Chapter 1 : one
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The moon arched high, casting her watery glow across the earth. Mist swirled, drawn upwards and through the haze Death walked. He did not glance at the moon, the counterpoint to the sun, nor did he worry about the fog crawling around his ankles. Death did not feel the cold or the damp. His cloak swept the ground, the carpet of leaves and twigs rustling around his feet like hissing snakes. His alabaster face, a sphere of pale flesh and gleaming eyes, seemed to float above his body like a severed head.
Death had things to do in the darkness, deeds that could be put off no longer. His bloodless fingers itched, twisting on his wand.
He was close. Death could see the black tower rising from the gloom, the side’s slick with the slippery kiss of the mist that seemed to guard it, wrapping the slim cylinder of stone in its opaque embrace. As Death came closer to the black tower on the hill, the decaying trees bent to his will, their long arms and hunched backs lowering to kiss the sodden earth. The mist that clung to their trunks like pestilence shuddered and drew back to allow Death to pass.
Only when he reached the base of the tower did Death raise his ruined face to the heavens. His eyes traced the stone, pierced through the solid mass, scanning, searching, until he smiled, a gracious curving of terrible lips.
He hungered. He starved. He could feel it, desire; feel the way it slithered over him, through him and he welcomed it. Death smiled. Clouds raced across the face of the moon, streaks of grey, and he watched them a moment, caught in their dance, their simple melody.
There was no sound in this place; no echoing cries for the pain that had been and the pain that would come again.
Inside, a withered husk was waiting, confined within the cage that he had created. He no longer beat his wings against the bars; he no longer strived for freedom and the things he once stood for. He was content to sit with his back against the cold stone, waiting for death.
And now the master of death would come to grant his final wish.
In the tower swathed in shadows Grindelwald waited. He did not need to open his eyes to know that Tom had come. He could smell him; smell the greed and the vanity and the warped sense of righteousness that used to be his, that used to dwell inside him like a living thing, twisting and breathing and infecting him with its poison. He could taste the bitter tang of victory, long swallowed from his tongue, and he licked his lips, his claw-like hands lifting to smooth the matted hair from his forehead.
The sweat on his skin reminded him of blood, and he found he could not recall the last time he had felt the dull rhythmic thud of his heart as it pushed life through his veins. He found he could not recall what it felt like to smile, to love and to be loved. He could not remember the last time sunlight had fallen through the bars and caressed his sunken flesh.
He was dead already. He had been dead for a long time and so he did not fear Death. He would embrace his end, fling his arms wide and let Death kiss his life away.
Grindelwald laughed, and the sound was alien to his ears, a screech that echoed like hissing snakes from the walls and roof of the prison of his minds making. He laughed as the door swung open. He laughed as Tom entered the room, tall and thin and draped in black, with a face like death and a voice like the wind.
“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the greatest of them all?” The whisper slid from his lips, racing into the night and the dark spaces of shadows where it hung suspended on the air on a spiders web of regret.
Tom smiled and the voice that edged from his mouth was a sound that shook the world. He asked for it, as Grindelwald knew he would, and some tiny thing inside him, egg-shell thin and almost forgotten, burst and grew smug and Grindelwald knew he had thwarted Death one last time.
He laughed and told Death he was ready.
Death drew back and licked the air from his lips. He straightened his shoulders, flexed his fingers and swept from the black tower and the little death he had left lying on the stone. In the breath of mist and sorrow that clung to him and crept down his airways, Death could taste the life extinguished.
It lingered, festered and he could feel it sinking down inside him, clawing its way into the depths of his gut. His cloak was red now, like the blood that seeped across the stones, and it fluttered around his body like the wings of a great bird. His heart pattered behind him ribs and he wondered when he had last paid attention to the drumming, the beating, and the slithering of blood through vein and over bone.
Outside, the moon had hidden her face and the world was shrouded in darkness. Death smiled and the world shrunk away, the shadows and the gloom and the mist shifting with him. They were his horsemen and he rode them like the wind, conducting his nightmare, his symphony of screams. He would open his jaws and consume the world.
Inside, the drum beat. There was still much work to do.