For Whom The Bell Tolls
Summary: From citizens of the Old Kingdom to it's Protectors, the Ancelstierran's and the Perimeter guards; all fear one moment: when the flutes fail and they realise exactly for whom the bell tolls.
Disclaimer: Clearly I don't own Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen or any part of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom Trilogy. I wasn't sure if Chlorr of the Mask was dead or not, I sort of assumed so from the defeat of Orannis (haven't reread the books for a while)… however for the purposes of this fic, she's alive and kicking… or killing, as is. Tell me what you think after reading… please review!
Part One: Ancelstierre, the Perimeter and the Thrice Unlucky
"As all living things must fail, till silence rings me in eternal calm, across a sea of dust." Orannis, Abhorsen- Garth Nix
The night was dark, and foreboding and the soldiers guarding the perimeter shivered with apprehension. The temperature was quite warm, an early end of summer type breeze on the Ancelstierre side, although the wind coming from the Old Kingdom brought soft flurries of snow, which melted quickly upon crossing the wall. It wasn't the bitingly cold air, that that made the older soldiers shiver, nor even the irreconcilable difference between the seasons. The Soldiers shivered because they were thrice unlucky- firstly, their government did not believe the severity of their problem, and so instead of refining older weapons and working around their technological Old Kingdom problems, the soldiers had bayonets and swords, and guns would fail, more likely than not. This also meant that their government prevented the perimeter from being moved, in order to save funds. Apparently, they didn't really take into account that in order to save funds, they would forgo saving lives, or perhaps a lowly soldier's life didn't matter to them… It was hard to fathom the politics of someone who has never spent a cold night in fear of their life, in fear of Necromancy.
Secondly, due to most soldiers coming on rotation (They lost more soldiers from psychological problems, not to mention deaths, in one bad night at the perimeter than in a month of every other army post in the country combined) from other areas, Charter mages made up barely a third of their company. Thirdly, it was a full moon on this night, a bad omen at any time. On the full moon, the magic of Necromancy was at it's peak, and some of the older soldiers remembered the failed bindings of Abhorsen Terciel- although few knew his name. The older Soldiers knew this was the testing time every month… if Abhorsen was dead, come midnight, the flutes would fail and the dead would rise. They would rise, and they would come. It was a windy night, looking up, the soldiers glanced occasionally, uneasily at the flutes. They were, for flutes, rather different- if one didn't know better, one would say they were defected, for they played no sound that any at the perimeter could hear. Instead, the flutes played a song heard only in death, continuing the binding of the Abhorsen Sabriel.
"I've a bad feeling tonight." One of the soldiers murmured darkly, touching the Charter mark on his forehead and causing it to flare up briefly.
"Don't say it. Ill words bode ill for anyone, mere hours from midnight." Another muttered, equally disenheartened. The wind rose again, as if it was a tangible thing reaching out to them from beyond the perimeter, whipping up leaves as the soldiers checked their watches. They had stopped as the wind rolled over the wall from the Old Kingdom.
"It begins." A soldier whispered, and one by one they all set down their radios, watches, guns. Anything modern was useless to them now.
In Ancelstierre homes, the doors were locked, and the curtains were shut. Few inhabitants dared to roam at night, and certainly none tonight. One lone man sat by the window in his home, carefully peeking out onto the darkened street, a watcher. Children quieted as television sets fizzled and lights flickered, leading worried parents to reach for the lamps always kept on hand. Clocks froze, the annoying tick-tock changing to an oppressive silence, wrought with naked fear, barely suppressed. All they could do now was wait.
Part Two- The Old Kingdom
"When the dead do walk seek water's run, for this the Dead will always shun. Swift river's best or broadest lake to ward the dead and have and make. If water fails thee, fire's thy friend, if neither guards it will be thy end." Lirael- Garth Nix
In a village not too far from Belisare, they stirred, restlessly under her power. Chlorr of the Mask shifted deliberately, her skin white under the bronze mask, her black hair drifting with the wind. The corrosive scent of free magic curled around her, like a wild thing tamed with chains, always trying to lash out, constantly being reined in and ridden. There was no snow here, as the storm had passed and instead there was only aching cold, dulling minds. That was ok, the dead hands needed only to follow her instructions, not think for themselves. Chlorr shifted slightly again, the fur coat brushing against her bandolier.
