Shoel's Story

Chapter Forty-One: Death and Freedom

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


The First Precinct was empty. Galarin must have been thrown farther, into the Second Precinct, by the combined "killing" stroke and flare of will. Both bells in hand, Saraneth and Belgaer, steady and faithful, Shoel started towards the First Gate.

The Gate came upon her suddenly, after only a few splashing steps, turning from distant rumble to the roar of rapids, veiled with a cloud of fine mist. The First Gate was the most familiar to any Abhorsen, and the words of Free Magic came to her readily, sizzling on her tongue but leaving behind nothing except an acrid taste. First the mist rolled aside, revealing a series of waterfalls, and then, at another command, the nearest falls parted, revealing a path. Bracing herself, she stepped onto it, and through the Gate. Sometimes the path took what felt like hours, others, mere minutes. This time it felt like she'd taken only two steps, and suddenly she was in the misty Second Precinct of Death. And she stepped into it ringing, deep, compelling Saraneth combining with clear, stirring Belgaer-- for she knew that the only creature there would be Galarin, and he would be angry.

Without a word or sound, or a will giving to the bells, the Dead monstrosity lunged at Shoel out of the mist. Though he had left his sword behind him in Life, his claws were far longer than any of his living race's had been-- especially obvious when one digitigrade foot swung forward to catch her in the stomach and clawed hands reached towards her neck, scraping against her helmet. She fell back, only managing to avoid the Gate with a staggered side-step and a harsh jangle of Saraneth, that made her stagger yet again before she could still the sound with a quick shove into her bandolier.

That was when she got her first real look at Galarin in Death. He looked different here than he had in Life, his hellish glow now brighter, his form more concrete-- more so, though, in the fact that there seemed to be several different black cords trailing from him, looking to disappear into nothingness rather than into the gate beyond. Shoel suddenly realized that he was being controlled directly, far more directly than she'd imagined-- he was not a Free Dead, for all he was of powerful. Belgaer, no matter how strongly it sounded, could not completely wake him to who he was until she broke that binding.

And to do that, she'd have to break his grip on her. In quick, jerky motion, the Dead dragon's head turned sideways and darted forward, closing on Shoel's only unprotected area: her face. She turned her head quickly, and felt skeletal jaws smash into her helmet. Thank you, Drakonus! she thought, her hand finding the hilt of her sword and yanking it free. The mud had not followed her here, and its movement was smooth, slicing up across the Dead dragon's neck and face as it came free. Screeching, the Dead was flung backwards by the warding the blade combined with the force of her hit. He tumbled through the water a few times before righting himself and standing, shaking icy water from his skeletal muzzle.

Instead of attacking again he spoke loudly, a spell that sent a searing burst of flame to crash on Shoel-- only it crashed onto the air before reaching her, flaring out as if against a glass wall. Again, she sent a brief whisp of gratitude in her thoughts to Drakonus and his protection spells. All she felt was a wave of heat, and that wasn't enough to deter her from leaping forward, swinging the blade at the chords attaching to Galarin's left side, neatly severing each one her blade came in contact with. Belgaer rang in her left hand, trying already to bring his true thoughts to the surface of his Dead mind.

Galarin staggered away from the slice, scythe-like claws going up to clutch his head as he emitted a wordless whine; she could sense, through Belgaer, the thoughts clashing briefly in his head before the corruption and binding resurfaced. She tried to leap back, but he had recovered and spun around, slamming his whip-like tail across her back and partially wrapping it around her middle, jerking her back. Then he was on her again, deadly claws scraping at the back of her neck, seeking the breaks in her armor where helmet met neck-plate. She threw herself backwards, the weight of her body and armor slamming the Greater Dead into the frigid River, submerging him completely. Belgaer kept on ringing, though her hand was underwater, carrying the magic through the waters of Death.

