Infinite (Incarnate), p.1Jodi Meadows
My husband. My best friend.
See title for how much I love you more.
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Books by Jodi Meadows
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MY DEATH WOULD not be another beginning.
For millennia in Range, death meant another rebirth. Another life. Then someone died the night the temple went dark, and I was born in their place.
A nosoul. A newsoul. A soul asunder.
I was a mystery others sought to control, a frightening creature that made the world reconsider what it knew of life and death and what happened after. But I was only one. I could be desperately ignored as a mystery, a mistake that would never be repeated.
Then my father devised another Templedark, and for dozens of oldsouls, it was their final death. Violent. Terrifying. Inescapable.
Within the year, newsouls were born and the world mourned darksouls even more fiercely, never realizing the sinister truth about reincarnation. They had thought rebirth was natural, but the opposite was true: while oldsouls lived and died and lived again, millions of newsouls were consumed by the very entity that provided reincarnation.
Janan. The Devourer. The once-human who had reached too high and who would soon burn the world.
And then, there would be nothing left but endings.
The Year of Souls began with a thunderous crash and rumble from deep within the earth.
“What is that?” My voice sounded hollow in the parlor, the floor still littered with the remnants of destroyed instruments and tattered rose petals. Light from the kitchen bathed a square of the dusty hardwood floor, but otherwise, the room was dim with night. We’d awakened only a few minutes ago, having dozed on the sofa after friends left last evening.
Across the parlor, Sam tilted his head and listened. Black hair shadowed his eyes as he searched his memory for the strange crash and rumble.
The floor swayed under our feet. I yelped and braced myself against the wall. Janan’s heartbeat thudded under my fingertips.
I dropped to my hands and knees, spreading out my weight for balance. “What’s happening?” Panic pitched my voice high and thin.
Sam staggered toward me, unsteady on the shifting floor. “It’s an earthquake. Don’t worry. It will pass.”
Decorations rattled on the honeycomb shelves that divided the parlor and kitchen. Obsidian figurines danced and dove off the edges of their shelves. Wood and stone and glass thudded to the floor, crashed or rolled or shattered as they struck. Even the shredded rose petals swirled.
The shaking slowed, but it wasn’t over. The world jerked again and hurled everything sideways. Furniture crashed upstairs. Trees snapped outside. The whole earth roared. I screamed as the hand-carved shelves cracked and splintered all around the room.
Sam stumbled and dropped, just out of my reach. Surprise and pain flared across his face as he clutched his hand to his chest, keeping his fist closed. His gray nightshirt darkened with seeping blood.
“Sam!” I crawled toward him, fighting the moving floor. “What happened to your hand?” Even as the question left my mouth, I spotted the glass near him, stained with crimson and glistening blood.
“Nothing. It’s fine.” The world steadied and he sat back on his heels, trapping his injured hand in his good one. “That wasn’t so bad.”
His idea of bad must have been the whole world rattling apart. And now the earth’s silence stretched through the house, heavy and alive. Waiting.
Not trusting the floor to stay put, I sat up and scooted toward Sam, giving the glass a wide berth.
A couple of weeks ago, Councilor Deborl and his friends had come through and smashed all the instruments in Sam’s parlor. The piano, harpsichord, cello, and even the smaller instruments locked inside protective cases. Only the instruments upstairs had been spared, including my flute. It had been in the workroom, waiting on a small repair. Only chance had saved it.
I’d cleaned up most of that destruction right away. What remained on the floor had been pieces that might one day be useful again, as well as dried rose petals left over from a party with our friends.
But now, the parlor was more of a wreck than Deborl ever could have left it.
Shelves hung at odd angles, leaving books and boxes and bits of decorations scattered everywhere. The shelves looked like teeth, ready to bite down.
A lamp had fallen, leaving a glittering river of glass. We were lucky the light hadn’t caught fire. Who knew what the kitchen looked like, or the upstairs, or the outbuildings. There’d been so much crashing and thumping; anything could have happened.
“Is your hand okay?” I crouched next to Sam and pried his fist away from his chest.
“It’s fine.” A lie. His hand trembled in mine, and his skin was slick with blood. It was hard to see under the red smears, but it looked as if the glass had shredded his palm and fingers.
“We need to get this cleaned up. Hold still.”
Sam nodded and braced himself while I picked out bit after bit of glass until my fingertips ached, but I couldn’t find anything more. Cleaning the wound would help, but first I needed to stop the bleeding.
“This might hurt.”
“It already hurts.” Sam’s voice was rough.
I wanted to say something reassuring, but I didn’t know near enough about what had been damaged to make promises. If it looked bad after we rinsed the blood, I’d call Rin, the medic. For now, I grabbed a big shard of glass and sliced off a length of my nightgown to make a bandage, then wrapped the length of cloth around his hand as many times as it would go. “Hold on to it. Keep pressure.”
