(A/N: After the end of Abhorsen and The Creature in the Case, there were two characters in particular I would really have liked to know more about: Nick and Mogget. I wondered what they would do next and what the change in their circumstances - Nick's Destroyer-tainted blood, Mogget's freedom - meant for them. This story is my effort to give something of an answer to that. The focus is on Nick, but Sam and Lirael make an appearance too. You may read Nick/Lirael into this if you squint, but I did write this for a gen ficathon so you'll have to do a lot of squinting. :P
Thank you very much to the lovely Sanaryelle for beta reading! She is a very talented author, and I suggest you all go and read her Old Kingdom stories. They're some of the best in the fandom that I've read. But since you're here, read my story first, okay? ;) Reviews are much appreciated!)
Blood of the Ninth
Night had fallen over the Old Kingdom and Nicholas Sayre opened his window to enjoy the sharp autumn air. His room in the palace of Belisaere often became stuffy and he welcomed the wind's cold touch on his skin. Tonight, like every other night for the past two months, he found himself thinking about the events of the past year. He had so many questions, questions that raced through his mind faster than the autumn breeze. Soon after moving to Belisaere, he had discussed one particular issue with Sam, but Sam didn't know anything more about the matter than Nick did, and they'd ended up going round in circles.
"Ask Lirael," Sam suggested.
Nick shook his head. "I can't. She has enough on her plate already learning how to fight the Dead."
Besides, she would have to venture all the way to the Ninth Gate in order to find the answers he really wanted and Nick didn't want to put her through that. He needed someone else, someone with knowledge extending far back into the past, right back to the beginning. The more he thought about it, the more obvious the solution became: Mogget.
But Mogget had vanished, wandering off to who knew where months ago. Nobody had seen him since.
"Where are you, Mogget?" he murmured. "I need you."
His wrist was itching again, and Nick rubbed it unconsciously. It was the place where the sliver of the Destroyer had entered his body. That sliver was no longer inside him, thank goodness, but it had left its trace in his blood. Nick still didn't fully understand what that meant. His encounter with the Hrule in Ancelstierre had left him confused and frustrated. He'd believed that in the Old Kingdom he would find answers. That he'd fit in.
But although he didn't regret leaving Ancelstierre, the Old Kingdom still baffled him. It defied the logic of science. Nick stared out at the Old Kingdom moon, larger and more silvery than the one he knew, and considered everything that he had learned since his return. In the past two months, he had slowly started learning Charter magic. Sameth had initially been reluctant to teach him, but as ever, Nick was quite persuasive.
"Come on, old chap, I didn't get this silly mark on my forehead just to show it off at parties. Besides, it could come in handy. I could help you make those trinkets of yours."
"Teaching you is losing me valuable time when I could be making things," Sam grumbled, but he agreed anyway.
They had quickly hit a snag.
"I've never seen that before," said Sam in bewilderment, as the jug of water that Nick was supposed to be heating suddenly gushed into the air with all the force of a raging geyser. A moment later Sam raised his hands, half-sketching defensive Charter marks as the unmistakeable scent of Free Magic stained the air.
"Oops," said Nick.
"Never mind," Sam replied steadily. "You were just a bit overenthusiastic."
But it happened again and again. The spells Nick tried reacted in unexpected ways, often far more powerful than either of them had anticipated. There was no logic to it. Even Sam, who was supposed to know about this sort of thing, could only shrug his shoulders. When Nick blew up half of Sam's workshop, destroying a silver shield that his friend had been working on for weeks, Sam decided that it was time for them to practice somewhere more open.
That had been a week ago. They'd ridden out to a nice deserted field – accompanied by a host of guards, naturally; Sam was still a prince, after all. But the guards kept their distance, and everything seemed to be going well. Nick had dutifully learned that week's marks, and Sam was being remarkably patient.
"It does a body good to be out in fresh air," said Nick cheerfully. "You spend too much time cooped up in that workshop anyway."
"Mmm," said Sam. "Let's try that arrow ward again."
Neither of them mentioned the Free Magic that just seemed to keep leaking out whatever Nick did. And then the creature descended upon them.
It seemed to come out of nowhere, out of the sky: a grotesque silvery figure with spindly arms and legs and a skull-like head. Wispy dragonfly wings fluttered uselessly from its shoulder blades. Its mouth was a gaping black hole. The mouth moved. And Nick heard it.
"Master," it said in its horrible, twisted voice. "Such power... Let me taste a breath..."
And it sucked the air hungrily, as if relishing the lingering remnants of Free Magic it found there. Nick stood, paralysed, the guards rushed over with swords drawn, and Sam screamed out Charter marks, great silver darts that stabbed the creature until it also screamed, too-long arms reaching out to grab Sam's shoulders –
"No!" Nick cried.
