In fact, that’s all this is. If you haven’t read Soul Remains and don’t want the surprises ruined, go and read something else. The internet is chock full of absurdity. Current events would be a great place to start.
If you’re about to read Soul Remains and need a refresher on Peril in the Old Country, there’s a summary of that here.
If you just want a quick summary of what happened in Soul Remains before reading Now Before the Dark, you’ve come to the right place.
You’ve been warned.
- Sloot Peril, a late accountant and award-winning worrier.
- Roman Bloodfrenzy, Spymaster of Salzstadt for the Carpathian Intelligence service.
- Myrtle Pastry, Sloot’s late girlfriend, who was in life possessed by a philosopher of no renown.
- Lord Constantin Hapsgalt, father of Willie and late Eye of the Serpent, who was skipped over for Soul of the Serpent by his son’s untimely demise.
- Lord Wilhelm “Willie” Hapsgalt, the recently deceased Soul of the Serpents of the Earth and Sloot’s employer.
- Mrs. Knife, a deranged lunatic who is as dangerous as she sounds. She became the Eye of the Serpent by murdering Willie.
- Gregor, a necromancer who’s been up to no good for over a thousand years.
- Vlad Defenestratia the Invader, 37th of her name, ruler of Carpathia and the greatest warrior ever to have lived.
- Greta Urmacher, paramour of Vlad the Invader and wife of the late Willie Hapsgalt. It’s complicated.
- Nicoleta Goremonger, a ghost, who was in life court wizard to Vlad the Invader. Her wardrobe could be seen from space.
- Dr. Arthur Widdershins, the aforementioned philosopher. You’ve never heard of him.
- Nan, Willie’s late nanny, who was under the magically-induced impression that Willie was perpetually 6 years old.
- The Domnitor, long may he reign, despotic ruler of the Old Country.
- Winking Bob, proprietor of the Four Bells, queen of the black market, and “honest” businesswoman extraordinaire.
- Agather, witch and proprietor of the Witchwood in the forests of Carpathia.
- Bartleby, a very old necromancer who insists that vampires are cool.
- King Lilacs, ruler of the fairies.
- The Coolest, who require no introduction. They know everybody.
Sloot Peril is dead, and not in the metaphorical “lots of trouble” sense. In the very real, very final, “body crushed under a battle between goblins and the undead” sense. Unfortunately for Sloot, it’s neither the sweet oblivion of the void nor an eternal paradise that’s silly with choirs of virgins. It’s just a grey Hereafter where time has no meaning.
Sloot finds that he lives–er, resides–in the afterworldly home of his likewise deceased employer, Lord Willie Hapsgalt. Also residing in the mansion are Willie’s father Constantin, the wizard Nicoleta, Sloot’s probably-girlfriend Myrtle, Arthur the philosopher (who’s his own ghost now, no longer possessing Myrtle), and Willie’s nanny, Nan.
They’re all ghosts, though Willie is the only one constantly manifesting demonic powers. Even in death, wealth has its privileges.
The Serpents of the Earth
Willie and his father are part of a sinister secret society called The Serpents of the Earth. The society has two leaders, one alive (the Eye of the Serpent), and the other dead (the Soul of the Serpent). When a new Eye is chosen, he or she ritually murders the current Eye, who becomes the Soul, and the previous Soul joins the Convocation of Shades. Simple, really.
That’s how everyone in the house came to die on the same day. Willie ritually murdered his father (at his father’s insistence), and was then unexpectedly ritually murdered by Mrs. Knife. Then an horde of undead and a congress of goblins trampled the whole affair in a massive brawl.
Mrs. Knife is now the Eye, Willie’s the Soul, and Constantin (who’s no longer receiving massive doses of black magic) is a doddering old Shade.
The Skeleton Key Circle
The Skeleton Key Circle is another mysterious society whose sole purpose is to safeguard the Soul Remains (the bones of those who have been the Souls of the Serpent over the centuries). They’re funded by the Serpents of the Earth, but the Book of Black Law strictly forbids the Serpents from knowing anything about how the Circle operates. If the Serpents require the Soul Remains for any reason, the Circle only produces them with the permission of the Convocation of Shades.
Mrs. Knife demanded they bring all of the Soul Remains to her. They refused, so Mrs. Knife lived up to her namesake and went on a murdering spree, collecting the bones herself “the fun way” (her words). She and the evil necromancer Gregor need them for some foul plot.
The Domnitor (long may he reign)
The Old Country’s dictator has fled to Stagralla following the Fall of Salzstadt. In his absence, Mrs. Knife, Gregor, and a congress of goblins have taken up residence in his palace.
Roman and Sloot sneak into the palace to check in with Greta, who Mrs. Knife is holding hostage. A wise move, considering she’s the girlfriend of Vlad the Invader. Otherwise, the easily enraged Carpathian warlord would have single-handedly torn the entire palace down, stone by stone.
Greta could escape anytime she wanted, but she’s spying on Mrs. Knife. That’s how she learned that Mrs. Knife intends to kidnap the Domnitor, long may he reign. Sloot, a lifelong (and then some) Old Country loyalist, is more disturbed by this news than he was by his own death.
Sloot is further disturbed to learn that Uncle (the draconian enforcement ministry of the Old Country’s government) intends to do the same, so they can install him as a puppet monarch and have free reign over the Old Country.