“My hand will be fine.” The words came out hard, like commands. Like he could will the cuts to heal.
“Let’s go upstairs and get it properly bandaged. It didn’t sound like any of the support beams broke, so the stairs should be safe.” Hopefully the water lines were intact, too. The lights and everything else seemed all right. That was something.
I started to stand just as the earth jumped and an explosion sounded in the west. Not another earthquake. Something else.
Sam and I scrambled to our feet, careful of the glass as we hurried to the front door. I slipped into the night, icy air stinging my face. “Can you see anything?” I asked.
Sam shook his head. “No, but it sounded like an eruption.”
“Not the caldera.” The Range caldera was enormous, stretching in all directions with the city of Heart at its center. If the caldera erupted, there’d be nothing left of Heart.
“Not the caldera,” Sam agreed. He put his arm around my shoulders, holding me close against the chill. “A hydrothermal eruption. Like a geyser, but bigger.”
“How much bigger?” I peered into the night, but clouds obscured moonlight. Even if there’d been enough light to see by, the city wall blocked the horizon completely. The eruption had been outside the city, but it could have been just beyond the wall. There were geysers everywhere.
“Depends. Sometimes much bigger. They’re a response to a pressure change underground.”
Pattering sounds filled the trees and yard, tapping on the house in a strange rhythm. A pebble fell from the sky and hit my head.
With his good hand, Sam took my elbow and drew me toward the house. “Hydrothermal eruptions take rocks and trees with them sometimes, but they don’t happen very often. I’ve seen only two of them, and they were a long time ago.”
As he spoke, a second eruption thundered in the north, and a third in the southwest. The world came alive with tapping, hissing, clattering. Animals grunted and darted through the evergreen trees. Birds squawked and took wing, but there was nowhere safe to fly. Earth rained from the sky as though the world had turned upside down.
“Inside.” Sam’s voice hardened as more bits of stone pattered against the walls of the house. “Inside now.”
“How is this possible?” As we turned for the door, a flash of light caught my eye.
In the center of the city, Janan’s temple shone incandescent.
THE FRONT DOOR slammed behind me, muting the quiet cacophony of the world falling apart. I hugged myself as Sam moved into the shadows, away from the light of the kitchen. “Did you see the temple?” he asked. “I’ve never seen it so bright.”
“Do you think it’s Janan’s doing?” He leaned on the wall, head dropped as he clutched his hand to his chest. “The earthquake? The eruptions?”
“It seems likely.” I eased into the shadows with him, resting my cheek on his shoulder. His arms circled my waist. My chest and stomach pressed against his, only our nightclothes separating us. “I’m afraid,” I whispered. It was easier to be honest when he was holding me, and when we stood in the dark.
He rested his cheek on top of my head. “Me too.”
“If the caldera is going to do this a lot from now on, maybe the Council exiling me isn’t such a bad thing. It’s probably smart to get away from Range. I’m glad you’re coming with me.”
“I’ll always go anywhere with you.”
We stood together for a while, listening to each other’s heartbeats and the patter of debris on the house. I touched only Sam, avoiding the white exterior wall even more now that Janan’s pulse was stronger.
“Let’s go upstairs and get this fixed.” I straightened and cradled his hurt hand in both of mine. The strip of my nightgown was soaked with blood.
He nodded and allowed me to guide him upstairs. We took the steps slowly, testing the wood before trusting our weight to it. The exterior of the house would be fine after the earthquake—Janan would never allow the white stone to be damaged while he was awake—but the interiors of the houses were all of human construction.
But the stairs were well enough. None of the support beams had snapped.
His bedroom was cool and dark. Shapes hunched within the shadows: a warm bed, a wardrobe, and a large harp. We made our way into the washroom, and I flicked on the light. Both of us squinted in the white glare. “Sit,” I ordered.
He leaned and scooted onto the counter while I closed the door and turned the shower knobs, water as hot and strong as it would go. A sly smile tugged at the corners of Sam’s mouth. “Ana, I’m not sure this is the best time, but if you’d like to—”
“Shut up.” A relieved grin slipped out. If he could joke, he would be fine. “The steam will help loosen the glass, if there’s any left.”
“That’s less fun.” He pretended to pout as he unwrapped his hand and rinsed the blood away in the sink. I found bandages and ointment, and together we picked out the last slivers of glass while steam billowed from the shower. The mirror fogged, and the pounding water on the tub drowned out the sound of the world beyond the room.
“This doesn’t look too bad,” I said, spreading ointment over his fingers. Most of the cuts were superficial.
“Told you.” He held still while I wrapped his hand in clean bandages. “And it’s my left hand, which is a relief because I write with my right.” The shower made his voice deeper and fuller. “I’ll get along fine until my left recovers. And I don’t need either hand to kiss you.”
