Shoel's Story

Chapter Twenty-Two: Revising Pre-conceptions

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


They had left the city a while ago, but Shoel had hardly noticed. Phoenix Rose was to integrated into the rain forest that the change from domestication to wild was nearly invisible. Now, though, she took a look around: in the place of the city's gentle cultivation was plant growth in every direction, seemingly choking out every other semblance of life in the area. There was a path that they followed, but it far less traveled than the one they had entered Arliingran on. The plants were encroaching upon it, some already weaving across the packed ground as though to envelope it.

"Not many people come this way, do they?" she asked curiously.

"All the other provinces are to the north," Hemlock explained, adding in a disgruntled sigh, "Further south there's a lot less water."

"The desert... and more Dead things, I suppose, since this is the way Drakonus said to go. It ought to take a good week to reach the edge of the desert, according to the maps. I take it you have been this way before?"

"No, as with most of my kind I prefer to stay near water."

"Ah. New territory for both of us, then...." She wasn't sure if she was glad to be on something closer to equal footing, or nervous that he didn't have any memories to guide him, in addition to her memorizing of the maps.

"Yes," Hemlock grumbled, taking a sweeping look at the vegetation around them before making a face. "Quiet."

Shoel fell silent obediently. Either there was something around that she shouldn't attract by speaking, or Hemlock was getting tired of her questions-- either way, she might as well do as he asked. Actually... now that she wasn't speaking, something was tickling in the back of her mind. She frowned, looking around and trying to focus on the feeling... and then twitched with distaste when the sensation came into sharp clarity. There were Dead things here-- not powerful Dead things, but several of them: faint, spread out, and in hiding during the light of day. No wonder Hemlock wanted her to be quiet. There were enough shadows here, under the canopy, that if they really wanted to, they might have been able to manifest weakly.

Wraiths, they had to be. Shoel focused on one that she could feel, the closest one, frowning with concentration. A moment of examination told her that she could easily draw it out and banish it-- but what would be the point? It would waste time, and there were three or four more she could sense within range to take its place. Probably more than that, as they went farther from the city. So... talking during the day might not be happening.

I suppose I could fish out my book on Charter marks, she thought with a little sigh. It's not as if my mount needs much direction.

Actually, that was exactly what she ended up doing. More and more wraiths started creeping into her awareness, and she simply needed the distraction. She couldn't read very quickly, since she needed to pay attention to the trail at least a little, but she'd gotten through a few pages before Hemlock spoke up again. "Hmph," was all he said first, a little grunt, and she looked up from the small volume at the sound. "Can you... 'see' these things with that sense of yours?"

"Sometimes," she answered. "It depends on what they are, and how I look-- and where I look from, I suppose. Why?"

"These ones are called what translates into 'shadowfangs' in English, look like wolves made out of compounded shadows. Eyes gray, like the rest of them," there was something in his voice at that, as though there was more to the topic of wraiths' eyes. "I thought about bringing a shadowshifter along, but I figured it wouldn't be needed between the two of us."

"I did think they seemed rather small," she mused. "What do you mean by a shadowshifter?"

"Small type of wraith that changes form at will, but never larger than a small wolf. Sometimes they just look like a blob, though Empress Minaia's always looks like a winged kitten. Golden eyes."

"Like yours," she remembered suddenly. "You called your eyes wraith-gold. But these have gray. What's the difference between wraiths with different color eyes?"

"Generally the sentient, more powerful ones have a shade of gold called wraith-gold, sometimes red. Usually the lesser ones have gray, black, or white." His armor clinked as he shrugged.

"All right." So these weren't sentient; they were "lesser" wraiths. "What, exactly, do wraiths do? Aside from fearing light and fire, and general draining of Life? Or is that it?"

"I suppose some of the more powerful ones could be like that Shadow Hand of yours: they generally don't have a set shape." Shoel scowled at his back. So he did know something about Shadow Hands, or had figured something out since the last time they'd discussed the subject. I wonder if he still thinks they're worthless.

"He's hardly mine," she sighed. "It's not like I really want anything to do with him, but I just know exactly what he'd do if I turned him loose, and I promised him I wouldn't banish him while we were here. I didn't realize just how long we'd be here. So I'm stuck with him."

Hemlock clapped a hand over his mouth as he yawned. "I don't think it's really something that should be turned loose, Shoel. However, if he bonds a dragon you might not have anymore say in the matter."

At least he agreed with her; Skelemis free would cause quite a bit of damage. If he thought so, too, maybe there weren't so different after-- wait a minute. Her mind finally registered the second half of his statement and she blanched. "Bonds a dragon? You're kidding-- Jasien didn't-- oh, Charter take it, he did, didn't he...." She groaned. "I didn't even think of that. Maybe I should warn him when we get back."

"Too bad I didn't bring that little pest Nevrin," Hemlock said grimly. "Might have been able to send a message now."

"Well, I did send him a letter telling him to keep watch, and what Skelemis could do, just in case," she sighed. "If he somehow worms free or finds a loophole in what I told him not to do, or in case something happens to me. So he's not completely in the dark...."

"If he causes too much damage, Jasien will probably take care of Skelemis himself," Hemlock reassured her. "There's a lot worse places you could have left that spirit than RoF."

"That's true," she agreed, nodding. He had said himself that, even though technically Dead, Jasien's dragon had fought the Dead before. It made her feel better thinking about it: there were a lot of experienced fighters of the supernatural at the Ring of Fire. It was certainly better than if she'd left him at Star City, or at her home on the planet's surface.

They lapsed into silence again, after that, and Shoel's thoughts went back to his comment about Skelemis. "I don't think it's really something that should be turned loose, Shoel," he'd said. He recognized the danger in the Dead-- and yet he was a necromancer. He raised the Dead. How could the two possibly coexist?

Unless he's like me, the thought came. It's possible, isn't it? But, can you actually raise the Dead without being corrupted by the power?

The counter to that argument came quickly: But you did. You raised Skelemis, and you don't seem any worse for wear. He's been helping you, he certainly hasn't hurt you, not since that first battle-- in which Jasien said it did seem like you struck the first blow. What if he's not as bad as you think? First impressions are usually misleading.

I can't even argue with myself and win, she thought dryly, shaking her head at herself and admitting defeat against all the logical arguments her mind could come up with. She'd just try to be more charitable with Hemlock, since he seemed like he at least deserved that much.


Chapter Twenty-Three



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

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