The Will of the Dead

March 01, 2023
Laura Michet

In celebration of the PS5 and Xbox Series S|X launch of Ruined King, we’d like to share a story that expands on the storytelling done in Ruined King and continues some threads that we otherwise weren't able to tackle in the game itself due to time. We hope you enjoy reading this and thank you for your support!

Long before she became a Truth Bearer of her people, Illaoi had been an acolyte priestess at a Buhru temple on the coast. Every morning, she went down to the shoreline to exercise in the sun. She tried to focus on the principles her teachers held dear. Discipline. Motion. Strength.

She’d been alone on the beach one morning when the sea dropped low, lower than a low tide. The lookouts on the serpent-caller towers began ringing their alarm bells and pointing toward the horizon.

A Great Wave loomed, rushing toward shore with the strength to pulverize bone and rip swimmers out to sea.

In the moments after the alarms rang out, fear blanked Illaoi’s mind. Her teachers’ lessons abandoned her all at once. Do I have the time to escape? she wondered. Should I just stand here?

She glanced at the wave, then at the waterline. At her feet, she noticed a swarm of pink crabs. The wave had sucked the water away, and the crabs were frozen absolutely still on the wet rocks, paralyzed by sunshine and surprise and indecision.

Little creatures, too small to understand the fear they felt. A crab couldn’t do much to avoid a wave like that.

Illaoi could. She shook herself into action and sprinted to the temple gates just in time for the priestesses to slam them shut. As she perched on the temple’s parapet and watched the wave hit the shore, Illaoi thought about how she had stood in paralysis and fear.

I could have died. It was the closest she’d come to death in her sixteen years.

“I won’t do that again,” she told her teachers. Nagakabouros, the Mother Serpent, loved those who grew and changed. She had no sympathy for those who carried on as before while the wave bore down on them.

These days, something about the streets of Bilgewater reminded her of those frightened crabs.

It was noon. The sun was high and hot. Usually, the streets would be filled with sailors celebrating shore leave, or sea-monster hunters spending their earnings. But today, the streets were full of people hurrying about their business heads down, silent.

Bilgewater was on the edge of a civil war, but this was no battle of fresh and eager wills. Sarah Fortune and Gangplank were fighting the same damned war they’d fought already. The same war they’d fight a hundred times, if they could. Gangplank wanted his throne back; Sarah wanted him dead. The city stank of the stagnation lurking in their hearts. Each believed that victory would give them the things they had lost. Respect, perhaps. Justice for the long-lost dead. Something to soothe the pain of defeat and failure.

It would be so much easier if I cared nothing for either of them, Illaoi thought. But Sarah was her closest friend—and Gangplank, her former lover. Never before had two people been so trapped by their past, and so eager to waste their potential.

Illaoi glanced down at the lockbox under her arm. “And this is your fault, too,” she muttered.

The lockbox screamed back at her.

Its screams were quiet, just soft enough that they were hard to hear without listening closely. But whenever Illaoi focused on them, a hateful presence started scrabbling at the edge of her mind.

The fellow within the lockbox—the screamer who hurled horrible, muffled imprecations at Illaoi day and night—was to blame for everything.

It was he who put the shadow on Sarah’s soul.

Just then, some of Sarah’s crew came marching around the corner. Cutlasses and pistols hung from every belt, and every knuckle was ornamented with brass. They were streaked with blood and sweat and gunpowder. The fighting had been hard.

And with them, of course, was Sarah Fortune herself. She looked exhausted. The right sleeve of her fancy captain’s coat was stained with blood. Her shoulders were hunched and her hat was tipped low, as if a cold rain only she could feel battered her from above.

“Hey, Illaoi,” Sarah called, her voice flat and sharp. “Let’s get this done.”

“Are you well?” Illaoi asked. “You look miserable.”

“I’ve been chasing Gangplank for a week.” Sarah pointed at the quietly wailing lockbox. “And that thing is still on this island, too. Come on, let’s finish this.”

They turned to a nearby artifact dealer’s shop. While Sarah’s crew remained on guard outside, guns drawn, Illaoi led the way inside.

The loupe in the owner’s eye flashed as they entered. “Illaoi!” he called. “It’s been too long!”

Jorden Irux was a spindly fellow with knees and elbows heading in every direction. He was also the only artifacts dealer in the city with mixed paylangi and Buhru heritage. Illaoi often went to him for help identifying the relics she couldn’t recognize.

“I have a puzzle for you, Jorden.” Illaoi thumped the lockbox down on his countertop.

“You have two for me,” he said, glancing at Sarah. “Captain Fortune herself in my little shop!”

“Don’t get weird about it,” Sarah growled. “Let’s get this over with.”

The moment Illaoi’s key clicked in the lockbox, Sarah shuddered. A sickly light blazed a slash of teal across the wall.

Inside the box sat an amulet. Three curved stones, carved in the Buhru style and looped together with a thin wire. They glowed brightly with the light of a trapped soul.

“Oh, that’s nasty.” Jorden, too, could hear the screams. “By the Goddess, that’s not...?”

Illaoi nodded. “Viego of Camavor.”

It had been only a week since this furious shade of an ancient king attempted to turn Bilgewater into a smoking crater. The whole city knew his name now, and knew to curse his memory. If he gets out of this amulet, he will do it all again.

“It’s a temporary solution,” Sarah said. She let out a short, bitter laugh. “We couldn’t figure out how to kill him for good. There’s no telling what he’ll do if he gets out of there.”

Illaoi nodded. “Our historians say that the stones are made of serpent-amber... but we do not know if shattering them will release the spirit, or kill it.”

Goddess’s Tears? I’m not surprised,” Jorden said, using the Buhru term for serpent-amber. “It is so rare, only a fool would practice smashing it.” He leaned close and adjusted his loupe. “A Buhru artisan shaped these. Our people’s style is unmistakable. But there’s a marking here on the back... Where did this come from?”

Illaoi laughed. “The Shadow Isles, actually. Our people studied with the scholars there, before the Isles were transformed.” If Viego escapes, he will try to transform Bilgewater into a twisted
graveyard, too.

“Let me look something up.” Jorden leaped off his stool and ran into the back of the shop.

A half second of prickly silence followed... and then Sarah turned to Illaoi. “I know what you’re going to say,” she said, grit in her voice. “So don’t.

“I was not planning to say anything.” After their last fight, there was no use belaboring Sarah with a truth she refused to listen to. “I was not going to talk about your futile hunt for Gangplank, or what it’s doing to the city. I was actually planning to let us stand in awkward silence.”

Sarah scowled. “I’m having a terrible week. Don’t make it worse.”

They silenced themselves when Jorden burst back into the room. He carried a scroll covered with a strange script Illaoi didn’t recognize. And there was a drawing of... a tower?

“Look.” Jorden pointed to a matching symbol etched onto the back of the amulet. “The sign of its makers. The Brethren of the Dusk.”

