he was an impressive sight. He had been half a head taller than the average man and his thick limbs cast the image of a powerful looking fellow. He appeared at first glance, to be perhaps thirty or thirty-five years of age; although when one looked closer, into his square, stern face- he appeared to be ageless.

The man's dark hair and neat beard of the same color were closely cropped, giving definition to his set jaw and large brow. The latter supported a thick pair of eyebrows
that seemed forever knitted together in a look of concern. Jutting out from the sleeves of the robe were a pair of black, leather gloves. His feet were adorned with matching leather boots.

The only other item inside the glass case- was a straight, plain, black staff. It was as long as he was tall, and lay beside him to his right.

The children looked on in awe as the tour guide spoke. This was not the first trip here for most of them but they were still captivated by the remains.

It was the most popular exhibit at the Farthingstone Museum under Mount Solus. The petrified human was a federal treasure, and was guarded by the government's laws and resources; so at every entrance to the large hall, stood at least one grogan guard.

The thousand kilo humanoid figures were made of strong, grey clay from the mines. Their only outstanding feature – other than the large clubs they carried – was their fiery, orange eyes. They glowed with the magic that was conjured within their otherwise lifeless bodies. The beasts were created by the genius of men; men who had been in need of cheap, strong labor, but had been against slavery. The animated figures experienced no feeling. Their actions derived strictly from a programmable blue-print. They did only as they were commanded; nothing more.

Outside of the mountain the long thirty-seven hour night was not yet half the way through. In the ink-black abyss above- were countless stars, while the giant, yellow moon hung near the far-off horizon. It filled a third of the western sky. The naked eye could see craters and mountains by the thousands on her wide, glowing surface. She was only a hundred and forty-thousand kilometers distant, and her name was Shibla. Once in a while dark shapes raced across her grand surface, as the keepers of the world kept watch over the beings below. The mighty dragon-cats of the Toyochtee never slept. They always guarded. If the powerful creatures were to ever learn of the city under Mount Solus, they would come down in mass and tear the mountain and its inhabitants to shreds. So, on the surface, under the light of the moon, the people carried on with the deception.

They lived in tribal villages, never amassing in numbers larger than a hundred. This was forbidden; as were all forms of magic and technology. Only in hidden cities around the globe, could people gather in groups as they once had so long ago. They basked in actual electric light bright enough to read by. This was a great thing during the long nights when nothing more than a tiny cooking fire was allowed to be seen. They also practiced magic; learning what they could from the texts of the great ancient wizards of their past. Most of the magicians' writings had been destroyed in the invasion, but a scant few handfuls of scrolls and books survived. Many were kept in museums such as the one containing the body of Vestius.

His kind had long since been wiped out by the Toyochtee. He had once belonged to an order numbering thousands. Now they were gone; hunted down ferociously by the alien invaders. Vestius had been one of their last survivors, fighting valiantly until his death by the hand of his powerful oppressors.

The tour guide finished her speech and the children moved on. Two sisters and a brother looked back over their shoulders at the figure, until they were out of the great hall. As they walked with the other children, the boy looked at his older sister as though he wanted to comment, but she gave him a quick, stern stare that made him hold back his thoughts. Dejected slightly, he looked to his left to his younger sister, but six year old Pia walked on without a word. At the moment she looked deep in thought for one so small and innocent.

After a time, they were leaving the hollowed out population center and heading for an exit tunnel. Several children were left behind in the city's outskirts as many more came up through the secret caves and eventually stepped out into the moonlight of Shibla. Here at the base of the mountain, almost all were near home. There was a sparse ring of villages around the entire mountain.

Only the three siblings now remained. Their teacher bid them farewell on the trail as she made for her own village, and they headed for the deep forest. It was an hour of feeling the path by moonlight before they were able to smell the tendril of smoke coming from their mother's chimney.

She was waiting for them with a warm supper and hot drinks when they entered the little cottage. Uncle Eeole was there greeting them with his big, goofy smile. "How was the museum kids?" he asked through his mouth full of too many teeth.

"It was good," replied Lexah. She was twelve and had a head full of bright red hair.

Margus added excitedly, "We saw him, we saw Vestius in his glass coffin!" The boy was eight and he was a fan of the wizard legends.

Their mother looked at them with smiles, and then she looked to tiny, little Pia. "What did you think of it my sweet?"