With a quiet gasp, I dropped the roll of bandage tape. “We should test that claim. I seem to remember you using your hands quite a bit when you kiss me.”
“Hmm.” He slid off the counter. “Perhaps this does deserve some experimenting.” He closed the short space between us and smoothed a strand of hair off my face. “Oh,” he murmured, “you’re right. There’s one.”
I stood on my toes and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. His lips were warm and soft from the steam filling the room.
“Two,” he said, curling one arm around my waist to pull me close. Lips breezed over my cheek and neck. “Three.” With his good hand, he nudged my nightgown off my shoulder and kissed bare skin, then trailed his fingertips down my arm. His touch ignited sparks that traveled all the way to my stomach. My breath fluttered. “You’re very right.” His lips grazed my collarbone. “I use my hands all the time when I kiss you.”
I would have melted if he hadn’t been holding me up. The steam, his touch, his kiss: they made me light-headed and giddy, in spite of everything that had happened not an hour ago. Safe in his arms, with only the sound of the shower running, I could forget about the outside world and the rest of our problems.
“Do you remember what we talked about last night?” I kissed his ear, his cheek.
Sam gave a low rumble of assent. “You said you love me.”
“I did say that, didn’t I?” Pleasure poured through me. After years of believing I wasn’t deserving of love, Sam had shown me I was. But that was different from accepting I could love others. Wrestling those feelings had been difficult, but last night, I’d said it, and it turned out that I’d loved him all along. “Guess what?”
He pulled away and met my eyes.
“I still love you today.”
His smile grew wide and warm.
“I heard a rumor,” I went on, “that the first day of the new year is your birthday.”
“Did you?” He suddenly looked shy.
“When we first met, you told me we shared a birthday.”
“Did I?” Panic flickered across his face, and his cheeks darkened. “I did. Oh.”
I kept my face as serious as I could manage, though laughter gathered in my chest and I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling. “So?” I lifted an eyebrow.
His whole face was dark with embarrassment. “Would you believe I forgot when my birthday is?”
I snorted and laughed. That was exactly what I thought he’d say, because when I looked back on that day, I remembered the hesitation and momentary confusion before he declared we had the same birthday. He had forgotten. “It’s all right. I love you on your real birthday and on your fake birthday. And all the other days.”
He grinned, relaxing. “There’s nothing more we can do tonight. Would you—” He seemed to fumble for the right words. “Would you like to sleep here with me? In my room, I mean. Not the washroom.”
The mess would still be downstairs in the morning, and his bedroom had appeared relatively unharmed when we passed through. We could take care of everything else in the morning. Or not. Yesterday, the ruling Council had exiled me from Heart, and Sam was leaving with me. Soon, we’d be on our way east. We didn’t have to clean the house.
We could put off real life until dawn.
“If you steal all the blankets, you’ll be sorry.” I reached
The shower dripped for a moment longer, and then the house was silent. Maybe the debris had stopped falling outside. The whole world was still, and quiet, and waiting.
I felt behind me for the doorknob and pushed the washroom door open. Soon, everything would be perfect, if only for a few hours.
Sam’s smile fell away. A question formed in my mouth, but he grabbed my wrist, yanked, and spun me so I stood behind him. “What are you doing here?” he growled. He reached behind him with his good hand, palm on my hip as though to keep me in place.
My heart raced at his sudden shift. I peeked around him.
A stranger stood in Sam’s bedroom, clutching a long knife. He wore a filthy coat that hung to his ankles, but even in the dim light and with the heavy layer of fabric, I couldn’t miss the bulge of another weapon on his hip when he faced us.
“Dossam. Nosoul.” His voice sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. “We were hoping you’d been crushed to death.”
I twisted my hand in Sam’s shirt, desperately wishing I were wearing something more serious than my nightgown as I stepped out from behind him. I didn’t need a shield. “You’re one of Deborl’s friends.”
“And you were in prison,” Sam said. “With Deborl and Merton.”
The stranger showed teeth when he smiled. “Janan used the earthquake to free us.” He pulled back his coat, revealing a laser pistol tucked into his waistband. “We have a calling.”
“Mat, no.” Sam tried to step in front of me again, but I jabbed my elbow into his side. “Why would you do this?”
The stranger—Mat—leveled his gaze on Sam, apparently unworried about our escape. We were trapped in the washroom, after all. “She’s an abomination. They all are. The plague of newsouls must be stopped.”
We were trapped in the washroom.
I stepped back, letting Sam block the doorway. “Newsouls are the natural order of things,” he began. “Other animals are born, live, and die forever. Haven’t you considered that what we do is unnatural?”
Infinite (Incarnate) by Jodi Meadows / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes