Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 14
Shimeh

Welcome to Chapter Fourteen of my reread. Click here if you missed the Chapter Thirteen!

Some say I learned dread knowledge that night. But of this, as so many other matters, I cannot write for fear of summary execution.

DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

Truth and hope are like travelers in contrary directions. They meet but once in any man’s life

AINONI PROVERB

My Thoughts

Wow, those are some quotes. The one is foreshadowing. Clearly, Achamian is going to learn something that he’s too terrified to write. Mind you, this is in his heretical book after he’s already rejected Kellhus and gone into voluntary exile. Even Achamian knows not to put what he learns. Even reading this the first time, you can only imagine the truth he learned.

Which leads us to the Ainoni proverb that truth and hope are so rarely meet up that you get it once in a lifetime. It implies that hope is built on lies, on self-fabrication. That the truth doesn’t care about what sustains you. And when you learn that truth, it can kill that hope. However, once in a blue moon, they compliment each other.

Will it happen here?

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Esmenet dreamed that she was a prince, an angel fallen from the dark, that her heart had beaten, her loins had ached, for tens of thousands of years. She dreamed that Kellhus stood before her, an outrage to be blotted, an enigma to be dissected, and above all a burning question…

Who are the Dûnyain?

She awakes confused about who she is for a few moments. Then she doesn’t find Kellhus beside her, but she’s not surprised. She feels a “sense of finality in the air.” A dread has been building in her since reading The Sagas. She’s felt strange desires since her possession, seeing memories of the Inchoroi flooding her mind. Those desires, while alien in origin, still were hers. Kellhus tried to comfort her while questioning her, telling her what Achamian had already explained about Xinemus and his compulsion. Kellhus says that she was Aurang for a bit, which is why she felt like all those dark lusts were hers. He even says that is why Aurang tried to provoke Kellhus to kill her so she wouldn’t retain any of his secrets. But she argues that she felt them too strong. That they were her desires.

“Those desires weren’t yours, Esmi. They only seemed to be yours because you couldn’t see where they came from… You simply suffered them.”

“But then, how does any desire belong to me?”

She thought the dread building in her was knowing Xinemus was dying. She tried to convince herself after she learned of his death, but couldn’t. It was “too obvious for even her to believe.” Then Achamian moved out, giving her a new lie. But it, too, faded when she beheld Shimeh and believes they all will die here.

She dresses and learns Kellhus is wandering the camp without an escort. Once, Esmenet would have been fearful. No longer. She knows the Holy War is the safest place for him now. She heads out looking for him, moving through the nighttime camp, finding some still awake carousing or drinking. She bumps into an Ainoni and realizes he’s a former customer before she reunited with Achamian. She realizes from his smirk that he takes pride in having bedded the Prophet-Consort, revealing that Esmenet’s belief she had controlled her activities a lie. He grabs her arm, drunk, clearly looking to enjoy her again.

“Do you know who I am?” she said sharply.

“Yes,” he repeated, his manner lurid. “I know you…”

“Then you know how close you stand to death.”

A look of dank puzzlement. She advanced and struck him with an open palm.

“Insolent dog! Kneel!”

He stared, stunned, unmoving.

“Kneel! Or I’ll have you flayed alive… Do you understand?”

Terror breaks through his drunkenness. He blubbers for forgiveness. She contemplates having her agents find the man. Different ways he could be punished flash through her. She knows it’s petty, but she revels in them. She normally hated “the brutality that her new station had forced upon her.” She isn’t sure why she feels this way if it was his shame or his delight. “Or was it the mere fact that she could do these things?” She feels giddy knowing she’s Kellhus’s “vessel.”

She climbs the hills over the Meneanor Sea, thinking, and comes across Kellhus staring at Shimeh. He’s atop the ruins and contemplates joining him, but thinks it’s too risky considering she’s pregnant. Instead of seeming lonely, he dominates the situation as always. Without even glancing at her, he says she’s worried that he’s getting distant like he was before the Circumfix. She thinks he’s doing something dangerous, though she admits she’s trying not to. She asks why he’s here. He says he has to leave soon then offers her a hand.

With ease, he hauls her up to join him on the narrow ruin. She is dizzied by it and holds him, savoring his presence “as she always did.” She asks where is going. He answers Kyudea, which was the twin city to Shimeh, destroyed a long time ago. She mutters, “Your father’s house.”

“Truth has its seasons, Esmi. Everything will be made clear in due course.”

“But, Kellhus…” What did it mean that they had to assail Shimeh without him?

“Proyas knows what must be done,” he said decisively. “The Scarlet Spire will act as they see fit.”

Desperation welled through her. You can’t leave us.

“I must, Esmi. I answer to a different voice.”

She realizes it’s not her voice. “The things that moved her simply didn’t touch him.” She feels that they are moving through the heavens. He feels like a stranger to her. “The son of something terrible.” She asks if Akka should go with him as protection. Kellhus says he has to go alone and that he’s beyond needing Achamian for defense. Esmenet points out Achamian will want to know where he goes and Kellhus smiles and nods in that knowing way and says Achamian’s already asked. His levity makes her want to try, though she isn’t sure why. She finds herself kneeling before him, “playing out in pantomime what others did.”

No matter where they turned, men found themselves encircled by greater things. Usually, they ignored them. And sometimes, moved by pride and base hunger, they warred against them. But either way, those things remained just as great, and men, no matter how lunatic their conceit, remained just as small. Only by kneeling, by offering themselves as one might offer the haft of a weapon, could men recognize their place in this world. Only by submitting could they recognize themselves.

There was rapture in submission. The vulnerability of another towering overhead—precarious, like letting a stranger touch one’s face. The sense of profound communing, as though only those who acknowledged their insignificance could themselves be acknowledged. The relief of surrender, the disburdening that accompanied the yielding of responsibility.

The paradoxical sense of license.

Everything grew silent. She finds this moment euphoric and arousing. He laughs, helps her stand, and says he loves you. Though a part of her “gushed like an adolescent,” the old whore in her watches with “callused eyes.” She says she knows and he says she afraid, as all man are. She claims she can’t survive without him.

Hadn’t she told Akka the same thing?

He touches her pregnant belly and says he can’t without her. Then he kisses her. She holds onto him, not wanting to let go of him even as he looks away from her to Shimeh. She’s desperate and he knows.

“Fear for the future, Esmi, not me.” Fingers combed through her hair, drew tingling lines across her scalp. “This flesh is but my shadow.”

Kellhus reflects on how far he had come from Ishuäl and thinks he hears someone shouting his name. “How far had he come?” He had departed for Kyudea after sending Esmenet back to camp. He walks through hills and starts talking to the world, saying he knows the world can hear him. Wind answers him. He asks what he was supposed to do when they only attend “to what lies before their eyes.” If it doesn’t make them happy, they hurt it. They entrust “things unseen” to the world. The wind dies.

