Disclaimer: Characters and etc belong to Neil Gaiman.
Author's Note: The Graveyard Book was one of the novels selected for reading in my Book & Discussion class. At the end of the 5 week course, each student had to do some type of project, be it a collage, essay, something music-related...anything, really. For mine, I chose to expand on a scene Gaiman only hinted at. Basically, I got credit in class for writing a fic. That's pretty awesome. Anyway, this is what I came up with.
And He Would Go On
"Now," growled Miss Lupescu. "We end this."
The Hound of God stalked forward, coils of muscle twitching in anticipation under her thick, blood-flecked coat. Silas watched her sorrowfully, observing with his keen senses the nearly imperceptible way she favored her left side and the slight hitches in her breath—the only indications that she felt any pain.
He and the Hound had been friends many years, and cohorts long before that. They'd spent decades working alongside one another, sharing conversation, bleeding together…and as he watched her now, her great and terrible form intact despite her significant wounds, he realized with a pang that he would lose her. She would not survive this fight.
Silas suddenly felt eyes on him, and with a start he found Kandar staring at him, seeming to ask, "Well? Are we moving on?" Silas met his gaze, nodded slightly, and then turned and glided after Lupescu, feet more silent than a cat's on the cave floor. The mummy followed behind, piglet clutched in his arms like a lifeline.
And maybe it was. Silas didn't share the mummy's illusions that pigs brought luck (after all, Kandar had lost his ability to fly, and surely there was no luck in that). He knew better than to put stock in superstition. Still, a part of him, the slight optimistic streak that had somehow survived even in the face of despair, hoped that maybe Kandar's faith in the pig would save him. If he believed enough that he would survive, then he would.
But Silas knew better. The mummy would fall. Lupescu would fall. And he would go on.
It was a heavy price, but one that had to be paid. The Honour Guard existed for just this purpose: the protection of good from the grasp of evil. They had known, had always known, that this day would come. For years the hunt for the Jacks had existed, for decades had the Guard's efforts been expended on uncovering the organization (for they had always assumed one existed) behind so many heinous activities. At one time leads had been plenty, and then suddenly they vanished, as if they'd never been there at all. Until Bod. The vile murder of the boy's family had refreshed the trail, and the hunt had begun anew.
"Save the boy," Lupescu had wheezed, in limbo between wolf and woman, and Silas had every intention of doing so. Bod was his responsibility, to guide and to guard, and while Silas was entitled by loyalty to the Guard to defeat the Jacks, Bod was his real motivation.
It was true; Silas had stood by the toddler's side all those years ago because he knew the boy would be their next target, and Silas knew that if Bod had been let back into the world not only would he be killed, but the Jacks would also disappear once more. As long as Bod was alive, they would hover on the cusp of discovery, reachable with just the right amount of skillful hunting. And Silas prided himself for being an excellent hunter.
But he knew there was more to it than pertinent practicality. If not for the boy, Silas knew defeating such an enemy would be merely business, duty, obligation. Bod provided him with a personal motivation, full of vengeance and urgency. Silas had defended him in the graveyard because he'd felt a connection to the child—he'd once been wandering and in search of solace as well.
And Bod was the reason he couldn't afford distractions now.
Silas shook himself, blinked his dark eyes slowly, and continued forward. A few paces ahead, Lupescu had halted and was staring quizzically forward. Silas drew up beside her.
"What is it?" Kandar called softly from behind them, and Silas held up a hand to both silence and beckon him closer. Then all three stood shoulder to shoulder, peering forward into the gloom.
The caves themselves were dark—human eyes could never have navigated a man through them without some form of artificial lighting. Vision was no issue for the members of the Guard, however; preternatural ability had rendered the caves' eternal lightlessness useless. They could move through the murk with as much ease as if it were brightly lit.
What they faced now…that was darkness.
It was, in simple terms, a doorway, a rectangular opening through which to pass. But it was devoid of light to such an extent that even the complete darkness of those deep caves seemed to glimmer in comparison. It was a hole, a void. It devoured light and life, and it was terrible to behold.
