The gates and precincts of Death
An Extract of the Journal of Idrach the Lesser Necromancer
From the copy made safe, deciphered and written plain by Jalerel, First Assistant Librarian of the Clayr.
This manuscript was either purchased or donated at some time in the sixteen year period when Seren daughter of Uile (Seren IV) was Chief Librarian. Due to fire damage sustained during the notorious 'Orange Book' conflagration in the Seventh Twist-Lefthand Store Five Back Up little of the manuscript remains. As it had not been catalogued at the time (the delay back then was a mere seventeen years but it had not been long in our possession), there is no index record, so the exact time and nature of the acquisition cannot be determined. It was possibly bought from an itinerant book trader and not one of our more regular merchants of that time as later enquiries did not discover any further information about its origins. It is also possible that it was donated by the Abhorsen Alliel or his immediate successor.
Due to the nature of the manuscript it has been bound with Marks of Warding, Deception and Misdirection and chained with silver. It is forbidden to all outsiders save the Royal or Abhorsen families, and all Clayr without the express permission of a Deputy or the Chief Librarian.
. . . at last I have obtained something that is of real use! Korbid returned from his northern expedition last week. In addition to some small exotic fruits that I liked not the look of, he also brought me a great iron-bound chest of books and papers. He claimed to have found it in a cave in which he took shelter from a great storm of dust, but knowing him as I do, I doubt it. There were bloodstains on the chest and they were not long-faded. Sand had been rubbed in to obscure them, but had only spread the stain.
The papers were dull records of trade in peppercorns, spices and silver bars. The books were also of no interest, but my examination of the chest led to the discovery of a hidden drawer within its over-thick base. Opening it, I found a slim volume bound in some form of leather I had not seen before. Even before I touched the book, I knew that it contained arcane writings. My fingers felt a sudden, almost unpleasant heat as I reached for it, and my thumbs twitched, almost circling in their sockets, though I tried to keep them still.
Better still, the book was clearly not of the Charter magic. I have seen such, and they liberally swarm with Charter marks, defying any rational attempt to recognise or quantify them. Apparently those with the baptismal Charter mark are able to train themselves or be trained to recognise and use the symbols, but without the forehead mark, it is beyond the ken of even an intellect such as mine.
It matters not. My father found other magics to serve him when he was cast out and the Charter Mark burned from his brow. I inherited both his power and his knowledge,and though I have studied his books only five years, already I can master the minds of my servants and even those of a barbarous thug like Korbid. He does not know why he bows down to me. He resents it, but bow he must.
From my father's books I have learned some small tricks with fire and shadow, and how to master the minds of the living. But greater power can be gained from the Dead. This new book I have obtained shall set me on the path to do so. It is a book written by a Necromancer for the instruction of his children, and I shall become one of his brood. I am most fortunate to have found it.
Necromancy is the greatest calling of a sorcerer. I am not concerned with the Abhorsen. She is old and rarely comes to Estwael. Her nephew and heir has passed through within the last year, but he is of no great moment. A beardless stripling, I doubt he has either knowledge or power . . .
[pages 2-45 of the manuscript were burned to ash, extremely suspiciously as the pages to either side are hardly scorched. Is it possible that the Orange Book fire is misnamed as this manuscript may be the true source of ignition. I estimate the missing pages cover a year to sixteen months of this Idrach’s journal.]
I have walked in the First Precinct of Death, nigh on to the First Gate. As I had read, it is a river unlike any other. Cold, so cold my teeth chattered immediately. I had to clench them tight, for unruly sound is dangerous in Death. The current was vicious, almost taking me under in the first few seconds. It dragged me to my knees, but I fought it, and stood triumphant. It is fortunate I was not attacked at the same time, for I would have been lost for certain.
With the current beaten, at least for that moment, I was able to look around and prepare myself. The light is grey in Death. Grey and never-changing, akin to a storm-clouded afternoon, with no sight of any sun. There is only the river to look at, stretching as far as can be seen to either side, ahead and behind. Yet I could feel Life at my back, as the book instructed, and knew I could return to the living world.
Instead, I strode onward, wading with the current that snatched at my ankles and tugged at my knees. Once again, the book spoke true, as before I had gone more than a dozen paces, I heard the distant rush of a waterfall, the sound that marked the First Gate.
I was not eager to continue deeper into Death, as at that time I had only a small complement of tools and weapons, and none of the most useful. I had not even one of the seven bells. I admit that I was afraid, for I knew that Dead spirits might attack at any time. Even so, I forced myself to wade forward a further eighty or ninety paces, fighting the current that tried to drag me under and onward with every step.
[a page missing here]
fled with the thrice-spelled, thistle-tipped spear through its eye or where an eye might once have been. The spear would not slay it, I knew, but would distract it for a time. Long enough for me to complete the ritual of the First Bell.
I knew I must quench the bell metal in the waters upon the very brink of the First Gate. I had purchased a small silver bell with a pure voice and had prepared it according to the book. All that remained was to make it red-hot and plunge it into the river. The spell to fire it burned behind my eyes, aching for release. I still feel that spell, and may easily make use of it again, which I hope . . .
[several pages obscured here]
It has taken me all of two years, but I have passed the First, Second and Third Gates of Death. I wield three of the seven bells, and shall make the fourth before the year is out. Indeed, I shall
[remainder of page is blank. No recovery process has revealed that anything was ever written there though I suspect there was and it has been erased by some magical process currently unknown to me.]
The First Gate appeared as a wall of mist, but when I spoke the words ingrained in my mind from the book, it parted to show a series of waterfalls that cascade down far further than any would care to discover. A second spell, combined with careful gestures, revealed a path through the waterfall.
