Shoel's Story

Chapter Fifty-One: The Sea

Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight


Shoel made a point of being brief in the general store, since Hemlock looked irritated and impatient again. She didn't need much, after all, just a sheaf of parchment, a vial of blue-black ink, and a couple quills. She still felt a little bad spending Hemlock's money, but consoled herself that he was wealthy enough to afford it, he'd offered to begin with, and it hadn't cost very much. They'd stopped off at the inn for her to drop off her purchases and, after yet another dark look from Hemlock when his eyes fell on it, her bandolier.

"Must you take those everywhere?" Hemlock complained as he lead the way down to the beach. "They look ridiculous."

"It's habit," she shrugged. "They're a big part of who I am, ridiculous or not. Besides, I'm not bringing them now, am I?"

"That's something, I guess," the necromancer said darkly. "You don't see me wearing bone armor all the time, do you?"

"Well, no, but Jasien took it, so it would be rather difficult for you to. And I don't think that's quite the same."

"At times I think you have them around just so you can kill me when you feel like it."

"Of course not!" she exclaimed, a little taken aback and a little annoyed. She'd left that bit of stupidity behind weeks ago, and she'd thought he'd know that. "It's just-- oh, I can't explain it. But it has nothing to do with you."

"Good," Hemlock said, relaxing a little. "Sorry, I just.... Ugh, when we're not doing anything dangerous and you carry them around, it makes me nervous."

"Hemlock, I've got nothing against you. I might get annoyed at you once in a while, sure, but I don't pull bells, magic, or swords on people who just annoy me. I didn't spend a month and a half traveling with you just to kill you or bind you or whatever now."

He cringed at that and sighed, hanging his head. "I'm sorry, there are some people in the world who would, just out of dislike for a person's lifestyle."

"It's all right." She patted his shoulder sympathetically. "Besides, I don't dislike your lifestyle. I don't even dislike you, for all you're obnoxious most of the time." She grinned a bit at him, trying to tease a little. "So don't worry about it. Think about the bells, hmm, like old friends of mine I don't like to part with. That's really more what they're like, anyway, than weapons...."

"Seemed to dislike it and me pretty much before," Hemlock muttered softly, turning away. "I'm not one to think people change their minds so easily."

"Easily?" she smiled. "It wasn't easy, trust me. It took me a long time to trust you-- well, it felt like a long time, since it was spent entirely in your company. It certainly took a lot of thinking-- but I'd assumed things about you that simply weren't true, and once I realized that...." She shrugged. "It was stupid to hold who you are against you."

"Like what had you assumed?" He'd fallen back to her side, now looking at her with cool questioning.

"That you were like the necromancers I knew, mostly. That you bound the Dead for your own aims, didn't have any care for the living, that you'd automatically hate what I do and why I do it. Everything I'd grown up knowing, but which simply doesn't apply in other places."

"Sounds more like my brother," Hemlock said sourly.

"And not much like you," she added. "Hopefully I won't have to meet your brother, and I can just be content knowing that there are decent necromancers in other worlds."

"Well, I hope he's dead." As he said that he put one hand to the right side of his face, rubbing at his cheek self-consciously. Shoel arched a brow at him, and made a disconcerting connection.

"He didn't give you that, did he?" she asked suddenly, one hand coming up to almost touch the tip of his scar on his cheek before she caught herself and just pointed.

"He did," Hemlock replied, sounding bitter. "In what was supposed to be a fair engagement. Instead he distracted me with magic and tried to cut open my throat. Of course, I kept my head but now I have a constant reminder right across my face."

"Why would he do something like that?" she asked, frowning.

"He was power-hungry and I was in his way," he said, accompanying it with a shrug.

Shoel couldn't think of a thing to say to that. "Oh."

"As I said, the stereotypical necromancer."

By that time they'd made it to the beach. It was, in short, beautiful. The sand of the beach was soft and white, broken up by the occasional beach grasses or washed up seaweed and littered with shells. In contrast to the stark white, the water was a deep navy and violet, reflecting the night sky. The sound of roaring waves she'd associated with the ocean was muted into the gentle hiss of low tide, and the usually obnoxious sound of seabirds was entirely absent. All in all, it was certainly a sight better than any beach she could remember. Shoel gladly put aside the discussion of miscreant, necromancer brothers to take it all in, clasping her hands behind her and drifting out onto the sand with Hemlock beside her. "It's... certainly prettier than the beaches on Atu," she finally said softly. That really didn't do it much justice, so she tried again: "It's lovely."

