Prologue

Jamis stood at attention before the Door. He hated this posting. None passed through the Door save the screaming and the damned…and those that dragged them to their fate. Casting a sideways glance at the rune-covered copper, turned green with age, he shuddered. All manner of beasts and humans had been dragged through that portal…but it was the things that crept back out that haunted his dreams. In truth, he did not know what lay beyond the Door, he never wanted to know. He would have prayed to all the gods to remain ignorant, but down here, who listened to prayers except the Dark Lord? Clutching his spear, Jamis fixed his gaze on the stairs and kept his prayers to himself. Time crawled. His back ached and he longed to lean against the cold stone wall, but he dared not. Just a fortnight ago, he’d watched Emmet flayed alive for sleeping at his post, a bloody reminder to stay vigilant. 

He touched the gorget at his throat, once a talisman of pride, now the collar that chained him to this subterranean post. Clad in silver and covered in runes, the gorget marked him as a guard of the Door. Six year ago, he’d endured a trial of questions from the priests and then watched as a temple seer cast his fortune on rune-carved bones. Most of the questions were lost to memory but the bones had declared him favored by the Dark. Having gained the silver gorget, he received better quarters in a higher tier, and more pay, but now it seemed a beggar’s bargain. So deep underground, in this god-forsaken place, Jamis felt watched…watched by something that bore him nothing but malice.

Footsteps clattered down the stairs and Jamis lowered his spear to bar the Door. 

A young hatchet-faced man in black-and-gold armor appeared. Jamis smothered his surprise. He’d expected one of the guard captains, or a dark-robed priest, but not the general, not down here.

General Haith barked an order over his left shoulder. “Hurry.”

Behind him, two soldiers struggled down the stairs carrying a massive block of dark-stained wood between them. A barrel-chested man lumbered behind, his face masked in black, the head of his great silver axe gleaming in the torchlight. Another execution, Jamis wondered if the axe would claim a criminal, a sinner, or another sacrifice.  

The general halted in front of the Door. “Sion rasmathus.”

The Door trembled and then swung open.

Tendrils of icy air laden with the stench of rot eddied around Jamis’s boots. Sweat trickled down his back like frosty fingers. The general and his party passed through, but Jamis did not look. Curiosity killed down here and Jamis refused to be tempted. Alone in the antechamber, he distracted himself with thoughts of Marisa, and his two little ones, Janelle and Kayla, waiting for him in the city above. He couldn’t wait for his shift to end, to feel the warmth of their embrace, but time seemed to have frozen, shackling him to his duty.