AN: Well, I haven't written anything in a while, but hopefully this should make up for it. It's an idea that has been brewing for some time. Just what does a previously enslaved remnant of a Free Magic deity do once it's free?
Disclaimer: The Old Kingdom trilogy and therefore Mogget belongs to Garth Nix. The others mentioned here belong to me, I suppose, disinteresting as they are.
He was struggling to hold the necessary marks in his mind; not merely because they were difficult (which they were), but because his mind kept trying to crawl away down different trains of thought, threatening the shatter the concentration he needed for this.
It was just hard not to be distracted. It wasn't his surroundings, or even his situation, which was hardly desirable. It wasn't that he was tired, though having been forced to cast a diamond of protection in this state left him rather unsteady on his legs. It was the very task itself. Creating a sending was one thing. Weaving control over the Dead was another. But this? This went beyond anything he had experienced before, and it made him more than a little nervous for it. It certainly didn't help that very little information had been provided. Very little information that made sense, in any case.
The marks in his mind seemed to waver, on the verge of flickering back into nothingness, and he grasped at them desperately, forcibly wrenching his mind back into focus and nearly chewing a hole through his lip as he did so. The spell wouldn't be half as difficult if it weren't for the fact it needed to be particularly strong, in order to carry across indeterminate distances. When his mother had first told him that, he'd been baffled. Surely this kind of spell would be better performed in Death then, where things were likely to carry even when you didn't want them to.
She'd laughed. "Oh, no. He doesn't like Death. Even if he can feel the summons from there, he'll ignore it on principle."
It hadn't made sense then, and it didn't make sense now. Nobody liked Death. Not the Dead who were meant to be there, not the necromancers who used it much like one would use a smithy, and not the Abhorsen. Or the Abhorsen-in-waiting, for that matter. It didn't change the fact each one of them was all but bound to it.
The marks were aligned at last, a little shaky but bright and clear in his mind. Anyone versed in the Charter would no doubt be able to read their story and purpose. Marks for sound, for calling, requesting, summoning. Each one hovered silently, waiting almost patiently for the final piece to bring them together.
Here he almost faltered. Where one would normally place a Master mark, or something similar in order to complete the spell, he instead had to switch to Free Magic. And Free Magic made him—quite rightly—uneasy. Necromancy was founded in Free Magic, so it was not as though he was a complete novice, but every time he spoke the necessary words it was as though it was sentient, obeying him only reluctantly and with barely veiled malicious intent. The sour aftertaste it left was more than just dislike.
But it was speak soon or lose the spell, and he did not think he had time or strength to cast it again. Keeping the strung marks bright in his mind, he let the words fall off his lips, twisted and incomprehensible and accompanied by smoke that clouded his vision and stung his throat. He almost coughed, and felt the magic coil in anticipation of a mistake, but fear kept his voice steady. At last he reached the final word, all but gasping it out. Like the last piece in a railroad laid down, the circle closed and the spell activated, marks dissipating from his mind.
With his concentration now free to meander wherever it wanted, the pain in his thigh chose that moment to demand precedence. He stumbled, biting down hard on his tongue to muffle the yelp of pain he could feel crawling up his throat. He knew he was lucky, for had the strike been any deeper it was certain an artery would have been severed, and he would have been long dead by now, body cooling on the snowy outcrop. Even so, it was hard to feel lucky when there were three slashes up the side of your leg, shallow and no longer bleeding, but deadly enough in their own right. He eased himself onto the ground as best he could, breath now reduced to quick pants.
He might have walked in Death regularly, but he did not want to die. It was not so much the finality of it all, nor the fact he was barely seventeen years, but that he knew his mother would blame herself. She was prone to being ridiculous like that. It didn't matter that it was he who had insisted he was ready to handle a situation or two on his own.
Which, by the way, he was willing to never argue about ever again.
A shiver twitched down through his muscles, and it was more than the cold. He didn't know how much time he had. Would the summoning work? Would his call be heeded? It was hard to be confident when there were so many warnings surrounding the very creature he was asking to come to his aid.
He'd learnt the call from a fairly early age. It was one that had been passed down through the Abhorsen line for many generations, or so he'd been told. Exactly what the creature was apparently hadn't been on the list of things to pass down, however, so all he knew about its nature came from bare hints. Something that owed some form of loyalty to those of Abhorsen blood. Something that needed a mixture of Charter and Free Magic to call it. And something that tended to be more cooperative if you had something on hand to offer it in return. Fish was supposed to work well.
He didn't have fish. Would it kill him?
Not knowing what it was made it hard to know what to expect. This, he felt, was a valid excuse for turning his head, noticing a little white cat sitting outside the diamond, and not moving to do a thing about it.
About the same time he realised that little white cats were not typically found in this kind of area, it leaned forward and seemed to lick one of the bright lines.
The next he knew, it was on the inside.
He yelled, jerking back almost convulsively. The sharp protest of his wounded leg choked the cry off into a groan, and he clenched his hands into fists, knuckles scraping against the coldness of snow and stone.
"Now that," someone said loftily, "is impolite."
He cracked an eye open, looking at the only other thing nearby and therefore logically the only thing that could have spoken. The cat that stared back had an appearance like any other feline one could find wandering around the back streets of Belisaere, or maybe curled up in a shopkeeper's window. A bright white, cleaner than should be possible out in the wilderness, the paleness offset by the stark green eyes. Ordinary, apart from the fact that if you looked too long into the green depths, you could see something flickering in the static dance of fire.
"Who are you?" he whispered.
"Who do you think I am?" It was definitely the cat that had spoken, then and now. Only now it spoke with the kind of patience you gave to very small and very, very stupid children who obviously needed to be coaxed along if they were to so much as open a door without breaking a leg.
