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Weekly Free Story: Plight of the Arshion

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

Enjoy!

The Plight of the Arshion

Thugri Sound, Isamoa 9th, 399 VF (Vaarck’s Founding)

The Bosun’s shrill whistle screaming through her skull awoke Rhione from the bliss of sleep.

Groaning, she snapped her eyes open, staring up at the hammock swinging above her head. Her body didn’t want to move, but she forced herself to sit up in her own hammock, brushing strands of her white-blonde hair from her brown face.

Theisseg’s scrawny feathers,” she muttered, cursing the Storm Goddess for interrupting her sleep. She’d been up past the midnight watch patching the starboard hold of the Arshion. A small skyreef had struck the whaler near sunset. Thugri Sound was rife with the obstacles, and the lookout should have been paying more attention. They were lucky that it had only been a small reef that had collided with the ship, a boulder the size of a fat sow instead of a massive rock. It didn’t damage any of the ship’s frames—the ribs of the ship that ran along the hull from port to starboard—and only cracked a few of the hull’s planks.

Rhione rolled out of her hammock, trying to blink back the weight of sleep from her eyes. She grimaced, the deck cold on her bare feet. She forced herself to stand up, joining the rest of the night watch as they struggled out of their hammocks, men and women cursing and grousing.

What minnow’s crawled up the Cap’n’s skirt?” muttered Dhith, his portly face flushed red as he stepped out of the quartermaster’s stores.

Don’t know, dear, I was sleepin’,” Rhione muttered to her husband. She just wanted to lean against Dhith’s solid frame, close her eyes, and drift off into . . . She shook her head, trying to make her mind work.

Pirates,” muttered Three-Finger Tharsh, the oldest sailor on the Arshion, his face as wrinkled as a year-old prune. “It’s gonna be pirates.”

The grime of sleep fell off Rhione as her heart thudded to life. Agerzak pirates. They haunted Thugri Sound, riding on their strange beasts across the skies. After two years of sailing the Great Empty hunting for whales, the Arshion was heading home to Shuutan and passing through the most dangerous part of their voyage: the stretch through Thugri Sound. The Sound was the border between the Autonomy of Les-Vion to the south—Rhione and the rest of the crew’s nation—and the Agerzak Kingdom of Estapf to the north. Every year, Agerzak pirates took a few whalers out of the hundreds that plied the Sound, forcing their crews to fly the captured ships to the nearest Agerzak port.

Lucky crews were ransomed. Most weren’t. The pirates just wanted the whale oil.

Rhione formed the sun with her thumb and pinkie. “Riasruo defend us,” she muttered as she climbed up the steep steps out of the hold and onto the well deck, the Goddess’s feathery rays falling on her slim shoulders.

Take your battle stations!” bellowed the beefy Bosun, thrusting a crossbow and leather quiver full of bolts into Rhione’s calloused hand. “We gots an unfriendly ship behind us.”

She actually felt relieved. The Agerzak pirates never had ships. At least they didn’t two years ago. A lot could’ve changed.

Sailors scrambled through the rigging, unfurling the sails to full. A great gust whipped down the ship as the Windwarden increased the breeze, propelling the Arshion faster through the skies. Grioch, the slimy Windwarden, had been lucky when he’d received his Blessing. Riasruo, the Sun Goddess, had granted him Major Wind.

There were four different categories of Blessing—Mist, Wind, Pressure, and Lightning—that could come in three different strengths—Minor, Moderate, or Major. Every worshiper of Riasruo was granted a combination of Blessings at seventeen. The Goddess had blessed Rhione with Moderate Mist, allowing her to see through thick clouds and precipitate moisture from the air, and Minor Lightning, granting her immunity to electricity. Thanks to Grioch’s Blessing of Major Wind, he could power the Arshion’s engine, allowing her to fly, and could generate the breezes to propel her across the skies.

Don’t just stand there!” the Bosun bellowed at her.

Rhione glowered at the squat-faced man. As the ship’s chief carpenter, she had equal rank to the Bosun and the Quartermaster. Only the First Mate and the Captain stood higher than her.

I don’t care that you ain’t under my command,” the Bosun grunted. “You get your backside to the gunwale and prepare to defend the ship!”

Aye,” she muttered, shrinking from his boarish rage. Her hands shook as she clutched the crossbow. She’d never used one in her life.

The Bosun thrust one into her husband’s hands. Dhith’s jowls paled. This can’t be how it ends. We didn’t just spend two years plyin’ the Great Empty for it to end just a week out from home.

Ma!”

Rhione’s son raced up, his skinny face thick with fear. Chev served as the cabin boy on the Arshion while learning his parents’ trade. It was his first voyage, and he’d grown so much, sprouting into gangly youth, his brown face sporting a few red pimples. He’d soon have a man’s height and build. Rhione’s spine stiffened; she couldn’t afford to be afraid.

Get below deck!” she snapped at her son. “Ain’t no place for you up here.”

But it’s my job to run out the crossbow bolts. I gots to do my job.”

Fear and pride warred inside her. Chev was such a hard worker, eager to become a full member of the crew. He already knew all the various knots, hitches, bends, splices, loops, and bindings to manage the complicated rigging of the Arshion. Once he gained his strength, he’d make a fine sailor.

You mind your ma,” Dhith snapped.

Sorry, Pa!” Chev yelled, running to the stairs leading below deck. “I need to fetch another barrel of bolts.”

To the gunwale!” the Bosun bellowed at Rhione, cracking his scarred knuckles.

She knew the Bosun wouldn’t spare hitting her just because of her sex, so she joined her husband at the gunwale, the railing that lined the Arshion’s three decks. She kept throwing quick glances over her shoulders, keeping an eye on her son as he lugged a heavy barrel out of the hold, stony points of crossbow bolts sticking out of the top. He set it on the deck, ready to run resupplies to the ship’s defenders.

Stormin’ winds, that’s me and Dhith.

Rhione leaned her crossbow on the gunwale, her hands shaking as she stared out at the open, blue sky above Theisseg’s Storm, struggling to still the tremble in her hands. I’m forgettin’ somethin’. She looked at the wooden crossbow, a string made of wound carp guts connected the weapon’s arms. She hadn’t loaded it. Get it together. Don’t be no downyheaded fool now! She cranked back the windlass, the bone mechanism clicking and clacking before she settled a bolt on the cradle. With a breath, she aimed out at the sky.

