Chapter Fifteen: Refusal
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
Walking away from Drakonus, Shoel's mind was full of plans. By the time she'd reached the city, those plans had turned into imagined scenarios. Once the inn was in sight, plans and scenarios alike had turned into anxiety: she had very little idea what she was going into, and she was going into it with only herself and Hemlock, who she wasn't sure she trusted. Even with Drakonus' help with armor and weaponry, it would be exhausting, expensive, and dangerous tracking down the Dead Galarin; there was a very real possibility that she simply wouldn't make it back alive.
But she couldn't very well change her mind, even if she wanted to, so while she waited for the messenger with Hemlock's outfitting, she sorted through what few belongings she'd brought with her and drafted a message to Jasien. She'd need a few more of her things, after all, and he ought to at least know where she was going, if he wanted to get another candidate for that unusual clutch of his in case she didn't make it back. And, if anything happened to her, he needed to know how dangerous Skelemis could be without her binding on him.
The dragon-man at the front desk came calling at long last, a little worried as to why one of the king's messengers was asking for her, but Shoel simply said she'd been expecting him and went down with to give the bearer her own armor measurements to pass along to the king. Looking at the triple chests full of metal and whatever else Drakonus had decided to send her, she sighed. No more putting it off: she had to tell Hemlock.
"Hemlock and I will be back for these in a moment," she promised the innkeeper before making her way reluctantly back up the stairs and down the hall to the necromancers room. After taking a breath, sighing it out, and forcing her shoulders to relax, she rapped smartly on the door. There was a few moments of silence, then the creak of a chair being pushed back from a desk followed by soft footsteps.
Hemlock swung open the door and gave her his usual, haughty examination before slouching against the doorframe, like usual, arms folded across his chest. He looked a little less rough than usual, but certainly not any less arrogant or hostile. "What do you want?"
Taking another breath, Shoel didn't bother with pleasantries: she launched right into her first and most important worry about the whole venture. "Firelancer Jasien told me that, no matter how much you hate me, you'd honor his command to protect me." She stared at him seriously. "Will you?"
"That depends; if you're wanting to do anything absolutely too dangerous I'll tie you up and shove you in the closet," the Necromancer responded gruffly. "Why?"
Well, that was a little more encouraging than other responses she'd imagined he might give. "I met the king this morning, and in about four days I'm leaving to track down his father."
Hemlock stared, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Bad sign. He was working up to an explosion, she could see it. Sure enough: "Are you suicidal?!" he bellowed, arms coming unfolded to clench his fists at his sides. It took all her willpower not to flinch, but she managed to remain impassive. "You can't go off stalking an undead commander, you don't even know where to begin! Wherever he is is probably crawling with undead, as well!"
"I know, the king told me. That's why I need to know if you're serious about watching my back. He sent you your old armor and a new sword, and he's buying some for me."
Hemlock's stance returned to his usual, but the look on his face did not. He rolled his eyes up towards the ceiling, shaking his head. "Gods help me, I'm stuck in Arliingran with a mad woman." A few moments later, though, he looked at her again, sharply. "If you want to go die and add to the undead army, you can do it alone."
That was closer to something she'd expected, and it simply wasn't acceptable. "Hemlock," she tried, faintly pleading. "I can't go without you. Even if I thought I'd survive, the king forbade me, unless you went with me. If you come, there's a chance we might defeat him, or at the very least get out alive."
"Well then you can either go against Drakonus's wishes and go alone, or you can go back to the Ring of Fire," Hemlock snarled, his face twisting into a sneer as one hand grabbed the door. "I'm not about to die for you, child, so I suggest you not ask me to again."
"Hemlock...." She didn't know what she could say. She'd hoped at least Jasien's command to protect her would force him to come with her, even if he didn't want to-- she wasn't stupid enough to think she could take on much of anything except Lesser Dead alone, and she needed his help.
"What?" he snapped.
Grasping at something to say, she just said, "At least come downstairs and help me carry up your armor? We can't just leave it down there in the lobby."
"And just what exactly do you plan to do with it?" his tone was acidic, only matched by the icy glare he was giving the girl. "Make a scarecrow?"