“What was I to do? Tell them the truth?”

He stooped, pulled a twig from the straps of his right sandal. He studied it by the moonlight, followed the thin, muscular branchings that seized so much emptiness from the sky. Tusk sprouting from tusk. Though the trees about him had died seasons previously, the twig possessed two leaves, one waxy green, the other brown…

“No,” he said. “I cannot.”

The Dûnyain had sent him into the world as an assassin. His father had imperiled their isolation, had threatened Ishuäl, the great sanctuary of their hallowed meditations. They had no choice but to send Kellhus, even knowing that they served Moënghus’s ends… What else could they do?

He reflects how he had mastered the three great weapons: faith, war, and sorcery. “He was Dûnyain, one of the Condition.” He followed the Shortest Path and yet “he had come so far.” He remembers weeping against Serwë’s corpse on the Circumfix. Thinking that, he takes off running across the broken ground.

He ran. Not once did he stumble, nor did he slow to determine his bearings. His ground was his… Conditioned.

Everywhere, all about him, one world. The crossings were infinite, but they were not equal.

They were not equal.

In the night, Kianene and Amoti hear a sound “like tapestries being beaten” moving across the sky. A shadow crosses the First Temple. Something inhuman watches. “It drank with its eyes, while its soul dreamed a million years.” It hates where it is, feeling like it is being cut.

Thorns. Its every glimpse speared like thorns.

The stone is weak. We could wash it away…

Do nothing, the Voice replied. Just watch.

They know we are here. If we do not move, they will fund us.

Then test them.

The creature is a Ciphrang named Zioz. It comes across a Cishaurim and attacks it, ripping the soul from the manling’s body and throwing the corpse to the ground. It thinks they are weak, but the voice says there are others. The Ciphrang speculates it might die, but the voice says Zioz is too strong.

Perhaps you will die with me… Iyokus.

Achamian feels “a pendulous absence” circling him and thinks he should wake up. He is dreaming he is Seswatha vomiting in the bowels of Golgotterath while Nau-Cayûti watches. The pair is still moving through the “endless dark” as they climb through new horrors.

Seswatha had heard rumors of the horrors of this place, speaking with Nil’giccas and hearing his account of fighting through the “horrid immensity of the Incû-Holoinas.” The Nonmen said 1 in a 100 Inchoroi died in the Ark’s crash, but they still had thousands left. Nil’giccas had warned the Ark “was an ingrown world.” A maze. You always have to be on guard in it.

Nau-Cayûti spots a light. They douse theirs and creep towards it across eons of detritus and filth. There is a swelling clamor. The passage leads to a mighty void, a great space. They are looking down upon a city in the bowels of the ship. “The steaming heart of Golgotterath.”

He [Achamian] should be awake.

He keeps dreaming of Seswatha staring at what he realizes is the hold of a vast ship where the city has been built in it. “Structures of mortise and hacked stones climbed their foundations, crusting their sides like stacked hornets’ nests, not dwellings but open cells, squalid and innumerable.” In it, they see human captives toiling amid Bashrag and Sranc while others. There are “open-air harems” where men, women, and children are used. Achamian again thinks he should be awake.

Screams and roars echo as Nau-Cayûti slumps in horror realizing that the woman he’s here for is down there. He attacks Seswatha demanding to know where she is. Achamian struggles awake at his point, realizing that his wards are trying to wake him up. He claws to consciousness and finds a Chorae dangling over his head.

“Some time ago,” the Scylvendi grated, “during all the empty hours thinking, I understood that you die as I do…” A tremor passed through the hand holding the string.

“Without Gods.”

Eleäzaras is watching the Ctesarat Tabernacle, the heart of the Cishaurim power, from his tent, Iyokus beside him. There are circles of blood painted around them. Tomorrow, he thinks, they will face their “mortal enemy.” Eleäzaras can’t hold back anything. He is employing demons. Iyokus retorts that the Cishaurim flee the Ciphrang. They have no Chorae up there but are summoning those who bear them to deal with the Ciphrang.

That was what Eleäzaras wants, for the “Snakeheads” to pull away some of the Chorae guarding the wall to defend them from Ciphrang, giving the Scarlet Spires a better chance in the assault tomorrow.

However, he disagrees with using such a powerful demon, a Potent, when a Debile would have worked. He thinks Zioz is becoming too strong. Iyokus is dismissive, saying all is well. Eleäzaras wonders how he’d become so cowardly and accuses Iyokus of recklessness.

Iyokus turned to him. Blood soiled his bandages where they pressed against his translucent cheeks.

“They must fear us,” the man said. “Now they do.”

Achamian is both terrified by waking up to Cnaiür and the Chorae and shocked, thinking he must still dream. Cnaiür demands to know where Kellhus is. Achamian begins to say he doesn’t know, but Cnaiür says he lies, that Achamian is his protector.

Please…” he gasped, tried to cough without raising his chest. The Chorae had become unbearable. It seemed his heart might crack his sternum, leap into its absence. He could feel the stinging of his skin about his right nipple, the beginnings of the Salt. He thought of Carythusal, of Geshruuni, now long dead, holding a Trinket above his hand in the Holy Leper. Strange how this one seemed to have a different… taste.

I was never meant to escape.

Achamian feels Cnaiür’s murderous rage. The Scylvendi warns he won’t give Achamian another chance. Achamian tries not to panic as he manages to tell Cnaiür that he won’t betray Kellhus. Achamian says he’s willing to die.

Cnaiür thinks then offers a trade. Achamian is shocked by this as Cnaiür puts away the Chorae “like a child with a well-practiced toy.” Relief floods him but he’s still confused and frightened. Achamian asks what they will trade and notes there are a man and woman in the shadows behind Cnaiür.

“Truth.”

This word, intoned as it was with exhaustion and a profound, barbaric candour, struck him like a blow. Achamian pressed himself onto his elbows, glared at the man, his eyes wild with outrage and confusion.

“And what if I’ve had my fill of Truth?”

“The truth of him,” The Scylvendi said.

Achamian says he knows the truth, but Cnaiür cuts him off, spitting out he knows nothing. Like the rest of the salves. Achamian protests his freedom, but Cnaiür says he is because “all men are slaves.” Cnaiür says Kellhus is Dûnyain with such hatred in the word. It’s a curse, the way Achamian thinks of the Consult. Achamian has never heard the word but knows it means Truth in a dead tongue.

“The tongue is not dead,” Cnaiür snapped, “and the word no longer means ‘truth.’”

