Pact of Deliverance: About SOULS
The only thing that retired police officer and former mercenary Nobuo Okada knows is that he must find - and then guide - ten cynical and troubled people toward a vague and uncertain destiny that appears, at face value, to be a heroic adventure. In his profession as a counsellor, he begins his self-appointed task, aware that the fates intend to throw everything they can at him - defiant and disbelieving recruits, gang warfare, a tired police force on the verge of collapse, a sport-betting conspiracy, cultist murder sprees, an overzealous cold-case enthusiast, foreign assassins and, somewhere in-between all that, his day job. All the while, he unwittingly harbours a great threat within his own subconscious that, if unleashed, could do more than everything else put together. If Nobuo can somehow succeed and get even one of his ten "potentials" to where they have to be, then the real journey begins... whatever that may be.
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Note: this is just a sample of the large and diverse cast, and the illustrations are purely a visual guide as the novel contains no images.
A retired police officer that has taken a part-time role as a freelance counsellor in a city that has become too reliant on volunteers and external parties with questionable suitability; he is the “gatherer” that must find and then guide the ten people that ancient texts have supposedly predicted to appear at this precise time in Taryl’s troubled history. Nobuo also claims to have worked as a mercenary and been present during the so-called “Eastlake Incident”, when an uprising in that commercial city led to it being cordoned off and then, via circumstances unknown, all but destroyed by a nuclear device; none believe him, and understandably so, as there are rumours that any survivors - if such a thing were possible - were hunted down by numerous parties in order to silence them, yet Okada is left untouched. He is neurotic yet calm, inspiring yet troubling, and he has a particularly complicated past with the wife of one of his charges, Kaori Ridge: she is the daughter of an ex-girlfriend of his and the relationship ended on a sour and possibly violent note, though it has never been properly spoken of by anyone.
A woman that has little income and no real friends, despite being attractive and good-natured: she is possibly one of the few people in Mast Harbour that do not use expletives at all, although it is due to something specific in her upbringing rather than piety. She works as a freelance domestic worker in Mast Harbour, walking or travelling by the city’s dysfunctional bus network to various locations that include a private gymnasium and various small independent shops; she endured that dreary and unrewarding life until Nobuo Okada rescued her from two assailants and told her that she was one of the ten “Quellis Lostahl”, a prophecied group of would-be heroes that would attain great strengths and bring some sort of salvation to the world. Jeanette continues to work and refuses to place full faith in Okada, but she is quietly hopeful that he is telling the truth and that her life can amount to something more; but at the same time, a world-famous boxer arrives at the gymnasium that she cleans and brings with him a corruption scandal that she does not want to ignore but has to, else she will jeopardise her safety.
A schoolteacher in a small city to the south of the capital Mast Harbour; she is married to Ezekiel Ridge, a police detective that works in the capital and only comes home at weekends, which the couple bear through lack of options. Kaori is actually overqualified for her job, but opportunities are scarce and risks are not worth taking in a volatile economic environment: she is therefore double irritated when Nobuo Okada - a man that once has a relationship with her mother - suddenly reappears and approaches her husband with talk of him being one of a chosen group of heroes. Kaori views Okada as a nuisance at best, if not outright dangerous, but she knows that her husband owes Nobuo as a saviour and mentor and might follow the older man down a path that he might later regret.
A mid-level police detective in Mast Harbour, the Republic of Taryl’s capital: he does not like his first name, primarily because he associates it with bad times in his life, so most of his colleagues and friends call him “Ridge”. He was once a troubled youth, but Nobuo Okada - who was, at the time, a police detective himself - took steps to rehabilitate Ridge and “bleach his record” so that he could later sit exams and join the force. He is not seen as being very punctual or competent, but he has a fairly good rapport with some of the troubled youths that the police are trying to keep in line, so he is often forgiven for his scruffiness; his wife Kaori is less tolerant of his “potty mouth” and gradual decline in standards, but he is so worn down by the job that he does not really care anymore. Nobuo Okada suddenly approaches him while he is investigating - or rather, trying to investigate - a homicide, and tells him that he is destined for greatness: he wants to believe it, but he is as wary of Nobuo’s sanity as everyone else and tries to keep his former mentor and supervisor at a distance. During the working week he shares an appartment with Ricardo Alonso, a long-time friend and fellow police detective; he travels out of the city during breaks to spend some quality time with his wife Kaori, who frets that his childish, adventurous side will be swayed by Nobuo’s promise of an exciting future.
A friend of Ezekiel Ridge that goes back to his childhood days, Ricardo followed Ridge everywhere and - at Ridge’s request and to Nobuo’s dismay - enjoyed the same “bleaching of his record” and subsequent employment as a police officer. Rick has had a lucky streak, avoiding any kind of consequences for lateness, insubordination, drug use, random mischief and poor treatment of his colleagues, which even, at times, has included Ridge; he has no intention of changing his ways since he feels that the world owes him a living and any debt that he may owe Ridge will never be called upon because “he’s a friend, and friends don’t do debts”. Nobuo knows that Rick will inevitably try to tag along if - or rather when - Ridge agrees to pursue his destiny, and he is quietly resigned to it.