Winking Bob throws her hat into the ring as a would-be abductor, insisting that Sloot aid her plan, lest she use his previously-acquired signature on a blank piece of paper to send the Old Country’s economy into perpetual ruin.
But the most disturbing plot to kidnap the Domnitor (long may he reign) is set forth by Vlad the Invader, namely because she succeeds. But that’s later.
Witches, Demons, and Vampires
Unlike the rest of the ghosts, Myrtle is somehow able to manifest in the flesh in the land of the living. The witch Agather deduces that she’s not a ghost, she’s a demon. Not the usual result of being killed, but there you have it.
Agather asks her friend Bartleby–a necromancer in perpetual vampire cosplay–to look in on the house. He teaches Nicoleta some necromancy, since the wizardry she knew only worked for the living, which she no longer was. He tries teaching Willie to control his power through meditation. Willie’s about as good at meditating as one might expect a 6-year-old hopped up on black magic to be.
A sudden outpouring of Willie’s excess black magic takes the form of a puppy. The puppy later becomes a hellhound, which fortunately runs away.
Myrtle eventually learns that she’s a causality demon, which gives her the power to see chains of events that result from certain actions. It’s not exactly seeing the future, more like having a frighteningly good idea of where the future’s likely to end up. After hearing about Sloot’s reticent involvement in a number of plots to kidnap the Domnitor, long may he reign, she turns her powers to helping him find a way out. She can do it, but there’s a price: his soul. No, being her boyfriend doesn’t get him a freebie.
Sloot agrees. He’s not happy about it, but at least he knows for sure that he’s Myrtle’s boyfriend. Silver linings.
Goblins of the Old Country
There are no goblins anywhere but in the Old Country. Why is that?
Ages ago, the goblins lost a war with the dwarves and were cast into the Dark, an ethereal pocket that lurks between the proper realms. They eventually found a way out, but only into the Old Country. They can’t leave its borders, or even see past them.
The goblins were previously cheated in an alliance they made with humans, who are the most devious of all the races. That alliance was made by marrying a human princess to a goblin prince. Goblins have no princes, so she technically married the poor bugger who drew the shortest straw.
That princess became the immortal queen of the goblins, eventually changing her name to Mrs. Knife. She’s spent centuries plotting to get her people out of the Dark so they can exact revenge against the dwarves. They just need to march across Carpathia to do it, but they can’t see past the Old Country’s borders.
The Serpent of the Sky
Mrs. Knife and Gregor use the Soul Remains and the hellhound formed from Willie’s black magic to conjure a constellation called the Serpent of the Sky, which can guide the goblin army across the Carpathian border. Nicoleta manages to hide it while Vlad and Myrtle fight an entire congress of goblins.
Mrs. Knife is entirely put out by this unforeseen setback. She prepares the goblins to march on Carpathia.
The Border War
Vlad is still at the mercy of the curse that Gregor placed on her grandfather. As long as a Defenestratia sits on the Carpathian throne, no soldiers shall join the army. That leaves Vlad to stand against the goblin army alone, at least until Sloot brings the fairy army to the table.
There’s a problem. Vlad won’t accept another ruler in Carpathia, and King Lilacs won’t give up his crown. Sloot devises a workaround: the fairies and the nation of Carpathia form a corporation to defeat their common enemy.
Having kidnapped the Domnitor, long may he reign, Vlad offers him to Mrs. Knife in return for Greta. Mrs. Knife, having no further need of the Domnitor, long may he reign, refuses. In a last, desperate attempt to save Greta’s life, Vlad gives the goblins permission to enter Carpathia. Mrs. Knife, being the villain, murders Greta anyway. (Honestly, if you didn’t see that coming, it’s on you.)
The ensuing battle eventually comes to a violent conclusion when Willie, overstuffed with black magic like an evil Christmas goose, explodes. It creates a rift in reality and the Dark spills over everything. It’s a disaster of cosmic proportions that no mortal–or demon, for that matter–is equipped to clean up.
A trio of eternal beings who design and control the universe (known as “The Coolest” due to shoddy marketing) step in.
The Coolest reveal that this was all the result of a wager between a love demon named Gwen and an enigma demon named Roman. Yes, that Roman. He bet Gwen he could prove that love is the greatest evil in the universe, and this was his proof. The love between Vlad and Greta ended with the destruction of two whole nations’ worth of existence.
It was Roman who poked a hole in the Dark so the goblins could get in. He also set Vlad and Greta up, and subtly coaxed dozens of other pawns–including Sloot–into place to help him win.
The outcome is a huge problem. Win or lose, the stakes result in a universe-shattering paradox. (It’s complicated. Read the chapter Roman’s Wager for details.) The Coolest can’t see any way around razing the whole chunk of reality encompassing Carpathia and the Old Country. But what if they’re audited? There’s no way they’d be able to cover this up! They’re doomed.
Sloot convinces them to give him a shot at straightening it all out. He’s an accountant, after all. Straightening out disastrous paperwork is his trade. The Coolest can’t show him any favoritism, so they make him a demon 100th class (out of 99 classes available, so he’s going to have trouble).
Through her powers of causality, Myrtle sees it will only work if she gets herself banished to the lowest level of the Inferno, so she does just that.
The End … For Now
Sloot Peril, demon, now faces the probably impossible task of rescuing his girlfriend and saving reality. If that’s not reason enough to pick up a copy of Now Before the Dark, the 3rd and final book of Terribly serious Darkness on December 8th from Black Spot Books, then perhaps you’d consider a bribe.