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Vikar Forrest leaned into his chair and stated the facts as if Devin had requested the Keeping Church to remove the moon from the sky.
“You’re asking me to authorize a raid on the biggest donor to the church in Londheim,” Forrest said. “And all this based on an anonymous testimony?”
“And the assassination attempt Gerag made on my life with one of his bodyguards.”
“Whose body you are no longer in possession of. I’m still going on your word.”
Devin fought to keep calm. This had to go through cleanly. Under no circumstances would he allow the fat bastard to escape the imprisonment he deserved. He’d marched into his Vikar’s office confident in his claims, but that confidence was starting to wither under Forrest’s constant questioning.
“Then put my word on the line. If I’m wrong, I’ll resign from the division while Gerag watches. But if I’m right…”
His Vikar sighed.
“If you’re right, we close down arguably the biggest soulless sex ring in all of West Orismund. Fine. You got your permission. I’ll write a note to the Mayor tomorrow.”
“Not tomorrow,” Devin said. “Tonight. I fear Gerag might know I’m on to him. The more time he has, the more likely he hides his crimes.”
Forrest’s frown was fouler than rancid butter.
“Fine,” he said. “But I’m warning you, if you bullshit me on this, I won’t be stopping at your resignation. I’ll run you out of Londheim as a goddess-damned beggar.”
Even though the city guard were under the direct authority of Londheim’s Mayor, Vikars could command them so long as their orders did not contradict the local Mayor’s. This concession was part of the agreement reached at the second council of Nicus three centuries prior. After an hour of impatient waiting, twelve city guards led by a sergeant arrived at the Cathedral of the Sacred Mother. Three of the men bore chain tattoos across their throats signifying them as soulless, and Devin tried not to be disturbed by their presence. Ever since Jacaranda’s awakening, he was heavily torn on how to treat them.
“Forrest wouldn’t tell me what we’re here for,” said the sergeant, a burly man named Bovalt sporting an overly long mustache. “I hope you know.”
“I’ll explain on the way. I don’t want a weasel escaping the henhouse because the guard dog was too busy licking its own balls.”
“Didn’t know Soulkeepers had a penchant for artsy words.”
“I’m giving it a try,” Devin said, already liking the sergeant.
“Well, you’re not good at it.”
Devin explained the orders to arrest Gerag Ellington on the way to his mansion, as well as detailed where the secret tunnel beneath the district wall led to a secondary home. To Bovalt’s credit, he took it all in stride.
“Quiet District, eh?” he said. “This’ll be a first for me. Those rich types tend to hire personal guards. Will you help out if they get mouthy?”
“My sword and pistol are yours, Sergeant.”
“That’s what I like to hear.”
They marched through the streets, taking a direct path southeast. The sooner they arrived, the less likely Gerag would have any warning. As they closed the distance, and saw smoke rising above the rooftops, Devin feared they may already be too late. A bucket brigade had formed by the time they arrived. Quiet District paid handsomely for a fire guild’s protection, and they worked rapidly and efficiently. The fire seemed localized on the mansion’s first floor, and guildsmen with rags tied over their mouths steadily progressed farther through the front door and into the halls. Meanwhile men with shovels dug a trench line about the house to prevent further spreading to the nearby mansions.
“I’m guessing that there’s our destination?” the sergeant asked as they stopped before the blaze.
“You’d guess right,” Devin said. “Have your men set up a second bucket line. We need to salvage what we can.”
“You think whoever we’re arresting is alive in there?”
“I pray so.”
The sergeant started barking out orders. The man in charge of the fire guildsmen noticed their arrival and hurried over, offering suggestions of where else they could help. Devin stood by and watched, feeling frustrated and helpless. The fire was far too convenient in timing to be accidental. Had someone tipped Gerag off to their approach? There’d be no answers until the fire dwindled, so he joined a bucket line and helped with the rest.
An hour later the bulk of the fire guild had called it quits and returned home. A few lingered behind, keeping an eye on the smoldering remains to ensure bad luck didn’t spark it back up again.
“Guild leader says it’s safe enough to go in,” Bovalt said after conversing with the older man in charge. “It looks like they got here in time. Didn’t do much more than gut the first floor. Might be risky traveling any higher up, though. If the foundation’s weakened…”
“Then I’ll take the risk alone,” Devin said. “Keep your men in the yard and make sure no one sneaks out from one of the windows.”
“If that’s what you want. It’s your hide, after all.”