Reeling a little under the weight of that much patronising, he fumbled for the name, all but blurting it out once he found it. "Yrael."
"Oh, so you do have some idea of what you did." It tilted its head slightly, and he thought it might have been frowning. "And who are you?"
Panic flared again, for he'd always been told that the creature would recognise his lineage. "The- I'm the Abhorsen-in-waiting! The Abhorsen's son."
"I didn't ask what you are, I asked who you are."
It sounded like the patience was ebbing away, so he answered as quickly as he could. "Kieryn. Alisael's son."
"Ah. That would make you the sixty-first Abhorsen, then." It sounded amused, which was relieving. "If you don't die first. Is that why I'm here?"
He swallowed, but made himself nod. "I n-need to know...nngn..." The throb was particularly sharp, drowning his words in a wave of nausea and making him squeeze his eyes shut as he wrestled against the various bodily urges. The shivering was almost constant now, threatening to crumble his bracing arms beneath him.
Something poked at the wound, sending the pain soaring to a crescendo that had him sagging to the side, retching, though nothing came out. He swatted feebly at the source, only to have his hand impatiently thrust back towards him. Deeply startled for the second time, Kieryn snapped his eyes open, more than a little disturbed to find the cat replaced by a man, if not a very sizeable one. No one had thought to mention its ability to change forms to him.
He was interrupted by a dissatisfied tsk. "You let a Bethen get this close? The years go by and somehow no one gets any smarter..."
"It took me by surprise."
"By surprise? I know I tend to miss things here and there, but I wasn't aware walking around with your eyes closed was part of your training."
"For the Shiners' sake, could you just do what you're supposed to?" he snapped, briefly forgetting what he was talking to. He was reminded all too abruptly when those green eyes flicked up, narrowed in a glare of their own that didn't quell the rise of the flames within them. The already pale skin seemed to lighten, growing brighter and brighter until he was forced to turn his head away, defiance lost amidst the fierce glow and that smell, that tang that made his very heart quiver.
There was a sound like someone inhaling carefully, the kind of controlled breathing people engaged in when they were trying very hard not to lose their temper. After a few moments passed in which he did not die a painful death, Kieryn risked a peek. The green eyes met his flatly, making him wince, but the ferocity had faded.
"Sorry," he croaked, and Yrael sniffed in what was hopefully an acceptance of the apology.
"I am here because I chose to be, and for no other reason."
"I'll remember it," he assured the being. The Free Magic being, if that scent had been anything to go by. Since when had the Abhorsens had a contract with a creature founded in Free Magic? "Can...can you tell me the treatment?"
"Oh, there is no treatment," it said matter-of-factly. "Not for you anyway, unless you happen to have Mithwort stuffed down one of your leggings?"
He should his head, mouth and throat suddenly dry. "So I will die."
"Everyone dies," it muttered, still examining the wound with hands that didn't seem able to make up their mind whether to be hot or cold. Perhaps he was delirious already. "The Charter magic seems to have slowed it a little."
"So I get to die slowly instead." He was bordering on whining, he knew, but considering he was apparently about to die, he felt it was really rather his right.
Yrael ignored him, which may have been a good thing. Though having his throat torn out by an enraged Free Magic entity seemed a little more appealing now when compared to the slow and agonising death Bethen-poisoning seemed it was going to bring. Kieryn was seriously debating whether or not he should needle the creature when Yrael suddenly ducked his head and drew his tongue along one of the cuts.
More affronted than alarmed, he tried to move away, but the pale hand at his elbow wouldn't allow it. Again the disturbing feel of hot wetness running along his leg, only this time accompanied by a burning sensation that grew, and grew, and grew until he was hunched over, breathless, blind and unfeeling to the third lick because he was on fire inside and Shiner it hurt, what had ached before was now searing-
He was conscious of his breath, wheezing through his air pipe with agonised slowness. Dampness as well—he turned his head slightly, realising he was lying on his back on bare rock, the snow about him melted away. There was a gentle pressure on his forehead, first cool then warm, that lifted away as he blinked, seeking its source. Yrael's face swam into view, colourless lips curving in a smile that held just a hint of wickedness.
"That wasn't so bad, was it?"
"What-" He coughed, an explosive action that tore at his throbbing throat. If he had expected Yrael to offer him water, he was disappointed. "W-what did you...?"
"You'll live." It was an answer without being an answer, and Yrael stood up and took a step away, brushing his hands together briskly as though cleaning them of the contamination of Kieryn's skin.
He struggled to sit up, didn't quite make it, and had to settle for leaning on his elbows. It hurt, but not nearly as much as the burning before. "Thanks. Thank you."
Yrael grunted, and seemed to shake himself, shaking off snow and dirt and human form, so that the clean white cat remained. It seemed content with what it had achieved, and turned on small paws
towards the somehow still remaining diamond. Realising it was about to leave, Kieryn forced the words out of his sore throat.
"Wait! Just...what are you?"
The cat paused, cocked its head. "Yrael. Or sometimes Mogget, if only because I am apparently a hopelessly senti-"
"No." He chuckled weakly. "I didn't ask who you were. I asked what."
For a second he thought he might have overstepped the boundaries again, but then the feline face twitched in what might have been a smile. "Less than I was, but more than I used to be." It paused thoughtfully, ears swivelling slightly. "Free. I think that is all you really need to know. I am free." One final glare of the green eyes. "Have fish next time."
Before Kieryn could even begin to unravel the first cryptic statements, let alone respond to the last, the cat was gone, white fur flashing briefly against dark stone before it vanished into the snowy landscape.