“Gloomy,” Sarah said. “Never heard of them.”

“Religious order from the Blessed Isles. They died out long ago.”

“Damn.” Sarah shook her head. “Then that’s a dead end.”

Jorden caught himself. “Wait—I forgot. There is a mad hermit who claims he represents them. But... you know what people who spend too much time over there are like.”

The twisted spirits of the happy folk who had once called the Blessed Isles home were not good neighbors. A thousand years wandering under the shadow of the Black Mist had turned most of them into beasts—wraiths, specters, and mistwalkers contorted in endless hideous reflections of mortal weakness. Any living person who chose to live alongside those shades must be uncommonly strong, and very strange. Some of the mortals who made their home on the Isles worshiped death and disease. And spiders, too, for some reason.

But Illaoi had not yet met a Shadow Isles dweller she couldn’t flatten like a sea star beneath her Goddess’s idol. “Such beings do not frighten me,” Illaoi said. “Not long ago, we killed Thresh, the Isles’ greatest monster. Compared to him, parlaying with this hermit will be a simple task. He may know something about the amulet.”

They paid Jorden and stepped out onto the street. “I didn’t expect this would send you back to the Shadow Isles,” Sarah muttered. She seemed apologetic.

Illaoi nodded. Before trapping Viego in the amulet, they’d tracked and fought him on the Isles. Camping in collapsed ruins and sharing meals around a campfire were joyful when friends were there... but to go back so soon, alone, would be melancholy.

“You’ll need a ship. There’s a captain who owes me—Matteo Ruven. He knows safe routes to the Shadow Isles. But don’t let him know about the amulet.”

“Few are left in this city whom we can trust,” Illaoi agreed.

Suddenly, Sarah’s face turned red. Her brow tightened.

Ahh, I’ve said the wrong thing, Illaoi realized. She cannot trust me, because I will not fight in her heedless war against Gangplank.

“I know you are still furious with me,” Illaoi said. She struggled for a new way to say the things Sarah refused to hear. “But my friendship comes with... with challenge. With change.”

“I can hear everything the king says in that amulet,” Sarah blurted. “Did I tell you that? Every moment of the day and night. He talks about... my mother.” Her voice cracked, and her face contorted into a grimace. “I can hear that box whispering from all the way across the city.”

Goddess. That’s a burden.

Illaoi embraced her friend. The need came over her, and she did it, without worrying what Sarah would think.

At first, Sarah held back—but then she returned the embrace. Tears started at the corners of her eyes. “Guhh,” she sighed. “Okay. Fine.”

“You are meant for more than this,” Illaoi told her. “You are meant for better things.” She believed it. She’d never believed anything more. But no matter how many times she said it, Sarah never understood.

“Meant for better things?” Sarah rubbed her hand across a damp eye. “Tell that to Gangplank.”

Sarah must have had a serious claim on Captain Ruven, because he scrambled to make his ship, the Trained Rat, ready for sail the very next day.

When Illaoi arrived, the ship was swarming with sailors hurrying to make it seaworthy. Ruven hollered orders from the command deck. He was older, slender, and knobbly-elbowed, with a halo of frizzy, wind-blasted orange hair.

I could snap him in half, Illaoi thought. Those were her two categories of people—ones she could snap in half, and ones she could not. It made the world an easier place to navigate.

He waved her up to the command deck. “I know you,” he called. “You’re the Buhru queen.”

“Absolutely not,” Illaoi said. “I am a Truth Bearer. A priestess.” This will be one of the annoying ones, she thought.

“All right.” Ruven shrugged. “Ship’s a disaster today. But this is the kind of service you get when you only give me twelve hours’ notice.” He flashed her a disarming, jagged smile, and extended his hand for a shake. “There’s an empty cabin for you down below.”

“Will we leave today?” Illaoi asked.

“We better. Or Sarah Fortune will include me in one of her little dockside executions.”

The ship’s passageways were so cramped, Illaoi could barely fit her idol down the stairs into the lower deck. The enormous orb of sea-tempered metal was wider across than Illaoi’s muscled shoulders. Down here, the roof was too low to carry it comfortably on her back, and the passageways were too narrow to carry it at her side. She had to balance it on her hip and shuffle crabwise between the cannons.

“Excuse me,” she muttered, squeezing past a group of sailors with scrubbing rags and buckets. As she passed, she heard them cursing quietly. Sailors, in Illaoi’s experience, were usually full of motion, game for anything and everything—her favorite sort of paylangi. But this crew was sullen. Their brittle fear filled the ship as completely as the stink of sea salt and rotten ropes.

Bilgewater’s ill temper lives here, too.

When the ship lifted its anchor and turned to ride the wind, Illaoi made her way up to the breezy command deck to speak with Ruven again. The jagged roofline of the city was soon hidden by wave chop and clouds of soaring birds.

“Bilgewater to my rear, and all my troubles forgotten.” Ruven laughed.

“Is Bilgewater more frightening to you than the Shadow Isles?” The idea made Illaoi smile. “The mood there is foul, certainly. But the Shadow Isles are worse.”

“Hey, none of the spirits over there have it out for me personally,” Ruven said. “Our fearless queen, on the other hand... well. Between you and me, I’m lucky to still be alive.”

Illaoi raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”

Ruven coughed out a nervous laugh. “I owe her. We have an agreement. I bring you there and back, and all my debts to her are cleared.”

Sending someone to the Shadow Isles seemed like a poor way to collect a debt. Your chance of losing the debtor to a wraith or a spider bite seemed a little too high. “You must owe her a great price.”

“Yeah. I tried to blow her up.”


“Look, I wasn’t working for Gangplank.” Ruven rubbed his face with his hands. “I was just against the new loot fees. I made some new friends... it was their idea.”

These were not the words of a man who faced his destiny bravely or took responsibility for his choices. Ruven seemed like he was tossed about by the whims of others.

“Captain Fortune does not care for such excuses,” Illaoi said. “These days, she solves problems like you with a pistol.”

“Yeah.” His voice dropped. “The crew is... not pleased. We lost a choice contract because of it. So I went to Fortune and I told her: I’m useful! Make use of me. My pa and I were pilots for hire to the Shadow Isles, back in the day. I know routes nobody else knows.”

“To be used by others is no freedom for a soul,” Illaoi said.

“Well, it’s better than being executed! Look, you’re friends with Fortune, right?” he asked. “Being enemies with her is exhausting. I may be a sorry old fellow, but I could still learn some new tricks.”

Illaoi sized him up. It isn’t likely, she found herself thinking. “Your life is ruled by stagnation,” she said. “The freedom you seek is impossible without motion. You need spiritual counsel, not... help with small talk.”

Ruven chuckled. “I mean, I’d take that too.”

Illaoi sighed. Even the most stagnant people could hide deep currents where the soul still moved and changed. Everyone deserves a chance to prove themselves worthy.

And she knew: If this man can change, then Sarah certainly can, too.

