The Doom of Azedarac

Ron Hilger


"And what of Azedarac, the Bishop of Ximes? Is he dead, too?" inquired Ambrose, desperately.
"You mean St. Azedarac, no doubt. He outlived Clement, but nevertheless he has been dead and duly canonized for thirty-two years. Some say that he did not die, but was transported to heaven alive, and that his body was never buried in the great mausoleum reared for him at Ximes. But that is probably a mere legend."
— The Holiness of Azedarac, by Clark Ashton Smith

The Bishop of Ximes sat behind a massive table of ornately carven ebony, cluttered with a bizarre assortment of baleful-looking items not generally associated with one of his lofty ecclesiastic position. Oblivious of this miscellany of fulvous scrolls of serpent-skin and bubbling alembics, he gazed through the window, his somber eyes lingering over the autumnal landscape of the Averoigne countryside as seen from the topmost tower of his mansion at Ximes. The fiery points of light which had formerly flashed within the ebon depths of those eyes now smoldered with a cooler flame, for, in the Year of Our Lord 1198, Azedarac was no longer young. Indeed, the infirmities of age had begun to affect even the Archimage of Averoigne, who had been born hundreds of years before the oldest man in all of France. Only Jehan Mauvaissoir, his manservant and confidant, could likewise recall those dim years of the pre-Christian past when the Druids still held sway over much of Western Europe.

Strange magicks in the form of diabolic potions and fearsome rituals were common then, as were wizards and witches, werewolves and vampires. Among all these, the sorcerer Azedarac had reigned supreme; he had served the omnipotent entities known as the Old Ones even then, and had acquired many powerful spells and demoniac servants equal to the most horrific task or impossible quest.

For reasons into which it were not healthy to inquire, Azedarac and Jehan had deemed it prudent to remove themselves into the future by means of a time-distorting philtre, the secret of which was known to few, if any, besides Azedarac.

Now he had long been content to reside in his luxurious chateau, masquerading as a pious old prelate while still maintaining privately his well-established understanding with the Powers of Darkness.

After many uneventful years the ennui of his elder years smote him like some vengeful assassin from his youth, and the knowledge of his former greatness was an added bitterness in the dregs he now tasted.

"I fear I have lingered overlong among these luxurious surroundings and would venture forth to confront my doom rather than await it here as a doddering old pontiff!" He exclaimed, rising abruptly from his high-backed chair of polished oak. Crossing the circular chamber, he paused before a stone fireplace in which burned a ruddy bed of glowing coals. Grasping a certain rock with both hands, he slowly worked the stone from its socket. He then reached into the cavity behind and withdrew a small flask filled with a vermilion liquid.

Returning to the window, he held the flask aloft and swirled the contents about, peering at its peculiar color before he removed the crystal stopper and raised the phial to his lips. Gently he tested the acrid aroma, which arose from that dubious elixir, as if considering some fine old vintage of wine. He replaced the stopper, and set the flask down upon the littered table between a squat stone idol and a tattered black tome. He then summoned his manservant Jehan to the tower chamber by means of a cord connected to a bell which rang out in the main hall.

The very existence of this room was known only to these twain, being accessible by a secret stairway entered through a hidden door in the rear of the closet where Azedarac was wont to hang his many sacred robes of Episcopal service.

Jehan arrived a few moments later and approached Azedarac where he sat at his table before the window, studying a passage in the old black volume.

"Damn this Latin translation of Hecataeus! Not only is his rendering from the Book of Eibon done poorly, but apparently even the Druidic manuscripts that he copied were incomplete. Bitterly do I regret the day I inadvertently allowed that snooping Brother Ambrose to steal the Hyperborean original from my library. Now I am forced to recall the incantations of Iog-Sotot and Sodagui from the over-crowded vaults of my aged memory." Azedarac slammed the book closed, sending aloft a billowing cloud of centuries-old dust.

"Jehan, I will require your assistance in performing the rituals and incantations from which my time-distorting philtre derives much of its potency." The venerable sorcerer indicated the flask upon the table before him. "This very evening I shall attempt to retrieve the Book of Eibon from the past, where it was transported along with young Ambrose to prevent him from showing the book to Archbishop Clement. I have not been able to obtain another copy in the original Hyperborean script which is absolutely necessary because most of the rituals and incantations must be recited aloud in the ancient language of the Hyperboreans to achieve the desired results. My power has been waning steadily ever since I lost it, as surely as it waxed strong while I possessed it, and I had only begun to realize the full implications of the ancient text!"

Azedarac began lighting the candles which sat in sconces mounted around the perimeter of the chamber while Jehan scattered some incense on the coals in the fireplace and filled several intricately wrought brass censers with another, more evocative fragrance.

"Shall I prepare to accompany you, your Grace?" asked Jehan, "I could assist in any subterfuge that may be required—or, should it come to a fight..." At this point, Jehan patted his long thin sword which he always wore in the service of Azedarac.

