It’s Excerpt Thursday!. (I missed the last two Excerpt Thursdays because I was busy finishing SILENT ORDER: MASTER HAND and CLOAK GAMES: BLOOD CAST.) Today’s excerpt is from THE THIRD SOUL OMNIBUS ONE.
If I had published this first in 2011 instead of CHILD OF THE GHOSTS, maybe now I would be on my twentieth THE THIRD SOUL novel and thinking that I really needed to get back to THE GHOSTS one of these days. The whims of fate!
Her walks, as they always did, ended in her father’s chamber.
Aramane Morulan had his own room atop one of the Ring’s outer towers. Windows lined the circular room, presenting a view of the Ring’s grounds and the rugged mountainside. The only furniture in the room was a single bed, a stool, and some flowers in heavy stone pots, flowers that Rachaelis tended herself.
Her father lay in the bed. His eyes were closed, his skin waxy. His chest did not move, and no breath came from his lips. No heartbeat pulsed in his neck or wrists.
He wasn’t alive.
Nor was he quite dead.
For twelve years he had been like this. No one knew what had happened to him. He had been among the Magisters who had gone to fight Paulus, an Adept who violated every law of the Conclave, who made allies with demons of the astral realm and used their power to augment his own. Afterwards her father had been found lying amidst the shattered ruins of Paulus’s tower, in this…state. At first the Adepts had thought him dead. But his flesh stayed warm, and no demons came to inhabit him, as happened to a corpse left unburned for a sunrise and a sunset. Eventually the Adepts came to the conclusion that something during the fight had…ripped his soul away, leaving his body alive but inanimate. A living husk.
And so he had lain like this. For twelve years.
Rachaelis tried to visit him every day. As a girl she had visited in the vain hope that he would awaken. As a grown woman she did so because she had always done so, because he was her father and she could not abandon him to lie alone and forgotten in this tower.
“Father,” she said.
He did not respond. She didn’t know if he could hear her or not. The Adepts thought not. But Rachaelis didn’t care.
“I think…I think the Magisters will call me for the Testing soon,” said Rachaelis. “They called Riza and Isabella last week.” She stared at his motionless face. “Neither of them made it.” She looked up. “I…wasn’t close to them, not really. But…they were not cruel to me. They deserved better. It was harder for them than it was for me, I think. You were always an Adept, and I always knew I would follow you. Riza and Isabella were taken from their families when their talent manifested. They hadn’t seen their families for years.”
And now they never would.
She sat in silence for a moment.
“I might be in trouble,” she said. “One of the freeborn servants was beating a slave.” She laughed in memory of the overseer’s shocked expression. “I bluffed her into backing down, and I sent the boy to Magister Nazim. He’ll know what to do, I hope. I’m going to get into trouble over this, I know. Well, it won’t be the first time I’ve gotten into trouble.” Her laugh turned hysterical. “But if they take me for the Testing, maybe…maybe it’ll be my last.”
The hysterical tone in her voice frightened her, and she forced herself to calm down.
“I hate this place,” Rachaelis said. “The slaves. Why must we keep slaves? Why must the Adepts take children with talent from their families? To guard the world from the demons of the astral realm, I know, to guard humanity from the dangers of dark magic. But…why must we be so cruel? They’re training me to be hard, to be cruel.” How easily she had frightened that overseer. How much easier would it be if she lived to become a full Adept. “This…isn’t right, some of the things the Conclave does.”
That bothered her almost as much as the prospect of dying in the Testing.
The things she might be forced to do, if she became a full Adept.
A silver flash illuminated the room.
Rachaelis knew that silver flash. An astraljump, the spell the Adepts used to whisk themselves around the city in a heartbeat, produced a flash of silvery light. Rachaelis stood from the stool, expecting to see Mauriana, the Magister of Initiates, come to chastise her.
Instead, Thalia Kalarien stood in the doorway.
Thalia was only a few years older than Rachaelis, but taller, with bright green eyes and elaborately arranged black hair.. She wore the blood-colored robes of a full Adept, with a close-fitting black collar and black trim on the sleeves and hems. A sword hung from her right hip and a long dagger from her left. The sword was a cortana, the formal sword of Araspani nobility. The curved dagger was a sicarr, a dagger worn only by the Adepts.
Thalia’s face was grim, and she walked to Rachaelis’s side without speaking. That was so unusual Rachaelis found herself at a loss.
“Thalia,” said Rachaelis. “Did Master Nazim send you about the slave? I can explain.” She paused. “You did worse when you were an Initiate. I helped you, remember.”
Thalia sighed and put her hand on Rachaelis’s shoulder.
Rachaelis frowned, and her eyes strayed to Thalia’s belt. Thalia only wore the cortana and the sicarr on formal occasions. Like meetings of the Council of Magisters. Funerals. The raising of a new Adept.
Or a Testing.
Rachaelis’s stomach twisted into a knot.
“I greet you, and I bid you to hear me. Are you Rachaelis Morulan, Initiate of the Conclave of Adepts?” said Thalia in formal High Imperial.
Thalia never spoke in High Imperial. Thalia hated High Imperial, and preferred to speak in Callian. Callian had better curse words, she claimed.
“Yes. I am she,” said Rachaelis in High Imperial. Her voice, like her hands, did not tremble.
“The Council of Magisters has bid me to speak to you on their behalf,” said Thalia. “You are summoned. For twelve years you have been an Initiate of the Conclave, and now the Magisters command you to face the Testing. Prevail, and you shall take your place as an Adept of the Conclave. Fail, and you shall surely die.”
Rachaelis closed her eyes for a moment. Then she squeezed her father’s hand, and turned to face Thalia.
“I will come,” she said.