The Soulless War Trilogy #2
The Dark Evolution
by Dana Gricken
After the supposed death of the Dark Queen and the capturing of the Underworld, the Sentinels believe they’ve won the war. When a strange ally of the Dark Queen named Doctor Zero emerges, he announces that he’s discovered how to turn everyone soulless. With him, he brings a fearless army, a dangerous serum, and the powerful Dark Queen by his side.
To have a fighting chance against him, Riley Stark frees King Bane and the Renegades from prison. The Dark Queen’s old husband—King Lucius, who resurfaces with a bloodthirsty army of his own—disagrees with Doctor Zero’s plan to turn the world soulless and seeks revenge. When Caleb is injured in the battle, Riley is forced to trust strangers and neglect her own people to save him.
As the government crumbles, new monsters come out of hiding, and dangerous groups take to the streets, Riley must protect Caleb, prevent her people from becoming soulless, and ask herself if she can continue to serve the Sentinels when they’ve hidden so much from her.
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In hindsight, maybe meeting in a dark alley hadn’t been such a great idea.
After the Dark Queen’s defeat and disappearance, the Sentinels were restless and paranoid. They knew some soulless had escaped, and they focused on capturing them all.
Patrols increased. People were strip-searched for no reason. Everywhere you looked, Sentinel squads marched forward.
It was madness, and I was just trying to survive it all.
I looked down at the note in my hand. It read: I have information about the soulless. Meet me at a quarter past midnight in Grace Court Alley. Come alone.
The letter, sent to me, had no return address or signature. I’d read it over a hundred times, searching for a clue. So far, I had nothing.
Deep down, I really wanted it to be from Caleb. In case it was, I told no one of my secret meeting. I hadn’t seen him in six months since the Sentinels had cleared out the Underworld, and I was getting worried with each passing day. I remembered our last moment like it was yesterday—Caleb had thanked me after helping me fight the Dark Queen—his mother—and her servants. Then he’d disappeared into the darkness, leaving me with more questions than answers. With the Sentinels increasing security, it couldn’t have been easy for him to maneuver the city. Wherever he was, I just hoped he was okay.
I made it to the location and waited around for a few minutes. The streetlamps illuminated the darkened back alley as I waited in the rain and the cold. Shivering, I tightened the buttons on my jacket and glanced down at my watch.
12:15 a.m. I was right on time.
A few minutes later, I heard footsteps approaching. I reached for my Deathblade and gripped it between my fingers, just in case of an ambush. Dying in a dark alley wasn’t how I wanted to go.
“I knew you would show up. The Sentinels are so predictable.”
The voice emerged from the shadows, followed by several armored men and women. They were soulless, judging by the darkness in their eyes. There must’ve been at least ten of them, hiding behind face masks.
“Who are you?” I asked. “Were you the ones that sent me this letter?”
The woman removed her mask, but I still didn’t recognize her. She was young and beautiful, with glossy hair as white as snow.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” she asked. “You wouldn’t—we went unseen in the Underworld. We are the nameless. We are the discarded. We are the Remnant.”
“The Remnant?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“The soulless you couldn’t find,” she replied. “The soulless you weren’t able to hunt. We escaped.”
“You said you had information on the soulless,” I continued. “Tell me what you know.”
The girl smiled and stepped forward, and little glass shards circled around her. Behind her, the other soulless displayed their powers, ready for a fight.
“We lured you here with that letter,” she began, “and it worked. You’ve hurt the soulless long enough, Stark. It’s time to answer for what you’ve done to us.”
Before I had the chance to lift my Deathblade, a ring of fire surrounded me, protecting me from the angry mob. The Remnant looked around in confusion for a moment before their eyes lingered on something above me.
I followed their stare to find a darkened figure on the roof of the nearby building. The person hid behind layers of dark fabric, but I could recognize his stagger anywhere.
He slid down the fire escape of the building before landing in front of me. He threw up a fist at the soulless, causing little embers to ignite on his skin.
“You don’t want to fight me,” Caleb said. “Run and hide, Remnant. It’s what you do best.”
The soulless wasted no time. They took off running in the opposite direction, and the fire extinguished around me. I walked through the smoke to reach the mysterious young man.
“Caleb! Is it really you?” I asked.
He lowered his dark cloak and grinned. “How did you know?”
“The fire kind of gave it away.”
He pulled me into a passionate kiss, one that I didn’t want to end. It held all the emotions we couldn’t put into words—longing, relief, and adoration. Once we pulled away, I saw the sadness written on his face.
“It’s been hard staying away from you all these months. I have so much to tell you,” he said. “You need to know about Doctor Zero. Riley, you have to stop him.”
The blare of police sirens startled us both. For a few moments, we had completely forgotten about the dangers around us.
He took a few steps back. “It isn’t safe to talk here. There are too many Sentinels and cops around.”
“I need to know everything about this Doctor Zero—like who he is, for starters,” I replied. “And how do you know the Remnant?”
He retreated into the darkness. “I know you have questions, but I need to go. I promise I’ll tell you everything later. You’ll see me again soon, Riley.”
As he vanished into the night, I wished I believed him.