The dead were everywhere, colorless and disembodied. Most didn't even remotely resemble what once had been their human forms in life. Now they were merely zombies, shadows of the past, always coming. She bolted, running for the distant waters to the roar of the great waterfall that hindered the will of even the Greatest Dead. It surrounded her, engulfing her in its ear-deafening roar. She screamed but her voice was stolen by the crashing falls and was lost.
The roar was so deafening she could no longer hear even the Dead's systematic drumbeats, though she knew they were still playing and he was coming. Her breath was becoming ragged and it seemed she was drawing no nearer to the falls. She blinked away the perspiration that clouded her vision; her stride became longer as she pushed her body to its limits. But she knew no matter what she did, he would get her. He always did.
Without warning a black-blur shot past her head and she was unable to help herself from a quick glimpse back over her shoulder. The next thing she knew she was on the ground, her foot caught in the root of a great tree that shook to the beat of the Dead's drums, seemingly dancing. It took her a moment before she realized she could hear the drums again and that she could see him.
He stood as he always did, right in front of her, the Dead King. He hid his face conceivably well from her vision, but she knew he was Dead. He kneeled down before her, a dry-airy sound protruding from his hood that she knew was his laugh. He held out his hand so derived of color and sun it was whiter than freshly fallen snow. She closed her eyes, willing him away, and then it came. Like always, the ringing bell. And everything went black.
Artemis awoke from the dream, her body sweat-covered and her eyes shot with red. With exaggerated urgency she tore the blankets from her; systematically inspecting her ankle and wincing as a scathing pain shot up her and her finger was yanked back, coated in a thin layer of blood. Her face scrunched up as her forefinger extended once more to her ankle, finding it to be badly skinned, as it always was after the dream.
Artemis groaned twisting out of the bed covers. Her feet touched down carefully to the cold stone floor and for a moment she reveled in its pleasant feel as she thought. The dream, which she had come to know so well over the past fortnight was driving her mad. Already she could feel her mind weakening as it tore at her, breaking away at her piece by piece. It would not let her be. Shuddering, Artemis got up, her feet scarcely making noise as she rounded the corner, a lone candelabra and its waxy essence lighting her way as she entered the small kitchen area.
Upon entering Artemis felt much more light hearted, a great sigh leaving her as she turned to stare at the long row of wood that extended all along the room coating the walls in thick layers. She remained standing in the entranceway for a moment, the smell of rancid cheese settling about her, causing bile to rise into her throat along with a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Almost subconsciously her gaze drifted towards a small cabinet in the far corner of the room and quick, level strides saw her to its contents, of which she took a small water skin and nothing more. Not that there was much to take, Artemis thought tartly, her hand thrusting out and slamming the door shut. The force however caused the door to bounce back, the gesture loud and disgruntling as the door swung on its hinges.
Artemis raised one eyebrow, as if questioning the door for its motive for aggravating her. With a slightly less vibrant flick of the wrist the cabinet finally clicked shut and without further hesitation Artemis had gone from the room, venturing out into the star-filled sky to fetch water from the well. A foolish thing to be doing, when you lived in the middle of the Old Kingdom, but this had never stopped her before. She was most fortunate, in the way of the Dead, at least when she was awake.
Artemis licked her lips, humming softly to herself a happy, merry tune reminiscent of a march. Memory trickled through the recesses of Artemis' mind, as flashes of crowds and people she once knew enticed her. Artemis shifted uneasily as she pushed these thoughts away, instead trying to fully enjoy the clear crisp night that was around her.
By the time she had reached the ancient stone well the sun was beginning to peak its glistening self over the rolling hills; reflecting against the surface of the Ratterlin and glaring fiercely onto Artemis' pale features. Artemis brought her hand up in a pathetic attempt to shield herself, before bending over to peer over the edge of the river.
"Ow," Artemis mouthed as her stiff bones cracked, muscles coiling tighter. She frowned, straightening up slightly before bending over completely and scooping from the gushing river beneath her the alleviating liquid it kept close. Her eyes widened as the first spray of water hit her face, and she half gasped as the second came.
"Cold," Shaking her head and wiping her face of any droplets, Artemis took to her feet, scurrying back from the river as if it were a malignant Dead creature. For some reason Artemis had always found that she had a strong dislike for any running water, though she did not know how to explain it and did not dare tell anyone. The trait was far too well associated with the Dead and it was best to say as little as one needed on that matter.
Now that she had seen to the river, Artemis continued up the winding path to the well that perched itself at the very crest of the hill, right before it began to dip, race down for another twenty yards, and then turn into rocky inarable earth. True, the river itself would have been sufficient enough to quench her water flask of its empty belly, but—Artemis smiled—she had always found that the well was a strange and delighting treasure, a small pleasure in her life, though she knew not why.
Dirt curled and rose up underneath her rambling feet as Artemis ascended the last of the insignificant stepping stones that marked the pathway, flinging herself forward to come to land; her hands grasping the well's circular edge. Immediately a slight tingling took Artemis, and again some lost memory tickled the threads of her mind, as it always had at the well.
Stepping back, Artemis began tracing the tiny dancing marks that coated the stones completely, sighing sadly. They were charter marks. With an almost pitiful motion she brought her other hand back to her own head, extending her fingers to brush against her forehead lightly. There was nothing though, as there would be for a charter mage. Only the faintest of whispers in her mind; like the ringing of a chime…soft, abrupt, and then gone.
Looking almost disappointed Artemis returned to her task at hand, drawing up the old rope and the more ancient bucket it brought with it. The soft gurgling started, and then was complete in a matter of seconds and Artemis capped the flask up, turning on her heels and returning to her home.
"Damn it." Artemis breathed, cursing as she stared blankly at her surroundings. Thoughts of work were thrown aside as Artemis paced the room, before deciding to position herself on the bed.
Wiping a hand across her forehead, Artemis frowned at the sweat that had accumulated there wishing that she could by the heavens just figure out what was wrong with her. Her hands shook terribly as she reached up to draw the curtain aside, pushing the window open. The gusting wind that met her had its effects, but Artemis found it wasn't enough. Why was she mad?
Artemis pursed her lips, arms coiling around her. Artemis.
Had she really heard someone's voice in her head before, just as she had entered the house? Calling her name. Such a familiar voice too, Artemis had no doubt that she had known the voice from before her accident three months earlier.
"Artemis!" She nearly had a heart attack as the voice, real this time, came roaring up the stairs and through the thin walls of her room. This voice too, was far too familiar.
"Artemis-we need your sorry arse in the kitchen, NOW!"
Artemis scowled, knowing that she had had enough; enough of the people here and enough of the strange dreams and voices. She didn't belong here anyway- no one knew her. No one liked her. She was completely alone.
Artemis frowned as she caressed her scalp, finding it increasingly hard to concentrate on anything but the thought of leaving. But she had to prepare.
Looking around the room, nothing much came to mind for such preparation. Artemis began scouting the room, ignoring the frequent booms from the Inn owner and her boss. By the end of her round around the chamber she had come up with a few scarce nobles, her water flask, a small leather bag, leather boots, and a scantly worn hare-hide jacket. Really, she could ask for no more. Dodging the harsh calls from the kitchen, she slipped over the threshold; swinging the little satchel over one shoulder as she disappeared at last into the cool night.
It's not like she had any family or really any friends at the Inn. She had worked out of necessity, and so the Inn owners had accepted her out of the same necessity. She figured they'd barely bat an eyelid at her disappearance. Perhaps the old woman of the house would give her husband a tongue-lashing, ranting off nonsense about finding new help at this time of year, but that would be that. There would definitely be no effort to look for her, or any expectations that she would return. She had entered their life as easily as she would leave it. So for the next few days Artemis traveled through the Old Kingdom heading due north, following the Ratterlin as she continued her spontaneous journey. She was still unsure of her destination; it was as if an unearthly force unbeknownst to her was telling her where to go. She just knew which direction to take.
The river took her through many great cities, and an even greater number of smaller, quaint places. By the end of the eighth day of travel, upon entering the city of Orchyre which resided along the Sea of Belisaere, Artemis could take no more of people staring at her constantly.
