If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?
Years after a harrowing war experience, ex-mercenary Jespar Dal’Varek has taken to drifting. It’s a lonely existence, but, barring the occasional bout of melancholia, he has found the closest thing to peace a man like him deserves. Life is “all right.”
Or so he believes. Hoping to turn the page, Jespar accepts a mysterious invitation into the beautiful but dangerous archipelago of Kilay-and everything changes.
Plagued by explosive social tensions and terrorism, the tropical empire is edging ever closer to civil war. Kilay’s merchant king is the only person able to prevent this catastrophe, but he has fallen into a preternatural coma-and it’s Jespar’s task to figure out what or who caused it. As the investigation takes him across the archipelago and into the king’s nightmares, unexpected events not only tie Jespar’s own life to the mystery but also unearth inner demons he believed to be long exorcised.
Battling old trauma while fighting for his life, his sanity, and the fate of Kilay, the line between dream and reality blurs until only one question remains: If your mind is the enemy, where do you run?
1st Moon of Rainy Season, 1226 A.L.
The mind is a malleable thing. Soil, if you’re feeling poetic. Depending on the seed, anything will grow in it, from graceful gardens to idyllic meadows, from weedy forests to foggy swamps. Harmonious or chaotic, peaceful or peril- ous, healthy or ill—it’s all a matter of seeds.
That’s why Jespar’s mind reacted the way it did—quite frankly, in a manner no one would consider sane—when the Corpse found him in the museum of taxidermic animals. Jespar felt nothing. Not when the Corpse came limping out of that dark aisle with his burning hands drawing flickering shadows across the animal exhibits around him. Not when he eased down on the pedestal of the one across Jespar—a giant centipede, its legs unfurling behind the Corpse like a halo of thorns. Not when his lips split in a smile.
No fear, no horror, no panic.
The mind is a malleable thing.
The Corpse clasped his hands between his knees and leaned in. Even now, three years after they first met in Jespar’s nightmares, his smile looked so different from that of the dead man he represented. Once, it had been cold and ashamed, the kind reserved for a prod- igal son. Now, it was warm and mournful, that of a man sitting at an old friend’s deathbed.
“Did you truly think he could keep you safe?” “You’re not here,” Jespar said. “You’re not real.”
The corner of the Corpse’s lips lifted ever so slightly. “You are right, boy, I am not. But when did that ever matter? Our minds shape reality … that is why superstitious peasants burn witches, jealous lovers murder their beloved, and lonely veterans put nooses around their necks. Now, tell me, did you really believe it? That the boy could keep us away forever?”
Jespar groped for his brandy flask and took a deep swallow. It stung, but he barely felt it. “Not real.”
“So you did. Hm. I thought you knew better.” The Corpse closed his eyes and sighed, circling a burning thumb over the bloody lotus flower carved into his forehead. Flames licked at his greasy hair but didn’t spread. “It is such a tragedy, you know? None of this would have ever happened had you not refused to see. Sixteen years, boy, sixteen years, and here you are, still choosing to be blind. Then again, I suppose it is only human, isn’t it? To prefer ignorance over uncomfortable truths?”
Jespar felt the Pull coming now, that cold pulse beating its way up from the depths of his mind. He killed the rest of his brandy, his head spinning from the packed punch of booze, fear, and utter exhaustion.
“Fine, ignore me if you must. I only want you to know that I never wished for things to end like this. You had your chance to stop it, your chance to see, but you squandered it. Now live with the consequences.”
The Corpse stood. The Pull was almost there now, each beat sending chills into his bones as a blue veil closed over the world.
“You’re not real,” Jespar whispered.
“Maybe not,” the Corpse replied. “But my judgment is.”