Book One of the SoulMist Series
Release date : October 4th, 2022
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Exclusively available in the Realm of Darkness Anthology. Preorder now!
If you fall in love with the shadows, does that mean you are fallen too?
A dying angel. A fractured realm. The Soulbreather who might be able to save them both.
Solanji has a secret. One that is becoming increasingly difficult to keep. She can touch souls and see into a person’s inner thoughts.
Soulbreathing is exhilarating and addictive, until the day Solanji caresses the wrong person’s soulmist. Dragged into a long forgotten angelic mystery, she is forced to venture into Eidolon, the godforsaken last resort for those without souls. She rescues a broken and tortured man named Mav, but can she save him from the shadows? Does he even want to be saved? And can she find a way to return to the light before the darkness engulfs them both?
Not all that was good was in the light, there was good in the dark too, if you bothered to look. At least that was what his father had said, Mav thought, as he crept around the edge of the field, his senses questing. Nothing. What should be a flood of information was met with silence. An emptiness that grated on his nerves. What was he thinking? Why was he even making a stand? These children needed a protector, instead they had a fallen angel, lacking the sense to know when his time was up.
But not just yet. The kids needed him, and he had promised. Even if his promises sounded hollow. But a promise was a promise and the kids had tried. They had tried so hard. He couldn’t let them down.
Peering through the damp mist, he ignored the filmy tendrils snaking around his ankles as if they could snare him in place and strained to hear anyone approaching. Nothing. A sense of foreboding shivered through him and made the hairs on his arms rise; he knew they were coming even if he couldn’t see them.
Empty fields lie fallow around him, once they were brimming with crops but not anymore, now it took a team of people to tame the heavy soil which clumped into unmanageable sods. Much too heavy for the youngsters, currently sheltering in the rundown house at the edge of nowhere, to cultivate. He sighed out his frustration.
The gloom misted lands of Eidolon concealed much in the shadows and not all of it was bad. Maybe that was what his father had wanted him to discover. The lesson for a fallen angel.
Jagged branches loomed out of the mist like grasping fingers and then the swirling haze that suffocated the land closed in again. It was as if the sky pressed down on him; the grey mass above squashing him into the dirt and not allowing him to rise.
Mav shook off the dreary image and scowled as he approached the wooden clad dwelling which looked like it might collapse at any moment and climbed the steps to the veranda. “Shandra, I can see you, get yourself behind the barrier, now.”
A low snarl was his only response, but she disappeared from view, and he crossed the wooden boards on silent feet. He squeezed through the loose slats into the front room, avoiding the door, which squealed like a rampaging boar. Enough of a warning that someone was entering, if they needed one by then.
“They are approaching. Remember! Save your arrows until you have a clear shot; don’t waste them.”
A scruffy lad rolled his eyes, the whites startlingly bright against his grubby brown skin. “Mav, you’ve told us already, quit worrying.”
But Mav couldn’t. Having backed them into this corner, his high ideals were now crashing down around his ears. He wasn’t sure why the kids still trusted him. He hadn’t made their lives any easier.
“After the first barrage, retreat to the second position. Once in second position, get the toddlers out through the tunnel.”
“We know, stop repeating yourself. Anyone would think you don’t trust us,” the scruffy lad replied, a wry grin on his lips.
Mav huffed. “Kerris, I trust you more than anyone in this world; I have no idea why you trust me.”
“Because you tell the truth, even if you know we don’t want to hear it,” Kerris replied, checking over his quiver again. “And anyway, this is our house, they have no right to invade it. Pa would be doing what you are doing if he could, but he can’t, so you are next best.”
Mav rubbed a grimy hand over his face. How did he manage to get into these scrapes? He had only been passing by, searching for information about the last angel who had passed through. Instead he had found a small holding of children. Abandoned urchins trying to hold together a homestead, and he couldn’t leave them.
Children gravitated to the rickety house as if it was a beacon in the shadows. Gathering in the hope of some redemption, even though they weren’t sure what they needed forgiveness for. Instead of information about angels, he found out more than he wanted to about how children could be cast out, betrayed, and abused. And in the gathering of their stories, found the darkness he had been searching for.
His guts roiled in anger. That his own kind, or those who had once been his own kind could cause such suffering and despair. The stories touched a cord deep within him, a sense of betrayal so buried that the answering throb of anger was muted by layers of suppression.
Why he was suppressing it, he had no idea, but at least it enabled him to review the stories dispassionately enough that he recognised the thread that linked them. The common denominator that gave him his next target.
For years, Mav had been scouring the shrouded lands for proof that the people could be redeemed. Just as his father had charged him to do, before everything went so wrong. That piece of the puzzle still defeated him, but before he could begin the tired old ritual of running through all the things that had gone wrong and he couldn’t fix, he stiffened at a shout from outside.
