The Memory of Souls

Jenn Lyons | 13 mins



(Thurvishar’s story)

When the gods descended on the Atrine ruins, they interrupted an assassination.

Thurvishar hadn’t perceived the danger at first. Yes, soldiers had been pouring through the eight open magical portals set up on a small hill next to Lake Jorat, but he’d expected that. A mountain-size dragon had just finished tearing the second-largest city in the empire into rubble and fine quartz dust, with an incalculable body count. Morios had attacked the army right along with the civilian populations—populations now panicked and displaced. Of course there were soldiers. Soldiers to clean up the mess left in the attack’s wake, soldiers to help with the evacuation, soldiers to maintain a presence in the ruined, rubble-strewn Atrine streets. And the wizards? They needed to render Morios’s body into something so discorporate the dragon couldn’t re-form himself and start the whole messy apocalypse all over again.

To add fuel to the fire, the damaged dam holding back Lake Jorat, Demon Falls, had begun to fail. When the dam blew, Lake Jorat would empty out. Millions would die, if not in the flooding itself, then by starvation when Quur’s breadbasket found itself twenty feet underwater. The wizards would focus on stopping such a catastrophe.

In hindsight, Thurvishar had been too optimistic; he’d assumed the Quuros High Council would care about saving lives.

Janel’s fury alerted him, furnace hot, a bubbling cauldron usually locked away behind a fiercer will. He felt Kihrin’s anger a moment later, sharp and lashing. Thurvishar paused while discussing spell theory with an Academy wizard and looked up the hill. The same soldiers he’d ignored earlier had set up a defensive formation. They weren’t dressed as normal soldiers. These men wore the distinctive coin-studded breastplates of a particular sort of Quuros enforcer.

Witchhunters. He couldn’t see who they surrounded, but he made assumptions.

Thurvishar debated and discarded opening a portal to their location. That might provoke the very reaction he sought to avoid.

So instead, he ran.

What he found when he arrived qualified as a worst-case scenario. No one tried to stop him from pushing to the front. He was, after all, Lord Heir to House D’Lorus. If anyone had a right to be here, he did. More witchhunters gathered in this one area than he’d ever seen before. They didn’t stand alone either; he recognized Academy wizards in equal number as well as High Lord Havar D’Aramarin and several Quuros High Council members.

All for three people: Kihrin D’Mon, Janel Theranon, and Teraeth. Neither Kihrin nor Janel held obvious weapons, and while one might argue they didn’t need them, with this many people?

The outcome seemed predictable.

“What is going on here?” General Qoran Milligreest pushed aside several witchhunters as he strode into the confrontation’s center.

“It seems our thanks for helping is to be a prison cell.” Janel clenched her fists.

“Vornel, what’s the meaning of this?” Milligreest turned to a Quuros man without acknowledging his daughter.

Vornel Wenora, High Council member, snorted at the general’s question. “I should think it obvious. We’re dealing with a threat to the empire. Which is what you should have done.”

“Threat to the empire?” Qoran pointed toward the giant metal dragon’s corpse. “That is a threat to the empire. The impending rupture of Demon Falls is a threat to the empire. These are children!”

Thurvishar scanned the crowd. The witchhunter minds stood out as blank spaces, as did some wizards and all the High Council. But where was Empress Tyentso?

Vornel shrugged. “So you say, but all I see are dangerous people who are a grave threat to our great and glorious empire. This is the man who killed the emperor and stole Urthaenriel. Then we have a witch who flaunts her powers in public and a known Manol vané agent. Yet for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, you’ve done nothing to put a stop to them. Why is that, Qoran?”

“Because I understand priorities!” the general replied.

Thurvishar raised an eyebrow at Vornel. While the accusations had merit, they missed the truth by an astonishing margin. Plus, none of the High Council members were giving Thurvishar so much as a glance, when he was the far more appropriate target for their anger. Vornel’s accusations seemed disingenuous, less true outrage than a savvy councilman sensing a perfect opportunity for a power play, and too arrogant, petty, or stupid to temper his ruinous timing.

Councilman Nevesi Oxun, old and thin with silvering cloudcurl hair, stepped forward. “It doesn’t matter, Milligreest. By unanimous vote—”

“Did I vote in my sleep, then?” Milligreest growled.

“Nearly unanimous,” Oxun corrected. “If you act to prevent us from doing this or interfere with these men in their lawful enforcement, we will be forced to conclude you’ve fallen under the sway of foreign powers and remove you from the High Council.”

“How dare—”

Kihrin started laughing. Thurvishar grimaced and glanced away.

Of course. Tyentso.

“You don’t want us, do you?” Kihrin said. “You couldn’t give two thrones about us. But Tyentso? She’s the one you think is a ‘grave threat to the empire.’” The young royal, still wearing a Quuros soldier’s borrowed clothing, held out his hands. “If you geniuses think Tyentso’s stupid enough to show herself now with all these witchhunters present, I’ve got a gently used bridge by the lake to sell you.”

