Weekly Free Short Story – Brother’s Shadow

Hi everyone! JMD Reid here! Every Saturday, I’m going to post one of my short stories for you all to enjoy! It’ll be up on my blog for a week before it gets taken down and a new story replaces it!

Enjoy!

Brother’s Shadow

17th Day of Honesty, 737 EU

Who am I?

A shadow?

He flexed his fingers, studying them in the light from a nearby diamond street lamp. The fingernails were chipped, dirt forming dark stains beneath the beds, the cuticles gouged in spots. They were slender, possessing a certain dexterity about them. His shoulders rolled and he bent his knees. Familiarity grew and grew in him. The clothing fit. The boots were comfortable, laced up tight. They were worn and scuffed, like the rest of his clothing. The trousers had frayed hems and were belted with a length of gray rope. Extra pockets, weighted with tools, were sewn down the thighs. A stained shirt, mended in several places, spilled over his lanky frame.

He nudged the dead man’s naked foot behind the refuse bin resting in the alleyway, hiding it from the main road. He straightened his back and nodded in satisfaction. Everything felt in place. The fight had been swift.

Over.

“Phred!” a voice hissed from the other end of the alley.

That’s who I am. Phred.

Phred turned and smiled to the even skinnier figure, a youth hovering between boyhood and adulthood, standing at the alley’s mouth. The newcomer had the same bulbous nose, readily identifying the pair as brothers. Their builds were the same: tall and lanky, their hair the same dirty-brown, though the younger had a lock of pure gold curling in the middle, a memento of their mother.

“Thought you might have bungled it,” Phred said, sauntering through the alley without a care of the dead person being noticed. “How long does it take to start a fire?”

“Not as long as it took you to give Cerine a tumble behind the Plucked Rooster last night,” said the younger brother. Nayton flashed a toothy grin.

Phred returned it. “Well, she’s a wet thing, ain’t she? Knows how to get a man’s seed flowing right quick.” He ruffled his younger brother’s hair. “One day, you’ll learn that. Have her callin’ out to the Colour of Virtue.”

Nayton scowled and stepped out of reach. “You know I’ve tumbled my share.”

“When you pay, it don’t count, little rooster.” Phred stretched his back. “So, we clear?”

“You shoulda seen those Gas House boys racin’ to save their favorite brothel. We got our opening.” The Gas House Gang worked in the heart of Kash. If they caught a pair of Roosters strutting in their territory, they would split the brothers’ heads open.

Especially considering their business in the prosperous district this night.

Phred nodded. “Then let’s yank out their short hairs.”

Phred sauntered down the dark street with a boldness. The cobblestones of the great city of Kash gleamed from the rain that had swept through an hour before. The air still held that oily tang clinging to it. He whistled as he walked, his younger brother racing to catch up.

They were burglarizing tonight.

It was a scheme Phred had been working on and off again for the better part of a year. Braffan Dacerin’s strongroom bulged with gold and gems. The merchant made his wealth importing the exotic goods of Tethry, Democh, Zal, and Ny’zil. He sold it to the nobles and even the king. He had wealth to spare, his home full of jewelchines.

He paid the Brotherhood for protection, and they used one of their local gangs, the Gas House Gang, to watch their client’s house and keep burglars like Phred from slipping in and taking his picking of a rich man’s nest. Phred didn’t mind angering the Brotherhood. They might control the heart of Kash, but he ran with Braglin’s Roosters.

Their gang didn’t crow to the Brotherhood.

The light of a diamond jewelchine street lamp illuminated the corner of the merchant’s house. It dominated the block. Music drifted from the rear garden where, this night, Master Dacerin showed off his wealth and extravagance to high society of Kash. Rumor held that the king himself might make an appearance.

The perfect time to slip into his strongroom.

Phred’s skilled eyes flicked along the shadows, searching for any sign of the Gas House boys. He didn’t see any eyes lurking in the shadows. Farther down the street, smoke rose. Nayton did good work, thought Phred. His younger brother was coming up. Sixteen and mastering the skills of being a proper burglar. You had to know when to be daring, when to be stealthy, and when to be smart.

They followed the side of the house. It rose three stories above them, built in imitation of a castle. The mortared stones of the wall were large, heavy blocks quarried and dragged to Kash. The windows were narrow, more like arrow slits than anything proper. The weather had pockmarked the stone exterior. Some of the mortar was crumbling. It was at least two hundred years old, built in a martial style that had long gone out of fashion.

“Where should we make our climb?” Phred asked as they reached the far corner. An alley ran here, darker, more cover from the bright diamond that illuminated the front of the house.

“You don’t know?” Nayton asked.

“Course I know. Wanna see if you got a set of helidors, or only obsidian for eyes.”

Nayton’s blue eyes flashed. “Course I got helidors. I can see far and keen.”

Phred nodded as his brother paused before a section of the wall, studying it. Helidors were used in jewelchines involving sight and detection. Phred wasn’t an expert on the science of gems and metals, possessing only the faintest ideas on how they could be fashioned to make devices; he just used them. Some could strengthen, some could heal, some could illuminate, and some performed more sinister tasks.

He was well aware of the obsidian blade tucked in his pocket. In Kash, in the entire Kingdom of Lothon, that was a death sentence to carry, but any burglar who had a polished mind carried one anyway.

“This is it,” Nayton said, his voice hardly heard over the party spilling over the garden wall. The house didn’t occupy the whole block. Two-thirds were taken up by a walled yard blazing with lights. The clear, bright shine of diamond jewelchines, and not cheaper candles, torches, or lanterns, bled from the garden. “Right here’ll be an easy climb.”

“Well, best get to it,” Phred said.

“Wot? You just gonna lounge down here while I go and do all the work?”

Phred shrugged. “Why risk my neck if you’re wrong? Get to climbin’. Burglar that chooses the route goes first.”

Elohm’s Bell tolled from the Temple of Seven Colours. The ringing toll boomed once. Midnight had arrived. Phred flexed his toes as his brother grasped crumbling mortar and began his ascent. His boots’ leather soles squeaked and crunched as he pulled himself up. Phred winced at the noise. The party’s music and revelry helped to mask it, but . . .

He shifted his shoulder, wishing he could see the fire. To know if the Gas House boys were still distracted or not. He ran a hand through his brown hair, smoothing it back. He felt the chill of the night deepening as the exhilaration pumped through him. He breathed in, smelling the sour musk from the alley.

Nayton reached the second floor and used a narrow window’s ledge to pull himself higher. He scrambled past it, working with surety. The route was the one Phred would have chosen. His brother had spotted it with ease.

Helidor eyes, he thought with a smile.

Nayton reached the small fence of wrought iron that ran along the flat roof’s edge, mimicking the barbicans of a real fortress, like those that ran around the Curtain, Kash’s old walls. Nayton rolled over the roof fence then twisted around and peered down.

Phred grinned and followed his brother up. He climbed up with confidence scaling a hundred walls had given him. He gripped the cracks in the mortar. His fingers were slender but strong. They were skilled. He had done this a thousand times. His boots had fresh soles. They gripped the crumbling mortar. Some burglars used expensive grip-gloves, jewelchines with fine emeralds woven into the leather.

Not Phred. He had better things to spend his money on.

He passed the second floor with ease and worked towards the third floor. Nayton watched, a big grin on his face. A slight pang twisted around Phred’s heart as he climbed higher. His fingers felt cold as he gripped the slick stone.

Then he was at the roof. He seized the wrought iron fence, each rod ending in a sharp, arrow-like point. He slipped over it with care not to catch his pants, or his flesh, on those spikes. He settled his boots onto the flat roof. His gaze swept over it. Six chimneys thrust up, five slender pipes of clay, one rectangular and made of brick.

“Now comes the hard part,” Phred said.

“That wasn’t it?” asked Nayton. “I set the Gas House boys’ whorehouse on fire. Almost got my head cracked in doin’ it.”

