[Cecily]Seven: "Death's Door"





June 23, 2189

       For most of my life, I have mocked Death. When you walk away from countless situations that would have killed most people enough times, it's hard not to believe you live a charmed life. So I have spent most of my life mocking Death by believing I was better than it - that I, Cecily Greyfalcon, could not be bound by it.
       Oh boy, was I wrong....

       "I told you, it is not yet your time to pass this way." The grey-cloaked man's grip on my arm was sure and gentle as he pulled me from the swift river. "I will hold you here, until someone comes for you."
       I didn't bother to point out that I doubted anyone would be coming for me. I had really done it, this time. I had finally gotten myself killed. Granted, it wasn't what I had expected it to be like, but it was still dead, and I wasn't all that happy about it. I'd probably been even less happy when the shock wore off. Though does it, when you're dead?
        Unsure for the moment of what I could do, and rather unwilling to really contemplate the consequences of what had just happened, I took a better look at my savior. He was tall and somewhat imposing in his manner, though his green eyes were kindly, and somewhat familiar.
       I was about to ask him who he was when I heard the sounds of someone sloshing through the waters toward us. One hand going to the sword at my side (and just how the hell did that come with me?) I looked away, back up the river's course. There, sloshing through the waters of death, looking both determined and apprehensive, was Harry.
       My immediate thought was that he'd done something stupid and gotten himself killed, and I said as much, my words harsher than I'd meant in my surprise at seeing him.
       He stopped some few feet away from me and my rescuer, with whom he exchanged a long, knowing look. "Cecily, if you are not quiet you will bring the attention of something dark that will very likely use you as a conduit back to the living world." He held out his hand. "I've come to take you back."
       It took me a few moments to parse that he was indeed here of his own doing, and was in fact rescuing me from death's door. I opened my mouth to ask him just what the hell was going on, but the look on his face forbore any questions for the moment, and I meekly took his hand.
       When I was securely in Harry's grip, the grey-cloaked man let me go. "Thank you," I said to him. "I owe you twice, now."
       A smile lit his face. "Three times, actually," he said softly. "Now go."
       We went. Harry managed to keep us from being dragged down by the current, and up ahead, I could see the pale glow of the light that had brought me here. "I missed something major back there didn't I?"
       Harry didn't reply for a moment. "You were very young when you saw him last."
       "But..." Suddenly the light bulb went on. Of course his eyes were familiar. I saw them every morning when I looked in a mirror. I turned to look back at my rescuer, my father, but Harry grabbed me and yanked me forward again. "Don't look back!" He snapped. And then I had no chance to say more as we fell into the light.

       Wherever we fell to, I must have landed hard, because I hurt like hell. I just lay there, because I was pretty sure I couldn't do much else. I don't ever remember hurting this badly, which told me just how messed up I was. Bad enough to supposed to be dead, some little voice in the back of my head reminded me. I told the voice to shut up and carefully opened my eyes.
       Stark and a shivering Harry were standing over me, expressions going from fear to relief when they saw I was awake. "What happened?" My mouth was horribly dry and tasted awful.
       Stark threw out a few medical terms, and I was able to get that they'd tried to give me Fletcher's blood, thinking it was a match, and that was apparently what had finished the job the Beholder had started.
       I started fading out near the end of Stark's explanation. Even parsing that little was more than I felt up to at the moment. I would have been disturbed by that, except I was too tired to be disturbed. And then I don't remember any more for a while.

       I dreamed, I think, in that in-between time. Or maybe I was hallucinating. Goddess only knows what Stark had pumped into my system. But I saw the man, my father, standing guard at the doorway. Another time it was Jasper standing there. And another time Hakthla. They all had something to say to me, something important, but none of it made sense. Or maybe I just wasn't listening. And later, when I sat in the dark by myself and contemplated my new-found mortality, I wondered if I should have listened harder.

       I woke up a few hours later to my brother trying to drown me with a spoonful of soup. His face was drawn, and he looked exhausted, but he patiently fed me an bowl of broth.
       When it was empty, and I had a chance to speak without him shoving the spoon in my mouth, I said quietly, "Thanks, Harry." When I'd realized he was there, in that other place, of his own power and to get me, I had been struck with a staggering sense of relief and gratitude. Nothing like knowing my big brother, the one to always fix my skinned knees and scare away the boogeyman (and I do mean that literally), had been there to fix my biggest scrape of all.
       He set the bowl aside, and tucked my covers around me a bit. "You're my sister." His affectionate tone said it all. He told me then where we were, and what little he'd learned about the Eyriens. I had vague recollections of a large winged man arguing with Stark, but the end of our fight with the Beholders was a little hazey. Harry gave me an odd look when I asked about what had happened to the rest of the Beholders. "We got them all. You were awake then."
       "I was a little fuzzy on the details. Had something to do with most of my blood being on the ground, I think."
       Harry feigned shock. "The great Cecily Greyfalcon admits she didn't see everything going on?" His smile was teasing.
       "Be glad I can't hit you without seriously injuring myself," I muttered. He only chuckled and kissed me on the forehead. "Go to sleep."
       And I did, not long after.

