The Soldier’s Wife 2: Death Is Not the End

The Soldier’s Wife 2: Death Is Not the End

The Twenty-Fifth Day of Spring, the Three Thousand and Forty-Ninth Year of the Kingdom

The Diamond Ward glittered on the horizon.

Lamahavi drew in a deep breath at the first sparkle she noticed. Her deep-lavender eyes widened. It was like witnessing the rise of a star. A day star. Something that should be impossible to see with the sun near its zenith. Awe filled her soul as she sat on the driver’s bench beside her husband. Her hand shot out, grasping his wrist.

I know,” he croaked. Twinkle fire bright, glittering before azure, burns salvation.

His impromptu poem swept through her, reminding her just what the twinkling warded. The world’s destruction. The Black Rift. The wound in the fabric of Reality from which the demons bled. The demons that had attacked them two days before. A small scouting party which had almost killed Lamahavi and her new husband, Yelaikav.

She had found courage enough to fight. To weather the danger and survive. The love for her husband would give her the strength to be a soldier’s wife and endure life at the most dangerous fortifications in the world. The Bulwark around the Diamond Ward. The first line of defense to hold back the hordes of ant-like aliens wishing to spill out of their Dark Reality into her own. The greatest warriors armed with the rare Songblades served there.

Yelaikav had earned the privilege of joining the august ranks of the Songblade Knights.

The two water buffalos pulling their wagon were new, drawn from the spares trundling behind the last wagon in their small convoy. One had been lamed by her own crossbow bolt and the other slain by a demon. The monster had broken much of the furniture intended for their new home when it had fled into the back of the wagon to escape Asozyem’s sword, another Songblade Knight traveling north with them.

The loss of possessions didn’t matter. They’d survived the skirmish with the scouts. Three demons slain. Countless millions boiled beyond the rift. The Goddess Layiv had given their peoples the watch. Easterners, Westerners, and Northerners alike united to hold the demons at bay. The rest of the world could waste resources contending nation against nation, to indulge in the petty squabble over which king or emperor or satrap ruled which boundaries on the map.

The Forbidden Kingdom could not.

They’d held the trust and stood the watch for over three thousand years, shepherded by an unbroken line of divine emperors carrying Layiv’s blood. The grand generals, selected by the emperor, coordinated the military might of their nation here.

The Diamond Ward, the Bulwark, and the Ringed City.

My new home, Lamahavi thought.

The young woman knew this day would come. Known it for years when she’d come to Fortress, the military capital of their kingdom, to support the Songblade Knights. She’d wished to be a soldier’s wife, to support and succor those who would fight for their nation. She’d courted two candidates and found love in the second: Yelaikav. His humor never failed to brighten her spirits.

She wanted to brighten his.

The glimmer grew and grew on the horizon. Soon, she could see the gleaming facets of an adamant barrier that surrounded the dark wound beneath. The shadow swelled, too. A gash of night that sundered the world. It shed the inverse of light. Its opposite. Here, the last wound of the Shattering had failed to heal.

Lamahavi stared into another reality. A world beyond the harmonics of this one.

At the base of the barrier swallowing the horizon, a city appeared. A dark band. The road they followed, a hard-packed track rutted from generations of wagon wheels, became paved. The jarring change rumbled through the wagon.

There was no wall warding the Ring City from the outside. It was an inverted fortress. Its fortifications aimed at the center. Basalt buildings reared around the bottom swell of the Diamond Ward. A half-mile out, and it consumed most of the horizon and reached high into the sky above her head. She leaned back, shifting her brown hair pinned up atop her head by her jade hair comb. Her delicate face held only awe and terror, flicking between the emotions. The writhing wound of the Black Rift, appearing to twist and wriggle through the distortion of the adamantine barrier surrounding it, captured her attention.

Only a horse’s nicker pulled her eyes down.

A gathering formed before them. A small column of Rangers, the elite cavalry of the realm and who patrolled the Forbidden Arc, the lands surrounding the Diamond Ward. They raised lances in salute, holding their horses at parade rest. Most were slender and short. Their sex could be hard to judge with their scale mail hauberks and great helms covering their heads, demonic-like masks covering their faces. About a third of the Rangers were women, their smaller size and weight giving their mounts greater stamina and, thus, range on their patrols.

Lamahavi found her spine straightening. She shifted in the light-blue yukata—a summer robe that fit tight about her body and belted at her waist—covered in a pattern of white lilies. Her hands folded before her. Yelaikav’s casual ease had vanished. He wore the serious face of a soldier. He wore a man’s yukata, fitting looser.

At the end of the line of soldiers, more armored figures awaited. They wore the lamellar armor of Songblade Knights. Made of bands of steel held together by stiff cords of twine. The plates overlapped each other and shifted as they moved. They covered the knights from head to toe. Small gaps revealed the padded, dark underclothing worn beneath. Each one was lacquered in different hues to show off the character of the bearer.

The man in the lead wore his armor black with gold rings painted across his chest and stomach. He had horns thrusting up from his great helm, curling up and over his head. His war mask held the fierce, snarling ferocity of a mountain panther.

The famed Panther of the Ward, Gunsho Kofumuji. Songs of his deeds had been sung when Lamahavi was a girl. He had led the twenty knights against the black-flood breech. Only he’d walked away alive. They’d found him standing on the mound of dead demons, exhausted, on the verge of death. Beneath his armor, stories claimed, lay a mass of scars and gouges to his flesh.

Four officers stood behind him. Men who commanded squads. One of those would be her husband’s new captain, his taisho. Her gaze slid from a man in green armor with black spirals to a red armor accented in gold. Her eyes stopped on the third man.

He’d lacquered his armor a deep purple with owlish, yellow eyes painted on the chest and on his helm above his eyes. He stood tall, a Northerner, and she felt the intensity of his gaze beneath his mask. Her heart clenched.

A man she hadn’t seen in a year. He’s risen so far?

Welcome, welcome,” spoke Gunsho Kofumuji. His voice rasped with age. He raised a hand clad in a heavy gauntlet. Her husband drew up the wagon. “We do not stand on ceremony here. Rangers brought the word of your skirmish. Already, you defend the world.”

Lamahavi managed to sit a little straighter at those words, delight rippling through her. She had done her small part in that skirmish.

Yelaikav,” Kofumuji said, staring at her husband. “You are assigned to the Apple Blossom Octant. Third squad under Taisho Vevoztaj.”

Lamahavi fought her groan as the man in the purple armor stepped forward. The man she’d once thought she would marry. Her first lover. When she’d ended their relationship, she had cried for a week until Yelaikav had made her smile with his poem.

Tears flowing down cheeks

banished by a simple act

smiling to spite grief

Follow,” Vevoztaj said, his words coming out hollow from behind his mask. He turned onto a circular street that led in both directions, miming the curve of the wall.

Yes, Taisho,” answered Yelaikav, his voice strong. Deep. Not betraying a hint of emotion.

She couldn’t help but follow Vevoztaj as he marched down the street to the right. He moved with a natural grace in the armor. The stitched-together plates of folded steel allowed for natural movement and range of motion. It wasn’t nearly as constricting as it looked and could mean the difference between life and death fighting a demon.

Her husband had fought one without it by necessity. Packed away behind them was his armor. And hers, a much lighter coat of chain to be donned in the direst of events. Wives hadn’t had to fight a breach in three hundred years, but vigilance had to be maintained.

It’s good to see you,” Vevoztaj said. He removed his war mask and then his helmet, unveiling his short, brown hair. Like her husband, the top of his head had been shaved and the exposed skin tattooed with the character for protection, a diamond surrounded by walls. “I knew you would pass, Yelaikav. You always possessed skill.”

Your opinion humbles me,” Yelaikav said, his tone stiff as his posture.

And how is Fejisoza?” Lamahavi asked.

She’s good,” Vevoztaj answered. “She’s settled into life here.”

I’m not surprised. She has a spine of iron.”

Vevoztaj nodded, not looking back at her.

Lamahavi had known they would both be here; she just hadn’t expected to see him so soon. To have to live in the same barracks as him. All the squads of Apple Blossom Octant, one of the eight districts of the Ring City, would have their own barracks, militant apartments for their soldiers and families to inhabit, sharing a small garden and pooling their resources to support and knit together as a cohesive unit. She’d see him every day.

She made a good wife for you,” Lamahavi said, feeling an awkward weight pressing on her as their wagon trundled down the street.

They passed watchers. Children peered over the railing of porches from the second or third stories of barracks they passed. Banners with stylized characters marked the different squads and their homes. Between them lay various craftsmen. Brave and skilled laborers who brought their services her, the most dangerous place in the world. She let her eyes drift to the basalt buildings. The roofs all had crenellations. The sides facing the rift had only narrow windows, mere arrow slits, and none on the first two floors. Some of the buildings had machicolations along the eaves, slots in the floor of the ramparts thrusting out past the side of the building so the defenders could shoot down at the attackers besieging the base.

A blacksmith worked outside on an anvil, bare chest gleaming with sweat. A spear leaned nearby where it could be seized. He pounded glowing metal, sparks bursting in flares.

A group of women carrying laundry baskets waved, their hair done in braids or folds, all pinned with hair combs to leave shoulders bare. They wore a variety of yukatas cut in different fashions and with different patterns, displaying the style of their homes with pride.

A group of armored Songblade Knights marched by not long after, all smacking fists to chests in salute, rattling their lamellar plates. Yelaikav beat fist to chest, and she inclined her head out of respect.

Finally, after covering nearly half the city, they entered the Apple Blossom Octant. Green banners hung at the entrance, the character for “tree” stretched almost to near unrecognizability to resemble a tall tree with a wide canopy. The characters for “fruit” dangled beneath it as apples. It was clever. The characters for “tree” and “fruit” combined made the word “apple tree.” Lastly, falling like petals were the character for “blossom.”

Beyond it, at the first barracks, a group of soldiers in armor waited; behind them gathered wives and children. A nervous ripple ran through her as she recognized three of the wives, women she’d known at her time at the Academy, Fejisoza among them.

A year, and already you commanded your own squad, Taisho,” said Yelaikav. “I am impressed.”

Our last taisho lost his head two months ago. I gave orders and they proved fortuitous.” Vevoztaj said these as if they were matter-of-fact. “Gunsho Kofumuji gave me command of the squad.” He paused. “Squad Three, I give you our newest brother, Yelaikav, wielder of a diamond sword. With him, his wife, the honorable Lamahavi.”

The eight other soldiers pounded fists to chests. They bowed, the points of their great helms aimed at them for a moment. Then they straightened, all looking fierce behind their war masks. They had the bone handles of their Songblades tucked into the silk sashes around their waists.

Yelaikav climbed off the wagon then held his hands out for her. She scooted down the bench and he grabbed her waist, setting her down. She bowed low but kept her eyes raised with pride, as he smacked his fist to his chest.

