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The Soul Eaters, formerly known as the Healers, are a group of corrupted clan mages who serve as the primary antagonists of Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, which is set 6,000 years ago in prehistoric Europe during the Stone Age.
Before the series
Slightly over thirteen years before Wolf Brother, seven powerful mages from different clans banded together. They were Eostra from the Eagle Owl Clan, Thiazzi from the Oak Clan, Seshru from the Viper Clan (though she had changed both her name and her clan), Nef from the Bat Clan, Tenris from the Seal Clan (though he wasn't offically his clan's mage), Narrander from the Otter Clan and an unnamed man from the Wolf Clan. They weren't originally evil and wanted to help the Clans across the Forest by healing the sick and driving away evil spirits. They marked their membership to the Healers by tattooing on their chests a three-pronged fork that is used by mages to catch lost souls.
However, soon the Healers were corrupted by their ambitions. They wanted to rule the Forest and force all of its inhabitants to submit to them. They held the Forest in their grip of terror and started to call themselves the Soul Eaters. The source of their power was the Fire Opal, a powerful red stone that grants its holder the ability to control demons. Narrander and the Wolf Mage became disillusioned and wanted to leave the group despite the others' wishes. In order to retain Narrander's loyalty, Eostra — the apparent leader — took his eight-year-old son Narik from him. It's unclear what pressure was used on the Wolf Mage, but the Soul Eaters possibly threatened the lives of his mate (a Red Deer woman) and his friend Fin-Kedinn from the Raven Clan.
In Souls' Night, the Soul Eaters gathered on a hill (later called the Burnt Hill) on the verge of the Deep Forest. That hill had long held demons sealed out of the world, and the Soul Eaters intended to release them to do their bidding, using the power of the Fire Opal to bind them. However, once demons were released, the Wolf Mage broke the ritual by shattering the Fire Opal into three pieces, ending the Soul Eaters' control over the demons. He then set a fire which banished the demons back to the rocks of the hill.
Unfortunately, fire got quickly out of hand and the resulting forest fire (later known as the Great Fire) destroyed the entire valley around the hill. Some of the Soul Eaters were badly injured (Tenris received third-degree burns all over the left side of his body and Narrander lost one of his eyes), but everyone survived, excluding the tied-up and hidden Narik. When Narrander found his son's body, he lost his sanity out of grief.
Their power broken, the Soul Eaters scattered and went into hiding, leading the entire Forest to believe them to be gone forever. The Wolf Mage and Fin-Kedinn made it appear so that Narrander had perished in the Great Fire. The former Otter Mage became a mad outcast hermit known as the Walker.
The Wolf Mage made everyone to think that he and his mate had perished too and they hid in the Deep Forest. Soon their son Torak was born. The World Spirit proclaimed as the boy's fate to destroy the evil his father had helped to create and made him a spirit walker to aid him in this quest. The boy's mother died soon and the Wolf Mage raised Torak in secrecy for twelve years, teaching him hunting and tracking instead of magecraft, skills that would prove invaluable in his quest to defeat the Soul Eaters.
Meanwhile, the other five Soul Eaters waited for a chance to have their revenge and to rule the Forest.
Shortly before the start of the first book, Tenris — who had become officially the Seal Clan's mage — went to the Red Deer Clan, posing as a crippled wanderer from the Willow Clan. He acquired a bear cub and used one of the Fire Opal's shards to bind an elemental — the most powerful type of demons — to the bear's body as a means to kill the Wolf Mage (who happened to be Tenris' biological brother). The demon bear went rampage across the Forest and Tenris went into hiding. The bear eventually found the Wolf Mage at the beginning of the book and killed him, leaving Torak all alone. Under his father's instructions, he traveled north and met Wolf, Fin-Kedinn and his niece Renn. With their help, Torak was able to destroy the demon bear, yet Fin-Kedinn also told him of the Soul Eaters for the first time, warning that they'd seek Torak out.
Six months after the events of Wolf Brother, Tenris sends his two tokoroths to poison juniper berries to spread a plague he had invented three years earlier in order to bring forth the demon bear's destroyer. Torak leaves the Raven Clan in order to find a cure. He ends up at the seashore and unintentionally offends three Seal boys by mixing his Forest-made hunting gear with the Sea. They take him to their home — the Seal Islands in the west — to have him punished.