Runa was adopted by the Fields as a child and has always enjoyed a relatively boring but love-filled life as a result: she is therefore torn between duty and destiny when Nobuo Okada approaches her and informs her that she is supposed to travel the world and become a hero of some kind. Runa’s adoptive parents have instilled in her a sense of moral uprightness that was, in truth, already there and that now provides a moral dilemma: her adoptive parents are both old, sick and unable to properly fend for themselves, and her younger sister is abosrbed into her own selfish little world, so Runa and her carefree boyfriend Lester are working to keep everyone in the household, and leaving would be nothing short of abandonment. Mr Fields makes it clear that he considers Nobuo to be either mad or some sort of malevolent force, since Runa has already been given texts that have allowed her to unlock inhuman strength and athleticism in a very short period of time; Runa can obviously see that her destiny is real, but she does not know whether it is for good or ill…
Mei immediately jumped at the chance to be someone when Nobuo Okada approached her: her life was going nowhere and being a hero was too good to pass up. The reality has not been so romantic: she left her poorly-furnished apartment and low-paid job to be rehoused in a run-down apartment in a different city and become completely financially dependent on Nobuo. Her room-mate, Neil, is nice enough, and her abilities start to manifest slowly but surely, but Mei is frustrated: she spends all day indoors, she has lost contact with her friends and her pudgy frame does not seem to be changing for the better. She begins to focus on Neil as a possible love interest to pass the time, but Neil’s affections seem to be elsewhere… or so everyone seems to think.
An unemployed man that was looking for a sense of direction: Nobuo Okada suddenly approached him and told him of his destiny as a hero, and Neil eagerly accepted the challenge. Nobuo placed him in a cheap apartment and immediately started his training: Neil quickly became stronger, faster and more resilient, but his inability to see the good in himself made him unable to truly see the improvement, and he started to resent the squalid conditions, lack of respect that he felt he was being shown, and his room-mate Gong Mei, who did nothing but chide him and make him feel uncomfortable. Nobuo took Neil along when he was going to approach Jeanette Farrell, and the two managed, by pure coincidence, to visit her just as she was about to be set upon by two men that had broken into her apartment: Nobuo was forced to fight the assailants with all of his considerable strength and range of abilities, which even amazed Neil and left him speechless: his awkwardness, shyness and exasperation at Nobuo’s skills was all misinterpreted as a fixation with the only partially dressed Jeanette, which has caused tension ever since. Neil is anxious to prove that he is not at all ungentlemanly, and his frustration at what he perceives as judgmental behaviour on everyone else’s part is only distracting him from his training and putting his and Mei’s lives at greater risk.
Greta is an enigma, even to Nobuo: she contacts him instead of the other way around, and then she is nowhere to be seen. Greta apparently doesn’t have to be told what she must do, and yet she refuses to say what she actually knows: she might, in fact, know more about the future than Nobuo, and that irritates and confuses him. Whatever her place in the scheme of things, Greta is there, and yet again she is not: Nobuo must proceed with assisting the other nine charges and hope that she is going to help him later on.
Mike is a career policeman, but his aims differ from the majority of his colleagues: he is looking to eradicate corruption from the force, and his role as an Internal Investigations officer enables him to do just that. The problem is that Mike does not stay within his remit or have any discretional boundaries: he will look into anyone and forgives nothing that bends the rules in any way, even if the ends justified the means. Ridge and Nobuo have become a particular fixation for him: he believes that Okada - who was once part of a group of police officers that “went rogue” and brought down a mid-level crime lord that was actually controlling corrupt policemen - is at the centre of some sort of great on-going conspiracy and should somehow be brought to justice. Ridge’s superiors, Senior Detective Ed Karnowsky and Head of Department Avril Millhand, have tried to persuade Mike to turn his attentions elsewhere despite having their own doubts about Ridge’s competence and Nobuo’s stability, but Mike will not be swayed: his investigations threaten more than just his intended targets, however, and tragedy beckons.