My wife and I are honored to join you, brothers,” Yelaikav said. “Though my body may fail, my spirit shall never flag. Through pain and blood, through grief and sorrow, I pledge to stand my watch, Songblade in hand. My life belongs not to me, but to the world. Thus, I promise to spend it without hesitation so that the world may flourish. Death is not the end, but the beginning of eternity.”

He spoke the oath without a hint of fear. She straightened, her heart reverberating in pride. To her left, the Diamond Ward covered the sky. The black wound to the world writhed and bled the demons who would destroy them all.

Death was not the end. Beyond lay paradise. The eternal reward for those who served mankind. Civilization was a vast machine. In the Forbidden Kingdom, every person, from the farmer who planted the seeds to the miller who ground the flour, were all a piece of it. A machine united in defending the world from destruction. Those who served, no matter how small it might seem, would find their rest and succor.

She was ready to do her part and was proud of Yelaikav for pledging the entirety of himself to it. Just let him survive. Retirement was not a shame, but the greatest reward in this life. For it meant that the World’s end had not arrived.

The wives stepped forward with welcoming smiles on their faces. Each one of them held a small charm, an ofuda with characters of blessing painted on them, to be hung up on the windows and door frames of her new house.

Thank you for your warm welcome,” she said as each one introduced themselves, a blur of names she would need days to get straight as she came to know her new neighbors. “I promise to help us knit a community in the wilderness, to make it a bastion of civilization amid the horrors that threaten our world. I shall build with you a foundation of courage.”

Be welcome, sister,” each said and placed a kiss on her cheek. Left then right.

Fejisoza came last. Vevoztaj’s wife possessed the round face and silver hair of a Northerner. She wore it cut short along with a tight smile, a single red stripe painted in the center of her pink lips. She planted the two kisses and pressed her ofuda into Lamahavi’s hand.

Be welcome, sister,” she said, voice strained.

Lamahavi swallowed. She felt Fejisoza’s eyes upon her. A strange guilt swam through Lamahavi. She once thought she would wed Fejisoza’s husband. Handsome, daring, the epitome of a Songblade Knight. But Vevoztaj had been cold. Kissing him had stirred nothing inside of her no matter how hard she tried. She forced herself to stay with him for months past when she should have broken off their courtship.

Perhaps, she’d wanted too badly to be a wife of a Songblade Knight that she’d ignored her own heart’s pain. Though he’d always seemed so stoic, his mask had cracked the night she’d broken off their relationship. She had fled crying only to be comforted by Yelaikav a week later. With him, she didn’t have to force herself. It wasn’t a chore to love him.

Let’s get them settled in their house,” said Vevoztaj. “You have two hours before we muster for the night patrol.”

Tonight?” she asked, a spike of concern through her. So soon?

Vevoztaj turned from her. “It is our octant’s night. That should change because a new brother has arrived?”

Of course not,” she said, flushing, feeling the other wives staring at her, judging her. “My apologies. The travel was wearying. It was not a smooth journey.”

Yes, our new brother has already slain two demons.”

I had help,” Yelaikav said. “My wife proved an able distraction and Asozyem wounded the other.”

Vevoztaj nodded.

Come, come, let’s get them unpacked!” snapped Fejisoza. “Hurry.”

Activity fluttered around Lamahavi. Everyone rushed in, including knights in their full armor, hauling off what furniture had survived. A few chairs, though the table they went with was lost. One nightstand. Two out of three of the flower vases her older sister had given as wedding presents. Clothes were piled in the corner since their traveling chest had shattered and their wardrobe splintered.

Soon, she helped her husband dress in his blue armor painted with white diamonds. She drew on the cotton hakama and coat that protected his body from the abrasion of the steel plates. She closed it before pulling on each piece. All the knots had to be tied precisely and since many of them in difficult places to reach, it meant no knight could adequately armor himself. She shook as she worked, her fingers trembling as she twisted the strong, silk cords into perfect knots.

You’re shaking worse than our first time,” he said, giving her a smile.

I didn’t shake,” she said, frowning at him. She hadn’t come a virgin to his bed. She’d given that to Vevoztaj. It had been . . . disappointing. Pain but not much pleasure.

Not with fear,” he said and grinned at her.

A smile played on her lips for a moment. “Well, that’s not why I’m shaking now.”

The only thing to fear of death is the momentary parting it will cause,” he said.

Momentary for you. I’ll have to live another fifty years cursing your name for getting yourself killed on your first patrol.”

So you have something to look forward to.”

She glared at him. “That is not even funny. You think I want to curse your name? I would rather have you all those fifty years. Longer.”

So would I.” He thrust out his arms, letting her tie on the bands of armor plating that covered them. “I would give anything for that, but no one knows how long their soul shall hum.”

Like a tuning fork struck, the note it sang wouldn’t last forever. Some tuning forks could sustain a tone for hours, like the ones powering the Diamond Ward. Others could last a few minutes, perhaps an hour at best, but they all faded. Entropy was the state of things.

So I shouldn’t worry because you’ll die when it’s your time?” she demanded as she finished her knot.

Just know you’ll be in my heart,” he said, his eyes soft on her. “One way or another, we’ll see each other again. Like that cat your mother owned.”

Her gaze narrowed. “The one who ruined my favorite kimono by peeing on it?”

Exactly. No matter how many times you washed it, you couldn’t be rid of the stench. I’m much the same.”

She stared at Yelaikav in hopeless despair and then burst into laughter. He could never take anything seriously. He said the most absurd things, and she loved him for it. She threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, clinging to him, wanting her joy to last.

She broke away from him and soon she was alone, though not for long; the other wives were soon calling on her, and she found herself playing hostess, serving tea and being distracted from her husband’s patrol as she gossiped with the others.


She lay on her cotton-padded futon and stared at the empty pillow beside her own. She stroked the round cloth stuffed with the soft down of an alpaca. Her finger danced over the linen, wishing it held Yelaikav’s warmth.

Their first night in their house felt desolate. A profound ache filled her. She couldn’t sleep, and not because of the purple moonlight spilling through her bedroom window. Plum was glowing full tonight, his violet joy drowning out the light from the six other moons. She stared at the pattern it painted across the back of her hand, the small shadows caused by tiny imperfections in her near-flawless skin.

She studied them as she worried for her husband. He would be endlessly circling the Diamond Ward, marching along the Bulwark. He would make sure that each of the Diamond Hearts of Layiv resonated, their three tuning forks humming away. Only one was needed to activate any gem, even the largest diamonds in the world.

Three gave redundancy.

They would be on the lookout for any signs of a breach. Of any activity bleeding through the Rift. The battle would start with their alarm and their Songblades meeting the resinswords of the demonic invaders seeking to bleed through into their reality.

She squeezed her eyes shut. He’s fine. How often do they attack? Just a few more hours. Dawn can’t be far off. He’s fine. He’ll hold you soon.

She hugged her pillow to her chest. She knew this would happen, that she would spend lonely nights in her bed aching for Yelaikav’s to return. She was strong enough to accept it. Love was the foundation of courage, and from there strength built. She loved him enough to endure. Together, they would help protect their world. They—


A massive taiko drum thundered through the night. The beat was frantic, pounding out an urgent call. A breach.


No!” Lamahavi gasped as she burst out of the tangle of her blankets. Loose, dark-brown hair spilled about her face, painted with violet highlights.


The alarm beat faster than her wild heart. She trembled, wearing the loose linen of her jinbei, her sleepwear. Her feet moved before she even realized it. She grabbed a thicker yukata from where it hung, pulling on the blue cloth and belting it loosely about her waist. She slipped her bare feet into her slippers.


She grabbed her crossbow from its hook by the door and slung it over her shoulder. Next, she belted on her quiver of bolts. They hung from her left side, ready to be drawn, the weight familiar. She threw open her door onto the open walkway.

Lamahavi!” shouted Vipaloza, one of the wives. “Come with me!”

The woman hurried down from the next door. In it, a young boy held a spear cut for his size, his face wide with fear. He struggled to look brave. A toddler clutched his clothing, her eyes wide but only curious.

How often does the alarm ring to not concern the small child?

Hurry,” said Vipaloza. She wore her yukata open, showing the thin sleeping garb beneath. She held her crossbow slung over her shoulder, her quarrels rattling in their quiver. “You were trained as a healer?”

Lamahavi nodded, letting the woman pull her along. Other wives were rushing out. Some emerged with spears. One had her daughter helping her don a simple hauberk of chainmail. Lamahavi had left her own behind. Fear burned through her.

Her man would be where the breach was.

This way,” Vipaloza shouted, breaking into a run. Her loose hair danced about her shoulders. The silvery strands flashed purple.

Lamahavi ran after. She was good at it. Her bolts jostled in her quiver. She held her crossbow tight to her chest as her heart thundered beneath. The drums kept booming. The sound seemed to come from every direction.

The Diamond Ward shimmered and rippled above them. She gasped at the bleeding cracks of light marring up the surface on one facet. Shouts roared through the night. Squads on standby, armored in case of a breach, rushed past them with a clank of metal, Songblades out and humming, spilling a rainbow of light along with their lacquered armor.

Here, here!” Vipaloza shouted, racing down a side street into a narrow alley and towards stairs. She rushed up them.

Lamahavi followed. The steps were narrower than the alley. Only one person could rush up them at a time. They snaked back and forth three times as they climbed up onto the fortifications above. She gasped as they spilled out onto the Bulwark themselves. Songblade Knights rushed up wider stairs, their swords glowing. Singing.

Come! Come!”

Vipaloza’s shout drew Lamahavi’s attention towards a small building before a maze of rhino horns. Large stone blocks thrust up like the beasts’ horns to slow the rush of attackers, forcing them to weave through the obstacles. Beyond, a low wall stood with four wives already manning it with crossbows. Two more with long spears waited behind them. They nodded to Lamahavi and Vipaloza as the pair rushed through their defenses and into the building.

The scents of medicinal herbs filled her nose, reminding her of the apothecary she’d trained with at the Academy. The mélange of various remedies was too mixed for her to separate their components. They blended together into a heady aroma. Vipaloza moved through the dark room with purpose. She found a tuning fork and smacked it against a wooden shelf. It hummed with an A note. She placed it beside a diamond lamp.

Clear light flooded the room.

Lamahavi struggled to gather breath as she hung up her crossbow and tied back the sleeves of her yukata above her elbow with red ribbons. A cistern in the back held water. She dumped her hands into it and then splashed the shockingly cold liquid on her face.

Then she waited.

The shouts echoed through the night. She paced in the small room, waiting for the horror to end. Fear for her Yelaikav weighed at her belly, ripping at her stomach. Her slippers’ tar-coated soles whisked across the room while she paced. Vipaloza sat at a table, her eyes distant like she was seeing through stones to the battle where their men fought.

Skittering shrieks.


Drums boomed.

A crystalline shatter burst through the night.

The sounds made her jump every time. Was this the end? Would the Songblade Knights finally fall? Would the women outside have to use their spears to hold their position? Would she fire her crossbow out the door in a vain attempt to kill the demons before she was torn apart?