The girl shrugged matter-of-factly. "I don't think he's dead."

The room gazed at her solemnly for a moment. Even young Margus looked serious.

Then he added with wide eyes, "I was thinking the same thing."

Lexah looked at both her siblings and said, "I don't believe either of you. He was as dead as dead can be. His cheeks were sunken in and he was paler than the moon in winter."

Uncle Eeole winked at his sister-in-law and said to the children, "You all have the hundred year wake on your minds. Everyone says this is the year. The tenth century is the one. I think you all believe it."

"That's enough of that kind of talk, all of you!" Mother looked seriously upon Eeole.

"We do not," answered Lexah. She crossed her arms and scrunched up her face. Margus and Pia looked at each other without a word. They did not seem as sure as their older sister.

Ang was cross with her dead husband's simpleton brother. She did not need her children following in the footsteps of their father. She did not need the sheriff coming for them too. She choked back a tear and began busily cleaning up the already tidy cottage.

The idea that was taking seed in their minds was not a new one. The legends of Vestius's resurrection were as old as the time of his death. Even she had believed the stories in her youth. But it was not smart to dwell on such matters. Hope was a thing that could crush one's very soul if they were to allow it free range. And even worse, if a person were fanatical enough to take it to the next step, the people would talk. They would talk in circles, spreading rumors until finally one day; the sheriff would come; and then they would be gone for good … gone like her beloved Dartus.

**

It was time for the wake.

The secret society came from the hidden catacombs. Together they marched into the grand hall. They all wore the black robes of the order and carried staffs. Many were locals, but some had traveled by cover of night, over great distances.

They had come here because this was the one. The tenth century would finally be the one. Almost every one of them took this to be fact.

Almost everyone.

Dartus held a secret. He was not as devoted as he had once been. Now that he stood among the ranks of his peers, he could see the lifeless body of Vestius under the lights. He suddenly had doubts.

This is hopeless. The man is dead! I can't believe that I never actually realized it
before. What have I done?
he thought. I won't be alive for the next wake, so I've given up my life; my family, for a cause that is far from worthless, but I am afraid, is entirely hopeless. His shoulders heaved with a sigh as he stood with the others. Waiting.

Under the glass of the coffin the dead wizard lay motionless as he always had. Even the impressive display of his old order, now restored with new members and new magic was not enough to reanimate the long-still body.

Now they all looked up to the ancient clock that hung on the far wall. The minute hand slowly reached for the number seventy. Everybody in the room held their breath (except of course for the one person who had none to hold) and they watched as the little, metal tang of the minute hand crept along the groove, making a barely discernable scratching noise.

It reached the number seventy slot, and popped into the depression, triggering the chimes. The hall suddenly erupted with the incessant clatter.

They all looked back to the body of their chosen leader. They looked to the man that would help them cast off their oppressors. They looked upon "Vestius, The Noble-Hearted", and they began to chant.

The chanting grew progressively louder, until it soon challenged the noise of the clock chimes. Then the sound drowned out the bells entirely as they truly began to shout in the ancient language. It was a good thing that the museum was deep inside of the mountain, as such a ruckus as this would surely be enough to bring upon the wrath of the dragon-cats.

The noise culminated in a mighty cheer as the clock's minute hand lifted out of the slot and continued on its way. As the chimes stopped, so did the chanting of the wizards.

They all stood silently, staring at the glass coffin. The body inside remained motionless. No one cried. Nobody shouted. Many heads lowered in desolate resolution. It seemed that perhaps, Dartus was not the only one of them that had held some doubt. Slowly they began to mill out of the room, back towards their catacombs, back to hide from the bulk of society, and from the friends and families that thought them to be dead.



**

 

 

"Wake up. Wake up!" he whispered louder. Margus shook Lexah again.

"Wha …who?" she asked loudly.

"Shh!" He put his hand to her mouth. She then quieted as he said, "You'll wake Mother."

A few minutes later they were on the trail heading towards the mountain. The moon had gone almost completely down and it was now truly dark. They navigated mostly by starlight and their familiarity with the path. Both the pitch blackness and their sleepiness had them stumbling at several points along the way, but the cool night air soon found them alert.

Suddenly they heard a twig snap in the darkness ahead. They both instantly froze. Finally after a moment of silence, not counting the heartbeats pounding inside their ears, Lexah ventured a whisper, "Pia?"