Had the three members of the Guard been mortal, they'd have experienced a clamminess of skin, a creeping cold so dense they'd have felt weighted down and unable to move. They'd have felt drawn toward that door, compelled to walk through it as if enchanted. They would have crossed the threshold unguarded and naked, and they would have been swallowed up.
For three of the most prime members of the Honour Guard, however, the door was merely terrifying, a horror so complete they stood rooted, unwilling to go forward although they knew they must. Gazing at it, captivated by its inherent wrongness, all three were shrouded in a sense of revulsion and dread, encumbered with the feeling of evil.
"Nothing good can come out of that door," Lupescu observed solemnly, every hair on her hulking form standing on end. Her massive paws twitched with the urge to flee, and her spine shivered with unchecked fear, but she held. Next to her, Kandar clutched the pig to his chest, his remaining wing wrapped tightly around his tense body, eyes staring wildly at the doorway, unable to look away.
"No," Silas agreed. "And so good must go into it." With great effort he forced himself forward, brushing lightly against the Hound's flank for mutual support. It was an indication of how terrible a presence that door emitted, the despair and the evil, that even Silas feared to approach it. Silas, a creature born from, into, and for darkness, one who lived out of the light, dreaded to cross that threshold, to envelop himself in that blackness. He was a being who carried darkness on his soul, through whose veins darkness ran, and yet he nearly trembled at the prospect of such impenetrable night.
His initiative seemed to jostle his companions from their spell, and he heard them padding close behind him. The nearer they came to the door, the greater the chasm seemed: all the more dark, the more cold, the more wicked. In the mummy's arms the piglet started to squirm, a painfully high and desperate squeal rising in its throat. Kandar stroked its ears, attempted to soothe it, whispered Egyptian calming charms and lullabies. Still the piglet fought him.
"Kandar," Silas warned, but Lupescu was not so patient.
"Let it go!" she growled, turning her golden eyes on Kandar with such ferocity he practically flinched.
"No," Kandar insisted between repetitions of "hush," and "quiet" "He is luck!"
The Hound snarled, whirled back around and strode with renewed vigor toward the door, Silas right beside her and the mummy close behind. As they drew close to the monstrous threshold, the piglet's squeals intensified, resounding piercingly throughout the cave. It twisted its small, pink body insanely and kicked with its feet, sharp hooves scraping the mummy's chest, mad with desperation and no longer of its own mind. With a surge it shot free of Kandar's strong arms and hit the ground with an audible smack! "No!" Kandar yelled, trying to grab it as it ran, crazed, in fanatical circles around their feet before darting away, back the way they'd come. Its wild shrieking echoed back to them for several minutes, the only sound aside from the mummy's anguished moans.
Lupescu and Silas exchanged a glance, and silently allowed their companion a full minute to right himself. When he pulled himself to his feet, lips set in a firm line and eyes deadly, Silas nodded.
"Now," he said. "We go through."
It wasn't like stepping through a door at all. It was more like stepping into a pool of thick, frigid slush, or like walking into a thick fog that didn't swirl aimlessly in the air, but rather gripped with black, viselike tendrils. It pressed around them, making moving and breathing difficult, but they shoved through. Finally they emerged, unscathed yet slightly shaken, into a vast and circular chamber.
The door had placed them at the pinnacle of an immense stone staircase. From their feet it ran along the perfectly round walls, steadily swooping downward in ever-tightening spirals, so that instantly the eye was drawn to the center of the room. The foot of the stairs met a large, spacious landing, and in the core of it stood a stone dais.
The item resting atop this drew the attention of the Guard.
It was a glass orb, perfectly spherical, flawless, and glistening. An aura of silver light shrouded its glossy, black form, and though presumably weak it permeated the entire chamber, casting a glow that seemed to come from the air itself. Though solid and inanimate, it appeared to pulse steadily, almost seeming to breathe.