“Perhaps we can talk,” Illaoi said. “If we have time on the journey.”

Ruven loved to talk.

He told Illaoi about his father—a pilot for hire, perpetually lurking around Bilgewater’s busiest pubs, “copping free drinks off captains and fishing for gigs.” He wasn’t around when Ruven needed him most, but he was building a legacy, Ruven insisted, charting his route to the Shadow Isles.

“You’ll see it when we get there. It’s incredible. Only safe approach to the entire archipelago. Never seen a wraith on the beach there once.”

“Impressive. How did you learn it? Did your father show you?”

Ruven laughed. “No way! He used to hand me the charts, shove me into a dingy, and make me do the trip myself. All alone in the Black Mist, with him safe on the ship!”

“That is a great effort,” Illaoi said. “Any man who can teach himself a route to the Shadow Isles alone can turn his life around.” He is like Sarah, Illaoi thought. There is greatness within him. He must only find it.

In the final days of their trip, the daylight was less reliable. Each afternoon, an early “evening” crept across the sun and drowned its light in an exhausted gray. It was the Black Mist—its frayed edges, at least. The lookouts grew more tense. The Mist’s cover could give safe passage to furious wraiths of all kinds.

Illaoi always made the most converts to her faith among sailors who had been to the Shadow Isles. When they heard her preach against stagnation, they knew what she meant. Black sand shores. Rotten, twisted, leafless trees. Monuments of slick, dark stone, moist from ocean spray, buried by heaps of ancient loam.

As those haunted Isles loomed on the horizon, Ruven joked constantly and obnoxiously, ribbing sailors about their frowns. The Buhru term for people like him was wave-dodgers: those who shift back and forth on the beach, trying to keep their toes dry with frivolous and frightened motion. Many small steps to avoid a bigger one.

When the Isles were close enough to pick out the ruined towers on the hilltops, though, Ruven turned his frantic energy into action. He vanished into his cabin, then returned brandishing a bundle of paper scrawled with notes and diagrams. When he replaced the navigator at the ship’s wheel, he looked as if he were about to vomit.

“Time for me to prove my worth,” he told Illaoi. He turned to the crew in the rigging and shouted, “Half speed!”

The ship began a strange dance toward the shore. Ruven grappled with the wheel, throwing his scrawny weight into every urgent turn. The ship’s timbers groaned, and the tips of jagged rocks passed less than an arm’s length from the hull. She glanced at Ruven’s inscrutable papers. No wonder Sarah kept him alive. Whatever knowledge he has is useless in

They came to a stop in a rocky little cove. Shattered stones hid it from the open sea, and sheer cliffs concealed the mast and sails from the shoreline. A rare safe harbor... and luckily, not too far from the monastery.

Ruven leaned against the wheel, exhausted. “And that’s how I earn my keep,” he said. “Tell Captain Fortune how impressive I am, will you?”

About twenty sailors—more than half the crew—went ashore for the mission. The monastery would be a few hours’ walk inland. Illaoi brought only her idol, a full canteen, and the lockbox.

“Stay close,” she told the crew. “My Goddess scorns the Mist, so the Mist fears her idol. We will be safe from it if we move together.”

The sailors fell into place behind Illaoi and Ruven as they pushed into the forest. Illaoi’s idol parted the Mist, revealing strange architecture and foliage on either side of their path. Everything was frozen in a moment of decay. Desiccated trees more ancient in life than the citadels of the Buhru capital scraped the sailors’ faces and shoulders as they trudged by.

Soon they found themselves among the ruins of a small town. Crumbling walls forced them to twist and turn through the underbrush. They slowed to pass, single file, along a tight path through the thicket—what might have once been an alleyway.

The dried bushes and trees all looked the same. “Do you even know where you’re going?” someone behind Illaoi demanded.

He was a small, wiry fellow with a patchy beard and a spattering of golden teeth. Another very snappable man.

“Yes,” Illaoi said. “Please chart your own path, if you would like. I can hurl you into the Mist in any direction you please.”

“Kristof? Shut up,” Ruven said. “Or you’re going in the brig when we get back on the ship.”

Kristof was furious. “We shoulda put you in the brig, after what you pulled with Fortune!”

“Stop this nonsense at once,” Illaoi commanded. But now everyone had joined the argument, and their raised voices were echoing through the forest.

Illaoi knew this would draw enemies. Behind the shouts, she could pick out a quiet crunching noise, like footsteps through heavy loam.

The thicket beside the path suddenly churned. Branches scraped against one another with a sound like blades drawn across bones. Clawlike brambles unfurled into hands. There was a face in every bush and tree, withered like those of the unshriven dead.

The arguing turned to screaming—and then the thicket smashed shut. The path was gone in an instant. The sailors bolted in sheer terror. She saw one dash into the woods, but he was slammed to the ground by a knotty branch. The trees closed over him, strangling his panicked shout.

Illaoi even caught a glimpse of Ruven’s back as he ran away through the trees, his papers scattering behind him. Coward, she thought. Then the wraiths were upon her.

The sailors nearest Illaoi fought back, but their swords did nothing—it was like stabbing a thornbush. The wraiths pressed forward through a hail of glancing blows and stabbed the sailors with splintered wooden limbs.

When a wraith lunged toward her, Illaoi ferociously swung her idol. Her strike was true—its body echoed like a hollow bucket and burst into pieces. When another rushed forward, Illaoi punched it so hard it snapped in half like a rotten fencepost.

Goddess, that’s satisfying!

The avatars of the Goddess specialized in muscular force. “Nagakabouros,” she shouted, “defend us!”

She lifted her idol in the air and slammed it down into the mud. The sailors staggered, but the wraiths flew back, repelled by the idol’s blazing green glow.

Paylangi always asked her: Where do the tentacles come from? She’d tell them, It doesn’t matter. The Goddess was everywhere, in everything that changed. She could go anywhere, and be anything, because anything could change.

A wraith, for example, could change into many tiny pieces of wraith.

A protective wall of tentacles erupted from the ground and began transforming wraiths into sawdust. Illaoi helped. Bushes and trees splintered. Knotty wooden heads went rolling through the mud like bowls. She caught a glimpse of a wraith flung high in the air, spreadeagled; it looked like a bird.

When the wraiths nearest them had fallen to pieces, Illaoi hefted her idol onto her shoulder, and the tentacles faded away. The trail was eerily quiet. There was no sign of the sailors who’d run off—not even distant screams. Even the dead were missing. Borne off, perhaps, or buried beneath roots.

“Collect your breath,” she told the group. “Who remains?”

There were only seven. Kristof was among them. “Should we go looking for the captain?” he asked. He didn’t seem enthusiastic. “We can’t sail away from here without Ruven.”

Illaoi saw Ruven’s bundle of charts lying on the ground, soaked through with mud. She picked it up and fished out the map she’d given him. Behind the grime, the way to the monastery was still visible.