"Ah, Jehan," chuckled Azedarac. "I have no doubt of your swordsmanship, and your ability to outwit the pious Ambrose has already been well proven. But I am afraid I have a much more difficult task for you; I do not know how long my absence may be; it may take a good deal of time to locate Ambrose—perhaps longer to find the book. You must stay and make sure no one suspects I am gone. If necessary, tell them I am ill and do not wish to be disturbed. I shall return as quickly as possible, most likely by this time tomorrow. But now let us continue with the preparations or I shall be going nowhere! All that is lacking is the essence of mandragora. Have you been able to replenish our supply?"

Jehan rummaged around through various medicaments and soon produced a small leather pouch. "I did have some difficulty," he admitted, "But the apothecary who abides down in the marish sold me what he claimed to be the purest and most potent in the land."

The wizard opened the pouch and sniffed the contents, shrugged his shoulders, and added a large pinch to the vermilion liquid in the flask. "I believe it would be wise to test this potion on some expendable creature before I unwittingly poison myself," mused Azedarac. "Jehan, would you mind fetching one of the rats which infest the cellars?"

Jehan smiled and replied; "I'll see to it at once, my lord." He soon returned holding a large sack that writhed and heaved violently. Bits of rat could be seen protruding here and there through several weak areas of the sack.

As Jehan deposited the rat into a cage waiting upon the floor, Azedarac laced a bit of meat with the bright red potion and dropped it next to the glaring rodent. When the rat perceived the meat, it first suspiciously sniffed, and then quickly devoured the morsel. Immediately it stood upon its hind legs, twitching its nose and swaying back and forth. Finally, it pitched over to one side and vanished as it struck the bottom of the cage, as if falling magically through the floor.

Azedarac picked up the cage and shook it to make certain of the rat's departure. "Unfortunately we cannot tell where, or I should say, when it has arrived. However, I still regard the results as a success; indeed, the philtre seems to be quite efficacious.I shall depart as soon as the other preparations are completed."

Jehan regarded Azedarac anxiously; obviously unwilling to allow the ageing sorcerer-bishop to go unassisted into the past on such a dangerous and dubious mission. "Please, Jehan, do not worry about me," Azedarac said quickly. "In spite of my age and apparent frailty, I am still quite able to protect myself—in fact, an adventure of this sort is just what I need to cure my endless ennui."

After a brief interim, during which Azedarac consumed a large and sustaining meal, the other preparations were completed: a wineskin filled with the blood-red wine of La Frenaie, a loaf of bread, dried venison, and the emeraude-tinted philtre required for the return journey—all were packed into a leather satchel which now depended from the wizard's shoulder.

Azedarac intoned the final, thunderous phrase of the incantation, and before the sonorous reverberations had ceased, he quaffed the sanguine contents of the crystal flask, drew his sword, and crouched into a defensive position.

Jehan raised his hand in farewell and held the wizard's gaze with his own until Azedarac faded and disappeared amid the fragrant grey vapors rising from the laden censers.

* * *

When at length Azedarac regained his senses, he was immediately assailed by a lethargic feeling of heaviness that was quite beyond his experience. He was likewise baffled by the dim, purpureal sky, over which to his astonishment presided a bloated, angry-looking sun of scarlet hue. "Obviously, something must be fundamentally wrong with the time-traveling philtre," mused the Archimage of Averoigne. "I suspect the essence of mandragora was even more potent than the apothecary claimed it to be."

He soon perceived a feeble thrashing which came from the low, variegated shrubbery directly before him. Upon investigation, he discovered the hindquarters and tail of a large rat protruding from a huge, pale, writhing blossom attached to a long snake-like stem. Realizing this must be the same rodent upon which he had tested his philtre, he watched with a detached scientific curiosity as it was drawn inexorably into the carnivorous blossom that stretched and bulged to accommodate it.

Deeming it prudent to examine the foliage in his immediate vicinity, he soon observed several more of these sentient-looking flowers leaning insidiously towards him. With swiftly growing trepidation, Azedarac began shuffling slowly away from the infernal vegetation, his movements greatly impeded by the inexplicably increased gravity.

Scanning the horizon, he recognized many of the geologic features as those which surrounded the town of Ximes in Averoigne, albeit somewhat flattened and distorted. Of his chateau, however, he could discover no sign; although he did notice several squat edifices perched atop some of the nearby hillocks. Suddenly the leaden heaviness vanished from his limbs and he was able to move about quite freely. This strange fluctuation in gravity was in itself a most novel situation, even more perplexing because it apparently affected only him; the alien vegetation no longer swayed and crawled with malignant life. All things save himself seemed frozen in a curious timeless condition as Azedarac walked leisurely and unhindered along a sinuous path that apparently led towards the nearest edifice.