Achamian remembers the first time met Cnaiür, Serwë, and Kellhus, and realizes that they lied. Cnaiür didn’t come on a wager. Achamian has to know if Kellhus also lied about dreaming of the Holy War. Cnaiür wants to know where he is, but Achamian insists on the Truth not willing to “barter untested wares.”

The barbarian snorted, but it didn’t strike Achamian as an expression of derision or contempt. There was a pensiveness to the man, a vulnerability of movement and manner that contradicted the violence of his aspect. Somehow Achamian knew that Cnaiür wanted to speak of these things, as though they burdened him in the way of crimes or powerful grievances. And this realization terrified him [Achamian] more thoroughly than any Trinket ever could.

Cnaiür explains that Kellhus wasn’t sent, but summoned, that he’s not unique, and nor is he a savior. He’s a slaver. The blood drains from Achamian’s face. He doesn’t understand, but Cnaiür continues on explaining how the Dûnyain have bred themselves for millennia until humans were “little more than children to them.” Achamian listens as Cnaiür explains it all. Achamian finds it too “naked not to be true.” He listens to Cnaiür talk about his experience with Moënghus, how Cnaiür helped to murder his own father while claiming he wasn’t willing.

“They see our thoughts through our faces—our hurts, our hopes, our rage, and our passion! Where we guess, they know, the way herdsmen can read the afternoon’s weather in the morning sky… And what men know, they dominate.”

Cnaiür continues his story how he helped Moënghus kill his father. To Achamian, only Cnaiür and the Chorae exist. Cnaiür explains how Kellhus’s “every heartbeat” wars against the world. He conquers and makes men into his dog.

“They make us love! They make us love!”

Kellhus runs through the wilderness. Jackals start running beside him. He outruns them and he seems to hear them ask who he is. He calls them their master as he runs off into the night. He begins laughing, though the humor was foreign to him. He finds saying “your master” amusing.

Achamian is shocked by Cnaiür’s words after the barbarian leaves. He is bewildered by what he is learning. Off-balanced, he struggles to think. He knows that Cnaiür plans to kill Kellhus, Achamian’s “final, greatest student.” Despite that, he has betrayed Kellhus even after seeing that one of the figures with Cnaiür is “dead” Serwë. A skin-spy.

You gave him up. The Warrior-Prophet… You told the barbarian where he goes!

Because he lies! He steals what is ours! What is mine!

But the world! The world!

Fie on the world! Let it burn!

“The beginning!” he cried. Please.

Achamian pulls out a fresh paper and redraws his map of events, the one he lost to the Scarlet Spire. He stares at Inrau’s name after writing it, feeling grief. Then he writes “THE CONSULT” in violent strokes. He gave up Kellhus to the Consult.

When he finished, it seemed he held the very same parchment he had lost, and he pondered the identity of things, the way words did not discriminate between repetitions. They were immortal, and yet they cared.

He crosses out THE EMPEROR and replaces it with CONPHAS. Achamian knows he has to warn the Holy War of the threat marching from the West. He adds new lines to the map, things he’s learned since escaping the Scarlet Spire. In a steady hand, he adds DÛNYAIN and connects it to KELLHUS. Then, as if spurred, he writes Kellhus’s father, MOËNGHUS. “The man who summoned him [Kellhus] to the Three Seas…”

He dipped his quill into his inkhorn, his hand as light as an apparition. Then, as though crowded forward by dawning apprehension, he slowly wrote,

ESMENET

against the top left margin

How had her name become his prayer? Where did she fall in these monstrous events?

Where was his own name?

He studies his completed map, unaware of how long. The Holy War rouses around him. He feels like a ghost searching for a secret in the ink. All these important institutes representing the world. Representing prophets and lovers.

There was no pattern to these breathing things. There was no encompassing thought to give them meaning. Just men and their warring delusions… The world was a corpse.

Xinemus’s lesson.

He connects all the names to SHIMEH, the “bloodthirsty city.” He draws the line last to Esmenet’s name, knowing that she needed the city more than any other except, perhaps, Achamian. After drawing it, he keeps drawing it over and over until, in a frenzy, he rips through the vellum.

For he was sure that his quill had become a knife…

And that flesh lay beneath the tattooed skin.

My Thoughts

Aurang is compared to a fallen angel. The Inchoroi are rebelling against the Outside. They don’t want to follow the rules but want to their own thing. They think they’re right. Prideful.

Esmenet’s having the same issue as Xinemus. She felt those desires of Aurang as her own. Even though Kellhus explains it to her, she still feels that violent lust for rape.

How can you have a sense of identity after something like that? Where you became someone else and felt everything they do. Where their desires were your desires. What does it say about yourself? How can you trust anything after that?

After that, she’s having more illusions shattered from the knight she encounters about her own sexuality. She thought she was taking from men when she was selling her body, but to a man, spreading seed is a primal motivation. He takes pride in having done it to a woman so powerful. To protect her ego, she has to lash out, to prove that she’s not that woman any longer. That she’s risen above him. She has every right to be angry though she’s shocked by how quickly she came to ordering his death. How much the power has already changed her. We all have those dark impulses in us. Murder lurks in every human’s heart, but we usually control those impulses. We are ashamed of them, often pretending we don’t have them. She is in a position to exercise those impulses, and she knows it. It’ll be a test of her character going forward how she wields that ultimate power.

She calls Achamian “Akka” to Khellus. She’s starting to realize she doesn’t love Kellhus. The possession has eaten away at her worship. She’s realizing that her voice doesn’t move him. Her concerns are not his. That’s not good for a healthy relationship. Then he seems like a stranger to her, something dangerous, and she instantly asks about Akka.

She kneels in supplication before her husband and thinks she’s just imitating worship, that she’s his wife. But this is not something a wife does. Not in a real relationship. She’s prostrating herself before her prophet.

More doubt seeps into Esmenet. She’s seeing Kellhus like a whore now, too. She’s growing cautious around him even as he’s manipulating her to get that giddy, lovey-dovey response. Then the realization that she had told “Akka” the same things as Kellhus. That she meant these words for another.

She holds onto him with desperation because the lie is slipping from her that she loves him. She was only infatuated and never formed anything deeper. How can she when Kellhus’s emotions are as shallow as they come.

Kellhus is almost praying to the world. To the Darkness that Comes Before. He isn’t sure if he’s doing the right thing. He is having doubt, but he can’t see any other way. Just like the Dûnyain who sent him despite the fact they were doing what Moënghus wanted. “What else could they do?” Not even the Dûnyain, even Kellhus, are self-moving souls. They are still bound by cause.

Now we’ll see what effect all those causes have had on Kellhus. How they have changed him from the standard Dûnyain. How the Outside has affected him. He’s like Cnaiür. He’s been nudged from the Dûnyain tracks onto something else.