Turning a head to view the dead hands she had, she stroked the bandolier ever so slightly, unsurprised by the creature that bounded up to her, a dark shadow of menace. Her Mordicant, an intelligent creature, and a dangerous one.
"Are they ready?" She hissed, and it almost seemed that smoke curled out of her mouth with the words, accompanied by burst of free magic, practically sizzling on the air.
The Mordicant nodded once, turning what served as eyes to the lights below.
"Attack! And let none raise warning." Chlorr commanded mercilessly, face unreadable behind the bronze. The dead trudged forward, the Mordicant leaping ahead in long strides. She did not spare a thought for her current allies- Hedge of course had died, but when Orannis had been defeated she had almost been swept along in death, barely managing to claw her way back into life. And she was weakened, weakened but not stopped. The dead slid forward, a lurching uneven gait belying their weaknesses in their new bodies. They hadn't really had time to adjust. It was but moments before the first house was breached and a slight scream was heard. Chlorr stood tall, a menacing figure in her recognisable bronze mask, watching. A light flickered on in one house, curtains opened. Stupid, now she knew there were people there. With a flick of her wrist and a nudge of free magic, she had the Mordicant enter the house, smiling in spite as it broke the door.
She drifted closer, until the melee was all around her, dead breaking down doors, as some families tried valiantly to hold against them. In the midst of the screaming, Chlorr of the Mask watched, and laughed, the very nature of the sound acrid, like metal jarring.
"CHARTER PRESERVE US! ABHORSEN SAVE US!" cried one man, as Chlorr stiffened, enraged at his daring to raise the title Abhorsen from his lips. She oversaw his family's deaths personally.
The killing continued as screams rent the night, parents calling in fear for their children to run, begging Chlorr to have mercy. Chlorr smiled, a fearful thing to witness. There was no mercy in Chlorr, not for them.
She followed a group of adults who had paused to fight the dead, their charter spells hacking up her faithful, witless servants while they frantically bought time for their children to escape. She couldn't have this, could she? Pausing to take leisurely aim, she smiled that terribly empty smile again and threw out ropes, vines of free magic, sending them only with a feeling of deep hatred, and watching the magic attack the Charter like the rival it was.
It was bare moments after destroying the adults when Chlorr of the Mask realised her mistake. A loud, abominable clanging rang out over the country side, loud enough to warn the next town, a bell, a normal one. Worse still, she could smell smoke and stalked towards the source of the commotion to see a great fire, visible from a great distance. Hissing in displeasure, she took in the scene. The children- the mere children!- had fled, the only survivors to somehow make it out of her net of dead, to their sanctuary- a man made island, tiny as it was, in the middle of a tributary of the Ratterlin. Her face empty of emotion, she rang her sixth bell, hearing the free magic roll through the sound. Hands and her Mordicant hastened to her side, as she stared at the frightened children, 3 tending to the fire, one still ringing that infernal bell, another two clutched hugging each other. Indicating the hands, she instructed "Cross." After a few tries, the Hands were forced to concede defeat. Growling, she moved forward, sensing, testing. She could cross it. A look down to the Mordicant at her side conveyed her silent suggestion, and carefully, the Mordicant walked over the bridge, uncomfortable by the sluggish, near frozen water below, but unhampered. The children cried in fear and retreated behind the fire. Foolish children, if her Mordicant did not kill them, their own fire would.
The Mordicant snagged one of the children and at last the bell stopped ringing, while the children started screaming. One child ran, jumping off of the island and onto the treacherous ice. Three steps, perhaps four and the ice opened up and swallowed the boy whole, with nothing more to be seen after the dark shape thrashed and struggled below the surface. A few seconds passed, and Chlorr of the Mask felt the life snuffed out. Another child was snatched. Another tried to attack the Mordicant, attempting to set it on fire. It died slowly. The last two sat surrounded by fire, and as the Mordicant looked to Chlorr, with some amusement she instructed it to wait and watch, as the fire consumed the children alive. It was after the screams had died down that Chlorr heard it, faint at first and unobtrusive, which grew to a menacing buzzing in her head when she realised what it was. The bells were ringing across the countryside, as she watched, the fires were lit up in warning. The other villages were warned- she had failed.