Death is not an ending, she repeated. The promise of suffering in this life was rewarded in the next.

It felt hollow.

Shouts grew outside. Women cried gibberish to Lamahavi. Her ears couldn’t understand what they meant, but Vipaloza leaped to her feet and grabbed bandages. Lamahavi watched her, not understanding why they should do that.

Then the boys carrying stretches appeared. They were the sons of knights, twelve or thirteen years old, not men yet, not old enough to train at the Academy, but trusted to be runners. They brought the first stretcher and laid it on the floor. Vipaloza rushed over to tend to a knight clutching at his mangled arm. The skin and bone had been stripped from his forearm, the white ulna peeking out.

The second stretcher entered, the man screaming in pain. He held a wad of cloth over his stomach. His blood had soaked through it. Lamahavi stared at him for a moment, too terrified to glance at his face and see who it was.

Lama, surrendering to fear is a choice, too,” whispered through her mind. Her husband’s words from days ago.

She could choose to be useless, to stand rooted in terror for Yelaikav, or she could do her duty for the man wounded in the defense of the world.

She sprang for the bandages and grabbed them. Her ears suddenly worked, words becoming understandable. Vipaloza worked on the other man. She’d already tied a tourniquet about his arm above his elbow and twisted it tight with a dowel.

Amputation would follow.

Lamahavi rushed back to her patient and sank to her knees, hair falling loose about her face. She peeled back the bandage. Horror struck her. A demon’s mandible had ripped through his armor and belly. The jagged tear gaped open wider than the span of her fingers, the two halves of his flesh ragged. They didn’t match up. He was missing a chunk of his stomach. His innards looked to have spilled out and then were hastily shoved back in followed by a wadding of cloth to hold them in place. She knew of no way to repair the damage. She couldn’t close the wound, and blood pooled across his organs. Some torn. She breathed in. The sour aroma of flatulence filled her nose.

Bowels punctured. Blood poisoned.

I’m sorry,” she whispered. Despair crushed her. The first patient she had to treat, and she had no hope to save his life. She pressed the bandages over the wounds, the white cotton absorbing his blood, blossoming red.

Lama . . . havi . . .”

The sound of her name stiffened her. “Yel . . .”

Her words died on her lips. It wasn’t Yelaikav who lay in pain. It was Vevoztaj.

Her former lover’s face held a pale sheen of sweat across his brow. His face twisted with the agony of his injuries. His hand reached out, fingers trembling. He took her wrist and smeared blood across her skin.

I know . . .” he groaned, his fingers crushing like iron about her.

Know?” she asked. Her eyes burned with emotion.

I’m dying.” He said the words with such finality. She shifted on her knees, moving closer to his head. “I kept them alive. My men. I didn’t let those demons hurt them.”

Of course not, Vev,” she said. Her free hand stroked the side of his face. She smiled at him. “You love your men. I saw that in training exercises.”

Loved you, too,” he croaked.

She didn’t know what to say to that. It was the first time he’d ever spoken those words. She’d known he loved her, but he could never express it. She couldn’t face a future sharing her bed with an icy mountain, his heart a glacier so remote that no human had ever tread upon it. She could have tried to make the attempt to reach it, but she feared she’d die in the process. A frozen husk left uncaring on the slope.

There was a time when I loved you,” she admitted. Fear squeezed her heart. She wanted to ask for Yelaikav. Did he still live? Vevoztaj said “his” men. Did he count the new arrival in that tally?

You were my plum tree,” he said. “When training was hard, I would lie beneath your shade and stare up at your blossoms.” Pain rippled across his face. His hand crushed her wrist.

She endured.

Demons curse me!” he snarled.

I can get something for the pain,” she said. She tried to rise, but he held on tight to her.

Just let me look into those eyes,” he said. “One last time.”

She nodded. The tears built in the corners of her eyes. They were almost spilling over her cheeks. She leaned over him like she once had. Her free hand stroked across his brow as a great wellspring of pity surged through her.

His breathing slowed. His eyes grew into dark pools. Eternity.

It wasn’t . . . all bad . . . ?” he croaked. “Right?”

No,” she said. “No, it wasn’t. Some of it was good.” She leaned over him, her loose hair falling about her face. She pressed her lips against his forehead. His flesh was cool. “You can rest now, Vevoztaj. Your duty is over. Set down the burden. Another shall carry it for you.”

Loved . . . you . . .” he croaked. “Always . . .”

I know.”

She straightened and stared into the dark depths of his eyes. The pain fled. Peace embraced him. His grip slackened on her arm. The tears fell down her cheeks.

I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I needed someone warm. I wanted to love you. I did.”

She sat up straight, the tears falling hot down her cheeks. The back of her throat felt raw. Outside, a mighty chime rang. A resonance that shook the foundations of her body. Her bones vibrated to it. A pure light blazed, spilling through the narrow windows and bleeding through the cloth curtain. A new dawn had arrived upon the world.

The breach mended. She could feel it in that moment. Vevoztaj had saved the world today. Him, his squad, the rest of the Songblade Knights. Her husband. Lamahavi stayed kneeling there, staring at Vevoztaj’s dead face.

He could be sleeping. Memories of watching him sleep haunted Lamahavi.

How is he?” asked Vipaloza.

He laid down his burden,” she answered, her tears ended. “Yours?”

He needs something to help with the pain.”

Lamahavi rose and began making a tincture of boswellia for the pain, yarrow for the bloodloss, and a strong distillation of epheda to let the knight slip into a deep sleep. Vipaloza bandaged the stump of his arm, the severed limb covered beneath a white cloth beside him.

After giving the man the tincture, the curtains burst open and a woman gasped. Fejisoza rushed to her dead husband. She fell to her knees and a keening wail burst from her lips. She pressed her face into his chest and clasped his hand.

The one which had clung so desperately to Lamahavi.

She didn’t know what to say to Fejisoza. How to take away her loss. Lamahavi knelt beside the woman and placed a comforting hand upon the widow’s shuddering back. She stroked Fejisoza’s long, silvery hair. Lamahavi didn’t stop until Fejisoza lifted her head and turned a grief-stricken face to her.

Did he . . . say anything?”

Guilt stabbed deep into Lamahavi’s heart. “He said he loved you,” she lied. “His last words were of you.”

Fejisoza nodded. The words took away some of the pain. A little. Lamahavi didn’t regret them. She couldn’t control what Vevoztaj felt for her. When he’d married Fejisoza last year, she’d hoped he would find happiness with the woman.

To let go of her, but he’d held onto her until the end.

Maybe he’ll find acceptance in the next life, thought Lamahavi as she rose. As he takes succor in Paradise. He’d set down his burden.

Lamahavi hadn’t. Nor had her husband.

She stepped out of the infirmary. No others were brought in. Perhaps they were taken to different ones. She stared at the passing Songblade Knights. Many dripped with ichor. She searched for Yelaikav’s blue armor patterned with white diamonds. Her hands clutched tight before her, fearing that he lay dead.

Would he think of another woman as he lay dying? You could never truly know a person in this life. She thought she knew Yelaikav, but didn’t Fejisoza think the same thing of her husband?

The thoughts were poisonous. She knew Yelaikav. His love. He made her smile. Ever since that day he’d found her crying. She stood tall, waiting for him to return to her. She watched the passing knights stoically.

One broke away in ichor-splattered armor, his great helm missing. She hardly recognized her husband. He looked old. His face haggard. His movements felt brittle as he stumbled to her. She spread her arms wide. She couldn’t be Vevoztaj’s plum tree, but she could be Yelaikav’s.

His armor clattered as he embraced her. He pulled her to him. He tried to smile, but it felt fractured, broken by the night. His eyes stared distantly. There was more than ichor on him. Blood matted the shoulders of his armor and clung in his hair.

Vevoztaj?” he asked.

She shook her head.

He closed his eyes. “That’s two we lost. They ripped Najozham in half. Just . . .”

He needed her. Clung to her. She stared into his eyes and did the most Yelaikav thing she could think of. “How many knights can still look as beautiful as the sun setting over the Golden Sea?”

How many knights . . . ?” His brow furrowed. His eyes sharpened on her. “Did you just . . . call me beautiful?”

There is nothing more beautiful than you right now,” she said, pressing her face into his chest, feeling the slick lacquer painted over the plates of metal that made up his armor. “Nothing.”

He kissed her brow and whispered, “I kept thinking about you. When they first breached and fell upon us, I fought with a ferocity of a denned badger. I had to come back to you.”

Death may not be the ending, but she wanted Yelaikav to carry his burden for as long as possible. To grow old with him. She knew that each dawn she had with him was a gift.

Something to be treasured because it could be taken from her so swiftly.

To be continued…

Click here for part 3!

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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!

You do not want to miss out on this awesome adventure!

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

REVIEW: Midnight Tides (Malazan Book of the Fallen 5)

Midnight Tides (Malazan Book of the Fallen 5)

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

At the end of Book Four, Trull Sengar began to tell the story of how he became chained to the wall in the drowned pocket of Kurald Emurlan.

As the events of Deadhouse Gates and Memory of Ice was happening (sort of, since the Silanah stuff really throws off the timeline) on the other side of the world, the Tiste Edur tribes have been united by the Warlock King. They are facing annexation by the greedy Lether to the south, a nation merchants who want the natural resources in Edur lands. They have destroyed other tribes through shady treaties and deliberate betrayals.

The Warlock King has a new ally. He plans to send the Sengar Brothers (Fear, Trull, Binadas, and young Rulad) on a quest to receive a gift in the arctic wastes north of their lands. Will it prove the salvation of their people or their ruination.

Another set of brothers, Beddicts, have their own goals. Tehol Beddict appears impoverished after his financial collapse, but he had actually discovered the secret to destroying his people’s economy and flinched. However, when those whose people were destroyed by the Lethers want him to try again, will he accept? In the palace, Brice Beddict is the king’s champion. Emroiled in the complex politics of Lether, he vows to protect his king even if the man isn’t worthy of his devotion. Last, Hull Beddict plots his people’s destruction in another way. He wants to save the Edur from the fate of other tribes, weighed down by guilt.

A large cast of characters, both mortal, undead, and immortal, clash and swirl. This is one of Erikson’s best books in the series. Tehol and Bug number among my favorite duo and it was great to read them again. Tragedy and misfortune swirl as no one’s plans quite work out right. The darkest parts of humanity are exposed once more.

This fantasy series continues to be unique and amazing. If you haven’t read any of Malazan Book of the Fallen, you need to. It is worth the journey.

You can buy Midnight Tides from Amazon.

Interview with Clay Gilbert Author of Pearl

This week, I spoke with Clay again. He’s a prolific indie author writing from SciFi to urban fantasy. Now he’s got a suspense thriller with supernatural overtones coming out called Pearl. We’re going to be getting into this interesting novel today!

Check out Pearl on Amazon!

First, let’s get to know Clay with some fun, quirky questions! Part Duex!