Here they come!” roared the Captain from the stern deck, her voice shrill. “Five Agerzak raiders ridin’ across the sky. Hear that? There’s only five! We can beat them back. We have more numbers. So just feather them with your bolts, and we’ll get through this. Just remember the wealth in the tanks! You’ll all be rich when we get the oil back.”

How can the Captain care ‘bout the whale oil right now?” Rhione muttered, trying not to think about five Agerzak raiders bearing down on them.

It’s all the woman cares about,” snorted Dhith. “She’s probably happy we’re bein’ attacked. The more of us them pirates kill before we beat them back, the bigger her share.”

Get ready!” Captain Rhey’s voice was even more shrill than usual, her panic infecting Rhione’s heart. “They’re comin’ up on the port side.”

Great. Why did we choose this side?” Dhith asked.

Theisseg’s scrawny feathers are rainin’ on us today, dear.”

Her husband reached out and touched her arm, his thick fingers giving her a reassuring squeeze. They had shared their fires for over fifteen years, and while it wasn’t always the most steady burning flame, their marriage had been more good than bad.

It’ll be fine,” he smiled.

The Agerzaks burst around the side of the ship, galloping across the skies. They were all barbaric, hulking men, barely dressed, their pale chests muscled and covered in blue paint. Their beards and hair were all thick and black, flowing behind them as they rode their strange, wingless pegasi across the skies. Every time the beasts’ hooves struck the empty air, fire burst as if they were running upon a sheet of flames across the skies.

Rhione aimed her crossbow at the first rider. This pirate clutched a bow, not holding on to his reins as he drew back an arrow. She fired. Her bolt missed him by more than a few ropes, falling uselessly behind him down into the Storm.

Storm-cursed thing,” she muttered, grabbing the crank.

The pirate released his bow. Agony flared across her temple. Darkness crashed down on Rhione.

* * *

Pain was the first thing that Rhione felt, a throbbing ache right behind her eyes. Her stomach roiled and bile crept up her throat. Her eyes fluttered open, sunlight stabbing into her mind. She heaved her stomach onto the deck of the Arshion.

Dhith,” she muttered, spitting out vile vomit from her mouth. She pushed herself up with her arms. “Dhith. What’s happenin’?”

He’s dead, Ma.”

Her son’s voice was so quiet, a whisper from leagues off even though he knelt right next to her.

Who’s dead?” she asked, her hand going to her temple. Pain flared. Sticky blood stained her hand.

Pa.”

That can’t be. He was right next to me. Dhith! Where are you?”

Her son hugged her, clinging to her. “Pa’s dead. They killed him.”

His tears were hot on her neck. Then her gaze arrested on proof of her son’s words. Her husband’s body lay crumpled on the deck, missing his head.

Horror seized her mind as she gazed across the well deck of the Arshion. Her husband wasn’t the only corpse. Agerzak greatswords had painted the white-yellow well deck of the Arshion red. Her stomach rebelled again.

What’s goin’ on?” she asked, struggling to remember. Everything was so fuzzy. Her head throbbed so badly.

We lost, Ma. The pirates boarded us. They took all the oil onto their ships and—” Her son started, looking up at the shadow that fell on them.

You’re alive,” the Bosun grunted, looming over her and her son. “Cap’n wants to see all the chiefs now. We got plans to make.”

Not now,” Rhione muttered, clutching her son. She wanted to cry, but her head pounded.

Now!” he growled, seizing her arm. “The Theisseg-damned pirates took Grioch.”

Grioch. The name penetrated the fuzz paining her skull. “Our Windwarden?”

He nodded, hauling her to her feet.

But, how are we . . .?” She shivered in dread, glancing at Chev; her fingers made the sun, joining thumb to little finger. “Riasruo defend us.”

We got about a day to find a skyland before the engine’s charge dies and . . .”

We fall into the Storm Below.

We’re at the mercy of Theisseg and her capricious winds,” he continued as they crossed the deck, passing the stunned crew. Many sported bandages, staring with dead eyes at the deck. Men and women broken by the pirates. In the distance, a pair of ships with black hulls and blue sails dwindled as they sailed away. They looked like Vaarckthian corvettes, but no Imperial warship would be painted in those colors.

If we had put in at Onhur, we would’ve known the pirates got ships now. Damn greedy Cap’n. Would a day in port really have ruined the trip?

Captain Rhey waited in her cabin, a map of the Thugri Sound unfurled before her, a compass lying on the parchment along with her other navigation tools. A dotted line drawn with a grease pencil led from the Arshion’s position southwest towards the Skyland of Eche. Behind the Captain, the ship’s lanky scout lounged against a bulkhead, a frown creasing his weathered cheeks.

Cap’n,” the Bosun said. “Me and Rhione are all the officers I could find. Brele’s dead along with the Quartermaster.”

Dhith. Rhione’s heart squeezed with pain.

Sorry to hear, Rhione,” Captain Rhey said, her bony face trying to look sympathetic.

She don’t care. One less person that has to split the . . .

It’s all for naught.” A hysterical laugh bubbled out of Rhione’s lips. “The pirates took it all, didn’t they? Two years of Storm-damned work gone.”

Yes. And worse, the wind isn’t blowin’ us south towards Tlele or Tlovis, but southwest towards Eche. That’s over a day’s sailin’.”

So we’re dead,” muttered Xoar Whalesight. The scout straightened up and ran his fingers through his blond hair. “You still got that bottle of whiskey in here, Cap’n? Think I want to get drunk.”

That ain’t gonna help!” snapped the Captain, her shoulders swelling, her red eyes darting about as her bony fingers squeezed her arms. “We ain’t dead yet. We gots to keep focused. There gots to be a way to squeeze some speed out of the Arshion.” The Captain seized Rhione’s hands in a cold, clammy grip. “Right? You know the ship best.”

We need to lighten the ship,” Rhione whispered.

The Captain’s hands squeezed hard. “Right! Right!” She seized on Rhione’s words, clinging to them. “Lighten the ship. We run at full sails and lighten the ship. The mast’ll hold, right? Runnin’ at full sail won’t cause any problem?”

