Chapter Four: Searched
Written in collaboration with Phoenix and Silver Midnight
A brief checkup, a large glass of water, several form-signings, and an interview with station security later, Shoel was seated in a chair rather than a bed-- though she still wasn't allowed to actually leave, being wanted overnight for observation; apparently not many people were admitted for puncture wounds via spears of bone-- awaiting yet more interviews. The first, with station security, had been aimed at getting as much detail out of her as possible, and she'd had to do a lot of explaining, especially about her bells, before the poor woman interrogating her could make any sense of it all.
This time, the ruler of whatever city the necromancer-- she'd learned his name was Hemlock Bleedingheart, a rather pretentious name to her mind-- the ruler of that city wanted to ask her about the brief battle. Shoel wasn't at all sure what to expect, and largely for that reason, she didn't banish Skelemis to another room. The spirit obviously didn't know what all he could do now as a Shadow Hand, but she still thought he might be useful if there were trouble-- even if, right now, all he was doing was reading more magazines. She also had her bells on, just in case.
Somehow, even though Shoel hadn't known what to expect, when Firelancer Jasien Loritayri was admitted into the room she'd been assigned, he wasn't it. He was a young man, tall and brunette with a very open, almost average-looking face, except for the flame tattoo on the right side of his face and the mismatched eyes: one a clear blue and the other an odd shade of copper. He was dressed almost entirely in black, a strange mix between a modern city-dweller and a Charter priest, with a flame-and-gold decorated black robe over shirt and slacks and a fang on a chain around his neck. He didn't look particularly dangerous, not like the necromancer had.
"Jasien Loritayri, Firelancer of the Ring of Fire," he said as the door slid shut behind him, extending a hand. "At your service, miss."
Shoel rose slowly with a thought for her leg, which though healed she'd been warned would still be somewhat weak, and took his hand, resisting the urge to clasp his wrist like she would a Charter mage at home; people didn't do that, here. The customary shake, however, still felt awkward. "Shoel Devaut," she answered in return. "I was told you wished to speak with me."
The Shadow Hand in the corner caught the Firelancer's attention, earning a raised eyebrow, a nod, and a simple greeting of "sir"-- none of which got a response from the spirit-- before looking back at Shoel. "You should probably sit down, it's possible to do damage to a magically healed wound for a little while after," he warned, and she hid a brief surge of irritation behind a bland expression as she sank back down again. I know plenty about magically healed wounds, thank you, "Firelancer", she thought. I've healed a few, myself!
"You look... surprisingly well," he commented.
"The healers at Star City are very thorough," she answered calmly, not quite sure what the point of that statement was. "Why don't you sit, as well? That way I won't have to look up at you as you loom over me." The hospital staff hadn't, after all, yet removed the second chair from the room.
"I was just making sure you didn't hurt yourself, you know," Jasien said irritably before taking a seat at her suggestion. "I wasn't worried about the healers not being thorough, I was more concerned you had been poisoned. If you had been, you might've ended up crippled." Apparently, no matter how open he was, he could still interpret expressions, even lack of expression. She still wasn't particularly enthused by his assumption that she didn't know such things, already, but she tried to be more polite, at least for the length of the interview. Skelemis didn't bother with even that, snorting his disgust from the corner. Shoel smothered the urge to smile.
"There was no poison," she assured the Firelancer. "They run tests for those kinds of things, as well. Besides," she added, "I don't think there was really much time. He conjured that shard of bone out of nowhere and threw it at me in the span of a few seconds."
"Pardon me for not knowing how much the residents knew about magic," came the tart reply, accompanied by a glare at Skelemis, which the spirit also ignored. "It's not like I'm used to doing this sort of thing. And miss, where I'm from necromancers generally don't deal much in healing magic. Most don't even care to learn how it works. As for poison, it wouldn't matter how much time there was. He generally poisons any of his weapons or magical items before going out. Just this time," the Firelancer shrugged, "I suppose he didn't see the need. Probably wasn't expecting a fight, with the living, at least."
Shoel still couldn't see how he could have poisoned that shard of bone, if he had simply conjured it then and there rather than summoning it from somewhere else, but she didn't pursue the issue. "My name is Shoel, I'd prefer that to 'miss'. And I'm not a typical necromancer; I know many spells for healing, and various other things." Among other differences, she thought, thinking of the necromancer who had so recently defeated her with no little anger. "I do not bind the Dead for my own power, I exorcise and protect the living against them."
