A Preview of Souldancer
Soul Cycle Book II
Almeth Elocine staggers across the narrow span. Though Kairos knows neither “was” nor “will be”, the newcomer’s footsteps echo with regret and herald woes to come.
The bridge—an alabaster beam suspended over a canyon of whirring cogs—traverses every epoch of history. Oblivious to the abyss yawning below, Almeth walks on, harried by defeat. Kairos is time as the gods know it, and the traveler’s memory of certain victory turned to rout seems only moments old.
The ubiquitous machinery turns in a continual dance of shifting fractal patterns, and Almeth hears again the guardians’ voices. They hail him as Faerda made flesh; the last god. He suffers these titles; comes to embrace them and finally to believe.
Ahead, the towers of spinning gears part to reveal the terminus. It is the last place that Almeth wishes to be, yet he recognizes the heart of Kairos as the natural end of his pride. All other paths are shut to him. Now he sees the platform clearly. A tall stocky figure stands at the head of the bridge, waiting.
“Elocine! It’s not too late to turn back!”
If Almeth is surprised by the man’s presence, he gives no sign. Unhindered he answers, “the Guild rules the spheres now, Cleolin. Where would you have me turn back to?”
Cleolin’s brow is stern, but the hardness doesn’t reach his eyes. “I would ask you the same, Blackbow. Even a mortal such as I knows that one may reach any place or time from Kairos.”
Almeth sees the syndex’s muscles tense at his approach—a message clear as bared steel. “Everything’s gone wrong.” Almeth’s voice hardly exceeds a whisper. “I’m the last. Only I can mend it.”
The syndex of Midras frowns—an act which oft sets foes to flight. Cleolin Redbeard must see his former captain’s ashen face; the cold sweat that’s turned his hair into a mat of black lambswool. The priest knows that he is witnessing a marvel without precedent—Almeth Elocine is afraid.
“Turn aside, Almeth, whatever your intent. To rewrite fate’s decrees is folly, even for a god!”
Though faltering, Almeth’s pace doesn’t slow. “The resistance is lost,” he says without inflection. “Should I leave my people in thrall to an upstart fiend?”
“The remnant of Annon chose their lot. The guardians may yet survive in Strata untouched by the Brotherhood.”
The human priest and the godly Gen stand face to face below the broad stair. Cleolin’s visage is grim. His pores exude a sour smell.
Almeth smiles without mirth. “You speak without forethought, as is your race’s wont. Wheresoever I lead my broken following, the Void shall overtake us in time.”
“The Guild; not the Void, has conquered the spheres.”
“One is merely the consequence of the other,” Almeth says, pressing forward. A smooth motion of the priest’s hand sends an icy jolt through his torso and halts his progress.
Cleolin withdraws his red-tipped blade. “Forgive me this sacrilege.”
Almeth collapses. The priest’s firm embrace is all that keep him from folding to the floor.
“Failure is a gift,” speaks a voice from the past. Yet all times are present to Almeth here.
Have I not failed enough for one life, Ebrim—for a hundred?
Urgency beyond all self-concern drives Almeth back to his feet. He looks upon the syndex’s startled face a final time and exerts his will. Kairos itself propels Cleolin backward so rapidly that his imposing form instantly recedes to a distant mote. His scream reaches Almeth seconds after he vanishes beyond the terminus.
Almeth clutches his wound and staggers to the edge of Kairos. Cleolin was the last tie binding him to life in this cosmos. Now emptied of all feeling, he sits down to wait.