ROUGH summer storms were not uncommon out on the unprotected Anghen Peninsula, although there were few to witness them. The Ajenite monastery out on the cliffs saw the worst of it, but the village of Anghenwic six miles away received its share of heavy rain and violent winds. There were always some who whispered about divine punishment and sin when the storms got particularly bad, but it wasn’t until the storm that came eight weeks after the summer solstice that those whispers began to grow louder.
Even Brother Euan felt a flash of wild panic when he heard the near-deafening clap of thunder and the unholy screeching that followed it—cries so terrible that it was easy to believe that they came from the pit of the Damned God himself. They seemed to last an age, as though the hideous keening had somehow stretched time itself to the point of breaking, and when the screeching ceased, the silence that followed was almost as terrifying as the noise had been.
Holy Ajen, Blessed Kara, save us, Euan thought. Protect us and hold us—
A second crash was enough to break Euan out of his terrified stupor, bringing his prayer to a halt. The sound of falling stone and splitting timber reverberated throughout the monastery. Euan had only heard something similar once before in his life, but it was unmistakable. Somewhere, a roof was falling in.
Clearly, the monks’ cells were not in danger of collapse, but if the novice dormitories were in danger—
Euan rose from his sleeping pallet without even thinking, and he was running along the corridor before he realized what he was doing. He dashed across the courtyard, only coming to a halt when he was close enough to the novice quarters to see that the building was undamaged—instead, it was the refectory to his left that had partially collapsed. The fallen stones shone a dull blue in the moonlight.
Moonlight—and starlight too, Euan realized. Looking up, he saw that the sky was clear, as far as he could see. The heavens held no sign of the storm that had passed through barely a minute earlier. While he had seen many storms come and go in the space of minutes, he’d never seen one disappear so completely before.
He could hear some of the other monks beginning to empty out into the courtyard now, and moments later some of the novices began to emerge from the dormitories too, the older boys of sixteen and seventeen holding some of the younger ones by the hand. Even some of the older boys were trembling, and from the terrified murmurs that Euan could hear behind him, it seemed as though many of the monks were no less frightened than the novices.
Euan turned when he realized that a hush had begun to fall over the monks behind him. His first thought was that the Abbot had arrived, but he soon dismissed that as unlikely—the Abbot’s lodgings were set away from the rest of the monastery, and the elderly Father Brennon could not move quickly these days. Instead, Euan saw his Brothers part to make way for the tall, thin frame of Brother Leden, the monastery’s Prior. In the near-darkness, his gaunt cheeks appeared completely hollow, although the scar that ran along his jaw—a relic from his days in the Queen’s Navy—glinted eerily.
“Make no mistake, my Brothers,” Brother Leden’s voice rang out. “The creatures of the Damned God hunger for your souls. If we are not cautious—if we allow ourselves to fall into sin—the demons will take us, they will tear us apart and destroy our faith. Be on your guard, Brothers, watch yourselves and each other, lest Holy Ajen and Blessed Kara abandon us.”
When Euan saw the fear that passed across the faces of his Brothers, he couldn’t help but shiver.