Unless we hit a squall,” Rhione nodded. “She’ll hold. Probably. I checked out both masts two days past. They’re both still solid and well anchored to the keel.”

Good, good! I need you and your carpenters to disassemble every bit of the ship we don’t need. We’re gonna dump everything over the side.”

Doesn’t matter, we’re dead,” laughed Xoar again as he opened up a cabinet. He found the bottle and ripped the cork off with his teeth. “Too far for me to fly Lucky to a skyland. We’re so dead.” Lucky Chemy was the ship’s only pegasus, and Xoar was the only one with the Blessing of Pressure. A pegasus had trouble flying with a full weight of an adult human, but with Pressure, lift could be generated beneath the mounts wings, letting the pegasus carry greater loads.

The Bosun stalked over, seized the bottle from Xoar’s hand, then marched to one of the porthole windows. He threw out the bottle. “Everythin’ needs to go. Food. Water barrels. Personal property. They’ll all gots to go, Cap’n.”

The Captain nodded at the Bosun. “Even the dead.”

But!” Rhione gasped. “If we don’t burn them, how can we send them to Riasruo?” How can I send Dhith . . .? She shook, a ragged sob ripping out of her throat.

Dhith wouldn’t want you or Chev to die just so he could be properly burned,” whispered the Bosun, putting a strong hand on her shoulder. “You gots to be strong for your boy.”

Rhione sniffed, pulling away from the Bosun. She pushed her grief down for Dhith, bottling it up inside her and sealing it with wax. Later. When Chev’s safe.

Okay, I’ll get to work on tearin’ the holds apart.” She took another breath, thinking about the problem. There was a lot of lumber on the ship that could be dismantled, and that didn’t even count the spare supplies for repairs: barrels of tar, bone nails, ceramic fittings, spare sail, and hemp rope. There was a lot of weight that could be tossed. Hope dawned inside her. “We need to get started right away. I’ll get this ship sailin’ as fast as a Sowerese rake.”

What about my pegasus?” Xoar asked.

We’ll keep her,” the Captain decided. “Just in case. Maybe you and another can fly off the ship if . . .”

I’ll go saddle her,” Xoar muttered. “And maybe pinch a ration of grog before you toss it over the side.”

Once you’re done saddlin’ that beast,” growled the Bosun, “you’ll be joinin’ the crew in tossin’ everythin’ overboard.”

Xoar gave a mocking salute—two fingers to his bushy, brown eyebrows—and pushed past the big Bosun.

Okay! Let’s do it!” the Captain said, rubbing her bony fingers together. “Let’s save my ship.”

Rhione couldn’t watch as the bodies were tossed over the side, so she quickly led her three carpenter mates and ten other sailors down into the holds, Chev at her side. She could only hope Dhith and the others were somehow able to ascend to Riasruo’s fiery sun and be bathed in her warm light forever.

The Arshion had two holds; the crew slept in the middle of the lowest deck on hammocks slung between beams. The ship’s stores of dried food and other goods were kept in the fore of the lower deck while the quartermaster supplies—spare lumber, tar, bone nails, canvas, rope, tools, and more—were kept in the aft. Beyond the quartermaster’s was the engine room where the ship’s heart pulsed. The upper hold was taken up by the storage tanks for the whale oil, the rendering ovens, the galley, and the menagerie where they stabled Lucky Chemy. It lay right under the Captain’s cabin in the aft of the ship. The stern of the ship could unfold, opening onto the skies to let Xoar fly his pegasus in and out of the ship.

Hurhen and Seyele, clear out the food stocks, then disassemble the deckin’. Sruthech and Arthen, start with the quartermaster supplies. Pitch it all over except a tool barrel. Then start rippin’ up the deckin’ in there and the engine room. The rest of us, we’re going to work on the crew’s stuff. Grab every trunk, sack, hammock, and bundle of clothin’. All of it is to be pitched over the side. Then we’ll rip up the deckin’ towards the stairs and move on to the upper hold.”

A fair wind blew as none of them objected. There wasn’t time to spend energy on fighting or bickering. She could see it in their eyes; a burning spark of hope was fueling them. They would work hard and fast, without the usual complaining and lollygagging she normally would expect out of the crew.

Chev was the first to grab a chest. He held it in his arms, carrying the wooden trunk up the stairs, straining to carry the heavy weight. The hammocks were unstrung as Rhione seized another chest, carrying it up the stairs after her son.

He was out of her sight for a moment; her heart beat faster.

Come on, you mottled ostriches!” bellowed the Bosun as she climbed up on deck. “Pitch it over. Clear the Stormin’ deck of everything.”

Chev walked to the gunwale and pitched his chest over the side. Rhione followed and hurtled her box down to the churning Storm below. She watched it dwindle then vanish into the dark-gray clouds, joining her husband in Theisseg’s tempestuous domain. Dhith deserved better than to spend his days at the Storm Goddess’s dark mercies.

Come on, Ma,” Chev said, tugging at her linen shirt sleeve.

Right.” Rhione didn’t have time to grieve. The dead could wait until tomorrow.

The entire crew of the Arshion worked with purpose, tearing down the vast holding tanks that rose up through the well deck from the upper hold, the planks still greasy with traces of whale oil. Even Xoar pitched in, dragging out the frame of the captain’s bed and tossing it over the side. The Captain herself manned the wheel, her eye on the compass, keeping them pointed towards safety.

Sweat covered Rhione’s lean body. Her muscles ached. She ignored it. They couldn’t stop working. More sailors came down after the topside had been cleared, crowding the holds. They dragged up sacks of grain, barrels of grog, ceramic pots and pans, and the entire galley stove. Soon the decking was coming up, leaving the bones of the ship exposed. Then the wall compartmenting the engine came down, the amethyst gem pulsing like a beating heart, shining pale purple through the ship’s naked frames and supports.

The pulses grew slower as evening approached. The charge dwindled, died.

Let’s keep movin’!” bellowed the Bosun. “Still plenty of the ship to dump. Keep at it. If I see any of you minnows takin’ a breather, I’ll pitch you over. I’m lookin’ at you, Arthen! You wanna be dead weight?”

