Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty: Into the Lair of Galarin

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


A steep stairway, though not very tall, rose up from the level the two had been traversing to the entrance of the building; they climbed it, Shoel resolutely in the lead with her bells and her Death sense. More wooden stakes were set on either side, each impaling a skull. At the top the doorframe was marked with various runes that glowed with a pale, sickening light. One mark over the door looked familiar to Shoel: the skull and the claw, the symbol she'd seen carved into the mausoleum beside Galarin's name. The room beyond was misty, the air opaque and full of Death. Shoel paused just outside, and when nothing moved within, strode deliberately in. They were expected, but she knew they were expected, so there was no point in sneaking.

The room they entered was not very deep, but it was wide, as the outside seemed to tell from the way it sat splayed behind the alter. Not fifteen feet in front of them was a cloaked figure, standing before a magical construct relying on bright gems for power. In the glow of the gems was another figure, not nearly life-sized, garbed in bone armor much like Hemlock's, but with a different helmet. Where the two had previously been in conversation it seemed to halt as Shoel and Hemlock entered. Then the glimpse of what they were facing was gone, blocked out by the sudden surge of Dead things that detached themselves from the wall and the spells that had kept them concealed from sight but not sense. There was a huge number of them, as she'd expected, various shapes and sizes and types, all circling about the two intruders and snarling. But not attacking.

"Just remember you are not expected to fail here, Galarin," a distorted voice spoke somewhere beyond the shifting throng of shadowy Dead, then what scant light could still be seen disappeared, leaving only the faint light of the whisps that inhabited the bells. For that light, Shoel was grateful.

For the light they were about to provide, she was far more grateful. The Charter was already dropping marks into her head, and they flowed from mind to fingers freely, clustering quietly on her bells and winding themselves around and through the whisps there. "We are here to speak with Lord Galarin, not his minions," she said loudly and clearly, pitching her voice over the sound of the gurgling and growling Dead.

"Speak," Hemlock mumbled low under his breath, somehow amused. Exactly, she thought, thinking of Belgaer and wishing she had it in hand, now.

"Is that so?" a hissing voice called over the din, the lower-ranking Lesser Dead quieting when their commander spoke. "Come to offer your services, my lady? My master has heard of how you defeated Izrask, after the Hellhound came hurtling into the underworld. If it weren't for that you would have never been allowed to pass unscathed as you have. You could do us great service, you know, if you are truly here for such a reason. If not... well then, I cannot ensure you will leave here as easily as you have come."

"I am no one's lady," she answered him calmly, "And how can one have a civil conversation when one cannot see who she is speaking with? Call off your dogs, Galarin, and then we talk."

There was a moment of silence in which Hemlock's eyes flicked to Shoel in an unspoken question of 'now what?'. She didn't look at him, eyes fixed past the mass of Dead, on the vague figure that was her goal in this place. Then Galarin's voice rose again. "I am afraid I cannot 'call them off', as you request," he said, as though she had asked politely instead of nearly demanded it. However, the ranks of Dead things parted, a few bowing their heads as the cloaked figure they had seen earlier moved past-- only he was no longer entirely cloaked.

If Shoel had not seen the living members of his race, or even known what he had once been, she would have never recognized that he had been Drakonus's father in life. Whatever hair he'd had had been stripped away by his long years as waking Dead, leaving his long skull mostly bare. Ethereal flesh covered his skull and what little she could see of his skeleton under the remaining cloak, though not very well. It seemed to melt, adhering to the bone and leaving the nostrils and strangely equine-canine jaws uncovered, rows of glittering teeth exposed. Long gone were the starry eyes of the dragonoid, leaving only sunken eyeholes with the unnatural fire of a Greater Dead flaming in them. Unlike his shadowy minions, Galarin himself was glowing, a somehow sickening and hellish gold that told what his color had been in life. He carried with him the sense of illness, the plague he had died of and that he now spread wherever he went; she could feel it teasing around the edges of her Charter magic, but it could not get through.

Just one more step, she thought.

"Speak, quickly, if you wish to make your point heard."

And he took it.

Kibeth and Mosrael flew as if of their own accord up above her head, twirling in circles that were not their signature rings, silent and wrapped in magic and friendly spirits. The Charter spell within and around them was complete, dormant and invisible only until she spoke the name of the final, linking mark, and it flew from the twirling bells in a burst of flame. From the bells to the air, it expanded suddenly and fell swiftly on and against the nearest of the Lesser Dead, just at the edge of the ring they'd made around her and Hemlock. It was a bright circle of crackling flames, full of vengeful spirits all willing and empowered to protect the circle's contents.