The creature paused. Sam ducked away; his sword found its mark in unnatural flesh. The thing writhed, still screaming, limbs jerking and flailing as smoke curled around it. But it couldn't escape the sword. Finally, it turned its head and its great black eyes seemed to pierce Nick directly where he stood, trembling, unable to speak.
"Traitor," it hissed.
A last cry escaped it, smoke trailing from its mouth, before it expired upon the point of Sam's sword. They both stood still, panting, surrounded by confused guards. Nick's heart beat furiously inside his chest, pumping the blood around his body... Free Magic blood.
"It was talking to me," he said, numbly.
Sam looked equally shaken by the encounter. "We'd better go."
They didn't talk about it immediately afterwards, but by some unspoken agreement there had been no more lessons since that day.
"I'll ask Mother," was all Sam said, but the Abhorsen Sabriel was a busy woman. She was away at the border again, strengthening the wind flutes and doing her best at what all Abhorsens were bound to do: keeping the Dead down. Nick reflected on how he had hardly seen her, and then he wondered how Sam must feel, and guilt bubbled in his stomach.
Shaking his head, he shut the window. No lessons, no work, nothing to do. Ellimere would gladly rectify that, he knew, but he certainly didn't want to muck out a stable or a hundred other mundane tasks. No, what Nick really wanted to do was understand, and it seemed that he had gotten no further than if he had stayed in Ancelstierre. Might as well turn in early, he thought. He extinguished the oil lamp on the shelf, and as he did so, he noticed the little soapstone dog standing next to it. Lirael had given it to him; or rather, she had asked him to keep it safe for her while she was away.
She had visited him only yesterday, so it wasn't all bad, even if it was a fleeting visit. Lirael had been on her way to the Clayr's Glacier, and she'd looked tired. Nick always made it his mission to cheer her up whenever he saw her. She'd confided to him before that she looked forward to their visits, because it made her forget about being the Abhorsen-in-Waiting.
"With you, I'm just Lirael." And she'd smiled at him shyly from under her hair.
Smiles from Lirael were uncommon things, so Nick treasured every one. But then how could he bring up the subjects he really wanted to talk about? Lirael, I know you're busy, but I would really like to know what it means to have the blood of the Destroyer inside me. Would you mind popping over to the Ninth Gate and finding out? Of course he couldn't worry her like that. Eventually, towards the end of the day, they touched on the subject whilst playing backgammon.
"I don't understand this game," said Lirael, her brow furrowed.
"Don't understand?" Nick's face was the picture of indignation. "But you just beat me three times in a row and I know this game like the back of my hand. What does that say about me?" He held up his hand and made a show of peering intently at it. "I suppose I don't know my old hand as well as I thought."
Lirael chuckled. "I'm sure you're just letting me win."
"Absolute tosh. I would never do that. Word of a Sayre."
"Then I must have been lucky."
"Some people get all the luck. Some get none." He gave her an injured look, and managed to coax out another small smile.
"What about your lessons? Have you had any luck with those?"
"Oh, those. No. I don't think I'm cut out for this magic lark."
"All that silly waving around." Nick imitated what he thought of as Sam sketching Charter marks – exaggerating, naturally, and almost knocked over his cup of tea. "Too theatrical. I prefer cricket."
Lirael looked concerned. "Really?"
"Well, you know." He shrugged. "Things have been a bit unexpected. I'm supposed to be reaching into the Charter, but blast it if I don't keep chucking out bits of Free Magic as well."
"It is peculiar," Lirael mused.
"Peculiar, yes, but I'm starting to feel like a public menace. Charter magic isn't meant to be mixed with Free Magic, is it?"
He was being flippant, but it was a serious question, and he could tell from Lirael's face that she knew it too.
"Well, not usually," said Lirael slowly. She twisted a strand of black hair between her fingers, thinking. "But it can be sometimes. The Abhorsen wields both Free Magic and the Charter. The Dog blended them too. It's not harmful, I'm sure."
"As long as there aren't any Free Magic creatures in the vicinity."
He told her what had happened and she bit her lip, looking more concerned than ever. It made him regret saying anything in the first place. Shouldn't have gone there, Nicholas. Don't want to worry her.
"Look, never mind," he said. "I'll just tell these Free Magic beings to go away and bother Ellimere instead."
She didn't smile, but he managed to turn her attention back to the game, and they said no more about it. By morning she had gone.
They all had duties to do. Sabriel and Lirael travelled throughout the Old Kingdom to fight the Dead, Ellimere occupied herself with royal affairs, and Sam's skills as a Wallmaker were in high demand. Nick felt useless in comparison and that infuriated him. He'd never been useless.
He lay down on his bed and sighed, thinking about the week's events. "Oh, pull yourself together," he said aloud. "Nicholas Sayre sighing and moping – whatever would Uncle Edward say?"