Thurvishar’s own anger rose. Kihrin had called it. The High Council considered Janel and Teraeth inconsequential. They might have regarded Kihrin more seriously if they studied the Devoran Prophecies. But they cared a great deal that the new Quuros emperor had somehow managed to insult them all by being born a woman.

If they had their way, she’d have the shortest reign of any emperor in recorded history.

“I wouldn’t start forging deeds to bridges just yet, Scamp.” Tyentso appeared on top of a nearby tent, balanced there through literal magic. “I might be that stupid. Or maybe just that cocky.” She waved the Scepter of Quur—currently wand-like—to trace a delicate path in the air. “This is a fun toy. I want to practice.”

“Men, kill her—”

Which was when the gods arrived.

Seven blazing pillars of light slammed into the earth next to the confrontation. The men who had been standing there—witchhunters, wizards, soldiers—vanished. Thurvishar liked to think those men found themselves transported to a safe location, but he couldn’t verify that suspicion. But he knew the beings who stood there—had been standing there—when the light dimmed enough to see again.

The Eight Immortals had arrived. Every single person within sight—high lord, soldier, wizard—went to the floor.

No one could doubt their identities. Their aspects seeped into the air around them. Galava dressed in spring green, plump and lush, the ground beneath her feet blooming flowers. Argas, mathematical formulae visible around him like a halo. Tya, her rainbow dress of veils shimmering as her fingers crackled with magic. Taja, dressed in silver, playing with a single coin. Ompher, looking less like a person than an animate statue carved from rock. Khored in red, raven-feathered, holding a glass sword. And last, Thaena, dressed in shroud white, crowned in burial roses.

To a one, they were all furious.

“Are we interrupting something?” Thaena’s voice echoed the sound a mausoleum door might make as it scraped against a tomb floor.

Silence lingered on the hillside for several awkward beats before people realized the Goddess of Death had asked a question to which she expected an answer.

Empress Tyentso rose. “I believe the High Council were trying to murder me, my lady.”

“And us as well, Mother.” Teraeth shrugged at Tyentso. “They wouldn’t have wanted witnesses, Ty.”

“Oh, good point.”

“Now this was all a misunderstanding—” Vornel Wenora stood.

“Silence!” Khored thundered. All sound stopped, everywhere. Even the background noises faded into quiet. “Vol Karoth has woken. An evil you have forgotten, but if he is not re-imprisoned, an evil you will come to know too well.”

“Every time this has happened before,” Argas explained. “Quur’s emperor has been given the job to re-imprison him.”

“In fact, this duty is the sole reason Quur exists.” Ompher’s voice wasn’t loud and was, strangely, much less rocklike than Thaena’s, but it reverberated through the ground, all around them, all at once. The god looked toward Atrine then, frowning. In the distance, a grinding noise echoed, but no one dared look away from the Immortals to see the source.

Every eye on the clearing shifted, from the gods to Tyentso.

She swallowed and stood a little straighter.

“If you would prefer someone else to be your champion . . .,” Vornel Wenora began to say, “we’ll make your will done. Happily.”

Thaena said, “We are satisfied with Tyentso, but less so with what we’ve arrived to find. You orchestrated this, and you persuaded the others.” Thaena’s expression could have felled armies. “You are interfering with the fate of the whole world.

“I was protecting—”

“Look into my eyes,” Thaena ordered.

Vornel met the goddess’s stare. He didn’t hold it for more than a second before he looked away, shuddering.

Thaena made a gesture then, like brushing away a cobweb.

Vornel Wenora fell down—dead.

The Goddess of Death turned to Nevesi Oxun. “Have I made my point?”

The whites of the councilman’s eyes formed a ring around his irises. “Yes, goddess.”

Khored turned to the crowd. “This is not the time for coups or rebellions.”

The Goddess of Luck added, “Nor invasions. We shall not be sending the Quuros army south into the Manol Jungle. This time, our emperor will serve us best by fortifying the empire.”

“Do what you must to end the Royal Houses’ squabbling,” Thaena said. “It tires us.”

Thurvishar exhaled. The Royal Houses might not appreciate several ways their infighting might cease. Tombs were seldom political hot spots, after all. And Tyentso might prefer that solution.

The empress bowed her head. “I will, my lady.”

“And one . . . last . . . thing.” Tya stepped forward, speaking for the first time. She addressed the Academy wizards and the witchhunters. “I have also grown tired of something.”

Janel’s eyes widened at the expression on her mother’s face.

