Editors: Queen of Hearts & Marshy
V.O Artist: Seraphim
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I Killed the Immortal
By: Oro Prizyvaushiy
There was only white noise around me.
I stared blankly at the TV screen, but my mind was elsewhere. Maybe that’s why the transmission remained the same as I remember it in this dream: white noise, interfering with any sounds or colors, having neither meaning nor shape.
That day, I was on the edge. And not without reason: I was young, and I was in over my head.
I was so close to achieving the goal I’d been chasing for nearly two years. There was no room in my mind to focus on anything else… especially with the fate of several people dear to me depending on my plan’s success.
“What plan?” “Who were these people?” Well…
Humans are known to form groups. Clans, corporations, gangs, trade unions… the list goes on. But regardless of name or dictionary designation, the essence remains the same. All groups of people are united and driven by one goal, though their reasons may differ.
The same went for my “family.”
I have always understood that our family was different from most others. We were… older. Much older and of a much higher status. We were true to tradition. Perhaps even too true: My family had gradually fallen further and further into disrepair and obscurity for the past century.
We did not come together to succeed, but rather, we were successful in continuing to be together.
Only in front of each other could we truly be ourselves. My mother, taking off the mask of the unflappable Lady Gottfried, became an ordinary woman: wise and caring, to the best of her abilities. My father—when he returned home—would dress in his robe and quietly drink whiskey by the fireplace. Ilona, my sister, would stop acting as a diligent student of one of the country’s best schools and became an average—if not mildly frivolous—16-year-old girl as soon as she crossed the threshold of our house.
And, of course, I—the eldest and only son, Arthur Gottfried of the Gottfried Family—carried the burden of being the heir. Every mistake I made would be seen as a mistake made by everyone in my family.
Responsibility, for the most part, is a good thing. Discipline keeps a good head on your shoulders and makes you stop fooling around. But as with all good things, when you have too much of them… They can begin having adverse effects on your perception of the world.
It’s easy to forget—to stop paying attention to everything but what’s right in front of you. To start doing literally anything to keep the good in your life from disappearing.
So at that moment, as I was staring at the TV, the only thing on my mind was finalizing my plan and finishing today without a hitch.
Alas, some things come only with experience—like knowing that real courage is not about being bold and risky. It was about being capable of dealing with what follows. Though now that I’ve had that lesson drilled into my head so often, it seems foolish not to know.
Back then, I had taken the hand and heart of the daughter of one of the country’s most prominent politicians: the Mayor of St. Petersburg. All the preparations were in order for us to be married. And it was that very wedding from which I was hiding in this room, lost in thought.
I was warned repeatedly of the power imbalance between us. People said that the marriage could only end poorly for me: “Those whose influence has already gone cannot intermingle, even slightly, with those whose power is at its peak.”
I wasn’t a fool. I already knew all that. But when the cards were actually placed in my hand… I choked. And then there was no going back.
I got up from my chair and headed towards the door, the white noise fading behind me.
It was just a dream.
I woke up surrounded by darkness and dust. A sense of decay and the subtle aroma of long-withered rot settled around me.
That was how I spent the first moments of my return to my original world. And just as the weary sailor knows after setting foot on dry land, I knew I had returned to my own world.
But instead of relief, I was gripped by a feeling of discomfort and staggering panic. It was like sleep paralysis: long seconds stretching on indefinitely after an anxious awakening. My body was still as a rock, despite my frenzied efforts to move it. There was that sense of overpowering fear that came before fully realizing where I was or what was going on.
But this time, those feelings didn’t go away.
I’m… dead. My body was a withered, miserable husk, lying inside my own dilapidated coffin. Only my spirit and consciousness remained intact.
This was new.
In my twenty years with Vissarion, I had become accustomed to various strange things happening to me. But never before had I been both dead and alive at the same time. This must be how the Immortal felt after another one of my attempts on his life… right?
Either way, I was back. I just wasn’t back in the way I had hoped to be back. It certainly wasn’t the day I died. Nor was it the day before. My best guess was that twenty years had passed—the same as the amount of time I spent with the Archmage.