“Robbin’ a rich man’s strongroom’s like seducin’ a church marm. Can’t make a wrong move, or she smacks you up the back of the head.”

Nayton grinned. “Is that how you got that lump on your noggin last week?”

Phred winked at his brother before continuing, “We gotta take care. Watch your steps. Don’t make a wrong move. There’s a hundred people in the garden. Servants are movin’ through the house. The kitchen ain’t far from his office and the strongroom.”

Nayton nodded. He looked around. “Uh, not to question, but how we gettin’ in? We passed a buncha windows. Coulda kicked one in.”

“Probably wired to alarms.” Phred padded to the one chimney that was made of brick and thrust up from the southwest corner. “So, think you can fit?”

“Are you sellin’ crap as topazes?” Nayton shot a look of incredulity, the lock of gold hair spilling down his forehead.

“You’re skinnier than me. I got some grease if you need it.” Phred patted one of the pockets sewn onto his canvas trousers.

“Not lettin’ you do that to me ‘gain.” Nayton bit his lower lip. “Wot I do once I’m done?”

“Open a window.” Phred reached into his pocket and grasped the hilt of the obsidian blade. He pulled it out, the knife shaped from midnight stone that gleamed like smoky glass. Black iron wire, the forbidden metal, wrapped around the tang, forming a handle. Using obsidian went against Elohm and his Seven Colours teachings. Only Black didn’t come from the Lord.

It was evil, not that Phred much cared about the state of his soul. “Twas born in a hovel in the Breezy Hills up to my neck in muck,” he’d always joke. “Doubt Elohm wants my soiled soul noneways.”

Phred flipped the blade around and handed it to his brother first.

Awe kindled in Nayton’s eyes. His hand trembled as he reached out and grasped it, fingers wrapped tight. A shiver ran through him. His chest rose and fell. He stared up at his brother.

“Just don’t break it, you hear? Or I’ll stuff you in one of them round chimneys.”

“I won’t.” The younger brother said, his voice breathy. He slipped it into his boot on the inside of his calf. “I can do this.”

Phred ruffled his brother’s hair again, spilling bangs across Nayton’s forehead. “No, you won’t botch this. Now get to it.”

Nayton hopped onto the chimney. It was narrow, but so was the lad. Phred’s chest tightened as his brother’s legs disappeared into the hole. Then Nayton thrust his right arm in and wiggled his body. His left held the lip of the chimney. His chest then his head vanished, only the hand remaining. Then he let go of it and was swallowed by the chimney. This was the most dangerous part. Phred would do it himself if he could.

Let your Colours shine over him, thought the thief. It couldn’t hurt.

Fog drifted from the Ustern River, spilling over the streets while Phred waited, his heart almost in his throat. His fingers flexed. He stroked them, massaging away the growing chill of the night as he listened to his brother working deeper, grunting, groaning, sliding against the brick.

The sound stopped.

“I did it,” echoed up the chimney.

Phred moved back to the wall. He threw his leg over the railing and climbed down the side of the building to a window on the third floor. He braced for the clatter of alarm jewelchines bursting through the night. If his brother missed any wires . . .

Phred didn’t understand more than the basics of jewelchines. You wrapped the right jewel cut in the right way with the right type of metal wire, and it did things. It illuminated streets, locked doors, rang like windchimes, made automaton toys, or could create water. There were so many uses for them. Men made fortunes if they could find a new effect while others squandered inheritances in the vain search of the next revolutionary jewelchine.

Phred would rather just buy what he needed and steal the rest. All that work sounded far harder than clinging to the side of a merchant’s house with the tendrils of fog creeping over his fingers, the cold numbing the tips.

The window creaked open. Nayton’s head popped out, a boyish grin spilling across his lips, ash smeared across his cheeks and dusting his hair, staining that lock of gold with streaks of soot. He arched his eyebrows as he leaned back in. Phred shuffled over, grabbed the window frame, and slipped inside. He landed in a crouch into a room. A light shone from a diamond lamp set in the wall and encased in glass.

“That just turned on when I came in,” muttered Nayton. “Didn’t do it or nothin’.”

“They’re wired to that. Got them a helidor sensor, detects currents in the room or somethin’.”

A shiver ran through Nayton. “How do you deal with that if it’s attached to an alarm?”

Phred ruffled his little brother’s hair. “Come on, no dawdlin’.”

He closed the window and moved through the smoking room. There were several chairs covered in a cream brocade with darkly polished wooden frames. They sat around a marble table that had a wooden cigar case, probably fresh from the plantations of far Ny’zil, in the center. If there hadn’t been greater riches ahead, he would have been tempted to grab one.

He passed a shelf holding bottles of Onderian brandy, the amber liquid making his mouth water. At the door, he paused, listening. Distant sounds drifted through the house. He pushed the door open then strolled inside. He didn’t go at a hurried pace as he headed down the hallway, feet tramping on the roll of carpet running down the middle of the polished wooden floor. It was worked with scroll designs, the weave soft and muffling his step.

“Shouldn’t we hurry?” Nayton said, his voice low but cracking.

“Runnin’ footsteps will draw the servants’ attention,” he answered. “We need to blend in, not draw attention to ourselves.”

“Right, right, like seducin’ a church marm out of her knickers.”

Phred nodded.

They reached the dumbwaiter by the merchant’s bedchamber. Phred smiled and opened it, peering down the shaft. It went all the way to the first floor. He saw no issue in using it. He worked the rope, making sure the dumbwaiter was lowered all the way, then slipped his scrawny leg through the opening. It was wider than the chimney by a good handsbreadth. His lanky frame could squeeze down it.

Nayton would have no problems.

He slid down, the rope burning his hands. He passed the second floor and slowed as he reached the dumbwaiter. He rested on the box, its pulley creaking as it swayed. He listened and, hearing nothing, slid open the door and slipped out. He was by the downstairs kitchen. A hallway ran to his right. It led right to the study and the vault.

His heart quickened its beat. His fingers flexed against the exhilaration surging cold through his veins. His brother slipped out after him and the pair padded down the hallway. Phred could hear servants bustling in the kitchen. They prepared food and carried it out to the revelers. Phred felt the cooks and waiters moving behind them. If they came out the wrong door . . .

No helping that, he thought.

He examined the office door when they reached it. Nayton pulled out the obsidian blade. He touched the lock, an amethyst bound to the knob. A jolt of dark lightning rushed into the gem, animating the mechanism. The lock clicked. With a grin, he grabbed the brass knob, twisted, and—

Phred grabbed his brother’s wrist and pulled him back. Phred had noticed, just beneath the door, a faint shadow. Instincts screaming, he slipped down onto his belly, the hardwood floor cold against his cheek, and peered through the gap. A shiver ran down his spine.

A wire ran along the bottom of the door. There was another jewelchine tied to it.

“Elohm’s blessed Colours,” muttered Nayton after Phred whispered what he’d found. “Wots it leading to?”

Phred followed it to where it vanished into the frame of the door. He felt up the wood molding covering the frame, his instincts honed by many capers. His fingers slipped over the beveled molding until he felt . . . a section that was different. There was a gap. It was clever, matching the grain of the wood and covered by a bit of wax sealing it shut to make it look solid. He took his dagger from his brother and worked the delicate blade into it, popping off the small cover.

A helidor gem, wrapped in delicate aluminum wire, nestled inside.

“So just cut the wire?” asked his brother.

“Not the bit running off the bottom and down beneath the door. That’ll trip it off. Got to be the wire wrapped about the gem itself.” It was in a curious pattern, following some of the jewel’s facets and ignoring others. The shape of it all is what ensured it worked as intended.

Phred plucked one of the tools he carried out of his many pants pockets. This was a small pair of wire snips made of iron. He’d stolen them from a jewelchine mechanic. He exhaled all the air in his lungs to steady his hand. If he triggered the other wire, it would start ringing. He brushed a wire on the surface.

Nayton trembled beside him. His breath spilled over the back of Phred’s neck.