No, Bosun,” Arthen said, the sailor’s back snapping rigid. The Bosun stalked off as Arthen muttered out of the corner of his lips, “Stormin’ shark.”

Rhione didn’t say a word, just tossed the pile of lumber in her hands over the side.

Is the Storm goin’ by faster?

It was hard to tell as the sun sank, painting the dark gray cloud below with orange highlights. But it seemed like the writhing Storm was passing by faster than usual. She leaned on the gunwale, looking out to the southwest, trying to see if Eche was on the horizon. There was something dark, partly hidden by the setting sun.

She smiled, straightening and holding her own hand before the sun to get a better look at the skyland floating in above Theisseg’s eternal tempest.

It wasn’t Eche.

Skyreef!” she shouted.

No one manned on watch. Every member of the crew was needed to lighten the ship. A floating patch of rocks hung in the air before them, coming up fast as the Arshion knifed through the sky. Thugri Sound was plagued with the floating collections of rocks, some the size of a pig, others as big as the Arshion. They were the reason no ship ran the strait as fast as they were.

The skyreef stretched across the sky, dark splotches coming up fast. If they had a Windwarden, the ship could change altitude, ascending or descending to clear the obstacle, or the Windwarden could turn the ship faster with a cross wind, detouring the ship safely around the reef.

Skyreef!” she shouted again, racing for the port stairs up to the poop deck.

Ropes creaked and squeaked as the Captain strained to turn the wheel to port. Rhione reached the top of the deck. She seized one of the pegs-like handles protruding around the outside edge of the wheel, helping the Captain turn the helm. Ropes rasped against ceramic pulleys and wood groaned as the mast spars turned. But the strong wind fought them, the wheel bucking in their hands.

Theisseg damn those pirates,” the Captain hissed, sweat beading her wrinkled brow. “How am I supposed to turn this ship without a Windwarden?”

There’s a gap in it,” Rhione shouted. “See it?”

Yes, I see the Stormin’ gap!” snapped the Captain. “Why do you think I’m turnin’ the ship to port? But turnin’ the wheel ain’t gonna be enough. Not with how fast we’re goin’.” She looked down at the deck. “Do you see the channel, Bosun?”

Aye,” he muttered before blowing his whistle, signaling the crew to their stations.

Shouts of alarm rang out from the crew as they flooded out from below decks, swarming over to the two masts. Barefoot sailors scrambled up into the rigging with ease.

Change the riggin’!” the Bosun bellowed. “Quarter for a port turn! Now! We need to turn six more points to make that channel!”

Ma!” Chev looked up at her from the well deck.

Hold on to somethin’!” Rhione shouted.

The skyreef hurtled closer, the drifting stones growing larger, filling the sky before them. There was a gap between two large boulders that the Arshion’s bow was slowly turning to aim at. But she wasn’t a graceful ship, built wide and thick to hold as much whale oil as possible. Even with a Windwarden, she wallowed through the skies.

A grinding sound split the air. Two of the boulders collided then ground past each other. Smaller specks of rocks splintered off, hurtling out from the reef, sending a school of red-scaled fish scurrying away in a panic.

Please turn,” Rhione prayed, straining with the Captain to move the wheel even a little bit. She jerked. The wheel slipped another few fingerswidth to port, the ropes grinding against the pulleys. She strained to keep a tight grip as the wheel throbbed.

Brace!” the Bosun shouted. “Brace, you Storm-damned guppies!”

The bow turned another few points as the first boulders hurtled past. The Arshion was going far faster than any ship Rhione had ever sailed on. She looked ahead. The ship was almost pointed at the channel.

We’re gonna miss them,” the Captain whispered, her voice high and tight. “I think we’re gonna miss. I can’t lose my ship. We’re not gonna hit, right, Rhione?”

I don’t know,” Rhione gasped, her entire body a ball of tensed muscles.

The massive boulder on the starboard side slowly spun, the rock pitted and cragged by weather, full of jagged spires. The rigging and spars of the foremast was coming up fast to the side. Rhione seized her breath, holding on to the wheel.

The boulder missed the foremast.

But the mainmast’s spar was coming up next; it was wider than the fore. Rhione closed her eyes. She sucked in her breath, her fingers tight on the wheel’s handle.

The boat rocked. A loud, splintering crack resounded. The impact threw Rhione forward, her hand slipping from the wheel. She gasped as the railing of the stern deck slammed into her stomach, the air forced out of her lungs. The ship shuddered, wood snapping and grinding. And then they were past the massive rock.

That wasn’t the mast!” the captain yelled. “It must have hit the hull.”

Yeah,” Rhione croaked, pushing herself off the rail, coughing and struggling to breathe. “I’ll go inspect the damage.”

It was bad.

Rhione stared out the length of the starboard side hull, a massive, jagged hole torn into the ship, leaving splintered planks behind. The ship creaked and groaned as half the hull’s strength on the starboard side was gone. She looked down, the ship’s frames groaning and bowing, struggling to keep the vessel from ripping to pieces.

The Arshion was dead.

This is bad, Ma,” Chev whispered.

The lower half of the mainmast flexed before her. The mast was anchored at the keel at the bottom of the boat between two of the ship’s frames. And those two frames had been badly damaged in the collision. The stress placed upon the mast was normally transferred into those frames and spread out into the hull of the Arshion. That whole system had been disrupted by the impact. It was only a matter of time before the mast ripped free of its anchor.

When it ripped free, it would break the keel, the very backbone of the ship. There were too many damaged frames to keep the ship in one piece if that happened. The Arshion was doomed if the main sails weren’t reefed. The stress had to be eliminated.

Get above deck right now!” she barked. “Tell the Cap’n and the Bosun to get down here!”

Yeah, Ma!”

And don’t come back down!”

The wood creaked again, the mast tearing at the frames and keel.

What’s the problem?” Captain Rhey asked, picking her away across the torn up decking of the upper hold, stepping from truss to truss.

The mainmast’s gonna rip free,” Rhione said. “Between the reef’s gouge and how much of the ship we’ve disassembled, there ain’t enough strength to hold her together.”

Patch it, then!”

