Endless Chronicles Book One: The Keeper
by Nikki McCormack
She is The Keeper.
That which is lost, she will find.
She resides in the body of an Endless woman, but is not one of them.
That which is forsaken, she will cherish.
She exists to collect the spirits of gods and the rarest demons upon their death. That is her purpose. It has always been so.
That which is forgotten, she will remember.
She does not remember where she came from or why she must do the things she does.
That which is, she will keep.
But when she meets an exiled Endless warrior in the Undercity, something starts to awaken within her stolen body. Something that compels her to go with him. Something that should be dormant.
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Title: The Keeper, The Endless Chronicles Book One
Author: Nikki McCormack
Publisher: Elysium Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Release Date: September 2016
Excerpt from The Keeper: The Endless Chronicles Book One
by Nikki McCormack
Copyright © 2016 by Nikki McCormack. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Argus held a hand out behind her, signaling the other three to wait. She stepped back into the shadowed embrace of a massive steel I-beam, the hard surface radiating cold through her clothes, the smells of grease and metal thick in her nose.
Deynas, be silent, be strong. Keep the children quiet and calm.
They needed to hold their position until she signaled. The kids had done well so far, but if they experienced the same sensations she did, she wasn’t sure they would be able to stand quiet this time. Her flesh prickled and her heart hammered in her chest like that of a child trapped in a night terror. She touched a finger first to her lips then lightly over her heart.
Undying Father, what comes that I should feel this much fear before I have even seen it?
She had encountered more than a few demons and crossbreeds in the process of leading others out of the overtaken city to the safety of the Endless tribe’s training village in the desert. One fight left her with a shallow gash on her right shoulder and a trail of blood drying down that arm. None of those confrontations put her into the cold sweat that the approaching presence did. She was an Endless warrior, capable, quick and strong. The temporal caught in the assault depended on her. She couldn’t let herself be unsettled now.
It wasn’t the first time demons had attacked this place. Back then, almost fourteen hundred years ago, it had been a small Endless city. The demons slaughtered that entire tribe. The remains of that city now lay beneath a towering metropolis run by a different Endless tribe, but home to a variety of human species and other creatures. The invading demons weren’t looking to decimate the city this time, they were taking over. They were trying to eliminate the Endless tribe that ran the city, which meant they were being selective and there was time for escape. Time that was fast running out.
Keeping the one hand back to stay Deynas and the children and the other on the handle of the long dagger at her belt, she focused for a few seconds on slow and steady breathing. And silence. It wouldn’t do to be heard.
She closed her eyes. The dark behind her lids was changed by whatever approached. Black and sinister, creeping. Soft footsteps shushed across the metal floor. She snapped her eyes open. A scent wafted around her, the too rich, sweet aroma of fallen rose petals crushed underfoot. She swallowed painful dryness. Whoever or whatever approached, they were now moving across the room behind the I-beam. She had to know what dread creatures gave off this foul aura, but she didn’t dare step out of the deep shadows hiding her, not in physical form.
Of the three with her, only Deynas knew she was a spirit walker. He’d found out by accident. Somehow, when she moved her umahk-ra, her spirit form, apart from her body he could see it. He’d promised not to tell, promised on his late mother’s god’s blood pendant that he always wore under his shirt. It changed their relationship anyway. No matter how much she loved mentoring him, being around someone with such ability jeopardized her secret. Besides, their flirtatious banter was going to get them both into trouble eventually. She would tell Master Kochan what happened and ask him to place Deynas with a new mentor when they reached the village. First, she had to get them out of the city alive.
Glancing over her shoulder, she looked at Deynas, catching and holding his pale hazel eyes and gestured firmly for them to wait again, needing to know he would do so. He nodded, mouth set in a grim line, a hand on the shoulder of each child. She didn’t look at the children. The future. Both might become Endless one day so long as they did not die here. It was her job to see that they survived.