Kellhus remembers weeping. He’s feeling it. That he’s not wholly Dûnyain any longer. His mission has changed. He has come to a decision as he takes off running across that he know thinks as his. He knows longer is following the Conditioned path of his father, but one of his own choosing.

What a cool way to introduce demon summoning. From the point of view of the demon thrust into this world and constrained by reality. It hurts it and has to obey the voice. It knows who summoned it, and is eager to hurt the summoner. Rumor has it, the Ciphrang you summon get to play with you in the Outside.

Iyokus, it’s going to suck when you die.

Then we switch to the dream of the true horrors of Golgotterath, the slaves, the rape-pits. It’s disturbing. It is a place of true evil. A true Hell, the place the Inchoroi want to escape from experiencing they have unleashed on those they dominate. It is a place where reprehensible atrocities are committed in the name of satiating selfish desires. That is all the Inchoroi are. They don’t control themselves. If they can brutalize you, they will and enjoy it.

Achamian wakes up from one form of danger to another. To another man who doesn’t control his desires. Cnaiür seizes what he wants, kills men to get it, and brutalizes those when he needs to satiate his mad urges.

We get just a tease about Ciphrang. Two different classifications. Potent and Debile. I hadn’t heard of that word before, debile. It’s an archaic word for feeble, where our word debility originates from. Interesting to call one Potent and the other Feeble. Such a glimpse into this one bit of magic. I’ll have to pay attention to the end of The Unholy Consult when Ciphrang are next employed in the series.

“I was never meant to escape.” A curious thought for Achamian to have at this moment. To escape the Scarlet Spire? Probably. Kellhus never expected to see him, moving into the seduction of Esmenet from him, causing all sorts of problems when Achamian returned. I am convinced Kellhus would have tried to convince the pair that it was only right for Esmenet to be Kellhus’s queen, instead it gave Achamian that wedge of anger that ultimately led him to reject Kellhus and for Esmenet to never surrender her love for Achamian but only to bury it beneath her infatuation with Kellhus.

Or, perhaps, Achamian thinks he should have died that day in the tavern of Carythusal, when Geshruuni spared him. He can’t think that he will escape the fate of the Chorae a second time. Not with Cnaiür looming above him.

This meeting is great between Achamian and Cnaiür. The reversal. The bewilderment. The discussion of Truth and what Kellhus is. The Dûnyain spared Cnaiür out of pity when he witnessed the man’s madness on the beach. Kellhus, a good Dûnyain, should have killed him. But even then, he was splitting off from Conditioned Ground.

Of course, Cnaiür wants to speak. Who likes to swallow a secret. Especially one that causes such harm. Cnaiür, for all his hatred, has come to like Proyas as a friend. He hates what Kellhus is doing and, clearly, he has had his fill of it. He’s out for vengeance. He’s ready to unburden himself. It’s like his deathbed confession. Time to get his sins off his chest before he crosses the threshold.

“What men know, they dominate.” There is so much truth in that sentence. The crux of humans. We crave knowledge so we can make order out of chaos. We seek to dominate everything around us for stability. Familiarity. So then we can indulge in our desires. Our passions. We take nature and divide into plots. We take plants and cultivate them into crops. We’ve breed beasts into pets and livestock. We tamed the atom because we understood it.

Kellhus running with jackals right after we have Cnaiür compare humans as dogs eager to obey their Dûnyain master out of love. A loyal pack trained to obey.

For the first time since Inrau’s suicide, Achamian begins acting like a proper Mandate. He’s had his faith in Kellhus destroyed. He was manipulated by Kellhus all this time to not report in on him. So he put aside his map. He didn’t use it. Now he’s redrawing it, seeing the new state of the world.

He understands as he connects Esmenet’s name to Shimeh why she has fallen to Kellhus. The promise of salvation. That same promise, of being freed from the sin of sorcery, had enraptured Achamian, too. Remember back in book two when Kellhus scraped away the ink in the scripture that condemned harlots like Esmenet. How she wept. How she surrendered to him thinking it was love, but it was really worship.

Shimeh is the representation of the lie of Kellhus’s divinity. He has promised them salvation and then lead them to commit terrible acts. They are murdering their fellow men out of a delusion. They are slaves to Kellhus and the darkness that comes before him.

Esmenet is his slave. She’s Achamian’s prayer, and Kellhus stole her. Now that the truth is revealed, Achamian realizes just how utterly betrayed he was by Kellhus.

Click here to continue on to chapter fifteen!

Hi, if you like my Analysis, you can connect with me on Facebook and Twitter, and you can pre-order my first fantasy novel, Above the Storm, from Amazon or purchase my short story collection! Also,  please leave any comments or criticisms below! They help keep me motivated!

To save the world, Ary must die!

Ary, a young man scarred by his past, is thrust into the dangers of the military. But he carries a deadly secret: the dark goddess’s touch stains his soul.

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

He must hide the truth from the other marines and the woman he loves. Can Ary survive the dangers of service and the zealous assassin plotting his death?

Are you ready for the action, danger, romance, and betrayal exploding across the skies Above the Storm!

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Review: Shattered Night (The Extraction List 4)

Shattered Night (The Extraction List 4)

by Renee N. Meland

Reviewed by JMD Reid

In a world where economic collapse has plunged even the U.S. into the third world, Riley, her boyfriend Cain, and her friends are returning from a mission to rescue Olivia from a life of forced prostitution in Italy. Thinking they found a safe place for Cain to recover from his injuries, instead, they find their new home under the control of the sadistic Keagan.

An old enemy of Cain, Keagan is eager to get revenge on the freedom fighter. Riley and her friends are going to have to find a way to survive in a town where all the weapons are in Keagan’s control. Can they buy enough time for Cain to recover before Keagan executes his plan of revenge?

Shattered night is the fast-paced conclusion of the Extraction List! This dystopian, young adult series is a wild read. The plot twists and turns as the fortunes ebb and flow for the heroes. Meland keeps you on your toes while the story keeps you reading.

This is the definition of a page-turner.

The characters are raw and real. The emotions punch you hard. This series is a must-read for fans of the genre!

Leave Me Lost is available from Amazon.

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Review: Skyward

Skyward

by Brandon Sanderson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

It’s hard being the daughter of a coward.

Spensa, a young girl living on an alien planet, wants to be a pilot like her father. An alien race known as the Krell have driven Spensa and her people to Detritus, a planet far from Earth. Three generations back, their spaceship crash-landed here while the incredible orbital debris keeps them pinned on the planet. As a child, her father was among the first to fight back.

Only in the middle of a pivotal battle, he fled.

Living with the stigma of his cowardice, Spensa wants to prove her own worth. She wants to be a pilot like him, but will her society let her? While they espouse equality and merit, will she ever truly be allowed to fight to protect her people?

