Chapter Sixty-Four: Baptism
Written in collaboration with Silver Midnight
After the meeting with Jasien, Shoel and Hemlock parted ways: Hemlock to put away his things, and presumably pay attention to his dragons, and Shoel to find Skelemis, make sure he was all right and out of trouble even after so long, and then return to her room to organize things. As much as she liked Hemlock's company, she also needed a little time to herself, particularly when her belongings were in such disarray, and she wanted a bath.
After cleaning up and having some dinner, Shoel spent the rest of the night in study-- this time with an actual purpose. She knew she'd promised to give Hemlock his Charter mark, and try to find a way to let him taste it first without the actual, permanent connection, but it seemed fitting to do it for his birthday. It was the best-- and, really, only-- gift she could think of. But it would take a lot of preparation, so she was rather glad he hadn't tried to find her all day the next day; she hadn't had to make any excuses to him as to why she couldn't leave her room.
By that evening, though, she had everything as prepared as she could make it, from the environment of her room, to the few actual non-Charter components she'd need, to herself. She stood in the middle of a magically purified space that went nearly from wall to wall, looking around and feeling fairly pleased with herself, contemplating where she might find Hemlock and how she might broach the subject with him.
That was when someone knocked on the door. Trotting over to it and pulling it open, she found Hemlock, with Kzats looming over his shoulder, standing there. Smiling at the former, not the latter-- who looked as displeased to see her as yesterday-- she said, "I was just thinking of going to look for you."
"I'd have been here earlier," Hemlock admitted, looking a little shame-faced. "But things kept coming up, and others just took some time."
"Don't worry about it, I would have had to make excuses to turn you away, anyway. You actually have perfect timing. Come in. Not you," she added to Kzats. "You'll muck up all my hard work, I imagine." Kzats hissed irritably in response, and she tried not to chuckle. Hemlock raised an eyebrow at her, but instead of commenting, obligingly entered, taking a small satchel from inside his vest. Shoel glanced at it curiously as she shut the door behind him. "What's that?"
"Your birthday gift," Hemlock said with a smile, holding it out to her. "Got it today."
"You're not serious," she laughed, accepting it a little embarrassedly. How ironic, two birthday gifts in the same evening. "May I open it now, or should I wait until the actual day?"
"Open it now, you have to watch it," he told her. She arched a brow of her own at him, completely perplexed by not only his words, but also the feel of the little pouch: not only was it warm to the touch, but it tickled her sixth sense in a way she couldn't quite put her finger on. Even more curious, now, she undid the lacings at one end of the pouch and carefully upended it onto her palm, lest whatever inside it was breakable. Though she hadn't been sure what to expect, what fell into her hand wasn't it: a small, round object, smaller than the few flit eggs she'd ever seen, and a soft creamy color with a very light bluish glow. She blinked at it a moment. It wasn't like any kind of egg she'd ever seen-- rather prettier, actually, since she'd never seen an egg that glowed-- and now that it was actually touching her skin, she thought she recognized the way it felt. "Is this... a flit egg? It feels like a Willowwhisp!"
"So you didn't see the flyers?" Hemlock asked, mildly surprised. "They've been announcing them. Searchrider Dameon made them somehow; I went and got one from him before I came here. Yes, though, it's at least supposed to be a Willowwhisp flitter. Rather cute, really-- Dameon had a hatchling in his quarters."
Shoel blushed a bit, cradling the egg carefully in fingers and palm a moment. "I've been inside most of the day, except for a late breakfast and an early dinner," she admitted, "and I had my nose in my Charter marks books the whole time. But, anyway... thank you, Hemlock." She smiled, slipping the egg back into its pouch and leaning over enough to kiss his cheek. "Now I'll have to read up about the care of flitters."
"They generally tell you what they want," Hemlock said, turning a little red, and she grinned. "It might be a good idea, though."
"How long do you think it will be until it's supposed to hatch?" She could just imagine having both a hatching flitter and a hatching dragon, both Dead-- though the former, at least, a kind of Dead she knew she liked!-- at the same time. It would be hectic, to say the least, though at the moment, she could afford to find the mental image amusing.
"A day or two, Dameon said, at least."