On the ship, he’d seemed ready to change. But he’d returned to cowardice in the end—a stagnant soul, forever tossed about by the tide of others’ whims. I’d only be saving him to use him, she thought. Like Sarah and the others did.

And searching for him with only seven injured and exhausted sailors? They would surely die. Kristof and his crewmates did not deserve such a fate. The living can still change and grow, she reminded herself. The dead cannot.

Her decision was clear. “We must press ahead,” Illaoi announced. “To the monastery. We shall have to rely upon the charity of the hermit who lives there.”

It wasn’t long before the monastery loomed up out of the Mist. It seemed well maintained—its tall tower looked just like the one carved on the amulet.

As Illaoi approached the gate, a man leaped onto the path ahead of her. He looked so much like a beast of the Isles, she almost smashed him with her idol.

“Wait! It’s me,” Ruven croaked.

For a moment, the whole group simply stared. Ruven’s body was completely coated with mud. His jacket was soaked with blood. Dead twigs were trapped in his hair. He looked like he’d been run over by a herd of giant rock crabs.

Illaoi was relieved—for a moment. Then her frustration returned in full force. “That was a shameful thing you did,” she snapped. “Leaving your crew.”

Ruven seemed shocked. “I thought you’d be glad to see me.”

“I am never glad to see a man abandon his duty!” Illaoi did not hold back. “You told me you wanted to change. I did not see a man who wants to change on the battlefield today.”

Ruven shot the crew an embarrassed glance, and Kristof went for blood. “How’d you survive the Mist?” he asked.

A strained smile cracked the mud on Ruven’s cheeks. “I, uh...”

“Illaoi said running off by yourself was death.”

Ruven’s expression darkened. “If you’d like to know, I brought my own protection, actually. I was fine.”

Illaoi was disgusted. A protection he did not choose to share. An artifact of some kind? “We shall discuss your shame at a later time,” she said. “First, we must get inside.”

She turned and knocked on the massive wooden door. The sound echoed in some open space beyond. Then, high above, someone cleared his throat and said, “Who goes there?”

Illaoi could make out broad shoulders and a hooded head leaning over the parapet. “I am Illaoi, Truth Bearer of the Buhru,” she called. “I seek the hermit who represents the Brethren of the Dusk. May we take shelter here?”

The man paused for a moment. “I will let you in,” he said, his voice deep. “But do not lay a hand on any creature inside.”

Creature?” one of the sailors whispered.

The doors slowly began to grind open. Each door was more than twice as tall as Illaoi, and enormously heavy. When they were cracked open about an arm’s length, she saw who was pushing them from within: mistwalkers.

They were spirits shaped like hunched, tired men and women, with long dragging arms and slack mouths ringed with fangs. But unlike others Illaoi had seen, they moved in passive, obedient silence, heaving against the door like dutiful footmen.

Illaoi recoiled, shocked—but the mistwalkers did not lunge for her. Behind her, the sailors reached for their weapons.

The man from the parapet stepped into view. “Do they frighten you?” he asked. “They are my companions.”

Illaoi had never seen anyone like him before. He was robed like a priest, but built like a boulder, with huge shoulders muscled by hard work. Not a man I could snap in half. In one hand, he carried a heavy shovel of dark, rugged metal, stained with dirt, as if he’d just come from digging these beasts out of their graves.

Illaoi noticed that his arms were not sleeved. Their bluish tone... that was his bare skin.

“Are you also a mistwalker?” She had allied with mistwalkers before, though it gave her no joy. Creatures trapped in the stagnation of death often brought pain to the living, and were an unholy affront to the sanctity of life.

The man smiled. “Are you asking if I am alive?”

“On these isles, it is a fair question!”

“A very private one, too.” He made a thoughtful shrug. “I am... a caretaker. Please, come inside.”

The courtyard beyond was filled with mistwalkers carrying scraps of wood and rocks, clambering among rows of gravestones. They paid the newcomers no mind. Though their mouths hung open and their eyes were vacant, they seemed to be driven by some strange mission.

“This is madness,” Ruven whispered. “He has an army.”

“He has protection of some kind, too,” Illaoi said. “Look. The Black Mist does not attack him.”

The hermit overheard them. “It does not need to. It has the Maiden to watch me.”

He pointed at the top of the tower. Illaoi caught a glimpse of a figure up there, but it retreated behind the parapet, as if ashamed to be seen.

“The Maiden?”

“Another... companion of mine.”

“And what is your name?”

“Yorick,” said the hermit. “I am the last of the Brethren at my post.”

She stared. No. He can’t be serious. “The last?”

“I’ve been here since all this started,” he said, gesturing at the Mist-choked sky. “I’ve been here since the Ruination.”

Illaoi had never imagined a home like Yorick’s. The empty halls of the monastery were alive with the motion of mistwalkers. They walked the clean-swept floors in silence, each fixed on some cryptic duty.

She felt her skin prickle and her mouth go dry. It was not fear—it was anger. He keeps the dead in servitude. Unconscionable. Disgusting. She kept this thought to herself, however. This man could still help save Bilgewater.

“You had trouble on the road,” Yorick observed. He gestured to a spiraling stairwell. “I have little in the way of mortal comforts, but there is clean water in the cistern downstairs. And a fire to keep you warm.”

While the others went down to wash on the lower level, Illaoi waited on the doorstep, gazing at the mistwalkers in the yard below. Before her journey with Sarah and their friends to stop Viego, if she’d met a man trapped in the rut of his life for a thousand years, leading an army of restless spirits... she’d have killed him on sight. And Nagakabouros would have blessed me for it.

Yorick appeared at her side. “You have business with me,” he said.

“I do.” She kept her voice calm with difficulty. “But I am not used to seeing spirits treated this way.”

“They are not trapped here, if that is what worries you,” Yorick said. “I search these islands for the tormented dead. Some of them stay here with me for a while, before they move on.”

“And what are they doing?”

“Building graves,” he said. “These are the people of the Blessed Isles. My countrymen, seeking rest and peace.” He paused for a moment, as if saying a prayer. “We can speak privately upstairs, in my library.”

The tower was made of huge, dark blocks of stone, smoothed by time and streaked black with torch smoke. It was older than the ruins of Helia, or the vaults Illaoi and Sarah had visited before.

He has been entombed here like a man dead for a thousand years. Stagnation
His politeness almost made it worse.

The chamber at the top of the tower was lined with bookshelves and lit by a cold, blue light filtering in through the window. Beside the door hung a pair of stone pauldrons with a cape of Black Mist roiling from them. And atop one of the lofty bookshelves, a nest of dark Mist and glowing blue light slowly turned on itself.

“That is the Maiden,” Yorick said. “She has been with me for centuries.”

“I thought you said they moved on.”

“When they are ready.” He closed the door behind them. “And, if you are ready, please show me who you are hiding in that box on your belt.”

Illaoi raised an eyebrow. “You can sense it?”