Skyward is about a young woman struggling to get out from the shadow of her father. It’s a story about pain and loss, hope and duty. It’s a story about the resilience of the human spirit in the worst of circumstances, a tale of belief and faith. Is Spensa like her father? Will she be a coward, too?

Or can she make her own destiny?

This was a fast-paced and engrossing story. Sanderson has penned another excellent tale, this time in the science-fiction universe. It’s not the hardest science, the technology is never explained, but it’s well-written. It’s full of great characters and powerful emotions.

This is a must-read for fans of Sanderson and good stories alike!

You can buy Snapshot from Amazon!

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Review: Darkblade Justice (Hero of Darkness 7)

Darkblade Justice (Hero of Darkness 7)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

In Praamis, a series of strange murders are occurring and the king is blaming the Night Guild. Illanna, now leader of the guild, has to figure out what is going on and how to stop it. At the same time, the Hunter has arrived in his goal to destroy all the demons in the world.

Two years after the events of Enarium, the Hunter has found no lead on his daughter, but he is still hunting those demons who wanted to destroy the world. But will his presence in Praamis only make things worst?

Things spiral out of control. Will Illana and the Hunter clash while the real threat escapes their notice?

Peloquin is bringing his two series together once more. The Hunter and Illana are about to cross paths and meet. The stakes are high as they both blame the other for what is going on. This series has Peloquin’s fast-paced and exciting style, mixing characters you’ve grown to enjoy over nine novels and a novella.

If you’re a fan of fast-paced, exciting fantasy, you have to check out Peloquin’s series. He has created a rich world full of the possibilities. I’m eager to see where he goes next with this series!

You can buy Darkblade Justice from Amazon. Check out Andy Peloquin’s website, connect on Linked In, follow him on Google Plus, like him on Twitter @AndyPeloquin, and like him on Facebook.

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Snippet 3 – Reavers of the Tempest (Book Two of the Storm Below)

For all my amazing fans…

Here is a snippet of Reavers of the Tempest, the sequel to my dark epic fantasy novel!

Chapter Two

Vel stumbled away from the village of Shon down the road towards Camp Chubris, the bag of poison clutched in his hand. The turmoil of his emotions kept him from noticing the autumn-ripe fields he passed.

Well, he wasn’t afraid.” Chaylene’s voice echoed in his mind. Since her rejection, her words beat at the inside of his skull. “He loved me first. He loved me more than you did. Find another woman to love. You lost me. I’m sorry.”

The words whipped him to finally put aside his fear. Vel wanted nothing more than to possess Chaylene. He loved her. He burned to hold her ebony body in his arms, to run his brown fingers through her blonde hair, to feel the heat of her flesh beneath him as he took her. No woman had ever refused him. No woman had ever possessed his soul more than her.

He burned to have her.

He would have her.

He loved her.

And she loved him.

To get her, he had to murder his former friend. His cowardice had let the brutish boar seize her. She didn’t resist, thinking she possessed only one suitor. She’d made herself love Ary and now it was too late. Understanding shone through Vel’s mind as clear as the first ray of Riasruo’s sun cresting over the skyland’s edge.

Chaylene would never break her marriage vows.

She was too good a woman to soil her word. She wanted to. He could feel that fire burning in her, her ardor bleeding out of her. Beneath her pain-filled words, he felt her love. She wanted to drive him away to protect him from her husband’s brutal anger. She was trapped. To have her, he must widow her.

His hand tightened on the poison. I have to kill Ary, he thought for the dozenth time. It daunted him. For most of his life, he’d admired Ary, played with him, took joy in his company. Once, they were friends. It’s the only way. He’s a brute. He hurts her. She’s sad all the time. Wriavia’s right. The only way to have Chaylene is to remove her husband.

I’m saving her.

Vel had discovered a new friend in the Luastria merchant these last few months. Wriavia understood the pain gripping Vel’s heart. Like him, Wriavia had fallen in love with a married hen. He’d won her by killing her husband.

I’ll be doing Chaylene a service. She’ll be free of her vow. Free to love me and be with me.

I just have to kill Ary.

Memories of his childhood weakened Vel’s resolve. He, Ary, and Chaylene had been inseparable in their youth. Ary had dragged Vel to play games or skip school while an eager Chaylene followed. The trio ran through fields together, fought with sticks, played tag in the Snakewood, chased ducks up the Bluesnake, and fished by the Watch.

Then one night, Vel noticed Chaylene had developed into a woman. Painted by moonlight, she’d stolen his heart.

Ary had also noticed Chaylene’s changes. The bold brute claimed her, staking his plot with threatening looks and meaty fists. Vel tried to find delight in other girls. He seduced more than a few with his handsome smile and beautiful eyes, but never the girl he wanted.

Fear held him back. He always found reasons not to tell Chaylene how he felt. Ary scared him. Ary wasn’t the tallest youth from the farming village of Isfe, but doing a man’s work had given him shoulders as broad as a bristleback boar with a temper just as vile. Any boy who mocked Ary, repeating the accusations of his ma, would find Ary’s fist smashed into their face. He thrashed them all, even boys older than him. Ary lacked fear, shrugging off blows which should incapacitate him, battering his fists over and over, his face twisted in bestial rage.

Vel had witnessed Ary’s wrath clear as day two years ago.

*

The Skyland of Vesche – Neiddoa 7th, 396 VF (1959 SR)

Vel savored the wet heat he found between Iatlisa’s thighs and the way she trembled beneath him on the pile of hay in her father’s barn. She moaned into his lips, kissing him with aggression. The tightness in his britches swelled. She wasn’t Chaylene—no girl in Isfe compared to her ebony ripeness—but Iatlisa would do to relieve his ache.

His fingers sank into the girl, knowing she would—

“Theisseg’s cursed Storm!” a voice bellowed behind Vel.

His head snapped up. Fear congealed the molten passion pumping through his veins into goopy syrup. Thush Shardhin, the older brother of the girl quivering around Vel’s probing digits, stood thunder-faced over them, hands folded into meaty fists.

“Thush!” the girl gasped, pulling her sky-blue bonnet over her darkening cheeks. “Go away!”

“So this little crow can peck at your flower?”

Murder sparked in Thush’s gaze. Vel’s innards liquefied. With a curse, he darted to his feet and charged for the open barn doors beyond Thush. The older boy snarled and lunged at Vel. He ducked a hard punch and darted past Thush. Vel reached his full speed by the time he burst out of the barn into daylight.

“Veneth!” Thush bellowed, thundering after him. “Huchen! Get that slimy runt!”

Vel pounded across the farmyard for the lane that led to the Quarry Road and back to Isfe. His long legs carried him on swift strides. Terror constricted about his heart, convulsing in a frantic beat. Thush Shardhin’s clenched fists burned in his thoughts.