Devin tied a rag over his nose and mouth to help against the smoke. Unsteady foundation or not, he’d risked his status and reputation convincing Forrest to allow this raid. He had no plans to go home empty-handed. He passed through the front door and peered about with watery eyes. The walls were blackened halfway toward the ceiling, and he had to carefully watch each step he took. The fire appeared to have been worst in that center hallway, and not near as widespread as Devin first assumed by the amount of smoke that’d been billowing into the air.
He found the first body near a window on the bottom floor. A servant, Devin guessed. Her body was mostly untouched by the flame. Killed by smoke then, he surmised. He glanced at the now-broken window and shook his head. So close to safety before succumbing. The poor woman. He found a second servant collapsed on the stairs, much of his skin horribly burned. Devin carefully stepped over him and onto the second floor.
Another body lay at the top of the stairs, face-first into the carpet. His feet dangled over the step, one slipper missing. His bed robe was shriveled and blackened. Burns covered his face and chest, strong enough to peel it down to the bone. The stink of charred hair made Devin turn away. Anger and frustration bubbled together as bile in his throat.
“Shit,” he muttered. “At least the bastard got what he deserved.”
He exited the mansion and returned to the sergeant.
“There’s a hidden door leading to an underground basement,” Devin told him. “You’ll find it in the lone bedroom left of the entrance, back behind the closet. Have your men collect anything they find.”
Bovalt saluted halfheartedly.
Devin watched them enter the smoky house from the entryway of the property fence. Part of him felt relief. If Gerag was dead, he couldn’t challenge the accusations of the soulless slave trade. But there was someone who would definitely not approve of such an easy death.
“Is he inside?” Jacaranda asked. Devin kept his surprise down to a small flinch. He’d not heard her approach. He turned to see her standing behind him, much of her body and head covered by a long hooded coat. A white scarf wrapped about her neck, hiding the chain tattoos there. Her fingers drummed the hilts of the short swords strapped to each of her thighs.
“I thought I asked you to stay home?”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek.
“And since when do I do as you ask?”
Devin tried to smile, but his mood was too dour. That, and he was unsure of how Jacaranda would react to the news.
“Jac,” he said, deciding it best to come right out and say it. “Gerag died in the fire.”
Her eyes narrowed. It might have been shadows from the hood, but he swore he saw her face darken.
“Where is the body?” she asked.
“I’m not sure you should—”
“Where. Is. It?”
Devin glanced about. Most of the curious onlookers and neighbors had returned to their homes when the fire was extinguished. The city guards were in the underground cells. If he hurried, they could be in and out before anyone noticed.
“Come on,” he said. “We can’t let anyone see us.”
She wordlessly followed him into the mansion.
“At the top of the stairs,” Devin said, for she knew the mansion better than he did. Together they crossed through the blackened walls, bypassed the servant’s body upon the stairs, and reached the second floor.
Devin crossed his arms and waited. How would Jacaranda react? Relieved at the monster’s passing? Angry that he’d died without being prosecuted and publicly shamed for his deeds? He didn’t know. He just wanted to be there for her.
Jacaranda circled the body once, her eyes locked on to the corpse with frightening intensity.
“The build’s correct,” she muttered. “Same as the hair.”
“What are you doing?” Devin asked as she drew a small dagger buckled to her thigh. A single stab punctured the cloth of his trousers, and she viciously yanked on it to tear the fabric along the inside seam. Devin crossed his arms and accepted her silence. She sheathed the dagger and then pulled the fabric away to expose the burned man’s legs and crotch. Jacaranda grabbed his testicles and pushed them to the side. It took less than a second for her to reach a conclusion.
“It’s not him,” she said.
Jacaranda pointed to a bare patch of skin.
“There should be a birthmark right here.” She shifted his cock the other direction. “And a small scar right here.”
“Are you sure?”
Her pained look made him realize how foolish his question had been. Of course she was sure. How many years had she served as Gerag’s pleasure toy?
She released the dead man’s genitals and stood. The anger on her face grew.
“He’s escaped,” she said. “Faked his death and escaped. That fucker. I knew I should have come and killed him the moment Adria woke me.”
That was how Jacaranda referred to Adria resurrecting her from the dead with the powers granted to her by the bizarre machinery buried beneath the city. Woke, as if pulled from a dream. Woke, as if a bullet had not torn through her heart and left her to die in his arms.
“If he’s fled, then someone might know where,” he said. “The cages beneath the mansion should be enough to convince the Mayor to issue an arrest warrant for Gerag… that is, if I can convince him this body is a fake.”
“Why would he not believe you?”
Devin frowned at her.
“Are you willing to testify before Mayor Becher?”
Of course not. Even if they could convince the Mayor she were an awakened soulless, the church would find out about her existence. From there, it’d be investigations, interviews, perhaps even a judgment from the three Vikars. A judgment he had no control over.
