Author's note: Quite obviously I don't own the general premise of this story, but I did create Hael. I think we all knew that, though.
So, as the summary says, the story tries to answer this question: What happens if the Abhorsen forgets his duties and turns away from the Charter?
Comments are greatly appreciated.
To Lader: Thank you v.much for commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed it, although I actually hadn't intended to write more. I think I'll just leave it to your imagination...
Can the Walker Choose His Path?
The boy standing at the edge of the firelight was named Hael.
His physical appearance seemed to suggest that he was perhaps fifteen or sixteen years of age, but his face, on closer inspection, contradicted this assumption. It had a certain graceful angularity to it, yet it was also somehow feral, filled with shadow and predator. His eyes were the color of frost, and grim, older than the eyes of any teenager. He was wiry and slender, though not particularly tall, with thick, slightly chaotic tawny hair. He wore a tunic over a chain mail shirt, its color like that of the sky on a clear day, dusted with tiny, embroidered keys that reflected light, giving him the illusion of possessing an aura of silver. At his hip, he wore a spyglass and a sword; across his chest was strung the telltale bandolier of a necromancer's bells.
These bells, however, were not like those of other necromancers. Charter magic slid across their smooth, dark mahogany handles, twining around the Free Magic that the bells also held, taming it, checking its power. Hael unconsciously touched the handle of Yrael, and the Free Magic of the bell blazed mutely underneath his fingers.
"You'll want to be careful with those, boy," a sardonic voice came from the shadows. Hael whirled, having been completely unaware that he had company, and caught a glimpse of slanted, chartreuse eyes laced with millennia of irony. The little white cat trotted jauntily out of the forest to sit near his feet. He looked exactly as he had many centuries before, with one slight exception: he was no longer bound with bell and collar.
"I know what I'm doing, Mogget," he told the cat, voice rasping through his throat. He coughed and repeated, "I know what I'm doing."
"But do you?" the cat-creature murmured, as if to himself, daintily beginning to groom his fur. He paused for a moment and looked up at the boy, the sarcasm in his eyes glowing a brilliant jade. "It seems that you're on the very brink of losing your self-control, and that would be an extremely dangerous thing to do with those bells within reach."
Hael seemed not to hear Mogget. He had turned back toward the sight that the fire illuminated, grimacing in pain. Mogget halted his grooming and inspected the scene.
It was drab and eerie, made even grimmer by the constantly changing, shambling firelight. Things once in darkness would abruptly burst into sharp relief—a fold of cloth, a hand, a worn traveler's boot, a face emptied of Life. A thick haze of smoke surged from the blazing ruins of a small cabin, and its scent mingled with the heavy, metallic stench of lingering Free Magic. The ground was charred in several places, and in the distance, the contented murmur of a stream could be heard.
"We should burn their bodies so that they cannot be reused, and then we should leave." Mogget's voice held no sympathy, simply brutal logic. His small pink nose twitched. "A door to Death has already been wedged open here."
"They were—are my family!" Hael cried, his voice saturated with pain. "I can't just leave them to the river." Slowly, he drew his sword. His fingers danced across the bandolier of bells, and finally settled on Saraneth. Carefully, he released it from its pouch.
"You mustn't," Mogget hissed, form wavering and flickering as though a breeze had blown through it. When it steadied itself, he had grown nearly three times his original size. "As the Abhorsen-in-Waiting—now the true Abhorsen, I might add—you should know that you cannot tamper with the Dead, unless it is binding them to Death."
"Stay out of it, Mogget," the boy snarled, taking a step away from the cat-shape. He leveled the sword at the creature, which had arched his back, fur bristling in a ridge down his spine. The Charter marks on the blade flickered and wound their way into a message: I am Calbraeth, Seen by the Clayr, forged by the Wallmakers, wielded by the Abhorsen. "They shouldn't have died, and you know it!"
"Life can be cruel," Mogget said softly, though he did not relax his defensive posture. "You should have learned that months ago. You're being a fool. Let them go."
"I won't! I can't! They need me, and they need me now! They probably haven't gone past the Second Gate, I have to hurry if I'm to rescue them." Hael's eyes seemed to focus on another dimension, another time and place completely unknown to the world of Life. Mogget hissed fiercely, swiping a paw across the boy's leg. Hael, thrown back into Life, howled in rage and grief, slashing at the cat with his blade.
Mogget sidestepped the intended blow, spitting. He lunged forward, but was stopped forcefully, midair, as though he had slammed into an invisible wall; Saraneth's peal had sounded, deep and resounding. He struggled, ensnared like a fly in a spider's web, against the familiar, hated command of his sister. The bell-wielder, however, driven by his passion, concentrated his full will upon the cat, and Mogget found himself trapped.
"I'm sorry, Mogget," Hael's whisper interrupted the bell's fading peal. "You left me with no other choice."
Mogget drew breath, about to reply, but the harsh words were jerked from his mouth as his legs suddenly stiffened of their own volition and began to carry him away in a rigid, stalking manner. Helplessly, knowing that he could not break Saraneth's hold—she had always been stronger than him—he glanced back over his shoulder at the wayward boy. "The Abhorsens are sworn to lay the Dead to rest!" he snapped. "The bells will fight you, idiot boy, and when you lose, they will force you into Death! Not even dependable Saraneth tolerates traitors."
Hael turned away from Mogget, frost colored eyes glittering. The cat-creature had spoken truthfully about the bells resisting him; yet it seemed that their fight was only halfhearted. He looked down at them and saw the reason: while the Charter magic struggled against him, the Free Magic was aiding his attempts to subdue the bells' mute protestations by washing over the Charter marks, nearly overwhelming them. He pressed his will down upon the bells, joining the Free Magic in its efforts to overpower them. The Free Magic blazed, releasing its indicative hot metallic scent, making Hael's mind reel, and finally the bells stopped fighting him.
A memory came to him as he cleared his mind and prepared to reenter Death. He was five once more, and his mother was tucking him into bed. "Hael," she had murmured, "do you know what your name means?" Perplexed, he had shaken his head. She had smiled, then. "Your name, Hael, means 'hero.' We decided to name you that because we know that, one day, you will accomplish great things, and that you'll be remembered."
"How do you know?" five-year-old Hael had queried. The Queen of the Old Kingdom had simply grinned, kissed him gently on the forehead, and left his room.
Hael blinked, extricating his mind from the tangled briars of the past. He took a deep breath, imposing calm over himself. "I won't fail you," he whispered, feeling for the border between Life and Death. "I will be a hero, I promise. I'll become the most powerful Abhorsen yet; I'll bring you all back, I won't abandon you. I'll give them something to remember me by…"
As he paced into Death, the Charter marks on his sword rippled into a new message, unnoticed by the boy.
I am Calbraeth, Seen by the Clayr, forged by the Wallmakers, and wielded by Hael, the only Abhorsen to stray from his true path.