Heavy footsteps thudded behind him. More than one set. Vel risked a glance. Wished he hadn’t.

He groaned at the sight of Thush’s brother, Veneth, and their cousin, Huchen, racing in pursuit. The Shardhin boys battered every youth they thought even looked cross-eyed at Iatlisa. The risk sweetened the thrill of cozying up to her in the barn. To have bedded Iatlisa Shardhin without her brothers and cousin knowing put an ache in Vel’s root.

He ran with everything he possessed, the road ahead. Exertion’s fires burned in his thighs. A sharp ache stabbed into his side. A tangy, blood-like flavor filled his mouth as he gasped and wheezed. The drumming of pursuing feet filled his sails with a powerful wind. He pushed through the fatigue as the Quarry Road loomed nearer. He had to keep running longer than the lumbering boars behind him.

He risked a look.

Veneth Shardhin had closed to only fifty ropes, his meaty arms pumping as his thick legs stretched out before him. A choked whimper burst from Vel’s throat. Fear’s wind blew harder, hurtling him swifter towards the road. He reached it and darted to his right without thought.

The Quarry Road stretched out before him, the barley field streaking by as he raced in the direction of Ahly’s Watch. Not towards Isfe and Vel’s own house, but Vesche’s sparely populated edge.

He groaned.

The footsteps drumming on the hard-packed earth of the road sounded nearer. He threw another look. Veneth now narrowed the distance to ten ropes, his face burnished-bronzed, drenched in sweat. His rage swallowed any vestiges of humanity, leaving behind boarish fury.

“Riasruo Above!” Vel squealed like a piglet searching the muck for a sow’s teat to suckle. “Ary!”

He screamed the name of his greatest friend and the person he hated the most. Ary had Chaylene wrapped about his fingers. The blonde, dark-skinned maiden fluttered around him like a remora sucking on the belly of a mighty shark.

“Ary!”

The Jayne farm loomed ahead, its barley fields green with spring growth.

“Ary!”

His hoarse throat burned, fear strangling his words. The gate lay only thirty ropes down the road. He could reach it, dash up the hill towards the farmhouse. Ary could fight at his side. The brute possessed one good quality: strength. Ary feared no one, let alone the older Shardhin boys.

Vel’s heart thudded with hope. He focused on that gate. On his salva—

“Got you, sow!”

A hand clamped down on his shoulder, grabbing the coarse linen of his shirt. Cloth tore as the hand jerked Vel back. His feet came out from beneath him. He slammed into the ground at the feet of Veneth Shardhin. The back of his head cracked into the road, thoughts fuzzing. The older boy grinned, teeth stained, one missing. Hands formed brick-thick fists.

“Knock the slimy runt’s teeth out!” Thush Shardhin bellowed, lumbering up the road with their cousin.

“A-Ary!” Vel gasped as Veneth hauled him to his feet.

Vel raised his arms in a pathetic attempt to block the fist hurtling at his face. Terror squeezed his eyes shut. Pain exploded across his mouth. His head snapped back. His mind reeled, bouncing around inside his skull. He lurched, the world swaying around him. He opened his eyes; the drainage ditch beside the road yawned before him.

He gave a startled gasp and plunged into the muddy bottom.

His lip throbbed as brackish water swept over his face. It soaked into his clothing and filled his mouth with a sour broth. His legs refused to work right as he scrambled in the muck, boots slipping as he struggled to gain purchase.

“Rooting in . . . the pigpen . . . hey, sow?” Thush, doubled over and clutching his thighs, grunted through deep breaths. “Let me just . . . get my wind . . . and I’ll pummel . . . you.”

“Theisseg’s scrawny tail feathers!” Vel cursed. Blood trickled from his swollen lips as he cowered against the far side of the ditch.

“You ain’t getting away from us this—”

Veneth’s words cut off as a huge shape slammed into him from behind. Ary’s body slam sent Veneth crashing to his knees. Fists balled, he gave a bullish snort at the other two Shardhin boys moved to surround him.

“You don’t want any of this, Ary,” Thush warned as Veneth scrabbled to his feet. “That sow was diddlin’ our sister.”

“And?” Ary growled, facing the three older boys without flinching. His wide face grew as hard as the stony road.

The Shardhin boys charged.

Vel’s jaw dropped. He’d seen Ary fight, but never three at once. The Shardhin boys’ punches landed on Ary’s broad chest and thick arms. Ary staggered, protecting his face with raised forearms. They pummeled him from all sides, Vel flinching as he rubbed his split lip. They circled Ary like a frenzy of sharks scenting blood on the wind. Ary staggered beneath the onslaught. He bellowed like a harness-maddened boar, taking blows to his sides and back that made Vel wince.

The pain throbbing in Vel’s lip faded as he watched in fearful awe. It was inhuman. Ary should have collapsed to his knees. No one could withstand such an assault. He felt the blows—jaw clenched against the pain, grunting with each blow—but his body didn’t surrender to them. He withstood their punishment.

And fought back.

Ary threw a punch, catching Huchen in the chest. The older youth grunted, clutching his sternum. The attack left Ary open; Thush landed a hard blow. Ary’s head snapped back. Blood flew in a crimson arch from a broken nose. Cursing, pain contorting his face, Ary ducked a hard punch from Veneth and planted his fist into his attacker’s floating rib. Vel winced as the air whooshed from Veneth’s lungs. He bent over as Ary drew back and slammed his fist into Veneth’s temple. The older boy collapsed into a limp heap. Vel clutched his own right hand, positive Ary must have broken every finger he possessed.

Ary flexed stiff fingers as he turned. Thush’s punch landed in the middle of Ary’s back. He grunted, stumbling forward. A second blow hit him in the kidney. He gritted his teeth and howled like a boar, spine contorting backward. Huchen darted in. Vel’s stomach clenched as Ary staggered.

“Theisseg’s scrawny tail feathers!” Ary bellowed, somehow still standing. He punched. He slammed his fist into Huchen’s throat. The older youth stumbled back, coughing and choking. Ary rounded on Thush. They traded blows, Ary grunting as his body absorbed the punishment. He didn’t defend himself, but attacked. Vel flinched as if he received each of Thush’s powerful blows.

How can he take it? Vel asked.

Ary staggered, his body slowing, but he punched back, sustained by an inhuman inner fire. Ary’s frenzied onslaught drove Thush into a retreat, Ary’s fists landing over and over. With a hard punch to Thush’s chin, Ary sent the older youth sprawling to the ground in a spray of blood and spit.

Horror gripped Vel. He wanted Chaylene, ached to possess her, but if he tried, Ary would crush him with ease.