“The Maiden speaks to me. She told me whose spirit that is.”

Illaoi opened the box with the key around her neck. Yorick leaned forward to see, and the light of the amulet made a sinister dance across his craggy features.

“Viego of Camavor,” he said. He extended one huge, calloused hand toward the box—then stopped himself. “Since the Ruination, I’d hoped to see something like this. But... I expected more.”

“What did you expect?”

“That the Mist would be gone. But it remains. That the spirits would cease their suffering. But it continues.” There was an unreadable expression on his face. “Perhaps I expected that I would change.”

Illaoi felt a blaze of sympathy for him. She, too, had wondered if the Shadow Isles might change with Viego’s banishment, if the Mist might finally disperse. But that is a challenge for some greater strength than ours, she reminded herself.

“When you defeated him, I saw the lights in the sky,” Yorick said. “But the spirits were not freed, and the Maiden continued whispering in my ear. So my responsibility to them continued.” He gazed at Illaoi, his expression stony. “I am a member of a holy order, same as you. Long years of toil... that is our way. Persistence, faith, and dedication.”

Illaoi bristled. “Nagakabouros does not scorn dedication. She scorns stagnation.”

Yorick stood and went to the window. “Come, look at this.”

Spread out beyond the walls of the abbey, across miles of wild and Mist-wreathed hillsides, were thousands of tombs. Tombs carved by the hands of mortal artisans stood side by side with rough, makeshift ones assembled from rubble by the stumbling dead. Here and there, the endless acres of gravestones stirred with the motion of mistwalkers.

“Is that not the largest cemetery you have ever seen?” Yorick asked wryly.

It was, Illaoi realized, half as big as Bilgewater itself.

Yorick’s voice was tight with controlled emotion. “If there is any agent of change on these isles, I am it. I open the earth and bring the spirits to their rest. And the world around me changes.” He turned to Illaoi. “Do I not, then, honor your goddess?”

A constellation of beliefs netted Illaoi to the particulars of her faith. They were simple beliefs, clear and gracious and humanizing. Though her relationship with the Goddess had changed over the years, the core of her faith remained strong. Life is motion. To live fully is to change; to change is strength.

The living can change. The dead cannot.

Illaoi now felt that foundation shifting beneath her feet. Can the dead build a world of their own? Can they follow their own desires?
No. Why would he think that?

She’d brought motion to beings trapped between life and death before. The Bloodharbor Ripper, Pyke, was one of them. But his grace had been given to him by Nagakabouros, and the Goddess had no part in Yorick’s domain.

“I suppose,” she finally admitted, “the dead could have their own kind of motion. But Nagakabouros would never keep spirits here beyond their years in life.”

“She would see them reborn?”

“Yes. As soon as possible! It would be a sin to deny them life for even a moment.”

“And this is our difference,” Yorick said. “You would banish spirits before their time.”

Illaoi knew that if the conversation continued, she’d never settle the issue of the amulet. So she changed the subject. “This is one spirit I’d like to banish.” She lifted the amulet by its chain and showed him the mark on its back. “Your order made this, but in the Buhru style. We hoped you could tell us how to destroy the spirit inside.”

Yorick took the amulet in his bare hand. It did not seem to trouble him the way it had troubled Sarah.

“I think I remember the woman who made this,” he said. He turned to his bookshelves and found a sheaf of fragile, gray parchment. “She was a Buhru sailor. She saw too many perish at sea. So she joined our order, to bring peace to the dying.”

The parchment was covered in an ancient Buhru script. Illaoi could pick out the old words well enough. This artisan had worked on gems made of serpent-amber—a technique practiced only by the Buhru. But she had also tempered the gems under high heat, to form a crystalline shell capable of holding an angry spirit. The technique she used was from the Blessed Isles.

“I cannot read Buhru myself,” Yorick admitted. “Does it say anything useful?”

Illaoi’s eyes wandered down the page. She picked out an illustration of some kind of blast furnace, powered by magic focused through prisms and lenses. A gyroscopic dynamo of light and flame. The illustration was labeled, The Spirit Destroyed.

That seemed clear enough. “She used your people’s machines to temper the gems. At the same heat, we could kill the spirit inside.”

“The furnaces?” He laughed sadly. “I used the blocks to make tombstones.”

They stood for a moment in silence again, thinking. Illaoi wondered how Sarah was doing. She wondered if, across all this distance, she could still hear the amulet speaking to her.

“There is one solution close at hand,” Yorick suddenly said. “You could hurl the amulet into a volcano.”

Illaoi glanced at him. “You are joking.”

“I am not. I have not gone this far in a thousand years, but volcanoes, at least, last that long.” He returned to the bookshelves and found a map rolled into an enormous sheaf. It showed the Blessed Isles as they had been before the Ruination, marked with roads and cities. “This one.” Yorick pointed to a tiny dot in a far corner of the map. “Scardover Cay. Half a day’s sail from here.”

“It has... exposed lava?” She felt ridiculous asking.

“Time changes these things,” Yorick said. “But it did, in my day.”

A thought occurred to Illaoi. If Pyke could see the truth in the Goddess’s ways, this man could, too. “It is still your day,” she said. “Come with us. You wanted to see this king destroyed. You may hurl him to his death yourself, if you like!”

Yorick coughed out a grim bark of a laugh. “It is beyond the Black Mist. I doubt I will be able to help you much when I am outside the realm of the dead.” He gestured to the Maiden. “My powers lie with the dead. And I have not left my post in a thousand years.”

“Then there is no better time to try it!” Illaoi urged. “Leave this place, if only for a day. I think you will enjoy the experience.”

Yorick considered for a moment. “What a curious idea,” he murmured. “Doing something because I would enjoy it.” He drew himself up straight, and crossed his huge arms on his barrel chest. “And you’re right. There is nothing I’d enjoy more than killing Viego.”

They all gathered in the courtyard to leave the monastery.

Ruven stood apart from the rest of the group. As Yorick directed his spirits to open the gate and let them out, Illaoi bundled the navigational charts she’d found in the woods, and went to talk to the captain.

“Have you settled things with your crew?” she asked. “Can you all return to the ship in peace?”

He would not look directly at her. “Sure. Yeah. We can walk back.”

“Did they threaten you? I have a mission. I will tolerate no interruption from you or the crew.” Still, Ruven refused to look at her. Frustration tightened her throat. “You must tell me if they plan a mutiny,” she muttered.

He shrugged. “I don’t know anymore. I don’t give a toss what they do with me. This is my last voyage, probably.”

Illaoi looked down at the navigational notes. He’s the only one who can use them, she thought. There will be time to bring him back to his senses once we’re on open

She handed him the paper bundle. “I expect focus from you,” she told him. “Dedication. A man can change his life, but he has to try.

“Fine.” Ruven stuffed the papers into his mud-stained jacket.

