Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
Where the sea-waters lapped the rocky shore of Norgundy, a tall man wandered. He was clad in black cloak and nether garments that swayed with the breezes coming off the Outer Sea in a strange, writhing fashion, as though these garments might be alive. His step was firm, his eyes bright, as Luthanimor the Obsessed searched the sea-strand for those purplish shells that gave him the power to summon up the demons of the deep.
A great magician was Luthanimor, one versed in the spells and cantraips of his world. But he was fearful, for odd tales had come to his ears of late concerning the deaths of other necromancers, men as great or even greater than he when it came to dooming a man or a maid to the seven hells of Eldrak or summoning up the cacademons to destroy a warrior or a castle.
“Hastarth, send that I may find them,” he whispered.
His head bent low as his eyes scanned the seashore where the ocean waters ran, frothing and bubbling before they sank down into the sand or ran out upon the wide shelf of beach sands. With but a few of the purple shells called myradex, he might summon up Omorphon, who would tell him how to protect himself against assassins.
Luthanimor did not see the thing that followed him crawling between the rocks, nor the long dagger it clutched in a rotting hand. Ever and always the lich watched the tall mage; ever and always it slithered closer, closer, making no sound on the rocks and on the stretches of sand. When the necromancer bent low above the shingle, the dead thing that followed him with the knife came to its height and ran, on decaying feet that made no sound, across the sand.
The dagger went deep between the mage’s ribs. It was withdrawn, yanked back, and driven deep a second time. Luthanimor stiffened, his mouth opened as his bulging eyes stared sightlessly on the gray sky.
He slumped and fell, to lie lifeless.
In great Romm, in a cobble-stoned alleyway of that metropolis, Nebboth the warlock walked in the sidling gait that earned him the name of Crab among his fellows. A thin man with graying hair growing on a huge skull above a wry neck, he was forever shivering from cold except on the hottest days. He wore a black cloak and a hood up about his head, to shut off the cool winds sweeping across this poorer corner of the city.
Nebboth rarely came to the slums, he had servants to perform such menial tasks for him. But this night, he was seeking something special, two small girl children, sworn virgins, whom he would sacrifice to dread Eldrak in return for certain favors. Nebboth did not trust his hirelings; the children might be virginal no longer if he were to send huge Damthos after then. He would go himself, the lusts of the flesh no longer troubled him.
He was used to the sight of ragged men, of beggars and thieves who stalked these narrow byways for what they might beg or steal from honest folk. His sharp eyes darted into dark corners and recessed doorways, but he did not heed the tall, thin corpse in the torn burial robes, whose hand held a thin rope entwined about it.
Only when the mage stepped into a doorway set deep in a stone wall did the carrion thing move forward, snapping its right hand so as to free the thin cord. It whipped the cord in the air as the mage stepped into the doorway, thrust the door open. Before Nebboth could make a move, it wrapped the cord about his neck.
Its bony hands drew the cord tight while Nebboth clawed at the thing that was digging into his neck flesh, stifling him, cutting the air from his windpipe. Blue in his face was Nebboth, and the contortions of his lips and the flaring of his nostrils told of his agony.
For a few more seconds, life remained in the necromancer. Then he gave a great shudder and went limp. The lich released its hold, gathered up the thin cord, and rewound it about its hand.
It opened the street door, peered left and right, then broke into a lurching run along the cobbles.
One by one, all over Yarth from the flat-lands of Zoardar in the northwest to Zoane in Sybaros on the Outer Sea, from the snowy peaks of the Sysyphean Hills to the pyramids of Pshorm, the magicians of this world were meeting death. A bloody dagger, a worn length of killing cord, a sword or an ax, the weapon varied though the deed did not.
Anthalam in Wandacia, grim old Vardone of Ifrikon, many were the mages who went to join their ancestors in these early days of the Month of the Dragon. Fear was a blight among them, for the deaths that came to them tiptoed on unseen feet, hung poised on seemingly invisible daggers, for no man saw the coming of his death, always it was out of the shadows or the darkness.
In a tomb that housed the dead body of Kalikalides the magician, lay a sleeping woman whose long red hair fell over her white shoulders and down the stone walls of the ancient tomb, where her body rested atop the bier slab. She turned and twisted in her sleep. Uneasy was that necromantic slumber; her eyelids quivered, and the scarlet fans that were her lashes threatened to open at any moment. Her red lips moved, parting, and she uttered wordless little cries of dread and alarm.
In her dreams, Red Lori stood before the great stone throne where sat the dead mage whose tomb she shared. Kalikalides brooded down on her, but he shook his head and his lips quirked in what was meant to be a smile.
“My help cannot undo what has been done, Lori.”
“It can prevent—more deaths Lord Kalikalides, have pity on them all. Your friends, your fellows, Luthanimor, Nebboth, Anthalam! All of them dead—slain by wizardry. A wizardry that comes from whence—no man knows.
“Soon all will be dead, all!”
“Except him who sends the slayers!”
“Ahhh—and who is it?”
In her dream she leaned closer, breathing harshly. The dead mage drummed fingertips on the broad stone arm of his stone throne in these charnel regions, making a faint, rhythmic sound even as he frowned.
“I do not know. He has covered his steps well, whoever he is. He has put a wall of demons about his deeds which even my eyes cannot penetrate.”
“Then let me go, release me from the silver barrier Kothar placed upon your tomb door!”
A savage fury shook her as Red Lori spoke. Hate for the barbarian from the far Northlands, the blond sell-sword who had placed her here and sealed the edges of the tomb with molten silver, ate inside her. Before that, he had brought her captive over his shoulder out of the dark tower where she worked her incantations to aid Lord Markoth against Queen Elfa of Commoral, and had given her over to a silver cage hung high in the audience hall of the queen.