Bestial fury twisted Ary’s face as he flung himself on the prone Thush. Ary’s fists battered over and over into Thush’s head, mighty blows thrown with inhuman strength. He reduced Thush to mangled, swollen flesh spitting blood and teeth. Huchen, britches wet, fled down the road. Vel witnessed murder in his friend’s eyes. A rage seethed in Ary, a vast, black storm ravaging Thush. Vel dreaded unleashing it. He knew he wouldn’t survive it.

Vel cowered in the muck. I can’t ever let him know I love Chaylene.

“You okay?” Ary asked when it was over, Veneth dragging away the senseless Thush.

“Mostly.” Vel forced out a laugh, ignoring the sharp pain of his lips. He had to be Ary’s friend. He had to fake it. In that moment, soaked by the mud, Vel realized his path to Chaylene: doubt. He had to undermine Ary’s faith in Chaylene, chip away at his attachment.

So Vel asked, “Do you think she’s only marrying you because no other goodwife would let her son marry her?”

*

As Vel blinked out of his memory, bitter gall swirled through him. His first plan had failed. He never managed to chip away at Ary’s desire for Chaylene, the boar too dense to think about any of the needling questions or sly comments Vel made. By the time he realized Chaylene needed him to be bold, Ary had married her. His next path, seducing her, had also failed.

Chaylene’s own innate sense of honor prevented that.

Vel clutched the sack with the powder, feeling the poison through the felt. Wriavia had given Vel a third path. His stomach curdled with fear. He fought against it, pushing down the lingering traces of affection for his old friend. He needed to be strong to save Chaylene.

*

Wriavia winged through the skies over the skyland of Les, fleeing Shon.

His gizzard churned with bitter failure.

The night air flowed cool over his dark wing feathers left exposed by the simple, brown robe he wore over his downy body. He kept his scaled legs, a purple so dark it verged on black, tucked tight against his breast. Moonlight caught in the brilliant green of his eyes and highlighted the dull-red feathers circling his keen orbs. Pain throbbed at his throat, bruised by Briaris Jayne’s final attack.

Every time his gizzard contracted, it reminded the assassin of his failure.

He flapped every dozenth heartbeat to maintain his lift as he glided north, slowed by the pack strapped to his back. Beneath, the farms of southern Les drifted past, fields ripening towards harvest. On the horizon, a glow beckoned: the lights of Selech, a moderately sized town and home of one of the famed shipyards of the Autonomy. There, a century or more ago, the first of the rebellious Autonomy’s warships were built to challenge the might of the Vaarckthian Empire.

Wriavia’s talons clenched in frustration. He had come so close to killing Briaris Jayne. Desperation had driven him to attack after two months of failing to kill his target. Such an open assault went against his training. Despite the risk, he’d achieved surprise. Wriavia knew his talons had severed Briaris’s tendons in his opening attack, which should have permanently crippled the man.

And yet he rose and fought me.

His plan was simple, direct, and utterly inelegant. A diving swoop ending with his claws slashing down the marine’s back, buttocks, and thighs to disable him. Then he’d launched at Briaris’s wife, Chaylene, expecting to kill her with ease. But she’d surprised Wriavia. She fought with more skill than Wriavia had expected. The Luastria assassin did not realize Autonomy Scouts were trained to use their Blessing of Moderate Pressure as a shield.

There are definite holes in the instruction at the Aerie . . .

Wriavia pushed that thought away. It wasn’t the Skein of Adjudication’s fault he’d failed. Surprises happened in the field. A skein needed to be prepared to adjust to them, reacting to ever-changing circumstances.

And I failed.

Worse, the assassin was exposed. His throat throbbed again. Only the engine powering his shader, a cloak that shrouded the assassin in mist, had blocked Briaris’s sword swipe. But it had been destroyed by the blow, exposing his appearance. Chaylene had recognized him from the market.

Wriavia’s orders from the Bishriarch were clear: Briaris Jayne must die. But the Church’s feathers must remain clean. Now Briaris knew a Luastria sought his death. The Autonomy would flood southern Les to search for the attacker. For Wriavia.

Refuge waited in Selech. The town held a small Temple to Riasruo. The priestess would have to aid him. From there, he could send a letter to the Bishriarch and the Synod. He needed to warn the Church about his failure and potential exposure, though Wriavia could remember no clues to lead back to the Church. He possessed no insignia, adornments, or scraps of parchment mentioning either the Church of Riasruo nor the Skein of Adjudication. As far as Briaris could discover, he was simply a merchant.

A merchant who tried to kill him. That will spark questions.

Wriavia could do nothing about that, so he plotted his next move. Killing Briaris would be more difficult. In two days, the Dauntless would sail to Onhur to defend against Agerzak pirates in Thugri Sound. It would limit his options.

As he wracked his brain for new plans, he couldn’t shake what had happened in the fight. His thoughts kept sailing back to his plunging dive. He remembered his claws raking through Briaris’s back and legs. The Human’s blood still stained his talons.

I cut him. He collapsed. How did he move with severed tendons? He had one answer: I failed to sever his tendons. I missed my target.

The assassin clucked his dull-yellow beak in annoyance.

But how? I was so sure I hit.

Wriavia closed his eyes and pictured Briaris. He stood shorter than other males, but built like a stout wall. He wore the red coat of an Autonomy Marine, a sabre belted to his side—and not a bone sabre, but a looted Stormrider’s blade. Blue trousers clad his legs. His wife strolled beside him in her light-blue scout jacket, a simple bone knife tucked into her boot. Wriavia’s first swipe landed high, his left talons cutting through Briaris’s back and buttocks. But his right talons connected lower, a powerful swipe across the back of the Human’s knees.

I was so sure that’s where I hit. The assassin studied the anatomy of all the races who dwelt in the sky: Humans, his own Luastria, the lizard-like Gezitziz, and the mole-like Zalg. A deep cut across the back of a Human’s knees severed tendons necessary for standing.

Ary collapsed like Wriavia had expected.

The assassin had landed, flapped his wings to spin around and plant a solid kick to Chaylene’s chest before she could react. His main target disabled, Wriavia assumed she would die quickly. But human Females were not as delicate as Luastria hens. With her Pressure and combat training, she’d held Wriavia off long enough for Briaris to recover. Human bodies were built for labor. Wriavia possessed delicate, hollow bones. He moved with grace and fluidity that no Human could hope to match; he lacked the strength and skill to duel a pair of armed and trained warriors.

He’d fled.

“Failure doesn’t matter,” Wriavia sang to himself. “The past is lost to the Storm. Like anything that has fallen from the skyland, that moment is gone. I need to focus on the moments to come.”

Wriavia pictured his swooping dive again, unable to stop his thoughts from dwelling in the past.

It was only the sight of Selech’s gray buildings drifting below him that snapped him out of his looping memory. The horizon lightened to the east, the Storm growing pink as Riasruo prepared to rise and shine Her glory upon Her children.

