Warning: Spoilers (Seriously, they’re everywhere.)
This is a brief recap of the people and events of Peril in the Old Country (Terribly Serious Darkness 1). It’s intended as a refresher for anyone preparing to read Soul Remains (Terribly Serious Darkness 2).
If you haven’t read Peril in the Old Country and you don’t want to see any spoilers, stop reading now.
You’ve been warned.
Our story begins in Salztadt, the capital city of the Old Country. The Old Country has a proper name, but nobody says it because it attracts goblins. So does swearing. So does punching people. So do a lot of really fun things that all of the salts in Salzstadt tend to avoid, lest they fall into disfavor with the Old Country’s reigning despot, the Domnitor (long may he reign).
Sloot Peril is a timid accountant working for the Three Bells Shipping Company. He’s assigned to review a disastrous financial report and is almost late in getting it to Mrs. Knife, the steely-eyed sociopath second only to the company’s owner (and richest man in the Old Country), Lord Constantin Hapsgalt. Luckily for Sloot (a phrase that’s not thrown around often), he’s a brilliant accountant. His corrections to the report save the global economy from imploding. He’s rewarded for his efforts with a promotion to the personal financier for Lord Wilhelm (“Willie”) Hapsgalt, Constantin’s halfwit son.
When Sloot gives his mother the good news about his promotion, she confides in him that she’s secretly a citizen of Carpathia, the Old Country’s loathed enemy to the north. In fact, she’s spent the last several decades as a spy in the cold war that’s set up residence between the two nations. It’s time for her to retire, but in order for her to do so, Sloot has to take her place. He agrees after a quick panic attack and is visited that same night by Roman, the Carpathian Spymaster of Salzstadt. He’d been giving Sloot’s mother orders for years. Sloot’s first order is to hire Roman to be Willie Hapsgalt’s valet, so he can infiltrate the inner circles of Salzstadt’s wealthiest families.
Sloot does as he’s told, and hires several other people to round out the staff at Whitewood, Willie’s new estate. Among those hired are a particularly attractive housekeeper (Myrtle Pastry), who’s possessed by the spirit of a surly philosopher (Dr. Arthur Widdershins), and a mysterious woman who clears all the goblins out of the house with her mighty broom. The mysterious woman turns out to be Nan, Willie’s childhood nanny. Though Willie is clearly in his early forties, Nan insists he’s only six years old. In her defense, Willie has all the maturity and patience that you’d expect from a six-year-old.
Sloot is charged by Willie’s father to make a man of the little lord. Inspired by meeting the explorer Sir Wallace Scoffington, Willie decides to become an explorer himself. He drags Sloot on an expedition to Nordheim, home of the Vikings, paying no mind to the fact that Nordheim is far older than the Old Country, and has been thoroughly explored. When they return with an enormous taxidermied mammoth as a souvenir, they find that Willie’s manor has been burgled of absolutely everything. Willie’s allowance will be enough to keep them fed and the servants paid, but if Constantin finds out about this setback, Sloot will be in real trouble.
Faced with mounting woes, Sloot does the only sensible thing: he gets drunk. Just as he’s settling into a standard-issue hangover, he’s hauled off for a shakedown by Mrs. Knife’s goons, apparently as a reminder that she’s a horrible person. His watch was damaged in the process so he takes it to the clockmaker, who is usually referred to as the clockmaker’s daughter. While that is technically accurate, her father had died many years prior. In a horrid fit of coincidence, the clockmaker–Greta–has been the victim of Willie’s fumbling romantic advances. He seems to think that the two of them are engaged because she once complimented his shoes. She says she’ll repair his watch for free if Sloot will get Willie to leave her alone.
Through a clever bit of fiction, Roman convinces Greta to come to Carpathia with him, Sloot, Willie, and Nan. Sloot is horrified by the idea of a trip to such a barbaric place, and Greta is too until Roman mentions the clock tower. There’s an elaborate old clock in the center of Ulfhaven, the capital of Carpathia, and she’s always wanted to see it.
Sloot doesn’t want to endanger Myrtle, but he’d love it if she were along for the ride. It’s a moot point, though, as she’s mysteriously disappeared.
Getting out of the city when you don’t have any money is nearly impossible. Sloot and Roman go to the Black Market–which is a literal place, with shopping carts and everything–to deal with its proprietress, Winking Bob (Roberta) Golubkin. Winking Bob always recognizes a bargain, so she outfits their little escapade in exchange for Sloot’s signature at the bottom of a blank sheet of paper and a favor: hang a blood star in the great clock tower in Ulfhaven. Sloot agrees despite Roman’s protestations that a blood star is a detestable necromantic tool.
It wouldn’t be any fun if they just tiptoed in and out of Ulfhaven without incident, now would it? They hang the blood star in the clock tower, and then are captured and taken before Vlad (Vladimyra) the Invader, the bloodthirsty warrior who sits upon the Carpathian throne. Vlad beheads Nan for her insolence, imprisons Willie in a tower, and has a tryst with Greta. They’re an unusual couple, but they’re cute together.
Speaking of unlikely romance, Myrtle is in Ulfhaven. She’s now a lady of the Carpathian court, thanks to her cut of the proceeds from burgling Whitewood (one percent of Willie’s vault was a sizeable fortune). Myrtle was in debt to Winking Bob, and her cooperation in the burglary settled the debt. Sloot wrestles with the fact that Myrtle lied and stole so that she could be honest with Sloot, but even he has urges that eventually win out.
Sloot’s congenital fear of … well, everything does its best to thwart his chances at a kiss with Myrtle. He eventually manages it, though there may or may not have been a hero’s potion involved. (There was, only it had worn off by the time he actually got his kiss.)
Sloot and Myrtle meet with Agather, the proprietress of the Witchwood in the Carpathian forest. Agather makes a broom for Myrtle, which nearly gives Sloot a heart attack. In the Old Country, it’s illegal for anyone who isn’t married to own a broom. Sloot was fairly certain he’d remember the two of them having gotten married; then again, he knew incredibly little about kissing or the consequences thereof.
Vlad had every intention of ransoming Willie back to the Old Country, that sort of thing being very standard practice in cold wars; however, the remainder of Sloot’s hero’s potion somehow found its way into Willie’s hands, and the imbecile managed a bit of derring-do. He fled the city on horseback, “rescuing” Greta in the process. Sloot and company give chase, hoping to recapture Willie before he reaches Salzstadt, but he had a head start.
Despite Sloot’s fear of retribution, Willie’s father congratulates him for having made a man out of the manchild. The Carpathian caper was just the sort of gritty adventure that passes for manliness with his sort. Sloot and company are outfitted by the fanciest tailors in Salzstadt for a celebration, where Willie’s marriage to Greta is announced.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on whose side you’re on, Vlad the Invader appears outside the gates of Salzstadt in her most gruesome armor on the day of the wedding. She defeats the Pride, Salzstadt’s elite guard, without much fuss. Nicoleta, Vlad’s court wizard, raises them from the dead with the blood star that she found in the clock tower. The gates are opened, Vlad and the Pride start cutting down Salzstadt’s less-than-elite troops, Every body that hits the ground gets up and joins them.
While all of that is happening, Willie and Greta’s wedding is underway. It’s more like a trial than a wedding, with all of the lawyers involved. That’s standard fare for weddings officiated according to the rites of the Serpents of the Earth, the dark and sinister cult to which all of the rich and powerful in the city belong. Willie’s father is the Eye of the Serpent, the living leader of the cult. Despite Sloot’s attempts to stall, Willie and Greta are married just as Vlad kicks in the door. Gregor, the nefarious necromancer, kills Nicoleta and takes the blood star. Now in command of the undead, he compels them to subdue Vlad. They’re all forced to watch Willie ritually murder his father, who becomes the Soul of the Serpent (the dead leader of the cult), making Willie the Eye; only the sinister Mrs. Knife jumps into the whole ritual murder spree and kills Willie. That makes her the Eye, and Willie the Soul.
Myrtle is killed as well, as it’s just that sort of an affair. Unable to think of another way to fend off the undead, Roman and Sloot start swearing at the top of their lungs to attract as many goblins as possible. The goblins and the undead have at each other, and Sloot is trampled to death beneath the soiree.
Sloot quasi-awakens to find himself disembodied and speaking with his fairy godmother, who assures him that he’s properly dead. If only that meant an end to his woes.