He caught a bit of the wire and snipped, severing it. The tension sprang back one end from the gem.

“There,” he said.

He rose, his legs stiff, and opened the door into Braffan Dacerin’s office. A diamond lantern burst to life in the ceiling. Just as the fired servant had described to Phred after an evening of buying cheap ale, it was an opulent room. Shelves lined the walls with a window draped in dark curtains. On the opposite wall, an iron statue of Boan Sword-Arm stood beside a small fireplace, his left arm ending in the famed blade that had slain the Darkling King and driven their ilk from the Stoytin Isles five thousand years before.

A wide desk of exotic hardwood from the Shattered Isles dominated the room. Several neat piles of papers and a ledger lay on it along with a silver quill and an inkpot. To protect the wood, a leather writing blotter was spread across the surface, a silver-plated letter opener lying on it. The chair pulled up against it was carved with the spreading antlers of the Stag of Lothon. They would frame Braffan’s head as he sat there. Behind him was the heavy iron door of the vault.

Trembling, he pulled out his absorber. Where an alarm made noise, an absorber did the opposite. It had aluminum wire wrapped around the helidor. It was the same gem used in an alarm, but the wires were bound around it in a different manner, forming a different effect. He placed it right on the desk and a deep silence descended.

He couldn’t hear his own heart beating blood through his veins, let alone the sounds of his brother moving. It was like his ears were stuffed with wool. It was a terrible feeling. It made his skin crawl every time he did it. He shouted at the top of his voice.

Heard nothing.

Nayton appeared before him, lips moving fast, his eyes wide. He smiled and then grabbed the ledger off the desk and slammed it down. Silent laughter peeled from his lips. Phred smiled at his brother’s amusement.

Then he faced the vault.

It was a new design using tumbler locks. There was a large dial in the center numbered from one to a hundred, each inscribed into the metal wheel. A knob thrust from the center. These types of safes would have alarms built into the very metal of the door. He could do nothing about those from this side, so he’d killed all the sound. However, that denied him one of the easiest methods to deal with a tumbler lock.

Listening to the pins clicking into place.

He would have to do this by touch. He pulled out his final tool from his pocket, a glove of fine leather with small amethysts in the fingertips. They were able to detect the faintest of motions. They had been invented for the inspection of foundations, feeling if there were any minute weaknesses that could lead to an old structure collapsing.

The man who’d invented it had been given a minor barony and owned a fine house by Lake Ophavin.

Phred knelt before the vault and flexed his fingers in the touch-glove. He grasped the dial and felt quivering through it. He felt the tiny vibrations caused by his brother’s movement. He turned around and glared at his brother capering around the room like a child.

He arched an eyebrow.

A sheepish look crossed Nayton’s face. He mouthed, “Sorry.”

Phred turned back to the vault’s lock. He turned it, feeling the tumblers moving as it clicked to 1.

2. 3. 4.

They felt the same.

5. 6.

He didn’t detect any shift in the pins.

7. 8.

He paused there. Eight felt a little different. A trap? He turned the dial again.

9. 10. 11.

He drew in slow breaths, feeling each click almost shake his fingertips.

13. 14. 15.

Sweat trickled down his brow.

21. 22. 23.

His head cocked to the side. He’d felt an audible pop on twenty-three. Something had definitely moved, not a trap but a pin sliding out of the way. He smiled. Twenty-three. He turned it the other way.

22. 21. 20.

He waited for that feeling, his shoulders shifting. A new vibration rippled through the floor.

Irritation flared. He threw his head around to glare at his brother and—

A metal sword flashed at his head.

With a soundless scream, Phred ducked low. The blade struck the vault’s surface, marring the finish. Sparks flared and popped without a hiss. He looked up to see the statue moving, flashes of emerald light bleeding through gaps in the metal plating, white glowing from its eyes.

A clockwork automaton? thought Phred in disbelief. The statue of Boan Sword-Arm was more than mere decoration. It moved, the heavy steps muffled by the absorber. The click of the gears inside animating its limbs were swallowed up by Phred’s own device. Powered by emerald gems, it followed basic instructions encoded into its diamond heart.

This one’s instructions were clear as it drew back its arm, the chisel-sharp point of the sword aimed right at Phred’s heart.

The burglar rolled backward as the arm lanced down. The weapon struck the hardwood floor, splinters flying. Phred felt the impact vibrating through his right hand planted behind him, almost hurting his fingers. The clockwork wrenched its sword free in a flare of green light.

Nayton shouted, mouth moving energetically, but no sound reached Phred’s ears. He felt the weight of silence around him. He could feel his heart pounding and his chest rising but didn’t hear that rush of blood through his ears or the ragged edge to his breaths.

The automaton swung again, driving Phred back. He didn’t know what to do. His only weapon was the obsidian blade, and that was a delicate object. Obsidian, the forbidden gem, could be shaped in ways the other seven couldn’t, but it lacked their strength. It could betray its owner at any time.

Another soundless swipe.

A wordless scream of fright bubbled from Phred. He leaped back and slammed into the wall. He felt cold stone behind him. He trembled, seeing his own reflection in the polished surface of the automaton’s sheet metal chest, sculpted to appear muscular, abs rippling, pectorals defined. Phred’s own face, twisted with fear, arrested him for a moment.

Bulbous nose centered on a round face. Blue eyes wide. Dirty-brown bangs falling over his pale forehead. Lips thick. A shadow of stubble around his cheeks.

Who am I? flashed through Phred’s mind.

The automaton drew back its sword.

Before death could flash, movement flowed behind the automaton. Something struck it. The clockwork stumbled a step forward, emerald light bursting through its joints as it turned around to face Nayton holding a wrought iron poker. A dent marred the back panel of the automaton, a long crease.

Phred cried out his brother’s name. The absorber swallowed the sound.

The automaton advanced in heavy silence. The green light bled through the room, splashing across items. Its sword swung, catching the fireplace poker and throwing it from Nayton’s scrawny hand. Fear burst across the youth’s face.

Terror surged through Phred. Flashes of a life burned through his mind. A young boy beaming to an older brother over a tin soldier purloined from a toy store. Racing through the slums, two front teeth missing, cheeks smudged with soil. Life burned in those eyes. In his laughter.

Phred grabbed the nearest object at hand, the heavy chair behind the desk. He screamed out his silent fury as he charged across the room. Nayton tumbled back. The sword crashed into a shelf, cutting through books and scattering them to the floor.

Phred slammed the chair into the clockwork’s back. Wood exploded into fragments. Stuffing from the cushion burst like fluffy snow. It danced around him as the automaton turned on silent hinges. The sword stabbed through the wreckage.

Instincts beyond Phred’s own animated him. He flowed back like water, feet sliding across the floor, the sword slicing past his chest. He stepped on a book. The shifting cover, the spine bending, caught Phred off-balance.

Even with enhanced reflexes, he fell as the automaton pivoted, landing hard on his side. An armored foot kicked out. Metal slammed into Phred’s floating rib. Air exploded from his lungs as he tumbled across the room. His ears begged for sensory input as he crashed into the desk. He let out a silent groan, feeling his heart pounding as he yearned for the sound of rushing blood.

The sword stabbed down at him as books, hurtled by Nayton, pelted the clockwork. Pages burst from spines and danced through the air. Phred saw death come from him. He was against the desk. Nowhere to dodge. All he could do was grab one of the heavy books which had landed by him.

He thrust it up before him; an improvised shield.

The shock of impact jarred his arm. The blade sank into the book. The chiseled tip burst out of the leather cover, poking only a fingerwidth or two from the book, blunted by hundreds of layers of parchment. Phred shuddered, relief darting through him as the automaton pulled back its blade.

He had his chance.

He darted to the right. The next blow slammed down, cutting through a throw rug and gouging the hardwood floor. The tip of the sword bent from the impact. Green light gleamed off its edge as Phred darted towards the vault and pressed against it.

He had to think of something.