Rhione looked at the captain, then at the massive hole in the ship’s side. “I can’t. Look at that! Riasruo bless us, that’s a good sixth of the hull gone. The Arshion’s like to rip herself to pieces if we don’t furl the mainsail.”

Patch it!” hissed the captain. “Add more support! Do whatever it takes!”

I can’t! We need to reef the sail right this moment.”

You’re gonna get us killed!” snarled the Bosun. “We need to keep runnin’ with full sails or we ain’t reachin’ Eche!”

Can’t you hear the creakin’? Look at the keel. It’s bucklin’! When that mainmast goes, it’s gonna rip the ship in half! Then we’re all gonna be plummetin’ down into the Storm Below!”

The Captain seized Rhione’s shoulders. “There has to be a way.” Fingernails dug into her flesh. “You gots to do something. We can’t die! No, no, no. We can’t die. I can’t die. My ship can’t die. We have supplies. So fix it!”

We threw the spare lumber overboard already,” Rhione whispered, her shoulders sagging. “And the barrels with the bone nails.”

How long until the keel snaps?” the Bosun asked.

Rhione opened her mouth to speak.

It won’t! She’ll fix it! I’m not losin’ my ship!” Spittle fell in Rhione’s face as the Captain screeched at her. “See that she repairs it now, Bosun. If she don’t, throw her off the ship.”

The Bosun looked up. “She’s right, Cap’n. Riasruo shine down on us, but she’s right. I’ve seen a mast uproot before. It’s bad when a ship don’t gots her guts ripped open. I agree with our carpenter; we need to furl the sails.”

Nonsense! The Arshion is a sturdy ship. Rhione’s just wantin’ to shirk on her duties! Everyone on this Riasruo-blessed ship wants to shirk!”

I’m gonna tell them to furl the sails to half,” muttered the Bosun. “Maybe it’ll be fine, and we’ll still make it to Eche.”

Where do you think you’re going?” screeched the Captain.

To save the ship, Cap’n,” the Bosun answered as he climbed up the stairs. “Someone gots to.”

The Captain followed after. “Hurhen, Seyele, seize the Bosun!” she screamed above deck.

What, Cap’n?” a confused sailor answered.

Rhione gained the deck. Chev’s lanky body trembled as he stared at the snarling Captain. The crew was gathered around the Captain and the Bosun. Rhione seized her son, pulling him behind her, trying not to shake. Beyond the crew, the mainmast flexed and torqued as the wind howled past.

It’s not going to be long,” she whispered. She had never seen a mast sway so much. The crow’s nest swayed at least three ropes, the height of a tall man, in length back and forth.

I gave you an order!” the Captain howled. “Seize the Bosun and throw him overboard. We don’t need his dead weight.”

The Bosun rounded on Captain Rhey, his body swelling with anger. “You filthy sow! The ship’s ‘bout to tear apart, and you wanna throw me overboard! I’m tryin’ to save your Storm-damned ship!”

He wants to furl the sails!” She pointed a bony finger at him. “If we do that, we ain’t gonna make it to Eche! He’s mutinying! And that’s death! So throw him over!”

The crew erupted into angry shouts. Hurhen seized the Bosun’s thick arm. The big man’s fist curled and he smashed it into Hurhen’s face; the sailor crumpled to the deck with a ruined nose. “Listen!” the Bosun bellowed over the crew’s roar, pushing another sailor off him. “The mast’s gonna buckle. We gots to trim the sails to half or the ship’s gonna rip apart! Now get movin’ and trim them or I’ll crack open every last one of your down-filled skulls!”

We’ll die if we don’t run at full sails!” cackled Three-Finger Thrash. “The engine ain’t gonna last ‘til dawn! You want to see us dragged down into Theisseg’s Storm!”

The Bosun wouldn’t get us killed!” snarled Seyele, pushing the old sailor back. “Look at the Cap’n. She’s lost it! I say we throw her overboard!”

Mutineer!” snarled the Captain. “Another Theisseg-damned traitor. You and the Bosun both. You’re trying to see me dead!”

The crew’s shouts grew louder, screaming at each other, fear thick in the air. Chev clung to Rhione’s side, his body trembling. She had to do something. They were all dead if the crew wouldn’t see reason.

He’s right!” Rhione found herself shouting, trying to make her voice heard over the roaring crew. “The hull’s badly damaged. The ship’s gonna rip herself apart. We gots to reef the sails! Believe me! I know the ship!”

No one heard her.

Throw the mutineers overboard!” shrilled the Captain. “Less weight to slow us down!”

The Bosun’s fist crashed into another sailor that tried to stop him from reaching the mast. The Bosun strode forward, pushing through the men. “I’ll storming do it myself!”

Stop him! Kill him! Do anything!” The Captain’s face was bloodless, her brown skin pulled tight over her bones. “We’ll die!”

Three-Finger Thrash’s bone dagger sank into the Bosun’s lower back. The big man roared, turning about. His fist crashed into the old sailor, knocking rotten teeth out as Thrash crumpled to the deck. The Bosun reached behind him and ripped out the bloody, hogbone dagger.

Downyheaded, sow-dung fool,” he muttered, the dagger falling from his fingers. He tried to turn to walk to the mast, but instead he collapsed like a felled tree, crashing to the deck.

Ma!” sobbed her son.

The crew stared at the dying Bosun as the Captain snarled and cackled, “Back to work. Clear the deck! We keep sailing! We’re gonna live!”

Stupid sow!” Seyele shouted and seized the Captain’s bony shoulder.

More bone blades flashed. More blood spilled upon the Arshion’s deck.

A great, shuddering crack snapped through the air ignored by the screaming mob. That sounded like a frame snapping, thought Rhione. It won’t be long now.

She had to act to save what she could. Rhione pushed her son towards the stairs to the hold. The Arshion was doomed. “Come with me,” she whispered, seizing her son’s hand and pulled him below deck.

Ma?” he asked. “What’s happening?”

She didn’t answer him. Her hand held his in a death grip, yanking him behind her.

Please, Ma?” He fought her, trying to pull away.

She whirled around, seizing his shoulders. “You’re gonna fly off on Lucky Chemy.”

But, what about the others?”

They’re dead. “They’ll be fine once they’ve calmed down. But we need to lose more weight, so the pegasus gots to go. You’ll fly her to Eche.”

