There’s a saying on my island. “Only through stealing our breath can the wind speak.” You want me to describe the Black Mist that greeted me when I first arrived in the Ionian village, hood raised, relic cannon on my back?
The Mist steals words too. The screams of those who die within.
Once, they were my screams—but I’m alive now.
I felt the warmth wherehand touched my shoulder as we stepped off the boat onto Ionian soil, somehow reaching through my walls the way only he can. The way he’s the only fool stubborn enough to try.
To learn the one thing that gets through my armor, and all the rules beneath, is love.
“You go high, I go low?” I asked, feeling his warmth go cold as he considered. For a moment, he didn’t see me standing before him. He saw the woman he tried to save, who was cursed, always running. He saw the, swinging toward her… He looked straight into her eyes, even as he looked into mine.
“I go low,” he said, leaving other things to silence. And now his hands were on his guns. “Senna…” His voice broke with the weight of the memory.
“It’s okay,” I said softly. I could remember that woman too.
On the horizon, darkness swirled, casting even darker shadows onto a village carved into stone, deluged by heavy rain, and worse. Somewhere in that darkness was light. Another Sentinel who’d called us here.
I’d have to fight my way to it.
The path up the mountain to the village was nearly worn away by centuries of storms, washing away everything but the toughest crags… if that’s the right damn word. I could feel the wind pressing against my hood, the spray of the ocean hard against my skin, as if the world were pushing me back, warning me of the darkness ahead. But none of that compared to what hit me as a howl rose up, roaring through the village…
It was my. The Mist knew I was here. It would come for me before anyone else.
“Must be time for my daily ambush,” I muttered, unmoved, and from a horizon black with death, souls poured forth. Drawn to me as I drew breath.
As I drew my weapon.
The relic stones of fallen Sentinels moved as one, each held by too many hands before mine. Men and women, fathers, sisters, all lost to darkness. But when I held my weapon, I held their light, gleaming in the gun’s two barrels.
A tendril of Mist hit me as the wraith within took shape. Staggered by the blow, I stumbled back, catching my footing just before falling toward the rocks below. Thunder pealed as the screams of souls joined the rain and crashing waves that besieged the island. But the flash of light that followed wasn’t lightning.
It was my relic cannon, the shot boiling the wraith into shadow.
It required control. It required focus. I needed to fight the Mist with every fiber of my being. And I could not stop. Not for a moment of my life.
With every shot that burned a wraith away, another was revealed. I was so close to the village now, I could see new wraiths rising, sent spiraling toward me.
Into blessed light.
“Anabal, are you there?” I called out. I’d met him only once, when Urias brought me to a meeting of Sentinels. It was rare for Sentinels to gather, but something had frightened Urias that made him call them all together. He never told me what it was, but I could tell by the way the others looked at me…
It hurt more when they didn’t know. When they tried to get past my armor, only to find the reason it was there.
Still firing, I advanced further into the village. The wraiths moved fast, swooping into buildings nearly as old as the island itself, carved from the same stone. But there was order in the chaos. The wraiths were circling above. They wanted something. Not just life. Not just souls. Not just me…
“Anabal!” I called again, barely hearing myself over the storm.
“Over here! Hurry!” a panicked voice responded. It was the voice of a girl… and then her light joined mine in the darkness.
Anabal’s apprentice, Daowan.
She stood above a crumpled body, two figures in the dark. The light of Anabal’s relic-stone glaive glowed dully on her face, concentration clear on her brow as she defended her fallen mentor.
He had managed to pass the torch, then… his relic stone was not lost.
“We have to get out of here,” the girl said with a shudder. “We have to get the villagers out of here. I can still hear them. It must be them…” She paused and looked down at the shape at her feet, in confused agony. “I can still hear him…”
But even as her knuckles grew white, clenching the haft of her glaive, I put my relic cannon on my back. I reached out gently and took her shoulder.
“We’re going to get through this,” I said. Beyond her, I saw the entrance to the village catacombs. Swarming with wraiths. “All of us,” I added softly.
Whatever the Mist wanted, it was there.
The catacombs had been carved out by countless floods. As we left the village behind, heading underground, still the storm made itself known, water rolling down the walls around us. But if we were going to drown in the depths, it wouldn’t be from rising sea, or falling squall…
It would be in the Black Mist that rolled like a wave to meet us, swallowing our light in a liquid roar.
I could hear the screams of the people from my village, torn away when I was just a girl and first saw death. I could hear the echoes of my own, and see the look on Lucian’s face, when death first saw me. I was hit by the rage and fear of the people still dying above, their cries in a language I couldn’t understand, but speaking of pain I knew all too well.
Wraiths rose up throughout the catacombs, trapped in a rictus of the agony they meant to inflict. But no matter how loud the screams of the living, the sound could never drown out their own. And no matter how brightly my light burned, it could never hurt them worse than when the darkness returned.
And so instead… I embraced them, before death could.
My call was irresistible. I couldthe Mist to myself, away from others. I felt death rush in, push the lie of my body away. As the Mist clung to me, one by one, it let the souls go. All who had been drawn here. All who had died above. For a moment, I thought I saw Anabal…
Only one vaguelingered, a will still slowly awakening. It hovered for a moment before turning to face me, rage burning where there were no eyes.
“No,” I whispered through the shroud of death that had transformed me into a wraith. “You don’t get to speak. You listen.”
Pushing the Mist into my gun, I fired all the pain and fear I’d gathered back at its source, where it was deserved. As darkness collided with darkness, the light within me glowed. Life wouldn’t let me go. I felt my body return, as the last of the Mist left me. With a gasp, I fell to my knees.
“What did I miss?” a voice asked, emerging from deeper in the tunnels.
“You know. The usual,” I said coolly, though I was still catching my breath.
“Ruined King raiding catacombs to find who knows what?” Lucian asked.
“Pretty much,” I answered. I looked up at Daowan, realization dawning on her face. Her glaive was still pointed at me.
There’s a saying on my island. “Only through stealing our breath can the wind speak.”
In the roaring clamor of the Black Mist, I hear the words of the dead.
And I’m here to give their voices back.