Sighing out a breath, he rotated his shoulders, trying to relieve the tension running through him. He had miscalculated the response from the syndicate peddling the kids, and he was about to pay the price, but he had been upfront with his current batch of fledglings. This had been his chance to find out who was at the root, hopefully all the way up to the citadel.
Anger rippled through him again, that angels would stoop to exploitation and monetary gain when they already lived in such luxury and opulence. That they wanted more than they were entitled to, that they ignored the core mandates for their existence. How had they conned the citadel all these years?
He had to get the children out and away to the fall back shelter he had set up when he realised what had been happening.
Flicking a glance around the room, he noted the kids’ positions; the eldest were all upstairs, the youngest at the bottom ready to flee on his word. His brow darkened at the sight of them, armed and ready. Shandra—an ethereal shadow, her tangled blonde hair tied off her sharp face, she should be a true fledgling. Kerris—a gangly lad, bright and too intelligent for his own good, a scribe in the making. Muntra—the strongest, muscular and determined, who should be training as a cherubim. They should all be safe and nurtured under his wing.
His lips clamped into a straight line and he prowled up the stairs. Each vantage point had a child prepared to deal death. What was he doing? He was an angel for god’s sake, and here he was encouraging children to kill; to embrace the shadows of their existence and fulfil that which the blind believed of them. He took a deep, calming breath. No, not kill, defend.
“Ebhim, on my signal, remember?”
The sturdy boy nodded, thrusting out his chest, obviously proud that Mav trusted him with the most important job of all.
Mav settled in a shadowy corner, peering out over the misty landscape. Movement rippled through the shadows and he nocked an arrow. Memories of another life flashed through him and he gritted his teeth as he aimed.
“Ebhim, now,” he said and he released his first arrow. He lost track of time until his fingers grasped empty air. No more arrows. He glanced around as Ebhim clambered back up the rickety stairs.
“It’s just you, Kerris, Shandra and Muntra. We gotta go,” Ebhim said.
“You go on. We’ll be behind you,” Mav said as he discarded his bow and peered out the window. Shadowy forms advanced towards the house.
“Mav!” Shandra’s cry made Mav’s blood run cold.
Voices outside on the veranda echoed his name and Mav ignored them, rushing down the stairs. Muntra lay on the floor, blood pooling around him. Shandra tugged at him, pleading with him to move.
“You’re too heavy, Muntra you have to get up.”
“Back in position,” Mav snapped as he knelt beside the boy. He clamped a hand over the wound, and jerked the arrow out with the other. He pressed down hard as the boy groaned. “You have a choice,” he said, his voice low as he wrenched the lad upright. “You can die here, or you can get your arse off the floor and down those stairs.”
Muntra shuddered, glazed eyes staring at him as Mav stuffed a cloth in his shirt and slapping Muntra’s hand against it.
“Down the stairs now. Ebhim is ready to leave.” Mav stilled at a shout from outside.
“Demavrian? Is that you? Is this where you got to? Really?”
Ice stole down Mav’s spine as the voice continued. He ignored it, hustling Muntra down the stairs. “Don’t look back,” Mav murmured as he pushed Muntra towards Ebhim and turned to face the door.
The voice from outside grew sharper. “I suppose I’m not surprised. You always were a pain in the ass. Why would it be any different here?”
“Julius?” Mav pictured the elegant captain of what he supposed was now his brother’s Heavenly Host. A man he hadn’t seen in nearly two centuries. What was he doing here? In Eidolon.
“Surrender and we’ll let the kids go.”
“That’s big of you, Julius. I would never have thought you would stoop so low. Where is the honour of the Heavenly Host?”
“You are a murderer; you have no right to speak of honour.”
“But trafficking children? Julius, you disappoint me,” Mav jerked his head towards the stairs. “Go,” he mouthed.
Kerris shook his head.
Mav scowled at him. “You take the chances you get,” he hissed. “Now go.”
Shandra tugged Kerris away, eyes wide but determined. “Kerris, live to fight another day,” she whispered, her black stare never leaving Mav’s.
Mav nodded, giving her a grim smile. “Good girl,” he said, and turned back to the door. “How long have you been searching for me, Julius? Too many decades to count, now? Don’t you ever get bored?”
“Never.” The swift retort was cold and bitter.
Mav waited until Shandra dragged Kerris away. And then he waited some more, interested in how long Julius could resist. “Murderer? Julius, how could you? You wound me.”
“I’ll do a lot more than that when I get hold of you.” He sounded a lot closer, and Mav spared a last glance down the stairs. The cellar was dark and empty, and he sent a silent prayer after the children who had put their trust in him.
“Heavenly Father, protect your children in this time of need,” he murmured as he drew his sword up in salute. A last memory of his oathsworn, Adriz, criticising his stance flicked through his memory and made him smile. His smile became a snarl as the door splintered and he launched himself at the men supporting such a foul business.
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