Tenris, who holds the Seal Clan in his charismatic grip and realizes Torak's identity, pretends to be helpful and makes Torak seek out a false cure ingredient. When Torak repeatedly spirit walks without understanding it, he reveals his experiences to Tenris who realizes that Torak is a spirit walker. He lures Torak into a trap, reveals his true colors and intends to steal Torak's power by eating his heart. He's stopped thanks to Renn, Wolf and Bale who destroy his tokoroths and Tenris himself dies in the teeth of an orca whale whose child died in the hands of Tenris. Before his death, he reveals his relation to Torak's father and demands Torak to make Fin-Kedinn to reveal his father's former membership to the Soul Eaters, which he does. Renn figures out the cause of the plague, which passes away with the disposed juniper berries.
Meanwhile, Seshru receives a message sent by Tenris before his death: "The Wolf lives".
It's winter, about half an year after the events of Spirit Walker. Thiazzi, Nef, Seshru and Eostra band together to form a new plot to rule the Forest, with one of the Fire Opal shards in their possession. They intend to open a portal that's inside a mountain called Eye of the Viper, situated in the Far North. Demons would be released under the Soul Eaters' control.
For the portal opening ritual the Soul Eaters require nine predators: an owl, an eagle, an arctic fox, an otter, a wolverine, a polar bear, a lynx, a wolf and a human. They hunt those out and bring them to the mountain. The wolf they capture happens to be the Wolf, leading Torak and Renn to chase after them. Nef lures an ambitious White Fox boy to become their acolyte, intending to sacrifice him as well. Torak takes his place and infiltrates the Soul Eaters' base in the mountain.
The Soul Eaters slaughter the owl, polar bear and lynx, but Torak and Renn release all the other sacrifices. Seshru manages to open the portal for a while, releasing quite an amount of demons to the world. Renn steals the Fire Opal and flees with Torak and Wolf to the south.
Seshru, Thiazzi and Nef (along with Eostra's eagle owl) chase after them and eventually locate Torak who's been separated from Renn and Wolf. They finally discover Torak's identity and make him to take them to Renn and the Fire Opal, but not before Seshru forcefully tattoos the Soul Eaters' mark on the boy's chest.
The Soul Eaters and Torak eventually locate Renn who is on the verge of a crevasse and about to jump in with the Fire Opal, as it's the only way to destroy its power. Having lured a polar bear there with the scent of his blood, Torak spirit walks into the bear — revealing his power to the Soul Eaters — and subdues the Soul Eaters. Wolf arrives with arctic wolves, driving the demon herd towards the crevasse. Suddenly Nef — whose live was saved by Torak's father in the past — grabs the Fire Opal and jumps into the crevasse herself. As the demons follow her, the crevasse is sealed and the Soul Eaters' threat is evaded yet again. The remaining Soul Eaters scatter.
Two months after Soul Eater, Torak's Soul Eater tattoo is discovered thanks to Seshru. He's banished from the clans as an outcast that is obliged to be killed at sight. For the following two months, Torak wanders and ends up in Lake Axehead, suffering from soul-sickness that drives even Wolf away from him. It's caused by Seshru sabotaging the tattoo removing ritual Torak committed to remove the mark of the Soul Eaters. She torments Torak to make him her pawn and to find one of the two remaining Fire Opal shards. Renn and Bale come to Torak's aid and Renn manages to heal Torak's soul sickness. Seshru and Torak find out a terrible secret: Renn is the Viper Mage's daughter. Torak also discovers the location of the Fire Opal shard: it's been all this time stored inside the hilt of the knife Torak's father gave him at the time of his death.
Eventually a giant flood occurs with the nearby glacier releasing water to heal the lake that has been driven sick thanks to Seshru stealing holy clay from the Otter Clan's healing pool. Torak warns the clans in the area and they retreat to safety. Just as the clans are about to kill him, Seshru arrives and demands the Fire Opal shard for herself. Torak breaks the shard, and just as Seshru lunges for it, Bale shoots her with Renn's bow. With the Viper Mage and the Fire Opal shard both gone, Torak is accepted back to the clans.
Meanwhile, it's hinted that Eostra and Thiazzi are either in the Deep Forest or in the Seal Islands looking for the last Fire Opal shard, the one Tenris possessed before his death.
Nine months after Outcast, Thiazzi finds the last Fire Opal shard in the Seal Islands. By the same time he murders Bale, leading Torak to swear revenge. The Oak Mage sets out towards east and the Deep Forest with Torak, Renn, Wolf and Fin-Kedinn on his trail (though Fin-Kedinn is injured along the way and forced to stay behind).