Nayton threw himself at the clockwork with the bravado of youth. He landed on its back, arms going around the neck. He tried to wrench the head off, pulling at it. Green light bled through the gaps in the joints, bleeding from the inner works of it where the jewelchines that powered the gears and widgets controlled the clockwork.

Jewelchines that have delicate wires . . .

He drew his obsidian blade and rushed at the clockwork as it thrashed. His brother flew from the heaving automaton in a soundless howl and crashed into a fresh bookshelf. He rebounded, landing on his stomach. An avalanche of knowledge crashed down on him.

The automaton turned and thrust its blade at Phred.

Those instincts he couldn’t have learned animated Phred again. He flowed faster than possible. Power burst through him, a flare of resonating energy that molded his flesh. The sword flashed past his head as he thrust his obsidian blade up and into the armpit joint. He churned it around, feeling it striking internal workings. The arm moved to strike him.

The obsidian cut something. He felt a wire snap.

The sword arm went limp.

The statue’s right hand barreled at Phred in a punch. He raised his arm to block, jerking the obsidian blade out of the joint. The fragile end snapped a moment before the fist slammed into his forearm. Pain flared up his body. He staggered back.

The clockwork’s sword arm sagged by its side, the tip dragging on the ground. It stomped forward, drawing back its right fist again. Phred threw down the ruined dagger. He needed something else. Long. Sharp. Something that could reach in deep.

Movement caught his attention.

His brother, waving a frantic arm, held the silver letter opener from the desk. Phred nodded. He ducked a punch and rolled to the side of the clockwork, coming up behind it. His brother tossed the knife, an underhand throw. Its arced point towards the ceiling, handle coming closer to Phred.

He focused on it.

Caught it.

He whirled around—

The fist cracked into his chest. Ribs broke. The letter opener flew from his hand. The blow threw him off his feet. He landed hard. Those resonating, topaz energies pulsed through him as stars danced across his vision. He coughed, gasped, making no sound as the automaton loomed over him. A foot raised.

Nayton appeared, letter opener in hand. He stabbed it into the hip joint, working it around. The leg went still. The automaton shifted, off-balance. With a soundless crash, it hit the floor, good arm and leg thrashing as it struggled to right itself. But Nayton was on it, digging the sharp blade of the letter opener into the clockwork’s neck joint.

A flare of white light burst out of gaps around the chest plate. The entire thing went still.

Nayton panted, his face flushed. He rose and stumbled to Phred, lips moving. Blinking, Phred focused, trying to read them, to understand what they said. The boy reached Phred, dropping the letter opener.

Then Phred understood the gist of Nayton’s lips. He nodded and sat up. The broken ribs were mending fast. “I’m fine!” Phred said soundlessly to his brother. “Not that bad.”

Nayton nodded, offering a hand. Phred took it. He had a safe to crack.

He snagged the letter opener. With his obsidian blade snapped, he needed a replacement to finish the job. He shoved the silver knife into his back pocket before stumbling to the vault door, wincing against his sore chest. He flexed his fingers, glad the touch-glove felt intact so he could complete his mission.

He set to work. In all, the tumbler lock had five pins he had to find. He focused on turning the wheel, not paying attention to anything else but the feel of pins. He teased out each one bit by bit until he felt that shuddering click of the lock springing open.

He spun the wheel beside the tumbler, retracting the locking bars that thrust out on all sides of the vault door to hold it closed. Then he yanked the heavy door open. He imagined the groaning creak it must make. On the back of the door, alarm jewelchines flashed yellow. They would have made a racket.

I’ll have to leave behind the absorber, Phred thought, surprised by how much he regretted that.

Nayton darted through first. He stopped in the middle of the strongroom, his eyes dashing around, staring at the sight of all the gold beams, the highest denomination of coins, stacked on top of each other. There was more than coins. Books with information, stacks of bonds and promissory notes worth even more money than any of the coins, deeds to properties, boxes holding rare and exotic goods such as narshark ambergris and Darkling silk.

From a pocket in his pants, Nayton produced a canvas sack and began piling the coins into them, joy on his face. He smiled like he had the day Phred had given him the tin soldier. The sight stabbed guilt into the older brother.

He had his mission. No matter how much he loved Nayton, the mission came first.

He drew the letter opener and struck.

The knowledge on where to precisely stab wasn’t something Phred knew. Like with the extra speed and the mending ribs, it came from beyond the young burglar. The letter opener’s sharp point passed between the fifth and sixth ribs to strike right into Nayton’s heart, stopping it, killing the flow of blood.

The youth went limp.

The bag of coins fell from his grip in a soundless clatter, spilling dancing discs across the stone floor. Nayton’s eyes widened in betrayal as Phred caught his dying brother, holding him. Nayton struggled to move his mouth.

Compassion stirred Phred. This was his brother he held dying. Nayton didn’t deserve to leave this life thinking his brother hated him. His soul deserved to be as free from as many burdens in his life as possible. Maybe he would rise up to the embrace of Elohm’s Colours instead of dragged down into the blackness.

Phred stopped being Phred.

The lank, brown hair melted from Phred’s head. It spilled off around him, shed. The flesh of his face softened even as the hue of his skin faded from the light-beige of a Lothonian to a pasty, milky white, almost the color of an albino. Lips became thick and waxy. The nose shrank to just the impression of one with tiny slits for nostrils. No distinct cheekbones or chin. Just the suggestion of a human face, the gender impossible to tell. Clothing grew loose as the frame grew slender, almost delicate.

Nayton’s lips moved. A question asked.

“No One,” answered the thing who had masqueraded as Phred.

Nayton died.

With care, affection lingering in No One’s mind as the memories he’d stolen from the real Phred bled out of it, the thing lowered Nayton’s body to the vault’s floor. Blood pooled out of the wound, soaking the youth’s shirt. The hem had ridden up, exposing a hint of his stomach and the rooster tattooed there in crude reds and blacks.

A sign that the Brotherhood couldn’t protect Braffan Dacerin’s vault from the outer gangs.

No One rose, the loose clothing rustling about its body. It would have shed a tear if it could, but Phred was fading faster and faster. All those memories were fleeing its mind like shadows retreating from the dawning sun.

No One grabbed the two ledgers bound in leather from the vault’s shelf. No One didn’t care why it had been sent on this mission.

It didn’t question. It didn’t think. It only mimicked.

No One scooped up a bag of coins then gave a final, sad glance to the boy caught up in grand events before slipping out of the vault. The office window was easy to open from the inside. It didn’t care about triggering the alarms. The absorber was still active. It thrust a slender leg, almost bony, through the window, a milky ankle flashing between pants and shoe. In moments, sound assaulted its ears again.

It felt strange to hear now. Who are you? echoed in its mind, spoken in Nayton’s voice.

No One hurried through the dark streets. The Gas House boys were still busy putting out the brothel fire, their dereliction another blow to the Brotherhood’s support. No One didn’t know what that meant. Didn’t care.

It returned to the alley where the real Phred lay dead. As instructed, it dropped a few coins around the burglar. As it stared at the corpse, No One cocked its head. It needed to become someone else.

Who am I? wondered No One. The shadow of a brother?

A final memory burst in its mind. Phred handed a tin soldier to a smiling child.

Flinching, No One shook its head and settled on a safe identity. One with no bad memories. Color returned to its flesh, arms growing thicker, stronger. The jewelchines implanted through its body molded it, shaped it, transformed it into a brawny young man named Carstin.

Who am I?

No One.

Carstin whistled as he walked through the night, the ledgers tucked beneath his arms, the sack of gold rattling from his other hand. He headed to the docks and the rendezvous with his employer. He felt good about succeeding at another mission.

Only a shadow deep inside of him grieved for two brothers.

The END

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If you enjoyed this story and like to support my writing, you can leave a review or buy  Brother’s Shadow from Amazon, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon GermanyAmazon Japan, Amazon Italy, Amazon Spain, Amazon France, Amazon NetherlandsAmazon India, Amazon Brazil, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and Smashword!