  1. What was your favorite subject in school? English
  2. What is the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done? Answering interview questions like that one, haha. 😉
  3. Favorite color? Purple. Royal purple, not that pastel stuff. 😉
  4. Does pineapple belong on pizza? Absolutely. Love me some Hawaiian pizza.
  5. If you could travel back in time, why would you do it? I’d like to attend every Grateful Dead show ever, not just the ones I actually saw between 1988 and 1995. Of course, it’d be fun to see some of the historical periods I missed out on, too.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks!

  1. Where did the idea for Pearl come from? Well, I’ve loved monsters for a long time, particularly the more sympathetic monsters, like King Kong and Frankenstein’s Monster. For years, I’ve thought about writing my own sympathetic monster story, but I wasn’t sure really how to go about it. Eventually I decided that nothing could be more sympathetic than a ‘monster’ who was a child. Many of my novels are written from the perspective of a female protagonist, so, in this case, my little monster was also a little girl.
  2. What sort of research did you do to bring the story of Pearl to life? I did some research on the history, folklore, and language of the Smoky Mountains, including specific legends involving supernatural creatures, and also the abandoned town of Elkmont, which plays a prominent supporting role in the novel.
  3. Writing a novel can, at times, feel like a chore. Did this novel ever make you want to rip your hair out, or did it flow smoothly from imagination to typed words? The initial composition of the book was smooth, but the editing process was unusually rigorous. This book is set more in the here and now than many of my novels, which are often set far in the future or on other worlds. This book has fantasy elements in it, but the elements which are not fantasy were things—and some real places—I knew people would call me out about if I got too off-base with. I wanted to make sure the fantasy elements were as believable, in their way, as the real-world aspects were. It’s also the first book I’ve written from the perspective of a child, and I wanted her to be as believable on the page as she was in my head. Pearl’s mode of speech was also challenging to handle. Anytime you deal with dialect in a book, particularly in the voice of a person of color, you run the risk of offending people or being accused of stereotyping. Since the book is itself so concerned with marginalization, it was important to me that neither Pearl nor any of the other people in the book come across as caricatures. I intend all my books to speak to the universal experience of being human, and both to acknowledge diversity as well as our commonalities as people, no matter what gender, ethnicity, cultural or educational background we spring from. Thankfully, I had an editor working with me on this book who really helped let me know when I was pulling those challenges off, and when I needed to work on some things. It was a lot of work, and I’m proud of how it turned out.
  4. Fans of what sort of books would enjoy Pearl? I think this book will appeal to a wide audience. Pearl’s wit, spirit and humor, and her determination to uncover the mystery of her own strange history will appeal to the Harry Potter audience, I think, and there is certainly magic here, too. Fans of 1980s horror, especially Stephen King’s work, will find elements here that echo the particular ethos of that era in horror history. I hope there are some elements of such Steven Spielberg films as E.T. and Poltergeist here, as well as books such as King’s IT and Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life. It’s one-third coming-of-age drama, one-third horror novel, and one-third fantasy epic.
  5. Creative writing is opening your soul and exposing yourself. How much of yourself do you think made it into Pearl? A good bit. Matt Chandler, the writer who becomes a father figure to Pearl over time, is a good bit like me. And Pearl, with her childhood involving being treated like an outsider because of the way she was born and how she looks, reflects some of my childhood as well, even if I never outright got called a ‘monster’ like she does. My Christian religious beliefs and much of my personal outlook on the world found their way, I hope, into the book as well. Also, of course, my love of monsters, something I share with, among others, the filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. Fans of his work will enjoy this book, I think.
  6. What is a good habit for a writer to adopt? Discipline. Put your backside to the seat for a set number of hours every day, set daily word-count goals, and do not allow yourself to back out of them. Also, read a lot.
  7. Would you like to share a little preview of Pearl with us?

I’m not sure how little this is, but here you go.

* * *

Run, Pearl. When you get the chance, run. And don’t stop until you’re somewhere safe.”

That’s what Dr. Steve told her to do, and when the chance came, that’s what she did.

Sirens in the dark. Rain all around; on my head, soaking through my hood.

Don’t care. Gotta get away.

And she had. She ran until the sirens were gone and the branches of the thick trees in the woods rose between her and the rain. Mostly, anyway.

And then, Pearl was alone.

In five days, that would be a year ago: a year of white squares colored in on a calendar, like a brightly-hued sidewalk between then and now.

Bright squares on a wall, and peaceful woods, all around.

It was quiet, mostly, here in the woods. Quiet meant no people, and no people meant peace.

Pearl knew some people in the world hated silence; always turning on the TV or punching at their cell phones like they were scared to be alone in their own heads.

Pearl had some thoughts in her head she didn’t like, but she didn’t mind being alone, and she could live with the silence.

She’d lived with worse.

The bad place she left behind was worse: the lab, with all its chains, cold cuffs for her wrists, and the cage they kept her in, like she was a prisoner instead of a girl who’d done nothing but open her eyes one day and take a breath. But the cuffs and chains had stayed the same while Pearl grew and changed, and one morning, soon after her ninth birthday, she found the bonds that were so strong when she was little weren’t so strong anymore, and she broke them, and she was free.

In her first year of freedom, the woods were quiet; a place where Pearl could be alone with her thoughts, and with the animals, and once in a while, read one of the books she’d brought from the bad place with her in her backpack, or color in one of the coloring books she’d brought from there, with crayons from a box she’d found in a dumpster near a store, the first night she was on her own.

Not found; scavenged. She liked that word better.

She’d happened upon the cabin on the third night of that first year, and, after making sure no one else was there, she’d taken a bath in the nearby lake, put on some clean clothes, eaten one of the packs of Pop-Tarts from her backpack, and fallen asleep.

Across from the cabin, Pearl saw something that made her curious: a big house, with three levels. Nobody seemed to be home the night she first arrived in the woods. The cabin was enough for her. Besides, that house looked fancy, and she thought it might have some alarms on it, like the bad place had on its doors, so that if she went too close to it, the police would come running.

I sure ’nuff don’t need that, she’d thought.

* * *

Almost a whole year had gone by since the day she moved into the cabin, and all that time, the big house across the way from it stood empty.

Pearl knew, because she kept a watch on it.

She figured as long as the big house stayed empty, it’d be more likely folks would leave her alone.

Five white squares were left on the calendar before the one she’d circled in green (October 6th, she noted, tracing the circle with her finger). That green circle marked a whole year’s worth of white squares since the day she found the cabin; squares she’d filled in with her crayons, one by one, on the last three pages of one calendar and almost the whole first nine of another.

In all that time, she and the world had passed each other by.

This morning was different.

This morning, Pearl had seen something—something that changed everything.

It was the middle of the day, when the sun was high in the sky. Most times, it was a peaceful part of the day, but not now.

Two big trucks were pulling up the driveway of the big house, where none had ever pulled up before.

Both trucks had the same thing written on them: MYSTERY CREEK MOVING COMPANY.

Pearl knew that meant whoever it was the stuff in those trucks belonged to, they weren’t just coming for a visit. They were planning to stay, and that was something she hadn’t figured on.

* * *

Pearl wasn’t scared of sleeping in the woods alone. As long as all she saw were animals, she’d be just fine. Pearl wasn’t scared of any wild animals. They couldn’t do anything to hurt her.

Neither could men with dogs. They’d tried, too.

Men with guns, that was something different. But for a whole year now, they’d stayed away from her, except in her nightmares. For a year, everyone had stayed away from her. That was how she liked it.

Now all that was changing, in just one day.

Clay Gilbert says he’s always liked stories, and that from the time he knew there were people who told them for a living, that’s what he wanted to do. Clay’s work in various genres has been in print since his first short science fiction story, “The Computer Conspiracy,” was published in Scholastic magazine when he was just thirteen. Clay is the author of the science fiction series Children of Evohe, including the novels Annah and the Children of Evohe, Annah and the Exiles, Annah and the Gates of Grace, and Annah and the Arrow. He is also the author of the YA dystopian novel Eternity, the science fiction novel The Conversationalist: Out of the Blue and its sequel, The Conversationalist: Mission to Mercy Prime, as well as the vampire novel Dark Road to Paradise, and its sequel, Cassie’s Song, all published by Dark Moon Press. He lives and works in Knoxville, TN. His author blog can be found at, and the official website for his Children of Evohe novels resides at

The Demon’s Fear

The Demon’s Fear

The Song is back,” Ogot’pak croaked.

Kee’mab’s throat bulged with a nervous exhalation as she crouched on the bank of the Deep Current River. A long, slow croak groaned from her lips. She rose to her full height, the muscles of her long legs, slender compared to the thickness of her torso, flexing beneath her waxy, green skin. Her webbed toes spread wide in the soft mud of the bank. She gripped one of her fishing spears in her hand, two more strapped to her back. Her belly was a paler green than her back, legs, and arms. It merged with the loose skin of her throat leading into her wide, squat head. Her eyes, round and sitting atop her skull, fixed on Ogot’pak.

Truly?” Kee’mab asked. Her webbed fingers tightened on the polished, wooden haft of her fishing spear. The slender bone tip had a hook, a barb to catch her prey, the large ot’pa’qq which swam in the dark shadows of the Deep Current River.

Truly,” Ogot’pak said. “Mak’maq’by vanished from her hut before her mate’s eyes. Poor Rok’kk’ak is left to care for their tadpoles alone. Two days and Mak’maq’by has not returned.”

Kee’mab’s throat swelled against her nervousness. Her eyes twisted atop her head, glancing to her right without her body having to move. Upriver, her mate, Eg’kee, tended to their first hatching. A dozen tadpoles swam happily in their spawning pool.

Will it be as bad?” Kee’mab asked.

As thirty years ago?” Ogot’pak flared her throat to thrice its size, the green skin paling as the sac expanded. “Only the river knows. But if the Song is starting up again…”

Kee’mab shifted. Her free hand, fingers long and spindly, reached down to the heavy club hanging from her loincloth’s belt. The hardwood had blades of dark shale spaced around the end, each jutting out the length of her finger joint.

Some come back from the Song,” she said.


The river gurgled by, oblivious to the tightness in the air around the two amphibians. Kee’mab felt a chill that couldn’t come from the warm air caressing her drying skin. Her mouth, as wide as her throat, opened. Her tongue itched to fling out against the injustice of the Song.

My grandmother never came back,” Kee’mab said.

Ogot’pak croaked, a deep, mournful sound. They were both Yq’maq’a. Their people had dwelt in the marshes and forests around the mighty rivers for all of time. They had survived the Songs time and time again.

Great Spawner in the sky, watch over your tadpoles, prayed Kee’mab.

I have to get to the village,” said Ogot’pak. She hefted the scaled hides of the large fish that Kee’mab hunted. “Ak’bd’ek is expecting my leather.”

Good hopping,” Kee’mab said.

Good fishing,” Ogot’pak answered. Her legs compressed then she bounded away, a jump that carried her over the wide river. She landed lightly on the other side, the scaled hides draped over her back rustling.