Lupescu sniffed the air cautiously, and her fur bristled. "This is the worst," she noted. "Melbourne, Vancouver…they were nothing. This…"
"This is the end," Kandar whispered solemnly, speaking both truthfully and dramatically. His black eyes gazed hypnotically at the sphere. "The last of their magic."
"Carefully now," Silas warned, slowly beginning the descent. His companions followed, barely a breath behind him, as they prowled down and around, one side always facing the damp wall, the other continuously open to the stale air.
After what felt like hours they reached the final step, and there they halted, scrupulous about moving into the arena-like space. The dais stood fifty yards in on all sides. The gaping space and choking silence gave cause for unease; after the relative safety of the staircase, the sudden exposure promised risk.
"I'll go," Silas announced, voice grave.
"We all go," the Hound corrected.
"Then I lead, and I destroy the cursed thing."
Kandar sucked in a sharp breath of disagreement. "No, Silas. You can't."
Silas turned patient but fierce eyes on the mummy. "Why shouldn't I?"
"You know why. The force of its destruction…" he trailed off, unwilling to finish his thought. "You know. You've seen what it did to the others."
Silas sighed. "And I should let either of you suffer the same fate?"
"Stop this," Lupescu growled. "Let's just finish the job."
"No," Kandar said roughly, malice creeping into his voice for the first time. "I'm lost anyway—my piglet ran off. Silas, you have responsibilities still. Think of the boy."
They held gazes for several long minutes, unblinking, communicating only with will, until Silas at last glanced away.
"Finally," said Lupescu, stepping onto the floor and beginning to stalk forward. She had only gone a few paces, however, when Silas reached her and laid a hand on her thick coat.
"Wait," he said, and as she stilled beside him he reached down, scooped up a small stone, and then tossed it sharply toward the room's center. It skidded along the floor until it neared the stone dais, and within a foot of meeting the base it suddenly ricocheted up and outward. From the ground shot a hundred long, jagged spikes. They formed a perfect circle three blades deep surrounding the platform, a deathly trap for anyone who hadn't thought to test it.
"That takes care of that," Silas said simply.
They had hardly made it halfway to the orb when Lupescu suddenly tensed, head lifted and nose sniffing the air. "Something's here," she warned, craning her head in the direction of the scent. Silas likewise tested the air, and he raised his guard further as he registered an unfamiliar, loathsome odor.
A deep snarl rumbled from the shadows, followed by a low bleating and resonating hiss. Then into the open stepped a monstrous beast, a dissonance of lion and goat and snake. Three sets of eyes blazed, three mouths sneered as it approached, hackles raised and slightly crouched, ready to spring.
Sudden movement to the left attracted Silas's eye, and he tore them from the abhorrent sight to catch a glimpse of a black cloak disappearing into a once-concealed doorway.
"Jack retreats," he said. "And I follow." He slipped soundlessly away from them, melding, as was his custom, into the shadows.
"Good hunting," the Hound growled under her breath, muscles wound tightly as she shifted her weight between her forepaws, gearing up for the fight. "Kandar, the orb. Leave the Chimera to me."
Without hesitation the mummy turned and began running toward the orb. His sudden movement drew the attention of the Chimera, who roared and lunged toward him. Kandar shrank back, throwing his wing up as a shield, but the beast's gaping jaws were stopped midair as Lupescu leapt to meet it, knocking it to the ground. There they rolled, a blur of teeth and hair, fangs snapping and claws tearing flesh, as the sounds of their battle reverberated off of the stone walls. Kandar straightened and hurried on, carefully maneuvering through the deadly spikes to reach the dais.
Silas left the vicious fray behind him, keeping against the wall as he pursued his target. He moved like a panther, silent and lethal, utterly invisible in the darkness. While his eyes were sharp, his hand found the opening in the wall first, and without looking back he slid around the corner and into a narrow passageway.
Once there, he had only to follow the voices. He trailed the sound down the corridor, then paused outside a slightly ajar door, listening.
