Pale Horse Riders: Chapter 7
Holding Lazlo’s hand, Gabrielle continued to walk with him to Death’s door and, finally, she stood before it with poorly concealed trepidation. She looked sideways at Lazlo, and wondered if he felt as nervous as she did, but still with a thrilling happiness underlying all other emotion.
He’s falling in love with me!
She could not explain it; could not justify her feelings whatsoever; but as Lazlo had said before...could it ever be helped?
Although she could not truly admit it, not even to herself, Gabrielle had fallen in love with Lazlo as well. Yet she was bound here, to the realm of the Underworld, and could no longer again walk among mortals. If Lazlo’s quest proved successful, and he returned to his body and to his life, she could not follow. She would lose him!
However, if his quest was a failure it could be much worse....
She had no idea how Death would react to such a confrontation. No one had ever traversed to the realm of the dead to plead back a lost soul in all the time she had been in the Underworld. She knew Thanatos allowed bargaining while still in the mortal realm before the soul was taken; in fact, he seemed to enjoy it; claiming it added an element of excitement to an otherwise grim and mundane existence. Perhaps he would look upon Lazlo’s arrival here the same way.
The Lady could only hope...
She lifted her hand to the enormous brass knocker, shaped like a skull, and knocked.
“Who comes?” A deep, rumbling, raspy voice emanated from within, and Lazlo tensed for he knew not what. All he knew was that he was an unlawful soul trapped in the Underworld. He had not died properly; his body was still on the banks of the Styx, and he had no idea how Death would react to such a thing.
He steeled himself, squared his shoulders, and waited.
“Thanatos, it is I,” Gabrielle called, “...and I’ve brought...”
“Come in, Lady,” Death replied in a slightly softer voice. “Come in. It has been much time since we spoke.”
“I’ve brought a visitor,” the Lady said. “A lost soul to speak with you, Thanatos.”
“Is that so?” The door was flung open, and there stood the specter of Death.
Lazlo nearly fainted at the sight, but then he remembered he no longer had that luxury, not being possessed of a fleshly body any longer. He felt Death’s dark gaze upon him, and, using all his courage, lifted his eyes to stare back at the blankness under the black hood.
“Well, well...” Death murmured, lifting Lazlo’s chin with one bony finger and looking him over as though he was a piece of merchandise. Then he turned to Gabrielle. “Deception is not your forte, Lady. This soul is no more lost than I am.” He let go of Lazlo and turned from them, gliding back into his abode.
Gabrielle nodded at Lazlo, and, still holding his hand, she led him inside the dark interior. Flames erupted from all around them, adding to the foreboding atmosphere of the place, but Lazlo did notice one odd thing. The dwelling seemed to be filled with endless sources of amusement. Chess, darts, cards, electronics... along with things Lazlo had not seen before, which he assumed were also games; perhaps archaic ones. He had a crazy thought as to how Death had time to play anything, when he was so busy collecting the souls of the world, but then he remembered how Time seemed to have no bearing in this realm.
“Speak, Lady.” the Grim Reaper said without turning. “I would know why have you taken the soul of this mortal and brought him to me.”
“His name is Lazlo Curious,” The Lady replied. “...and I think he can answer that better than I, Thanatos.” Gabrielle looked at Lazlo and squeezed his hand. “Go on...”
“Yes, please go on,” Death said, addressing himself to Lazlo and indicating they should sit in heavy wooden chairs. “I’m simply dying to know.”
Lazlo sat, wondering if Death’s remark had been intended to be funny, then decided he’d be better off not laughing. He thought deeply about how to begin telling the Reaper of his quest. Thus far, actually getting to this place had been the weightiest matter on his mind, along with how he felt toward the Lady, of course. However, now that he was here, he wasn’t sure how to proceed. He decided just to plunge right in.
“I want to bargain for a soul,” he said abruptly.
The Grim Reaper snorted. “You are in the wrong realm for that, mortal. The bargaining takes place before the soul is taken, not afterward.”
“My brother did try to bargain for the soul. He lost.”
“Ah. Pity,” Death remarked absently, looking at the tips of his bony fingers. “Well, we win some, and we lose some, you know.”
Death’s offhand dismissal made Lazlo want to punch something, but he remained calm. “No. All I know is that my brother wants a second chance! His wife wasn’t ready to go yet. They had too much left to do with their lives... so much living left to do! She just wasn’t ready...”
“I can think of few who are,” Death said, disgruntled. “You could be describing nearly any soul walking the Underworld as we speak. However,” he sighed raspily. “I find myself fascinated to learn who could have engineered such desperation. Which soul are you talking about?” He pulled out a thick notepad.
“My sister-in-law, Charity Curious, of Strangetown,” Lazlo answered hopefully.
“Oh yes,” Thanatos murmured, reading the roster. “I remember. Lovely woman. Three children, correct?” He read the file. “Hmm... it is written here that she actually gave up a chance for immortality once in her life?”
“Three children born to her,” Lazlo amended, folding his arms. “Actually, there are four others who consider her their mother, and she ‘gave up that immortality’ you’re talking about so she wouldn’t have to kill anybody any more!” Lazlo knew Death was speaking of the time when Charity had been the mate of the Grand Vampire. “She didn’t consider that to be immortality, Reaper, but a life filled with murder, and it disgusted her, in spite of all she gained! That, above anything, should tell you her soul is worthy of another chance!”
