Book 5 of The Soul Bound Saga
Joran and his companions have returned safe and sound from the wasteland that was The Black Iron Empire.
But they aren’t the only ones.
The fallen White Knight Samaritan also survived and he’s grown even more powerful and determined to destroy everything Joran cares about.
The race is on once more.
Can Joran find a way to defeat Samaritan, or will mad man succeed in claiming his long sought revenge?
Fane Morrow, better known to her followers as the archbishop, appeared in a roughhewn tunnel deep under the earth and immediately slammed her fist into the wall. Neither the dark-brown stone nor her pale, smooth skin cracked. Her immortal body could withstand far worse than that. Though she seriously doubted whether she could survive whatever spell the overmage inhabiting Samaritan’s body used. It had torn her overseer apart with seeming ease.
She grimaced and turned away from the wall. Fane hadn’t expected to be back here again so soon and she certainly hadn’t expected to have to flee for her continued existence from the church’s fortress. The artifact she assumed would lead her to this world’s guardian dragon had instead contained the soul of an overmage, one of the former rulers of the Black Iron Empire and a powerful wizard.
Maybe more powerful than Fane herself. The idea that this world had even one wizard more powerful than her struck her as impossible. She had studied magic at the right hand of Amet Sur, the most powerful arcane lord of them all and a person she considered more god than man. Fane’s immortal, undead body made her nearly invincible. Only sunlight or mithril had a hope of killing her.
Now she could add whatever spell the bastard had used on her overseer to the list of things that might end her existence.
It was intolerable!
She’d gotten so close to achieving her goal only to have it stripped away at the last moment. One thing was certain. She would find a way to make the overmage—what did he say his name was—Khashair, yes, Fane would remember that name just long enough to engrave it on his tombstone.
She spun, ether crackling around her fingers, to find the youthful figure of Beastmaster walking toward her. The strongest of her many servants, Beastmaster looked like a twelve-year-old boy wearing a slightly too big brown robe. A three-eyed squirrel rode on his shoulder today. She’d seen him feed the disgusting thing a finger not that long ago.
Fane lowered her hands and relaxed. Despite his appearance, Beastmaster was several centuries old and a powerful wizard in his own right. If it came to a fight, she had no doubt which of them would fall, but given the strength of her new opponent, his help might be the difference between success and defeat.
“You seem a bit jumpy,” Beastmaster said. “Did something happen at the fortress?”
“You could say that. I need to borrow your crystal ball. I’ll tell you everything as we walk.”
“Sure, no problem.” He turned and went back the way he’d come. “Why did you come here instead of going to your citadel?”
Fane frowned. Why indeed? Some instinct had screamed at her not to go home, but rather come here instead. It made no sense. She was strongest at the citadel with its thick veil of corruption and many undead servants.
Maybe that was it. Khashair had a talent for destroying creatures made with corruption. Her servants wouldn’t last long against the man.
“I’m not entirely certain myself.” Fane told him what happened with Samaritan. “It looks like we have a new player in the game, a powerful one.”
“Wow. Do you really think he’s stronger than you?” He said it in an incredulous tone and Fane didn’t blame him. Her mind used the same tone whenever she thought about what happened.
“I’m not sure if he’s stronger than me in terms of raw power, but he clearly has a talent for destroying undead and creatures created with Black Bile and corruption. The effect we observed wasn’t a ward, it was the overmage’s spirit casting through the orb.”
“I didn’t even know something like that was possible.”
Fane grit her teeth then forced herself to relax. “Neither did I. And it makes me wonder how much else Khashair knows that I don’t. The prospect both excites and worries me in equal measure. Regardless of my feelings, the task of finding and controlling this world’s hidden power remains unchanged.”
She’d come far too close to admitting that what she sought was a guardian dragon. Though at this point it probably didn’t matter if she told Beastmaster the whole truth or not.
Speaking of her host, he stopped in the middle of the tunnel and waved a hand at a blank section of wall. A door slid into the floor and beyond it waited a small chamber with a crystal ball resting on a round table.
“There you go. Anything else I can do?”
“Yes, join me in the link so you can see for yourself what we’re dealing with. When we’re finished, I’d like your opinion of Khashair. That’s what the overmage calls himself.”
