Not sure if I'll get to update tomorrow... kids' school field trips and such... so two updates today!
Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 4
At the moment Lazlo touched the fingers of the pale woman, he felt an indescribable sense of draining, and an insistent tugging from deep within his body.
“Gods...” he gasped, holding his chest with his other hand. His head whirled... he could no longer focus on anything... his brothers were lost in the mist, and the only clear image was that of the beautiful woman in front of him, holding his hand tightly.
“Don’t fight it,” she murmured. “Just let go...”
Lazlo concentrated on her melodic voice and quiet silver eyes, and soon found himself standing with her on the bank of the river a short distance away, their hands still intertwined. The whirling had stopped, and he could look around him with clear vision. He felt wonderful, actually. Very rested, and very light. He smiled at the dark-haired woman and she smiled back at him, not letting go of his hand.
“Did it work?” Lazlo asked her.
She inclined her head and indicated he should turn. “See for yourself.”
Lazlo looked behind him and was greeted by a heartbreaking sight. His brothers were standing on the spongy, misty ground beside something... and they were sobbing. What is it, Lazlo wondered, although he worried that he already knew...
He walked toward Pascal and Vidcund, finally letting go of the raven-haired woman’s hand, and saw his own body laying on the ground, cold and lifeless.
Lazlo was surprised at how much that disturbed him. Not only to see himself dead, but to see how distraught his brothers were. Even though this was what they had all wanted!
But to see it...
“Hey, guys...” Lazlo called, trying to sound cheerful. “I’m over here... look! It worked...”
The beautiful woman glided up behind him. “They can no longer hear you,” she said in a quiet, soothing voice.
“Why not?” Lazlo asked, turning to her. “We could hear you, and see you.” He lifted his hands and looked at them. “I seem solid enough, and so do you.”
“No longer,” she smiled. “We only appear so to each other, as we have both now traversed into the spirit realm. Come...” she held out her hand again and Lazlo took it.
“We will wait for Charon, just here...” She led Lazlo away from his body and his sobbing brothers to a spot near the river. Lazlo kept looking behind him.
“It is better if you refrain from that,” the woman said serenely, noticing what he was doing. “Emotional attachments that remain from the mortal realm make it more difficult for a soul to cross the Styx.”
Lazlo tore his eyes away from his brothers and looked at her then, and was again struck by her awesome, ethereal beauty. “Is that what you are?” he asked her pointedly. “A soul that can’t cross the river?” He realized he was still holding her hand but he had no desire to let it go.
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” she replied, smiling a little. “However, I am not a true spirit. I was once mortal, such as you, but on the day before my wedding, the man I loved was brutally murdered right before my eyes.”
She looked away, and her mist-colored eyes clouded. “Remember what I told you about emotional attachments from the mortal realm making it difficult?”
Lazlo nodded mutely.
“The trauma from that day in some way irrevocably damaged my soul,” the woman continued, “and the Reaper took pity on me. He knew I would suffer in death, so he brought me here, neither alive nor dead, but as a employee of sorts, the same as Charon. I prepare the souls for transport into the underworld. I facilitate their journey, and try to make it less traumatic for those who need it.”
“Are you immortal?” Lazlo asked, fascinated.
“Yes,” she answered. “So long as I have such a damaged soul, I cannot die. However, I also cannot live...” She smiled sadly, and Lazlo felt his heart go out to her. They sat on the banks of the river, mist surrounding them, but no music from frogs or crickets reached Lazlo’s ears, and no stars penetrated the inky blackness. He shivered, even though he knew he shouldn’t be cold, as he no longer possessed a body of flesh.
“What’s your name?” Lazlo asked his companion, realizing suddenly that he did not know. She had not ever told him.
