His ascent began. His pace was calculated and deliberate, for he was in no hurry to greet the calamity of his own conjurations that awaited him at the prisons’ peak. It was not fear that bound the stretch of his gait, but wrath, for the solemn pattering of his snow-covered boots, which crunched and resounded throughout the stone spire like the snapping of so many bones, had been the death knell for the blackest and foulest souls of the age. The dim light of the candle-fed lanterns that twisted and contorted upward around the curves of the ancient tower revealed less of the darkness that governed the way, and more the nature of its’ traveler.
The weeping, flickering flames made known, through now-fogging spectacles, the misty-green eyes, stern jaw, and greying brown knot of the Right Reverend Nathaniel Bowen, Grand Inquisitor, witchfinder, and servant of a higher purpose. With each supernal step towards his prey, Bowen’s’ grip on the blackened flintlock concealed beneath his greatcoat of equal shade tightened with fervent suspense. A particularly odd and radiant flame emitted by one of the more productive candles that floated about the gloom, not half the distance of the Reverends desired destination, revealed a most rare sight, indeed. A smile crept across the face of Nathaniel Bowen. Bowen faced manners concerning witchery, werewolfery, and devil-tongues, with a puritanical and stoic swiftness, not unlike that of a predatory cat, stalking in the shadows of some nameless jungle. For this was not only Gods will and Bowen’s purpose, this was vengeance. The Right Reverend would surely revel in this interrogation of a familiar and sinister foe.
It was many moons ago, near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, under a starless sky, that Nathaniel Bowen first beheld the Warlock. The Essex Witches were always verily active in their diabolic interests and pursuits in and about the westward wood of Salem, which proved to be fertile hunting grounds for the young Bowen. Many dances of devils and circles of swooning hags did the Reverend halt and offer to the gallows. The corpses lining the streets of Salem were too many to count and yet the noose tightened, and the witchings did continue. Though the punishment for their treaties with the cosmic traitor were fitting of the heresy, this did not deter their devilish dealings. Bowen held suspicions of a more sinister force at work, a hidden hand of a yet unknown puppeteer, mesmerizing the malefic masses by means of a superior darkness.
These suspicions would come to pass on All Hallows Eve in the year 1802. The young witchhunter had been ordained into priesthood less than a years’ time and yet his name was spoken only in hushed whispers by students of the dark arts. While tracking a skilled coven of witches near the western woods of Salem, the Reverend beheld the malevolent maestro, the chief conjurer, and calamity of unknown origin, Thomas of Sarnath.
The befoulment stood there, surrounded by his apocalyptic acolytes, hands raised towards the waning moon, yammering in tongues unknown to the hunter. The man was tall, even to the Reverend, and his hair of blackened ash hung about his waist. Curious and sacrilegious signs and sigils, crafted into earrings, remained static beneath his ears as if the night winds held no power over them, though Bowen was sure he could detect the distinct chiming hidden amidst the horrid howlings and cryptic cries of the hags encircling the enigmatic magus. Bowen had seen enough. This madness must be stopped.
“Hearken to thine executioner, ye children of the night!”
Nathaniel Bowen navigated the darkness and emerged from the limbs embrace with cat-like bounds and, with outstretched arm, restrained the hag nearest him, and with the other, he conjured the scorched flintlock, and specked the remaining ritualists with a fine mist from the temple of the witch.
The initial shock of the arrival of the infamous Reverend had run its course and the covens remains scattered into the trees, like bats fleeing the horrors of a cave for the beckoning call of the dark. There, beneath that dim, unhallowed moon, within the desecrated circle of graveyard soil, and entranced in the gaze of the other, stood the Inquisitor and the Heretic.
“I must say . . . that was quite the entrance.”
Spoke the moon mage, slyly.
“Hold your tongue, wretch, lest it lay at your feet!”
Bowen held no patience for the impurity that stood before him. The Warlock chuckled and Bowen clinched his jaw with silent fury.
“Your reputation precedes you, young witchfinder, you are truly one of noble cause and fine intention, though we both know the path to Hades is laden with such puritanical pursuits. . .”
The Reverend was incensed. He spat his next words through snarling teeth.
“Who are ye, Warlock, ye dancer with demons and summoner of sins, to cast one of God into the river Styx?!”
The sorcerer raised a brow and offered a grin to the now shaking Bowen.
“A curious question with an even more curious answer, I’m afraid, dear Bowen. Though, should we meet again, I give you my word to tell you my tale.”
Bowen returned the Warlocks offer with maniacal disregard and placed the matching flintlock, produced from the opposing holster, to the nose of the confident conjurer.
“Nay, our paths shall cross no more upon the twitching of my trigger finger, scourge!”
The Warlock sighed and closed his eyes in reflection and reopened them slowly, revealing blackening irises, expanding to the outer whites of the eyes. What Bowen perceived as an ever-growing and empty darkness was soon shown to be much more. Bowen locked his green eyes with that of Thomas, for now he knew his name. In those eyes of ash, Bowen was lost to the Puritan world and enveloped by aeons of cosmic energies and bombarded by waves of ancient knowledge long lost to the inhabitants of earth. And as soon as these mysteries had made themselves known to the young witchhunter, so had they been removed from his grasp.
Nathaniel opened his eyes, pistol drawn, and sweat beading down his forehead. He surveyed the forest around him by light of the embers of the dying ritual flames. The Warlock was gone. Thomas was gone.
