Shoel's Story

Chapter Ten: The Mausoleum

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Well-deserved rest wasn't as interesting as it could have been, and a few hours later-- after a bath, some studying, and a little wandering around the nice but not very big room she'd paid for-- saw Shoel slipping out into the city. She still had her bells and her sword, of course, but she wasn't really expecting trouble, unless Hemlock suddenly decided he wanted to scare her again. The wraiths, after all, supposedly stayed outside the city proper, and she could probably handle them, anyway. Pick-pockets and thieves, if there were any, were easy enough to scare off, particularly when one wore a blade as if she knew how to use it.

So, she wandered down the city streets, meandering through shops and exploring a few residential area, heading further into the city rather than towards the perimeter, just in case Hemlock hadn't been truthful about the wraiths. There were magical streetlights, anyway, which was comforting. The city was actually surprisingly large, its cobblestone streets winding amidst the buildings in trees in some kind of pattern, but from the midst of it, Shoel couldn't quite fathom what it was. Perhaps if she could see it from above, she might have caught the whole, but as it was, she had to be content with knowing there was one. She found the city's architecture restful, and the city-dwellers were largely very polite and helpful, especially now that Hemlock wasn't at her side to be glared at or avoided.

Shoel's wandering brought her to a beautiful, ornately carved fountain in front of a building not much bigger than the others, but more airily built and mostly of marble. The fountain and building both looked rather time worn, but well-kept as did much of the city. The design of the fountain was actually rather simple, the form of an elegant tree composed of curves. Large leaves made up the basin as well as the platforms for the water to fall through, each dipping into the other allowing the water to trickle freely. She paused to watch the water, smiling a bit, and settled down in one of the "seats" around the structure's rim, meant for someone to sit upon. Meant, of course, for one of the dragons who inhabited the city to sit upon, but it wasn't too strange for a human. From there she trailed her fingers gently in the water, taking a moment to enjoy the pattern of ripples.

A soft breeze blew across the courtyard, stirring a few leaves in the pool of the fountain; at first, a relaxing sort of sound, especially since the breeze wasn't too warm or too cold. Then, though, a soft, rustling sound followed from somewhere behind Shoel-- quite possibly just more leaves, scraping across the cobblestones, though it had a distinctive sound of something moving. Still, ever wary, Shoel put a hand to her sword hilt, turning in her odd stone seat to look over her shoulder. The magical streetlights shown down surprisingly cheerfully in the dark night, revealing nothing in their beams-- almost nothing. For an instant, Shoel could see something, perhaps a shadowy limb, pull out of the light where it had previously been. Somewhere an owl-- odd, to hear such a familiar sound in such an unfamiliar place--called turning the cheerful light just a bit chillier.

Shoel rose, eyes on where she'd seen that flash of dark movement. It could just have been one of the dragon denizens of the city-- were any of them black? But even so, why would it sneak around like that? She sank to sit on the edge of the fountain this time, rather than one of the stone-leaf seats, so she would have a more complete view. Just in case. Another faint rustle of sound came from Shoel's right, followed what sounded like a hissing curse-- well, there went the brief thought that she had been imagining things. It was entirely dark in that direction, however, not at all lit unlike the rest of the streets. With her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness, however, the Abhorsen could just make out a cobbled footpath, leading off around the side of the large building and a little ways out into a small, mostly wooded lot.

To investigate, or not to investigate.... It was probably nothing, some city-dweller wandering around at night. She doubted it was a wraith, so she had no business binding it; she couldn't imagine it was a pick-pocket or a thief-- surely a thief would be better than that at staying unnoticed. And of course it wouldn't be anything Dead, since she couldn't sense it. But, if whoever it was, was following her... well, she didn't want that. She peered into the unlit alleyway, slowly rising again, trying to get a better idea of just who or what she was facing.

The footpath lead in a ways, gradually opening into what would seem like an ideal picnic area, provided it were light out. A small stream, only large enough to wade into, babbled over the rocks and a weeping willow tree-- mundane, if pretty-- stood on the bank, its long leaves dipping into the waters. Just beneath that tree, however, was a small stone building, and that drew her towards the darkness with a metaphysical tug, for she could sense Death there. It was faint... old, but still there.

Summoning up a pinprick of light with the familiar Charter mark, she drifted towards it, one hand still on her sword, and her eyes on the stone. Only the sound of the stream filled the air; perhaps whatever had made the rustling had moved on, but she wasn't thinking much on that, anymore, except a vague wariness in the back of her mind. The door of the mausoleum stood ajar, but as she neared, she could see that it was cracked, cut, ruined so as it couldn't be closed-- and it seemed no one had made an attempt to fix it. There certainly couldn't be anything of much value on the building, unless someone wanted the bones out of the heavy stone sarcophagi, so she supposed there wouldn't be any point to doing so, aside from respect for the dead. She paused at the door itself, running a hand lightly over the rent stone, wondering what had caused the damage. It looked something like someone had gone at it with a weapon, pounded on it, then finally yanked it off. Who would do such a thing? Who would want into a grave so badly?

Shoel drifted inside, drawn by the sense of old Death: not something that she had to set right, but the natural end that came to all things. The inside of the building was dry and slightly musty smelling, but not really all that unpleasant. A few feet from the doorway was a tombstone, or what looked like a tombstone, engraved with writing and wreathed in a fine layer of dust. She moved over, running her fingers over the unfamiliar script, vaguely curious as to who was interred here. Examining the second column of script, however, proved to her surprise that there was a translation that she could read.

Kneeling down, she traced the ancient names, following them to the most recent, Galarin, and there frowned. Someone had added another mark there, beside the name: a skull, or what looked like a skull, with a curved claw passing through it. Shoel ran her fingers over it gently, noting the stone felt odd there, scorched or melted somehow. Who was Galarin? And who had defaced his name?

She turned to face the rest of the sepulcher, frowning faintly, looking over the sarcophogi. The sarcophogi themselves were rather plain, simple stone trimmed with marble-- the race seemed to really like marble. The lids were engraved with different markings, likely names and dates that she couldn't read, with pictures below them: simple, pretty, abstract designs of some sort. All the sarcophogi were lined up in rows, a stairway at one end leading to what must have been the lower level.

One of the monuments nearest the stairs was open, the stone lid shattered on the floor and partially disintegrated into dust with time. Catching her breath a little, starting to get an idea of what had happened here, she crept towards it. The sarcophogus was empty but for dust and bits of torn, rotting cloth-- and the sense that Death, here, had not been a natural end. Whoever had lain here, whoever Galarin was, he was no longer among the peacefully deceased. And, given the mark next to his name and the story she'd heard that afternoon, she thought she might know who was responsible.

The sound of pebbles falling caught her attention, and she looked sharply towards the door, just in time to see a sleek, dragonic head pull back hastily. There was the impression of dark body and glowing golden eyes, and it was too low to the ground to have been one of the city-people: whoever it was had to be quadrupedal. Now she knew for certain, she was being followed.

Drawing her sword just an inch from its scabbard, Shoel stalked back towards the door. She could hear the creature scrambling around to one side of the building, as if it no longer cared whether it was being quiet or not. Sword coming the rest of the way free, she followed the sound, annoyed, around the corner of the sepulcher, to confront whoever it was who thought it would be fun to trail the new girl in town. There didn't seem to be anything there, but there was an odd--

--light. Shoel whirled to face the light source behind her, the same shade as that glimpse of glowing eyes she'd caught in the communal tomb's doorway, sword pointing directly at the slender muzzle. The thing's head snapped back a few inches, repelled by the blade, and it carefully inched away, fangs bared.

"Do you speak?" Shoel demanded. In response, it let out a sharp, high-pitched, hissed squeal, and she winced irritably. "Apparently not. Do you understand me?" It gave no indication that it did, looking up at the sky a moment before promptly turning tail and trotting off. For a moment she watched it, then the sword sent back into its scabbard with a savage thrust, and she turned to rest her back against the cool stone of the crypt's wall, rubbing at her eyes with a hand. "I'm drawing swords on dumb animals, now," she muttered. "Maybe I'm just tired...."

She heard a snarl coming from where the black dragon had started off towards, and looked up in time to see it stalking back to her, growling savagely. "Whoah, whoah, I didn't mean-- hey!" Though she tried to back off, and then tried to jerk out of the way, the animal lunged at her with its toothy mouth wide open. At least all it managed to grab was clothing, but it still tore a long furrow in her leggings and took a whole swath of cloth out of her embroidered tabbard. "You bloody beast!" she roared, yanking her sword out again and aiming a glancing blow at the creature with the hilt.

Nimbley, the dragon leapt aside with a feat of footwork that was impressive, especially for a non-sentient creature-- though she was beginning to doubt that it wasn't sentient, given just when it had decided to attack her. She tried for a return swing, but it ducked it, reorienting itself to butt its head against her thigh, hard, staggering her but luckily not goring her; that was the same leg she'd only recently had repaired! "Charter take it, I didn't mean any insult!" she cried, exasperated backing off another step once she caught her balance.

For a moment, she thought she might have pacified it, for it crouched in the dark, staring at her, halfway turned away. Such was not to be; it lunged, aiming directly for her chest and the bells there. "No, you stupid--!" she exclaimed, half afraid of injury and half afraid of what might happen if it managed to get a bell free, slicing the sword up to at least try and knock it away. Blade met flesh with a jarring hiss that was immediately drowned out by a horrible shriek from the dragon, which still tumbled into her, claws missing the bandolier but digging into her ribs below and shoulder above them. Dragon and woman fell back, missing the building but hitting the ground, and Shoel gave up on the blade to just try and shove the creature off of her, still terrified that it might free a bell, but it was a frenzy of snapping teeth and snarls, refusing to let go.

No bells, no sword, that left--

This time the Charter had not deserted her, and she drew the marks for releasing and repelling hurriedly in the air, trying to avoid teeth and trying to think past claws digging into her flesh. "Anet!" she cried, the name of the third mark binding them together aggressively, and the spell blasted against the creature's bleeding chest. It launched off of her, hitting the wall of the mausoleum and slumping to the ground, laying there dazed. Shoel didn't move for a moment, either, gasping. So much Charter magic in one day; she would sleep very hard tonight.

Provided she got back to the inn. She levered herself up painfully, one hand on her sword, for support, the other across her chest, where she was bleeding on her bandolier. She felt the bells against her arm as she pushed herself to her feet, panting, and eyed the dragon, still laying on the ground beside the stone wall. If it didn't look like it was going anywhere anytime soon, she would just leave it, but if not... well, better to be safe than sorry. She found the wall to support her and freed Saraneth carefully. "I'm sorry to have to do this, whatever you are," she told the dragon, "but I can't have you following me home to finish whatever you started." And with that apologetic warning, she rang the bell, low and deep.


Chapter Eleven



Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.

Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.