They returned to the ship in frigid silence. Half the crew was dead, and Ruven was no longer on speaking terms with the ones remaining. As Ruven navigated out of the cove, Yorick stood at the railing and watched the Maiden standing alone on the sand.

“You are leaving her for the first time in a thousand years,” Illaoi said. “Do you feel any different?”

He lifted something from his collar: a small vial, filled with a clear, bright liquid. “The Mist’s whispers are quieter,” he said. “And the sound this makes—it is louder.”

Illaoi took a moment to realize what she was looking at. “Blessed water?”

“Indeed.” He hid the vial under his collar again. “At the monastery, this merely kept me alive. Out here, I pray it will bring me strength.”

The journey was a straight shot, half a day’s voyage to an island on the edge of the Shadow Isles’ archipelago. The crew kept the sails trimmed for speed, and Ruven stewed on the command deck. He hunched his shoulders, thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and kept his eyes fixed grimly on the horizon—and now and then, on the crew, too.

Illaoi approached him. “I know we said we would discuss Nagakabouros, and your place in Bilgewater,” she told him. “If you still wish for guidance, I am here.”

He glanced at her. There was something in his eyes—fear? “Maybe later,” he muttered.

“What did you discuss with your crew at the monastery?” They must have had choice words for him. Whatever they’d said, he needed to listen closely.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “Look, I’m busy.”

Illaoi shrugged, and descended from the command deck to walk the length of the ship with Yorick.

She was surprised at how much she enjoyed it. When she didn’t have to look at his army of mistwalkers, it was easier to discuss his beliefs on their own merits. They spent all night deep in conversation. His beliefs were as sincerely held as hers, but his priorities were so strange. Healing the dead was more important to him than returning them to the light of life.

“I will never understand it,” she told him. “But I believe that you mean it.”

“I do not expect you to understand. But I am glad you listened.”

Most of the sailors went to sleep in the lower deck sometime before dawn. When the sun rose, the Trained Rat left the last of the Black Mist behind, and their destination came into view.

“There it is,” Ruven said. “The island. That shadow on the horizon.”

A handful of crew members gathered at the railing. There was a dark, conical blemish on the pale gray skyline ahead.

“Scardover Cay,” Yorick mused. “I’ve heard that people lived there, long before my time. I am not sure I believe it.”

Illaoi could pick out the stench of sulfur when they were still miles from shore. As they grew closer, the hazy shadow on the horizon resolved into a mountain of dark ash, running bare and treeless from the waterline to the lip of the crater. Here and there, it was studded with the stark forms of jagged rocks, each larger than a house.

As the crew lowered the anchor, Illaoi returned to her bunk to retrieve her idol. The belly of the ship was shadowed and quiet, with no sound louder than the creak of timbers and the slosh of waves against the hull. Here and there, crew members were still sleeping in hammocks strung from the ceiling beams.

Her idol was on her bunk. Carrying it awkwardly at her side, she made her way back down the center of the lower deck, between the cannons.

It’s so quiet, she thought.

Then she realized she couldn’t hear anyone snoring.

She put her hand on the nearest hammock and tipped it toward her. Kristof lay inside... and he was not breathing. His dry lips were parted, and his eyes stared blankly upward. Illaoi could feel the presence of his spirit, but he lay like one dead.

A magical stasis? This was not done by natural means.

She stepped swiftly to the next hammock. The sailor there was trapped in corpse-like stasis, too.

Every ship that leaves the Shadow Isles can carry as many stowaways as it
has shadows.

“Reveal yourself,” she said. “Who did this?”

THUMP. Farther up the length of the ship, the hatch fell closed over the stairway, and the whole of the lower deck was drowned in darkness.

Illaoi crouched and tightened her grip on her idol. There was barely any room to fight in the lower deck. It was the only place on the ship where she was vulnerable. “You waited until Yorick and I were separated, didn’t you?”

A wink of blue light flared in the dark. “Yes,” a voice said. “And until the Mist was gone. Your new friend wields it like a weapon.” Ruven stepped out of the shadows between Illaoi and the stairwell. “I wanted to speak in private.”

A faint glow wreathed him. And behind him stood someone else.

It was a hunched, robe-swaddled spirit, dressed like a Blessed Isles scholar. His gowns were crisscrossed with arcane geometry and stained with black slime, as if he’d come wading out of some putrid swamp. Tendrils of Black Mist coiled around him. And above his tight, tarnished-gold collar sat a warped face of sagging, melted skin, split by an enormous, toadlike mouth. When his lips pulled back in a smile, Illaoi could see multiple rows of little pointed teeth.

“I know you’ve made a habit of stooping low, captain. But I did not expect this. You’ve made a pact with a monster.”

“I’ve made a pact with a man who helped me! That’s all I ever wanted—a little help.” Ruven’s lips twisted into a pained grin. “I’ve worked hard enough in my life, haven’t I? I don’t need spiritual work, Illaoi. I just need some help!

The spirit raised his hand. He held an orb that glowed with the same blue light that flickered around Ruven. Black Mist flowed from it, as it flowed from the spirit himself. Then the orb flared, and Ruven’s head made a strange jerk.

Illaoi realized she’d badly misread this man. He didn’t want to do the work of changing. He wanted to be some leader’s lackey. He just wanted a more forgiving master than Sarah.

It was too cramped for her to attack, so she tried to keep the conversation going. “And where did you meet this spirit?” she asked, making her way forward between the cannons.

“Bartek saved me from the wraiths.”

Illaoi could not hold back her bitter laugh. “He’s using you. Be your own man, Ruven.”

Ruven hesitated, but the orb flared again. He jerked like a puppet brought back to stand at attention.

Stop her,” Bartek said. His voice was rough and wet, like a gas pocket escaping from a bog. “Get the amulet.

Illaoi did not wait to see what he would do. She took one silent, confident step forward into an open space and swung her idol as hard as possible into Ruven’s snappable little body.

He flew across the deck and hit the opposite hull of the ship hard, cracking the boards in half. Bartek recoiled in surprise and gave a frustrated shriek. “Foolish priestess!

“Choose your champions better,” she said. “Or why not fight yourself?”

She approached him, and the creature’s craven retreat answered her question clearly enough. “My master has given me a weapon stronger than your Goddess,” he snapped. “And a champion to fight for me.

Once again, the orb in his hand flared... and the captain stirred. Slowly, he lifted his broken body back to its feet.

You cannot kill him,” Bartek told Illaoi. His lips parted in a wide, toothy smile, like the River King’s catfish mouth. “I can bring him back. The lantern-lighter’s gift has given me dominion over
his soul.

The lantern-lighter—Thresh! Illaoi stepped back. An artifact that ensnared souls, a gift from Thresh’s hand? By the Goddess. That’s no good.

Ruven moved like a pile of sticks held together with string. Illaoi could see his muscles bunching strangely on his arms and neck—driven by magic, not by his own will. With a twist of his cracked legs, he launched himself toward her with uncommon speed. She dove out of the way and dropped her idol, awkwardly, as she squeezed between cannons. It rolled across the boards of the deck between them.