This was the worst possible scenario for my return—the one I didn’t even like to think about. If it wasn’t for the amount of power and mana I’d built up over twenty years, I’d just die here and now. Vaporized at the snap of a finger.
However, that didn’t help much, either.
Though my magic allowed me to see without eyes, I was still attached to my body… and so the extent of my vision was where my skeleton lay, in a badly decaying suit.
I looked down. More bad news.
Yes, all my power had been transported to this world with me, but now it was dissipating drop by drop into space. Magic had no place in this world. It meant only one thing: Time would pass, and I would finally die.
I didn’t live for twenty years just for this day, just to die in my own grave. The irony is good, but not to this extent.
I still want to see my family. Their faces, even if they’ve aged an extra couple of decades. I want to know how much my little sister has grown—if she got married. How much has my father gone grey? Has my mother turned into a happy grandmother?
I got to see my fiancée, after all. Sure, she’s got a whole different life now, but still. And besides, no one would dare take away my pleasure of seeing her brother’s face when he finds out I’m back after twenty years.
I don’t believe it was all for nothing.
Twenty years, I learned to do the impossible—twenty years of inventing, risking, and learning under the most imaginable and unthinkable circumstances.
Well, who would have thought that his own death would one day be just as… a simple circumstance?
For starters, I had to get out of that stone box. Confined spaces… got on my nerves.
I started to redirect magic into the bones. Making a puppet of myself was crude, costly, inefficient, but better than lying there in the dark.
After a few seconds, my skeleton stirred like a puppet. Magical impulses enveloped my bones, allowing me to manipulate them like a normal body. I was in the middle of a fight, and I kept fighting, and fighting, and fighting. But thankfully, multitasking was not the most challenging skill I had to learn while trying to kill the Archmage.
I tried to concentrate on my surroundings, but I could not say that it was particularly fruitful. Except… except for a silent draught going under the coffin, there was silence all around… a draught. Of course, it was.
I must have been buried in the Gottfried family crypt. If I had lips on my face, they would be turned up in a smile. The graves in our crypt are built into the walls, and the corpses are stacked lengthwise, not too deep into the wall. Getting out would be easy. Or at least, easier than having to dig up through to the ground.
I should be lying with my feet towards the room. So if I rest my left foot against the back wall and use magic to reinforce my right knee, then…
The back wall of the coffin broke with a nasty crack and flew away. A cloud of dust rose, but thankfully, I have no nostrils or mouth to sneeze. The skeleton tumbled down, and the bones didn’t fly away—thanks only to the magic that bound them together.
The makeshift dungeon was behind us. So, where was I? Magical vision didn’t care if it was dark or bright. That’s right, this was a crypt. Gravestones. One I’ve just broken and now lies beneath the feet of a skeleton.
“Arthur Gottfried. 2000–2020.”
Seeing my own name on a tombstone… brought an indescribable feeling. I ran my hand over the dusty slab, removing the cobwebs.
The good old Gottfried family crest I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I’d never been “aristocratic” to the core… but the coat of arms still made me something of a proud man. Three shooting stars against a blue sky, with a sleeping dragon at the bottom. What it meant, few remembered, but it looked beautiful.
Names, names. I had memorized some of them since childhood, while others told me nothing—except that they, too, had once belonged to the Gottfried clan. But I was interested in more recent graves.
I had been in the other world too long, and who knows how much faster or slower time flowed there than here. I had to make sure that no more than twenty years had passed at home after all.
A couple of seconds was enough to cross out the problem, except that it did not bring me any joy at all.
The first grave I saw was the one with the inscription “Helena Gottfried. 1977–2022.” My mother had outlived my disappearance—death—by two years. There, in the other world, I had almost resigned myself to the idea that I would never see her again, but the news of her death still made me freeze.
And here was the inscription on the next grave. “Sergei Gottfried. 1963–2031.” This was Father. Sixty-eight years old. A respectable age, but not old enough to die.
