Photo courtesy Athena-chan
Very powerful wizard
Creative and discerning
Thinks he is a coward
Too kind for his own good
He actually likes spiders
How we think the fight might go...
The sound of the river was calmer here in the fourth precinct. If she remained quiet and hurried, she could be in and out of death before any dead knew she was here. Mogget was watching her body outside, so outside she was safe. A thumping sounded in her ears, reminding her of a distant echo. She listened, but didn't hear it again. A specific dead required her attention here tonight. If she found him she could use the bell Dyrim to give him speech and get the information she needed.
There was a rustling of water, and she spun around. Sounds in death were never a welcome thing, but this place was so vast, it was hard to tell exactly where it came from. There was nothing but grayness, and the tug of the river at her feet. It asked her to give up life and be embraced by death.
"No," she whispered.
"Hello!" a voice called out. “Is anyone here?”
Sabriel started, jerking out of her thoughts. A young man with yellow hair stepped lightly through the water towards her. She could detect no charter or free magic from him. But only a necromancer could walk into death...
"Who are you?" she snapped. Death was not a place to make friends.
"Oh, come now,” the man said, chuckling as though they were sharing a great joke. “You must recognize me.” He struck a pose that might have looked fine in a painting, but looked ridiculous in the fourth precinct.
She shook her head, annoyed with the interruption and wanting to be on her way.
The man deflated a little, but pressed on. “You must have heard about the great wizard Howl. Or Jenkins. Or Pendragon.” He watched her carefully, waiting for the first flicker of recognition.
Sabriel kept her face blank, and even if she had recognized him, she wouldn’t have let on. Arrogancy like that got people killed. Especially here. And she didn’t want anymore dead to have to deal with.
“Well, you must have heard about my legendary exploits,” he said, irritation tightening his face.
“No,” she said. “Sorry. I don’t have time for this, so if you could just…” She motioned for him to move.
He positioned himself firmly in her way. “Insults aside, you can’t expect to just walk off like that. I came down here to rescue you.”
Sabriel bit the insides of her cheeks. The nerve! She forced herself to breathe calmly. “Well, as you can see, I don’t need rescuing so please leave me alone.”
Howl puffed up like a blowfish before deflating, his whole body sagging. “All right. Fine. You don’t want to be rescued, but I still have obligations. And—“
“I’m not your obligation!’ Sabriel yelled. “Now go away."
“I have no idea how to get out of here,” he finished, grinning at her like a child caught red-handed, but still trying to charm his way out of the punishment that was coming.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, then why did you force yourself here in the first place?”
“I didn’t force myself anywhere,” Howl said, sighing as though the troubles of the world rested on his shoulders. Sabriel was not moved. From what she’d seen of him, he’d probably caused most of those troubles. “And I did knock before coming down.”
She remembered the dull thumping. "Did you--knock on my head?"
"Of course. You looked like such a icicle out there. Oh, by the way, the talking cat thing said to bring him a fish when you were done. So, where are we again?"
"The fourth precinct," she said. "There are less dead here, which is why I'm trying to do my work."
Howl looked around the vast grayness, water sloshing with him as he walked.
"And how many are there?"
"There are nine gates," she said.
"And what's beyond that one?"
"I don't know. Anyone that goes beyond the ninth gate never comes back. Never," she said for emphasis.
"Well, maybe they just found another way back. I mean, this isn't the most pleasant trip," he said, lifiting his foot. Water ran off his boot. "Truth be told, I've heard word that something wonderful is beyond there. I'm hoping it is a an adoration charm, but don't tell Sophie, she'd kill me."
Sabriel stopped short. "Adoration charm?" she asked, wondering if she'd heard right.
Howl beamed. "Yes. I’ve done everything else.” He swung his head to the side so she could admire his unnaturally blond hair. “Now all that’s stopping me from being irresistible is that charm.” He muttered something about a suit and a Sophie and scissors, but Sabriel couldn’t make anything out.
Sabriel snorted. “Nice. Now if you’d excuse me…”
"You mean you don’t find me even a little irresistible?" He actually pouted.
After a moment of silence, Sabriel sighed.
"If I show you the way out, will you promise to go back to wherever you came from, and let me do my work?"
"Cross my heart," he said. "But first, would you take me beyond the ninth gate?" he asked
"That's impossible," she said.
"Nothing is impossible." He scoffed, striking a pose that would have looked more natural on a statue.
