Thursday, April 22, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Nine

Merlin’s frail and mottled fingers grab the Dwarf’s callused hand. With his other hand, the wizard takes hold of the Wolf’s scratchy paw.

His smile comes across as a grimace, cold and dead in the fairy light. "Stand strong, my friends," whispers Merlin. "This will all be over soon."

They stand before the chamber of the Dark Fairy, a room not bound by the laws of time and space. A room for fairykind, never meant to be seen by foolish mortals. It is larger and darker and truer and yet more of a dream than anything else in this castle.

It takes a moment for the Dwarf’s burning eyes to adjust to the magic. The purple and yellow hues remind him of the poisonous fumes found in caves, or of the acid that is used to foul gold.

“Just tell me what to do,” says the Dwarf. He drops his voice to a growl in the hopes that it will not tremble.

“Hold her off,” says Merlin. “Whatever it takes." He sighs. "Good-bye, my friends," he says, and lets go of their hands.

As one, the Dwarf and the wizard run in opposite directions. The Wolf remains transfixed at the sight before him, at the godlike Dragon in the infinite room.

How dead she is, how horrible. And her serpent stink is amplified by the odor of rotted flesh, of the grave made living, and over all this is the terrible smell of magic - dark, otherworldly magic that doesn’t care about the fates and follies of any mortal.

Merlin, so nimble for a man his age, leaps across the ever-shifting ground and makes for the great Book on its pedestal of bone and stillborn demon. One hand stays by his belt as he rubs the Lamp for his final wish.

The Dwarf rushes toward a comforting glint on the ground - a forgotten Sword and Shield that lie at the Dragon’s twisting feet. They glow with a different light, a light of goodness and kindness, of virtue and truth. These are far nobler, he decides, than the common iron poleaxe in his hand.

The Dragon, the Dark Fairy, the magic, the spirits, all slaves of the Book, remain patient and clever. They sense the waiting power of the Genie, they see him inside his Lamp, already vibrating and humming, and they will protect the Curse.

The Dwarf is nothing. The Wolf is nothing. It is the old man who must be stopped. And the Dragon leans forward, a tower within a cavern, her skeletal mouth snapping and slathering.

Unaware of anything except for the beast, the Wolf has been breathing heavily, huffing and puffing, and before the throne-like jaws can impale themselves upon Merlin, the Wolf blows at the wizard with a mighty gale.

Merlin flies across the chamber, a scarecrow in a nightgown. His hat and spectacles fall to the ground, and yet without them, he appears less silly, less a doddering tutor and more a true wizard.

“Two weapons,” says the Dwarf. One enchanted, one made of cold iron. A final test for him, then. One is enchanted to pierce dragonhide, surely, and the other is the bane of fairykind. Which, though, is he fighting, Dragon or Dark Fairy?

He spits and takes up the Sword, though he keeps the poleaxe in his left hand. No need for the Shield, he figures, and he hacks with both weapons at the Dragon’s claw.

She doesn’t notice, and the Dwarf looks up at the ripped chasm where the beast’s innards should be. He nods grimly. She’s dead, like all the others, free from pain and responsiveness, only a mouth and a hunger.

The Wolf watches dazedly, hungrily gulping at the horrible air. Her snaking neck writhes and turns toward the screaming little Dwarf. The air around him buzzes with the tang of cold iron and the hum of good magic.

The Dragon roars a challenge of her own, a raspy, hollow laugh that is more spirit than any corporeal sound, and she breathes a foul yellow fire. The air is poisoned with the horrible scent of burning flesh and hair.

The Dwarf, unprotected by the Shield, screams as he dies, burning, smelted like a jewel, fierce and unafraid. Though the flesh melts form his skin, he hurls his weapons, the Sword and the iron axe. One disintegrates in the wicked blaze, the other flies through the fire and strikes true into the skull of the Dragon, even as the blackened bones of the Dwarf clatter to the ground.

Merlin is at the pedestal. He feverishly reads the Book, running his fingers along the forbidden words and turning the unholy pages. The Genie hovers over his shoulder and reads along. Together, they seem to know what they are looking for, and they turn to an incantation read only once before.

They do not see the claw of the Dragon, a puppet pushed and wielded by spirits and forces from realms beyond. It reaches for the old man. The Wolf has barely the breath to scream, and Merlin is snatched away, surprised and dismayed. He looks down at the Book, but without his spectacles, he cannot read the all-important words.

Silently, Merlin is lifted toward the abyss that is the Dragon’s maw, yet he stares calmly, knowingly at the Wolf.

Before he can decide otherwise, the Wolf runs, ragged and breathless. He doesn’t know where. Surely not toward the foul Book, so full of repellent smells and sounds - for only the Wolf’s ears can hear the screaming of the souls whose flesh provided its pages, whose blood provided its ink - and then the horrible item is in his paws, held aloft over his head.

There is no air left in the cavern, none in his lungs, but somehow he huffs and puffs and blows the Book towards Merlin - away from his life, away from his death, too far to be thrown, too far for anything except his mighty breath. He hardly notices his lungs fill with blood as the wizard catches the Book.

Weakly, the Wolf smiles a fanged smile, despite smelling the old man’s blood and burst entrails, despite seeing the Dragon's clenching claw, despite hearing the snapping and crackling of Merlin’s brittle bones. For over that, he can hear the bubbling, slushing voice of the wizard as he reads the magic words and wishes his final wish with his final breath "to undo the curse from this and from all worlds."

There is a booming thunderclap, a Genie’s laugh, a Dark Fairy's wail, then the magic dies and all goes dark forever.