She pushed her son through the door to the small menagerie. The pegasus greeted them with a nervous whinny, stamping her piebald forelock and rustling her gray-feathered wings. She was a Chuthi, a breed that could cover long distances, but she was small and couldn’t bear much weight without the right Blessing; Rhione only had Mist. Pressure was needed to increase the lift the beast generated with her wings, allowing the pegasus to fly through the skies with more weight.

Though Xoar was the only crew that had Moderate Pressure, Chev was small and light. The pegasus should be able to bear him. Rhione had to believe that.

Just me?” Chev asked. “I ain’t never flown one, ma. Why not have Xoar fly her?”

Yes, why not Xoar?”

Rhione spun about. Xoar stood in the doorway, his long, curved bone knife in hand, his eyes hard, green stones. The boat shuddered and groaned as Rhione moved between Xoar and her son, eyeing his dagger.

Will you fly my son to safety?” she asked him, pleading with his eyes.

He shook his head. “Too far. Even with my Pressure, I can’t afford the extra weight. Sorry.”

Anger flared inside her. “Open the rear of the ship, Chev.”

Ma?” His voice quavered.

Rhione pushed her son back towards the pegasus. “Just do it! Then you fly her southwest. Lucky’ll help you out. She’ll know how to find a skyland.”

You touch my pegasus and I’ll gut you like—”

With a screech, Rhione leapt at Xoar, seizing his knife hand. She’d been a sailor for too long not to know how to brawl. Xoar crashed into the door, grunting in surprise. His hand strained to press the knife towards her belly.

Mount up, Chev!” she screamed as she struggled against the man. Her heart thudded, fear pumping through her veins. Chev was the only part of Dhith left.

Sow’s dung!” hissed Xoar, seizing her blonde hair with his free hand and jerking her head back; pain burned across her scalp. “I ain’t dying on this worthless boat!”

Ma!”

You do what you’re told, Chev! Or I’ll whoop you so hard! Now go! Fly!”

Air whistled as the back of the ship opened up, a pair of hemp cables unfolding the stern hull.

I’ll kill your ma if you don’t stop!” Xoar snarled, pressing harder with his knife, the tip brushing her linen shirt.

Rhione screamed and hooked her foot around his ankle. They fell into a heap on the rush covered floor. Sour dung filled her nose as they rolled and cursed. The pegasus whinnied, her hoofs pounding on the deck.

I can’t leave you, Ma!”

You gots to.” The dagger moved closer to Rhione’s stomach, her sweaty hands slipping on Xoar’s wrist. “You will mind me! So fly away right now!”

The dagger sank into her guts.

Cold pain lanced through her. Her hands lost their strength. Xoar rose, ripping the dagger from her stomach. His face twisted into something monstrous. He would kill her son. She forced her arms to move, pushing down the lethargy sinking through her, weighing down every bit of her body.

Let go of my pegasus, or I’ll give you the same, boy!”

No!” she shouted and lunged for Xoar’s ankle. Ignoring the pain roaring in her side, she jerked him back. “You got to go, Chev. I love you! Now go!”

Her son scrambled onto the back of the pegasus, staring back at her. His red eyes—like his pa’s—were wet with pain. She saw so much of Dhith in his face: his bulbous nose, the cleft chin, his brown hair. But not her son’s ears, those were her own small lobes.

Please, go!”

Sow’s spawn!” Xoar’s foot crashed into her face. She held on.

Go!” she sobbed, her mouth full of blood, her lips split and crack. “Please!”

Xoar kicked her again. She would not relent. She would save her son. Xoar, cursing, stabbed the knife down into her left arm, cutting sinew. She didn’t feel the pain as her left arm fell useless from his leg. She only held on even harder with her right hand.

Don’t you hurt her!” Chev shouted, his voice warbling.

She couldn’t stop Xoar much longer. She stared at her son, pleading with her eyes for him to abandon her. He listened and began frantically strapping himself into the saddle, cinching the leather straps tight about his legs.

Xoar stepped forward, dragging her body. Darkness danced in her eyes as she struggled to hold on, fighting against blissful lethargy.

Goodbye, Ma!” Chev heeled the pegasus.

Lucky Chemy neighed and galloped forward. She leaped out the back of the ship, her gray wings spreading wide. The pegasus and Chev dropped out of sight, falling down towards the Storm Below. For a moment, fear gripped her heart, but then the pegasus rose into view, banking on the wind. She had one final glimpse at her son on the beast’s back, and she held onto the memory: brown hair rustling, his gangly legs strapped tight to the saddle, his hands clutching the saddle’s pommel. Then he was gone.

The knife dropped from Xoar’s hand, the blade snapping on the deck. He fell to his knees. She let him go, rolling on to her back. The ship shuddered and groaned beneath her, wood cracking as the keel snapped, the force vibrating through the entire ship.

The crew screamed as the mast crashed down above deck.

She didn’t care any longer. Her body was too cold to care about much of anything.

You killed me,” Xoar whispered.

I saved him,” she answered.

Xoar looked at her, his green eyes lost, and then he laughed, “Why did the Bosun have to throw out the whiskey? Riasruo Above, but I could use a drink.”

Yeah,” Rhione croaked. It was getting harder to talk, to think.

The last frames keeping the ship together failed with a mighty, tearing snap. Her body slid along the blood-soaked deck, then everything became strangely weightless. Rhione lifted up from the deck and rotated about in a slow spiral, bits of straw tumbling with her. Out the back of the ship, the dark sky whirled past, stars flashing, then the darkness of the Storm Below filled the opening.

I saved our son, Dhith,” she whispered as the Arshion plunged into Theisseg’s cruel domain.

The END

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

The Plight of the Arshion takes place in the universe of my novel, Above the Storm!

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

Death rides in the Cyclone!

The demonic Stormriders are the greatest threat…

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

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

When the storm clouds come, what will Ary do?

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

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

Get it today!

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Review: The Final Redemption (Mageborn Book Five)

The Final Redemption (Mageborn Book Five)

by Michael G. Manning

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Six months after Mordecai died, his body wakes up. In the final moment of his life, he had defeated the deranged undead. Unfortunately, he took his place. Now an uncaring shadow of his former self, he has to find a way to save a world that he can hardly care for and protect a family who feasr what he has become.

Meanwhile, Penny, Mordecai’s widow, still grieves. She struggles to hold her family together while the threat of the dark god looms on the horizon. Her friends and family want to help her move on. For political reasons, she’ll have to remarry soon.

How can she when she still mourns for Mort?

As Mordecai struggles to find a way to not only save the world but end his miserable existence, a plot simmers in the capital that will threaten his family and friends. With his death, King James’s position has become precarious. His enemies salivate.

The finale of Mageborn is here and it is a wild read. Manning is a bold author. He isn’t afraid to put his characters is perils positions. And what’s more perilous than your main character on the verge of becoming more a danger to the world than anyone else? Over the series, we’ve come to learn what it means to be like Mordecai. His very touch drains life. He desires to reunite with his wife, twisted to feed on her life so he can feel emotions again.

He’s become a drug addict who needs to drain way life to get his rush. It’s a powerful story. It delves into the past and why our dark god wants to destroy everything. Understanding his motive is the key to his defeat.

Can Mordecai do it? Can he keep from destroying those he loves before he can save them?

This book was hard to put down. I’ve enjoyed this series and want to read more in this world!

You can buy The Final Redemption from Amazon.

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Review: Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen 3)

Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen 3)

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

 

In Genbackis, in the aftermath of Pale and Darijistan, Dujek One-Arm and his Malazan army have gone renegade against the Empress. They need allies now to deal with a rising threat in the south, the Pannion Seer and his cannibalistic empire.

They must reach out to their enemies, Caladan Brood and his alliance against the Malazans. They have to parley with him and hammer out an alliance between dispirited groups, including the revelation that the child Silverfox contains the souls of two Malazan sorceresses reborn into a new entity.

Paran, now commanding the Bridgeburners, has to grapple with his new powers growing in him mixed with his lingering affection for Tattersail, one of the souls forming the child Silverfox. He needs to deal with the growing incursion of the Crippled God interfering in the world. This growing threat may be behind many dark events rippling across the world.

In Capustan, the Gray Shields have been hired to defend the city from the approaching army of the Pannion Seer. A religious, mercenary group dedicated to the God Fener who suffered mishap on the far side of the world. As the Pannion Seer approaches, they face the impossible task of saving the city from the cannibal horde and the demonic undead about to tear them apart.

Lastly, the T’lan Imass gather, summoned by Silverfox. The undead’s 100,000-year long war may finally be coming to an end if Silverfox grants them what they crave: freedom from the mistake they made all those eons ago.

And that’s just some of the storylines found in this book.

War, death, love, guilt, forgiveness, and grief fill the pages of Memories of Ice. A powerful novel with dozens of compelling character all vying for their own goals, trying to overcome the danger of the Panion Seer and fix the wrongs that happened in the distant past.

This story is epic and dark, full of brief moments of joy amid that dark depths of humanity. Erikson shows us how the human spirit can be wrapped and mangled, how entire civilizations can go mad and descended into barbarity. Erikson never finches from the worst aspects of humanity. Despite that, his characters fight for themselves, for those they love, for strangers that they never met but are united against the same fight against the horrors of war and genocide.

Memories of Ice is one of the most compelling fantasy books I’d ever read.

You can buy Memories of Ice from Amazon!

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Review: Deadhouse Gate (Malazan Book of the Fallen 2)

Deadhouse Gate (Malazan Book of the Fallen 2)

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

 

The Seven Cities Continent, conquered by the Malazan empire a few decades back, simmers with rebellion. The desert tribes and the discontented townsfolk are all waiting for Dryjdna, the Goddess of the Apocalypse, and her priestess Shike to declare the rebellion has begun. Knives are sharpened. Plans are made.

Coltain, the Wickan war chief, has come to Seven Cities to take command of the 7th Army. The former tribal leader turned general for the Empire will bring his own discipline to the 7th. He doesn’t have much time to whip them in shape before rebellion explodes. When it comes, the 7th will have to battle their way across the entire continent to reach aid.

In Malaz City, the Empire’s capital, the nobility is being purged. Young Felisin, the sister of Paran from Gardens of the Moon, has been sacrificed by her Tavore. Chained with the other prisoners, including an ex-priest of Fener named Heboric, she finds herself dragged through the mob-filled streets on her way to the prison ship to the mines near Seven Cities. To survive, she’s going to have to shed her innocence.

Will it destroy her?

Crokus is traveling with Apsalar, freed from her possession by the God of Assassins, with Kalam and Fiddler. The young lad is suspicious of Kalam and Fiddler’s motivation and he’s soon found correct when he learns the pair harbor their own mission to assassinate Empress Laseen for her betrayal of the Bridgeburners. To do so, they have to cross the continent about to be torn apart by rebellion and reach the mythical Deadhouse in the heart of the holy desert.

Will Kalam and Fiddler’s desire for revenge prevent Apsalar from returning safely home?

In the Holy Desert of Raraku, convergence happens. Relationships are forged and shattered. Revelations are unveiled. Deadhouse Gate is Erikson through and through. Dozens of storylines, diverse characters with all their own motivations clashing endlessly together, insane magic, climactic battles, and tragedy.

Pathos drips across the pages of Deadhouse Gates. Erikson doesn’t flinch from the darker aspects of humanity. From the atrocities that break out in war and rebellion. No one’s hands are clean in the trenches.

Erikson has a unique style of storytelling that draws you in. It’s masterful and stunning in the breadth and depth of his characters. If you are looking for good fantasy, then you have to check out Malazan Book of the Fallen. This is an amazing series that all fans of fantasy should read!

You can buy Deadhouse Gates from Amazon!

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Seventeen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 17
Shimeh

Welcome to Chapter Seventeen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Sixteen!

Faith, they say, is simply hope confused for knowledge. Why believe when hope alone is enough?

—CRATIANAS, NILNAMESHI LORE

Ajencis, in the end, argued that ignorance was the only absolute. According to Parcis, he would tell his students that he knew only that he knew more than when he was an infant. This comparative assertion was the only nail, he would say, to which one could tie the carpenter-string of knowledge. This has come down to use as the famed “Ajencian Nail,” and it is the only thing that prevented the Great Kyranean from falling into the tail-chasing skepticism of Nirsolfa, or the embarrassing dogmatism of well-nigh every philosopher and theologian who ever dared scratch ink across parchment.