“So be it,” she said. “Let everyone else think he’s dead. I’ll find him. I know his tricks. I know all his little nests throughout the city.” She sighed at the corpse. “Poor man. Killed because he shared a resemblance to Gerag. What a shitty fate.”
Devin stared at the body, a thought squirming in his head.
“If he’s faked his death, then he knows you’re still alive,” he said. “And he might not be done trying to bury evidence of his crimes.”
Jacaranda spun from the corpse, her hands drifting subconsciously to the hilts of her short swords.
“Gerag should have done a damn better job setting this fire,” she said. “Because it doesn’t matter if I have to tear down every single home in Londheim brick by brick. I will find him, and when I do, he will suffer for every sick act he made me endure.”
The floor beneath Adria hummed as it lifted her to the top of the Sisters’ Tower. She stood resolute in the center, arms stiff at her sides. A desire for solitude carved away at the edges of her consciousness, and so she fled to high above the homes of Londheim. Part of her feared what might happen to her sanity if she could not attain some sense of peace for her weary mind. Part of her wondered if she had already lived through exactly that.
The statues of the three Sisters awaited her at the pinnacle. The deep sky rumbled a warning of thunder. Adria wrapped her arms around the grieving Lyra and pressed forehead to forehead with the statue. The cold porcelain of her mask dug into her skin. She’d not taken it off in the two days since escaping the prison Janus had locked her within. She wondered if she ever would.
“You never wanted this burden, did you?” Adria asked the weeping Sister. “You only wished for beings to love, and to be loved in return. How great is your burden, watching us hate and suffer? How great is the weight of every soul you must deliver to and from our world?”
Adria closed her eyes and imagined the stone arms coming to life and wrapping about her shivering body. She imagined hearing the words of her Goddess promising her a future of safety, peace, and certainty. If only she could reject this gift. If only.
When she opened her eyes, she saw thousands of little diamonds of light scattered across the sleeping city, each one the soul of a man, woman, or child. It didn’t matter if stone or wood blocked the way, for the light would shine through. Adria sensed each one like the tiniest needle prick on the back of her neck, the souls of the entire population of Londheim. It was a great burden she wanted no part of, but none of that compared to the silver scar that rent the sky in twain.
“It is most appropriate that I find you here,” a man spoke from behind her. “Give it a few decades and you’ll have your own statue alongside them, Chainbreaker.”
Adria’s spine locked tight. Bile panicked into her throat. Only her pride kept her outwardly calm as she turned about to face the madman who had set this curse upon her.
“Spare me your heresy,” she told Janus. “I am in no mood to hear it.”
Janus crossed his arms and leaned against the statue of Alma struggling to lift a feather. His long coat fluttered in the cold breeze. How he’d joined her atop the tower, she had not a clue.
“Only the cowardly consider the truth a form of heresy,” he said. “And you are no coward.”
Though his skin was as pale as milk, his form seemed to shimmer darkly to Adria’s eyes. No soul, she realized. There was no sparkling diamond of light deep within the confines of his skull. Instead a fog of shadow swam through his being like smoke.
“Are you here to capture me again?” she asked. Her hands clenched into fists. Her power was extraordinary, but could it compete against the shape-changing monstrosity at such close range? She didn’t know, and she feared to find out.
“Come now,” Janus said. He smirked at her as if her question were ridiculous. “If I wanted to capture you, I’d have done so without saying a word. I’m here to talk, that’s all. I promise.”
The last time he’d come to talk to her, she’d been imprisoned in a vast cavern of flesh and steel. He’d also looked dangerously unhinged, a stark contrast to his smooth, smiling visage now. What had changed?
“Fine then,” she said. “I’m listening. Perhaps you can start with telling me what in the Goddesses’ names you did to me?”
“Nothing in their name, I assure you. Is it not obvious, Adria? I’d have thought a woman with your intelligence would have pieced it together almost immediately.”
Adria had her theories, of course, as did her brother-in-law, Tommy, but they were just that, theories. Here was a chance to learn the truth from the mouth of the monster himself. “You’ve given me mastery over souls,” she said. “I can see them, manipulate them, even use their power as my own.”
“That is the very short of it, yes.”
“Why you?” Janus shrugged. “The people loved you, you proved to be a powerful soul already with your healing prayers, and most of all, you don’t appear to have the same fanatical blind loyalty to the Sisters like most of your kind. That, and it just happened to be the steps of your church where I spent my days in disguise. Sometimes the fate of nations hinges on coincidence, after all.”