Unease rippling through her, Kee’mab crouched in the mud, her webbed toes flexing against the soggy ground. She stared at the current flowing past. The darker water housed the large ot’pa’qq. Fear rippled across her dried skin. She yearned to dive into the current and wrestle with one of the large fish.

It would be simpler than wrestling with the Song.

The Singers needed the Yq’maq’a, or so the stories said, to fight their dark enemies. Survivors of the Song, those who’d returned, spoke of a steamy forest, trees towering higher than you could leap. The Singers were small things, standing on two legs like the Yq’maq’a but with smooth skin the color of mud and fur like a beaver on their heads. They needed warriors for their holy battle against terrifying beasts. Clawed Crushers, Rotting Shamblers, Winged Death. More.

Why do you torment us, Singers?” croaked Kee’mab to the air. “Why do you need us? We have our own troubles.”

Her throat expanded in disgust as she stared at the river. She needed a successful hunt. Her mate, the gentle Eg’kee, waited with their spawn. He had to guard them against any maundering foxes or diving shrikes seeking to creep into the pool and devour their tadpoles. Right now, their offspring were a little bigger than one of her fingers. He couldn’t leave them. He would get no sleep or rest for the next two moons. He needed her to hunt and provide. It was the way of their people.

She laid the eggs, he cared for them. Despite his gentle heart, he was a fierce father.

Movement flitted through the stream. She rose, her throat tightening. She gripped her spear as she stared at the dark shadow sliding across the surface. Her eyes tracked it while the rest of her body remained still. She had to wait for the right moment to strike. Her legs tensed for the leap and—

A humming melody whispered around her. It almost sounded like the wind through the boughs of the willow tree and singing through swaying reeds. But there was structure to the melody. Need. Her throat bulged as her legs contracted. She leaped as the Song swelled around her.

She soared straight into the air, a surge of panicked heat rushing through her veins. Her heart pounded as she opened her mouth, gulping in air. She twisted at the pinnacle of her leap, jumping ten times her height. The marshy world laid spread out before her, the ot’pa’qq swimming down the river.

Great Spawner, no!” she cried out as the music surged around her.

As she descended, sapphire light danced in motes, balls of wispy blue spinning about her. The singing grew louder. It spilled from beyond her world, seizing her. She landed in the mud as the azure glow swelled and swallowed her.

The harmony now had a deep cadence, like the low ribbit of a matronly Yq’maq’a. A deep baritone. She gripped her spear and stabbed at the light. The radiance rippled like the surface of a still pool. The Song intensified. The sapphire contracted around her. It spilled like water about her flesh as it seized her.

Eg’kee!” she cried out, picturing her smaller mate, her gentle male with his beautiful eyes and the fine bulge to his throat.

In the light, a gem appeared. It was blue, cut and faceted with care. It neared Kee’mab. She thrashed in the grip of the watery light, but it held her like quicksand, heavy and suffocating. The sapphire pressed towards the smooth top of her amphibian head and nestled between her eyes.

Heat flared as it seared into her flesh. She croaked out her scream of pain as the gem merged into her and—

She tumbled through a void. Complete darkness. Her limbs floated beside her like she drifted in a vast, dark ocean. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. She felt weightless. A terror yawned in her. A gibbering fear that savaged her.

What if she was stuck in this void forever?

The watery light seized her once more and yanked her out of the void. She tumbled again and then gasped. She felt ground beneath her webbed feet. Hard soil. New scents filled her nose. Not the sour muck of the river, but an earthier musk. Humid air spilled over her. Shouts and cries and clashes echoed as the light faded.

The Singer knelt before her outside of a circle made of a metal wire possessing the dull gleam of copper. It held a sapphire in its hand similar to the one buried between Kee’mab’s eyes. Its song died down as it opened its eyes and stared up at her. It had skin the color of rich, brown mud, smooth but not waxy and warty. Its neck was slender, thinner than its head. Black fur covered the top and back of its skull. Its eyes stared up at hers.

I am Running-Beside-Stream of the Frog Clan of the Children-of-the-Great-River,” its words spoke in her mind. It stroked the gem it held. “Do you hear me?”

Send me back,” croaked Kee’mab. “I have a mate. Tadpoles. Send me back.”

Demon, you are summoned in the hour of our great need,” the voice continued as if it didn’t understand her ribbits. The shouts echoed through the trees. The ground shook. Other Singers rushed past the circle, wielding spears tipped with dark stone or clubs bladed with granite. They wore loincloths, their bodies muscled and gleaming. Mist spilled through the jungle. Screams came from the direction they ran. “The Tomb Lords seek to butcher our people once more. We have need of your aid, mighty demon.”

I’m no warrior,” croaked Kee’mab. She struggled to move. A resonance echoed around her like the circle held a memory of the Song. “Send me back. I’m a huntress.”

I hear the fierceness of your croaks, demon,” Running-Beside-Streams said in her mind. “You shall crush our enemies. Slay them all. Protect the Children-of-the-Cataclysm.”

With fingers, not webbed but separate, it broke the circle. It rose, standing half her height. It stared at her with eyes shining and wet. She croaked and then gasped as the gem flared bright between her eyes. Its words echoed through her mind.

The Singer’s commands seized her body. A compulsion she couldn’t fight gripped her. She turned towards the directions the warrior charged, facing the boiling mist. Her legs flexed. She leaped as terror filled her heart.

Eg’kee, she thought, dread for her mate warring with fear for herself. So few survived the Song.

Slay the Tomb Lords and their foul creations,” the Singer commanded in her mind, its voice resonating through her bones.

She landed beside the base of a massive tree, the trunk wider around than she was tall. It rose and rose, its top lost in the thick canopy of green that covered the sky. The sounds grew louder and louder. A horrible, crunching boom echoed. A wet splat. Screams, though made from the foreign mouths of the Singers, were full of pain, a universal agony that she recognized.

Terror. Fear. Panic. Death.

It loomed before her.

She had to survive. Somehow.

Despite every muscle in her body screaming at her to bound away, she leaped towards the violence. She landed again, the dense mist drifting around her, coating her waxy skin in moisture. The sounds came from every direction.

The blue sapphire flared between her eyes.

A scuttling sound crashed through the brush to her right. She whirled to see the fog rippling. Something barreled through it. Dark and low. A massive claw, like that on a crab, lunged out of the mist at her.

Croaking in terror, she leaped backward, a short bound.

The fog billowed as the scuttling thing charged out of it. It was armored, like an insect grown to monstrous sizes. Mandibles snapped. Its pincers thrust from either side of its hungry maw. Faceted eyes fixed black on her. It was long and had an armored back. A segmented tail rose above it, curling to strike. It was tipped with a massive stinger, venom dripping from the end.

A Clawed Crusher, gibbered through her thoughts as the hulking scorpion charged at her, trampling brush. The dagger-like ends of its armored legs stabbed into the dirt as it scurried at her.

Vice-like claws snapped forward, dotted in teeth-like spikes. She leaped again, rising into the air, the mist swirling around it. The sapphire flared. She couldn’t run from this. She had to kill it. She had to survive. A mighty croak burst from her throat as she descended, reversing the point of her fishing spear.

She hurtled down at the monstrous scorpion. The air rushed past her. The thing’s pincers snapped in seeming frustration. She aimed at its head, thrusting her spear down beneath her like she would spear a mighty ot’pa’qq moments before she landed. The bone tip struck the black carapace.


The bone point splintered. Pieces flew about her and her legs bent to absorb the impact as she landed on the monster. Her best spear shattered on the thing’s segmented back. Movement flashed before her as her waxy skin tightened. The venom-dripping stinger knifed down at her.

She croaked in fright and leaped back. The stinger hurtled beneath her and stabbed hard into the ground. She flipped and landed behind the monster, clutching her broken spear in her hand. Only scratches marred its carapace.

Great Spawner, guide me from the predators in the current,” she prayed, an ancient call for aid.

Scuttling crashed behind her.

Kee’mab whirled around to see another monster scorpion burst out of the brush, pincers tearing apart a flowering plant. Faceted eyes glinted, reflecting the blue light of the gem embedded between her eyes.

Out of panicked fear, she thrust the broken spear before her. Mandibles snapped. Crushing claws hurtled at her. Her weapon plunged into its open mouth. Its scurrying momentum impaled it forward down the shaft. Something crunched inside its maw. She’d struck something hard. Ruby light flared from its mouth followed by a gush of brackish ichor. A horrid scent of rot and decay fouled the air.

Before she could gag, the thing’s claw slammed into her. The force battered her back. She fell, the broken spear wrenched from her webbed grip. She hit the ground hard, croaking at the pain throbbing across her fleshy side. Her legs kicked as she struggled to right herself, her spears rattling on her back.

Foul liquid poured out of the scorpion’s mouth. It collapsed in a clatter of chitin. Flickers of red light pulsed from inside. Confusion rippled through Kee’mab. She didn’t understand what she’d struck. How’d she killed it and—

The first!

She gained her feet and whirled around to see the first one scuttling at her, dirt clinging to its barbed stinger. Her skin tightened. With a mighty croak, she leaped into the air as a crushing claw lashed out.

It seized her lower leg.

She ribbitted in pain as the serrated edges of the claw bit into her waxy skin. Her hip burst with sharp agony as her leg almost dislocated. The beast slammed her into the forest floor. She bounced, the pincer crushing her lower leg.

No, no, no!” she croaked as it dragged her across the ground, pulling her towards its hungry maw.

Screams echoed through the jungle. Terror shot through her as she stared at the remorseless thing. Its faceted eyes held no mercy. It didn’t care about her mate and their tadpoles. She had to get back to them. They were helpless.

Great Spawner!” she croaked as she came closer to death.

She grabbed one of her two spears off of her back, panic surging through her. She thrust it before her, aiming for its maw. She had to kill it. She had to get back to Eg’kee and their children. A twitching mandible deflected her spear high.

It stabbed into its eye. Pus oozed out, foul and fetid. The rank scent of decay swept over her again as the scorpion pulled her closer. Its mouth opened wide; dozens of little feelers ringed it, all twitching, all wanting to pull her leg in and feast.

No!” she screamed, her loud, croaking shout echoing through the woods.

She threw her spear.

The slender weapon, designed to pierce the softer scales of a river fish, vanished into the maw of the scorpion, the haft grazing her webbed toe. It buried deep. She heard that loud clatter of bone striking stone. The scarlet light burst out of its maw. She saw a brilliant gem embedded in its throat. It pulsed with ruby light then shattered. Ichor burst from the creature’s flesh as shards of the jewel lanced through it. The foul ooze boiled around her spear. Its jaws snapped shut, snapping the weapon’s haft.

The monster collapsed as the rank odor spilled over her. The pincer holding her leg relaxed. She kicked herself free and rolled away. Throbbing pain rippled up her limb. Her skin was dented, darkening with bruises. She gained her feet, throat bulging with her rapid breaths.

What are you?” she croaked, staring at the dead monsters. The way they smelled had her gagging while the ichor pouring out of them was like their insides were liquefied. Through joints in its carapace, more of the foul gunk oozed out. “What is going on? What is this madness?”

