[Excerpt from current version of book 1.]
Abruptly, Morshoc said, “I came for you because they want you dead.”
A cold fist clenched in Cob’s gut. “Who?”
“The Empire. They don’t just set traps for fun. The Guardian is a threat to them, and while it’s inside you, it’s vulnerable. There are powers in this world that do not conform to the natural laws, powers that can permanently extinguish any spirit, light or dark–and they want the Guardian dead. They have already extinguished many lesser spirits. They even prompted the murder of the knights’ god.”
“You know the story?”
Cob nodded slowly, frowning. It was popular in Kerrindryr as an example of the crimes of the Dark. The suit of Swords in some card decks told it too. “The nameless god of law?”
“Indeed. It was a few centuries ago. Back when the goddess of knowledge was still herself.”
“Um. Who?” said Cob, confused. He did not know much about the Heretic Gods, but he definitely knew the Fall of the Knights of Law, and there was no goddess of knowledge involved in it.
“The goddess of knowledge. You might know her as the Nemesis—“
“The Lady of Assassins? What the pike are you talkin’ about?”
Morshoc made a mollifying gesture. “Calm down. Apparently you don’t know the story as I do. Let me tell it.”
Cob glared at Morshoc’s back, but closed his mouth.
“So. It is said that among the gods, there are six women who inspire the world, and three men who oversee it. The Ladies of Fervor, Shelter, Making, Seeking, Frenzy and Ruin; the Light Lord, the Shadow Lord, and the Keeper of Laws. Beyond them are the rulers of Death and of Dreams, neither of which are quite of this world, and beneath them are the little gods and spirits.”
“What about the Dark?” said Cob as Morshoc drew a new breath.
Morshoc gave him a brief look. “That’s not a god. It’s a force. Technically so is the true Light. The Light we know here is a lesser light, a tolerable light, not the Scouring Light. Just as the darkness here is merely a shadow, not the Hungry Dark.
“The gods are not mortals, but they once dealt with us so often that some of them picked up some of our traits. Love, doubt, jealousy. The god of law and the goddess of seeking–of knowledge–worked together and were known to be lovers, though he was of the Light and she of the Dark. They tempered each other. You could say that they were working toward a universal balance, a cessation of hostilities.
“Then rumor reached her that the god was philandering.
“They called her the Watching Spider back then. Some people still do. Her followers were diplomats, spies, infiltrators, investigators, gatherers of information. And they began to tell her that her lover had taken up with another. Or, as it seemed, many others. Many very specific others.
“After all, the god of law was known to have a very close relationship with his knights. They served his word alone—not the petty edicts of mortal rulers but a celestial law that considered all life equally. Dark or light, rich or poor. Not many people could shed their personal prejudices and all their possessions, withstand bribes and the promise of softer lives, or indeed abandon their kin and loved ones and show no preference toward them over any other mortal. The ranks of the knights of law were never very full.
“For their loyalty and strength of purpose, though, those knights in good standing were constantly in the presence of their god. His essence dwelled within them. And…
“Well. According to the rumor, there was sex involved.
“More and more, the goddess of knowledge began to hear this from her people. At first she brushed it off as nonsense, but it was her nature to investigate, and soon she became obsessed with the subject. Her followers trailed the knights at all times and reported visitations by the god’s full essence, ecstatic trances, and all sorts of sordid details. When she confronted him, the god of law denied it all.
“She became convinced that he was an imposter. She pored over the reports and sent her agents into ever-more intrusive searches. Open conflicts began between her people and his. She raged at him, but he stood stony and advised her to look to her own agents as the cause.
“At last, enmeshed in her web of evidence, her heart poisoned against him, she decided that justice must be done.
“Her agents became her assassins. One by one, they murdered the knights of law, and when the enraged god came to confront her in her web, she fell upon him and tore him apart.
“She erased all mention of their names, hers and his, and called herself the Nemesis. Still the Watching Spider but no longer a revealer of knowledge. A hoarder instead, who acts upon it as she sees fit. Her followers are one of the ‘Dark cults’, a silent legion of assassins.
“You probably knew most of that. But what few know is that her followers–the ones that brought the rumors and evidence to her–were Imperials.”
Cob scowled. “You’re makin’ shit up. That was centuries ago. Long before the Empire.”
“Was it? Three hundred and seventeen years, by my count.”
“Like I said.”
“Before the Daecian king declared himself Emperor, yes. About a hundred and fifty years before. But the individuals that created the Empire were active long before its formation.”
Cob glared at Morshoc’s back. “Why does everyone try to blame everythin’ on the Empire even when they have to twist all the details to make it work?”
“You don’t have to believe me. I don’t mind.”
“I mean, everythin’! Drought? It’s the Empire’s fault. Pox goes around? Empire’s fault. Somebody sneezed six hundred years ago? Empire’s fault!”
“I wouldn’t go that far. Only about four hundred years. Four hundred and twelve, to be precise.”
Cob shook his head vigorously. It was all ridiculous. Name-changing gods and pre-Imperial Imperials, and what did it matter to him? It was just stories. “Look. Stick to the things that’re real right now, all right?” he said out loud. “So they want me dead because I’m hostin’ a Dark spirit. I don’t see what’s wrong wi’ that. When I get to Daecia City I’ll bloody well sling myself on an altar for ‘em.”
“No, I don’t think you will.”