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Sunday, August 16

Castle Ambrose: Part 22 – The Viper-Encircled Mirror

There were strange and disastrous portents in the aspect of the skies: flame-bearded meteors had been seen to fall beyond the eastern hills; a comet far in the south had swept the stars with its luminous bosom for a few nights, and had then faded, leaving among men the prophecy of bale and pestilence to come. By day the air was oppressed and sultry, and the blue heavens were heated as if by whitish fires. Clouds of thunder, darkling and withdrawn, shook their fulgurant lances on the far horizons, like some beleaguering Titan army. A murrain, such as would come from the working of wizard spells, was abroad among the cattle. All these signs and prodigies were an added heaviness on the burdened spirits of men, who went to and fro in daily fear of the hidden preparations and machinations of hell.

In Hastur, tales of the grave giving up its sheeted dead were rife. They were admitted without question by the guards at the city gate. Hastur was already thronged with people who had fled to the sanctuary of its stout walls from the adjacent countryside; and no one, not even of the most dubious character, was denied admittance. The walls were lined with archers and pike-bearers, gathered in readiness to dispute the entrance of the dead. Crossbowmen were stationed above the gates, and mangonels were mounted at short intervals along the entire circuit of the ramparts. The city seethed and hummed like an agitated hive.

Hysteria and pandemonium prevailed in the streets. Pale, panic-stricken faces milled everywhere in an aimless stream. Hurrying torches flared dolorously in the twilight that deepened as if with the shadow of impending wings arisen from Erebus. The gloom was clogged with intangible fear, with webs of stifling oppression. Through all this rout of wild disorder and frenzy, Hali, like a spent but indomitable swimmer breasting some tide of eternal, viscid nightmare, made his way slowly to the podium.
“I am Hali,” he told the crowd. “And I was a pupil of Nathaire, the necromancer who animated the colossus that even now ravages our land. Nathaire binds and hurls into the bitter depths of the Black Lake certain victims, such as were designated to feed the hunger of Him That Slept Beneath. And I believe those who constitute the body of the colossus are the same that were fed to the Thing in the Lake. I have a solution, a powder that I have crafted that will cause the dead to return peacefully to their tombs and lay down in a renewed slumber of death.”

There was a mounting hubbub in the streets, and above the shrill, dismal clamor of frightened voices, the far-off roaring of the giant. Hali shouted louder to be heard.

“The dust must be blown into the beast’s face. I have enough for three attempts. Who will take up this challenge?”

Sebastian stepped forward. “We will.” [MORE]

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posted by Michael Tresca at 7:42 AM


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