Gears turned. Cogs ground their teeth.
Outside, time stopped for the dead. The house counted onward.
Away along the main landing a door creaked open. Club feet dragged across the boards and a solitary, hollow voice, like a bitter wind through a carved-out worm-riddled tree trunk, moaned a lonely elongated syllable:
One, thought Cadaverus Helskur.
One of the clock.
Perhaps time he retired for the night. He snuffed his spirit-candle between inky finger and thumb and sat at his desk in darkness. Smoke curled aimlessly, particles of lost souls released from imprisonment in the candle wax. A tendril or two snuck into his nostrils and wrought the only revenge they could.
He slapped both hands on the desk, pinning down his precious papers before they could take flight. Another five empty minutes stretched by before he felt inclined to move again.
Then he began collecting the disarrayed pages together and sliding them into a neat stack. Last, he sent his right hand scuttling like a spider to a corner of the desk, where his fingers closed around the skull. Which he lifted and planted atop the piled notes. A paperweight and guardian, stationed to watch with vacant sockets for thieves and burglars.
Helskur petted the cranium. The skull offered no objection to the display of affection. Helskur honestly forgot who it was the skull had once housed. Someone who had meant something to him once.
The house had counted too much time. Its gears had cranked through excessive revolutions.
Weary, he pushed up from his chair, readying his bones for the long walk to bed.
Furious light lashed at the window pane. For the first time tonight, he registered the storm. Raindrops slithered down the glass like transparent snakes.
Storms were beasts of the world. Weather. A force of nature, a concern for the outside. Occasionally, water would sneak its way in through cracks. Mould collected in corners but even such rotten life could not endure long. Not inside the house.
Helskur watched for another flash of lightning. He listened for the answering rumble. Thunder rolled, somewhere over a distant cove. The window rattled only faintly. Helskur’s bones sounded louder on chill mornings.
He drew his robe around his shoulders, his body remembering perhaps a dozen such mornings of late. A dozen such days slaving over his notes.
It had been one tremendous, magnificent undertaking to construct the house. Another to record and itemise and illustrate every mechanism, every detail and dimension.
Even a Necromancer could not hope to live forever. Even a Necromancer had to consider his legacy. And hope that another practitioner might carry on his great work.
Perhaps. In time.
Time had a habit of drifting or rushing by him as it chose. Just as his thoughts might flare like the lightning strikes or drag themselves around his mind as he did around his house.
The door along the landing creaked once more. This time the lonely, hungered voice had a twin. They sang quite the duet:
Two of the clock.
Helskur shuffled towards his study door. His slippers had an irksome habit of slipping off if he lifted his feet.
A bell rang.
It was a strange, almost lively sound. A cheery ding-a-ling from somewhere deep. Down in the hall. And a sound from long, long ago. Longer than memory – almost. Dim recollection chimed along with it in the back of Helskur’s mind. Stirring ancient thoughts.
Doorbell, was one of the words freshly roused and sent to his forebrain.
Doorbell? What? At this hour?
Two of the clock was not a good time for visitors. And nothing – nothing other than leaks – should find its way inside during a storm.
Leaks were impertinent, loathsome and underhanded things. Trespassers who did not pause to announce their entry with doorbells or –
The doorbell fell silent, abandoned. The visitors had taken to beating on the front door. Hammer-blows pounded on the heavy wood.
Helskur sensed anger in the fistfalls. He had not felt anger in an age. But the emotion returned to him easily enough, like a long-lost son but instantly recognisable, as the visitors continued to punish the door. For its stubbornness, he assumed.
Helskur grasped the handle of his study door. Fearful, despite his anger, of turning it and of venturing out onto his own landing.
He would be in good company out there. But not enough of it.
Two of the clock was a very poor time for visitors.
The knocks turned to bashes. Fists replaced with axes or blades. Heavy wood splintered down in the hall.
Outside things had forced their way inside.
[To Be Continued…]