Fane went inside and rested her fingers on the cool surface of the crystal ball. A moment later Beastmaster joined her and together they plunged their minds into the ether. Khashair had still worn Samaritan’s mithril amulet, so she focused on that.
An instant later she found her psychic form floating over the fortress’s training yard. Khashair, along with the forgeling, Gomo, and that obnoxious statue, stood in the center of the dirt yard. Fane hadn’t the least idea what they were doing. Khashair looked up and down, left and right as if working a kink out of his neck.
A dark aura of corrupt ether swirled around him. How did he manage that with the amulet around his neck? The mithril should purify the ether as soon as it came into contact with any corruption.
“Why does the statue have a mithril amulet around its neck?” Beastmaster asked.
She’d been so focused on Khashair, Fane hadn’t even noticed that he’d given the amulet to the golem. That, at least, made more sense. Such an item was too valuable to leave lying around while also being less than useful for someone that preferred to wield corrupt ether.
“Do you think Samaritan is still in there or did Khashair destroy his soul when he took over Samaritan’s body?” Beastmaster asked.
Yet another question Fane had no answer for. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, assuming Samaritan’s soul is still there, would that make them a soulbound pair? Who knows what kind of extra power that might provide.”
She frowned as she considered the implication of Beastmaster’s observation. Samaritan’s soulmate had been killed, which meant Khashair’s soul couldn’t properly bond with his. But that didn’t mean having two half souls in a single body wouldn’t give him some sort of power boost. On this world, Fane, having been born on another world where soul bonds weren’t a thing, was the only person she knew for sure had a complete soul. Granted it was a corrupted soul nearly replaced by pure ether, but still. She had long assumed that was one of the reasons she was so strong.
“I hadn’t considered the possibility,” Fane admitted. “If you’re right, it would explain why he had the strength to overwhelm me, even if only for a moment.”
She shifted her focus back to the courtyard. Khashair raised a hand and a circle of ether appeared. He’d opened a portal on his own, with no Black Bile to power the magic? Fane couldn’t do that. In fact, she’d only ever seen arcane lords accomplish such a feat.
Had she underestimated his power that badly?
When all three had gone Beastmaster asked, “What now?”
What now indeed.
With an effort of will she returned their awarenesses to their bodies. As long as Khashair held on to the amulet, she could find them again wherever they went.
She stepped out into the tunnel and started pacing.
If—and it was a big if—Khashair had power even close to that of an arcane lord, then even Fane and Beastmaster combined had no hope of defeating him. She started to dismiss that idea out of hand then stopped herself. Underestimating this enemy wouldn’t just result in a setback to the mission, it might well end with her destroyed.
“We need to know more about Khashair,” she said at last. “Before his transformation, Samaritan mentioned a library in the Black Iron Empire. I’ve opened a portal there once, so returning should be no problem. I assume you have a supply of bile on hand. I can open a portal and send you through.”
Beastmaster frowned. “Me? Aren’t you going to do it yourself?”
“No. Someone has to remain behind and keep an eye on Khashair. Besides, if the library has windows, I’ll only be able to work half the day. You can just power through nonstop.”
Beastmaster shook his head. “I might not age anymore, but I still need to eat and sleep. Not as much as a regular human, but still. Can’t you send one of the other overseers? You’ve got, what, two more at least? They actually don’t need to sleep or eat.”
“They also don’t have the keenest wits. Anyway, I need them to keep the cult under control. You’re the agent I have that’s both smart enough and free at the moment. So you’re going.”
“Fine. I need to gather supplies. You know your way to the lab, right? I’ve got ten vials of Black Bile left.” Beastmaster turned to leave, paused, and turned back. “Your human is still in one of my flesh pits. You’ll need to feed and water him if you want to keep him alive.”
Fane grimaced at Beastmaster’s back as he went to get whatever he needed. She’d forgotten about the captive White Knight. Did she actually want to keep him alive? Samaritan might no longer exist for all she knew. No, she’d gone to all this trouble, tossing him a sack of jerky and a skin of water now and then shouldn’t be too much trouble. She didn’t have enough confidence to say for sure he would be of no further use and right now, Fane had no intention of throwing away anything that might give her an edge on Khashair, no matter how small.
Heaven knew she’d need every bit of help she could get to defeat that monster.