Brother’s Shadow takes place in my Jewel Machine Universe! No One will appear in my upcoming The Secret of the Jewels series!

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

Death rides in the Cyclone!

The demonic Stormriders are the greatest threat…

…to the people whose lives they’ve ruined. Do the riders have a weakness?

Ary knows their danger first-hand. As a child, they broke his family. Now he has a choice to make. Can he find a way to defeat them when so many before him have failed?

When the storm clouds come, what will Ary do?

You’ll be enthralled by this epic fantasy story set in the skies above the Storm because the characters will keep you hooked.

Fans of exciting and adventurous fantasy will fall in love with this story because of the great characters.

Get it today!

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Review: House of Chain (Malazan Book of the Fallen 4)

House of Chain (Malazan Book of the Fallen 4)

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

A giant barbarian, arrogant in his abilities, begins a journey of bloody rampage. He wishes to relive his grandfather’s epic journey and show the strength of his people. He’s about to learn that history isn’t what he thinks.

In the Holy Desert, Felisin Paran has been reborn as the apocalyptic Shrike, an avatar for a vengeful goddess. To gain her own revenge on the sister that sold her into slavery, she surrenders everything she has. Around her are a host of men plotting how to use her power for their own benefit while the desert tribesmen ache to unleash the fury of her power on the Malazan Empire

Crokus has lost his innocence. No longer a youth, he’s now an assassin called Cutter. To keep walking beside Apsalar’s side, he forces himself to become what she is. But is that what she wants from him? Has he stepped onto a path that will change everything for him.

Fiddler, re-enlisted in the Malazan army, lands with the newly formed 6th army under the command of Tavore Paran. With him is a group of veterans and new recruits who will have to march into the desert and battle the Army of the Apocaylpse and avenge Coltaine and his massacre outside the walls of Aren. However, the new army’s start is beset with dire omens. How will they fare in the desert?

Will they meet Coltaine’s fate?

In the Holy Desert, gods, ascendants, and mortals are thrown together in a clash that will change everything as the Chained God makes his bid to seize power. So many storyline are woven together in this book. Storylines criss and cross. Erickson weaves them all into a vast tapestry built on the foundation of the weight of history.

If you’ve been reading Malazn Book of the Fallen, then you know what you’re in for. Many of your favorite characters are back for the next chapter in the bloody history of the Malazan Empire. Everyone has their own agendas. Their own tales that mix together to form this outstanding book. It’s riveting to read, drawing you on the final showdown between two sisters.

Felisin wants revenge on her sister Tavore never knowing that Tavore’s plan to protect her went so wrong in Book Two. Now they are dragged by the chains of fate to fight each other. Only one shall survive in this tragic tale.

You can buy House of Chains from Amazon.

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Review: The Thousandfold Thoughts (The Prince of Nothing Book 3)

The Thousandfold Thoughts (The Prince of Nothing Book 3)

by R. Scott Bakker

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Holy War has bent knee before Kellhus, proclaiming him the Warrior-Prophet. Thanks to their renewed fanaticism, the siege of Caraskand has been broken. Nothing stands between them and their final march on Shimeh.

Achamian has to adjust to the new reality. His wife, Esmenet, is now Kellhus’s. After thinking he died, she was seduced by the Dûnyain and is pregnant with his child. Believing Kellhus is the Harbinger, the only hope for humanity against the Consult and the threat of the return of the No-God, he swallows his hatred and tries to fight his desire to reclaim his wife.

Conphas is the only great name that still defies Kellhus. He is forced to surrender his legion’s weapons and be interred at Joktha under the brutal watch of Cnaiur. The Scylvendi barbarian knows the truth about Kellhus and realizes he has been put into a trap. If he doesn’t kill Conphas, the Nansur prince will plot and scheme, but if Cnaiur does kill the man, he’ll lose his own life in the backlash of Conphas’s loyal legions.

Around them all, the Consult studies, struggling to understand just who this Kellhus is and what to do about him. They see one tool that will be useful. One tool that can help them destroy the Warrior-Prophet once and for all.

Kellhus’s father awaits him near Shimeh. The Dûnyain’s original mission still needs to be completed. What will happen when father and son reunite? Will Kellhus discover he’s merely a pawn in a greater scheme himself, or will his trials prove too much for even one of his conditioning?

The Thousandfold Thought is the conclusion of the first series in Bakker’s ambitions Second Apocalypse Megaseries. The book does not hold your hand. Bakker philosophy abounds, unveiled on every page mixed in with the poetry of his pose. The entire series has been building towards the moment when Kellhus and Moenghus meets. The fate of the world pivots on the relationship between father and son.

Characters are tested. Some are broken while others finds strength in them they never knew they had. Passions clash. Betrayals and mistakes lead to devastation while chance and misfortune afflict others. No one comes out of the crucible of the Holy War and Kellhus’s manipulation unchanged. The story is gripping. The stakes are high. Bakker has shown himself not adverse to maiming, breaking, and killing characters.

None are safe. The tension has never been higher as the assault on Shimeh begins. Love, religion, vengeance, and more clash and swirl in the conclusion of The Prince of Nothing.

When you finish this book, you’ll want more. You’ll want to know what happen next. You’ll be eager to plunge into the Judging Eye. Bakker’s writing is engaging, enthralling, and enlightening in turns. It will leave you in awe, keep you at the edge of the seat, and have you weeping.

The human soul is laid bare in Bakker’s epic fantasy story!

You can buy Thousandfold Thoughts from Amazon.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Prologue

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Prologue

Welcome to the Prologue of my reread. Click here if you missed the Introduction!

When a man possesses the innocence of a child, we call him a fool. When a child possesses the cunning of a man, we call him an abomination. As with love, knowledge has its season.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

Wow, a warning about Kelmomas? He is introduced in this prologue. He’s certainly an abomination.

It’s nice to have Ajencis start us off. After quotes of Achamian’s Compendium of the First Holy War, quotes from The Third Analytic of Men were among the most common. It’s like a welcome sight at the start of this new series. Yes, this is continuing. We’re going to be diving into dark and difficult subjects wrapped up in the guise of a fantasy story.

Knowledge is something you have to gain over time. Having it too early is atypical and not gaining it as you age is disappointing. We do not like things that differ from the norm. We like predictable things. Children may be smart but lack knowledge, and adults may be dumb but possess it. The familiarity is comforting.

The opposite provokes a reaction. So, Kelmomas is the child with too much intellect, so who is the fool?

Samarmas. He might not be an adult, but he’s Dûnyain. The only child of Kellhus that has a normal intellect. And to Kelmomas, that makes him a fool.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

A horn pealed long and lonely beneath the forest canopies. A human horn.

For a moment all was quiet. Limbs arched across the imperious heights, and great trunks bullied the hollows beneath. Shorn saplings thatched the intervening spaces. A squirrel screeched warning from the gloom of interlocking branches. Starlings burst into the squinting sky.

They came, flickering across bands of sunlight and shadow.

The Sranc come running wearing armor and shield decorated in human trophies: teeth, skin, fingernails, and more. They smell mannish blood and spill their black seed on the ground. Their scouts have reported what they can smell. “It had been so long since they had glutted their rapacious hunger.” They are eager to kill and rape.

They ran, weeping for joy.

They spot their prey. The Sranc charge across the ground. Just as they are about to fall on the men, the ground collapses beneath them. They fall into pit traps. Some manage to stop in time, shocked by what has happened. They stare “in lust and apprehension” at their prey.

Men.

A hard-bitten handful, running as though by magic across the forest floor. They lunged into the Sranc’s midst, their heavy swords high and pitching. Shields cracked. Mouldered iron was bent and broken. Limbs and heads were thrown on arcs of glittering blood.

The Men roared and bellowed, hammered them to earth, hacked them to twitching ruin.

