This is the story of Waimbrill, a soulcleaver, a beloved outcast, respected yet feared among his countrymen. He grows distant and eccentric as he cleaves the dead and gains their angst and pain. Trying to do good despite the neutrality of his church, Waimbrill cares for a quiet young orphan while a monster terrorizes the land. Together, the two must venture into murky waters where danger teems, and a monster waits for them in the deepest, darkest reaches of the world.
His first soul was a woman who worked in the monastery where he lived and trained.
Waimbrill guessed it was time for his initiation when he was summoned from the deprivation room, an unlit stone chamber, scrupulously clean, clear of scents, silent and smooth-walled. Its contemplative atmosphere conferred satisfaction and complacency under the tutelage of an elder monk with dreary eyes and a doddering grin.
He was met by high-ranking priests of his church and followed them through the winding halls of the temple. Waimbrill wanted to ask whom his first soul would be, hoping for a high priest or visiting dignitary, but an almost palpable quiet filled the air, and he didn’t dare speak, afraid to breach decorum, to stutter and stammer like some dullard, to shatter the silence and solitude that permeated the monastery. Modrobenians were not known for speaking well, or much, and Waimbrill’s years among them had ingrained in him a love of seclusion and laconism.
Covering his mouth with one hand to suppress a grin and hide his smile, Waimbrill nodded, presenting the most solemn face he could muster. He was relieved his life as a Soulclaine was starting. He’d been preparing since his parents sent him away as a boy of barely twelve years old, to the monastery where he’d been ever since, training for this day. He learned the tongues and customs of far-off lands, practiced his meditation, calming techniques and the defensive dance-like martial arts of the church, alongside lessons on self-sufficient living: gardening, trapping and hunting, carpentry and tanning and a thousand and one crafts and bits of lore.
After descending a flight of stone stairs, they came to a storage room, wherein were three sobbing women. He clasped his hands in front of him and awkwardly avoided their gaze, trying to conceal his eager excitement, not realizing how obvious his sweaty palms and pale face were.
The dead woman laying on the smooth, polished table in the center of the room was a cook named Zendra. Shelves with pots and crates of root vegetables lined the walls. The smell of earthy tubers and musty soil pervaded the room. His heart booming, beads of sweat breaking out on his face, Waimbrill beheld her worn skin, beset with wrinkles and a disturbingly slight smile. Her eyes were closed, and he closed his too. He recalled his training and pushed away the sights, smells and sounds of his surroundings. The small sobs of the survivors grew faint. He was dimly aware of one woman choking out encouragement to him on this, the first soul he would cleave on a long journey of service.
He recited the High Prayer in his mind. At first he couldn’t think of the words, the enormity of the moment overwhelming him with worries and wonder about the future, about whether soulcleaving a lowly cook was an auspicious start or not, about whether Modroben would judge him unworthy or if he would fail as spectacularly as he imagined. He focused on his body, the relentless in and out of his lungs, the rise and fall of his chest, the incessant pounding of his heart which he felt in his temple and heard echoing in his skull. His brain was buffeted by ideas and images: a hoarse caw, a flurry of feathers in flight, a sallow beak, long-winged silhouettes circling in the light of a setting sun, the stench of decay, the red and brown of meat torn from a carcass.