That got through to him, somehow or another, and the Firelancer actually looked embarrassed. "Oh," he said, "pardon my assumptions. The Ministers said you were a necromancer. Where I'm from you'd probably be considered to be shaman rather than a necromancer." Since Shoel had never heard of a shaman before, she just arched a brow and shrugged.
"We only have necromancers and mages where I come from," she answered, warming a little. Worlds were different, and if she weren't of the Charter, well, she might have been more as he had expected. "And of those, you are either of the Charter, like myself, bound to protect and preserve; or you are of Free Magic-- and more like that necromancer of yours, Firelancer."
"Of mine," Jasien snorted at that. "He was there before I was even born, actually, though seeing as I'm leader, now, I really should not have sent him. My naivety, I guess. Where I'm from, though, no one's really bound to do any one thing.... They just have specific jobs, I guess you'd say. It really depends on the person."
"Very different from my own home," she commented, nodding. Part of her wanted to enquire into that "seeing as I'm leader now" comment, while another part of her wanted to get on with the interview so she could get back to the dilemma of Skelemis. Or not get back to the dilemma of Skelemis, as she still hadn't the faintest idea what to do with him, other than send him on like she'd meant to originally. Either way, she was goal oriented, and chit-chat could come later. "Were you interested in hearing what happened this morning, or is there something else you wished of me?" she asked, going for curious with her tone so as not to press him or seem offensive.
"Oh, I just wanted to know what happened so I could think of what exactly to do," the Firelancer sighed, sounding somehow very young, as he ran his hands over his face and through his hair. "One thing I'd like to know in particular is who struck the first blow."
"I'm not entirely sure," Shoel admitted. "It depends on what you call a blow. He came, I knew he was a necromancer who had come for Skelemis-- probably to bind him to some fell purpose or another-- which is my duty to prevent. So I bound him, first, and then he rushed at me, grabbed my bell." She placed her hand on the handle of Saraneth, very gently. "My sword is spelled against Free Magic and necromancers, so I swung it at him to ward him off, and it grated against his-- well, I suppose you could call those bones armor," she said with distaste.
"Yes, bone armor," he affirmed. "Though I haven't really seen that many necromancers who use armor at all." His eyes fell on her bandolier with something like curiosity. "So he grabbed the bell, but didn't attack you?"
Well, if you didn't know the power of the bells, perhaps one might not think it an attack.... "Firelancer," she began patiently, "the sound of these bells is very dangerous. If it had made a sound, an uncontrolled ring while in both of our hands, it could have done anything from blank our minds to send us both into Death. For one such as myself, grabbing my bells is an attack, and a dangerous one."
"I can vouch for that," Skelemis grunted without raising his head. "It’s those bells that made me like this. They’ve got powerful magic alright."
"Oh, I see...." Jasien looked thoroughly chastised, and Shoel had the grace to feel a little ashamed for talking down at him so. At the same time, though, how could he not construe his own necromancer's actions as an attack? She sighed and tried to relax as he continued, "Unintended attack, I guess. So what happened after that?"
"Mmm. Skelemis attacked him-- not that it did much good, I hadn't given him any form yet-- and he worked some spell to cloud his mind, gave a melodramatic little speech, and summoned some kind of monster. He told it to attack me, but Mosrael defeated it. That was when he appeared behind me and threw the spear at me. I might well be dead now, and Skelemis enslaved, if the police hadn't arrived in the middle of his spell-casting."
"Well, even if he didn't intend that as an attack he really shouldn't have provoked a fight." The Firelancer was recovering from his chastisement now, his voice now harder-- for a moment, anyway, before he fell into despondency. "I had made a threat about his behavior before I sent him here, but it wasn't good enough. I'm going to have to think of something worse to make sure something like this doesn't happen again. Though I won't be sending him out under my command again." He heaved a sigh, leaning his head against one hand. On the whole Shoel agreed with him; she couldn't see how anyone could trust a Free Magic necromancer with anything at all except Saraneth and the command to walk past the Ninth Gate. Still, she felt rather sorry for the young man. He seemed ridiculously naive for someone in a position of power; perhaps he hadn't been in it very long, hence the comment about being a leader now, as if he hadn't been before.
"Well, now you know, at least," she said encouragingly. "And no one was seriously damaged in the learning. I hear they put him in one of the more powerful holding cells, and hopefully will keep him there a year or two." Though if I had him in front of me, he wouldn't have that long to live! she promised herself, clasping her hands firmly in her lap to keep them from instinctively brushing her bells. There was no question on what to do with Hemlock Bleedingheart-- unlike Skelemis.