Death closed the notepad and sighed wearily. “This is highly irregular, mortal. The soul has been brought here to wait for classification. What makes you think I can release it?”
“You’re the fucking Grim Reaper!” Lazlo said, holding out his hands with exasperation. “If you can’t do it, who the hell could?”
“Well, there is that...” the Grim Reaper conceded.
Silence permeated the dwelling; the only sound being the roaring of the flames and the bony tapping of Death’s skeletal fingers as he drummed them on the arms of his chair, clearly considering Lazlo’s request. Lazlo was encouraged; at least he had not been thrown out... or worse... considering where he was.
“What would it be worth to you, to have this soul returned?” Death asked finally. “Give me a number. Name me an amount.”
Lazlo was caught off guard. He quickly glanced at Gabrielle, and she gave him a nearly imperceptible nod of encouragement. “It would be...” he began, but his voice filled with emotion and he had to stop and collect his thoughts for a moment, closing his eyes.
Finally, he looked straight into the blankness under Death’s hood and continued. “It would be impossible to place a value on such a thing,” he said grimly. “My brother’s happiness, and that of my nieces and nephews... of all of us; our entire family! No, Death...” Lazlo shook his head. “I can’t do it.”
The Reaper folded his bony arms and stared at Lazlo through the blankness under the black hood. “No price?” he said. “You mortals amaze me. You want me to do this thing for you out of the goodness of my...” he chuckled with the sound of falling gravel. “...heart?”
Death stood and glided across the room. “Yet still I consider your request. You intrigue me, Lazlo Curious....” He came to a stop and turned. “You do realize, that should I do this for you, I would then need to make the option available to all mankind. However, it cannot be an easy thing, else none would ever die. There must be a price, and a hefty one at that.” Death shrugged. “They are, after all, getting something of great value to them in return; it is only fitting the mortals part with what is most valuable to them.”
“Money isn’t the most valuable thing to everyone,” Lazlo protested, but even as he said it, he knew there was no other way. If this was going to work, it had to be the same consideration for all, and money did seem to be the great equalizer.
“Fine.” he agreed. “Money. How much?”
“I don’t know,” the Reaper said lazily, already bored with the conversation. “What’s considered a lot of money these days in the mortal world? A lot, but not completely unreachable...?”
Lazlo shrugged. “Ten thousand simoleons is quite a bit. That’s more than most people have just laying around, and they’d really have to work for it, you know? It wouldn’t be easy to come up with; they’d really have to want to use it for the return of their loved one; and they’d probably have to give up a lot of other shit to do it.”
“Done!” Death agreed. “...but be warned,” he cautioned, and Lazlo swore if he could have seen the skeletal face, it would have been grinning. “I can’t guarantee what will happen if the full fee is not paid...” He waggled a bony finger at them.
“So...so that’s it, then?” Lazlo asked, shocked. “We can have Charity’s soul returned?” He looked around him as though expecting his sister-in-law to appear out of the stale air. “Where is she? What do I need to do next?”
“Patience, Lazlo Curious,” the Reaper rasped. “All will be made clear upon your return to the mortal realm. The soul of the one you seek must return there; as that is where her body lies, and the method will be apparent to you as well. I will send you a...” He trailed off and chuckled roughly. “Let’s just say I will send you a direct line...”
“Direct line?” Lazlo asked blankly. “What do you...?”
“Lady, take this soul back to the Styx,” Death interrupted, lazily waving his skeletal hand. “...for that is where his body lies. As for you, Lazlo Curious,” the Reaper said, turning to him one last time. “I am quite pleased we were able to reach an agreement. You have proven yourself to Death, and that is no small thing.”
Lazlo stared thoughtfully at the figure of the Grim Reaper and realized that to be true. No small thing indeed, but it had worked, and he had been successful! He couldn’t wait to see Vidcund...couldn’t wait to tell his brother that his wife was going to be able to come back to him! That Gavin, Grace, and all the other children could have their mother back! That their family could be whole again!
I’ll be going home, Lazlo thought joyfully. Back to the mortal world, but... but Gabrielle... His joy burst like a soap bubble, and a sudden feeling of despair invaded him as he gazed at the woman he loved. Oh, Gabrielle! How can I leave her behind?
“We will speak soon,” Death murmured in a quiet rumbling voice. He also seemed to be thoughtfully gazing at the Lady, and he sighed. “Farewell. I have business to attend to.” He turned and faded from sight, leaving Lazlo and Gabrielle alone.
The two of them stood together in the empty dwelling for a moment, then Gabrielle turned to Lazlo with shining eyes and squeezed his hand. “You did it,” she whispered. “You did what you came here to do, and won back a soul already taken!”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” Lazlo agreed, grinning. “...but I wonder... what do you suppose Death meant when he said he 'couldn’t guarantee what would happen' if the full amount wasn’t paid?”
“Thanatos is nothing if he’s not a prankster,” the Lady replied, shrugging. “I would just... be wary...and abide by the complete agreement you made when you attempt to bring back your sister-in-law’s soul.”
“You mean, pay the full amount.” Lazlo agreed. “Well, of course we would. I just wish I knew exactly what to do...”
“You will know once you return to the mortal world,” the Lady reassured him. “That is what Thanatos told you. Come... I will now take you back to the Styx...” She gently reached out to Lazlo, and they left, walking in silence, hand in hand.
To Be Continued...