What was so odd about her that everyone found the need to gawk and point secretly in her direction? Artemis scowled as the combination of poor sleep, little excitement, constant voices in her head, and people in general drove her near the breaking point.
She was close to grabbing the nearest man off the street and demanding him the answer to her question, but with great effort she restrained the desire, pushing it away like she did with so many other things. Finally Artemis gave up with being angry, instead deciding to grab a bite to eat.
The nearest bakery was not far and soon Artemis was munching, slightly more happily on a delectable slice of freshly baked bread which was engulfed in a matter of minutes, her stomach growling in protest at the subsequent offering even as she managed to find the last bit of crumbs.
It was then, as she sat innocently licking her fingers that a very regal carriage came clattering down the paved cobble stone streets. Artemis, who did not often find herself interested in such things, turned, watching as the horse-drawn carriage came to a complete halt a few feet from where she sat, the doors swinging open as if to greet her.
From its depths, a very elegant man emerged. He was tall, perhaps even handsome, bearing a neatly trimmed mustache and carefully guarded gaze. His smile was near flawless as he looked down at her, winking. Artemis smiled, but it was not for the man that her face lit up, but for the sword that rested at his side for the likes of which she had never seen. Charter magic was embosomed into the blade, like that magic of her well.
In the next instance he was gone.
Artemis blinked, rubbing her eyes as if fatigue had suddenly taken her. Was she going even madder? Hallucinations now…what would she do next. But no, something told Artemis that the man that had come bidden by horse and carriage and wielded the magicked sword was not of her imagination.
Thinking curiously to herself, Artemis rose, brushing herself off before moving along the pathway, watching the people bustle around her. Her cool eyes, the color of dark amber glistened thoughtfully. There was a market place, only a few yards from her location now…perhaps she would just take a look. There was bound to be such a sword somewhere, in the miles of shops.
For the remainder of the day Artemis went about from store front to store front looking for a sword such as to the like of the man's. But there seemed to be a lack in such a thing, and when she asked one of the store owners about it, he laughed.
"Charter sword, you say? What do you think I am a Wall maker?"
Artemis did not quite understand the quip but knew that it was better not to ask from now on. It seemed that magicked swords were not an easy find, but she was determined. Yet, the sun was already fading away and Artemis' muscles and bones groaned with misuse and her eyelids drooped. She had wasted her whole day in the city, to come up with nothing.
Embarrassment blossomed within Artemis and decidedly she knew that she was done. She wasn't going to find anything, and by the words of the man, even if she did it would be far out of her price range. Artemis shivered as a sudden gust threw open her coat, adding to her list of reasons to be going. She had no idea where she would be staying tonight, and an inn was out of the question.
With a forlorn expression Artemis began to retrace her steps out of the town, when a small shop stand caught her eyes, the shine of metal glittering in the dying light of the sun.
Artemis frowned at it, temptation growing within her. She knew she shouldn't, but again she felt as if a foreign force was tempting her, baiting her to go. With a shrug to signal her surrender, Artemis headed for the stand vowing to herself that this was positively the last one.
However, it seemed as if Artemis had been mistaken when thinking the stand of any real value, as she was sourly disappointed. The shape of many of the swords in the stand was poor at best and the few that were in descent shape were of no consequence to her. Artemis sighed, when something dark caught her eye.
In the far corner of the stall, hidden out of plain view was the most peculiar sword Artemis had ever seen. Its blade was obsidian in color and as Artemis took a closer look, grabbing it from it's upholster, she found it to be of some strange stainless steel. Just like the sword the man had held.
Their make was similar and yet, it had to be the most beautiful sword she had ever seen, even without the dazzle of the charter marks that the other man had held upon his. Wrapping her fingers around the blade, Artemis discovered the sword to be big for her. A man's sword, she decided, weighing it in her clasp. It was light for its look of ferocity. Artemis twirled it in her wrist, enjoying the sound as it whizzed past her ear. The jewel that was bedded at the heart of the hilt was dazzling as well, its many surfaces glowing scarlet.