They paused. Ruven sized her up with a cross-eyed stare. Illaoi took a sharp breath, and lunged for the idol. Ruven dashed forward and kicked her in the ribs. It was like being hit by a mortar shell—and now it was Illaoi’s turn to shatter the boards behind her. The idol flew out of her hand and straight through the hull, leaving a ragged gap as tall as Illaoi herself.

As her fingers slipped from the idol’s grip, she felt her vital connection to Nagakabouros fade. Damn! Fists it is, then. She struggled to peel herself off the deck and square up against Ruven.

“Lost your magic?” Ruven sneered.

“But not my faith. I have wanted to snap you in half for the last day,” Illaoi told him. “I think Nagakabouros will grant me my wish.”

But as she raised her hand to strike him in the jaw, Bartek also raised his. The orb in his palm flared. In the hammocks around the deck, glass-eyed sailors sat up, rigid as a board. Each leaped from their hammock like a Piltovan automaton.

“You profane the dead,” Illaoi snarled.

They aren’t dead until I tell them to lie down and die!

Bartek swung the orb, and the sailors swung for her. There were eight or nine of them, and they each hit with the force of a charging brineseal. Illaoi kept her guard up over her face, twisting to shrug off the blows.

Without her idol, she could not summon Nagakabouros’s tentacles to throw them back—but she could punch. The Goddess tests even me, she thought. But this is a test I am glad to bear!

She hit a sailor on the shoulder so hard, his arm dislocated with a sound like a plank cracking in half. She kneed another so forcefully that his flying body shattered the stairs leading to the upper deck. She moved through forms of combat she’d learned while training for the priesthood. Fists snap forward, like the strike of a ramming ship. Legs planted, like
the roots of an island in the bed of the sea.
Whispering a regretful prayer to Nagakabouros, she dodged Kristof’s punch, rolled him over her shoulder, and threw him down on the deck. His forehead left a splatter of red on the boards.

She began backing up toward the hole in the wall. Outside the ship, I’ll have room to fight. “Captain, you’re an embarrassment,” she taunted. “You are everyone’s fool.”

Exactly as she expected, Ruven’s expression curdled with rage.

“You feel weak because you are weak,” she continued. “Nobody’s help can change that.”

He dove at her. Illaoi let the force of his leap carry them both straight out the side of the ship.

They burst into the sunlight locked arm-in-arm. She caught a glimpse of the chaos on the upper deck: Yorick swarmed by attacking sailors, each wreathed by blue light. She saw him swat a woman clear off the ship with the flat of his shovel.

Then she and Ruven sank into the sea. This was her territory—Ruven was strong beyond human strength, but the man could not swim. Illaoi had been training to swim through riptides since childhood. She pinned him to the sand on the bottom of the bay, grabbed him by the neck, and held him down. Then she punched him until she cut her knuckles on his teeth.

Illaoi could hold her breath underwater for nearly five minutes, if she was conserving her energy. Punching Ruven into submission took so much out of her, she only lasted for a minute and a half before she had to kick up to the surface and take a gulp of air.

Ruven was thrashing weakly on the bay floor, kicking up a cloud of sand. Illaoi swam back down, grabbed him by the jacket, and dragged him across the water and onto the shore. “Give in,” she shouted, and struck him again. He coughed up a mouthful of seawater. “Give in! You’re a dead man.”

Ruven’s eyes darted to the ship. She followed his glance and saw Yorick and Bartek grappling at the prow of the boat. Yorick was holding Bartek’s throat, but the spirit’s hand, gripping the orb, was raised to the sky...

The orb flared a blinding white, and pain drove Illaoi to her knees. It was as if someone had driven a lance of fire through the top of her head. By the Goddess, what was that? She hurt too much to move.

Ruven crawled to her on broken limbs, a dagger in his hand. “His master is too powerful, Illaoi,” he said. “We all have people we answer to. He answers to a phantom who’s near like a god. Just... just give him the amulet.”

Illaoi had destroyed that “god” several weeks ago. “No,” was all she could croak.

But the searing light of the orb shone from the boat again, and this time, the pain was worse. Illaoi gritted her teeth. It felt like someone was trying to peel her mind from her body.

“Give in,” Ruven begged her. “He’ll suck your soul out your ear and make you a puppet. Like he did me.”

I’d like... to see... him try.”

She struggled to raise her arm—and simply gave Ruven a backhanded slap. He was so badly injured that it sent him sprawling.

A moment later, a shadow loomed over Illaoi, and Bartek hurled Yorick to the ground beside her. Yorick seemed dazed, but alive.

With tendrils of Black Mist flickering about him, Bartek leaned down and unhooked the lockbox from Illaoi’s belt. “My prize,” he gurgled.

“Heal me, master,” Ruven begged. “Please... I’m dying.”

Bartek simply gave a flat, scornful cough of a laugh. “No.

Illaoi knew they had only moments before Bartek left. She turned to Yorick. “Gravekeeper,” she whispered.

Yorick blinked, shook himself and collected his focus. He placed his palm on the sand to push himself up—then drew it back, as if burned. “There’s something down there,” he replied. “The dead. Corpses.”

Ruven had seized the hem of his new master’s robes. “I want to live,” he begged.

He won’t survive this, Illaoi realized. But his crew still could. She glanced at Bartek, then back at Yorick. “Let them out.”

Yorick closed his eyes. “Rise,” he told the bones. “I have work for you!

Illaoi felt the rumbling before she heard it.

The sand danced. The ash on the slope of the volcano began to slide down toward them in sheets. Bartek looked about, suddenly nervous. Deep below them, in the bedrock beneath the ocean, something cracked.

Then a tide of spirits rose.

From a crevasse growing beneath Yorick’s palm poured a torrent of furious souls. Illaoi could see spirits leaping from the sand all around her, howling with a rage so profound and concentrated that she lost her breath. They stank of sulfur. The air was so thick with their charred, transparent forms, the terrain around her distorted.

Yorick lifted his hand and flung it at Bartek. With a sound like a cracking whip, a lash of Black Mist flew from the cape on his back and struck the Helian scholar. The Mist around him surged and coiled.

“This man is a servant of the Mist,” Yorick shouted. “The Mist that woke you, and trapped you here!”

The spirits surged toward Bartek, drawn like hounds to a scent.

“Kill him,” Yorick commanded.

The geyser of souls struck Bartek, flipped him onto his back, and thumped the sand around him into a crater. The furious dead tore at Bartek’s robes and beat him with their fists. He writhed, screaming; every strike of their sulfurous hands burned him.

Something flashed in his own hand. The lockbox! Illaoi forced her aching body to stand. The sand bubbled and churned as hundreds of spirits erupted from it, and the rushing current of passing souls whipped her hair and buffeted her like a strong wind. She could barely keep her footing.