The next few graves belonged to more distant relatives, whose deaths did not evoke such feelings in me; quickly touching the names with a glance, I stopped at the date. Well, time seemed to pass in that world as it did in this one. Here was a string of names of those who had died in 2020—who must have died in the same place as me, at that fateful wedding. And then…
“Ilana Gottfried. 2004–2039.”
It made me want to sit down.
Damn it. Sis. I couldn’t believe it.
If time really did go on there and here in the same rhythm, then you didn’t wait a year for me.
I stood there for a couple of minutes, leaning my hand on the tombstone with my sister’s name on it and just thinking about what to do. I didn’t feel like going anywhere, doing anything.
So I went back to my family.
Damn it. It hurt. It really hurt.
My whole family… was dead.
I was… the last of the Gottfrieds? Standing here, controlling my skeleton like some creepy puppeteer, and I couldn’t even scream. And now, with my spirit flowing out like sand through my fingers, the whole legacy of our family would also dissolve? While my family was dying, I was running around in another world doing Vissarion’s idiotic task… just to disappear without a trace?!
No, thank you.
Even if that Archmage was a huge bastard, he still taught me something. Taught me to observe and learn from other people’s experiences. I concentrated on all, even the smallest, bits of my power. The anger that raged within me helped a lot in this endeavor. If Vissarion had been able to create new flesh for me in his time, so could I. Even if… the price will be all the strength and mana I’ve earned.
The skeleton arched at an unnatural angle as if it had been pierced and shackled in place by several sharp blades at once.
The crypt was filled with dust rising from the floor, which began to hurricane through the room around me.
The process happened rather quickly. Magic, damn it, had long ago become a tool of intuition. It was, at first, you have to imagine in detail what you are doing, to control every moment in time all at once. But the greatest enchantments are created only by intuition, by the soul, not by the mind. The important thing is that you are able to pay the price.
First, restore what was left—the bones. Bring them back to life and fill them in. Then, to build up what was missing. The first stage is the easiest, where there was almost no need to break the laws of the universe. But to materialize what was not there, that was the cost.
I prayed that I would have the strength to do the whole process, from start to finish.
My heart went first. It wasn’t beating. And the vessels that didn’t yet have blood in them. Then the lungs. The liver. The stomach. The intestines and the kidneys.
The magic was what held everything in place, like a disassembled anatomical model floating in the air.
Then the glands. The connective tissues. The joints.
And only then the muscles. Fat.
On the one hand, I could feel my energy slipping away irrevocably, but on the other… I was gradually regaining myself. When all ligaments were formed and all major muscle groups, I no longer had to concentrate on keeping all the pieces in place. And my body no longer resembled a pile of bones.
The red muscles might have looked creepy from the outside, but I was glad even that. There wasn’t much left.
Blood and lymph slowly flowed through the vessels.
My legs, my arms… I had no control over anything. After all, the main thing was not there yet: the brain and the nervous system. I was afraid to create them too early—to realize and feel in myself an incomplete body, not even covered by a thin layer of skin. Brrr, it even sounds nightmarish. That was why they were only created at the very end when everything else was ready to accept me. Right now. Along with the eyes.
Breathing heavily, I stood looking at the crypt around me. Now that I could see it with my eyes instead of magic, it looked different—much darker. My nose immediately itched from the dust; a sharp pain pierced my leg, but it was over before I could be seriously frightened.
I slowly raised my hand to my face. It looked like… no, it didn’t “look like,” it was exactly like. The hand was smoother and thinner than I was used to. To be more precise… it was exactly the same as it had been in my youth. Just as I had been killed at my own wedding.
I didn’t have time to think about it because I heard footsteps and voices outside.
The heavy doors of the crypt were shut but not locked. I did not want to break the family resting place; I even tried to put the gravestones back in place, or at least lean them against the hole I had climbed out of.