Still…without marks of the charter did Artemis really want it? A sword would still be useful, but no doubt this would leave her with little money, if any at all. No more city-bought food and no horse. Artemis frowned, contemplating her decision when the sword began thrumming.
Surprised, Artemis leaned closer to the sword as the line formed into a swirling mass and a blotchy scarlet pool formed. Artemis blanched as she deftly poked it; withdrawing sharply. It was blood.
But before Artemis could even drop the blade, the blood was dissolving into its dark steel, forming letters, then words. I was made by those who walk the River of Death. Through me the coals of the Dead will be stirred, the fire rekindled and restored. I am Night's Death, the unknown, the unheard- ash upon the water.
Artemis stepped back in surprise and fell backwards, dropping the sword. It landed with a loud clang that reverberated across the stand and most undoubtedly, further. This immediately drew all eyes near the small front to turn in her direction but Artemis did not hear the noise of the sword or the people's murmurs, and neither did she see their stares. Her eyes and all senses were alert and held by the sword, as the fiery, wispy letters slowly turned back into the hideous blood red stain before dissolving into the sword once more. Мертвый.
"Miss?" Artemis leapt at least a few feet into the air, nearly sticking the person near her as she turned around grasping for the sword, her eyes wide.
"Whoa—I didn't mean to startle you-"
"ME?" Artemis all but laughed, near hysterics.
The man frowned, placing a steady hand on her shoulder as Artemis clenched the blade to her side, taking the man in. He was stocky and although he seemed to only be in his mid twenties, already he was balding, great chunks of blond hair tumbling form his head.
Artemis gulped, gaining rein over her voice as she tried to forms words. She needed to leave. "Please-I'm fine. I got startled-when I cut myself on the blade. I'm fine, thank you."
The man did not release her; he was evidentially concerned for her. "Is it a bad wound?"
Artemis shook her head quickly.
"It's a nice blade," he said, eyeing the sword with admiration. Artemis simply nodded, unsure of what else to say to this man.
"My name is Solomon." The man extended his hand, which Artemis cautiously met with hers.
"Are you going to buy the damn blade or what?" Barked someone from behind Solomon. Artemis turned to see the person she recognized as the storekeeper. She blinked, thinking.
"Um...yes. How much is it?"
"7 gold nobles."
Artemis handed the money over instantly, with a slight frown.
The store owner took the money greedily, not noting Artemis' hesitant glance before stomping away; the sound of his steps echoing throughout the very silent store.
Artemis winced at his exit, turning back to Solomon. "Well...it was nice to meet you Mr. Solomon but it is getting late and I have to go and hire a boat." It was a quick lie. She would rather not share with this man that she was staying on the outskirts of the city, completely…alone. With a quick turn she expected to be gone but was stopped as Solomon suddenly laughed, slapping Artemis on the back, almost causing her to trip. She quickly sheathed the sword after that, looking at the man quizzically. Was he daft, or just mad?
The man continued to chuckle for another few seconds before grinning. "You're looking for a boat? I happen to own one of the only ones around. Why don't you follow me and I'll fix you up?"
Artemis reluctantly agreed after a moment's thought. She hadn't wished for a boat, but, if it would get her away from him and this town, so be it.
With a strong wind, a few hours were all it took to cross the Sea of Saere, staying close to the coast and arriving at the very South Western bank of Belisaere. With the last of her gold nobles Artemis paid Solomon and with a quick thank you was on her way.
Her path took her past the city of Belisaere, leaving the safety of the aqueducts to travel into the forest. She was unwilling to spend another moment in a big port city. She just needed to locate a secluded area where she could take refuge for the night. Still…an eerie sensation settled over her and Artemis hardly noticed her hand straying to the hilt of her new sword every few moments, as if expecting a secret attack.
She had traversed a mile, and the night's thick blanket was already coming. Artemis shivered, rubbing her arms uselessly as she tried to find anyplace remotely warm. She would freeze tonight if she wasn't careful. Yet if she didn't stop she would collapse of exhaustion. Finally, coming to a decision Artemis started for a nearby oak tree, its limbs twisting like pinnacles into the sky. It seemed, almost familiar.
