Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 9
Lazlo stirred uncomfortably, feeling his heart beginning to beat once more, and his blood warming. He felt as though his entire body had the same pins and needles feeling as a foot would have when it “fell asleep,” and for the same reason. Blood was returning to all the tissues very rapidly, and his outraged cells were exhibiting their displeasure.
Inhaling was surprisingly difficult as well, owing to the collapsed condition of his lungs, but after that first painful breath of stale air, it became easier. Lazlo groaned, and tried to lift his head.
His eyes fluttered open, and Pascal and Vidcund cried out in joyous shock, both of them reaching out to help their younger brother rise.
“Lazlo... thank the Gods you’re all right!” Vidcund panted, clearly relieved. “We thought you were really dead.”
“Didn’t it work, though?” Pascal interrupted, getting to the point as usual. “Wasn’t that woman able to take your soul? I mean, I’m glad you’re not dead, Laz, but what do we do now? We can’t cross the river the way we are.”
“What are you talking about?” Lazlo asked groggily, his voice raspy and his head throbbing. He rubbed his forehead firmly with his fingertips. “I was dead. I did cross the river...”
“You did?” Vidcund cried excitedly. “What happened? Did you meet with Death? What did he...?” but Pascal interrupted again.
“Lazlo, you just collapsed a few seconds ago.”
Lazlo shook his head incredulously. “What do you mean, ‘a few seconds’?” he asked. “I’ve been gone for ages... Weeks! Months! Maybe even years!” He held his head with his hands. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
His first wild belief was that he had just imagined everything, but even as that thought came to his mind, he remembered the explanation. Time flowed differently here in the Underworld, as indeed it must; how else could Death collect the souls from all the world?
“No, Pas...I really did die,” he insisted, bracing himself on Vidcund’s shoulders. “I did cross the River, and I did meet with Death. Don’t worry about the time factor; Time is all crazy here, and it’s no use trying to figure it out... but listen you two, it worked! Vid, can you believe it? It worked...!”
Vidcund and Pascal stared at their brother in shock. “Do you...do you mean...?” Pascal began.
“Yes!” Lazlo interrupted, and he laughed, which caused him to teeter unsteadily and he held on to Vidcund’s forearms. Undaunted, he continued. “We can have Charity back, Vidcund! Death promised me that he would release her soul!" He grinned. "For a fee... of course he wouldn’t do it for nothing, the old trickster!”
“Charity...” Vidcund whispered, and he looked around wildly, as though expecting her to suddenly appear out of the stagnant air, but there was no trace of his wife. “Where is she?” he asked frantically, clutching his younger brother’s shirt. “How do we get her back? What do I need to do? Tell me!”
“She will not be able to return to you here,” came the misty soft voice of the Lady behind them, and they all whirled to see her standing unobtrusively nearby.
She smiled serenely at them all and continued, addressing herself to Vidcund. "Once Death releases her soul, your wife will return to her body in the mortal world. You will need to go home and receive her there.”
“Home...” Vidcund breathed, tears running freely down his face. “Home, with Charity back again! Laz, I don’t know how you did it, but thank you! Thank you! This means everything to me...” He hugged his brother tightly, and Lazlo returned it, but he could not tear his eyes away from the Lady, who was watching him with silver eyes brimming with tears.
Once Vidcund released his fierce grip, Lazlo sighed and slowly walked toward the woman he loved, his brown eyes full of compassion and the pain of loss.
Gabrielle appeared ghostly, pale, and barely solid; the same as she had when they had first arrived in the Underworld, and Lazlo was heartbroken. Much as he tried, he could not be pleased about returning home, not when he had to leave the Lady behind.
“Gabrielle...” Lazlo choked, wanting to reach out to her, but afraid. Afraid his hands would simply pass through her, as though she were a phantom, or mist... and he didn’t know if he could handle that. “I can’t leave you. I can’t... What can I do to stay here with you?”
“There is nothing that can be done,” Gabrielle said miserably, gazing at him sadly with her beautiful mist-colored eyes. “As a mortal, you simply cannot remain here. You will return to the plane of existence to which you belong, and I will stay here in this one.” She gave him a crooked smile, and reached out a ghostly pale hand. “All I can hope for now is that sometimes you will remember me in your dreams...”
“Dreams... awake... always, Gabrielle,” Lazlo managed in a strained whisper. “How can I forget the only woman I’ve ever truly loved? I can’t, Gabrielle...I just can’t...” Unable to stop himself, he reached for her; thanking the Gods that she still felt solid in his arms, and he kissed her with all the passion he could muster, while Pascal and Vidcund watched in amazement.
Their kiss seemed to span an eternity, and when their lips finally parted, Gabrielle took a deep, sorrowful breath, ready to bid him farewell.
She did take a breath.
The air was stale and cold, but it filled her lungs.
