August 7th will be here before we know it. Until then, here’s an excerpt from Soul Weaver.
Soft snores carried from the darkness on Nathaniel’s right. Weak sunlight slanted over his shoulder, cut through the gloom, and illuminated the weathered face of his mark. The mattress squeaked as the man rolled onto his back. His tangled limbs twitched in peaceful sleep.
Nathaniel traced the cool metal handle of his shears, sheathed in their fitted holster.
The black marker on the man’s soul pulsated, calling to Nathaniel. The only sounds came from a pay-per-view skin flick he’d already seen playing in other seedy motel rooms just like this one.
He crossed the room and glanced at the nightstand.
Pictures lay spread like glossy fans across the chipped laminate surface. He glanced away. Soon he’d know the story behind those photos as well as he knew the man who had taken them.
Knocking a fly from his ear, Nathaniel sent the pest zooming around the room in circles.
He lifted his pendant over his head and tucked it into his pocket. His skin rippled and faded to the golden outline of his spiritual form. He winced as the psychic bond between a soul harvester and his prey snapped into place. A deluge of sickened thoughts branded their knowledge inside Nathaniel’s skull as he slid his fingers into the handle of his shears.
“She wanted it. Begged for it. Should’ve made it last. Damn camera. Ran out of batteries. Now I won’t remember it all.”
Nathaniel’s gut clenched. It never got easier. Each time his stomach roiled as bad as the last, maybe worse. His mark’s twisted pleasure trickled through their connection. He shivered with loathing and tightened his grip.
“They’ll never know. No one ever knows. I liked the look of that blonde. Could’ve had them both. Be ready next time. She’ll still be there. Waiting for me.”
“Enough.” Snarling through gritted teeth, Nathaniel made his accounting. “You’ve taken innocence not yours to have, and you will be held responsible for that loss.”
He braced his hand over the man’s heart. Steady thumps pulsed beneath his palm as he sank intangible fingers into the man’s chest. There, on his left. He’d found it. Miniscule thing it was.
Cradled inside the man’s rib cage, Nathaniel’s quarry clung to its host.
The marked soul slithered right outside Nathaniel’s grasp. Sinking his wrist inside the man’s body, he growled his frustration. Disgusted, he plunged deeper, opened his fingers wider, and sifted through organs and tissue until his fist closed over his prey.
The man’s eyes popped open wide, his gaze searching the room. “W-who’s there?”
His feeble swipes through the air might as well have swatted flies. The urge to take a pound of flesh from the man’s wrinkled hide tempted Nathaniel, but he could only touch fellow spirits without his pendant to ground him, to wrap him in flesh like the odd gift to the world that he was.
On a choked sob, the man began begging for pity, for leniency, for mercy.
The words should have burned his forked tongue as he spoke them. Instead, he blathered on about things he’d left undone, words he’d left unsaid. As if he hadn’t ended lives while indulging his sick tastes. Without a thought about who his victims left behind as he silenced their voices.
A tic worked in Nathaniel’s cheek. He would not snap. This death would not be the one to break him, though if it did, he could hardly be blamed. Teach a man to kill, and he lusted for blood. Show him how scales are balanced, and he will discover how they can be tipped.
He chuckled darkly as hatred unfurled in his chest. Pity had no place here. In any case, he’d run dry of that emotion long ago.
A twist of Nathaniel’s wrist pulled taut the length of soul writhing in his fist. His mark’s body strained and bowed off the bed in an effort to remain connected.
He snipped the man’s soul free with a quick clip of his shears, and the body fell in a limp heap against the mattress. His mark’s sightless eyes stared into nothing. His parted lips dry.
Holding the swath of soul at arm’s length, Nathaniel retrieved his pendant and threw the chain over his head. His skin prickled as he became corporeal. Once he shook off the sting, he reached for the short velvet pouch hanging from his belt. He freed it, forced the mouth open, and shoved the hand holding the blackened soul down the gullet of the bag. Familiar suction nursed his fingers as a vortex swirled around his hand and a portal swallowed his arm up to his elbow.
Heat singed his fingertips as his hand burst through the bottomless bag and into a soul pit.
He smelled flesh cooking and knew it was his. Of course, if he hadn’t worn his pendant, his soul would have been sucked into the bag—into Hell—too. Any spirit not tethered by a body would.
Considering a soul lost to the pits was a spirit lost for eternity, he’d suffer the burns any day.
Wrenching his arm free of the bag, he wiped the residue from his fingers on the bed’s soiled sheets. He cinched the ties, closed the bag, and reaffixed the pouch to his belt.
His shears still vibrated from the power that had radiated from his spiritual form. Holding their jaws open, he sliced through the air and opened a rift. He was intent on returning to his home, but his blood hummed from the kill and his mind itched for distraction. He took a step, and that same pale sliver of sunlight glinted off the toes of his boot.
His head was heavy, and lifting it was difficult. Through the crack in the curtains, the mortal world beckoned. He craved fresh air to clear his lungs, needed the feel of sunlight warm against his skin. He longed to walk among the living and leave the taint of death behind him for a while.
After exiting the motel, Nathaniel ambled through the parking lot and onto the crumbling sidewalk. Cold wind slashed his cheeks, numbed his face. Slush froze in the cracks and pried the concrete apart.
A rumbling growl overhead diverted his thoughts from the urban decay of the block where his latest mark had resided. Above him, a roiling blanket of clouds stretched across the horizon. He stumbled as he experienced the same instant of vertigo he always did when faced with the clouds’ darkened underbellies rather than their luminous crowns.
His steps slowed, giving him time to regain his balance. He touched his hip, feeling the reassuring presence of his shears and soul bag. Rubbing his palm across his pants, he knew there was no blood to wipe from his fingers. The stain ran deeper, having seeped into his soul and corroded it.