Kothar himself had freed her of the silver cage when she caused a she-demon named Ahrima to bring him to Commoral, but his barbaric wits had succeeded in imprisoning her once again, this time in Kalikalides’ dank tomb.
“Free me,” she whispered to the lich of the dead magician. “Free me, so I may help those of our wizard brotherhood left alive.”
Kalikalides pondered, chin on fist. He sighed and in her dreams began to speak in his sepulchral voice. “Indeed, I like it no better than you, fair Lori. Magicians and warlocks should be sacred folk, freed from fear of the assassin’s knife. But what may I do? I am long dead, as well you know.”
“You know ancient spells. There must be one that will pass my body through the silver barrier.”
“None! There are none.” Red Lori sank weeping in stark rage to the stone floor, her hair like a scarlet mist about her body. Angrily she beat her white fists against the flaggings.
“Cursed be the name of Kothar! May his bones rot in his flesh and may his flesh stink with the suppurations of ulcerated wounds! May Omorphon sink his serpentine fangs in his liver and never let him go. May—“
“Hush, woman! Your eternal babbling disturbs my thought—and I am even now recalling an old spell, an incantation long forgotten by me…”
“Will it pass through silver?”
“Not your body, but a part of you. A spirit body that will appear to men in all respects as if it were real flesh and blood.”
Excitement made Red Lori tremble. “It is enough,” she breathed. “I know a way to join flesh body to spirit body All I ask is to go out of this place into the world—where Kothar lives!”
“You must forget vengeance for a while!” warned the magician, leaning forward on the stone throne from which he ruled the world his magic made before he died. “Were Kothar to suspect, he could blast your spirit self merely by touching you with that same silver which keeps you penned in here with me! Avoid angering him, Lori—if you would live and be free.”
Between grating teeth she snarled, “I will be like a pulling maiden. I will serve him like a doting slave-girl. I will even—faugh!—make love to his barbarian body if it will help me.”
She made herself smile. The smile transformed her lovely features, that had been contorted with rage and shame, into those of a young girl. Young was Red Lori when she smiled, like a shepherdess or a milkmaid in the meadow. Her mouth was a scarlet fruit sweetly curved and ripe for kisses, her red tresses like a shimmering veil hiding the white flesh of her shoulders and upper arms.
“See you do, witch-woman. The barbarian is no fool. If you intend to go to him—“
“Oh, I do—since I have a need for his sword and his muscles. Aye, I shall be the virginal innocent—until he gives me what I need to set myself free in truth.”
“So be it. Then listen, this is what you must do.”
Her slumber was troubled now, and she frowned, tossing slightly so that the worn velvet wrapping that covered her against the chill of the tomb slid down to reveal her ripely curving body clad in the Mongrol blouse and leather skirt which she had worn when she stepped into this tomb. Words came from her lips in broken phrases, at the sound of which the air grew cold and gelid in the stone sarcophagus. Faster she spoke and faster, committing those dread sounds to memory.
The cold woke her.
Red Lori sat up, clutching the velvet wrapping tighter about her shoulders. On the painted ceiling and walls of the crypt she could see the glittering hoarfrost and the hanging icicles which told her that her dream had been a reality of sorts. Her spirit had left her body, had gone into that charnel world of Kalikalides’ own creation, where she had spoken with him.
Under her breath she whispered those words, shivering to the intense cold they summoned up. Now she knew that it had been no true dream but a journeying of her spirit into another realm. Kalikalides had placed a key in her white palms, a key which she would turn with words, to transport a part of her into the outer world.
Lying back, throwing aside the wrapping, she stretched out upon the top of the stone bier which held the rotting remains of the dead sorcerer. She understood now the reason for the cold, it was to hold her flesh in eternal ice while her ka went searching for the barbarian. Without its spirit, the flesh might putrefy; the cold would prevent this, would keep her body as it was now, while her spirit was still inside it.
“Great Thissikiss, lord of ice, of snow, of cold that numbs the soul! Hear my plea! Come unto me, come across the abysses and the voids of space and time that separate us! Take into your icy paws my body, shelter it from evil. And so benumb my every sense that my spirit may go forth, free of this fleshy trapping.
“Thissikiss, hear me!”
“I call you by Titicomti and by Alchollos, by Belthamquar the demon-father, and his dread mate, Thelonia!
“Come to me, Thissikiss. Come! Come! Come!”
From far away she seemed to hear the rumble of ice floes one upon another, caught the moan of the icy blast of wind that ranges the snow-clad hills and dales of fabled Hyperborea. A frozen breeze swept the chamber, and where it touched, the hoarfrost lay in thick white sheets. Her own body was beyond sensation, she realized. She felt neither heat nor cold nor did any odor touch her nostrils.
She was frozen flesh. Aye, frozen solid by Thissikiss, yet still alive!
For her spirit self could move, and rose and walk about this chamber, though her body was naked, with only the long red hair to hide her blue-veined flesh. She stood in the mausoleum and threw back her head and let soft laughter rise from her lips toward the icicled ceiling.
Free! At long last—free!”
“My thanks, Thissikiss. Keep me safe within your paws.”
She mounted the stone steps leading upward from this subterranean vault to the upper level and moved toward the great stone slab that was the tomb door. Around this stone Kothar had placed the molten silver, sealing it, past which she could not go. Yet now she knew the way to travel beyond that barrier, in this shape that had substance and outline of a sort, though her true flesh and blood body lay frozen like unto death on the bier slab.
Red Lori lifted her hands and bent her head, placing her lovely features within her cupped palms, the better to concentrate her thoughts. She must make no error, without flaw must she speak the cantraipal formula that would permit her to slip from this tomb into—that other place where she would go.
She began to chant those words softly, almost to herself.
And the world around her reeled.