Stimulated both by the kiss and Lazlo’s close proximity, Gabrielle’s heart was pounding; her body was filled with uncomfortable, nearly painful tingling; and blood was roaring in her ears...
My heart? My... my blood? Pain?
Gabrielle placed a hand to her chest and gazed, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, at Lazlo. “Lazlo, I...” she began, and suddenly, her appearance changed; becoming rosy and flushed with warmth as true lifeblood returned to it. The Lady held out her hands, noting her skin was no longer pallid, but a delicate caramel color she barely remembered.
“Lazlo...what’s happened to me?” she gasped, but Lazlo shook his head in amazement, his eyes wide and shocked.
Thanatos suddenly appeared among them. No one had noticed his approach, being too focused on the Lady and her incredible transformation, but they all immediately stood back for him regardless. He commanded such behavior, as Death was not a thing to be resisted.
The Reaper glided up to the Lady and pointed a long, bony finger at her. “Your soul has been repaired,” he said in his characteristic grating voice. “Yes, Lady...it has,” he murmured in response to Gabrielle’s shocked expression. “I first felt the stirs of it when you visited me with this mortal, and it is now complete.”
“But...but... I don’t understand...” Gabrielle breathed, holding tightly to Lazlo’s hands.
“When your sister betrayed you, and your brothers retaliated by murdering her and your lover in cold blood, you took that evil upon your own soul. Since it was not yours to bear, your soul could not absorb it, but yet you refused to let it go. The resulting internal conflict caused heavy damage to your spirit. This, you know.
“I could not save you,” Death continued, sighing. “I could not restore your spirit, yet I knew that you would never be able to walk the Underworld as a soul at rest. In fact, you would likely not even have the ability to cross the Styx with such impairment. You begged me to take you, though you may remember not, and so I did, in the only manner I could. You were indentured in servitude to the Underworld from that time forth, to spare your suffering.”
Death considered for a moment, and Gabrielle held her breath.
“Yet I release you now,” the Reaper said. “As I must. Go. Your soul has been restored by powers far greater than Death. Return to the mortal realm, Lady, and live the life it has been fated for you to lead.”
Lazlo turned joyously to Gabrielle, and reached out to sweep her into his arms, just as Death lifted his scythe and tapped it, three times, on the marshy ground.
The world tilted, then began to turn and spin. Lazlo lost sight of the Lady; although he felt his brothers’ presence alongside him, and he saw stars, quite close, in the blackness above. Then, the stars winked out as cold air rushed past him at in increasingly fast pace; his head was whirling, faster and faster...he couldn’t bear it...
Then, suddenly, all was still and dark.
The brothers found themselves back in the Desert, laying on the sand in the same spot they had taken the pale steed, Necros. Yet no stallion was with them now. The Desert was empty, still and cold, with a chill wind blowing the dry particles of sand, and small dust-devils whirling in the distance.
Sand lay drifted over them; they had evidently been lying thus for some time. Slowly, they all stood, brushing off the heavy blanket of sand, and looked at one another dazedly, blinking and rubbing the stinging grains from their eyes.
“What happened...?” Vidcund asked hoarsely, holding his head between his hands. “Was it... was it all a dream?” He looked around him wildly and turned fearful, disappointed eyes on his brothers. “No, no, no! It couldn’t be, could it?” Tears filled his eyes and his throat closed in horror. “No...Oh, no...” He fell to his knees in the desert and cried with choking sobs, while the chill wind whistled around him. Pascal and Lazlo dropped down beside him and tried to comfort him, to no avail...
It was all a dream... Vidcund thought desperately, sobbing and pounding at the dry sand beneath him. It didn’t really happen! We just passed out here in the desert and I dreamed it all! We’re not getting Charity back! We’re not getting her back, and Goddess help me, now I just want to die… at least I’d be with her that way...
“Lazlo,” Vidcund choked, clutching at his brother’s shirt. “...please tell me it wasn’t a dream!”
Unexpectedly, a soft female voice penetrated the darkness, and it was a voice filled with an overwhelming happiness. “No,” it said joyfully. “It was not a dream.”
The brothers spun around to see the Lady Gabrielle... restored fully to a mortal life and standing beside a sinister-looking device that was resting on the sand. It appeared to be a regular telephone, of all things, but it was cradled in a setting of gas and flames, and surrounded by skulls.
Lazlo understood immediately. So that was the “direct line” to the Reaper he had been promised. With this, Vidcund could bring back Charity, somehow... perhaps by actually calling Death? ...but Lazlo couldn’t stop to wonder or explain at the moment. He rushed toward Gabrielle and lifted her in his arms, laughing with ecstasy; kissing her and holding her as though he was never going to let her go.
Indeed, he had no intention of it, ever. He reveled in the feel of her warm skin, and of the strength of her arms encircling him, and the parting words of Thanatos echoed in his mind.
“Return to the mortal realm, Lady, and live the life it has been fated for you to lead.”
To Be Continued: