I’ve always been fascinated by the classic battle between good and evil. And having grown up in a Catholic household, the epitome of that battle has always been the contest between God and the devil. I’m going to date myself a bit here and confess that when I was dreaming up my premise for my debut novel Drawn into Darkness, I was inspired a little by the Chris de Burgh song Spanish Train (from the album of the same name).
Anyone remember that song?
In case you don’t, the gist of it is that there’s a train that runs through Spain collecting the souls of the dead, and that God and the devil decide who ends up on the train based on the outcome of a card game…or a chess game…or whatever.
There are some fascinating elements to that song: the sense of eternity it conveys, the frustrating knowledge that the devil cheats and wins souls that he shouldn’t, the personal touch invoked by having them gamble for souls on the bed of a dying person, and the impassioned cry of the train driver whose soul in on the line at the end of the song. Great stuff.
My books don’t involve Spanish trains or card games, but the stakes are the same—the fate of human souls. Call me a softy, but when I envisioned my world of soul tug-of-war, I had trouble with the notion that no one was defending the dead from the thieving minions of you-know-who (no, not Voldemorte). Enter the Soul Gatherer—a mostly-honorable warrior tasked with collecting the souls of the dead, protecting them from demons, and making sure they get to their proper destination. Mostly honorable, because each Soul Gatherer made serious mistakes in his previous life and is now serving a term in purgatory.
Standing where they do, neatly between the angels and the demons, means the Soul Gatherers get caught in the middle of the bigger battle. Especially if and when the devil decides he’s not content ruling the underworld. Then the angels get really busy defending the living and soul-snatching demons constantly crawl out of the woodwork:
Lachlan reached behind his neck and tugged his sword from the leather baldric buckled under his suit jacket. The blade made a reassuring zing as it cleared the metal ring at the top, a familiar prelude to battle that injected adrenaline straight into his veins. No sooner had his sword completed its carefully controlled arc than the air around him suddenly blazed with unbearable intensity. His nose burned with the sharp odor of brimstone and his ears made a soft popping noise.
He blinked . . . and found himself staring at five sturdy young men wearing the unofficial high-tech uniform: jeans, golf shirt, and sneakers. The nearest fellow, a clean-cut congenial blond, grinned and pointed to Lachlan’s black suit and distinctive white collar. “Nice duds. Not many folks would question you hovering around dead bodies in that outfit.”
Lachlan didn’t return the smile. “The human authorities are already on their way.”
“Then we’ll have to make this quick, won’t we?”
“Sorry, bro, not going to happen.”
“This soul is no’ yours.”
A car horn bleated as a truck rumbled along the road overhead, signaling the start of morning rush hour. Lachlan’s heartbeat, already thumping heavily, sped up. All it would take was one human to wander into this dome and there’d be difficult explanations to make. Discovery wasn’t an issue for the demons—they could escape in a blink of an eye—but he was trapped.
“Maybe,” the blond demon responded, “but we’re here and the other team isn’t, so give it up.”
“Sorry, bro, no’ going to happen.”
The demon’s eyes narrowed at the parroting of his words. As his hellmates spread out, circling their prey like the craven scavengers they were, he shrugged. “Your funeral.”
Lachlan rolled his shoulders, loosening the muscles in his neck. This week his gathers had been very disagreeable, including two blood-soaked murders and a horrific Friday night pile-up on the freeway. Today’s death of an innocent woman only spurred the primitive howl in his blood. A fight suited him fine—as long as it was short.
“Five against one?”
Reaching deep, finding the cool, white power that pulsed at the very center of his being, he stoked it. An icy flare radiated from his chest to his forearms and down to the lethal edge of his blade. The sword responded with a low, eager hum. Although medieval in design, the weapon had been forged by a modern-day master . . . who was also a mage.
“Very unsporting, lads.”
Blondie smiled and responded, “What can I say? Ambush 101 is a prerequisite for the demon merit bad—”
The demon’s head toppled off, landing on the gravel with a dull thud and a splat of steaming blood. Lachlan’s sword brightened with eerie luminescence as demon gore ran along its fine edge, and he displayed the glowing green blade to the other four with a grim smile.
Even in a classic battle of good and evil, there are shades of gray. The Soul Gatherers were once human, and they each carry heavy personal burdens. As they earn their way into heaven and look to their future, they must also come to grips with their pasts. Tortured heroes? You bet.
We all love a good tortured hero, don’t we? Share your favorite dark hero on the blog today, and you could win a copy of Drawn into Darkness and a chance to check out Lachlan MacGregor for yourself. One commenter will be drawn at random.
Thanks for joining me today! For more details on the Soul Gatherers, including excerpts, trailers, and deleted scenes, please visit my website at www.annettemccleave.com.