While Janus had spent his nights in Londheim finding and killing members of the Keeping Church, during the day he’d disguise himself as a beggar woman on the footsteps of her church. Learning of Janus’s constant close proximity only heightened her fear of him. He could be anyone, anything, and she’d never know.
Adria felt little sparks of electricity travel down her arms. There was no soul to harness nearby but her own. Would that power be enough? And was it worth the risk to her own life? The world would be a better place without him and his sick “art.” Laborers were still trying to find a way to disassemble the macabre crystal dome he’d built in the center of the market district from the blood and bones of those he’d murdered.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “Why give me this power? What do you hope to gain?”
Janus showed no sign of noticing the swelling power in her fingertips. If anything, he looked disappointed.
“Viciss gives you a gift, and you seek ulterior motives,” he said. “Maybe you should worry less on why you have this power and more on what to do with it.”
“I have an idea.”
Adria sprang toward him, her right hand extended. Her fingers brushed his bare chest. Light swelled at the point of their contact, and Adria felt a heavy pull within her chest sap her breath. Drawing power from her own soul was a heavy burden, but if she could push through, if she could…
Janus smacked her wrist aside, pivoted, and struck her in the abdomen with his other fist. An uppercut met her chin as she doubled over. Adria fell dazed to the floor. Her mask clattered beside her upon the stone. She sucked in air as she recovered, blood dripping across her tongue and teeth from where his fist had split her lower lip. Damn it! If only she had her brother’s speed and reflexes. She thought she’d surprised him, thought she’d been fast enough, yet when he reacted, his entire form had been a blur.
“So stubborn,” Janus said. He paced the small space before her, his voice growing frighteningly angry. “So foolish. So human.”
He kicked her in the abdomen, resetting what meager improvement she’d made in recovering her breath.
“If it was my decision, I’d have the whole lot of you wiped off the face of the Cradle. The only thing that gives me comfort is knowing your existence is a giant wad of spit in the eye of your clueless Goddesses.”
Adria pushed up to her knees, and she rapidly whispered through clenched teeth.
“Blessed Sisters, I seek your protection. Bind the darkness so it may not touch my flesh. Show mercy so I may stand in the light.”
He tried to kick her again but his foot collided with a wall of light that shimmered into existence, then vanished the moment he pulled away. Janus’s eyes narrowed, and he lashed out with a hand that turned the color of steel. Adria felt a momentary twinge within her mind, but the wall held. She rose to her feet, her glare matching Janus’s strange mixture of amusement and annoyance. Her long dark hair cascaded forward from her hunched form to cover her face, not a mask, but close enough to one that she felt her confidence returning.
“You will not touch me again,” she said.
She thought he’d be angry, but instead he lifted his hands in surrender.
“No, I will not,” he said. “You have your role to play, Chainbreaker, whether I like it or not. I thought I’d give you the courtesy of explaining this since your friends so rudely took you from my care once the conversion process was finished.”
“Then say it and be gone.”
Janus’s right hand sharpened into a singular spike, his skin shifting from pale flesh to brilliant jade. He slowly pressed it into the shield of light, gently at first, then steadily harder. All the while his eyes never left hers.
“I do not take orders from you,” he said. “Have I not yet made that clear?”
The twinge of strain on her mind grew to a pounding headache. Sweat trickled down her neck and forehead. Her jaw shook with each word.
“Say it… and be gone.”
She would not break before him. She would not cower. This thing, this monster that bore the name Janus would not lord his superiority over her for one more second. She watched him sink his heels into the floor, his shoes literally merging with the stone to give him greater stability. All his weight leaned into the thrust. The shield of light shimmered and rippled with cracks, but Adria found it easier, not harder, to keep it intact. The necessary power was within her. She just needed to believe.
“Impressive,” Janus said. He withdrew the jade spear and separated his feet from the floor. “Maybe one day you’ll be worth Viciss’s gift. As for your purpose, it’s simple, really. You are to replace the Sisters. Your power isn’t quite there yet, but one day you’ll render their caring and delivery of souls obsolete, and take up that task yourself. Look upon the people of Londheim and realize that you are everything they need. That alone will be a good first step.”
“Replace the Sisters?” Adria asked. “Are you mad? That isn’t a purpose, and it certainly isn’t a need of our people. Winter comes and we have little harvest. They need food, and shelter from the cold.”
“Of which your Sisters deliver neither.” Janus walked to the edge of the tower and balanced upon the thin wall. “Perhaps you should start pondering why the Goddesses are as helpless as you are in the face of tribulation.”