The Second Precinct appeared much like the First. The river continued its cold rush, and the currents swirled and gripped most treacherously. But the light changed as I stepped out from the waterfall path.The grey twilight closed in so I could see no more than a few steps ahead. To make matters worse, I knew there were deep sinkholes in this precinct, scattered like a poacher’s snares across a warren. The book says that if you sink fully beneath the river’s surface, then it is almost impossible to break free of the current. Though later it hints that there are shapes or forms to be taken that might overcome even this. Perhaps I will learn these shapes in time, when the book wishes to reveal these secrets. I have learned that the book’s contents expand as my powers increase. I have turned to the last page many times, but when next I open the book I find it was not the last page at all, though it never seems to thicken or any earlier content disappear.
The book told me of several sure ways through the Second Precinct. I memorised two: the quickest, which poses greater risks of error; and the surest, which is slow but somewhat more forgiving of a misstep. I chose to take the sure path. Patience is of greater value in Death than in Life, or so I think.
The Second Gate is the greatest trap of all within the Precinct. If I had not been forewarned, it would have taken me in an instant. The Gate is a giant sinkhole, perhaps three hundred paces across, where the river silently spins down to the next precinct. As it makes no sound, the first the unwary traveller knows of it is when the current suddenly doubles about their knees.
Even though I knew what was to occur, the vortex nearly took me, before I was able to speak the spell that stilled it. The words made the right side of my face numb and hot, but made the whirlpool completely still. It became a spiral path that I took down and through to the Third Precinct.
The Third Precinct offers a different challenge. Again, I was prepared by the book. Leaving the Second Gate I immediately broke into a splashing run. Within a minute, I spied the wall of mist that marks the Third Gate, one very similar to the mist that obscures the First. At the same time, I felt the spell that stilled the Second Gate unravel. With that unravelling came a sudden crash like surf upon a gravelled beach, and the distant, shrieking cries of Dead spirits as they were caught up by the giant wave that eternally sweeps back and forth across the Third Precinct.
As I had planned I already stood above the waterfall of the Third Gate. While the wave thundered towards me, I spoke the words of the spell. The path appeared and I strode down through the endless waterfall to the Fourth Precinct.
After the travails of the previous precincts, the Fourth Precinct was no particular challenge, though as always the cold of the river tried to leech my spirit from within me, and its current twitched and plucked at my legs. I did not linger there. I had the two bells I had already made, and the silent third ready for its quenching.
I had wondered why the third bell must be made in the Fourth Precinct, rather the Third. Foolishly I had thought that the wave, held back once by a spell, might be frozen in place for the time it takes to fix the bell. Having seen and heard the power of that sweep, I wondered no more. I know I shall never dally in the Third Precinct.
[a page missing here]
There are only seven bells, or so the book says, though there are nine precincts and nine gates of Death. As I write this, I have not yet found in the book where my next bell must be quenched. I have three. I spoke their names when they were made, but the book says I must not address them so again or say their names aloud. It is better to call them by numbers, for their rebellious natures are aroused by use of their names.
I shall set those names down here, but will not speak them again. One is Ranna, that brings sleep to Lesser Dead or pacifies the Greater so that they may be spoken with. Two is Mosrael, the see-saw waker, that can be used to perilously travel further into Death while bringing Dead spirits into Life to serve their master. Three is Kibeth, a dangerous, turncoat bell that has bitten many a necromancer. It is used to march legions of Dead into Life, and so is worth its risks.
[Librarian's note: This paragraph is annotated in the margin of the original. It is a different, more elegant hand, writing in a bright azure ink that has not faded. 'Alliel: No other necromantic texts mention using numbers instead of the bells’ proper names and the misunderstanding of their natures is profound. Perhaps you will find this useful in tracking down the source of Idrach's book. I only hope he had the only copy. We do not need more self-taught necromancers popping up like toadstools all over the country.' ]
I wonder if the Abhorsens forge their bells in the same manner? Yesterday I saw the young Abhorsen-in-Waiting in the market square. Surely it is a coincidence, for I have been most careful to enter Death some leagues away, and I have only brought forth small and weak spirits that could barely animate the corpses I dug up from the old settler's boneyard.
I could not see the Abhorsen’s bells clearly, for I dared not push too close through the crowd. Yet by squeezing between two cloth-laden donkies, I was able to get a clear view no more than ten feet distant, while remaining hidden myself. He also wears his bells in a bandolier as described by the book. I could only see the handles, which are not of bone or ebony, but some reddish wood. They also clearly shone with Charter Marks! I felt a sickness rise in my gut as I looked upon them, and were I not able to grasp the nearer donkey's straps, I might have fallen.
How can the bells work if they are infested with Charter Marks? I do not understand. I must consult the book
[a page is missing here. No sign of ash or erasure.]
It is my intention to slay the Abhorsen-in-Waiting and flee to the barbarian north. Once I am beyond the borders of the Kingdom, I’m sure I will be safe from the Guards and the Abhorsen herself, at least long enough to rise to my full power. I am not afraid of the barbarians. They will fall to my magic. I shall establish myself as a chieftain, perhaps even a king. I will bring armies of the Dead forth from the great tribal resting grounds that Korbid told me of, after I killed him. I shall return to conquer all before me! King-Sorcerer I will be, and no Abhorsen or anyone else
[The manuscript ends abruptly here. There is a single line written in the same hand that made the previous annotations, in the same bright ink. It simply says, 'There is no fool like a half-learned fool.']