Later, a lone traveler cries out, “Scalper.” They all turn to face him and the traveler thinks they’re like animals. He threads through the slaughtered Sranc, passing one “white as drowned fish, floating face down in a pool of translucent red.” The traveler notes the ambush was very successful with many Sranc killed. He approaches the scalpers taking their grisly trophies with efficiency. A Galeoth washes the scalps off in a stream, treating them with the same care like they were gold. Even with the lowering of the Hallow Bounty offered by Kellhus, they still were worth money.

All the scalpers watch him even as they pretend to indifference. It was unusual for an outsider to find them in the wilderness. “This work, the work of collecting and counting, was the least manly portion of their trade.” Their shameful secret.

It was also the point.

Nearly eleven years had passed since the Aspect-Emperor had declared his bounty on Sranc scalps, before the last of the Unification Wars had ended. He placed the bounty on Sranc because of their vast numbers. He placed the bounty on scalps because their hairlessness made them distinctive to Sranc. Men such as these, the traveller supposed, would be far happier poaching something less inclined to kill back—like women and children.

So began the Scalping Years. Over that time, countless thousands had trudged into the northern wilderness, expedition after expedition, come to make their fortune as Scalpoi. Most died in a matter of weeks. But those who learned, who were wily and every bit as ruthless as their foe, prospered.

And some—a few—became legendary.

The traveler has come looking for one such legend. He studies the man who is dressed in the “traditional costume of his caste and race” only his armor and clothing ripped and rusted, soiled. The man is an Ainoni known as Ironsoul. The man the traveler judged to be him says it and the traveler bows out of respect to a Veteran of the First Holy War. It’s a crime not to “venerate a survivor” of that conflict.

“How did you find us?” the man asked in his native tongue. From the cadence of his voice, it was obvious that he despised speaking, that he was as jealous of his voice as he was of his women or his blood.

The traveller did not care. Men prized what they would

“We find everyone.”

A barely perceptible nod. “What do you want?”

The Ainoni glanced back towards his cowled companion. No words were exchanged, only an inscrutable look.

Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

Ever do Men seek to hide what is base and mean in their natures. This is why they talked of wolves or lions or even dragons when they likened themselves to animals. But it was the lowly beetle, the young boy decided, who they must resembled. Belly to the ground. Back hunched against the world. Eyes blind to everything save the small circle before them.

The boy, Anasûrimbor Kelmomas, follows the beetle scurrying across the floor in the wake of his Whelming. Prayers drift through the temple’s columns as he is curious to where the beetle is going. The beetle leaves a trail in the dust and obliterates it as the beetle leads to the statue of Ajokli, the Four-Horned Brother.

“The Thief?”

Kelmomas is not impressed. Ajokli’s godhouse is a poor one compared to the other gods, his brothers and sisters. It’s a statue carved from black diorite to look like a fat man crouching over to chamber pot. He has no jewels or precious metals. Kelmomas finds the expression inhuman. “Grinning like a monkey. Snarling like a dog. Staring like a dew-eyed virgin.”

It [the statue] also watched the beetle as it scurried into its gloomy bower.

Kelmomas follows the beetle and mocks the statue by mimicking its posture by crouching over the beetle. Then he grabbed the insect. “It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” He anticipates killing it, knowing he could do it easily and enjoying his power. He rips off two legs and tells the statue to watch. He sets the beetle back down. Missing two legs, it moves in a circle.

See?” he exclaimed to Ajokli. They laughed together, child and idol, loud enough to blot out the chorus of chanting voices.

“They’re all like that,” he explained. “All you have to do is pinch.”

“Pinch what, Kelmomas?” a rich, feminine voice asked from behind him. Mother.

Another boy would have been startled, even ashamed, to be surprised by his mother after doing such a thing, but not Kelmomas. Despite the obscuring pillars and voices, he had known where she was all along, following her prim footsteps (though he knew not how) in a corner of his soul.

He asks if they’re done as he whirls to see his mother, the Empress Esmenet. He finds her the “world’s most beautiful thing” despite her makeup and jewelry. She is finished and rolls her eyes, signaling she’d rather dote on him then do boring things. Kelmomas knows she does things to maintain appearances, just not nearly as good as he did. He asks her if she prefers his company even though he already knows the answer. He doesn’t let her know he knows because “it troubled her when he read aloud the movement of her soul.” She smiles and scoops him up in her arms, adjusting his hair while he savors her embrace. He thinks, “Never was there such a sanctuary.”

Mommy…

She leads him away and he is satisfied the beetle still stalks in circles. Then he hears the sounds of a crowd and he grows nervous, not wanting to leave. She asked him what is wrong, but he lies and says anything. She licks her fingers and attends to his messy hair like any mother would.

“It’s proper that you be anxious,” she said, distracted by her ministrations. She looked him square in the eye, and he stared into the pith of her, past the paint and skin, past the sheath of interlocking muscles, down to the radiant truth of her love.

She would die for you, the secret voice—the voice that had been within always—whispered.

“Your father,” she continued, “says that we need fear only when we lose our fear.” She ran her hand from his temple to his chin. “When we become too accustomed to power and luxury.”

Father was forever saying things.

He sneers inside while faking being an adorable kid. The secret voice tells him to both hate his father but fear him. Kelmomas “must never forget that the Strength burned brightest in Father.” Meanwhile, Esmenet is happy to have such a good son and hugs him. Holding her hand, he allows her to lead him out of the Allosium. They exit the temple onto the Scuäri Campus, the plaza before all the temples. Eothic Guardsmen protect them. He can see the whole vista of the Home City. It’s massive.

On and on it went, the vast and mottled vista of the Home City, the great capital of all the Three Seas. For his entire life it had been encircled him, hedged him its teeming intricacies. And for his entire life it had frightened him, so much so that he often refused to look when Samarmas, his idiot twin, pointed to something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.

But today it seemed the only safe thing.

“Look!” his mother cried through the roar. “Look, Kel!”

He stares at the thousands crowding the square, pilgrims and locals, “churning like floodwaters about the base of the Xatantian Arch.” They all reach for them while his mother tells him they are all here to witness his divinity. He fakes the “bewildered gratitude” she expects; he feels only disgust. “Only fools, he decided, travelled in circles.” He wants to show Ajokli this truth.

People were bugs.

It feels like a long time that Kelmomas and his mother stand in their “proscribed places.” He focus on flying birds and sunlight on rooftops. He wants to ask his mother for a model of the city so he can burn it. Soon Thopsis, Master of Protocol, arrives and all the Imperial Apparati on the steps turn to face Kelmomas and his mother. He studies their faces, seeing all their emotions despite blank spaces. Ngrau, Xerius’s old seneschal, still holds that position. Phinersa is the Holy Master of Spies, and Imhailas is the Exalt-Captain of the Eothic Guard and Esmenet’s sometimes lover. Werjau is the Prime Nascenti and leads the Ministrate while Vem-Mithriti is the Grandmaster of the Imperial Saik and Vizier-in-Proxy. There are sixty-seven in all in descending order of importance to witness Kelmomas’s Whelming. He’s the youngest son of Kellhus. Only his Uncle Maithanet, the Shriah, is unreadable. He doesn’t like Maithanet’s scrutiny.

He suspects, the secret voice whispered.

Suspects what?

That you are make-believe.

The cheers die as the horns sound. Then, at Thopsis’s shout, “the whole world seemed to kneel.” The citizens of the New Empire prostrate themselves save for Maithanet who only kneels to Kellhus. Kelmomas is dazzled by the sun reflecting off small tusks decorating his vestments and loos away. As they descended, he can’t help but laugh at how absurd the Exalt-Ministers look “grovelling in the costumes of kings.”

“They honour you, Kel,” his mother said. “Why would you laugh at them?”

Had he meant to laugh? Sometimes it was hard to keep count.

“Sorry,” he said with a glum sigh. Sorry. It was one of the many words that confused him, but it never failed to spark compassion in his mother’s look.

