Bixby Alladocious and the Lady of Life and Death
A Story by Michael DeAngelo
For all the fire he left behind in the Nexus, Bixby was sure that he had taken some with him. He could feel his body becoming corporeal, and warmth the likes of which he never felt coursed through every muscle, every bone, and every inch of his skin. He would have reflexively cried from the pain, if his body was whole yet.
That searing pain ripped through him like a thousand daggers, and fleeing into his own thoughts was the only way he could muster the strength to endure.
And I thought dying was bad, he pondered.
When it was over, a dull sting permeated his body. A cool breeze flowed through the area, and it almost felt like a brand new sensation. His fresh skin had never felt the cold, and that zephyr that whipped by seemed to drive nails into his flesh.
Just as Adessa said, though, that agony was fleeting. He would remember it forever, but there was almost a feeling of emptiness when it had passed. Without the pain, his vision returned to him, and he arched his eyebrow.
Bixby had returned to where it had all started: Bowry Cemetery.
The gate still swung to and fro in the breeze, a subtle creak echoing into the air. He had left it unlatched in case he needed to make a quick getaway. Rumors at the town swelled that the place was haunted, and while he was fairly certain they were just that, he didn’t want to be caught unaware because of his pride.
He thrust that iron gate out even farther, considering what he knew. Ghosts were real, and he had seen them. “In fact, I suppose I am one,” Bixby whispered.
As he made his way through the cemetery, he took special care to avoid the graves. The magician never considered himself a superstitious man, but maybe that was due for a change.
A distant rumble of thunder rolled over the area. Bixby drew his overcoat in closer, and the subtle movement caught his attention. His soul had repaired his outfit as well, a nice little bonus that he hadn’t considered when Adessa had explained his so-called gift. All the better, he supposed. It wouldn’t do to go crypt-diving naked.
After only a few more moments, he arrived at the tomb, where the stone slab that was supposed to keep in the dead was left slightly ajar. The magician wanted natural light in that eerie place. While the claims couldn’t be substantiated, he had been warned countless times throughout his career that the dead gave off an invisible, volatile gas. The last thing he wanted to do was blow himself up with an ill-conceived fire spell.
When he slipped inside the tomb once more, he nearly leapt back out of the building, convinced that the rumors were true. For there, at the forefront of the corridor, a body sat propped against the wall. His brow furrowed at the truth of it, though: it was his body. Just because his soul recreated a vessel for him, it did nothing to erase the old one from existence. It wasn’t every day that a man could see his own corpse.
If there was any doubt—if there was even a shred of a thought he had just dreamed his time in the Nexus instead of actually experiencing it—it flittered away in that moment. Bixby was immortal, just as Adessa had said. Triumphantly, he strode down those first steps into the corridor. He held his head high as he proceeded down the path, his eyes fixated on that golden statuette destined to be his prize. His steps were firm and confident and—
How could he have forgotten?
The sound of the pressure plate sliding into place once more was beyond familiar. Before, it was hauntingly final in its cruelty, and yet, in that moment, it sounded like nothing beyond a cruel joke.
Bixby tried to leap out of the way, but the curved spikes were too fast. They sheared into him just as before, though they didn’t strike so high. His lungs were spared, at least.
The pain wasn’t as bad as before, he considered. But when he looked down at his torso, he saw the damage was significantly worse. He bled from three times as many places as before, thanks to his ill-timed leap. That rapid blood loss sent him to his rump before he realized it.
“How foolish am I?” he wondered aloud. Again he rolled to his side before he crawled from the place that had doomed him. He gnashed his teeth together and shook his head, more disappointed with himself than whoever designed the sinister trap.
He was so weary that he didn’t realize where he was at first. But when he looked up, he saw his favorite boots. Bixby guffawed at the grim coincidence. Killed twice by the same trap, even though he knew where it would strike the second time around.
The magician hoisted himself into place beside his corpse. Blowing out a sigh, he could sense his life force fleeting away from him. The darkness was coming back to him, and quickly at that. He dared not set his sights on that golden statuette again, the reminder of his failure. Instead, he turned the opposite way.
As macabre as it was, Bixby used the last of his strength to drape his arm over his corpse. He grasped his far shoulder and propped himself a little higher.
“How you doing there, good looking?”
* * * * *
She could sense the fissure opening and awaited the arrivals with a reinvigorated mirth. Since she could direct her new champion back to the land of the living, there was a revitalized confidence that Adessa carried.
All that mirth was gone the next moment.
Bixby held up his hands, placating the woman before she could say a word.
“I know. Whatever you have to say, I swear, I know.”
Though her jaw had dropped at the sight of the magician, the lady who walked the line between life and death couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Just getting a little practice in, are we?”
“Had to make sure it wasn’t a fluke,” Bixby said. When he turned around, he summoned those same violet flames that had opened the fissure before. It roared to life, as it had earlier, and the magician marched toward it without trepidation. “I have a feeling you’ll be seeing a lot more of me,” he surmised.
With a smile on her face, Adessa offered a nod. “I look forward to it, Mister Alladocious.”
Without another word, Bixby pressed through the fissure, returning to Tellest once more.