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the Spirit's End

By:Rachel Aaron

the Spirit's End_ An Eli Monpress Novel - Rachel Aaron

PROLOGUE


At age thirteen, Eliton Banage was the most important thing in the world, and he knew it.

Wherever he went, spirits bowed before him and the White Lady he stood beside, Benehime, beloved Shepherdess of all the world. In the four years since the Lady had found him in the woods, he had wanted for nothing. Anything he asked, no matter how extravagant, Benehime gave him, and he loved her for it.

She took him everywhere: to the wind courts, to the grottoes and trenches of the seafloor, even into the Shaper Mountain itself. All the places Eli had only dreamed about, she took him, and everywhere they went, the spirits paid them homage, kissing Benehime’s feet with an adoration that spilled over onto Eli as well, as it should. He was the favorite, after all.

For four happy years this was how Eli understood the world. And then, the day before his fourteenth birthday, everything changed.

It began innocently. He’d wanted to go to Zarin, and Benehime had obliged. It was market day and the city was packed, but the crowds passed through them like shadows, unseeing, for Eli and the Lady were on the other side of the veil, that silk-thin wall that separated the spirits’ world from Benehime’s. As usual, Eli was walking ahead, showing off by slipping his hand through the veil to snitch a trinket or a pie whenever the shadows of the merchants turned away. He was so fast he could have done it without the veil to hide him, but Benehime had ordered he was never to leave the veil without her explicit permission. It was one of her only rules.

He’d just pulled a really good snatch, a gold-and-enamel necklace. Grinning, he turned to show it to Benehime, but for once she wasn’t behind him. Eli whirled around, necklace dangling from his fingers, and found the Lady several steps back. She was perfectly still, standing with her eyes closed and her head cocked to the side, like she was listening for something. He called her name twice before she answered. He ran to her, giving her the necklace, and she, laughing, admired it a moment before throwing it on the ground and going on her way.

This was how it usually went. Benehime hated everything humans made. She said they were like paintings done by a blind man, interesting for the novelty but never truly worth looking at. Eli had long since given up asking what she meant. Still, she liked when he gave her things, and making her happy was the most important thing in his life.

She stopped twice more before they made it to the main square. By the third time, Eli was getting annoyed. Fortunately, her last pause happened only a dozen feet from his goal—the Council bounty board.

“Look!” Eli shouted, running up to the wall of block-printed posters. “Milo Burch’s bounty is almost a hundred thousand now!” He stared at the enormous number, trying to imagine what that much gold would look like. “He’s like his own kingdom.”

Benehime woke from her trance with a laugh. Come now, she said, stepping up to join him. You saw five times that in the gold veins under the mountains just last week.

“It’s not about the gold,” Eli said, exasperated. “It’s about being someone who’s done things. Big things! Big enough to make someone else want to spend that much gold just to catch you.” He took a huge breath, eyes locked on the swordsman’s stern face glowering out of the inked portrait. “What kind of man must Milo Burch be for his head to be worth that much money?”

Who knows? Benehime said with a bored shrug. Humans have so many laws.

“I’m going to have a wanted poster some day,” Eli said proudly. “And a bounty. The biggest there’s ever been.”

Nonsense, love, Benehime said, taking his hand. Whatever would you do with such a thing? Besides—she kissed his cheek—no one could ever want you more than I do. Now come, it’s time to go home.

“But we just got here!” Eli cried, trying to tug his hand away.

Before he’d finished his sentence, they were back in Benehime’s white nothing.

Now, she said, sitting him on the little white bed she’d ordered the silkworms to spin just for him. Wait here and don’t move. I have to take care of something, but I won’t be long.

Eli glared. “Where are you going? And why can’t I come with—”

Eliton.

Benehime’s voice was sharp, and Eli shut his mouth sulkily. She smiled and folded her hands over his.

I’ll be back soon, she whispered, kissing his forehead. Wait for me.

Eli squirmed away, but the Lady had already vanished, leaving him alone in the endless white. He sat down with a huff, picking at his pillow with his fingernails while he counted down the seconds in his mind. When he’d sat just long enough to be sure she was really gone, Eli reached out and tapped the air. At once, a thin, white line appeared. It fell through the empty space, twisting sideways as it opened into a hole just wide enough for him to wiggle through. Grinning, Eli crawled forward and slipped through the veil after the Shepherdess.

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