Suddenly two small eyes glowed down in front of them. By her voice they could tell she was smiling. "Glad you decided to come along," she said.

Soon they were tip-toeing together through the deserted walkways of the underground city. This was still late into the sleeping time and there was nary a soul to be seen.

Lexah said, more out of a need to validate her own un-sureness than anything, "I can't believe I'm going along with this."

Pia reached for her sister's hand. Taking it in her much smaller one she said, "Don't you want to be there when he wakes up?"

"It's past the hour already."

"I know, but it doesn't matter. Tonight it will happen." She walked on.

"What do you mean?" Lexah was becoming concerned with her six-year-old sibling's new-found penchant for speaking so seriously, and in such an adult way.

"Daddy told me that whatever happens, Vestius will wake up tonight." Then she looked up in to her sister's eyes with a serious gaze that seemed beyond the ages. "Don't you believe Daddy?"

Lexah felt a lump rise in her throat as she thought of her father; but before she could answer, both girls walked straight into Margus who had stopped suddenly. He was looking way up, into the glowing, orange eyes of a grogan guard.

The huge grey figure loomed over the children. His cracked, clay lips parted and a rumbling voice immerged. "The museum is closed. Tours start tomorrow at minus sixty-o-clock."

For a moment none of them moved. Then, as though she'd had it planned all along, Pia stepped around her brother and walked up to the being. It was an almost comical sight. The tiny girl literally came up to the guard's flaky clay knees. She craned her head all the way back and spoke directly and matter-of-factly.

"We were here yesterday with our school and I left my scarf behind. We require no tour to retrieve a scarf."

The grogan stood silent for a moment, as though contemplating the girl's words. His programming was simple. The children were not stealing anything, and the small human's request was entirely logical. His eyes appeared to dim down a shade from their fierce glow; and he swung his massive body aside. They were all startled by the quick movement and the loud, echoing thrum made by his heavy clay foot as it stamped on the polished stone floor. Then wasting no further time, they entered the museum.

Soon they reached the grand hall of Vestius. The guards here, as if by silent communication from the first guard, seemed to feel no threat from their presence and remained motionless as the three entered the room. Still, they kept a wary eye as they passed through the high archway. Ahead lay the lighted coffin. Vestius still lay where he had always lain – unmoving, skin pale, eyebrows forever twisted in their worried knit.

The three children approached the coffin. They stood in silent awe of the figure within. Together, each of them quietly remembered the stories that their father had told over and over again, of the great wizard and his many feats. Their dad had been a true believer of the resurrection; and his beliefs had cost him his life.

The body remained as it had for all of their lives. It was as still as still could be. One could almost sense the stiffness of the corpse as it had a slightly waxy complexion to it. Even small Pia now allowed a slight amount of doubt to creep into her being. They all wanted to believe. Their father had drilled it into them more than anything else. He had also taught them to be ready for the revolution when it happened.

If the resurrection was something to keep under one's hat, then the revolution was something to make one's self forget about entirely. Uttering the very word would be enough to bring the sheriff and his men running, to take the offender away … never to be heard from again.

Lexah prepared to tell her brother and sister that it was useless, and that they should get back home lest they be found out.

Suddenly a quavering, familiar voice spoke. "Thank the stars. I wanted to believe that you would come, but I never expected this."

The three turned around in unison. It was hardly a second before they realized in utter disbelief of who it was. Pia shouted, "Daddy!" and ran into his arms. The tears rolled in torrents down Dartus's cheeks as his other two children joined in the embrace.

"I have no time to explain," he said. "But we all have to leave here now. Is your mother well? What about Uncle Eeole?"

They told him that his wife and brother were fine. Then Pia spoke, "But we can't go yet Daddy. Vestius still has to wake up."

Dartus paused looking long into his daughter's eyes. He had been gone a year and a half. She was still basically the same in size and appearance, but her eyes held an intelligence that had grown by what seemed like decades. He said, "I know this will be hard to understand dearest, but I came here to say goodbye to Vestius one last time. After that, I was going to attempt to escape from here. Then I was to come and collect you all, along with your mother and Eeole, so we could move further into the forest and leave this place forever."

He then went on to say, "I am so glad that I found you here though," and he embraced them all once more. What he did not tell them was that, although the grand hall guards would allow him to pass, he would never get past the outer guards without an anti-spell combination. His plan was to attempt a few guesses that he had amassed while in the magical order, and then finally, if he did not get it right, and the guards' suspicions took over, he would fight until he was either away, or dead. It wasn't much of a plan, but he had given up hope.