In the Deep Forest, Thiazzi has murdered the mages of the Forest Horse Clan and the Auroch Clan, taking their places and waging the Deep Forest Clans (except the pacifistic Red Deer Clan) into war against each other. As he evades Torak multiple times, he manipulates all the Deep Forest Clans to unite against the Open Forest Clans after they barely survive a forest fire ignited by a mad Red Deer woman who's working for Thiazzi. He eventually kidnaps Renn and takes her to the Sacred Grove. Torak eventually finds his way there. In the final fight, Torak climbs the giant oak with Thiazzi following him. When they reach the the top branch, Renn who has freed herself, throws a burning brand of wood to Torak. The Oak Mage is protected from the fire by the Fire Opal, but then Eostra's eagle owl appears, snatches the stone and flies towards the mountains in the east. A burning ember sets fire to Thiazzi's hair, causing him to lose his balance and fall to his death. The Deep Forest Clans are finally calmed down and a larger-scale war is prevented.
It's revealed that Thiazzi had kidnapped several children to make them tokoroths. All but one of those children are found, the new-born tokoroth fleeing towards the eastern High Mountains where Eostra, the last Soul Eater and the most powerful of them, is hiding.
Several months have passed again and it's nearly winter. Eostra has made her lair in the Mountain of Ghosts, capturing children and dogs from the Mountain Clans and making them her underlings by binding demons inside them. She plots to gain Torak's power as a spirit walker and live forever through it. She sends grey moths to spread shadow sickness across the Clans and torments Torak with his father's soul. As Torak sets out to find Eostra, the Eagle Owl Mage does everything in her power to make sure the boy is separated from his close ones when they face. She sends her eagle owl to attack Wolf's family, making him to think that his mate Darkfur and all their cubs are dead. She calls a powerful blizzard that nearly kills Renn and later reveals her intentions to her in a dream.
Eventually during the Souls' Night, deep in the Mountain of Ghosts, Torak enters a cave where Eostra is performing a ritual. Torak spirit walks into her, but is trapped by her strong will. With her ritual, Eostra summons the spirits of the deceased Soul Eaters — Tenris, Thiazzi, Nef, Seshru and Torak's father —, bound to her will through the Fire Opal and their hairs. Wolf, Renn and Dark — an young albino who has recently befriended Torak and Renn — arrive to kill Eostra's remaining tokoroths and dogs, allowing Torak's spirit to return to his body. Unexpectedly, the Walker — whom Torak and Renn have met twice in the past and Fin-Kedinn has summoned to aid Torak against Eostra — arrives and reveals his former identity as Narrander. Torak destroys the Fire Opal, sending the ghosts of the deceased Soul Eaters away. Then the Walker summons the Hidden People of the Mountain to destroy Eostra. A large chasm forms and Eostra falls to her death, dragging Torak with her (though he's quickly resurrected).
With six of the seven Soul Eaters death, the Walker in peace and the Fire Opal destroyed, the threat against the Forest was finally over.
Members and their clans
- Eostra (Eagle Owl)
- Narrander / the Walker (Otter)
- Nef (Bat)
- Seshru (Viper, though she may have not been born to that clan)
- Tenris (Seal)
- Thiazzi (Oak)
- Torak's father (Wolf)
- Four of the Soul Eaters (Eostra, Thiazzi, Seshru and Tenris) can be associated with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as they don't redeem themselves before dying (like Nef, Narrander and Torak's father do), and they each serve as the main antagonist in one of the books, their methods resembling the symbolism of the Horsemen.
- The White Horse (sometimes portrayed as Pestilence) is Tenris: the plague caused by his tokoroths poisoning the Open Forest's juniper berries is at the centre of Spirit Walker's plot.
- The Red Horse (War) is Thiazzi: he's the greatest threat on physical level, and in Oath Breaker he starts a war among the Deep Forest Clans, then unifies them to war against the Open Forest Clans.
- The Black Horse (Famine) is Seshru: in Outcast she causes Lake Axehead grow sick with deformed and inedible fish which are the main food source of the Otter Clan.
- The Pale Horse (Death) is Eostra: she has always been obsessed with the secrets of the dead. In her youth she resurrected a boy, and in Ghost Hunter she summons the spirits of the deceased Soul Eaters.