“We have let you rule yourselves as you will,” Tya said, “but humanity’s need has become too great for us to overlook your foolishness anymore. We have no time for this.” Her expression wasn’t kind. “Congratulations, you have succeeded in eliminating the witch threat, because this day forward, they don’t exist. Witches no longer exist. I am changing the definition. No more licenses. No more persecuting wild talents. Anyone who can touch the Veil will be allowed to do so, regardless of sex or lineage.”

The confusion and disbelief in the wizards spiked so strongly, Thurvishar heard their thoughts even through any talismans or protections. No one protested out loud, but a stubborn defiance rose up. Eliminating the license system would destroy the Royal Houses, defenestrate the witchhunters, cause confusion and anxiety for the Academy. The Royal Houses depended on their magical monopolies to survive. What the Goddess of Magic had just declared . . . it might not break them right away, but the time would come. If anyone could use magic, any magic, without fees, restrictions, or fear of the accusation of witchcraft, then the Court of Gems would soon find itself unnecessary.

The Royal Houses wouldn’t accept such a change, even if the Goddess of Magic herself flew down from the heavens and ordered it—which she had.

“Disobey us at your peril,” Thaena warned. “We have no more patience or time. Our next meeting will not be so friendly.”

With that final warning given, the light flashed again. The gods vanished.

As did Thurvishar, Kihrin, Janel, and Teraeth.

They reappeared in a wondrous locale. The cavern loomed so large, Thurvishar didn’t recognize the space at first. In the massive chamber’s center hung a fiery orange ball, while islands floated in a plane around that central pivot. The entire group, eleven in all, had appeared on the second island, large enough to hold ten times their number. Seven chairs had been set on the ground, not in a circle as one might expect but in a random pattern. A translucent sphere of red, violet, and green energy encased this floating island. Still more glowing notations hung in the air between the islands, floating in circles around them, not labels as much as mathematical formula.

Thurvishar looked again. The islands varied in size. A scree of boulders and rocks wrapped crosswise around the floating island like a bracelet. Past that marker, small fiery dots moved beyond, embedded in a rotating cavern wall. It was, he realized, a sort of mechanism, the heavens’ movements modeled in abyssal stone.

As Thurvishar looked around in astonishment, the seven Immortals fanned out over the space. Some sat. They all looked tense and anxious and even frightened. The mortals remained standing, although Kihrin looked like he was contemplating turning invisible and jumping.

It was . . . uncomfortable . . . to be so close to these beings. Like sticking his fingers too close to fire, too close to ice, against a blade’s edge, the sparking arc of lightning—all at the same time. The tenyé snap felt so strong, Thurvishar presumed the Immortals could only gather for any length of time in a place like this, clearly Argas’s sanctified ground just as Ynisthana had once been Thaena’s.

Thaena turned to her son and demanded, What happened?”

Before he could answer, Janel fell to her knees. “It’s my fault, my lady. I should have seen through Relos Var’s trickery.”

Thurvishar’s mouth twisted. He knew a great many high lords who couldn’t see through Relos Var’s trickery. High lords and—as he gazed around the figures standing on the island—at least eight gods.

Kihrin scoffed. “Now hold on. Did you smash Vol Karoth’s prison open and then lose Urthaenriel? Because I remember it happening differently.”

Janel’s posture tightened.

Thaena’s eyes flashed as she motioned for Janel to stand. So much as glancing in the goddess’s direction filled Thurvishar with a deep and profound dread. Never had her existence seemed more a promise. Thaena’s body vibrated with an anger barely held in check.

Meanwhile Taja, Goddess of Luck, picked up a chair, walked forward several steps, then flipped the chair around and sat on it backward. Argas scowled as if she’d just handed him a personal insult. “Must you?”

“I don’t care whose fault it is,” Taja announced, ignoring Argas’s reproach. “What a shocking idea. Relos Var tricking someone into doing the dirty work for him. I’m so surprised.” She put a hand to her cheek.

Galava, flowers blooming as she paced, gave Taja a reproving look. “This is no time for jokes, child.” She stopped as Ompher approached, not walking so much as sliding along the ground, and put his arms around her.

“He’s not free,” Teraeth murmured. “Not yet.”

Kihrin said, “I felt him wake. I felt it.”

“Awake isn’t the same as free.” Khored removed his red helmet, revealing himself as a black-skinned Manol vané underneath. “Vol Karoth is still trapped in the center of the Blight.”

“For how long?” Thaena’s voice boomed through the great and echoing chamber. “How long when we know Relos Var is working to shatter the other seven crystals and let Vol Karoth loose on the world? How long when we know that bastard has Urthaenriel?” She cast a hateful stare at Kihrin. “Well done, by the way. Did you just hand the sword over, or did he have to make an effort?”

Kihrin flinched.

“Stars,” Taja said. “You are such a bitch when you’re frightened.”

Thaena whirled to face her, eyes blazing.