"As if you'd care. Just help me carry the damned stuff, all right?"
"Fine." He moved from the doorway and stomped off down the hall-- despite her anger and threatening despair, she couldn't help but stare as he acted more like a child than a man who was over three thousand years old should. "Are you coming, or was it your plan to make me carry it myself?"
Shoel shook herself out of the mental image of Hemlock as a surly little boy and started after him. "I'm coming. I'm probably stronger than you are, anyway."
"Don't take me for a weakling lest I be tempted to rip your head off," he said with a sharp growl. "Because I will do it."
"Oh, just shut up," she retorted hotly, brushing past him and down the stairs.
"I would have been as quiet as you could possibly want if you'd just left me the hell alone!" He accompanied the snarl with a kick that, as she started down the stairs, landed smack on her rear.
Shoel spun around so quickly that Hemlock very nearly ran into her, giving him a shove that sent him stumbling back a step and nearly onto his own rear. "Don't you ever do that again," she hissed venomously.
"You can only expect me not to do it again when you never see me again," he spat. Unable to think of anything suitably vicious to spit back at him, she whirled again and sped the rest of the way down the stairs, being very careful not to stomp as childishly as he had.
Hemlock continued the rest of the way down the stairs, smirking to himself. "This had better not take long," he quipped at her, all traces of his own temper gone behind that smug grin, as he stepped off the stairs into the lobby after her.
"Oh, it won't," she muttered. "You get that one," she directed coldly, pointing to a chest at random. She, herself, grabbed the handles attached to the sides of the other and hefted it. It wasn't as heavy as she'd anticipated, something of a relief.
"If you want me to do this, stay out of the way." The necromancer shoved past her, sending her bumping into the wall, and up the stairs ahead of her. Glaring darkly at him-- and noting with even more irritation that he hadn't taken the one she'd indicated, not like she should have expected him to-- she trudged up after him.
"They're going to my room, since you aren't coming with me," she told his back shortly. "I'll have to send it all back to the king."
"You said he sent my old armor, therefore it's actually mine," Hemlock responded coldly. "You didn't ask me."
"You can take that up with the king, if you want it," she answered. "He only gave it to me under the assumption that you would be using it to help me banish his father."
"He kept it for me, though," the necromancer growled as they came to the top of the stairs.
"You can take it up with him," she repeated. "Besides, there's a sword in one of these that is most definitely not yours."
"Funny how you think you can tell me what to do, child," Hemlock snorted. "Probably haven't even lived one tenth the time I have and yet you act like you know far more than I do." He came to Shoel's door and dropped the chest, it hit with a loud 'thud' but seemed unharmed. Shoel decided not to say anything about him actually doing what she'd told him to, since he just did, and he'd be liable to change his mind if she brought it up to him.
Not that she needed or wanted his armor; it would be useless to her, because it would all be too small. And besides, if he wasn't going to be using it, she wouldn't have any use for it, anyway. Face it, you're just being spiteful because he wouldn't help you, she told herself sourly, setting her own burden down more quietly on top of it so she could open the door. Maybe I can hire myself out to fight wraiths, or something.
"What's that look about?" the Necromancer drawled boredly, leaning against the wall and wincing a bit before rubbing his side where she'd cut him.
Ignoring the question, she asked instead, "What, still not healed up?"
"Not all of us have healing magic-- but don't even think about trying to use it again," he hissed. "Answer the question."
"Wouldn't dream of it," she snapped, forcefully picking up the top chest and carting it inside her room, which was a bit cluttered as she'd been sorting possessions when the chests arrived; at least it was a clutter that was strictly organized into piles of useful items. Dropping it in one of the empty spaces, she sighed irritably. "Nothing. Just-- go back to whatever you were doing, I can take it from here."
To her surprise, he actually did it. Muttering to himself again, the annoying necromancer went on his way back down the hallway to his room, disappearing inside and shutting the door behind him. Sighing again, she sat down on the chest and, before making herself get back to the work of organizing her things and the three chests, rested her head in her hands a moment. Now what....
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.