Alex is generally seen as pathetic, but he is only doing his best. A low-level finance clerk in a mid-level firm, Alex is never late, never rude, always busy, always finishes his work and does it all with the same feeble, miserable expression on his face at all times. All that awaits him when he gets home is his cat Rufus, and even he appears to have contempt for his paranoid, self-effacing owner. Nobuo Okada almost doesn’t bother going through with recruiting him out of a mixture of pity and disdain, but Alex is galvanised by the thought of being a hero and uses his newfound “confidence” to do the unthinkable and… ask a female work colleague that he likes, Linda, if she wants to go on a date that “Uncle called Noble-oh” will finance. Nobuo leaves the meeting with a sense of despair and dread, but he believes - hopes - that Alex will not contact him again: he has reckoned without Linda, who has very different - and dangerous - ideas…
Linda is very self-confident and believes that she is supposed to be doing so much more than fate has given her to do. She works for a medium-sized organisation as an administrator, but her “Prince Charming” never seems to come along. She realises one day that she had earned the attentions of Alex Gordon, a finance clerk that is generally the subject of ridicule and cruel pranks, and she decides that he might provide her and her friends with a bit of fun: Alex never musters the courage to approach her, however, so she never gets the chance to destroy him. And then, one day, Alex goes to lunch with “a wealthy uncle called Noble-oh” and comes back with a spring in his step; colleagues are further intrigued when Alex finally asks Linda for a date. Linda accepts, finally seeing her opportunity to impress her friends with a particularly nasty prank, but she is immediately impressed by Nobuo’s apparent wealth and the thought of being with even the most unlikely and pathetic of heroes. Nobuo - who sees Linda for what she is at first glance - gives up on Alex altogether at that point, but Linda has sensed something and changed her mind: she talks Alex into accepting Nobuo’s offer - which has, in fact, been tacitly withdrawn - and begin the journey toward a greater destiny. Alex is swept along through sheer lack of free will, and before long he is a helpless bystander as Linda schemes to make Nobuo notice them, even if it places people in danger.
Eleanor is a very comfortable and very bored woman. She married a promising businessman that has given her and her children everything that they might have dreamed of, but the dream is quickly becoming “not enough”. The children are being schooled elsewhere, and the house is suffocating: she is not only intrigued and amused but secretly keen when Nobuo Okada tells her that she is one of his ten prospective heroes, and she quickly arranges a meeting. Her aloofness and lack of social skills quickly put Nobuo off of the idea of working with her, but Eleanor is determined that she will do something meaningful: she is then approached by Alex Gordon and Linda, who have somehow acquired her contact details without Nobuo’s knowledge and have decided - or rather, Linda has decided - that they will form their own group if Nobuo will not work with them. Eleanor agrees, and the three mismatched misfits try to see whether they can unlock their own potential and earn Nobuo’s respect or, if needs be, go on without him. Their activites are not wise ones, however, and they are unwittingly putting themselves at risk of being discovered by the Espelshamem, a religious cult with a remit that includes, alongside seemingly random murders, the destruction of the same people that Nobuo is trying to recruit…
Sean is the king of his little domain, which is as vast as his imagination and greed demand it to be. He personally attacks any minor gang that tries to take control of an alley, parking lot or sports court in his territory, and the punishments are severe. He knows that the police will not come after him: he is a promising musical star with a recording contract, and he knows some very powerful people that use his gang to do things that they cannot without attracting unwanted attention. He is therefore surprised when Nobuo Okada appraoches him and tells him that he is destined to be a hero: his whims and desires do not make him a benevolent hero of any kind, and he doesn’t really see why anyone would want to do things for others. Nobuo persists regardless, but one of Sean’s business contacts is an old acquaintance of Nobuo that wants to know whether the ageing eccentric is putting together another vigilante group to clean up the streets, and a whole other can of worms is opened in the process. Sean, meanwhile, continues to live as he always has, blissfully unaware that the enemies of the chosen few will come after him whether he accepts his destiny or not…
Li Hong is the leader of a sub-faction of the Dragons, a gang that controls parts of Mast Harbour when the working day is over. He is only the leader because the smartest man in the room, Tong, is happier being the “genius in the shadows” and concocting elaborate schemes to add one more back alley or green space to their territory. Li Hong knows that it is all pointless, but he would rather live in a delapidated warehouse with his girlfriend Asha than be at home with his mother and father. It is only just starting to become common knowledge that Li Hong is not an alias, but his actual name, and that he is Li Hong, son of Li Wei, one of the co-presidents of the Li, Hack and Duggan corporation: the notion that the son and heir of such a man could be living in squalor as a minor gang boss is so ridiculous that it has taken a while before it has even been believed. Hong is a capable martial artist, but he also uninterested in fighting: that makes his position even more bizarre, and Tong has made it his personal mission to bring out the darker side of Li Hong’s personality and use it to take control of the entire Dragons gang, even if that destroys Hong in the process. Nobuo Okada has to approach Hong at some point, because he is the last of the ten “Quellus Lostahl” that he has been tasked with finding, but Li Wei is too dangerous to alert to what is being planned; he must therefore leave Hong to fate, despite knowing that he is more vulnerable to harm as a result.
Asha is very difficult to explain, and Li Hong, her boyfriend, knows it: she is extremely dull and uninspiring in every way imaginable, and yet Hong is as fixated with her as she is with him. Her fixation is strangely discomforting, even to Hong: she is like a puppet whose strings have been cut when Hong is forced to leave her, and she is not particularly animated or talkative when they are together. They are, however, nigh-on inseparable: Hong would die for her, and she might say the same thing if she ever said very much at all that was that exciting. Her blandness and dependency on Hong have unfortunate reasons behind them: she is actually afflicted by something that she can do nothing about and has no comprehension of, and that affliction makes her a target for someone that means her no good. It is up to fate as to whether Nobuo Okada - who would be able to recognise her problem and, perhaps, assist with it - can approach Hong and Asha before someone else can.