"I'll have to keep it with me in Arliingran, then," she said with a little nod, smiling. She'd never really considered getting a flit-- most of the ones she saw around Star City were actually rather annoying-- but one like a Willowwhisp would be different, wouldn't it? It would certainly be more enjoyable a presence. "But for now, I think I'd better put it somewhere out of the way...." She padded to the edge of the room to set the warm pouch with its sleeping contents on the desk, just on the edge of the area she'd had to cleanse.
Hemlock nodded shortly, watching her before asking, "What preparations could Kzats mess up?"
"The same ones I don't want to affect the egg, because I don't really know what will happen." She turned back to him with a somewhat nervous smile. "I thought it was sort of ironic, you bringing me my birthday present, since I've been working on yours all day."
"What exactly have you been working on?" He raised an eyebrow again.
"Well, you said you were interested in the Charter... and I did finally think up a way to show it to you, to see if you would want it. I know it's something I said I'd try, anyway, but I thought... I don't know, that it might be a good birthday gift, to show you. Especially on such short notice."
"I told you you didn't have to give me anything," Hemlock grumbled with a little sigh. "I suppose since you worked so hard on it, though, I can oblige."
"And I told you that you didn't have to, either," she pointed out, moving back over to him to take his hands and lead him to the center of the space she'd cleansed, which also ended up about the center of the room. "But you wanted to, and so do I. It's not like it will hurt. I'm not even going to do anything to you. That's what I've been doing all day, preparing my room to bring the Charter into it."
"I don't like the sound of that...."
"I told you before, it doesn't bite. Relax, I wouldn't do anything to you that's dangerous, or even unpleasant, I promise. Certainly not for your birthday."
"It's hardly special, just another in a countless collection."
"I was going to do it, anyway. Stop protesting so I can start casting," she scolded lightly, smiling and giving his hands a squeeze before letting them go and reaching into the Charter itself.
Shoel had already worked out the spell in her mind, running through the marks she'd need in her head all day while she did the other preparations, and they sprang readily to mind when she needed them. Taking a step back from him and shutting her eyes, she took the time with this spell to actually trace out each mark as it came, making a series of glowing chains of marks that flowed around her and Hemlock, filling the space she'd prepared with light and unspoken names that hummed faintly and warmly to her magical senses. She murmured a the names of the linking marks, drawing the strings together slowly but surely. Her own mark was starting to warm at the presence of so much magic, and she could only imagine the expression on Hemlock's face; hopefully it wouldn't be too uncomfortable.
Finally there was simply the final, master Charter mark left, the mark for releasing, for calling, for summoning, and it burned in her throat as she spoke its name. But then, as the Charter itself came eagerly rushing into the space she'd made, wrapping around her with thousands of marks, like a warm, flowing river, she quite forgot about the discomfort. The room had temporarily disappeared, at least to her own perspective-- but she could still sense Hemlock before her, as thoroughly entwined in the presence of the Charter as she was. In fact, as she dared to open her eyes, taking in the flood of light and marks and Hemlock, himself, suspended in the current, she would have had to hold back a giggle, if she'd been in any kind of place for giggling: he looked stunned. Stupified, even.
The expression remained even as the Charter slipped back out of the world again, leaving behind only a sense of pristine emptiness in the room, as if the air was somehow lighter and cleaner after the infusion of magic. Shoel, dizzy after the aftermath of the Charter and the spell to spill it out into the world, stepped back to sit on the edge of the bed, smiling a little dazedly and blinking in a room that looked darker than she remembered it. "What do you think?" she asked, a little breathlessly.
Hemlock shook his head slightly, trying to hide a small smile as he sat down beside her and rested his head gently on her shoulder. "Amazing...."
Shoel wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Happy birthday."
"Thanks," he said, the corner of his mouth twitching as he still tried to hide a smile. "I think I understand what you mean about it now."
"Mmm? Well, I'm glad...." She hardly even remembered what she'd told him, but it was probably all that, and more. She rested her cheek against his hair, shutting her eyes and taking a moment to try and reorient herself, or at least make the room stop spinning. "It's not normally that overwhelming, thank the Charter, or no one would be able to get anything done."
"Good to know," he answered, chuckling a little. "Are you okay?"