With that, he walked off the side and vanished. Adria grabbed her mask and pulled it back over her face. Only then did she feel a semblance of calm settle upon her shoulders. Damn that shapeshifting monster. It was as if his every word were meant to squirm inside her brain and set it on fire.
Adria returned her hands to the activating stones and discovered a trio of novices awaited her at the bottom of the tower. Their eyes bulged at the sight of the moving platform, but they kept their wits about them and pretended to have seen nothing.
“Yes?” Adria asked when none of the youngsters appeared ready to break the silence first.
“Vikar Thaddeus requests your presence,” said the oldest of them, a pretty redheaded girl maybe a year or two away from obtaining the rank of Mindkeeper herself.
“I’ll be on my way to the cathedral then.”
“No, not the cathedral. Vikar Thaddeus said to meet him ‘where only we might go.’”
Adria withheld a shudder.
“Very well,” she said. “Thank you.”
The novices bowed and left. Adria cast one last look to the Sisters’ Tower, half-expecting to see Janus lurking atop it, his sick smile mocking her from afar.
There was only one place Thaddeus could mean by his deliberate wording. Adria descended the innocuous steps upon the side of the Sisters’ Remembrance, passed through the dark tunnel, and traveled to the locked door barring her way into the forgotten prison of the Keeping Church. The guard checked her over from his little window before opening it. Thaddeus waited in the dim torch light, his arms crossed over his chest and a grim smile painted upon his elderly face.
“Thank you for coming so quickly,” he said. “I do not know how much time we have left.”
“What happened?” she asked.
“Deakon Sevold has taken a turn for the worse.” The Vikar led her past the dank, empty cells. “I fear we are rapidly running out of time.”
Adria remembered the horrific state Sevold had been in when she last visited. How could his health possibly get worse? Again she passed the cell with the imprisoned Mindkeeper Tamerlane, and it seemed his pale gold eyes twinkled at the sight of them. His mouth was securely covered, but there was no doubt in her mind he smiled.
To her surprise, the next cell was not empty like before. A man lay on a cot, his body twisted and contorted in a horribly familiar way. His hair had fallen from his scabbed head, and his ribs formed an unnatural wave upon his gaunt frame. His tongue hung out from a jaw stretched much too far to one side. Adria shuddered. She could see his soul, and from it wept a constant agony and torment. The temptation to free it from his broken mortal shell nearly overwhelmed her.
“Who is he?” she asked after halting before the cell.
“A man who earned the wrath of a Ravencaller,” Thaddeus said. “Their numbers are growing throughout Londheim at a frightening rate. If we don’t halt the spread soon, we might have more cursed citizens than we do cells to safeguard them in. We brought him down here in hopes that, should we discover a cure for Sevold, we can use it upon him as well.”
“I pray we discover it soon,” she said. The idea that others might suffer a similar fate as her Deakon terrified her, as did knowing there were more out there who wielded dark, blasphemous power.
“I pray you discover it now,” Thaddeus said. “We have no choice.”
The stench of death was overwhelming in the final cell. Adria had wondered how a man in his state could worsen, but she discovered how easily that was possible. Sevold’s skin was covered with bruises, his entire right arm was a sickly yellow, and when he breathed in, it gurgled like water blown through a straw. If the Deakon was awake, he lacked the strength to open his eyes. His mouth hung limply open, and multiple teeth were missing. Those that remained were solid black.
- "Impressive, no-holds-barred high fantasy...this smart epic fantasy promises more good things from the series to come."—Publishers Weekly on Ravencaller
- "With strong world building, imaginative monsters, and a capable system of magic, this series will please readers who enjoy dark epic fantasy with engaging characters."— Booklist on Ravencaller
"The plot rockets along from one magical battle to the next, but Dalglish deftly weaves in rich character development alongside all this action. Fans will love the second installment of this dark fantasy about very human characters beset by inhuman dangers."
—Kirkus on Ravencaller
- "A dark and lush epic fantasy brimming with magical creatures and terrifying evil....Dalglish's world building is subtle and fluid, and he weaves the history, magical workings, and governance of his world within the conversations and camaraderie of his characters. Readers of George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss will find much to enjoy here."—Booklist on Soulkeeper
- "Soulkeeper is a fast-paced, page-turning ride with a great, likeable main character in Devin Eveson. It's the definition of entertaining"—John Gwynne, author of Malice on Soulkeeper
- "Dalglish manages to combine familiar elements in exciting ways... that's sure to keep readers turning pages."—Publishers Weekly on Soulkeeper
- "Dalglish has created a rich and intriguing world."—Kirkus on Soulkeeper
- On Sale
- Mar 17, 2020
- Page Count
- 576 pages