She leaned against the cold metal, pressing her body into the corner for support, and closed her eyes again. Her hands relaxed to her sides. She stepped free of her body and drifted around into the open where she could see the walkway that passed behind them.
Tall. That was her first impression of the passing women. There were six of them moving in two rows of three, all wearing full-length, shapeless white dresses with red tubing along the seams and around the hemline. Disproportionately tiny feet in white slippers peeked out with every graceful sliding step making eerie whispers along the floor. High, rigid white collars elongated their necks and tilted the women’s narrow chins up with a sharp point at the front in what looked to be an uncomfortable angle. Long, straight black hair contrasted the white paint over their faces. Their lips were painted a bright red and red eyes had been painted on their closed eyelids.
She drifted closer.
Two wires ran down either side of their collared necks emerging from the soft flesh on the underside of their jaws and disappearing down into the dress below the collarbone. A slow steady drip of red ran down each wire. Blood. The tubing on the dresses wasn’t red, she realized, but clear, running red with the blood that dripped down those wires.
Argus felt her breath catch in her detached body. What were these women? Their features looked human, but they were exact copies of one another. They had to be some form of demon, though not one she’d encountered before.
The women stopped moving as one and began to hum, a resonant humming that turned her waiting flesh cold, making it shiver.
I should return to my body.
The humming reverberated through her spirit form, her umahk-ra, filling it with warmth that contrasted the chill consuming her flesh. The sensation was mesmerizing and terrifying. She’d never felt anything in this form, not the way she felt their haunting music. Her physical body heard the music and reacted with paralyzing fear, it didn’t feel the electrifying resonance of the sound itself.
She drifted closer still, drawn by the music they made.
The women turned as if they stood on gears, rotating in place until they faced her umahk-ra. Then their eyes began to open, a ghastly pink light spearing from the sockets. The humming pinned her in place while the light washed over her hidden spirit form.
Six voices spoke in unison in her mind, awful sighing voices. We see you.
Their words preceded intense pain. Her spirit form arched back in the air, agony blazing through her, as if a boiling fluid flowed through her veins. Her physical body collapsed on the grated metal walkway. She could hear the breathing of her companions, the sound becoming so loud it hurt her suddenly hypersensitive ears. Her physical body was failing, the beat of her heart weak and faltering, but she couldn’t go back. Their light held her prisoner. If she could have wept in this form, she would have, but even that release was denied her.
The women spoke again. Your spirit is strong. Your flesh will become. Send the others away and we will not harm them.
Their eyes closed then, cutting off the light, and her spirit form snapped back into her body, into blackness. She couldn’t see. She couldn’t move her arms or legs. Her chest felt heavy, each breath a struggle.
A hand grabbed her shoulder and shook her.
Deynas? He forgets the honorific so often these days. I should have kissed him. I should have told him I wanted to.
She could feel them around her, Deynas and the two children, though she could not see them. For once in her life, she wanted to be selfish. She wanted to keep Deynas with her, to have him hold her the way he so obviously wanted to and tell her it would be all right.
Send them away.
“Deynas. Go. Now! Get Misa and Ren out of here.”
“Argus, I won’t leave you.” His voice was strained, the despair in it tearing at her heart.
“Go! You have to save them. Please. I can’t see. I can’t move.” I can’t even weep for myself. For you. “They’re your responsibility now. You have to lead them out of here.” She could sense the women moving around the wall, coming closer, a sinister crimson presence in the blackness. “Go!”
A small sparkle of light dropped through the edge of the blackness, a tear, landing warm upon her cheek. Her heart split in two when his hand left her shoulder. She could hear their feet echoing upon the steel walkway as they ran away. The crimson forms moved to surround her, their voices reciting a chant both familiar and yet oddly changed.
That which is lost, you will find.
That which is forsaken, you will cherish.
That which is forgotten, you will remember.
That which is, you will keep.
The words burned through her flesh like fire. Argus screamed.