They walk through the square to the Andiamine Heights under the armed escort of the hallowed Hundred Pillars. The walk makes Kelmomas nervous despite the familiarity of being escorted by towering, armed men. He can smell the unwashed masses, a nauseating reek while they chanted “Bless-bless-bless,” over and over. He stars at the “landscape of kneelers.” A beggar weeps while a young girl watches when she shouldn’t. It stretches forever.

He walked across a living ground.

And then he was among them, in them, watching his own steps, little more than a jewelled shadow behind a screen of merciless, chainarmoured men. A name. A rumour and a hope. A god-child, suckled at the breast of Empire, anointed by the palm of Fate. A son of the Aspect-Emperor.

They did not know him, he realized. They saw, they worshipped, they trusted what they could not fathom.

No one knows you, the secret voice said.

No one knows anyone.

He glances at her mother and sees she’s worrying over Mimara. He asks if she is thinking about Esmenet’s first daughter, “the one she loved with the most desperation—and hated.” Kelmomas drove Mimara away at the secret voices urging while the voice. His mother lies and says she’s worrying for his father and Kellhus. Seeing she still worried for Mimara, Kelmomas isn’t happy that all his manipulations haven’t worked. The secret voice wonders if they should have killed Mimara. He then asks when Kellhus will return.

He knew the answer at least as well as she did, but at some level he understood that as much as mothers love their sons, they loved being mothers as well—and being a mother meant answering childish questions. They traveled several yards before she replied, passing through a fog of please and whispers. Kelmomas found himself comparing her to the countless cameos he had seen depicting her in her youth—back in the days of the First Holy War. Her hips were wider, perhaps, and her skin not so smooth beneath the veneer of white paint, but her beauty was legendary still. The seven-year-old could scarce imagine anyone more beautiful.

She says he won’t return until the Great Ordeal is over. That gives Kelmomas such joy. He wants his father to die and this brings his “first true smile of the day.” As they continue walking, someone yells out cursed. A madman with a knife rushes to attack Esmenet. He watches “battling shadows” and a word pops into his mind.

Assassins.

My Thoughts

A human horn sounds. The fact Bakker has to point this out should let us know, we are in a place humans shouldn’t be. We start with the Sranc. They dominate this series. They are the great concern of the Holy War, which only grows worse as they start marching and began fighting their way across the Sranc to the north. In this wake travels Achamian and his band. It’s fitting that we start with these bestial creatures, reminding the reader what they are. How they wear trophies of human flesh. How they get so excited by the scent of human blood that they ejaculate their black seed. They are pure hunger.

The “traveler” sees the scalpers as nothing more than animals. We see how fighting Sranc dehumanizes men. The Great Ordeal is marching out to fight these same creatures. Bakker is laying the groundwork of what being around Sranc does to humans. How it’s going to twist them into beasts like Ironsoul and his men.

Scalpers must be seen as the most dangerous and deadly men. The ones with the balls to go off into the wilderness and fight the monsters then come back with their trophies. It’s as masculine as you can get, and yet to earn their money, they have to do something almost domestic: washing and counting and organizing.

Trust Bakker to slip in that comment about scalpers needing to bring back something purely Sranc else they’d just be murderers. Most follow the path of least resistance, and those who do this will quickly have the innocence beat out of them. Even if they started off killing Sranc, soon they’d realize easier ways to make money after the dehumanizing work.

Well, Bakker’s really building up Ironsoul and his men. As we’ll see, they earn it. Especially Ironsoul.

Ironsoul is a man cast in the vein of Cnaiür. As brutal and deadly. He’s Ainoni, which in the first series was the most effete of all the races. The most urbane and decadent. Though they had their soldiers who fought in battle with skill, but they were always looked down as being lesser men by the others. Yet here we have Ironsoul, dressed like an Ainoni down to having tattoos mimicking makeup, purple lips, and eyeliner. Still, there’s no denying this man could rip you apart. It’s a nice subversion of expectations of Ainoni, showing that they’re not monoliths but a diverse people.

So who is this Traveler his “cowled companion.” The man is someone who revers the laws of Kellhus Empire by showing defense to a Veteran of the First Holy War. He is someone on a mission, searching these men out. He is delivering them this cowled companion. This is Cleric. We see no mention of Cleric in this passage. No nonman preaching. This is how he was delivered to them. We see the Cleric agree with a silent nod

We later learn Cleric is the last Nonman King Nil’giccas who is supposed to be in their last city of Ishterebinth. Kellhus sends his daughter, adopted son, and Sorweel there ostensibly to negotiate with Nil’giccas. But Kellhus already knew he wasn’t there. Clearly, he has met with Nil’giccas and made an agreement with him. He delivers him to the Scalpers to act as his elju, his book, because the nonman king is an Erratic.

Kellhus appears to have placed these scalpers and Nil’giccas into the path of Achamian. He is arranging protection and the skills for Achamian to make his journey, probably because Kellhus anticipates Mimara will join him. He is protecting those Esmenet loves. Mimara, Achamian, Kelmomas, and Samarmas (well, Kellhus would have if he knew about Kelmomas activities).

I do not think Kellhus cares if Achamian learns anything or not. Maybe he had different plans for Achamian and Mimara after the Consult’s defeat, but Kellhus’s plan failed in the final moments and so we’ll probably never know.

Well, we see Kelmomas’s opinion of people. It has the clinical detachment of a Dûnyain but possesses a spite to it. A delusion of grandeur a sane Dûnyain wouldn’t have. Right there in the opening paragraph about him. He destroys the beetle’s trail, obliterating its history, the evidence of its existence.

It’s fitting knowing where he ends up. Many thought he would be the Narindar (avatar/agent) of Ajokli because of this scene, but Kelmomas is acting as an equal, not a servant, to what he calls “the Thief.” The humans have scurried to the gods to save them. The ones who steal their souls.

“It writhed like a little automaton beneath his fingertip.” What’s an automaton but a slave to what comes before unable to deviate from the cause that set it in motion. He proves it by ripping off the beetles two legs then shares in the joke with the god. Kelmomas is Ajokli’s equal. Or will be.

Kelmomas tracking his mother is something we’ve seen from Kellhus. Of course, Kellhus has gone past that, but it’s showing us that Kelmomas going to have some Dûnyain level of skills and manipulation as we see his interactions with Esmenet. But he’s also untrained. He does this all instinctual.

However, while he’s Dûnyain, he clearly has an emotional attachment to Esmenet. A jealous and obsessive love, as we’ll see. It’s very childish, the only thing childish about him. She’s his favorite toy but also the only place he feels safe. Interesting that he feels fear. He gets scared by the sounds of the crowd though he refuses to admit it and lets himself be mothered by Esmenet.

Kelmomas is scared by the city because it’s too much for him. He can’t possibly take it all in and pay attention to it. Take that line “something unnoticed in its nebulous weave.” Kelmomas needs to control everything, especially his mother. In the palace, he can do it. When Kellhus is absent, he has free rein, or so he thinks. He can’t control a city.

But today, everyone in the city is cheering for him. All the beetles have come to worship him.

Werjau… I remember you. Did that slave plot in Thousandfold Thoughts go anywhere? I’m going to be paying attention to him in this book because I can’t for the life of me remember what he does in this book and the next. Is he still working against Esmenet?

So Kelmomas has a secret voice. This is another indication that he’s a broken Dûnyain like many of his siblings. We later see he’s not sure if he meant to laugh or not. He can’t maintain the facade as well as others.

We have a Dûnyain who is jealously in love with his mother and has the impulse control of a seven-year-old. We can see him struggling to maintain his facade at times. He does acts that could get him caught, like mutilating the insect. He has a god compact. As we see going forward, he’s not as smart as he thinks when dealing with other half-Dûnyain.

This chapter is full of so much foreshadowing. We have glimpses of the Holy War’s fate with the scalpers followed by the introduction of one of the biggest sources of chaos in this series. Kelmomas has the idea of assassins implanted in his head, and that is a big thing he does in this book. He causes so many problems for his mother trying to isolate her. We have the mystery of Cleric and what deal he made with Kellhus. And we learn that the inciting incident for Achamian’s storyline, Mimara’s arrival, was orchestrated by Kelmomas.