She nodded a little against his hair. "Mmmhmm. It was just a very strong spell. It had a master mark in it, and everything. Add the effects of it, as well, and I'm just a little dizzy. It will pass."
"Good, I wouldn't want you to keel over here," Hemlock said, amused.
"No, no. I don't think I could. I am most certainly awake." She blinked her eyes open and, to her relief, found the room steady again. "Much better...."
Hemlock smirked and gave her a slight poke in the side, and she twitched with a little laugh. "Well, it's been known that mages here could overdo it so badly they completely sap their life's energy."
"It's possible, I suppose," she agreed, releasing him to arch her back and arms in a stretch. "But not likely, for something like this. I doubt the Charter would ask quite that much of me, just for a few moments of its presence."
"For magic with a mind of its own, it's certainly benevolent," Hemlock noted, still amused. "It feels... strangely pleasant, almost like the warmth of the sun, I'd guess you'd say. Something I don't stop to take mind of much anymore."
"It's like the opposite of Death," she agreed. "If you ever see the River, you'll understand-- they both flow, but in a different way. One is cold, one is warm; one pulls and undermines, one supports and encourages. Sometimes I think it's the biggest reason Abhorsens don't go corrupt, because of that balance."
Hemlock nodded a little. "Probably, with powerful magics it usually takes some form of balance to keep it from taking over. Or an extremely strong will."
Drawing her feet up onto the bed under her, Shoel nodded, too. "Or both...." She shook her head a bit. "I have the things I need to baptize you, if you actually want it; and after that, I expect it will be ridiculously easy. The Charter it still going to be close, after being actually summoned."
"Well, I suppose it would be good for me," Hemlock responded, closing his eyes in a thoughtful manner. "It still seems strange to me, but I suppose I will get over it. It couldn't hurt...."
Since those were Shoel's thoughts almost exactly, she smiled and uncurled again, rising carefully, in case her balance was still unsteady. Finding she was all right, she made her way over to the desk, where she'd left not only her egg, but also the vial of Charter-infused water and the small bowl of wood ash. In impulse, she also picked up the pouch with the whisp-flitter egg and tucked it into her tunic at her waist, lettin it settle snugly against her belt. Drifting back, she sat down beside Hemlock on the bed again, setting the bowl of ash down and tucking her feet under her. "Face me?"
A little confused but just a little more curious, Hemlock did as he was asked and turned towards her, folding his legs in an 'indian-style' sitting position. He tilted his head to one side in that patently draconian manner that was so endearing and blinked at her. "Okay...?"
Shoel smiled at him and dipped her fingers in the wood ash, tracing her Charter mark on her forehead with it. The mark glowed faintly beneath the smudge of dark, and she set down the bowl and picked up the vial, instead, undoing the stopped and cupping it gently in both hands. Then she took a breath, delved into her memory, and began the soft chant that called the Charter to sanctify a baptism. Normally she didn't like chanting: the rhythms of chants made her uncomfortable, for all she knew there was power in rhythm, or perhaps because she knew there was power in rhythm. This time, though, it didn't seem quite so odd to her, perhaps because she could feel the Charter just beyond normal sight, waiting and listening.
The words were in an ancient form of her own world's language, which she very rarely spoke; they were so old they were nearly unrecognizable. They were the beginning of a pertinent part of the Charter, the translation of marks that read as a listing of all living things, the ties that bound them all together, the basis of Life. She'd learned it so long ago she'd almost been afraid that she'd forgotten it, but the words were still there. The flow of them lit the Charter-infused water within the vial she held, and the light rose and fell with every word that fell upon it, until there were no more. She dipped it gently into the wood ash and the clay bowl that held it, as a substitute for actual earth, and then touched it to her own mark, before turning it gently over Hemlock's hair.
The room lit up with the uncontained Charter magic, and Shoel said, for Hemlock to understand, "By the Charter that binds all things, I name thee Myokan Bleedinghart."
The ash on her forehead evaporated in another flash of light, and the mark appeared on Hemlock's, instead, under the fall of his hair. The Charter accepted the baptism.
Shoel's abilities and homeworld are copyrighted to Garth Nix.
Quote borrowed from Garth Nix's book, Lirael, from The Book of the Dead.