"Wouldn't work," Jasien said quickly, his eyes closed as he thought. "He's really, really stubborn, that one. Issues with respect, oversized ego. If anything, he'd probably be worse when he got out. No, I have to think of something better to do with him."
This time, it was Shoel who snorted. "I know what I'd do with him," she said flatly. "Then you wouldn't ever have trouble with him again."
The Firelancer suddenly smirked, looking at her sideways with a sly cant to his gaze. "You've given me an idea, but I think it might be a bit sadistic. First, I think it needs a proposition, though."
"I fear what you are going to propose," Shoel replied cautiously. Did this have something to do with her?
He glanced to Skelemis and back, with that same cat-with-the-cream expression. "It might be rightful that you do." Charter, what is he thinking? she wondered warily. "Presently we've got a, ah, questionable clutch incubating at the Ring of Fire. I think it might interest you, so if you wouldn't mind, I'd like it if you came back with me."
Is that all? It can't be all. He's not telling me something. "I don't see why not; I don't spend my time doing much of anything except banishing the random Dead and keeping up my home. When are we talking about?"
That made him shift uncomfortably, loosing the sly expression. "I'd really rather you not banish any of the dead at the Ring of Fire, though. Some of our residence are undead and are important, or at least docile, members of the dragonry."
Surprised, Shoel said, "I'd have asked permission first, unless I was attacked, anyway." The thought of wanting the Dead around, though... they must have been even more peculiar Dead than Skelemis.
"As for when," the Firelancer continued, "probably as soon as you're ready. I didn't plan to stay here very long."
"Well, I'm committed to staying here overnight," she answered. "And I'll need to make a trip to my home on Atu to set things in order and pack. So the day after tomorrow is probably the earliest I could leave...."
"What about you-- Skelemis, was it?" he asked, turning to face the Shadow Hand. "Would you mind coming along, as well?"
If I haven't banished him by then.... But then, walking into what seemed like a den of the Dead, she might want the protection he offered, reluctant or not. He was bound to her, after all, and the thought of leaving him behind made her a little nervous. The Hand peered over his magazine, replying blandly, "I am bound to go where Shoel goes."
"I could always order you to remain behind at my home," she pointed out calmly. "But if you wish to come along, I wouldn't mind."
Skelemis caught the hint, arching a nearly invisible brow interestedly. "That so? All right, then yes, I'll come along." It was a promise he'd at least remain in Life for the duration of this trip, at least. Whatever this trip was... she assumed it had something to do with that clutch. Had she just been-- what was the word-- "Searched"? Or did he think this clutch was somehow dangerous, a kind of dangerous that she was prepared to confront?
Jasien was speaking again, interrupting her thoughts and leaning forward, towards her, again. "Now, for the second part of what I was saying, that required the proposition."
"Well, seeing as you seemed to handle Hemlock pretty well, and this is a questionable clutch, I figured you might use a bodyguard." He coughed lightly, and she arched a brow at him-- she hadn't handled this Hemlock very well at all, actually, and dangerous or not, the thought that he thought she needed a bodyguard was a little irksome. Then he said more, and she forgot to be annoyed: "I was thinking perhaps I could assign the Draclin'geyar Necromancer to protect you."
Once she got past the unfamiliar word, Shoel stared. "You're not serious. Not only do you think I need a bodyguard, but you think I need a bodyguard who would kill me and probably enslave my spirit as soon as look at me? No. Firelancer, if he didn't kill me first, I would send him into Death as fast as I could whip out Saraneth and bind him to walking the final Gate. It's my duty. It's what I do."
"That's why I want to assign him to supposedly protect you." Her brows went up. He wanted her to get rid of the necromancer for him? He seemed very serious. "And I don't plan to let him kill you. You see, his magic is very environment-dependent. His spells, such as the bonespear, require something to begin with. Say, a shard of bone, or something akin to a marble." Like that "marble" he'd thrown to make the iron golem.... "As for the spells that don't require anything, they take some time. Before I'd assign him to you I'd take his armor, magical items, and his sword. Even then if he tried one of the longer spells or to shape-shift to kill you, call me and I'll kill him."
"If I don't finish him, first," she muttered.
"I'll let him run from you," Jasien continued, "but if you can catch him and keep him still long enough, I'll let you kill him. If he survives for the duration of your stay, I'll let him off."
Shoel stared at him again. "I don't know what to say... do you really think he'll protect me, or is it just a formality?"