"We're finished. Finished! They've destroyed Melbourne and Vancouver, and they've found us here. Our defenses above didn't get rid of them, and the door didn't scare them away. Now they're here. If the Chimera—"
"If the Chimera doesn't finish them, we will. There are a dozen of us to three of them. I doubt it will be a problem."
A dozen. That was more than Silas had anticipated, but not more than he could handle.
"Silence, Spratt. We'll wait a spell, and then we'll go to the orb."
Silas slipped into the room. "I hardly think you can afford to wait," he said, voice like velvet-swathed marble. He reached forward and snapped the neck of the Jack nearest him, and before anyone else could fully register what had happened, he'd finished two more.
Back in the chamber, the Hound of God and the Chimera raged on. The snake-tail had been torn off and lay lifeless near the stairs, the goat's throat was badly damaged and it hung uselessly, but the lion maintained its strength. Lupescu was badly wounded; her flank had suffered deep gashes and one ear was horribly mangled. Yet she remained on her paws, tail whipping back and forth as she stared down her opponent, whose eyes seemed to command her to surrender.
She snarled her refusal and lunged, teeth searching for purchase in the lion's throat beneath its thick mane. He spun in an attempt to throw her off, but she moved with him, raising a paw to swipe at his eyes. In reaction he belched flame from his mouth, an ancient trick of his kind, and the Hound yelped as her paw was scorched. She instinctively danced away, now limping.
The Chimera seemed to grin with menace as he circled her, preparing to close in for the final blow. Lupescu stood proudly, leaning her weight on three legs. She followed the Chimera as it circled her, never giving it her back as it licked its jaws and snarled with spite. She prepared herself, blood soaked fur bristling with loathing and anticipation, and as it crouched low she threw her great head back and howled her defiance and rage, before meeting it halfway with a lunge of her own.
"You can't finish us," Jack said, lips curling smugly at Silas.
Silas feigned puzzlement as he let his eyes scan the room. Half a dozen bodies lay sprawled across the floor and furniture, all killed within a minute and a half by Silas's swift hands. "Can't I?" he inquired, raising an eyebrow.
Jack gestured to the remaining five men and himself. "Even if you kill the six of us—which you can't—you surely realize that the strongest of us aren't here. Our leaders are currently after the boy, and as long as they remain untouched, we will never fall."
"Oh, you'll fall," Silas said, dark and matter of fact. "Have no doubt."
A howl ripped through the air, a war-cry of fury and loss, and the Jacks flinched slightly, though the one who had formerly spoken grinned.
"Your companions are weakened, and they won't survive. The orb will remain, and so will we."
While a stab of fear for the Hound wrenched Silas's gut, he kept any emotion from his face. "Maybe so. But…" He tilted his head slightly, listening, and then smiled. The howl wasn't the only thing he'd heard.
In Kandar's hands, the orb had begun to whistle. It quivered intensely, radiating heat and energy as its power grew. As he gripped it, aged skin blistering through his wrappings, he muttered the ancient Latin that would be its undoing. He chanted a constant stream of charms, and the more he spoke the more untamed it became. It shook and shimmered, silver light erupting from it in all directions as its screeching began to crescendo into an earsplitting, piercing wail.
Kandar turned it in his hands, struggling to hold onto it when its heat caused them to smoke and spark, small flames licking up his wrists. Beneath the deafening shriek he heard the popping of his bones as they began to bake, and his shriveled organs softened and shifted, melting into indistinguishable masses. His eyes burst. Blinded, he forced himself to go on.
Taking one hand from the scalding orb, he reached into his wrappings for the ancient blade, and with the remnant of his strength he sliced it across his hand and then placed it heavily against the top of the sphere.
For a suspended second, nothing happened. Then, the orb stilled its movements, the heat disappeared, and the wailing silenced. Kandar knelt upon the dais, blind and burned, hearing nothing but the scuffle below him, and waited.
