He Crossed the Brittle Bridge of Bones

He Crossed the Brittle Bridge of Bones

It was cold. Colder than the whipping winter winds atop the jagged peaks of the world’s highest mountain range. Colder than death.

The chill did not touch him. But as Azmih watched, his companion jolted awake, shivering violently against the frigid air. His head whipped from side to side, long black hair smacking his neck and shoulders as it followed in his wake. His dark eyes widened as realization came and narrowed when they saw him, standing like a ghost against the bleached landscape.

You,” the necromancer hissed as he pulled himself to his feet. The word was something akin to a snarl, half accusation, half rabid curse. A familiar tone of address.

“Yes, me,” Azmih replied, his tone light, almost pleasant, almost cheerful. “Did you think I would forget you? That She would forget you? “

“You traitorous abomination!” The necromancer’s words echoed as though they stood in a narrow tunnel, though the space surrounding them was vast. They stood on a tiny island, twenty feet from end to end, covered in a white powder that looked like, but was entirely different from, snow. “Tell me before I kill you what drives you to betray your brothers.”

He laughed the way a man might laugh at a joke told over drinks. It echoed back to them in a lower tone overlaid with a manic high-pitched giggle, forming a different voice all together. “Kill me, Randin? We’re well past that. Is it treacherous to fulfill my duties? To answer Her call? You broke your oath when you tried to cheat Death.”

“Why have these powers if not to use them?” Randin flexed his fingers, likely trying to draw forth the power which had granted him dominion over all other challengers until this moment. But he was powerless here. “I have furthered the cause, expanded our understanding, as those who worked before me, and those who are bound to come after. You, Azmih, are nothing but a puppet on tarnished strings.”

“What made you think that severing the chord would set you free? Look around you; it is not me you have to convince.”

Behind them, looming over the vast, blighted landscape, stood a castle larger than any the mortal world could conceive of. It might have filled the whole of this world. The bricks were whiter than white, almost a total absence of color, almost the brightest of shining light. If one squinted hard enough and long enough, they would find the even, measured stones had not been carved or cut, nor were they made of any traditional building material. They were formed from the same powder that dusted the necromancers’ feet, and from its natural source, compacted together with such force it all molded into perfect form.

The towers rose so high, clouds obscured their glowing crenellations. The windows were nothing more than void, as black as the walls were white, as dark as the structure was bright. In the center of the nearest wall stood a single grand door, wide as a village, tall as an ancient forest, formed of something that looked like stretched and stained leather.

Randin shuddered when he looked at it.

“You stole Her power,” Azmih murmured, his voice barely more than a breath on a breeze. “Now you must answer for it.”

“How many have you dragged here?” Randin’s voice was bitter. His shoulders slumped, his fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. If Azmih read his posture right, he had already surrendered to the inevitable.

“As many as have lost the duel.” It was a simple answer, spoken without shame. “Make your appeal.”

Randin lifted his chin, a last defiant act of pride. “My actions speak for themselves.” He addressed the castle, speaking to the vacant ramparts. “Let them be the focus of my judgment.”

The ground began to shake. With a great groaning, objects rose from the abyss surrounding their tiny haven. First, jagged ribs from some humongous beast rose like jaws waiting to snap closed on their victim. Bone scraped against bone as the structure took shape. Thigh bones and arm bones, skulls and jaws from a hundred different species, some even Azmih had never seen before. Scratching like long nails against stone, each remnant took its place, lining the edges of the structure to form a set of paths.

The first bridge led to the massive doors of the castle. Its macabre construction a work of art. Arms formed the side rails, tiny finger bones clasping the massive rib struts. The bones forming the base were flat and even, laid between vertebra of all sizes lining the edges. It looked sturdy, almost welcoming, if something in this land could be considered welcoming.

The second bridge inspired no such confidence. The bones had been heaped haphazardly between the struts. Skull bones with empty eye sockets lined the path. Toothy grins mocked any who might dare the crossing.

Azmih thought Randin lucky to receive the choice at all. That skeletal arms had not dragged him into the pit was more blessing than he deserved. But he was not judge here. He served merely as a messenger.

Randin paused only long enough to draw breath before he moved to the second bridge. At the far end stood a stone gateway, its center filled with yellow light. He placed his feet carefully as he crossed the brittle bone bridge, but moved without hesitation, perhaps knowing the cost of second thoughts.

He reached the midpoint before the structure began to crumble, hissing like the wind through old, barren trees. The bones clicked and clacked as they bounced away from each other, rolling back into the void from which they had come.

Randin grasped the edge of a large hipbone, his eyes wild and desperate as he scrabbled to climb over it. Not that it mattered. The hip careened into the abyss along with the rest of the rest of the bridge, swallowing Randin and his scream in a matter of moments.

Azmih drew a deep breath and released it as a sigh, bowing his head for a moment. His task complete, he moved with confidence toward the edge of the island leading away from the castle. The bridge reformed beneath his feet, as ordered and refined as the path leading in the opposite direction. Sometimes the structure had yet to form when he committed his weight to the step, but always the bones caught him, supporting him without fail to the small spit of land on the other end.

Without glancing back, Azmih crossed the brittle bridge of bones and passed through the gateway of light.

Check out my writing partner’s version of this prompt!

And if you’d like to participate, leave a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week! ;)

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