The sorcerer-bishop realized that the Book of Eibon was not likely to be found here in this unaccountably alien world, but perhaps he might yet discover something to justify his journey. Meanwhile, he reflected, his boredom was being alleviated most satisfactorily.

* * *

Jehan closed and bolted the heavy door, ignoring the concerned protestations from without. Leaning silently against the door, he listened patiently as the voices diminished, sighing with relief when at last they ceased altogether. "This whole affair will soon be quite out of hand." He muttered to himself. "What can be keeping Azedarac?" The sorcerer-bishop himself had expected his journey to last no longer than one day—and it was now a day and a half since his departure. To make matters worse, visitors had arrived soon after Azedarac had disappeared; Jehan dismissed these promptly enough with a tale of the prelate's ill health. Unfortunately, this seemed only to have the effect of creating more visitors, who, concerned with the now rampant rumors of Azedarac's swiftly deteriorating health, were becoming not only more numerous, but alarmingly persistent. Jehan returned to his vigil inside the tower chamber, awaiting the sorcerer's return. Eventually, he knew he would have to let them in, forcing him to explain the absence of the Bishop of Ximes.

"Damn!" he muttered, sotto voce. "What can have happened to Azedarac?"

* * *

Oblivious to Jehan's dilemma, Azedarac continued to explore his extraordinary surroundings. Having spent what seemed only an hour or two at most away from Averoigne, it did not occur to him that he was overdue. As he walked he examined the bizarre forms of flora and fauna, pausing now and then to study more closely some especially fascinating specimen. On many of the carnivorous species strange appendages protruded from the base, or trunk, these apparently being organs of sensory perception. Azedarac mused that perhaps these organs might explain the uncanny rudimentary intelligence many of the plants seemed to exhibit.

He soon noticed a slight buzzing sound; as if a small insect was hovering close beside his ear, but looking about he could discern nothing to account for this strange sound. With a sudden chill, he realized the sound came from within his mind, and not from his ears. The buzzing grew louder; it rose and fell in a rhythm that the sorcerer found strangely familiar, almost recognizable.

As he reached the base of a hill upon which stood one of the strange-looking structures, he was once again seized by the paralyzing gravitational force, and at the same instant the inarticulate buzzing changed pitch and slowed into an understandable monologue.

"Welcome, Brother. Stand ready and prepare to meet your destiny! I, Caradeza, have foreseen your arrival as well as your inevitable defeat before my superior sorcery."

The Bishop of Ximes struggled against the invisible bonds which held him. Slowly, painfully, he withdrew his sword from its scabbard, and held it before him to ward off his mysterious assailant. He now perceived a figure emerge from the structure atop the hill, and descend inexorably towards him. Azedarac uttered a brief but powerful incantation of defense, but instead of projecting the desired aura of protection, he heard again the alien voice within his mind.

"Your paltry spells are ineffective against me," the voice declared sardonically." For I am the trans-dimensional extension of yourself, your alter-ego in this dimension into which you have foolishly stumbled. I have known of your existence for many cycles, and have long desired to arrange such a meeting in order that I might assimilate your being into my own, thus giving me greatly expanded powers in both our worlds. Indeed, your visit has saved me a great deal of trouble, for which I am sincerely grateful. In fact, I shall endeavor to make your demise as quick and painless as possible, in order to show my profound appreciation."

Azedarac stared incredulously at the inhuman creature which now approached him: a short, green, pyramid-shaped torso, from which protruded three long, tentacle-like arms, and crowned by a squat, leering caricature of a human head. The method of locomotion was unclear, for there were no visible legs—the entire base of the creature seemed to undulate along the ground in a horrid slug-like manner.

He recoiled instinctively from the monstrosity, his mind reeling beneath the concept of the alternate dimension and his hideous alter-ego. He had often meditated on the possibility of such a dimension, but he had never imagined that such a world could be so fundamentally different, yet still parallel so closely his own.

His assailant now raised his arms with a rippling gesture directed at Azedarac. Simultaneously an imperative word of command droned and echoed in his mind, echoed and reverberated on and on, over and over. The Bishop of Ximes found himself completely paralyzed, unable to defend himself or even to flee, hardly able to think of anything except the word which flowed endlessly through his mind. A part of his mind resisted, but could only watch helplessly as his victorious counterpart approached and stood before him. His tortured brain screamed at his frozen body to flee, to drink the philtre and escape the abhorrent creature—the creature in whose loathsome features he now recognized a mutated semblance to his own.

The long, sinuous arms stretched to envelop him, stretched but did not grasp. With a sudden start, Azedarac realized he was free once more, the inexplicable quirk of gravity had fluctuated again, freezing the groping arms inches from his body and nullifying the endless reverberations in his mind.