“You’d have to fight me and win to get me to take you to the ninth gate,” she said through clenched teeth. Sabriel was nervous. Being in death was no trifling matter. Just standing here the river would pull on you, urging you to farther gates. She sized him up. She had only been doing this for a few years now, but she thought she could take him.
Howl blinked at her, taken aback. Then he gave her a smile she was sure was meant to send her swooning and shrugged. “All right. If that’s what you really want, but I see no reason why we can’t resolve this amicably.”
Sabriel drew her sword and lunged towards him. Howl jumped back, his long, bright sleeves billowing and tangling around each other.
"What are you doing? I thought we were going to do this magically." He caught his balance and smoothed out his sleeves.
"You didn’t specify," she said, taking another swipe at him. He dodged again. She cursed. This time she infused her sword with charter magic, sending the marks down the tip of her sword. Howl's eyes widened. He said a string of words and they vanished, but just before reaching him.
"Magic and swords don’t go well together," Howl said, swallowing hard.
Sabriel ignored him, whistling and sending more charter marks--marks meant to bind--after him. Howl waved his hand and they vanished. Then he issued a string of words which echoed with thunder. The ground shook, almost toppling her in the river. Only sticking her sword in the ground saved her as her legs were swept from under her.
This is getting dangerous, she thought. Far too dangerous. The dead must have heard them through at least three gates by now, and they would be coming.
Sabriel stood, whistling the note for Saraneth, the binder, to hold him even a little while she pulled out the real Saraneth. It was meant for the dead, but there should be a compulsion for the living as well. If she could get him out of death, she could get rid of him.
Howl froze and she held the sound even though her lungs wanted air. Sabriel sheathed her sword and whipped out the sixth bell. In that moment, her air ran out and she needed to take a single breath. It was all he needed.
Howl uttered a single long word, and a flood of water rushed around him and toward her. She ran. If she couldn't draw him out by force, she would do it the old-fashioned way. A chase it is then, she thought. Though the third gate was the next closest to life. Perhaps they would both get what they wanted. He could be swept away by the wave no one could withstand past the ninth gate and all the adoration charms he wanted, and she could return to life, her work, and Touchstone.
She raced through the gate separating the fourth and third precinct. It was deceptively still and cool, compared to the others, but that was exactly its danger. Sabriel raced across it without stopping. She could hear the wizard's steps behind her, and beyond that, the wave. She ran faster. Suddenly, all of the noise stopped.
Howl held his hands in front of him. The wave of water stood frozen, in mid-air. The strain was wearing on him, she could already tell. Streams of sweat ran down his perfect face and his shoulders drooped while his hands shook. But to stop a river of death...
"How--" she asked, dazed, taking a step toward him without thinking.
"It's not easy," he said through ragged breaths. "Now will you take me past the ninth gate?"
"Are you insane? Without that water, the dead will come crawling back from the deepest gates! Have you ever faced a mordicant? Or a Greater Dead? I don't think you want to. Put it back!"
"Take me to the ninth gate," he said.
"No," she whispered, glancing toward the now-still waterfall. It was a dead's dream. There would be no resistance to their passage. She could see his arms shaking. He couldn't hold out much longer. If she could just stall a bit more... But then all of the Old Kingdom would be at risk. The Greater Dead were coming nearer even as she hesitated.
"Fine, fine!" she hissed. "We have to go through the fourth gate first, then let it go. You'd better be prepared for what we face down there."
He sighed with relief, letting his arms drop. Then he grabbed hers as they raced toward the gate. The wall of water crashed around them, but between Howl's words and her own charter magic, they staved off most of the blow. She hoped that kind of wave would wash any of the Greater Dead back, if not farther into death than they were before. They were both sopping wet as they picked themselves up. Howl said some words and his clothes were instantly dry.
“Next time, you might want to make your decisions a little faster. One more minute and I’d have lost control and we would have gone out with the tide. I never would have gotten my adoration charm, and Sophie would have been furious with me for dying."
Sabriel rolled her eyes, but she couldn't help but smile a little. She would lead him to the ninth gate, and he could go on from there on his own. She could stay and finish her work here. It wasn't her time to go. As they walked, she pulled out her sword and nicked his clothes so a small, but noticeable tear ran down its length. Somehow, she knew he'd notice.
Predicted winner: Howl
Howl Jenkins is from Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and Sabriel is from Garth Nix's Abhorsen Chronicles