“That is Whom you serve,” Wriavia clucked as he watched the growing dawn. “That is Whom you failed. She requires success.”

The town of Selech passed beneath him as he descended. It superficially resembled a larger version of Shon, the village near Camp Chubris. Only Shon had the look of a camp; its buildings housed the merchants, laborers, and whores were only occupied for three months, giving them an ephemeral quality, not quite permanent despite being built of wood and stone. Selech felt inhabited year-round. Permanent. The stone buildings with slate roofs spread out from the harbor before dwindling into the autumn-ripe fields which fed the inhabitants. Great shipyards dominated the northern end of the docks. Vast piles of white cedar logs, chopped from deeper in the skyland’s interior and carted to the shipyards, lay in thick stacks waiting to be hewn and shaped into the frame and decking of Vionese ships. Three ships lay under construction, the first only a skeleton, the mere suggestion of a boat; the second half was built, its hull coming into shape from its narrowing point at the bow to its wide stern; and the third neared completion. All three possessed the wide girth of a Vionese whaler, built broad to hold as much oil as possible. On the southern docks, fisherman readied to sail out into the skies on their small skiffs. The Temple of Riasruo, constructed from a yellow stone, lay on a bluff near the skyland’s edge, a promontory overlooking Selech. Blue and red coral grew up the skyland’s side, stopping at the lip of the cliff and the manicured lawn of the temple. A tower rose over the courtyard where the priestess would perform the yearly Rosy Prayer.

Wriavia alighted on its parapet, flapping hard to kill his descent. He folded his wings before stepping through the doorway. He descended the spiral stairs into to the main temple, greeted by the familiar scents of smoke and incense. He found the priestess and her acolyte in the Solar, the heart of the temple, lighting the braziers that poured sweet-scented incense up to Riasruo. They ringed the central fire pit laid with fresh logs for the Dawnsday service to be held in a few hours. Wriavia inhaled the sandalwood and myrrh, savoring the heady scents. The spice reminded him of home, the Aerie of the Skein of Adjudication.

Many different skeins existed, monastic orders Luastria drakes joined, dedicating their lives to Riasruo. Some served the poor, others helped the sick. The smallest, Wriavia’s, adjudicated any problems besetting the faith.

The priestess let out a startled chirp when she noticed him. Her red silk robes, proclaiming her rank in the church, rustled as she flapped her wings. She was approaching her middle years, the dull-brown feathers of her face groomed, her yellow beak waxed to a gleam. She fixed piercing, golden eyes on Wriavia and clucked, “Who are you? How did you enter the temple?”

“My apologies, priestess,” Wriavia said with deference, lowering his head. “I am Skein Wriavia of the Order of Adjudication.”

“Really?” Wriavia heard the doubt filling the priestess’s song. “Dressed like . . . that?”

“Yes, Priestess. I am on pressing business of the Synod and need parchment and pen.”

“Priestess Srioatrii?” the acolyte chirped, a young, handsome hen in orange robes, her purple-black claws clicking against the stone floor.

“Quiet,” chirped Srioatrii, her eyes still fixed on Wriavia. “Continue lighting the incense.”

“Yes, Priestess.” The acolyte moved onto the next brazer, clutching a smoking brand with the distal feathers of her right wing. The prehensile feathers operated much like fingers of a Human or a Gezitziz, allowing the Luastria to manipulate the world around them with delicate precision.

“Do you have any proof of your claims, Skein?”

“I’m afraid I do not. My mission is of the greatest sensitivity.”

“What mission could the Skein of Adjudication have here?”

Wriavia’s gizzard twisted as he readied his lie. To the outside world, the Skein of Adjudication was the least needed of all the monastic order, a vestige clinging to the skies. Centuries ago, when the Age of Isolation ended, a myriad of sects, many embracing heresy, had sprouted like the chaotic coral on the side of a skyland. The Church created Wriavia’s skein to bridge the differences and convince them to bow down to the rightful voice of Riasruo—the Bishriarch. Sometimes those sects proved stubborn. Other ways of adjudicating the differences were discovered; the first assassinations needed. Now his order trained to eliminate those who threatened the harmony of the skies.

“A heretical sect is rumored to be forming among the farmers of Southern Les,” Wriavia lied. “I was sent to ascertain the truth. I spent many weeks disguised as a merchant traveling among them, trying to win their confidence.”

“Heretical sect?” Srioatrii gasped. “My acolytes have heard no such thing.”

There were never enough priestesses or temples in the far-flung reaches of the skies. The Autonomy of Les-Vion and the Tribes of Zzuk had the smallest concentration of churches. Here, acolytes roamed between villages on circuits to preach, teach, and cleanse the sins of the common rabble.

“This sect doesn’t trust Luastria priestesses. The Humans are growing . . . mistrustful of us. They are jealous of the Luastria’s exalted position in our Goddess’s feathery light.”

Srioatrii’s head twitched from side to side, her talons clicking on the floor. “This is . . . disturbing.”

“I need to write my findings to the Synod,” Wriavia continued. “I humbly request parchment and pen.”

“Very well. Bwuoutria!”

“Yes, Priestess,” the acolyte squawked.

“Lead the skein to my study. When he has written the letter, head to the docks and find a ship to deliver it.”

“Right away, Priestess.”

Wriavia followed the slim acolyte from the Solar, ignoring her trilling, excited questions. In his mind, he’d already composed his humiliating letter. The acolyte ushered him into a small, round room with several perches for visitors before a wooden desk strewn with parchment. Shelves lined with religious manuscripts covered one wall while a window, looking out at the courtyard and several persimmon trees, pierced the other. Wriavia mounted the perch, stout wood thrusting up from a wide base. It had a thick dowel running horizontally through the top, allowing a Luastria’s feet to grip it in comfort. Wriavia folded his legs against his breast and shook his feathers as he settled himself. He’d missed having a proper perch in Shon.

“Do you require anything else?” the acolyte asked.

“Privacy. My words are for the Bishriarch and the Synod.”

The chick left Wriavia to stare down at the blank, yellow-white parchment before him. His gizzard threatened to rebel and expunge his stone. A tremble shook through him. But Wriavia knew his duty and reached for the quill. As it scratched across the paper, painting the large, flowing letters of Luastria script, Wriavia planned his next step.

I need to reach Tlele. The Dauntless will sail out of the port of Onhur. Hopefully, Vel will use the choking plague, but Briaris has Theisseg’s dark chance protecting him.

As he wrote, he plotted how to destroy an Autonomy naval ship. Wriavia would not fail again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To save the skies, Ary must die!

If you love the works of Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, R. Scott Bakker, and Steven Erikson, then check out my first ever Fantasy novel!

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