I could hear them screeching, howling like the crazed demons they were. The inhabitants of the city always seem to mistake their screams for the howling wind that was so common here in the mountains but my family had always known differently.
Their long claws were rattling at the gates and scratching gouges into the high walls surrounding the City of Ravenscrag, just as they had every night for many centuries now. The only thing keeping them from entering the city and slaughtering those within its walls is the special lamps that the city’s Governor had installed 1000 years ago. That Governor was my great grandfather, Marius Van Rybroek. He had become the first Lamplighter, a position now synonymous with that of Governor of the city. The position had been passed down through the generations to his son and his son’s son and so on, ending with me until I have a son of my own to pass the tradition on to.
There was only one problem with that. The part of the lamps that kept the demons at bay was the fuel I used to light them every night. It held magical properties that placed a protective barrier of light around the city, a barrier that the demons were terrified of as it would turn them to ash if they touched it. The problem is that I was running out and I had no idea how I was going to get more. It didn’t take much fuel, only a single drop on the end of my torch every night and I only had one small vial left. Enough to last until the next full moon which was just shy of one month away.
The fuel was made from the blood of a legendary creature of which only one was ever alive at any given time and it lived for 500 years. It was a creature that was a being of prismatic fire which is why its blood had such an effect on the demons as to reduce them to ashes. In order to reproduce the creature would consume itself in the prismatic fire of its own making and burn itself to ash, then it would be reborn from the ashes.
How exactly was I supposed to even find a Phoenix? Let alone somehow drain it of its blood without getting myself killed by Prism Fire in the process?
I didn’t have anyone to ask for help either. No one else would even believe me that the demons existed. They didn’t know any better, they were simple humans living simple lives who couldn’t see the magic that lived all around them. But my family was different. My family were witches.
I guess I was going to have to have a chat with Grandfather Marius.
I pulled the cloak tighter around my frame as I wound my way through the field of crumbling headstones that littered the oldest part of the Ravenscrag Cemetery. Finally I reached the ancient Mausoleum that stood in the very centre. The name Van Rybroek was scrawled in tarnished bronze across the top of the door and the wrought iron gates were locked with a heavy chain and very large padlock.
I lifted my lamp higher so I could see the lock and pulled a very old iron key with the family crest on top from the pocket inside my cloak. Sliding it into place the locks clicked easily and the iron gates swung open with a loud creak.
I ventured inside, making my way down the stairs and into the oldest part of the crypt, the musty smell of earth and decay filling my nostrils so thick I nearly choked on it. At the end of the long hallway was a large oaken door with an iron plaque affixed to it which read “Governor Marius Van Rybroek”. I pushed the door open and made my way into the tomb.
It was clear that no one had been down here in hundreds of years, thick cobwebs filled the corners of the room reaching from the ceiling to the floor and a layer of dust two inches thick covered everything. The room was not particularly large and was quite plain with the only adornment being the stone sarcophagus in the centre of the room and the marble altar that sat just before it.
Opening the leather satchel I carried beneath my cloak I pulled out five black candles, a bottle of salt and a pack of matches. Placing the candles at five equidistant points in a circle on the altar, I pulled the stopper from the bottle and poured the salt in a straight line, drawing a pentagram with the candles as the points.
I struck a match against the altar and held the yellow flame to each of the candles. After just a few seconds of waiting, the wicks had burnt down to the wax of the candles and the flames flickered briefly before changing in colour from a typical yellow into a bright, almost glaring green that cast an eerie glow about the damp crypt.
With the preparations now finished I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, concentrating on the energy and magic that I could feel surrounding me. Holding my hands open before me in a welcoming gesture I spoke the words of the Old Language and called forth my Grandfather Marius.
“Excitare spiritus defunctorum. Quaero patrem meum consilium. Et sepelierunt eum in terram, quam viventes flammam lucernae mihi obsecro vos.”
(Awaken spirit of the departed. My ancestor I seek your counsel. By the earth in which you are buried and thee flame of the living candle, I call you forth to me)
The dust in the centre of the pentagram began to swirl and twist, slowly rising into the air as a small tornado and finally a hovering sphere of dust and dirt. The sphere began to change and the features of an old, craggy face appeared in the spinning dust.
“Who wakes me from my eternal rest?” the angry voice boomed, echoing off the walls.
I set my jaw, and pushed the panic and fear that were welling in my throat, back down. “I am Jasper Van Rybroek, your grandson and I seek your help.” I answered, trying to keep my voice as steady as possible.
The expression on the man’s face changed from anger into curiosity and he raised an eyebrow, “Indeed? Family are we? Alright, what can an old man such as myself help you with?”
I took a deep breath before answering, “I am the Lamplighter of Ravenscrag, a position handed to me by my father and I am running out of the Phoenix Blood used to fuel the lamps that keep the demons behind the city walls.”
“How can that be?” his voice thundered, “I had collected enough to last at least a thousand years.”
I nodded, “You passed from this world 1000 years ago. I need to know how to get more.”
The swirling face frowned, a difficult task for a sphere of dirt and dust but frown he did, “I must confess I hadn’t thought of future generations running out, I didn’t expect humanity to last another millennia, I assumed the demons would have destroyed everything by now.”
“No, in fact humans have spread and conquered the entire globe, demons are few and far between, existing only in small pockets. Unfortunately those who threatened Ravenscrag in your time, still threaten it today.” I explained.
“It won’t be an easy task, I am not sure if it will even be possible in this time. But I can tell you how I did it the first time.” Marius answered, but his voice now sounded uncertain, and full of doubt.
I nodded and gestured him to go on.
“There is an island in the shape of Mother Earth’s tears. In the centre of this island is a large boulder of a mountain, sticking out from the landscape like a sore thumb. You must enter the gates, protected by the Lion’s paws and climb the staircase to the top. Once there you will encounter the Mirrored Wall. Beware, not all is as it seems. If you are able to make it past this you will see spread before you a beautiful garden full of terraces and ponds and rivers. These gardens have dangers of their own, creatures of ancient legends, long since forgotten but there in centre of the water gardens is a giant nest built from golden thread and cinnamon sticks. In this nest is where the Phoenix dwells.” The face explained to me, but the place did not sound familiar.
“How am I to get its blood once I find it? Will it not burst into flame the moment it has died?”
Marius’ face fell, “Sadly, I cannot tell you how to get its blood. It was old and near the end of its life cycle and had been blinded by an earlier battle with some creature when I snuck upon it from behind and slashed its throat. I drained its blood before the flames could turn its flesh into the ash that would it allow it to be reborn. You will not face the same Phoenix I did, it may be young and healthy, full of the fire and vitality of life. Pray that it is not.”
Before I could ask any more questions the green flames began to flicker and fade and the spinning dust began to slowly trickle downwards. Marius’ eyes locked on mine, “I wish you luck descendant of mine, may your travels be safe.” The sphere popped then, as though it had been a balloon pricked by a pin and the dust settled again on the top of the altar.
I blew out the candles, relit my lantern and made my way back out of the family mausoleum. I knew what I had to do now, I knew where I had to go. But now I had to find out exactly where this tear shaped island was and how to get there but most importantly…
Who was going to light the lamps while I was gone?