Not lingering to speculate, Azedarac turned, stumbled, then fled back down the path until he reached the place where he had first entered the alter-dimension, where he paused, withdrew the crystal flask, and immediately drank the emeraude contents.

* * *

With a profound sense of relief, Jehan watched as the Bishop of Ximes materialized within the wavering candlelight of the wizard's den. Azedarac looked about, taking in the familiar surroundings with obvious satisfaction before his eyes rolled upward and he pitched forward into Jehan's arms.

"M'lord! What has happened? Are you wounded?" Cried Jehan, his relief completely giving way to alarm and dismay. He half-dragged, half-carried the unconscious prelate to his bedchamber, noting the peculiar tenuousness of the form and features of Azedarac, as well as the apparent lack of any wound or injury that would explain his grievous weakness. After a few moments, however, Azedarac was recovered sufficiently to relate his incredible adventure to his concerned friend.

" . . . And even now that I have returned safely to my own time and my chateau here at Ximes, I feel my escape is somehow incomplete, as though a vital part of my being remains captive in the other dimension. "He concluded.

"Even more inexplicable is that you relate the experience of only a few hours—yet nearly three days have passed here in Ximes since your departure," observed Jehan. He then advised Azedarac of the difficulties which had arisen during the bishop's absence, and finally disclosed that several visitors were even now firmly ensconced in the main hall, refusing to depart until they had received an audience with the ailing Bishop.

"That situation, at least, can easily be remedied." Replied Azedarac wearily. "Send them in at once, but only briefly, for in truth I am not well at all."

His bedchamber was soon crowded with the concerned members of his spiritual flock, each contriving to ask him how he felt or what his ailment was or when he might again be up and around. The Bishop of Ximes, however, was apparently unaware of this barrage of questions. He was listening intently to a dull buzzing sound which seemed to originate close behind his left ear—a sound that sent an icy shiver of terror down his spine as he recognized the droning reverberations of the alien spell!

"Please, please," implored Azedarac, waving his hand feebly. "My tale is quite simple. I have been stricken with fever and delirium these past few days, having just now returned from a nightmare world of evil dreams. The fever has consumed me, body and soul, and leaves me nigh unto death. I would now receive the Final Sacrament, for I do not believe it is God's will that I recover."

The distraught onlookers bowed their heads and murmured prayerfully amongst themselves. The eldest priest then stepped forward and quickly began to administer the Last Rites. Jehan also approached the bedside; his discreet features were contorted into a grim mask which concealed a host of struggling emotions as he clasped his Master's hand.

"Nay, Jehan. Do not grieve overmuch for me. All men must leave this world of flesh and blood; I do so now willingly. For I am assured that my being shall not end, but shall be joined with that of the greater entity. I leave to you, my trusted friend, all my worldly possessions, even as I leave to the Church all my spiritual inheritance."

The priest administering the last rites suddenly gasped in a most unholy manner, dropping an aspergillus clattering to the hardwood floor. The stricken bishop's body had begun to glow and pulse with an unearthly radiance, which quickly increased in brilliance as Azedarac began to shimmer and then to fade. His voice, faint and far away, seemed to echo across immense gulfs of Space and Time, ere it faded into oblivion. "He summons me, I must join him in the next world. Farewell!" The nearly transparent body vanished completely. The glowing radiance clung briefly about the bedclothes before it too faded and disappeared. The gathered clergy stared in astonishment at the impossibly empty bed which had so recently contained the Bishop of Ximes. The eldest priest dropped to his knees, the others quickly followed suit. Soon, all those present had abased themselves, utterly consumed in fervent prayer.

The legendry concerning the Ascension of Saint Azedarac (who was later to become the Patron Saint of Averoigne) is widely varied and often highly embellished by the peasants who still perpetuate it. The most widely accepted version states that while the body of the Bishop of Ximes lay helpless in the grip of a violent fever, his soul descended into Hell and there strove mightily with the Adversary. At last, the noble Bishop's strength and endurance were exhausted, but before Satan could claim victory over his weary soul, the Heavenly Powers intervened, and Azedarac was bodily assumed into Heaven. Not without telling effect was St. Azedarac's valiant struggle; indeed, many legends claim that Satan was sorely weakened by his battle with the Divine Powers and that his ability to promote sin was greatly diminished for many generations to come. Other less substantiated rumors claim that Azedarac can still be seen at odd whiles, appearing mysteriously here and there in the vicinity of Ximes, still locked in mortal combat with an unseen assailant.

But all accounts agree that, whether because of the large number of witnesses who observed the actual miracle, or in light of their impeccable reputations, Sainthood was bestowed upon the Bishop of Ximes not only without opposition, but also with an expedience and alacrity unparalleled in all the long and illustrious history of the Church.


1 See "The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith" item #49. Arkham House, 1979. Edited by Donald Sidney-Fryer and Rah Hoffman.

Top of Page