The Soul Eaters, formerly known as the Healers, are a scandalous 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 13 years before Wolf Brother, seven talented mages from different clans banded together secretly. 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 was not at the time an official mage of his clan), Narrander from the Otter Clan, and an unnamed man from the Wolf Clan who happened to be Tenris' biological brother. Not malevolent at first, the called themselves the Healers. They helped the clans across the Forest by curing the sick and warding off evil spirits. They all tattooed on their chests a black three-pronged fork, a tool used by mages to snare lost souls.
However, most of the Healers were soon corrupted by their ambitions. They wanted to rule the Forest and force all of its inhabitants to submit to them. Believing they knew that was best for everyone, they aspired to unite all the clans and make them stop practicing different rites. They held the Forest in their grip of terror and started to call themselves the Soul Eaters. Only Eostra is confirmed to actually eat souls, but the title frightened people anyway, and the Soul Eaters used that fear to their advantage. 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 with their evil colleagues and wanted to resign. The others were against this. In order to force Narrander to remain, Eostra took his eight-year-old son Narik from him. It is unclear what was used to blackmail the Wolf Mage with, but it is possible the Soul Eaters threatened the lives of his mate (a Red Deer woman) and his friend Fin-Kedinn from the Raven Clan.
The Soul Eaters' power was shattered on Souls' Night. Summoned by the Wolf Mage, they gathered on a hill at the western edge of the Deep Forest. The hill that would later be known as the Burnt Hill has long held demons trapped in the rocks. The Soul Eaters intended to release the demons and use the Fire Opal to bind them to do their bidding. However, once the demons were released, the Wolf Mage cut the ritual short by shattering the Fire Opal into three pieces. He then set a fire which banished the demons back into the rocks. Unfortunately, the fire got quickly out of hand, and the resulting forest fire — known afterwards as the Great Fire — destroyed the entire valley around the hill. Some of the Soul Eaters were trapped and badly injured. Tenris got the left side of his body terribly burnt, and Narrander lost one of his eyes. Everyone escaped with their lives though, except for Narik whom Eostra had bound and hidden. When Narrander found his son's body, he lost his sanity out of grief.
With their power broken, the Soul Eaters scattered and went into hiding. The entire Forest was led to believe them to be gone forever. The Wolf Mage and Fin-Kedinn made it look like Narrander had perished in the Great Fire. The former Otter Mage became a mad outcast hermit known as the Walker. The Wolf Mage made it appear that he and his mate had perished too. They hid in the Deep Forest where their son Torak was born in the following summer. Unfortunately, Tenris found out that his brother and sister-in-law had survived. The couple had to live on the move.
Before Torak was born on Midsummer Night, the World Spirit appeared to his mother in a vision. He decreed that Torak's fate is to fight to undo the evil his father had helped to create. On the mother's begging, the Spirit made Torak a spirit walker to aid him in this quest. As the price, Torak's mother had to decree her son clanless and die. The former 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 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. Introducing himself as a crippled wanderer from the Willow Clan, he was sheltered. He manipulated the young Raven Clan member Hord to hunt for him a young bear. He used one of the Fire Opal fragments to conjure an elemental, the most powerful type of demons. He then bound it inside the bear's body to create a weapon that would hunt down and kill his brother. Too powerful for him to control, the Demon Bear went rampage across the Forest while Tenris fled the Forest.
The bear finds Torak's father in the first chapter and kills him, leaving Torak all alone. He travels north under his father's last instructions, meeting Wolf, the Raven Clan's chieftain Fin-Kedinn, and his niece Renn. With their help, Torak is able to get the World Spirit to destroy the demon bear and starts living with the Raven Clan afterwards. However, he is first told of the Soul Eaters by Fin-Kedinn who warns him that they will seek out the one who destroyed the demon bear.
It is summer, and half a year has passed since the events of Wolf Brother. Tenris decides to find the destroyer of his demon bear. He sends his two tokoroths to spread the plague he created three years earlier in the Forest by poisoning the juniper berries the clans eat. Torak leaves the Raven Clan in order to find a cure. He ends up at the seashore and unintentionally offends Bale and two other Seal Clan boys by mixing his Forest-made hunting gear with the Sea. They take him to their home — the western Seal Islands — to have him punished. His friends Renn and Wolf manage to make their way to the Islands soon afterwards.