Demon,” the voice spoke, “you are doing well, but you must keep going. You have to find the Tomb Lords. You have to silence them or their abominations will tear us apart. We are dying.”

I’m dying!” she shouted at the voice, the blue gem pulsing. She wanted to find the Singer and plant her spear in its chest.

She wanted to return home.

The voice drove her into the mist towards the screams. She drew her last spear and hopped on her wounded leg, short jumps that throbbed with agony. Her throat pulsed, rapidly ballooning and retracting. Her tongue twitched in her mouth.

It flicked out three times her height in frustration.

Rattling footsteps echoed before Kee’mab. Her throat swelled as her fear surged. She rushed into a dense drift of fog and then burst out into a clearing. A mighty mountain loomed ahead, the craggy peaks rising towards a bright sun. Hills piled closer, covered in thick brush that boiled and shook as things rushed through it.

In a moment, the source of the rustling appeared as rattling skeletons burst out of the thick bushes and charged down in shambling ranks. Each had a gem buried in their mouths, glinting with purple light. They were shorter, the corpses of Singers animated and sent to fight. It curdled her blood as she witnessed living Singers with spears and clubs meeting this impossible horror. They stabbed and swung, striking the skeletons but doing little damage before bony fingers tore into their flesh in great spurts of crimson blood.

More scuttling scorpions rushed into the fight on her right. Her throat tightened as she spotted more of her own race, sapphire gems embedded in their heads, leaping forward to battle the carapaced horrors. She knew them. Ogot’pak, who’d given her warning, swung her fist into a skeleton, knocking the thing into fragments. She kicked hard, ripping apart another.

Ogot’pak!” Kee’mab croaked as she drew her club.

Ogot’pak didn’t react to Kee’mab’s words. The clash of battle boiled through the land. Everywhere she looked, skeletons, scorpions, and other things attacked. The brown-skinned Singers died while more and more of their numbers charged out of the fog behind her. She had to help them. The egg-eating voice in her mind along with the gem buried in her skull forced her to act.

She swung her mace before her. The skeletons were only half her height, like adolescents to her. She crashed through their skulls and shattered their rib cages. Amethyst jewels burst with purple light as she smashed through their animated corpses.

Kee’mab pressed forward, her leg throbbing as she battered through the skeletons. Singers cheered around her, crying out in their squeaking tongues. They surged forward with her, little children fighting with ferocity, clubbing the skeletons that her blows missed.

She pressed on and on. The skeletons reached for her with bony fingers ending in sharp points, but her club swung hard. The heavy wood, set with the blades of shale, shattered their bones. She trampled over the shards as she battled towards the hill.

Other Singers stood at the pinnacle, their skin a paler shade of brown, a dusky hue. They had no hair but instead had bands of black patterns wrapped around their skulls. They wore robes of black and clutched stones of frozen midnight in their hands that flared with an umbral light.

To her right, she spotted Ogot’pak again. She wielded one of the Singer’s clubs. It looked tiny in her hand. She swung it hard before her, battering through skeletons while a pair of scorpions scurried at her.

Fear tightened in Kee’mab’s throat. Her friend faced the beast, the gem flaring bright in Ogot’pak’s head. Kee’mab leaped, the pain flaring in her wounded leg. She only covered half the distance she should have. She landed while shifting her weapons. She gripped her spear now as she croaked out in fear.

Ogot’pak didn’t flee. She faced the scorpion, the Singer’s club raised to smash down on its head as crushing pincers darted forward. With a mighty throw, Kee’mab hurtled her last fisher spear. It soared over the heads of the battling Singers and skeletons. It whistled, flying true, thrown with all her skill.

The spear buried deep into the scorpion’s mouth. It struck the gem. The ruby light blazed. It fell dead at Ogot’pak’s feet. Her club swung down, striking the carapace head a moment later. The blow bounced off the hardened chitin.

Joy surged through Kee’mab. She ribbitted her delight.

They would survive the Song and return to their people.

The second scorpion’s claw seized Ogot’pak’s body. Kee’mab croaked in horror as her friend was lifted up by the monster’s crushing grip. One pincer dug deep into Ogot’pak’s chest while the second grabbed her lower legs. Bones popped. Flesh tore. With a mighty pull, the scorpion ripped Ogot’pak in half. Ogot’pak screamed her agony. Guts spilled out in a pile before the scorpion. It threw the upper half of Ogot’pak’s corpse into a group of Singers, bowling them over.

No!” croaked Kee’mab. Her body shuddered. Her tongue fluttered in her throat as waves of grief washed over her.

Demon, you must keep fighting,” ordered the voice in her mind. “You have to reach the Tomb Lords.”

Great Spawner piss on your Tomb Lords!” she howled as she watched the scorpion stuff Ogot’pak’s right leg into its hungry maw. “Why are you doing this? Why can’t you fight on your own?”

You’re doing well. You’re saving my people, but you have to keep going, demon.”

The voice and the egg-eating gem turned her body. She stared at the hill. She was at the base of it now. Skeletons raced down it, trampling the brush, leaving paths of devastation. The three Singers at the summit stroked their obsidian staves. A pair of scorpions patrolled before them, heavy pincers snapping.

Her eyes locked on the figures. A rage filled her. An anger that had to be answered. If she couldn’t find Running-Beside-Stream and unleash her fury upon it, she would inflict her wrath out on those three on the hills. The had to pay for Ogot’pak’s death.

She leaped over a phalanx of skeletons stumbling towards her, her leg throbbing with agony. She didn’t care. She was beyond pain. She drew her club again, one of the shale blades shattered. A shard of white skull lay buried in a crack.

She landed on the slope of the hill. She croaked against the torturous throb shooting up her leg as her muscles flexed. She leaped again, the hill soaring beneath her. The three on the hill glared at her. Two were taller, the other slimmer, face different, softer, body curvier beneath its robe.

She landed before the scorpions. Their claws lunged at her, legs ripping at the slope as they surged at her. She leaped again, soaring over the monsters. Pincers snapped, almost catching a webbed toe. She raised her club up high, fury surging through her.

Something screeched above. A large bird with black feathers opened its maw, a helidor gem shining in its throat. It dived at her as she hurtled at the three Tomb Lords. They shifted, the smaller raising a head skyward, mouth moving, a harmonic song pouring from its voice while umbral shadows shivered off the glassy-black stave.

Kee’mab landed before the smaller Tomb Lord and swung. Her club brained the hated thing. Its skull shattered; an eye bulged. Something broke beneath its skin. Shards of obsidian burst out of the black tattoo on the Tomb Lord’s head, the shards tinkling through the air.

The bird above went limp. It plummeted toward the ground without a shout and crashed behind Kee’mab.

The scorpions chittered as they charged up the hill. The nearest Tomb Lord gripped the obsidian stave, blood pouring from its fingers, staining the glassy stone. Dark light flared across the stave as it sang. Kee’mab thrust out her left hand and seized the Tomb Lord in her webbed grip. The Tomb Lord screamed as she lifted it and whirled around.

The first scorpion was on her. She thrust the Tomb Lord at its stinger knifing down. It struck the thing she held. A blood pincer burst out of the Tomb Lord’s chest, ripping through the black robe. The screams turned to gurgling spasms.

The scorpion collapsed.

Kee’mab understood. These three controlled the monstrosities surging across the jungle. The skeletons, the Crushing Claws, the Winged Death. The voice wanted them to die. If she killed the Tomb Lords, she would go home. She would survive the Song.

Salvation at hand, she whirled around to face the final Tomb Lord, her club swinging in a brutal arc at its body. Things seemed to move slow, her mind drinking in details. The five markings around its head looked like black claws gripping its skull. The blackened skin was puckered, raised. Something was beneath the tattooed flesh. Something that glowed with a faint pulse of shadows.

More obsidian.

It shouted as she swung her club at it. The Tomb Lord thrust its stave forward, blood spilling from its cut fingers and staining the obsidian. The stave struck the sapphire gem embedded in her head as her mace slammed into its shoulder. Sapphire light exploded around her, clashing with the crimson shadow.

A harmonic dissonance surged around her. A cacophony of conflicting notes reverberated through the air. The watery light engulfed her. She croaked in shock. The Tomb Lord screamed in pain, its body crashing into her. She felt it clutching her waist, clinging to her as the world seemed to fold.


The azure light and the crimson shadow intensified. Warred. They assaulted each other, rejecting the other like fish oil and water. They couldn’t mix. They were inimical and yet were surging around each other. The gem vibrated in her head. The Tomb Lord screamed louder.

Her stomach churned as the world folded.

She appeared in the void. The sound was gone. She spun, arms shifting. The Tomb Lord clutched to her. It stared at her, eyes wide. Its shoulder bled from her bladed club’s impact. It shook its tattooed head, gibbering in a strange language.

Get off me!” she screamed and kicked with her good leg.

The Tomb Lord’s grip broke from her. It spun away into the darkness, fingers reaching for her, twitching. She recognized the terror on its face. Then the blue light was around her. It was pure, unstained by the dissonance of his obsidian shard and foul blood.

The watery radiance gripped her. The harmony she heard rippled around her. The Song carried her. It held her immobile. It blazed with sapphire flames. She croaked, thrashing, struggling to be free. The harmony hit a crescendo.

The Song died.

She gasped, lying atop a marshy hill, staring up at a cloudy sky. She croaked, heart racing as she sat up. Her leg throbbed. Her throat ballooned before she let out a mighty croak. Her eyes darted to and fro and…

She was on Three Hop Hill overlooking Deep Current River. Her entire body shook. Her leg throbbed from the scorpion’s crushing claw. Crimson blood from the Tomb Lord was smeared across her torso. She released her club and sat up. Her tongue burst out of her mouth, flicking out as she rocked back and forth. A ribbitting croon burst from her that became a mighty shout.

She’d survived the Song. She’d killed the Tomb Lords, but… but… “Ogot’pak.”

The horrific sight was seared into Kee’mab’s mind. Her webbed hands grabbed fistfuls of the wet grass she lay upon. She scrubbed at the blood on her while her leg swelled from her injury. She groaned, croaking against the pain.

Against the grief.

How many of her people did the Singers summon? How many did they throw into their desperate fight against the evil Tomb Lords and their corpse armies? She scrubbed harder at her torso, needing to be clean.

Would she ever be?

The screams of the dying Singers, of the hissing scorpions and rattling skeletons lashed at her as she leaped away from the hill. She had to escape the sounds. They whipped at her. She landed at the hill’s base, stumbling at the fresh pain that throbbed up her leg. She grabbed a stunted willow tree’s feathery fronds to stay upright.

Ogot’pak’s croaking death-scream echoed around Kee’mab.

She pressed from the tree, moving at a loping bound, short hops that could never carry her far enough away from the echoes of death. They chased Kee’mab. Her eyes darted to and fro, her throat inflating and deflating again and again and…

A croaking, crooning song filled her ears.

