A Preview of Nethereal
Soul Cycle Book I
The room where Nakvin lay confronted her with a paradox. It held far more comforts than her chamber on Tharis, yet sleep eluded her. Perhaps living with pirates for more than a century had hardened her against luxuries like transessed sheets more durable than canvas yet smoother than satin, and light fixtures docile to their owner’s whims. Or perhaps memories of an equally lavish prison made her yearn to fly back through the vast ether to Jaren’s den. Whatever the reason, restless thoughts thwarted Nakvin’s hope of enjoying a brief nap before starting her night’s work.
Temil’s small distant moon shed more than enough light for Nakvin to see by. With the chamber’s owner asleep beside her, she began noting pertinent details. Salt-scented air tousled silk curtains in four places, marking the presence of windows. But one set of drapes never stirred.
Nakvin carefully removed herself from Shan’s slumbering embrace. She’d given the Magus a generous dose of venom; its bitter taste still lingered. But a little discretion never hurt. Nakvin’s black hair fell past her shoulders like a velvet shroud as she rose. The abstract-patterned carpet muted her footfalls. Drawing back the motionless curtain revealed a small metal door. Her eyes’ silver reflection stared back from its dark glossy surface.
Prudence was the defining quality of a Magus, as Master Kelgrun had said when he bestowed the rank on Nakvin. After all, only a fool would let a fool teach novices. Since Shan held the same degree, Nakvin knew that his safe would be Worked. Unfortunately she needed vocal melodies to fashion her own Workings, and songs were out of the question.
Limited to what she could accomplish silently, Nakvin inspected the strongbox. The door and its frame were Shipwright's grade, eliminating any question of the contents’ value. The secret that Shan exploited for personal gain lured Nakvin with the promise of aiding her captain. What the guildsman concealed for fear of his Brothers would help Jaren strike fear into the Guild.
Nakvin’s inspection revealed neither mundane traps nor hostile transessence. Holding her breath, she tried the combination that she’d teased from Shan's mind. Not until the tumblers clicked and the latch swung freely did she vent her lungs.
I still can’t believe he talked me into this, Nakvin thought, recalling Jaren’s professions of confidence in her abilities and the sure rewards of success. As happened far too often where her captain was concerned, sentiment had overcome her better judgment. Thus she found herself alone, committing multiple felonies on a world dominated by her former captors.
Nakvin opened the safe and froze in place as the lights came on. She cursed herself for overlooking such a simple alarm.
“What are you doing?” a groggy, confused voice asked from behind her. The bed creaked as Shan sat up. “Come away from there!”
Ignoring Shan, Nakvin reached into the vault and grabbed a thin crystal plaque.
“Face me when I'm speaking, harlot!” the guildsman said, rubbing the bite mark in the crook of his elbow.
Nakvin turned and met Shan’s white-hot glare. His face twisted in a shuddering scowl when he saw the tablet in her hand. “I'm taking this and going,” she said.
“Not without this,” said Shan, clutching a black silk bundle in his fist. “Not even a thief would leave her Steersman’s robe.”
Nakvin’s shock at the sight of another Magus handling her robe soon gave way to anger. She dropped the Working that hid her more exotic features, and Shan flinched when she bared her long canines. “I’m sure your Archon would love to see this,” she said, tapping the plaque with her finger. “Would one thief report another?”
Shan’s scowl returned. “There won’t be anything left to report,” he said. His focus left Nakvin and turned inward. His hands began cycling through the intricate patterns of the Steersman's Compass, and his breathing synchronized with his steady, practiced motions.
Though musical notation guided her own fashioning, Nakvin could read the Compass well enough to see the greater Working taking shape from Shan’s thoughts. The effect he planned to unleash was originally designed for building ships, but it would just as easily immolate her.
Nakvin’s gaze darted to the window. Sure enough, two sanguine points shone through the sheer curtains like a Tharisian sunset. “I’d stop now,” she said, knowing that Shan’s Working promised death, but not for her.
Blue sparks danced on Shan’s fingertips. “Why should I trust a Gen?” he spat.
“Gen?” Nakvin repeated, bitterly amused at how soon man’s memory faded. “They’re nothing like me. No one is. ”
Nakvin was drawing breath to sing a Working when a guttural growl emanated from behind the curtains. The sound, so deep that it was felt more than heard, made her forget her song. Twin red lights pierced the drapes as if two torches burned behind them. “Stop!” she said.
“Go back to hell, succubus!” Shan said, and lightning arced between his hands. He jabbed a finger at Nakvin, but before he loosed his Working the curtains tore aside with a hellish howl. Shan turned just as a grey-black blur of talons and jaws overtook him.
Seeing no use in fretting over matters beyond her help, Nakvin sang two Workings: one to banish the light; and one to muffle the guildsman’s dying screams.
The lady Steersman stood in the silent darkness, impassively viewing the carnage. When it was done, she was alone.
Nakvin retrieved her irreplaceable robe from the ruin of the bed. Unlike the blood-soaked sheets, its black silk bore no stain. Her work done, she left for home.