Torak meets the Seal Mage Tenris who holds the Seal Clan in his charismatic grip. Tenris realizes that Torak is his nephew and pretends to agree and make the cure. He tricks Torak into fetching a false cure ingredient. Torak repeatedly spirit walks without understanding it and eventually tells Tenris about these experiences. Realizing that Torak is a spirit walker, Tenris lures Torak into a trap. He holds Torak captive at the secluded Crag, reveals his true colors and prepares to steal Torak's power by eating his heart. He is stopped thanks to Renn, Wolf and Bale who finish off the tokoroths. Tenris himself is killed by an orca whale whose offspring he killed. Before dying, he reveals his relation to Torak and tells Torak to demand answers about his father from Fin-Kedinn. Renn figures out that the plague is spread through poisoned juniper berries, and once they are disposed of, the plague passes away.
Haunted by Tenris' last words, Torak goes to Fin-Kedinn for answers. He learns more about his father and uncle's pasts as well as that his father used to be a Soul Eater. Meanwhile, Seshru receives a message Tenris sent before dying: "The Wolf lives". The four remaining Soul Eaters are not sure about the message's meaning, though.
It is winter, and about half a year since the events of Spirit Walker. Thiazzi, Nef, Seshru and Eostra band together to take control over the Forest. With one of the Fire Opal shards in their possession, they locate the Eye of the Viper, a mountain in the Far North. The mountain contains a Door, an underground place where the layer between the mortal world and the Otherworld is thinnest. The Soul Eaters intend to find and open the Door to release demons from the Otherworld. They would then bind the demons to their will with the Fire Opal and use them to force all the clans to submit to them.
To make protective charms against the demons, the Soul Eaters require predators as sacrifices. Though it is forbidden to hunt predators, they start hunting down in the Forest and at the Far North nine predators: white owl, eagle, arctic fox, otter, wolverine, polar bear, lynx, wolf and human. The wolf they capture happens to be Torak's friend Wolf. This prompts Torak and Renn to chase the Soul Eaters to the Eye of the Viper without their knowledge. Nef finds the human sacrifice in the form of an ambitious White Fox Clan boy who is allowed to become the Soul Eaters' acolyte. Taking the boy's place, Torak infiltrates the Soul Eaters' base in the mountain.
The Soul Eaters locate the Door, slaughtering the owl, polar bear and lynx on the way. However, when they prepare to open the Door, Torak and Renn release Wolf and all the other sacrifices. When the three heroes confront the Soul Eaters, Seshru opens the Door for a little while, releasing quite a number of demons from the Otherworld. However, Torak causes Eostra to drop the Fire Opal, dispersing her control over the demons that spread wildly from the mountain. Renn steals the Fire Opal before fleeing south with Torak and Wolf.
Seshru, Thiazzi and Nef (along with Eostra's eagle owl) chase after the heroes to recover the Fire Opal. They eventually find Torak who has been separated from Renn and Wolf. They finally discover that Torak is the son of the Wolf Mage who turned on them. They force him to lead them to Renn and the Fire Opal, though not before Seshru forcefully tattoos the Soul Eaters' mark on the boy's chest.
The Soul Eaters and Torak eventually find Renn who is standing on the verge of a crevasse. She intends to jump in with the Fire Opal, for there is no other way to destroy its power. Having lured after them a polar bear with the scent of his blood, Torak spirit walks into the bear and subdues the Soul Eaters who realize him to be a spirit walker. Wolf and an arctic wolf pack herd the released demons at the place. Suddenly Nef — who wants to pay back to Torak's father who saved her from suicide years ago — takes the Fire Opal from Renn and jumps into the crevasse herself. The demons follow her and end up being sealed under the ice. With one of the Fire Opal pieces lost, the remaining Soul Eaters scatter.
Only two months after the events of Soul Eater, Torak's Soul Eater tattoo is exposed thanks to Seshru. Ever since the Great Fire, the clan law has dictated that anyone who has the Soul Eaters' mark must be banished from the clans as an outcast who must be killed on sight and cannot be helped by anyone under the threat of being cast out as well. Having no clan to vouch for him, Torak is exiled.
Torak wanders for the two following months. He ends up hiding at Lake Axehead, spied on by Seshru who has made the lake sick by stealing holy clay from the Otter Clan's healing spring. The ritual Torak commits to remove the Soul Eaters' mark is sabotaged by Seshru. He succumbs to soul-sickness that makes him lose his knowledge and drive Wolf away from him. Seshru torments him in order to turn him into her pawn and 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. Torak discovers a terrible secret: Renn is the Viper Mage's daughter. Seshru had birthed Renn only to create a tokoroth of her own, but after that was foiled, Seshru had not kept tabs on Renn. She discovers Renn to be her daughter only through Torak. Torak also finds the Fire Opal shard his father hid inside the hilt of his knife before dying.