Bowen stood tall and proud beholding the great elm door at the spires peak. The arcane sigils and ancient druidic spells carved into the wood were perfect by the most strict of occult standards. Their power would hold him. Bowen removed the last lantern from the wall, just before the doors entrance, and, producing a long, iron key from his coat pocket, began to unlock the barrier. As the door opened, the candles flame did flicker, but did not falter. The sound of chimes echoed throughout the spires as the barrier shut behind the Reverend.
The immutable murk of the cell swallowed Nathaniel whole, while the ever-lessening luminosity of the lantern served as a beacon for which all things unseen could inspect Bowen. Nathaniel, with innate accuracy, made his way through the darkness, towards the only article of furniture in the tower- A small desk set within the middle of the room, graced now with a freshly lit candle. The luminescence unveiled a larger portion of the table and a few inches of the shade retreated about the edges of the desk. Bowen then produced, from the seemingly endless black within the breast of his greatcoat, an odorous and moldering tome of antiquity one dare not fathom.
The iron clasp about its spine and cover were rusted and the decaying pages glowed with a yellow hue that would unsettle most hardened men. The Reverend slowly moved his gaze upwards from the book, and, with candle in hand, walked towards the north end of the room.
The elm pillory had held. As did the spells and sigils carved into their inner workings. Nathaniel chose the limbs himself, with meticulous detail to the woods properties. Bowen admired the object of his desire through the quivering darkness. Bowen approached the prisoner with the candle raised. The flames revealed the matted ashen hair, nearly reaching the stone floor, and dim pallor of the Salem mage, now bound by the barbaric torture devices of the early inquisition and the vexation of the Right Reverend. Upon the fated meeting of their eyes, an ominous wind stirred in the spire, and the heretic did smile and the inquisitor did shudder.
“Faugh! I see the Devil stirs in ye yet!”
Before the Warlock could complete the clever smirk slowly crossing his face, he was greeted heftily by the left fist of Nathaniel. Spitting several teeth to floor and among the shadows, the Warlock filled the damned sanctum with a hideous mirth that forced Bowen to follow with several more blows of equal force, yet the chaotic cacophony continued.
Bowen’s fists flailed furiously at the Warlocks face, decorating his gloves with crimson streaks and the mad man howled on as if delighted, howled as if aroused by the barbarous acts of a supposed Saint. The Reverends blows ceased, whether by fatigue or fright, none can tell, and he stumbled across the cold, stone floor to the center table and grasped at the iron claspings of the tainted tome. It was when the reverend opened the book when the ghastly caterwaul no longer continued and the mage raised his drooping head to utter, through now repaired teeth,
“Necronomicus Ex-mortis. You’ve done well, Bowen!”
Nathaniel fumbled frantically through the dusty pages, though the wan light of the candle slowed his progress. He knew of the incantation of binding, but in his stark terror, he could not locate the damn thing! In Bowen’s trance, he failed to hear the release of the silver screws and the splintering of the sacred planks of the elm pillory. As Bowen’s eyes shifted maddeningly on the hellish pages, his studies were interrupted by the closing of the book upon the utterances of the warlock,
Bowen tripped in terror as the cursed codex flipped upon itself and floated in the darkness to the open embrace of its author.
“Long have I searched for my book of shadows, Reverend. For your servitude, you shall be allowed to leave this stone spire with your wits and limbs attached.”
A blast resounded throughout the chamber, and the smoke seeping from the barrel of Bowen’s pistol revealed the culprit. The projectile passed through the warlock as if through mist and ricocheted off the stone walls. Thomas returned Nathaniel’s efforts with a bow and made his way toward the magical barrier of a door, which had began to splinter as he approached. Nathaniel pulled himself to his feet and nearly collapsed, the center desk now supporting his full weight.
“From which circle of hell did ye come forth, demon?!”
Nathaniel screamed and his voice shook. His words caused pause in the mage, and then the chimes started. Their ringing sent Bowen’s mind cowering to those damned woods of Salem. He closed his eyes and cursed their toll. The same chimes that had sent him on his puritanical pilgrimage of the last five years. The chimes faded and Nathaniel opened his eyes to the vision of the wicked. Thomas of Sarnath floated above Nathaniel Bowen, who sat amongst the stones, gripping his knees to his breast.
“That’s right, isn’t it? I made you a promise, witchhunter, should we meet again, I should tell you my tale!”
The pages of the dreaded book began to shuffle of their own accord and settle upon a seemingly empty page at the tomes beginning. However, upon the hissings of an unknown tongue, spoken by the Old One, more cryptic letters began to appear, and the spire seemed to shake with the same fear that stirred within the soul of Bowen as Thomas began to recite the passage of the doomed.
“I am he
For whom the night winds shriek
I am he
Of whom the black book speaks
I am he
Born of scorn, and fed of sin
I am he
Called by the fall, yet not of Devils kin
I am he
Guardian of the Shade, the hangman’s noose
I am he
Serpent of the lost tree, keeper of the roots
I am he
Harbinger of the olden wrath
I am he
One of doom, born of Sarnath”
Nathaniel Bowen awoke some time later, the darkness still clinging to his form laying about the stone floor. Gathering his pistol, along with his wits, he made his way to the center desk and the candle resting upon its surface. With a slowly-steadying hand, Bowen retrieved the candle and placed it back within the lantern. With the only remaining match within his coat, Nathaniel coaxed the flame back to life. The Right Reverend made his way to the remnants of the elm cell door, the warlocks hymn dancing menacingly in his head. The wan light of the candle revealed the grin of the Right Reverend. Now he had more information. He always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt. His descent began.