The bark felt cool under her fingertips and Artemis frowned, hoping that it would not become much colder. But as soon as the thought had left her, as if some foreign force had heard her unspoken thought, the wind started to pick up turning into a mad howl and whipping leaves, sticks, and other debris into her face. Artemis frowned, using her arm to block the pure force of the torrent; fighting and straining against the winds that seemed to will her back. So fixed on her fight with the hellish storm, Artemis did not notice them lessening until they had altogether ceased; sending her hurtling forward into a very moist pile of leaves.
"Ugh," she huffed, quickly scurrying up and wiping the paper-thin objects from her face and hair, though they wished to stay. Straightening back up Artemis looked ahead, planning on climbing into her protective tree. But there was something in the distance, something peculiar.
An obscure sensation swept over her, a strange feeling and then a putrid, acrid smell filled her. In a blink of an eye the creature was right in front of her, and for the first time Artemis recognized its black form, the smell of free magic and decay wafting heavily about it. The horrible being in front of her was the creature that ever dwelled in her dreams. The creature of the Greater Dead.
Artemis stumbled back making sure to keep her footing. I won't let it happen she thought frantically, determined this time to escape. Before the creature could make its expectant chuckle Artemis turned—sprinting madly away.
The creature seemed almost surprised at her reaction, before the same dry cackle escaped its black ominous mouth, its voice slicing through the air like a blade to butter.
"You have come, my darling, as we had planned so long ago-but-I am perplexed. You bring me my sword and your love, but yet you conspire to run from me? Artemis, my dove, I never regarded you so fickle." At this the creature chuckled again not making any move to stop or hinder Artemis' sprint onward and for a second Artemis almost stopped in surprise. She could no longer see the creature but its voice filled the whole forest with a raspy rattling voice that had long been put out of use.
"Perhaps you do not appreciate what I have done for you?" It hissed suddenly, appearing in front of her. Artemis' eyes widened in surprise, and with a quick jerk to the left she tried to escape the creature's wrath only to be captured within its arms, which held her securely.
His skin, (for the creature was decidedly male) so black and ominous, blazed like fire but yet also contained a strange cooling effect that chilled her bones, slowing her thoughts. She began to struggle, but as the chill consumed her she could no longer think of escape, so consumed by it. All she could do was utter one question, "Wh-who are you?" And even as the question left her lips her eyelids began drifting shut. Every fiber in her body seemed to have become numb with cold and yet the fiery flesh of the creature, so comfortable, was inviting her to sleep. How could she win a battle against both the numbing effects that dulled her brain and the subtle warmth that crept through her bringing her slowly to sleep? It was a full minute before the creature said anything more, and when he did he seemed almost confused, though it was hard to tell, his voice so menacing and unchanging.
"Who am I? What a strange question to ask… Does your memory fail you? Do you not remember me?" It asked with a strange curiosity creeping into its voice, much like that of an adolescent. Artemis slowly nodded, which was met by another full minute of silence.
Finally he spoke, his voice hushed as if he meant to keep their words secret from prying eyes. "That would explain a lot, my dove. Our love is of a tragic kind, it seems. Regrettable, that you have lost our memories. No doubt the Abhorsen was behind this." His gaze softened significantly and he turned from her, looking ashamed. He continued. "You need not fret; however, all will be remembered in time. For now you shall accompany me to meet my current blood-foe." He chuckled. "Perhaps the reservoir will restore your memories and then, together, we will rid the world of the Charter."
Author Note: I actually wrote this a very long time ago. This is based off a bunch of forum sites I did with a friend, so hopefully if I ever get around to editing this, things will start to make more sense (I know it's probably a bit confusing now). I used to have this on my other name, but seeing as the email was obsolete and I already had this account, I just transferred it over (so sorry for any inconveniences) . Just as a warning, Kerrigor is obviously going to be a bit OOC, and it will focus mainly on new characters instead of necessarily Sabriel, Touchstone etc. :D But I hope you enjoyed it! Reviews are welcome. This work in general needs a lot of work before I post it up here, but I do have six more chapters already edited so if I get some reviews, I'll be sure to post them!
Credits due to Garth Nix and his awesome stories. Thanks for reading!