“In this realm I have no name,” she answered, shrugging slightly, “ I am known only as the Lady. However, when I walked the mortal world, I was known as...” She frowned and took a deep breath, seeming to pull the words from somewhere deep inside her. “Gabrielle. Gabrielle VanCuren.” She had an odd, pained, expression, and she held a delicate hand to her forehead. “It’s been so long since I’ve heard that name...”
“Do you mind if I call you that?” Lazlo asked her kindly.
“No, of course not,” the Lady replied, embarrassedly tucking a wayward strand of silky dark hair behind her ear, “Just do not be upset if I give no response, at least at first... Look!” she cried, pointing downstream. “Charon comes...”
Lazlo stood, squinting though the haze, and saw a dark figure, standing in the bows of a long, low boat, poling it along unconcernedly. The sounds of waves hitting wood, and the creaking of the boat itself reached Lazlo’s ears, penetrating the otherwise deadly silence. Gabrielle stood up beside him.
“What do we do now?” Lazlo asked in a strained whisper. The dark image of Charon was terrifying.
“You are a soul needing passage,” the Lady said, shrugging. “Usually, you would stand thus, and Charon would stop. You would pay the toll, a coin which would have been placed under your tongue by Death, and Charon would bear you to the Underworld.”
Lazlo moved his tongue around in his mouth automatically, but there was no coin. He reached behind him and felt the rear pocket of his jeans where he usually carried his wallet, but it had been left with his mortal body. “Gabrielle... I don’t have any money,” he whispered with a worried look.
“Of course not,” Gabrielle said, amused. “You were not taken by Thanatos, and so would not have been given any. However, you will not need coin. I will accompany you, and that will serve as your fare. Just be silent. I have dealt with Charon many a time...”
Lazlo was only too glad to let the Lady take control. In spite of their surroundings and his quest, and even in spite of Gabrielle’s immortality and servitude to Death, he was finding himself very attracted to her. He couldn’t explain it, but it was true. Moreover, he knew his very existence, present and future, depended on her now, and he trusted the Lady implicitly. How he knew to do so, he could not say. Yet just in the short time he’d known her, he felt very close to her, and that was enough.
“Halt, ferryman!” Gabrielle called, stepping forward and raising her slender pale arm. “A soul waits for passage!”
Charon raised his sallow, skull-like head and looked at them, and slowly the longboat altered course. It drifted in to the bank, sliding softly among the mud and slime. Silently, the boatman held out a large hand.
Lazlo looked at Gabrielle, and she shook her head slightly, indicating he should say nothing. “This soul travels as my guest, Charon,” she said quietly. “You will require no fare.”
Charon angrily thumped his pole in the bottom of the boat, and a growling snarl rumbled from deep within his robed form. He held out his hand again, but again, the Lady shook her head.
“My guest,” she reminded the boatman, crossing her arms. “I am not breaking any laws, here, ferryman. So long as I accompany him, he may cross without coin. You know this; you as well have the power to admit those souls whom you choose.”
Still silent, the boatman seemed to sigh with resignation, and he stepped aside to let Lazlo and the Lady pass. Lazlo stood on the boat, as far away from Charon as he could, yet it was evident that Gabrielle held no fear of him. Indeed, he was her colleague, and she needn’t feel threatened. Lazlo was glad of it, as seeing the countenance of Charon was not something he would easily forget.
The ferryman pushed off from the bank, and the boat glided across the oily, still waters of the river Styx. At some point, Gabrielle had slipped her hand back into Lazlo’s again, and he was grateful. The atmosphere became ever more oppressing the further they moved upstream, and it seemed to get even darker and quieter, if that was at all possible.
Suddenly, it struck Lazlo that one of the reasons it seemed so silent was that he ought to be able to hear his heart pounding, yet he could not. I don’t have a heart any longer... he realized with a sense of horror, putting a hand to his chest.
Then, his eyes fell on the still, pale form of Gabrielle who was quietly standing beside him, clasping his hand tightly with her slender white fingers.
Well, he amended to himself wryly, at least not a heart of flesh...
To Be Continued...