"I always thought so," Hemlock replied, staring out across the water. "If you don't mind my asking, where did you come to when you first... left home?"

"Uh." At a momentary loss, not expecting that question, she blinked and took a moment to think. "Alskyr. I think."

"Never been there," Hemlock said in answer, still looking out at the rolling waves. "I heard it's fairly boring, though. Lives dedicated to fighting insects."

"I ran into several of those insects before someone found me," she admitted dryly. "They're not exactly pleasant. But I wasn't there for too long, anyway... I ended up hopping planets for a few years, catching rides with world-walking dragons."

"What made you decide to stay at Star City and Atu?"

"I just... got tired of traveling. I wanted someplace to stay. I got lucky and found a few things I could do on Star City, enough to get me an apartment. Until the bells and sword started turning it to rust and sparking wires, anyway."

"Ah, I see." Hemlock remained looking at the ocean for a moment longer, then he turned to Shoel and smiled. "I don't see how you can live in the desert, though."

Shoel chuckled, glad that he was at least smiling again. "It was the only place far enough from machinery not to cause damage, but still be close enough to Star City itself, when I needed things. And it was better than buggy Alskyr."

"Fearsome Abhorsen afraid of some ants," Hemlock mused, smirking a little but not intending to offend her.

"I'm not an Abhorsen," she said, shaking her head a little and looking out over the waves, herself.

"Well you're hardly a typical necromancer," Hemlock countered, turning to follow her gaze. "In my mind you could have been an Abhorsen.... Though I will say, I'm glad you're here instead."

She smiled some and freed one hand from behind her to pat his shoulder fondly. "I am, too. I've at least done some good, here. I've always kind of hoped the Charter spared me for a reason, instead of just taking me to itself forever, or letting Chlorr send me into Death."

"What exactly does an Abhorsen do, anyway?" Hemlock asked, turning his head to look at her.

Smirking some, she answered, "Just about what I've been doing here, only more officially and more often. They hunt out the Dead and lay them to rest, put down necromancers, the bad kind, and protect against Free Magic creatures, like Izrask. They have some priestly functions, as well, but don't generally have much time to perform them, not in Chlorr's time, anyway."

"There's nothing saying you can't take up the job here, and the title if you want," Hemlock pointed out, and she blinked a bit. "After all, it's a pretty open occupation."

A little dumbfounded, she stammered, "I, ah, never... thought about it, really...."

"I don't think anyone would object, but if you wanted to instate the position and take up the title you'd have to speak to Minaia...." He frowned a little at that. "That's pretty far north."

Shoel was sure she was blushing, now. She hadn't really even thought about what she'd do after the hatching, much less what she'd do when a dragon grew up and she was free to go where she pleased-- if she bonded, at all, of course. Besides-- the thought of actually instating a foreign position on a planet not even her own, making it official with the empress herself-- she didn't think she could do it. "It's hardly that important...."

"Well, it's up to you," Hemlock said with a slight sigh and a shrug. "Not like it has anything to do with me unless I do something stupid again."

Taking that as a possible change in subject, she glanced over at him. "What are you going to do, when we get back to the Ring of Fire? Other than decide what to do with a full-grown xenodragon, anyway."

"I don't know," Hemlock replied, sounding a little reluctant. "Usually I don't actually do anything other than study or work on spells and enchantments, maybe mix up some more poisons for whatever reason."

"Sounds about like how I usually spend my time," Shoel half-grinned.

"Only you live out in the desert. I still say you're crazy for that."

Shoel grinned more, shaking her head, and decided she was tired of standing, so she sat down carefully in the sand. "Sit down, unless you're planning on leaving again soon."

He did. "So are you planning to take your dragon back to Atu?"

"If I even bond, or if I haven't missed it. But I hadn't really thought about it. Jasien said I should stay until it's grown up, so I'll probably do that, at least."

"You don't have to," Hemlock said thoughtfully, tapping his fingers on his knees. "Though it's generally the best idea; classes and the like. It might be hard on you, though. There's going to be many more undead after the hatching."

"Maybe," she admitted, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging them lightly. "But a number of them might leave, too, the parents and the like.... I would think that the numbers might actually stay about the same. And who knows? Maybe I'll get used to it. You seem to be fine with it, after all, and not all of them are bad. I'm certainly going to have to get used to it, if I bond one."

"Could always bond a living one," Hemlock pointed out. "There's bound to be a few."

She rested her cheek on her knees, looking over at him. "I thought the only live ones were xenodragons."

"Tariath and Ainchisth are living.... Then there's Conquex, but she's a demon dragon." He paused, trying to remember any others. "Tassanadrath...."

"Well, maybe I'll bond one of them, then. Though if they're anything like the Willowwhisps, I'll probably be fine. I don't think the feel of the wraiths bothered me as much as the... the thought of how they felt. If that makes sense. Though I might just be remembering it wrong," she admitted dryly, "I was a little mixed up at the time, and it's easy to look back and think I was being an idiot."

"There's always a chance that you could bond an undead dragon, too," Hemlock reminded her with a soft sigh. "I hope you're not going to be too upset about that."

"Like I said, if they're anything like the whisps, or probably even the wraiths, I think I'll be all right." She smiled some at him.

"We'll see," he replied, stretching before getting to his feet. "We should probably go back to the inn, the tide's coming in."

"Mm. Sleep in a real, honest-to-Charter bed," she sighed, uncurling and rising after him. "It is nice out here, though... and since it's night, I don't even have to worry about sunburn." She grinned.

"A little sunburn won't kill you, maybe even add some color to your face," Hemlock said, making his way through the soft sand and back up to the inn. She followed, clasping her hands comfortably behind her back again.

"Hasn't yet, and I've been burned more often than I can count. Living in a desert, and all. I think it's just one of those things with my family; all of us who have the gift for necromancy end up pale as death, and can't seem to do anything about it."

At that Hemlock turned to look at her, examining her face while she looked back at him, a little amused, before giving a little sigh. "I suppose you're right, you're paler than me."

Shoel chuckled. "Afraid so."

Hemlock turned back around, but fell into step beside Shoel instead of ahead. "I might have to ask you to teach me some of your skills sometime-- if I can learn, that is...."

The thought had actually crossed her mind once or twice, and she still wasn't entirely sure what she could teach him. "I don't know. For Charter magic, I'd have to baptize and mark you, like I am... I have that authority, if you want it. As for bells, though, I'd have to make you some, if I could... I've never seen them made. The House, Abhorsen's House, gave me mine, and gave Capsen his. Even if I could figure it out, I don't have the Book of the Dead to teach you from."

"I'm not interested in the bells," Hemlock began, looking a little uncomfortable. "The Charter... I don't know if I'd want to be part of that, though I suppose it could be given some thought. Would probably be useful where my own natural magic doesn't work. And I guess learning necromancy from you is out." He frowned, rubbing his forehead where a Charter mark would have been.

Shoel shook her head. "You can't learn my kind of necromancy without bells. I suppose you could imitate them by whistling or clapping, or maybe singing, but it is nowhere near as effective. The most you could do was go into Death, and you wouldn't be able to do much."

"I guess there's not much I could learn, then," Hemlock said, sounding somewhat disappointed. "I can whistle, though."

"We can think of something. The Charter doesn't bite-- it's actually very pleasant, I think-- and the bells only bite sometimes." She gave him an encouraging smile. The first time she'd had the thought of whether he'd want to learn her style of things, she'd made the tentative decision that she wouldn't mind trying, if she could figure out how. Unless he ended up backsliding into the kind of person who had raised Galarin-- which, she personally thought, he wasn't likely to do-- she thought he had the right kind of mindset. And if he didn't, well, the Charter would probably find plenty of ways to let them both know it.

"I'll consider it," Hemlock murmured, hunching his shoulders. "This is as different to me as this whole world is to you."

"Take your time. I'll probably be around, and if not-- well, I'm not that hard to find."

"Unless something eats you on the way back to the Ring of Fire."

"Well, that's what you're around for, isn't it, bodyguard?" She gave a strand of his hair a playful tug.

"It could always eat me, too," Hemlock replied snidely, giving her arm a playful swat, which she ducked half-heartedly, chuckling. "As I said, not really good for much other than bickering at."

"That's not true, and you know it."

"Oh, then what else am I good for? I dare you to list ten things!" he said, giving her a challenging smirk.

"A challenge! Let's see here." She thought a moment, then started counting off on her fingers. "Expensive inns, beaches, and paying for dinner, for starters. Charter, offering me your private bath, that one's worth two, right there. Forcing Greater Dead into Death with me, keeping my body safe while I was in Death, showing me Willowwhisps. How many is that, eight? Rescuing me from myself at Ring of Fire-- even though I was trying to kill you at the time. That's nine. Keeping me sane and alive instead of sacrificing myself because of a Hellhound. There, ten. Want more?"

"Not good enough," Hemlock replied haughtily, folding his arms, though she thought she could detect a hint of pleased embarrassment behind the huff. "Most of that was just on a whim."

Shoel laughed. "Well, if you keep having whims like those, you'll just turn into an all-around nice person, won't you! Better watch out, or you'll loose that reputation for being a bitter old dragon-man."

"Hmph," he snorted, kicking at the sand beneath his feet. "Only around you, it seems."

"I'm just that bad," she agreed with a grin. "But I can't imagine you're horrible to everyone. You have a very nice dragon, after all." And he did used to be married, but she didn't honestly feel comfortable bringing that up, when the conversation was supposedly light.

"He's just delusional, is all. I am horrible to everyone," Hemlock responded, grinning snidely. "Especially women like you."

She quirked a brow and a grin at him. "Like me? What, women who like you, women who have tried to kill you, or women who you fight with-- in more than once sense of the word?"

Hemlock apparently couldn't think of a reply to that, for the smirk on his face faded, leaving behind a somewhat surprised sort of expression. " ... Heh."

Not entirely sure just how she'd stunned him into speechlessness, she gave him a curious look as they started up the lightly cobbled path leading to the inn's front door. "What?"

"I guess women that try to kill me, though I don't think you ever actually tried."

"Oh, I did-- or I thought I did. I just kind of threw every frustration and fear I wasn't able to deal with into chasing you all over the Ring of Fire. Maybe that made me clumsy, or unobservant; I just figured you were very good at running away." At the door, she opened it, but didn't even try to hold it open for him this time-- no more discussions about lady-hood this time, nope. Hemlock caught it before it had even started to close and followed her through.

"I still think you could have tried harder," he responded, shrugging at her. "At least you could have when I didn't move."

"I probably could have. I'm just glad I didn't."

"Well if you had, you'd still be at RoF slowly going crazy," Hemlock said with a chuckle, and, to her complete surprise, an arm around her shoulders in a light hug. "I like you better when you're calm." She tried to suppress the immediate impulse to stiffen up; his touching her wasn't a bad thing, really, just... unexpected! Just what one was supposed to do when hugged by someone like him, though, she wasn't exactly certain, so she tried to just settle her shoulder against his and let him.

"I suppose I'd be crazy, already, actually," she corrected. "No, this worked out well, I think. Better than I'd thought it would, certainly."

"Well, we're both still alive, Galarin is back where he belongs, and the world is a few undead and demons shorter," Hemlock mused, smirking again as they started up the stairs, which were wide enough to accommodate both of them side-by-side-- a good thing, since he still hadn't let her go. "All in all, a decent trip."

"It was. And we didn't even get too banged up in the process."

"I don't know, I think I might be feeling it for a while longer-- but at least we're both still alive. That is something."

"Oh, is your arm still bothering you? It was pretty much healed when I saw the wound last. Might scar, I suppose...."

"Not like it makes any difference to have another scar or not," Hemlock answered dryly, dropping his arm and rolling up his sleeve so he could look at the mostly-healed break in the flesh. Shoel scrutinized it from beside him.

"It won't be as bad as the one over your eye," she decided, "but I do think it will scar."

"As I said, it doesn't matter." He rolled down his sleeve again, but let his arms remain at his sides. "At least you don't have any. That I've seen, anyway."

"Nothing big or unusual. My brother got me once in a mock sword-fight, I think I still have that mark." She chuckled dryly. "Somehow or another, I always escaped disfigurement in real battles. I think that was mostly Chlorr and Capsen's doing, really."

"Well, you don't look like me so it can't have been that bad."

"It's not." They turned down the hall towards their rooms. "Well, you've won me over, at least a little-- I like beaches at night." She grinned at him.

That made Hemlock smile. "I thought you would."

Then they were at his door, and she paused there to say good night. "Thank you for a nice evening. --I promise I won't compare you to a cat next time." She gave him a rueful grin.

"Likewise," he replied with a slight purr and a smirk, making her laugh. "Sleep well."

"You, too."


Chapter Fifty-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.