She blinked out of the daze of pain. She stared ahead at Yq’maq’a who crouched low, his legs bent to the side. He stood a forearm shorter than her, his skin a deep, dark green. His soft croon, a lovely soprano, echoed over the babble of the river. He stood on the edge of a mud enclosure, an artificial pond built in a side-spur of the river beside a mud hut.

A large club lay at his side.

Eg’kee,” she croaked as she limped ahead.

His eyes twisted to face her before he shifted his entire torso. He peered at her with an unblinking gaze. Then he croaked and rose to his full height. He gripped his mace as his throat bulged. “Kee’mab?”

I’m alive,” she said. “I’m fine.” She limped forward as his eyes flicked up and down her. “The tadpoles?”

What happened to you?” he asked, his voice gentle. He lowered his club. “Did a crocodile ambush you?”

The tadpoles?” she asked again as she approached the pool. She peered at the water, but she could only see the gray sky reflected in the mirrored surface.

They’re fine,” he said. “Kee’mab, what happened?”

The Song,” she croaked as she reached the pool’s edge. She fell to her knees, staring into the water. A dark tail swished by, one of her tadpoles darting through the weedy bottom, its body still round with a yolk sac. More flitted through the pool. Five. Six. A dozen.

Song?” Eg’kee said. He knelt beside her. His long arm went around her shoulder. “Kee’mab?”

I survived the Song,” she ribbitted, a quiet sound. Her eyes closed as she leaned against her mate. He pressed her head into his throat. She could feel it inflating and deflating with his breath while she watched their tadpoles play.

His crooning sound, so different from the harmonic melody, wrapped around her. She’d survived the Song. In her mind, the horrors she witnessed remained. Ogot’pak torn apart, the skeletons slashing at her flesh, the crushing claws of the scorpions, the Tomb Lords she’d killed at the top of the hill.

They stained her thoughts. Would she ever escape them? Would she fear seeing death every time she closed her eyes?

She didn’t understand why they fought. What it had all been for. The Singers had wrenched her from her world and driven her into pain. If the Tomb Lord hadn’t destroyed her gem, would she ever have returned to her mate? Her tadpoles?

She clutched to Eg’kee and struggled to find peace.


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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Two

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Two


Welcome to Chapter Two of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter One!

We burn like over-fat candles, our centres gouged, our edges curling in, our wick forever outrunning our wax. We resemble what we are: Men who never sleep.


My Thoughts

It’s a nice reintroduction to the Mandate Schoolman. They used to be men at the edge of their resources. They are working themselves too hard. They are driven to push themselves to their utter limits. Why?

Because of Seswatha’s dreams.

And since this chapter starts out with Achamian, it’s a fitting introduction.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), southwestern Galeoth

There would have been nightmares aplenty had Drusas Achamian been able to dream a life that was his own. Nightmares of a long, hard war across deserts and great river deltas. Nightmares of sublimity and savagery held in perfect equipoise, though the cacophony of the latter would make all seem like misery. Nightmares of dead men, feeding like cannibals on their once strong souls, raising the impossible on the back of atrocity.

Nightmares of a city so holy it had become wicked.

And of a man who could peer into souls.

Achamian can’t dream of these things because, even though he renounced being a Mandate Schoolman, he still dreams of Seswatha and the First Apocalypse. He relives the horrors of the past. Tonight, he’s dreaming of a feast that the High King Anasûrimbor Celmomas has thrown. He’s reclining on his Urthrone drunk and almost passed out. His Knight-Chieftains are partying. Toasts are cried out and mead is drunk. Achamian (as Seswatha) is at the end of a table only drinking water. He is watching “the High King—the man he still called his best friend—drink himself into unconsciousness.”

Seswatha slips out. No one notices. He moves through the palace and finds a door open as expected. Candles light the room, illuminating Suriala, a wanton beauty. “He knelt in accordance with the very Laws he was about to break.” He’s overcome with her beauty. He goes to the bed, mounts her.

Made love to his High-King’s wife—

A convulsive gasp.

Achamian bolted forward from his blankets. The darkness buzzed with exertion, moaned and panted with feminine lust—but only for a moment. Within heartbeats the chorus call of morning birdsong ruled his ears. Throwing aside his blankets, he leaned into his knees, rubbed at the ache across his jaw and cheek. He had taken to sleeping on wood as part of the discipline he had adopted since leaving the School of Mandate, and to quicken the transition between his nightmares and wakefulness. Mattress, he had found, made waking a form of suffocation.

It takes him some time to banish his arousal from the dream. If he was still a Mandate, this would have been momentous to dream. He wasn’t one, and he had many such revelations in his dreams to be overawed. He glances at the sun shining through curtains thinking exposing truth to the light is “never a bad thing.”

He can hear the children of his two slaves playing outside. He savors the sound because today it felt like a “profound miracle.” He wished to just stay in this moment, a good way to spend the rest of his life.

He looks at his room in a Galeoth military tower. It’s simple and barbaric compared to his life spent in the “fleshpots of the South.” But it had been his home for twenty years. The place where he studied.

He walked different roads. Deeper roads.

How long had he travelled?

All his life, it seemed, though he had been a Wizard for only twenty.

Breathing deep, drawing fingers from his balding scalp to his shaggy white beard, he walked to the main worktable, braced himself for the concentrated recital to come…

The meticulous labour of mapping Seswatha’s labyrinthine life.

Thanks to writing down Seswatha’s dreams for years, he’d learned the best way to do it. Before his memory could taint the recollection, he had to write it down fresh. The first thing he did upon awakening. However, he could only write: “NAU-CAYÛTI?” He stares at the name of Celmomas’s son who helped steal the Heron Spear. That weapon slew the No-God. Achamian has read dozens of books devoted to him. His military exploits. His heroic deeds. How he was slain by his wife, Iëva. Some have noted how many of Seswatha’s dreams had involved Nau-Cayûti. Achamian is realizing Seswatha had bedded his lover, which is in itself a significant revelation. As much as Achamian wants to jump to the conclusion that Seswatha is Nau-Cayûti’s father, he thinks to the dream, wanting to date it to see if was possible. He’s interrupted by one of the slave children asking a question only for a strange woman to reply.

He’s shocked by the accent of the newcomer. She spoke like a Nansur or Ainoni. Someone from the south, not someone from Hûnoreal, a province in northern Galeoth. He looks out the window across the grounds and doesn’t see where the voices are coming from. He scans past a few outbuildings and spots a mule while the voices “continued to chirp and gaggle somewhere to the left.” The boy cries out for their mother and Achamian spots him moving through the trees on the slope. His mother, Tisthana, comes out to meet the children. There are children talking to the stranger, a woman, asking about her sword and the name of her mule. She’s wearing a fine cloak marking her noble caste, but he can’t see her face. He wonders how long it had been since a visitor had come. Maybe five or six years ago.

He remembers how it had been just him and Geraus in the beginning. He often had to use the Gnosis to kill packs of Sranc, leaving marks of the battle all over the place. Geraus still has nightmares about it. Later, Scalpoi came to win the bounty on Sranc scalps. They often brought their own problems, but his Gnosis took care of that.

No matter, the rule had been simple over the years: Visitors meant grief, the Gods and their laws of hospitality be damned.

The woman appears friendly as she greets Tisthana, and Achamian thinks the woman acts like caste-menial despite her fine clothing. He relaxes when he hears Tisthana laugh, knowing she’s a trustworthy judge of character. The two women now walking side by side to the tower, chatting in the friendly way of women. Tisthana points out Achamian. He tries to put on a dignified pose but the mortar of the windowsill crumbles and he almost falls out the window. The children laugh in delight as he rights himself.

The stranger looked up, her delicate face bemused and open and curious…

And something in Achamian suffered a greater fall.

No matter how surprising an event is, there is a reason for it. Cause and effect rule the world. The newcomer calls him the Great Wizard in a tone “balanced between many things, hope and sarcasm among them.” She reminds him of a child with poor manners. He demands to know what she’s doing here after sending Tisthana and the children away. Despite how short she is, she’s standing on the highest fold of the ground to loom over him out of instinctive. He recognizes her. She’s beautiful, her face that of his wife. This is Mimara, Esmenet’s daughter who she’d sold into slavery during a famine. Achamian wonders if finding Mimara is why Esmenet stayed with Kellhus, choosing the Dûnyain emperor over “a broken-hearted fool.”

Not because of the child she carried, but because of the child she had lost?

The questions were as inevitable as the pain, the questions that had pursued him beyond civilization’s perfumed rim. He could have continued asking them, he could have yielded to madness and made them his life’s refrain. Instead he had packed a new life about them, like clay around a wax figurine, then he had burned them out, growing ever more decrepit, even more old, about their absence—more mould than man. He had lived like some mad trapper, accumulating skins that were furred in ink instead of hair, the lines of every snare anchored to this silent hollow within him, to these questions he dared not ask.

And now here she stood… Mimara.

The answer?

Mimara is glad he recognized her. Memories of Esmenet ripple through Achamian at the sight of her, and he says she looks a lot like her. She doesn’t seem pleased about that. He repeats his question, asking why she is here. She gives a flippant, obvious answer that forces him to ask a third time. Anger glazes through her, startling Achamian. The world that had slowly faded away from his valley now has returned. He’d found peace here and realizes he’s about to lose it as he shouts at her to know why she’s here.

She flinched, looked down to the childish scribble at her feet: a gaping mouth scrawled in black across mineral white, with eyes, nose, and ears spaced across its lipless perimeter.

“B-because I wanted…” Something caught her throat. Her eyes shot up, as though requiring an antagonist to remain focused. “Because I wanted to know if…” Her tongue traced the seam of her lips.

“If you were my father.”

His laughter felt cruel, but if was such, she showed no sign of injury—no outward sign.

He explains he met Esmenet after Mimara was sold into slavery. He should have realized Esmenet would have used all her new power to find the “girl whose name she would never speak.” He tries to explain how Esmenet sold Mimara to save her from starving to death and how it broke her. As he says them, he realizes this is just the “same hollow justifications” she’s heard again and again. It’s clear that though Esmenet found her years ago, it was too late to fix her. She then starts pressing that she remembers that he bought her apples. He claims it wasn’t him and he’s not her father because the daughter of whores “have no fathers.” He tried to say it gently, but it comes out too hard. It hurts her. “You said that I was clever,” she accuses.

He ran a slow hand across his face, exhaled, suddenly feeling ancient with guilt and frustration. Why must everything be too big to wrestle, too muddy to grasp

“I feel sorry for you, child—I truly do. I have some notion of what you must have endured…” A deep breath, warm against the bright cool. “GO home, Mimara. Go back t your mother. We have no connection.”

He turned back towards the tower. The Sun instantly warmed his shoulders.

“But we do,” her voice chimed from behind him—so like her mother’s that chills skittered across his skin.

He reiterates that he’s not her father, but she says it’s something else that brought her. Her tone makes him turn back to face her. She says she’s one of the few. A witch. She continues that she isn’t looking for her father, but for a teacher. She wants to learn the Gnosis.