Clearing his throat he stood up straight and proud, and began to lead his children toward the same archway that the three had entered by. The four now walked huddled together, basking in the warmth of their surprise and welcome reunion.

Dartus said, "Not to worry children, forget this place. One day we shall have our time. One day we shall have our revolution."

A commanding voice spoke. It filled the entire hall with its authority. The voice said, "That day is today!"

Dartus and his children turned around to face the coffin on its slab of stone. The glass coffin was gone, and there seated on the grey slab, was none other than Vestius The Noble-Hearted, dead wizard of a thousand years.

His cheeks were now full and his pallor was much darker. He looked once again like the portraits which hung on the walls around him. His black staff, held firmly in his right hand, stood beside him, the butt-end resting on the floor. The wizard did not lean on it whatsoever as he rose to his feet. Now standing, he was an impressive sight to say the least. With his black robes flowing from his regal body he held an air of respect by his mere presence in the room.

His eyes had a warm, friendly expression. It was a welcoming, safe look. They all trusted it in its entirety. The wizard stepped down from the ledge that surrounded the platform, his hand held out in greeting. On his straight red lips, there was a welcoming smile.

Of the family members there, not one of them said a word.

No one, not even Vestius, expected the grogan guards to attack. It was a simple case of programming. They were all meant to see to it, that the body of Vestius never left the chamber, and they would uphold their duty.

As the wizard walked up to the family, they all noticed the ring of clay creatures encroaching upon them. Dartus never hesitated. He turned to face the guards and began waving his own staff. He now tried some of the deprogramming spells that he had been saving in his mind.

"Dreealbamite beckmar! Cuallis cuse! Treashanie dreenus! Croantan vei!" None of the conjuror's spells had any effect on the approaching giants.

Vestius said with authority, "Everybody drop to the floor."

The family obeyed. Dartus attempted to cover his children's bodies with his own. As the ten grogans came within range of their quarry, Vestius held his staff near one end and pointed it straight up towards the high ceiling.

He smiled down at the others and said, "When in doubt, always take them out." Then in one lightning-fast move, he lowered the staff and spun once around on his heel. There was a fast-repeating smacking sound that went ten times as the legendary staff sliced through the necks of the huge automatons. A moment later, all ten heads fell to the floor, followed by the heavy, lifeless bodies made of clay.

No one moved until the echo of it all died away. Vestius then said to Dartus, "We need a place to talk where we will not be continuously accosted."

The still-in-shock father stood up and helped the children to their feet. He nodded to the great man. He then said, without taking his eyes off of Vestius's, "Come children- we're all going home."

Together they walked with the resurrected wizard. They had to silence two more guards as they left the museum. After that, no one gave a second look to the three children walking with the two hooded figures in the early morning streets of the city.

As they left the cave mouth and stepped into the path, the distant sun broke on the horizon. It was still a long walk to the cottage in the forest so there was time for Vestius to inform the family of the nature of his thousand-year spell.

"Your problem is that you mistook the ancient word, 'Drecha', which means a thousand, with 'Dresha', which means a hundred. I left strict instructions with the monks that I would need to hibernate for one full millennium in order to rebuild my strength. The fortunate thing now, is that I reawaken ten times more powerful than I ever was."

He walked silently for a few moments, and then went on. "It was a perfect cover you know." He smiled down at Pia. "The glass coffin, which had actually been a spell-field, along with the round-the-clock guard in the museum, kept me very safe while I recuperated." He mussed the small girl's hair with his palm.

As they rounded the last bend in the trail, the sun was high enough to warm their faces. A friendly wisp of smoke meandered up from the chimney of the little cottage. Mother was on the porch with Uncle Eeole. She began to weep tears of joy as she saw her children safe. Then she cried out loud as she recognized her husband. The two long-separated soul mates ran toward one another with arms wide.

Vestius held back for the moment. They could have their tearful reunion for the time being. He noticed the simple looking man on the porch. Eeole's jaw dropped as he recognized the famous figure standing back up the path. The wizard knew that he would have to tell his tale a few more times in the next while. This was fine. He had been asleep for a very long time, and he needed to visit with folks now. He needed to socialize for a spell.

Soon though … they would all begin to plan the revolution together.

 

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