A truck sped past, spraying his pants with icy slush from the roadway. Nathaniel paused for a heartbeat before shaking the sludge off. His soaked pants slicked to his leg, and his boots sloshed on his next step.
He glared at the driver, but his lips parted when the truck’s front wheels locked, sending it skating across a patch of ice. He watched with morbid fascination as momentum carried the truck through the intersection and into oncoming traffic.
His shoulders tensing in anticipation, he cringed as the truck plowed into the side of a sleek van with a sickening crunch of steel on steel. Metallic screams filled his ears as both vehicles exploded through the guardrail and vanished from sight.
Silence engulfed the strip of asphalt where Nathaniel stood.
He wasn’t human. He had no duty to those people. He had done his job, collected his mark.
He swallowed hard. Help would come. Someone must have heard the cry of metal grinding over pavement. His fingers twitched with the urge to slice a rift. He should take his shears and leave.
The harvest was messing with his head, making him feel kinship with these mortals whose lives had spun from their control. Madness. This was insanity. He took a step and glanced around to prove he was alone. He was. He took another step, and another, until the pounding of his feet became a full-out run. He slid to a halt at the gap where twisted railing curled as if pointing a sharp finger down the slope and into a ravine.
He tore his gaze from the violence below to scan the turbulent skies, expecting the gloom to part and his angelic kin to descend. No light pierced the thunderheads. No peace settled into his bones at that stolen glimpse of home. Nothing happened. That delay meant one thing—there were survivors.
For now, the mortals would be left alone to live or die. Only then would angels intervene.
At the bottom of the ravine, the black truck flashed its silver underbelly. Its cab was crushed, the driver’s side door collapsed. Glass was strewn like glitter across the ground. The van slumped on its side, its front end an accordion of crumpled metal. Exhaust hissed from its bowels.
There were survivors? If not for the absence of his kin, Nathaniel wouldn’t have believed it. He shifted his weight and tested the incline. Brittle kudzu vines tangled around his boot on the first step.
His every step tampered with the natural balance of things. Death was inevitable.
Rolling his shoulder, he shook off the imagined burn of the implant heating beneath his skin. The sterling triquetra embedded to the left of his spine marked him as property of Delphi, the reigning governor of Hell. Part of Nathaniel’s initiation into soul harvesting had been a vow of service to Delphi. Dark vows stamped into his memory.
Forget all you know of Heaven, for you have forsaken it. Hell is your home now, and I am your new master. Mortals are ours to patrol and ours to punish. Form no attachments. Their lives are fleeting and intervention in their deaths is forbidden.
Nathaniel’s vows were sealed with blood—both his and Delphi’s. As the first fallen angel recruited for Delphi’s campaign against mortal corruption, Nathaniel wielded power second only to the master seraph. Unique even among his fallen brethren, Nathaniel was the Weaver of Souls.
A duty he would have never asked for and a title he would have never wanted.
But who among his brethren would he burden with his tasks? None deserved to know how mortal souls felt once they had been stripped bare, shredded, and repurposed. Harvesters wore their wings with gratitude. Wings he had woven, wings fashioned from the souls of the damned.
Yet if Nathaniel did more than watch this tragedy unfold from the sidelines, Delphi would retrieve the shears and toss him in one of the soul pits burning on Hell’s borderlands for eternity.
Mercy was not in Delphi’s—or his—vocabulary. Justice, vengeance…those were words they knew. Why should they care if a few mortals faded from existence? After all, the human body served only as temporary housing for the soul. Their forms weren’t meant to weather eternity.
He should leave, not continue his downward slide into the ravine, toward the wounded mortals, but he wanted…what? A bird’s-eye view of a different kind of death than the sort he dealt in? He had been the cause of it often enough to know with unfailing accuracy how those final living moments would play out.
He leaped the last several feet to the bottom and sucked in a reverent breath at the sight before him. A wavering aura bathed his bleak surroundings in sunset colors.
Homesickness speared through his chest. Aeristitia.
Except that in Heaven’s first city, this sight would go unnoticed. When standing on streets constructed from flawless clouds set in gilded skies, even the shimmer of rainbow souls paled in comparison to their surroundings. Streets cobbled with golden pavers, houses erected of snowy marble, even the trees were frozen in eternal bloom. Aeristitia was called Paradise for a reason.
Nathaniel’s new existence was monochromatic by comparison. Here on Earth, everything seemed muted, darker, and hungrier. He’d grown used to it, though, and learned to thrive amid the mortal chaos. What that said about him, he didn’t want to know. What he did know was that he hadn’t seen anything so beautiful in an achingly long time.
Circling the van, he found the aura’s source lying in an ever-widening puddle of her own blood. The nape of his neck prickled and he returned his gaze skyward. He couldn’t be caught here. The loss of his shears would cripple him. Assuming his shears were all Delphi took from him. His life, well…he wasn’t worth much without those shears.
As he turned on his heel to go, the woman’s pained whimper froze him in place.
“Please…help.” Her chest rattled when she spoke.
Those two words shattered something in his chest. How easily he’d dismissed his mark’s pleas, but hers sank hooks into his heart and tugged. He glanced over his shoulder and found he couldn’t look away a second time. Approaching her with caution, Nathaniel gave himself time to reconsider. Dropping to his haunches, he stared at her aura’s unfamiliar spectrum. His job meant dealing with only the foulest offerings of mankind. Her purity of spirit humbled him.
The woman’s eyes blinked open. Her irises were the color of dark chocolate. “You’re…an angel?”
“Afraid not.” He hadn’t been one in too many of man’s ages to count.