       The next morning our hosts appeared to move us to lower elevations. It was decided that I wasn't going anywhere, and Harry elected to stay with me. Fletcher stayed behind for a while too, and used one of his healing spells on me, even though he looked more in need of it. Though by the time he was done, I was thinking more about some other things he'd said.
       Sometime after Fletcher left, I gave my brother a long, searching look. "What you did, coming after me... that's some sort of necromancy, isn't it?"
       He studied the floor with great interest. "Ah, well, actually, yes."
       "Here I am, thinking I had you all figured out." I must have been slipping. Getting killed, and not knowing my brother had this little secret? "My brother, the necromancer." I shifted in my pallet, trying to find a comfortable position, which was making itself known. "Where did you pick up that little talent?"
       He sniffed slightly, sounding utterly insulted. "You are not the only one in the family that could lay claim to a misspent youth..."
       "My brother, a juvenile delinquent?" I gave him a wide-eyed, disbelieving smile that he didn't appreciate. "And here I was sure you'd been born wearing tweed."
        He gave me a dirty look. "I was... there was a secret necromancy club at University. I went when I was 14, I think I've told you that... it was hard to fit in, but when I found the club, or rather, they found me... well, I had a place then. We never reanimated the dead for anything other than a lark, you understand. But much as any time an callow youth dabbles in the Dark Arts, there are disastrous consequences."
       And so I learned that my dear elder brother, bastion of perfect manners and best behavior, had once screwed up in ways worse than I had ever managed. He looked so hang-dog at the completion of his story that I had to take pity on him. "C'mere." He sat beside me, and I gave him a hug, which he returned.
        "Anyway, I promised Mom I'd never go dabbling in death again. But I think she'd forgive me this one time. I hope so."
       "Yeah." I hoped so too. I would never admit it to anyone other than Harry, but the whole experience had rattled me a little... okay, a lot. I had the sudden and horrible feeling that despite what our dad had said, I wasn't supposed to have escaped. Or that maybe, I was now living on borrowed time. I mean, cheating death by being very lucky is one thing. Cheating death after crossing over... There's always a price for that sort of thing in the ballads and myths, and it's always a steep one.
       "Are you ok?" Harry asked, looking concerned at my sudden shift in mood.
        "It's one thing to think, 'Wow, I could have died' and it's another thing entirely to think 'Wow, I did'..."
       "Yes, and our father was there, right near the edge of Life, waiting to hold you in place. Odd thing, that."
       "Almost as if he knew, maybe." It's not yet time for you to pass this way...
       "Yes... and knew that I would come after you, too."
       I shivered slightly. "Dying was creepy enough. I almost don't want to think there could be any more to it." I wondered, though, if it wasn't somehow connected to everything else that was going on. I said as much to Harry, who didn't seem as concerned as I, so I wrote it off to sometimes a duck is just a duck. Instead, I asked him about our father. I was now kicking myself for not having asked the man who he was in the first place, but I guess I can claim I was distracted by being dead.
       "Tall. Imposing. Serious. Determined. The ice to our mother's fire... much as I am the damp cloth to yours." Harry smiled as he said that, so I only elbowed him a little.
       "Give yourself some credit, big brother. I do. I wouldn't be as good as I am if it weren't for you."
       He just smiled at that. "You're a good person anyway, dearest. Now, you should rest."
       "Yeah, I guess."

       Our cameraderie and my 'resting' lasted only until I decided to see if I could manage walking, which I quickly discovered was not the best idea I'd had recently. Harry got all mad at me, and then I got mad at him, even though I was more mad at my inability to do anything.
       The two days which followed were not pleasant. I am a horrible patient and I hate being cooped up. Even though Harry and I patched things later that day, I was still in a foul mood. Despite Fletcher's spell, my midsection (and the rest of me for that matter) still hurt like hell, and I still found myself nodding off unexpectedly. I spent most of my waking time cleaning the guns, restringing George or engaging Harry in small talk, just because I didn't feel up to enforced introspection.
       But there were times I couldn't avoid it. It would creep up on me at night, when Harry was asleep, and the fire had burned low. And it was then I had to admit that I was not indestructable, as I had started to believe over the years. Not an easy admission, and not one I'll admit to anyone other than myself.
       I then had to consider if that admission would change how I dealt with my life. This would not be the last time I'd be at this place, given my career, and someday, it would be my time. And even if I were to consider retiring to a more peaceful existence, it's not like that would guarantee I'd never end up in some situation that would get me killed.
       I guess I do believe in fate, to a certain extent. Even though it's not my time now, someday it will be, and I don't think I'll have much say in the matter when that time comes. Hiding away, or giving up what I love and do best isn't likely to change my chances.
       Someday, I'll see what's on the other side of death's door. But in the meantime, there's a demon summoner I'd dearly love to talk to...

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2/21/00