Writing was nearly impossible. He'd bled so much that he trembled and blackness tugged at the edge of his vision, but he would bleed more before the night was through. Raw flesh striking hard, rough stone was nauseating.It was not, Drosselmeyer thought blearily, the circumstances under which his last great story should be penned. He also must work quickly, for the noblemen, jealous men all of them, would soon realize that they had not finished their job.
His son had come running to bandage his father's wounds. He had done well enough. But the tattered bandages lay on the cold floor now, discarded; drops of blood cascaded around his boots and splattered like red ink. He'd sent the boy away after his work was done; it would not do for him to be caught and butchered as well. He was determined that his bloodline would continue, but bloodlines were not enough. Descendants forget.
"Once upon a time..." He always started his stories this way. Now they were unnecessary letters, just more pain, but a story was a story. Old habits die hard, like old writers and old tales. Perhaps he feared that this tale would lose its power if he did not follow his formula, like a summoning that would fail if the demon's true name was mispronounced. He was sure this room was safe, and that his story would be undisturbed -- this room was storage, rarely used, and he took care to mention this fact in his tale.
They'd broken his favorite quill, the one he proudly kept next to the inkwell on his desk. They'd broken the inkwell, too -- thrown it against the wall, leaving a blue-black explosion like the death-mark of some massive insect. After they overturned the writing desk, they tore the parchment. And finally, when everything else had been destroyed to their satisfaction, one of them drew a headsman's axe from his dark cloak (they were afraid to even show their faces, the cowards -- but they could be none other than the rich and noble, the ones who clung to their fleeting, earthly power and could not bear to see a mere artist prove mightier). A swift chop, a shriek, a wet crack uncannily like the sound of splintering wood, and their macabre mission was completed to their satisfaction. The crumpled pages of his latest fairy tale, half-finished, soaked in their maker's blood. They left him there, half-conscious on the floor next to his demolished writing desk, and retreated into the night right before his son had burst into the room, out of breath, sobbing that he had come as quickly as he could. But he was too late -- his father's hands, calloused and stained with ink, were severed at the wrist. The great Drosselmeyer, who made reality bow to his pen, was maimed and destroyed.
Or so they thought. But they were fools -- frightened, witless men who knew nothing of real writing. Quills and desks and even fingers were not the tools of his art. They merely made the matter far easier. They had made one mistake, and left Drosselmeyer the only tool he needed. His son stopped the bleeding with hot coals; pain made his vision crackle and spark at the edges and his thoughts swam, but he could understand one thing clearly: they would be back. As long as he lived, they would be afraid. They would not rest until Drosselmeyer was dead. Unsteadily, he had crawled out of the ruins of his study and staggered through the empty streets towards the only place he knew to go. Drosselmeyer, greatest storyteller of his age, had fled in the night like a common theif and hid himself in the clock-tower.
Weights clicked into place; high above, with a jarring clang that shook the whole tower, the massive clock tolled three. Drosselmeyer turned a corner and began to bloody the east wall with words. It was not a beautiful story; it had no subtle turns of phrase or sublime poetry to it. Crude, bare, and effective; not at all Drosselmeyer's usual style. He preferred tales like a madman's palace, all mirrors and frescoes and baroque staircases to nowhere. Once he had sworn never to write like this, putting his pen to paper for personal gain instead of artistic inspiration. He had been young when he swore that; time and the generous bribes of rich men had changed his mind. As he might have predicted in his more cynical moments, those same men who had crossed his palm so often with silver began to fear him. He had shown them a glimpse of true power and they recoiled before it. They tried to control him, and when that failed they came to destroy, then to kill. But they would not win. He would see tto that. Rules flashed through his addled mind, rules he wrote by: no deus-ex-machina. Do not contradict characterization. Make it believable. Be clever.
Every space on the wall he covered in gore. From the west wall's Once upon a time, there was a man who told stories, and they killed him for it to the east wall's And freed from reality he lived on in machines and all the town was his page. Deep in the clocktower, strange gears began to grind, and Drosselmeyer left his story drying on the walls to stagger down the stairs.
Herr Drosselmeyer died at the foot of the clocktower (you could still see the notch in the cobbles if you cared to look), and they brought his head to the Duke. There was a feast to celebrate the day they were no longer ruled by fairy tales. That night, they say strange things happened. The clock ran backwards and the moon turned to blood; books leapt off their shelves and inkwells burst. Ravens flew in clouds overhead. And in the morning the townspeople looked at the figurines on the clocktower, the knight and the princess and the prince and the raven, as though they had always been there.
None of the noblemen ever told anyone that when the axe fell, Drosselmeyer had been laughing at them.