The tension vibrated in the air, clung to the nerves like ice crystals. Thurvishar had never seen gods fight before; he never wanted to. They seemed to be seconds from open violence.

“I’m terrified,” Tya admitted. She wrapped her veils around her, eyes far away. “Vol Karoth killed us so easily, as powerful as we are, and it was nothing to him.” The Goddess of Magic stared at Kihrin. “We didn’t know what had happened, you see. All we knew was that something had gone wrong—a giant, cataclysmic explosion. And then . . . there he was. A hole in the universe. He knew just what to do. He killed Taja first, then Galava and Thaena . . .”

Galava made a small, hurt noise and grabbed Ompher’s hand.

“Enough.” Thaena’s voice sounded tight and strained.

Argas shook his head. “It’s different this time.” The god studied Kihrin. “You being here, now, makes it different. We’re not the ones who can destroy Vol Karoth. You are. We just need to buy you enough time to do it.”

“Me? I can’t imagine—”

“You and I, we used to be friends,” Argas gestured toward the two goddesses who had nearly come to blows, Taja and Thaena. “Did either of them tell you how the two of us were friends?”

“No, I—” Kihrin’s gaze narrowed. “Wait. I do know you. Not from some past life either. How do I know you?”

Argas grinned. “Used to come by the Veil to check in on you when you were a kid.”

It was Taja’s turn to glare. “Damn it, Argas. We had this conversation! You promised you’d stay away from him.”

Argas’s laughter was mocking. “You promised. I just didn’t bother correcting you.”

Kihrin sighed and ground a thumb into his temple. His voice low, he muttered, “I’d make a joke about the parents fighting, but . . .”

Thurvishar contemplated Janel and Teraeth. “But for some of us, it happens to be true.”

“Yeah,” Kihrin agreed.

“So what’s the plan now?” Teraeth said, trying to turn the conversation back to something living on the same continent as productive. “The Ritual of Night?”

Taja and Khored both shared a look.

“That can’t be necessary,” Taja said.

“It’s been necessary for every other race,” Galava said. “And it’s necessary this time too.”

“The ritual’s never been anything but a delaying action—” Khored started to say.

“It’s different now,” Argas said. “Vol Karoth is different. He’s weaker now.” He pointed to Kihrin. “This might be the first time where destroying him is possible, but not if he escapes before we can figure out a way. We have to keep him locked up. Just a little bit longer will do.”

“What,” Janel asked, “is the Ritual of Night?”

“It’s the ritual that turns an immortal race mortal,” Thurvishar answered. “Four immortal races used to exist, and now only the vané remain. That’s because the ritual has been used three times before, each time to repair Vol Karoth’s prison before he could free himself.”


“We need breathing room,” Thaena said. “And I mean to have it. It’s long past time the vané paid—”

All seven gods stopped whatever they’d been doing, or had been about to say, and looked up and to the side. As if they all stared at the same object, something the mortals in the room couldn’t see.

“How long before the demons breach into the Land of Peace?” Khored asked.

“Ninety-eight percent chance they don’t move in for another five minutes,” Taja said, “and then an 86 percent chance they rush the Chasm.”

“My people are there,” Thaena said, “but they won’t hold for long.”

“Then we’re out of time,” Argas agreed.

Tya turned to Janel. “We won’t be able to provide support. With Vol Karoth’s awakening, the demons have retreated from their Hellmarches—it made them too easy to find—but they’re laying siege to the Land of Peace, trying to reach the Font of Souls. Don’t expect us to be in any position to come to your aid.”

Janel’s expression darkened. Thurvishar reminded himself to ask for a detailed explanation later.

“If the Font falls,” Galava said, “our future dies with it.”

Thaena’s mien turned nasty as she addressed her son Teraeth. “Terindel should have done his duty millennia ago. Since he wouldn’t, it’s your job to ensure his nephew Kelanis does.”

Thurvishar looked away. It would be the final tragic act in a play that had taken four thousand years to unfold. The vané would become mortal; the last great race would die. Yes, it would buy them time, but . . . well, it would be time paid for at a horrendous price.

“What if he says no?” Kihrin asked.

“He won’t say no,” Thaena answered. “He won’t dare. I’ve guaranteed that. I removed your mother from the throne so there wouldn’t be a repeat of Terindel’s sin.”

“Right.” Taja’s smile was equal parts bitter and sad. “So at least that part should be easy.”

Kihrin studied the goddess for a moment, expression uncertain, before he turned to the others. “I hate to be the person pointing out the soup’s cold, but are we the best choice for this? For example, I’m pretty sure Teraeth is the only one who speaks vané.”

“Voral,” Tya corrected absently. “The vané and the voras always spoke the same language.”

“See?” Kihrin said. “I don’t know even the right name for the language.”

Argas grinned. “I’ll fix that.”