Part Three- For This is Not Their Path
"I was made for Abhorsen to slay those already dead. The Clayr saw me. The Wallmaker made me. Abhorsen wields me so that no Dead my walk in life, for this is not their path." Garth Nix, Old Kingdom Trilogy
Abhorsen looked up into the night. No escape, nothing except the like of power she'd not seen since Orannis. And there she was, a deep gash to the stomach that could prove fatal even if she did survive this barrage of dead. Abhorsen knew the duty was clear, the action had to be taken. But She knew the ramifications, and She knew the hurt and the pain.
Was there any other way to do this?
That was the question- was there any other way at all? She had loved ones waiting for her- family and her love. But Abhorsen had a successor. Her task was done. Abhorsen could lie content in death. She did not want to go, but Abhorsen did not choose the path, the path chose Abhorsen. And She was Abhorsen. Even now, as the weight of her actions fell heavy upon her shoulders, somewhere inside, another tension eased at the thought that the fighting would all be over. She took a quick look around, appreciating once more the simple things, the crisp air of the night, the smell of the night, the harsh stench of free magic, the stars glowing pure in the sky above her. This, and more was what she was giving up. She was sacrificing her life.
Abhorsen reached for her bandolier, feeling a build-up of anticipation. The dead did not see well, or they would have made more of an effort to attack her pathetic diamond of protection, the Eastmark fading already. This Necromancer she faced, Sarin, was a relatively new free magic power, and she had been lucky he was so cocky. At least she had the chance to take them with her all the way, kicking and struggling as they may, to the Ninth Gate. Running her hand over the ebony handle, Abhorsen reached for the seventh and largest of the bells, The Weeper, before carefully drawing it out, holding the bell still so it couldn't sound of it's own accord, like so many of the bells would. Silly, perhaps, since she was planning to ring it and after it sounded, nothing much else would matter, but she was Abhorsen, and she would die as Abhorsen, following the way of Abhorsen. Abhorsen would honour the old ways one last time.
Drawing it out, she felt something change, as the Eastmark finally failed, and Sarin smiled, catlike in his pleasure at her helpless position. When he lazily lifted his arm to direct the shadow hands in their attack, she lifted the bell above her head, feet in the casting stance. Her face calm, she had one moment to acknowledge the look of panic on his face, the utter horror, frozen shock, as a perfect picture for the rest of eternity and then she swung. As the sound of Astarael the Sorrowful rung heavily in the night, the waves of dead crumpled before her, souls taking flight from bodies like startled sparrows, pulled into the powerful river of death and unable to resist the call of the Ninth Gate and True Death. She thought of her family, and all she was giving up, allowing a tear to drip down her porcelain white cheek, already frozen from death's hold on her. Abhorsen watched as Sarin struggled against Astarael and lost, as every living thing within Astarael's radius of sound joined the journey to the Ninth Gate.
Finally, with Astarael echoing in her ears, Abhorsen fell as if in slow motion, hitting the cold ground with a soft thud. Astarael sounded once more as it fell, before rolling to a stop. It mattered not, for nothing able to hear the call and be affected was living still. Above former Abhorsen Sabriel, the skies opened up and the snow descended, unheeding of the unnerving stillness of the prone body, the eyes that would never open, the mouth that would never crinkle into a smile. Soon all that could be seen was the black hair, stark against the white of the snow.
Long Live Abhorsen Lirael.
Part Four- And the Flutes Fail
The Five Charters
Old Kingdom Trilogy- Garth Nix
Five Great Charters Knit the Land
Linked Together, Hand in Hand
One in the People who wear the Crown
Princess Ellimere stopped in front of her subjects, pausing in her sentence.
