The End

By Jeff Franzmann

"I saw in her eyes a hope beyond that which I had known,
A sadness deeper than any I had felt,
A potential for something which would never be…"

Amidst the reeds and stands of marsh grass, beneath the velvet skies, the tower stood empty. The guardians who had once made their home within its walls had long since fled, the presence of their master the only thing which bound them to the earthly plane. Vines and plants grew out of control over the rapidly crumbling stone surface, coiling around the gargoyles which looked out from above the windows, choking the sills, obscuring the delicate metal filigree which secured the creepers to the sides of the towers. Delicate purple flowers bloomed in a riot of colour around the edges of the iron bound door, the only entrance to the tower. Where once an uninvited guest would have been repelled by a host of arcane wards, now the only barrier that existed was rusted hinges. With the death of its creator, the magic which had maintained the tower for so long was finally beginning to fade, allowing ruin and decline to set in.

The delicately embroidered rug which had once greeted the weary feet of a thousand travelers and sages was frayed at the edges, worn, faded. A wrought iron receptacle for an overly large votive candle sat rusting on a table next to the door. Once, the scent of strawberries and juniper drifted lazily throughout the foyer of the tower, setting visitors at ease. Now, there was only a stale sameness to the air, a dreary, ordinary taste of something mundane and forgettable. The delicate wooden door which had opened out into the study was hanging off a single hinge, a forlorn reminder that no one remained to care for things, within or without.

The study was as Canticle had left it, though even here, at the heart of his magic, the decline had set in. The great candelabras which stood on either side of the door were coated in thick tendrils of wax, the magic which had sustained the ever burning candles having long since drained away, tied to the life essence of the Necromancer as they were. Shattered glass and broken candles littered the center of the room, the chain holding the wrought iron chandelier to the ceiling having succumbed to the effects of age and rust. Books, tomes, and parchments spilled out from the black oak bookshelves which lined the walls, the only scene familiar to those who had known this tower and its inhabitants. Maps detailing lands which had never been seen by mortal eyes were rolled up next to leather bound tomes from the ancient lore keepers of Barze. Scrolls detailing powerful magicks could be found next to travelogues from bored nobles. Everywhere, the knowledge of the Necromancer sat unnoticed, unopened, unattended, and forgotten.

The great desk which sat before one of the largest of the bookshelves seemed far less commanding than it had in times before. The water filled globe that had sat upon the desk, surviving disasters, magical conflagrations, and the less than tender ministrations of the tower guardians had rolled off the desk and shattered. The brilliantly coloured magical fish which it had contained lay dead upon an illegibly stained piece of parchment, it's wondrously hued scales having long since faded to a dismal grey. The small bowl of crushed rose petals which the Necromancer had insisted on keeping by his side was nowhere to be seen, though small bits of dried flower could be seen on the surface of the desk, and on the blank pages of the book which lay open. A quill pen, covered in a thin film of dust, sat upon those pages as well, ink dried on its tip. The inkwell was gone as well, though a small trail of ink stained footprints indicated that the tower guardians may have taken some small token of remembrance with them before they had left.

Beyond the study, the stairwell leading up into the higher reaches of the tower was covered in splinters, dust, and pieces of dried wax. The sconces which had once held scores of candles had long ago burned away, leaving puddles on the floor and trails down the sides of the wall. It seemed that only a miracle, or the intervention of fate, had prevented a fire from consuming the tower. The door leading to Canticle's private chambers was open, though it was clear it had not been occupied in quite some time. The dust at the base of the door had been undisturbed.

Within, all was as if he had never left. The curtains of filmy black material which curtained off the four poster bed were drawn, and one could imagine the Necromancer asleep, hidden from all the trivialities and concerns of the outside world. The painting which hung above the mantle was gone, however, a faint outline the only indication that anything had ever been there at all. The grey ashes in the fireplace were the only indication that once, in times past, a roaring fire had brought warmth and cheer into the room. The room was empty, lifeless, the contents merely a shell of what had once been. The only thing which seemed out of place, unusual, was the parchment which sat upon the nightstand. Before his end, the Necromancer had seen fit to put his final thoughts to a more permanent form.

"How I long for this to end, Jana. Ariana is dead, taken from me by hands which had claimed to love her, and I was powerless to stop them, as I was powerless to stop the hands which took your own life. Those tasks I set myself so long ago, those goals and desires which I sought to attain, fought so hard to keep in sight, have been completed, and yet I still find myself empty, missing that one thing in this world which would have brought to me a small measure of content.

How I long to lay you upon these sheets, rose petals scattered about, if only to lie in your arms one more time. To take your lips on mine, I would never again know such happiness. To touch, to feel...

It cannot be. Not in this life, for fate has decided it shall be otherwise.

Ariana offered me hope, though she sought something from me which I could not provide. You provided me love, at a time I could not know what it meant. I gave to myself the will, the desire to continue. Now, all of that is gone, behind me, buried.

I struggled to prevent the horrors which we know so well, so intimately, from intruding on lives which deserve nothing so wretched and foul. I sacrificed so that others would know what I could not. There is nothing more that I can give.

I love you, dearest, my soul divine.
One can die of a broken heart."

Rain fell in curtains, soaking into the earth, the skin, the chill even to the bone. The sky seemed ready to shed tears forever, almost as if it had known what had taken place. A man stood alone amidst the ruins, a single black rose clenched in his gloved hand, wide brimmed hat pulled low over brow. He knelt, briefly, greatcoat parting to reveal hard leather riding boots, and placed the flower on the surface of the smooth marble plaque. He looked up at the statues which stood above the marker, pulling the scarf which obscured his features under his chin. A scant beard and hooked nose were hardly remarkable, though his weathered skin and exotic features marked him as a southerner. A sight strange indeed so far north…

"…one death is enough…"

He bowed low before the statues, and turned on his heels.

Rain poured over the surface of the statues. The woman, head bowed, arms folded before her, seemed oblivious to the elements, concentrating only on the carved stone rose which she held in her hand. The scent of lavender surrounded her, for the undergrowth about the statue was heavy with its presence. The man looked out into the distance, at something which he could not see. His hair was pulled back, his features were sunken, and whomever had given form to the statue had managed to capture an alarming sadness which seemed to dwell in his eyes. The rain pooled and collected in those eyes, streaming down his hard features in a torrent.

In life, he had longed to have her at his side, the one thing which had made things bearable, his muse, his one true love. In death, he would be at her side forever.

'I loved you true and with heart complete,
And though words will never be spoken again,
Know that forever and beyond,
You are a part of me,
And I, of you'


Copyright © Jeff Franzmann