A great start to this series.

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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Reread of The Judging Eye: Introduction

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Introduction

Welcome to the start of my reread of The Judging Eye. Click here if you the Prince of Nothing Reread!

After reading the Prince of Nothing Trilogy, I needed more. It couldn’t just end there with Achamian renouncing everything and walking away from power. Yes, Kellhus had defeated the Fanim and founded his theocracy, becoming the Aspect-Emperor and reviving the Kyranean Empire of old (the very empire who’s ruler King Anaxophus used the Heron Spear to slay the No-God) and had mastered all before him, but the story wasn’t over.

What was all that stuff with the Consult? The skin-spies couldn’t have just been a plot device. The Synthese was working towards its own goals. Goals that had not been realized. The greater danger wasn’t resolved at all. It felt like we’d reached the end of a book in a series and more was to come.

But it was the end of the Prince of Nothing series.

I took to the internet. I discovered the Three Seas forums. I spent hours pouring through posts, struggling to understand the story I had just read. What had occurred between Kellhus and his father, and, most importantly to me, where was the rest of the story? What about the Second Apocalypse. Kellhus becoming emperor didn’t solve that. It was still there.

And then I found out the truth: The Prince of Nothing series was supposed to be one book. The first in a trilogy. Only Bakker soon discovered it was too big to be a book. He has several options, but the one he chose was to split each book into its own series. The Prince of Nothing series was complete, so that left two more.

I was eager for it. Rumors abounded. There were different names for what the next series could be. Different titles for the first book. I came into the series not long after Book 3 was published. I experienced that wait for what it would be. Then the title for the series:

The Aspect-Emperor

Spoilers came out. A time jump. A great war. Things were getting interested. We were all awaiting it. We had a title for the first book. The Judging Eye?

What did that mean? What was this Judging Eye? Nothing in the first series gave a clue. Speculation was rampant. And then it arrived. The Judging Eye was published in February of 2009 in the US. Just in time for me to lose my job delivering pizzas. I had plenty of time to read it. To dive into it. I opened that book with trembling anticipation.

SPOILER WARNING: Please read the book before any of these posts. This is intended for those who have read ALL the books. I will discuss both the events of the chapter and even their ramification for future events up to and including the Unholy Consult.

Like with the Prince of Nothing Trilogy, Bakker opens The Judging Eye with a quote. But not any from his fictional setting. He quotes the bible to start out this series. Fitting given the increased presence of religion and the Gods (specifically Yatwer and Ajokli).

But who are you, man, to answer God thus? Will what is made say to him who made it—Why have you made me this way? Does the potter not have power over his clay, to make, from the same mass, on vessel for honour, and another for dishonour?

—ROMANS 9:20-21

My Thoughts

There are so many different ways to take this verse as it relates to The Aspect-Emperor. Who is the God of this world that Bakker is exposing? Is it the Hundred, the gods who split up the souls of mankind to feast upon in the afterlife. As we learn, human souls are the wheat with which the Gods make their bread.

Is it Kellhus as he takes on the persona of a Living God and remakes the world. He shapes the nations and builds them for a purpose. He took Proyas and turned him into a cannibal only to blame him for what happened, to be a scapegoat to assuage the guilt of the survivors of the final march of the Great Ordeal upon Golgotterath. Kellhus created his empire for one purpose then allowed it to collapse once the army march. He was finished with it.

Is it the Consult and the Inchoroi who shape flesh like men shape clay? They make different beings for different purposes. Sranc, Bashrags, Wracu, Skin-Spies, and other monstrosities. They toy with lives for their own perverse amusements.

Obviously, he chose this verse a critique on religion and the remote coldness of a creator Deity. The entire series is about the pitfalls of blind faith and the irony that the only way to unite people is to give them all the same belief to embrace and in which to find comfort. Humans crave that because it gives us the illusion of safety. We project our simplified view of things upon the world. A veneer of order slathered across the chaos of nature.

Bakker is condemning the level of power such a being would have. To so casually use its creations in such a fashion. The Hundred who vie for worship so they can claim souls to feast upon, Kellhus who fashions everything for one singular purpose to realize the Thousandfold Thought, and the Consult as they bend and twist flesh itself for their own selfish needs. Even Achamian uses the Scalpers knowing they’ll die.

If the Dune series is the critique of the myth of the Great Man and the folly in following one vision, then The Second Apocalypse is that on steroids. The only way to find freedom is to have knowledge else we will all be slaves to the Darkness that Comes Before.

It’s time to begin the second chapter of this story.

It’s time to delve into The Judging Eye.

The Letter

Before the prologue, we have a letter written from an unknown bureaucrat to an unnamed Exalt-Minister.

Exalt-Minister, most glorious, many be your days.

For the sing of apostasy, they were buried up to their necks in the ancient way, and stones were cast into their faces until their breathing was stopped. Three men and two women. The child recanted, even cursed his parents in the name of our glorious Aspect-Emperor. The world has lost five souls, but the Heavens have gained one, praise be the God of Gods.

The writer explains that the source of the heresy comes from them reading Drusas Achamian’s Compendium of the First Holy War. The writer goes on to say that the Heresy it contains is like a disease and must be studied to destroy. Because of that, he has and gives the three bullet points of what he considers the worst offenders that “contradict Doctrine and Scripture.”

I) Achamian had sex with Esmenet before the battle of Shimeh.

II) Achamian claiming that the “Holy Aspect-Emperor” is not an incarnation of “the God of Gods” but is a Dûnyain, a group who use their intellect to enslave mankind. “That his [Kellhus’s] Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism is nothing more than a tool, a means of manipulation of nations.” In short, everyone is his slave. The writer is greatly troubled by these words. He finds himself doubting his faith because Achamian wrote: “if all men lay claim to righteousness, and they do, who is to say which man claims true?”

III) The third claim is that Kellhus is not preparing war to stop the No-God. That he is not the savior of mankind but a fraud.

This is all the writer can remember. He understands the reader’s concern. Not only does Achamian’s book undermine their belief, but the man once walked at Kellhus’s side and taught him. The writer says he had his body-slave, who read the book to him, put to death and now the writer awaits his own summary judgment, writing: “It is our doom to suffer the consequences of our acts, regardless of the piety of our intentions.”

Some pollution begs not the cloth, but the knife; this I accept and understand.

Sin is sin.

My Thoughts

The child condemning his parents reminds me of the Hitler Youth and how they were encouraged to inform even on their own parents. They were convinced that an ideology was more important than familial bonds, just like Kellhus wants. He needs to unite mankind.

A body-slave reading for a person was not uncommon. There is a history of slaves being educated and reading for illiterate masters or for those whose age has weakened their eyesight. The Ottoman empire employed slaves to run their government, serving as their bureaucracy.

We see the fanaticism of the Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism through the author, how blasphemers have to be put to death to keep this disease from spreading and how even the author expects to die. Kellhus and his ministry understand that ideas are as virulent as a pestilence. They can take root in a population and cause downfall. It has to be rooted out.

Finally, this letter serves as a quick reminder of what Achamian’s motivations and beliefs are. He lost his wife to Kellhus, that Kellhus isn’t a god but a Dûnyain, and that we can’t trust Kellhus’s motivations in his war against the Consult. It’s a great way to set the stage for the series we’re about to read.

Right from the start, Bakker puts the ultimate narrative question before us: Can we trust Kellhus not to betray mankind like a proper Dûnyain would? It’s been twenty years. Has his assessment changed? Is he leading the Great Ordeal to their slaughter?

Other books try to make the readers question if one of the main characters has become a threat. It can be hard to pull off for a character you feel like you know and wouldn’t do that. Bakker pulled it off in this series.

Onward to the Prologue!

If you enjoyed this, continue on to the Prologue!

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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Facebooktwitterrssby feather