The Jacks, seeing Silas's grin, had taken it not as a victorious smile but a wan one, and had interpreted it as surrender. Almost as one they'd rushed forward, six on one, knives flashing as they charged him. Silas let them come, standing still as a statue and just as calm. When they reached him, shouting and slicing, he merely raised his hands and swung at their heads. Now his opponents numbered four.
"Fools," he muttered. "Stop trying! My skin is as marble and my strength is worth twenty of yours. You cannot win."
But they didn't stop, only retreated slightly to confer with one another and then redoubled their efforts. Though this time, they came with fire.
Silas feared few things besides the sun, but its earthly replica was one of them, and he cowered away from it. The Jacks cackled and pursued his retreat, waving the long sticks of it before his eyes, knowing his powerlessness in the face of it. Silas tried to fight back, but he couldn't get near enough to strike without risking a burn. And Silas was so constructed that once the flames touched him, he would be lost.
So maybe he would fall. After so long, maybe he was finally finished.
Radiant light, white and hot, erupted from the orb in thick rays, shooting from its core throughout the entire room. Its wailing began afresh, now blaring notes of agony and fury. It spun rapidly on the dais, and then it stilled, hummed, and burst.
Glass shards flew across the open space, whistling as they sought purchase in anything soft and mostly scraping against stone. Then, close on their tails, came a force so powerful the ground cracked and bubbled. Magic blasted from the center outward, howling as it tore up stone and dug great fissures in the earth, until it ran out of room and shot skyward, disappearing into the dark heights.
As the Jacks bore down on Silas, he shrank away and glared into their cruel eyes; suddenly, something changed.
Silas felt the invisible force hit him, the sensation of something invisible rushing past him and simultaneously colliding solidly with his chest. The confused expressions of his enemies revealed that they'd felt it, too, and the dawning horror that followed confirmed what Silas had always known.
The Guard had won.
Silas rose to his feet, taking advantage of their sudden immobility, and he ripped the torches from their hands and cast them aside. Then he attacked, efficiently striking powerful blows to their heads, putting them out of their misery before they could fully absorb the extent of their loss.
Carefully, Silas stepped over the bodies. Without looking back, he exited the room, turned down the corridor, and returned to the spacious chamber.
The sight that met him did not shock him, nor did it disturb him. It saddened him, yes, but he had not expected anything different, and as a result he felt, in a sense, peaceful.
The ground was not merely cracked, it was overturned. Immense slabs of stone had been ripped up, leaving massive holes in their place. Deep fissures ran up the walls, disappearing into the darkness of the cave. The dais lay in two pieces, and the spikes that had surrounded it were haphazard and bent. Silas searched for signs of the mummy, the true champion of this battle, and he managed to recognize the tip of a wing amongst the rubble, and not too far from it a length of bloody wrapping. He hung his head and whispered a few words of reverence.
Further in, Silas found Lupescu laying half in and half out of one of the cracks. There wasn't much gray left in her mangled coat, and the parts of her he could see were terribly torn and destroyed. He squatted beside her, rested a hand on her sticky neck, and closed his eyes, remembering.
When he looked up again, he spotted the Chimera, only a few feet away. It was also brutalized and bloody, but its demise was not from the jaws of a Hound of God. Rather, the Chimera had suffered a killing blow from a slice of glass deeply imbedded in its eye. Silas shoved it with his foot, enraged and anguished, turned and surveyed the room one last time, and then headed for the stairs.
He would return to the graveyard to finish the job. There was still more to do, loose ends to tie. Bod still needed his protection, though Silas sensed that, upon returning, he would have little left to do. The worst was over, and while it was a relief to put it behind him, he was far from resting.
Beyond the graveyard, his homeland called. Silas had other things to protect. He was ancient, and weary, and he'd lost more in the past weeks than he had in a lifetime. Life—and death—weighed down upon him heavily, and he wished dearly that he needn't continue the hunt.
But he still had Bod, and the boy awaited his return to the graveyard, for his guidance and protection, and Silas was eager to offer both for the time that remained to them.
But soon, he knew, Bod would be gone; then, as before, as always, Silas would go on. Alone.