There is a progression to all things. Lives, encounters, histories, each trailing their own nameless residue, each burrowing into a black, black future, groping for the facts that conjure purpose out of the cruelties of mere coincidence.

And Achamian had his fill of it.

Mimara realizes that her mother “the old whore” is right: Achamian likes to teach. It’s been three months since she’s run away from the Andiamine Heights in search of Achamian. She had to dodge the Judges and survive the hard winter. She can’t believe she made it. She’s dreamed of this place, imagined it so much, it actually fits her fantasy. Everything but Achamian.

He’s the Apostate. The man who cursed the Aspect-Emperor out of love for Esmenet. She’s heard many versions of him. Even her mother talks about him in different ways. It’s the contradictions about this man that left the impression. “In the cycle of historical and scriptural characters that populated her education, he alone seemed real.

Only he isn’t. The man before her seems to mock her soft-bellied imaginings: a wild-haired hermit with limbs like barked branches and eyes that perpetually sort grievances. Bitter. Severe. He bears the Mark, as deep as any sorcerers she has seen glimpse through the halls of the Andiamine Heights, but where they drape silks and perfume about their stain, he wears wool patched with rancid fur.

How could anyone sing songs about such a man?

He asks if it’s true that witches aren’t burned. She says there’s even a School, the Sawayal Compact. That shocks Achamian who then asks why she needs him. Her mother won’t let her and the Sawayali won’t anger Esmenet by taking her. “Socerery, she [Esmenet] says, leaves only scars.” Achamian agrees with that.

“But what if scars are all you have?”

Achamian is taken back by Mimara’s statement then asks if she wants power to “feel the world crumble beneath the weight of your voice.” She sees this as a game and asks isn’t that why he did it and strikes a nerve, but she finds no satisfaction in winning. He tells her he’d rather be her father than teacher.

There is a set manner to the way he turns his back this time, one that tells her that no words can retrieve him. The sun pulls his shadow long and profound. He walks with a stoop that says he has long outlived the age of bargaining. But she hears it all the same, the peculiar pause of legend becoming actuality, the sound of the crazed and disjoint seams of the world falling flush.

He is the Great Teacher, the one who raised the Aspect-Emperor to the heights of godhead.

He is Drusas Achamian.

She builds a bonfire that night wanting to burn down his tower. She pretends the fire is living, a fantasy she often indulges in to put magic into the world. “That she is a witch.” It starts to rain. Lightning flashes. She crouches in the downpour, soaked. It slowly smothers her fire. Her misery grows. She finds herself before the tower hollering for him to teach her.

He simply has to hear, doesn’t he? Her voice cracking the way all voices crack about the soul’s turbulent essentials. He needs only to look down to see her leaning against the slope, wet and pathetic and defiant, the image of the woman he once loved, framed by steam and fire. Pleading. Pleading.



Only wolves answer, howling with her. It mocks her, but she’s used to people “who celebrate her pain.” She throws her hurt back at the world, declaring he will teach her. Then she sees him watching her from a doorway. He steps out into the rain, hobbling towards her. She can see the unseen sorcery shielding him from the rain. She trembles when he looks down at her from the stairs while the storm rages around them. She feels embarrassed under his scrutiny and demands he teach her.

Without a word, which she could now see is made not of wood, but of bone. Quite unprepared, she watches him swing it like a mace—

An explosion against the side of her skull. Then sliding palms, knuckles scraped and skinned, arms and legs tangled rolling. She slams to a stop against a molar-shaped rock. Gasps for air.

Stunned, she watches him pick his way back up the shining slope. She tastes blood, bends her face back to let the endless rain rinse her clean. The drops seem to fall out of nowhere.

She begins laughing.

Teeeach meeee!”

My Thoughts

A great way to introduced Achamian and remind us of the Holy War and what happened. We cut right to the most important part of his motivation in this series: finding out the truth of Kellhus. He has to know the truth of who he is, and those keys lie in his dream of Seswatha. A dream about a sorcerer cuckolding a king.

So is Seswatha the father of Nau-Cayûti? This certainly seems to imply it. Why else would Achamian dream this moment.? Or more specifically, why else would Bakker write this passage? My theory on why both Nau-Cayûti and Kelmomas are both able to activate the No-God when no one else can is their bloodline. The Anasûrimbor bloodline. It is implied that the only successful mating between human and Nonman happened when an Anasûrimbor daughter was raped by a Nonman. However, if Nau-Cayûti isn’t Celmomas’s bloodline, how does my theory survive?

Well, as we can see from the appendix of Thousandfold Thought, the Anasûrimbor dynasty was large. It ruled several different kingdoms. The Anasûrimbor that Kellhus is a descendant of is a cousin to Kelmomas. If you know anything about royalty, they like to marry important people. There is often quite a number of close kin marrying amid royal families. It is possible that Suriala is also an Anasûrimbor by blood even if her maiden name was another.

In fact, estimates of human history show that most marriages in the history of our race (hardly dented by the small fraction of the modern era) have been between first and second cousins. So the Anasûrimbor bloodline was spread out wide, it was preserved in the Dûnyain as one of their various lines of descent because of its innate gifts. I also think this is why Kellhus has trouble with children. The Dûnyain have bred the Nonman part of the Anasûrimbor genetics to its limits through their program. The reason for their greater intelligence and reflex might be, partly, accounted by this strengthening of the Nonman genes. I think the Mutilated figured this out, but by then they were the last Dûnyain left alive and none of them wanted to do the activation.

They were trying to save their souls, not sacrifice them, so they needed a replacement. And one was coming. Their enemy. They were certain Kellhus would work. They had to have figured out the Anasûrimbor bloodline was the key. They could take out the greatest threat to their power and turn on the No-God in one step. Leave Kellhus alive, and he’d probably figure out how to destroy the No-God again even if one of them activated it.

There is precedent for it happening. Hope they find that missing Heron Spear.

The sound of children laughing and playing, a simple joy, is what Achamian yearns for. He wants to keep hearing it because it means the Second Apocalypse hasn’t come. That there is still innocence in the world.

We noticed near the end of the last book, that Achamian’s dreams with Seswatha were focused on Nau-Cayûti. Now, he’s dreaming things no other Mandate has. The things that the Seswatha-in-his-Soul didn’t think was relevant to their mission. What’s changed for Achamian. What makes him different.


I believe when Kellhus hypnotized Achamian in the Thousandfold Thoughts, something changed. Perhaps Kellhus talking with the Seswatha caused him to react and start feeding Achamian more information, or whatever Kellhus did to free Achamian to teach the Gnosis loosened the other restraints on the Seswatha in him, and now he’s dreaming all sorts of things.

On another note, Mandate who get obsessed with dreams invariably fall into the conspiracy theory traps and get lost in them. Achamian, at least, is studying new things. But obsession can do a lot of damage if it consumes him.

Poor Achamian, having to dream about an adulterous wife while missing Esmenet. Twenty years, and it still hurts. He’s like Leweth from the first book. The man who went into the wilderness to preserve memories of his wife. Achamian is obsessed with his quest to unmask Kellhus and prove himself right. Esmenet went back to him without telling him why. She probably thought he was dead, she was pregnant, and she had a chance to find Mimara.

Achamian is always the teacher, even if his only pupils are slave children who’d normally never learn to write. The Turtle Shell rock is a nice and subtle reminder of one of Achamian’s core characteristics.

Why did Esmenet stay? I’ve always said it was for her children: Mimara and Kayûtas, the one she was pregnant with. She had to be a mother before a woman, choosing them over her heart.

I think I’ve mentioned this, but altruism is hard to maintain when you’re starving. The hungrier you get, the more you retreat into instinct. And instinct is selfish. We know from Esmenet’s point of view she sold Mimara to feed herself. In a fit of selfishness, she did it and only regretted it later. Once she’d eaten and could think properly, she wanted to take it back. Ironically, it did save Mimara’s life, but the girl suffered greatly anyways. A wound that being told her suffering was for her own good won’t work to heal.

I’m interested in the next series. Will becoming a mother herself bring Mimara and Esmenet together?

Achamian is lying about never meeting Mimara. He’s not her father, but he did know her as a child. He helped Esmenet to try and get her back after the famine but failed, and that was when Esmenet stopped talking about her. I imagined he’s denying he’s Mimara father out of guilt for that. She would have been sold off when he was away. When he couldn’t help Esmenet. Now he can’t be her father. He’s too old. He wants her to leave, not to bond with him.

Mimara being one of the Few is not a surprising plot twist if you were paying attention to the last series. Esmenet mentioned that her mother could do things that she refused to teach her daughter. She was a witch, but Esmenet didn’t have the ability. It’s a recessive gene or something and skipped her generation. So Mimara being one of the Few is not a clue she’s Achamian’s daughter.

She sees his face slacken, despite the matted wire of his beard. She sees his complexion blanch, despite the sun’s morning glare. And she knows that what her mother once told her is in fact true: Drusas Achamian possesses the soul of a teacher.

This is Mimara’s first POV paragraph. Notice the verbs. They are not in past tense like EVERYTHING else in the series. They’re present tense. It’s a subtle thing Bakker does with her POVs. Whenever we’re in her head, it’s not like the past is being retold to us, but that we’re living in the present with Mimara.

We’re seeing what her Judging Eye sees as the world unfolds before her.

I have to confess, I had read The Judging Eye maybe three or four times before I began seriously pursuing my own writing. The next time I read it after I did, in preparation for The Great Ordeal’s release, this leaped out at me at once and it made me ask, “Why did Bakker do this?”

Remember this lesson: if an author has even a modicum of talent, they write things for a reason. Now, don’t get lost in why they made so-and-so’s dress blue, or why such-and-such person has a wart on their nose. Most of the time, those are just there to paint the world, not for any special reason. But pay attention to which details an author shares and how they convey information. Bakker so far has used 3rd Person Omniscient Past Tense for the historical sections and 3rd Person Limited Past Tense for the character POVs. Now we have a shift to 3rd Person Limited Present Tense for Mimara and only Mimara. Why?

The Judging Eye.

When it opens, we see the world as she does. We experience it as she does. She’s the conduit for the God, the Oversoul, to peer out at the world and witness it the way IT sees the world. Damnation and Salvation. It makes her POVs have an immediacy that other sections can lack.

Like many abused as children, she has a great deal of anger inside of her. She’s lost. Looking for the family she should have had while rejecting the one who sold her into that horror. As we later see when she seduces Achamian, she’s been taught by her abuse that her body only holds value in pleasing a man.

Achamian sees too much of himself in her. He wants to hurt Kellhus and the world that has taken everything away. Mimara cuts too close. To protect himself, he has to drive her away. But she’s determined. She’s come too far to give up. Hitting her on the head won’t work. She thinks she has nothing else but this. She has a driving need to be here, manipulated to come here by her darling little brother Kelmomas.

He wants mommy all to himself.

If you want to read the next part, click here for Chapter 3!


To save the skies, Ary must die!

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