The Dead dragon gave a startled cry, leaping away from the flames and closer to the sole two human figures in the dismal place. Beside Shoel, Hemlock stiffened, unsheathing his enchanted sword, the singing sound of the metal oddly dulled by the muck caked on it. At the action, Galarin drew his own notched sword, the blade gleaming with unnatural flame. If he could have he would have drawn his lips back in a snarl, but in his state of perpetual decay, all he could do was voice the sound and look as menacing as possible.

"What trickery is this?!"

For her answer, Shoel dropped Mosrael, no longer glowing, into its bindings. Kibeth still sang and danced in her hand, gripping what Dead it could in its cheerful music. Instead, she drew Saraneth, the big bell feeling secure in her hand when she flipped it and let its voice boom out. "It is your time, Galarin," she sang out over the melding sounds, "a time long past which never should have come again."

All around outside the ring of fire the Dead were losing their hold on the physical realm, slipping back into the darkness from which they came. The scant few that didn't lose themselves into the echoes of the two bells were backing away, hands covering ears or the ethereal equivalent. Galarin stood firm, as a Greater Dead would-- but he didn't attack, as though held by some invisible power. He snarled voicelessly, gaping bony jaws in challenge, and Shoel stared back, expressionless, twirling Kibeth in its trademark figure eight and Saraneth in its low arc. "We must share words, you and I," she continued, weaving her words into the sound of the bells like a harmonic binding, in themselves. "Follow me into Death, King Galarin, and we will talk, free from the pressures of Life. Come with me, King Galarin, we have much to discuss."

"You would will me beyond this plane," the dragon said, chuckling like the dying cry of a bird. "It will be you, though, that continues on to the next life."

Then as though freed from the invisible bindings he leapt forward, sword aimed to impale Shoel on its length. Before she could even react, if there would have been anything she could do except hope to dodge, there was a flash of metal and muddy, black cloak and a startled gargle from the Dead commander. Hemlock had moved forward, intercepting the former king's jab and countering with one of his own. His sword had struck true, finding its mark in the Dead's ribcage. Violently the necromancer wrenched his sword aside, leaving a gaping hole in the translucent, magical flesh, exposing more skeletal form. Shoel watched, tense and still ringing furiously, as the Greater Dead whirled to face him, sword grating across the armor leaving a scorched hole in the metal but Hemlock himself intact. Even as the fight began, Shoel could feel Galarin's focus slipping, his spirit unable to resist the bells and still stand against Hemlock. She took a careful step closer, bringing the magic of an Abhorsen to him, wrapping him in the sounds. "Galarin. Come with me, Galarin," she repeated, reinforcing the command with her harmonics with Saraneth.

It still wasn't enough. Galarin still fought the will to leave his physical body behind, and she could feel him focus fiercely at Hemlock-- the here and now, something he could fight against. And, perhaps, win. Hemlock gave a cry of pain as the burning blade actually met the thin mail covering his upper arm, leaving a gaping wound. The calm certainty of purpose fled before cold fury, and she poured that into her command. Hemlock made another rent in his side, and she sent the music slamming into him every bit as powerfully. She saw the ice slowly forming on the Greater Dead's muzzle, horns, and exposed skeletal wings, and poured her knowledge of her eventual domination into her command. "Galarin! Come!"

At the renewed force of Shoel's will and magic the Greater Dead gave an enraged and pained screech, unnatural from his skeletal jaws. It also gave Hemlock just the opening he was looking for, turning Galarin's scream into a gurgle as he shoved his sword through the Dead dragon's throat. The creature went rigid, the ice of a being in Death covering his mangled frame. Panting, Hemlock drew back, wrenching his sword out of the iced Dead's throat with a sickening crackle. "I guess it's up to you, I'll hold things down here."

Shoel needed no further prompting, jamming Kibeth into its wrapping and pulling out Belgaer. She took three steps back, into the very center of her circle, and from there turned her face away, into the chill of Death, leaving behind flickering firelight and her body for the familiar tug of the River at her feet and the dim gray of the First Precinct.


Chapter Forty-One



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

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