She pushed forward, stumbling, and grabbed Bartek by the robes. Spirits writhed around her, screaming in their desperate attempt to strike him. Holding on to him was like holding on to a flag in a hurricane. She tugged him closer. “Give me the amulet!”

It belongs to my master,” Bartek roared.

She struck him in the jaw. She felt something crack. “Your master is dead,” she shouted. “My friends and I killed him!”

But then his jaw writhed back into position on his face. “No,” Bartek snarled, tar spilling over his warped and sagging lips. “He still lives!

He brandished his orb, but Illaoi grabbed it. Its smooth surface burned her hands, but she ripped it from his grasp just as it released its final flash. The souls around him recoiled, screaming, and Illaoi fell backward.

She caught a glimpse of Bartek launching himself out over the sea. The lockbox was clutched in his slimy fist. He floated there, victorious...

But then the spirits caught up. They overwhelmed Bartek, and the force of their charge pushed him toward the horizon. He shot like a cannonball over the surface of the water—two hissing sheets of spray flew up on either side of his path.

“No,” she heard Yorick shout to the dead. “Wait!”

The spirits ignored him. The ocean boiled with furious souls, and they carried her enemy and her duty away from her. Far out at sea, something detonated, and a tower of spray shot up the height of a ship’s mast. A moment later, there came another, even farther out. The spirits were moving faster than any ship or serpent-steed.

Illaoi dropped Bartek’s orb and fell to her knees. She pressed her forehead to the sand. I’ve failed. He has Viego.

Yorick collapsed beside her. “This is their will, not mine,” he croaked.

“I’ve failed in my duty,” she said. “I’ve failed Sarah.”


Illaoi struggled to sit up. “My dearest friend. I told her—I promised her I would destroy it.” When she needed me most, I failed her. Goddess, forgive me!

Yorick watched as more spirits rushed out to sea. “I’ve uncorked something I cannot control,” he said. “They were locked down there for centuries, beneath the stone. A city of souls. So much pain and fury. They want revenge... and he is a creature of the Black Mist that roused them.”

As the last of the spirits rose from the earth and poured into the ocean, Illaoi could feel their rage dissipating. “What will happen to them?” she asked.

“If they make their way back to the Isles, I will find them,” Yorick said. “But I doubt I will find that toad who took Viego.”

They struggled to their feet and surveyed the battlefield. Bartek’s rule over the ship’s crew had ended. She could see several of the sailors lying still on the beach, and more draped over the railing of the ship. Ruven himself lay nearby, half-buried by a drift of sand. Illaoi felt for a pulse, but could not find one. “He has died,” she told Yorick.

“But his spirit is still here.”

Yorick knelt beside Ruven and placed a hand on his shoulder. Illaoi saw a shade of him rise from the body, shimmering a near-invisible pale blue in the bright morning light.

His voice was faint and echoing, like a person whispering to them from the far end of a pipe. “I’ve died!” he exclaimed, dismayed. “Gods. I’ve died!

Yorick took the spirit’s hand. “You’re safe,” he said. “You’ve left your body behind.”

Ruven regarded his broken body with uncomprehending shock.

“You can leave it all behind,” Yorick said. “I’ve awoken you so that you can find peace.”

Ruven froze. “Find peace?

“Is there anything you need to say?” Yorick asked. “Anything you need to do?”

I’m not going to find peace. Not without the crew,” Ruven said. “I’m their captain. I owe them.” He glanced around. “Where’s that fiend’s artifact?

Illaoi was dumbfounded. In his moment of death, at last, Ruven thought of his crew. Goddess, Yorick was right. The dead can change.

“I have the artifact,” Illaoi said. “Can you use it?”

It held my soul,” Ruven said. “I felt how it works. It can’t save me... but it can save them if they
haven’t died yet.

“Help me heal them,” Yorick begged. “Please, show me how.”

Ruven turned to Illaoi. His face was split with a silly grin, the only genuine smile she’d seen on him since they’d met. “Priestess, watch this,” he said. “I’ll show you what I can do.

Then he gripped Yorick’s hand... and faded away.

Yorick ran down the beach. The sailors on the shore were at the brink of death. He seemed to know whose spirit still stayed with them, and who had already passed. With Ruven’s knowledge guiding him, Yorick moved among the corpses. When the globe shone in his hand, their breath returned.

As Kristof came alive again in a fit of coughing, Illaoi thought, Yorick heals the living and the dead. What does the Goddess think of

But she knew the Goddess would not tell her what to think of Yorick. The Goddess needed her to decide for herself.

That evening, after she’d hauled her idol up from the bottom of the bay, Illaoi and Yorick went to bury Ruven and the other dead high up near the lip of the volcano.

“There’s a fantastic view up here,” Yorick remarked, covering the final grave. He wielded his spade like an accomplished craftsman.

Illaoi approached the edge of the volcano and looked down into the black-capped, red-cracked lake of lava below. She wasn’t sure what to feel. “Perhaps their spirits can watch the rest of the world covered in ruination from up here,” she said.

Yorick stood beside her. “I do not think that will happen,” he said. “Even if Viego tries to kill the whole world... well. The dead have their own kind of will.” He glanced at Illaoi. “I’ve met several in my time who would see him destroyed. They can help us.”

Illaoi thought for a moment. The dead, rising up against Viego? She’d seen something like that on the Shadow Isles before. But it was so rare. With Yorick, was another future possible? Spirits and Buhru, aligned with the same goals? It felt impossible. But...

“I will help them,” Yorick promised.

Illaoi felt a strange hope growing inside her. “You have a good heart,” she said. “Your ability is like a promise of Nagakabouros fulfilled, I think. The power to move the dead from stagnation... I have never seen anything like it before.”

Yorick shrugged. “I do what I must.”

“No,” Illaoi insisted. “You do more than anyone expects. You freed Ruven’s spirit. You moved him after his death. And you brought motion to the trapped dead!”

As she spoke the words, she felt the shock of it growing within her. If this is possible, she found herself thinking, then anything is. Motion for my friends. Freedom for Sarah. A better world
for all of us.

“Nagakabouros brought us together for a reason,” she continued. “I think we can learn from one another, as the ancients did.” The possibilities blossomed in her mind. The ancient Buhru and the scholars of the Blessed Isles had created such incredible things together. What they lacked was a common purpose, a mission uniting them toward a single goal. “What your Brethren wished for the world, what my faith dreams of—they are the same. Change and growth. Liberation!”

“I do not know if the rest of your religion would agree.” Yorick laughed.

“I will make them,” Illaoi promised.

“I think it is possible. In my youth, our people were close. But for now, I must return to my home. There are spirits there to whom I owe a duty.”

The Maiden, Illaoi thought. “It is your way. Persistence and dedication, as you said. But one day, when you are ready to leave, the Buhru will welcome an honorable monk like you. We will need an ally in the fight against Viego.”

Yorick gazed down at the lava below. “No one has ever called me an honorable monk before,” he mused.