"Of course." She stared, still, disbelieving, and he explained, "First of all, if he doesn't, I'll kill him. Not that, that matters. You're quite obviously female, and even though he is a psychopathic old bastard, he still believes in chivalry, at least upon my last knowledge."
"Even when said female is interested in ending his life?" Shoel asked dryly. "He certainly didn't seem particularly chivalrous when he was spell-casting over my bleeding body."
"My world doesn't use bells," Jasien pointed out, head cocked slightly. "I'm not saying it's an excuse, but in his mind you attacked him first. I will say, though, that I doubt he would have killed you."
No, she thought rebelliously, but he might have let me bleed to death. But she wasn't going to protest this anymore. He was giving her every chance to send Hemlock Bleedingheart to Death, where he would cause no more trouble, and giving her permission to do so, on top of it. "All right, then," she agreed after a moment. "How long will this term of, ah, protection last? How long will I be on your world?" Since he had all but told her that she was going specifically for the clutch, and suggested that she needed protection rather than being protection, she assumed she had been Searched-- not that she minded. "But I would request that you include Skelemis in the bargain: Hemlock Bleedingheart is not to try to break his binding, or interfere with my Shadow Hand in any way. I want that to be understood."
"I said any extensive spell, that includes doing anything to your Shadow Hand," agreed Jasien, and she sighed with relief; she'd given Skelemis a more powerful form, and she didn't want Hemlock trying to take or free him for his own ends. "Sorry I didn't make that clearer. As for your stay...." He tapped his fingers together, shifting in his seat. "Really, as long as you want, though if you bond at the hatching it would probably be best to give your dragon time to grow into adulthood. I'm sure you can find ways to occupy yourself, though."
But Shoel was frowning, thinking. "If it's going to be that long, perhaps an extra day to put down protections on my home would be in order... and gather up funds of some sort." That worried her the most. "How much will this cost? Lodging, board, travel expenses...." Oh, Charter, and my weapons... I hope nothing is machine-made at this Ring of Fire.
"I'm willing to wait as long as you need," the Firelancer assured her, but with a bit of hesitancy that said he really wanted to be home.
"I'll be as quick as I can," she promised. "I can meet you on the morning of the third day, that should be plenty of time."
He nodded. "Really, though, funds won't be needed unless you plan on traversing to different cities. We-- the people of the Ring of Fire-- generally supply our guests with all they need."
Surprised again. "That's... very generous of you. Thank you."
"It's the lease we can do for our friends, really," Jasien said with an actual smile, which seemed to be a rare thing, for him. "Well, or candidates. But the ones we don't consider friends we usually send home as soon as possible."
"That makes sense," Shoel agreed, nodding slowly. "Well, thank you, nonetheless. I will look forward to seeing your home. It seems... very different from what I am used to." Helpful Dead, free food and lodging, permission to kill necromancers....
"Fair warning, though," the Firelancer added, leaning back and rolling his eyes a bit, "many of the people at the Ring of Fire are shape-shifters, including the person you want to kill."
"Shape-shifters." She blinked at him. "Like... what do you mean?"
He looked surprised. "You know, the creatures that have more than one form and can change in between them. Generally their 'true' form isn't human, though they maintain that form while associating with humanoids."
Flushing on her pale cheeks, Shoel almost-snapped, "I know what a shape-shifter is. I just didn't know what kind you meant."
Jasien blushed, as well. "Oh... sorry. Well, like draclin'geyar, dragon-shifters." Though she had no idea what draclin'geyar were-- though he'd mentioned the term in association with the necromancer earlier-- his next words made more sense, and she nodded.
"Very well, then. Thank you for the warning."
"Well, thank you for speaking to me," the Firelancer said, nodding. "I think it's time I left you to get your rest, though. You'll be needing it for many reasons."
"You have no idea," she answered with a quirk of a smile. The protections she wanted to put on her house were going to be fairly extensive, and she had a sending see to, as well. "I will see you at-- shall we say, the beginning of the day shift, three days hence?"
"I suppose, I'll be around. If I'm not, just contact Reshi and he'll at least try to send a message to me via Nevrin." Something about that made him wince and rub his hand, but he continued, mostly to himself, "I suppose I should go speak to Minister Falken. Or Vance."
"Falken is probably the easier of the two to talk to," Shoel suggested. "Good luck with whichever you find."
"And good luck to you with the wards and getting everything in order," Jasien said with a nod. "And good luck to you, sir," he added to Skelemis.
"Thanks," the Shadow Hand grunted. Shoel again had to smother a smile, mildly amused by her spirit.
"Farewell, then, Firelancer," she said instead.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyright to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.