After all my attempts to kill Vissarion, I’d become quite the assassin; I could tell that the footsteps were coming this close to the crypt. That meant…
I looked alive, of course, and in other circumstances, I would have easily passed for a visitor to the cemetery—unless someone decided to enter the crypt to pay their respects—if it hadn’t been for the clothes. I had been in the coffin for two decades, and it was not crumbling into ashes. Still, it looked… monstrously tattered, and there was a smell about it, the smell of corpses, which I would have recognized from a thousand miles away. There were also a lot of cobwebs and other things I didn’t want to think about when I got out of the coffin.
It was late dusk outside. And the men—I could now clearly see two figures through the gap—were heading in my direction.
Well, I would have to improvise. What would I do if this were an attempt to kill the Archmage?
No, a bad measure. I tried to kill the Archmage in a castle full of all kinds of scrolls and artifacts. In my attempts to kill him, I used the most complex spells, unreproducible in the field… and for the last—successful—attempt, I went beyond reality altogether…
All that arsenal is now beyond my reach. So there’s only one thing left to do. To be silent, unnoticed, and motionless.
I froze at the door of the crypt, trying not to move… but the pair of them happened to turn this way.
“It’s the second time.” I heard the quiet, harsh voice of a boy of about eighteen or twenty. “Second time he’d blended in halfway.”
“Calm down.” The other one, his age, spoke a little louder and less angry. “All you’ve been talking about all along is how Kirill couldn’t…”
“Not ’couldn’t,’ but ’didn’t want to.’” the other stopped. “Whatever. Here we are.” The two stopped right in front of the crypt, and there was no doubt in my mind as to where they “came.” I turned quickly to the dark tomb. If they go inside, they’ll see me, and there’s nowhere to hide. Unless… in my own grave?
But things were moving too fast for me to do that. The one who spoke sharply—a tall blond guy with sharp features—stepped forward, pushing open the doors, which rattled through the cemetery.
“Good thing there’s no lock… eh?”
We looked at each other—me at the couple and the couple at me. The silence lingered, and I could literally see their faces stretching as their eyes and mouths opened in shock. What was there to say? ‘Go on, I’m leaving now?’
“Because if the lock was hanging, you wouldn’t have the key,” I remarked.
The best defense is a good offense. You don’t know what to say, don’t make excuses, but make excuses for the other.
The gaze of both boys slid over me. Yeah, I don’t look very presentable.
“Who are you?” The other one, a stocky brown-haired guy in a light summer jacket, spoke warily and cautiously.
He looked casual, except for two features: a thin amulet on his chest and a crowbar in his hand.
“I could ask you the same question,” I shrugged.
When I disappeared from this world, opening graves wasn’t a habitual pastime. Who knows, maybe it’s become fashionable now?
“Quiet,” the blond guy held up both hands. “You came in here without a key, too.”
Well… I guess you could say that, yes. I nodded. The guys couldn’t read me at all, and that pissed them off. If I was dressed normally, they would have taken me for someone else, but a half-naked guy in cobwebs and rags… they couldn’t seem to come up with any normal versions.
“In,” I nodded. “First one in. And how are you spending this evening?”
For a few seconds, the blond guy just stood there with his eyes closed… and then he stepped forward, pushing me aside with his shoulder.
“You didn’t see us. And we didn’t see you.” He tossed me, not even turning around. “Get out of here.”
With a sniffle, he turned to his mate. “Even these nobodies were climbing into Gottfried’s crypt as if it were their own home.”
The brown-haired guy followed, wielding his crowbar—through his gaze and gait were not as confident, and he tried to keep his friend between him and me at all times.
“Jerk. This isn’t even the right grave,” the blond guy muttered, running his hand over the debris on my own gravestone, which clattered to the ground under his fingers. “Aren’t you looking for Sergei Gottfried…?”
A second passed. I watched as they glanced into the open void where my coffin had sat. Then they glanced at me. And then I saw the panic that flashed in the couple’s eyes—the kind of panic that occurs exclusively after breaking into a cemetery and finding yourself standing beside an empty coffin, staring at a man wearing nothing but his own partially tattered suit.