"He'd say that talking to yourself is one of the first signs of madness," said a familiar voice.
Nick jumped violently, cracking his head on the shelf next to his bed. The lamp wobbled, then fell, and Nick barely caught it in time. "Ow..." He stared at the little white cat sauntering along his bedroom floor. "Mogget? What on earth are you doing here?"
The cat jumped up onto the bed and stared at him with bright green eyes. "I've come to see you, of course." His acidic tone had not changed. "Unless you didn't mean to call me?"
"I – well –" Nick was honestly flabbergasted. "Well, I did, but... I say, how did you get here so quickly? Were you in Belisaere all this time?"
"I travel fast," was all Mogget said.
"Apparently." Nick replaced the lamp and sat cross-legged in the dark as he reached out to stroke Mogget's head. "So where have you been?"
The cat licked a paw. "Here and there. Will you get to the point? I am only willing to waste so much time on you."
"I'm sorry, do you have an urgent appointment?"
Mogget's eyes glowed, and for a second Nick could see the Free Magic light shining behind them. He began to think that sarcasm might not be a good idea, and withdrew his hand.
"I suppose it escaped your notice, since you were so eager to return to Ancelstierre," said Mogget, "but I am no longer Abhorsen's servant. What time I give, I choose to give, and my bargain is this: Those with the blood may call for my aid once every two years, and no more. If the family becomes too large, I may increase that time. I've spent enough generations babysitting, Nicholas. What do you want from me?"
"Oh, crikey." Nick's usually sharp mind was at a loss. He ought to have Sam and Lirael here too, at least, so they could all discuss this together. But Lirael had gone and Sam was probably asleep. He really couldn't have picked a worse time to do this. Still. Once every two years. Nick couldn't waste this opportunity. "Well... I do have some questions."
"Go on," said Mogget, sounding bored.
"About... About the Destroyer."
That caught the cat's attention. Mogget hissed, all his fur standing on end. "The Destroyer is no more. Is that not enough?"
"Not for me. I have its power inside me. My blood..."
"Yes," said Mogget. "A tiny fragment of its power, but even that is certainly enough to eclipse the blood of the Charters, weakened and diluted as they have become through the ages. Even I would hesitate to drink your blood."
Nick held up his hands. "I say, that isn't a threat, is it?" The cat gave him a withering stare. "Right. Not a threat. Of course not. But you see, it is giving me a slight problem when I try to use Charter magic."
He explained his story, and Mogget listened with weary patience. "Interesting," the cat muttered. "Where once there were Seven, there are now Eight... Nine if you include myself, of course, but I do not intend to give anything more to the Charter..."
"Er," said Nick. "Does that mean something?"
"You are a bloodline of your own," Mogget pronounced. "As the Clayr, the Abhorsen, the Wallmakers and the Royal line all carry the blood of one of the Seven, so you will be the founder of a new line. The line of the Destroyer."
Nick shifted uncomfortably. What was he supposed to say to that? He tried levity. "Oh. That sounds a bit ominous. Could we change the title?"
"Call it what you will; that does not change what it is."
Nick shook his head, a feeling of dread slowly sinking into the pit of his stomach. "But that doesn't make me evil, does it? I mean, those necromancer chaps weren't exactly friendly. I don't want to become like them."
"Exactly," said Mogget. "It is your choice that will determine what you become. You have already taken the first step by being baptised. Now you must learn to use your Free Magic in harmony with the Charter, as the Abhorsen does. If you fight it, your power will become inimical to the Charter, and you will become like the necromancers you so hate."
"This is all a bit more than I expected," Nick muttered.
"Did you expect it to be easy?" Mogget asked.
"No... Well. I don't suppose you can tell me how to choose the right path?"
"You must discover that for yourself."
Nick sighed. "Thought not."
Mogget shook his head, the bell on his collar making a faint, sweet sound. "Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?"
Nick had heard those words before, but they hadn't meant much to him then. This time, the words seemed to hang in the air. They contained some power, a whisper of Free Magic. Rather like the cat sitting before him. As he looked at Mogget, he pictured the Bright Shiner that was Mogget's true nature.
"I don't know," he answered, though he wasn't sure that Mogget had wanted an answer. "Yrael..."
At the mention of that name, Mogget's fur, already a bright white in the darkness of the room, began to glow. The cat seemed to grow in size and his shape became distorted, but always Nick could see the silver bell gleaming at his neck. Free Magic power crackled around him.
"That is who I am," said Yrael. "I have walked my path. Do not be afraid of walking yours."
Nick squinted, shielding his eyes as the brightness grew painfully intense. But he felt no fear. The brightness disappeared abruptly, as though a light bulb had blown. When his eyes readjusted, Mogget was gone.
"Do not be afraid," Nick muttered. "No... I will not. I will face who I am. Word of a Sayre, Mogget. Word of a Sayre."