"Princess?" One of her advisors reached for her arm, and she simply shook her head, her calm face slowly overcome by grief, her mouth opening in an 'NO!' of denial even as the bells began to toll. All who had stood that night against Orannis felt it, and sorrowed.
King Touchstone looked out of the window numbly, having felt the impulse himself,the mirror his own son had given him to talk with Sabriel through, lying smashed into pieces on the floor. He knew in his dreams and in his nightmares, he would never forget that last sight of her, his wife, his Sabriel… his Abhorsen dead amongst the snow, and he turned, sinking to his knees and letting out a roar of grief. Prince Sammeth ran into the room, freezing at the sight of the King on his knees.
"Father… Tell me it isn't true…" Sammeth croaked out, eyes flashing once to the mirror he himself had made that the King might see his Wife's face.
Touchstone remained silent.
"Tell me it isn't true!" Sammeth cried, fists balled.
"Doth the Walker choose the Path, or the Path the Walker?" Touchstone quoted bitterly.
Neither of them had ever loved Her or hated Abhorsen as much as they did that night.
Two in the folk, who keep the dead down
Lirael, former Abhorsen-in-waiting froze in front of the dead she was fighting, hand automatically going to Kibeth to still the clapper as she waited, allowing but one tear to slide down her cheek. She felt the change in death, the minute twinge that told her she was no longer the Abhorsen-in-Waiting. She'd fought already tonight, a minor Necromancer who had attempted to take the town. It was luck that led her to that town, that night, in time to put Dyrim to good use, forcing the weak Necromancer to tell of Chlorr of the Mask, of Sarin, Roux and Marmion's plans. They'd timed an attack together, knowing well that the two Abhorsens couldn't be everywhere at once. To some extent, they'd succeeded. Marmion however, would not. This Lirael could be sure of. Face tightening, she stepped into the spell casting stance, holding the bell and swinging it in a reverse figure eight formation, throwing the dead further into death with a hard satisfaction. No mercy.
Three and Five are Stone and Mortar
A haunting note of something reached the soldiers on the perimeter, who stiffened, looking to each other for reassurance and finding none, and merely tightened their tense hold on their bayonets, glancing to the Wall suspiciously
"Are you feeling what I'm feeling?" one of the Soldiers muttered nervously.
"It isn't normally this… this… unsettling." Another replied.
They fell silent, eyes resting on the flutes above them.
Minutes later, a slight shuffling noise was heard.
"IDENTIFY YOURSELF TRAVELLER, OR FACE DEATH!" shouted their leader fiercely, signalling the Soldiers to take aim. He needn't have bothered- from the first moment they'd heard a noise, their Bayonets, swords, daggers and arrows had already been aimed there.
The same queer noise was heard, but a little louder, a little closer.
"IDENTIFY YOURSELF OR DIE!" The Sargeant yelled once more, taking aim. A few moments later came the unmistakable sound of a shout, and a sword entering dead flesh.
"DEAD! THE DEAD! WE ARE UNDER ATTA-" The Sargeant's call was cut off by the sword protruding from his stomach as he fell. The Charter Mages ran forward, throwing up protection diamonds and offensive symbols as best they could, protecting their main mage, the only woman strong enough to be able to utter a Master Mark. There was no time to call for Abhorsen, no time to even wonder if they could.
The flutes had failed.
Four sees all in Frozen Water
Sanar and Ryelle bent their heads, eyes closed over the last image of the Perimeter. "What do you see?" The head of the nine day watch asked gently. Ryelle shook her head, annoyed by the inaccuracy of the question.
"Who do you see?" the older woman tried again. Ryelle shook her head to the negative, frustrated, trying to get the last pieces of the vision to fall into place. Something big had happened, something only she and Sanar had seen of all the Clayr.
"The answer is death." Sanar began.
"I don't understand…" The Clayr looked to the twins.
"And the Question…" Ryelle trailed off.
"For whom the bell tolls?" They both intoned, before turning back to their ice, headsin remembrance.
"Doth the Walker choose the Path, or the Path the Walker?" The Book of the Dead, Sabriel- Garth Nix