Eventually a giant flood occurs when the nearby glacier releases water to heal the lake. 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 smashes the shard just as Seshru tries to attack him and is shot by Bale. Her fading life-force is used to destroy the Fire Opal's power. With the Viper Mage gone, Torak is accepted back to the clans.
Meanwhile, it is hinted that Eostra and Thiazzi could be in the Deep Forest where the clans are troubled among each other. Bale also recalls disturbances from the Seal Islands. This leads the heroes to deduce that the Soul Eaters are looking for the last Fire Opal shard, the one Tenris possessed before his death.
Nine months after the events of Outcast, Thiazzi finds the last Fire Opal shard in the Seal Islands. He also murders Bale, leading Torak to swear revenge. The Oak Mage returns to the Forest and sets out toward the eastern Deep Forest. He is followed by Torak, Renn, Wolf and Fin-Kedinn, but Fin-Kedinn is injured along the way and forced to return to his clan.
In the Deep Forest, Thiazzi has murdered the mages of the Forest Horse Clan and the Auroch Clan. Taking both of the mages' places, he has tricked the Deep Forest clans — except for the pacifistic Red Deer Clan — into warring each other. As he evades Torak more than once, 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 is working for Thiazzi.
Thiazzi eventually kidnaps Renn and takes her to the sacred grove as a bait. Torak finds his way there. In the final fight, Torak climbs up the Great Oak with Thiazzi following him. When they reach the highest branch, Renn throws for the weaponless Torak a burning brand of wood. The Oak Mage is protected from the fire by the Fire Opal, however. Suddenly Eostra's eagle owl appears, snatches the Opal from Thiazzi and flies toward the eastern mountains. A small ember in Thiazzi's hair sets him on fire, causing him to lose his balance and fall to his death. With Thiazzi's manipulations exposed, the Deep Forest clans finally calm down, and a larger-scale war is prevented.
It is revealed that Thiazzi had kidnapped several children to turn them into tokoroths. All but one of those children are found and treated. The new-born tokoroth flees toward 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 is nearly winter. Eostra has made her lair in the Mountain of Ghosts. She has captured children and dogs from the Mountain clans and turned them into her underlings by binding demons inside them or brainwashing them. She plots to gain Torak's power as a spirit walker and live forever by using it. She sends grey moths to spread shadow sickness across the clans and torments Torak with his father's spirit. As Torak sets out to find Eostra, the Eagle Owl Mage does everything in her power to make sure the boy will be separated from his friends once they face each other. 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 summons a powerful blizzard that nearly kills Renn and later reveals her intentions in Renn's dream.
By the time of Souls' Night, deep in the Mountain of Ghosts, Torak enters the Whispering Cave where Eostra is performing a ritual. Torak spirit walks into her, but he 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. They are bound to Eostra's will through the Fire Opal and their hairs. Wolf, Renn and Dark — a 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 convinced 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. The Walker then summons the Hidden People of the Mountain to destroy Eostra. As the Mountain trembles, Eostra falls into a chasm, dragging Torak with her (though he is quickly resurrected).
With six of the seven Soul Eaters dead, the Walker appeased, and the Fire Opal completely 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 compared to the Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they do not redeem themselves before dying (like Nef, Narrander and Torak's father do), and they each serve as the main antagonist of one of the six books. Their personal attributes and schemes are symbolically similar to the Horsemen.
- Tenris is the Horseman of Conquest (sometimes known as Pestilence). The sickness he created and spreads is the driving plot point of Spirit Walker. In addition to that, the demon bear he creates runs rampage across the Forest and grows more powerful with each kill in Wolf Brother. If the bear had not been killed before the zenith of the Great Auroch's red eye, it would have become invincible. Tenris has also won the complete trust of the Seal Islands' clans over the years, making him the true authority figure there.
- Thiazzi, the strongest man of the Forest and the most violent Soul Eater, is the Horseman of War. He drives the Deep Forest clans to war among each other in Oath Breaker before he unites both sides and nearly leads them into an open war against the Open Forest clans.
- Seshru is the Horseman of Famine. She causes famine to the Otter Clan in Outcast by making Lake Axehead sick with deformed and inedible fish. She also stirs metaphorical famine in Torak by making him lose his skills and knowledge through soul-sickness.
- Eostra is the Horseman of Death due to being a corpse-like necromancer who has always been obsessed with the secrets of the dead.
- The Soul Eaters are similar to the Death Eaters from the Harry Potter franchise. Both are feared groups of renegade practitioners of magic who were forced to go underground years before the adventures of the main protagonist begin. The members tattoo themselves with symbols that are associated with evil because of their bearers' legacy. They aspire to oppress everyone under their rule and are led by a dreadful sorcerer who wants to become immortal.