The Dead struggled beneath her, attempting to wriggle out from both her weight and the watery sound of the bell. Even as she struggled to hold him down and somehow free her sword, she felt a fierce pain tearing through he side of her neck and shoulder. With an instinctive, cut-off scream, she arched her back and rolled off him with an elbow to his ribcage, wrenching them apart. Her sword came down into the water on his right side, a desperate attempt to break clean the last of the binding cords so she could finally break the binding itself. The cords snapped completely, but again Galarin was still moving to attack; it would take more than simple freedom of choice to heal the damage that had been done.

As the Dead dragon king struggled against the current and the weight of the water, dragging himself to his feet, Shoel rolled to her own. She sheathed her sword while he got his balance, drew Mosrael as he shook water from his muzzle and wings, and added its alarm of Waking to Belgaer's call to memory as he turned towards her again.

The Greater Dead gave a chilling shriek, staggering on his long legs as his claws went to his head again. He fell back, writhing in the water as the tones of Shoel's bells clashed against the spell that held him, the power welling up in a battle over his very soul. Then there was a sudden sound like a snap or a crack, faintly like thunder, as the sensation of something breaking could be felt in the air. The second precinct of death was much, much quieter after that. Galarin sat crouched, shoulders and head above the water. Even as he knelt there shaking, his form seemed to change, blurring and becoming softer, claws receding until he was looked nothing more like the Dead commander-- rather, the faint, golden image of one of the starry-eyed dragonoids, crouched and afraid.

Shoel slowly stilled the bells, and slipped them into her bandolier again. "Galarin." He was no Lord, no King, here-- not when he looked so afraid of her. She waded slowly towards him. "Welcome back."

"Welcome is hardly the word to be used," Galarin responded, gritting his teeth and eyes tightly closed. He'd managed to stop shaking, but there was still a certain twitch in his wings. It didn't seem, though, that he was actually afraid of Shoel. "You freed me... for that, I thank you. I do wish, though, you would have simply sent me back to my grave where I belong."

"I can't do everything at once," she replied apologetically, kneeling in the water beside him. "But if you are ready, I was going to do that next."

Galarin opened his eyes, lowering his paw-like hands and looking up at her. The usually starry surfaces seemed dimmed, clouded by Death. "Your apology is accepted, as well as Myokan's, though he didn't voice it," he breathed a heavy, pained sigh. "I don't think you know how ready I am to rest from life or unlife."

"Perhaps not," she told him, taking his cold, dead hands gently in hers, in the only comforting gesture she could think of. "But I can imagine. But there will be peace for you, I swear it; I will send you immediately."

The dragon nodded, closing his eyes again and giving her hands a small squeeze. "I thank you for this, madam. I know full well all the risks you undertook."

"It is what I do," she answered, and rose, drawing Saraneth and Kibeth. "I'm just glad it was not for nothing. This should not be unpleasant, if you don't fight me." Not that she expected him to, but it was hardly fair not to warn him.

Galarin nodded, rising to his feet and standing there, wings still twitching reflexively. "I hardly have reason to resist unless you wish to return me to being one of the undead. Mind altered by spells, little more than a puppet on a string," he said distastefully, shaking his head with sorrow. "I am ready when you are."

For answer, Shoel rang the two bells in slow, steady unison. Kibeth's usual jig was subdued, as if the bell, too, was taking pity on the once king. "Follow the River into Death, Galarin, until you reach the Ninth Gate and beyond. Let it carry you, if you are too weary to walk, but let nothing and no one you may come across stop you. You have long deserved your freedom, and none here shall take it from you."

With no fight whatsoever, Galarin did as she commanded him-- a wonderful relief after having to fight with Dead creatures so much lately. The only one thing he did as she had not commanded was call back to her before he entered the second gate: "I thank you again, my lady."

Shoel smiled after him, faintly. "Be free, Galarin," she said softly, and then she turned back to the First Gate, ready to return to Hemlock and whatever disaster he was facing alone.


Chapter Forty-Two



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

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