But even this metaphor, “nail,” is faulty, a result of what happens when we confuse our notation with what is noted. Like the numeral “zero” used by the Nilnameshi mathematicians to work such wonders, ignorance is the occluded frame of all discourse, the unseen circumference of every contention. Men are forever looking for the one point, the singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims. Ignorance does not give us this. What it provides, rather, is the possibility of comparison, the assurance that not all claims are equal. And this Ajencis would argue, is all that we need. For so long as we admit our ignorance, we can help to improve our claims, and so long as we can improve our claims, we can aspire to the Truth, even if only in rank approximation.

And this is why I mourn my love of the Great Kyranean. For despite the pull of his wisdom, there are many things of which I am absolutely certain, things that feed the hate which derives this very quill.

—DRUSAS ACHAMIAN, THE COMPENDIUM OF THE FIRST HOLY WAR

My Thoughts

Achamian, ever the doubter, goes on to talk about how ignorance is the state of man. That despite the belief systems of both philosophers and theologians, they simply things too much. The world is too complicated to be reduced to a “singular fulcrum they can use to dislodge all competing claims.” We’re forever battling with ideas that threaten our own cherished ideals, and that can lead to real fights. The ability to look at everything and compare different ideas is how we fight against our biases. It is what we should strive for and usually fail at doing. And even saying that, Achamian admits he can’t do it. He hates Kellhus. He’s writing his compendium to reveal that Kellhus is a fraud.

The Compendium of the First Holy War is his singular fulcrum against the mythos Kellhus has crafted around himself.

This leads to our first quote. It’s saying faith is ignorance, but if it were that simple, why would you need it if you could just hope your right. Faith is more than believing in some higher power. It’s the faith that when you step on the ground, it will be firm. It’s the faith that when you press on your brakes, they’ll work. Faith comes out of knowledge. Blind faith is a danger. Faith without scrutinizing it, without testing it, is a weak faith.

Achamian has had his faith in Kellhus tested. He has scrutinized it. He has found it wanting.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Achamian is remembering soaring in the grasp of the Ciphrang. It flies unsteadily, crying out in pain. It’s bleeding and descending in a spiral. When Achamian awakens, he’s lying by the sea amid reeds. He wonders where his brothers are. He thinks he’s a child and expects his fisherman father to shout at him.

Then something was dragging him, drawing him across the sand; he could see the clots where his blood blackened it. Dragging him, a shadow leaning against the sun, drawing him down into the darkness of ancient wars, into Golgotterath…

Into a golden labyrinth of horrors more vast than any Nonmen Mansion, where a student, who was more a son, gazed at him with horror and incredulity. A Kûniüric Prince, just beginning to fathom his surrogate father’s betrayal.

He dreams he is Seswatha is telling Nau-Cayûti that his lover is dead or ruined beyond saving. Nau-Cayûti, betrayed, is horrified to learn that Seswatha lied to him. He’s utterly betrayed because “Sessa” was the only one who believed.

“Because I couldn’t succeed,” Achamian said. “Not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love.”

Nau-Cayûti asks why they are here. To find the Heron spear. As he does, he turns and sees a little girl’s face that looks like Esmenet’s. The girl speaks, but it is a mature woman’s voice that comes out from it. He hears the sound of the sea and thinks he’s dying.

He doesn’t die. He comes awake after spending days feeling like he “rolled, as though he had been bound to a great spinning wheel, only a small portion of which breached the surface of hot, amniotic waters.” A woman and her daughter tends him. He has nightmares of the last Apocalypse as he suffers through fevers. When they break, he is able to take in the fisher hut he’s recovering in and he feels like he’s in his childhood home. He falls into a dream of riding in the chariot with the Kyranean High King.

For years now, an inexplicable sense of doom had hung upon the horizon, a horror that had no form, only direction… All Men could feel it. And all Men knew that it bore responsibility for their stillborn sons, that it had broken the great cycle of souls.

Now at last they could see it—the bone that would gag Creation.

An army of Sranc and Bashrag swarm before the No-God, the mighty whirlwind. “A great winding rope sucking the dun earth into black heavens, elemental and indifferent, roaring ever nearer, come to snuff out the last light of Men.” Twilight descends as the Sranc fall to their knees, not caring that they are getting slaughtered. Through all their throats, the No-God speaks.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

“What,” Anaxophus said, “do you see?”

Seswatha gaped at the High King. Though the man’s tone and expression were entirely his own, he had spoken the selfsame words as the No-God.

“My Lord High King…” Achamian knew not what else to say.

The surrounding plains writhed and warred. As tall as the horizon, the dread whirlwind approached, the No-God walked, so vast it made gravel of Mengedda’s ruin, motes of men.

I MUST KNOW WHAT YOU SEE

“I must know what you see…”

The painted eyes fixed him, honest and intent, as though demanding a boon whose significance had yet to be determined.

“Anaxophus!” Seswatha cried through the clamour. “The Spear! You must take up the Spear!”

This isn’t what happens…

The No_God comes closer with Achamian screaming at Anaxophus to use the Spear. Entire legions of Sranc are caught up in the whirlwind, hurtling around it. Anaxophus keeps repeating the No-God’s questions. “WHAT AM I?” The No-God is closer. It’s ripping into the human army. Achamian realizes it’s too late, feeling the wind ripping at his skin.

Strange… the way passion flickered out before life.

Horses shrieking. Chariot tipping.

TELL ME, ACHAMIA—

He bolted awake, crying out.

The woman rushes to him. He grabs her too hard and keeps her from pulling away. He uses her to stand while she cries out in pain. He’s holding her too tight but can’t let go. A man rushes in and punches Achamian. Stunned and lying on the ground, Achamian doesn’t remember the actual blow, just the man yelling while the wife pleads. Naked, Achamian stands up. He wraps himself up in a rough blanket and leaves the couple. Their daughter watches him from where she cringes behind a wall.

He turned and, as fast as he could manage, fled across the shore.

Please don’t kill me! he wanted to cry out, though he knew he could burn them all.

He began walking east, to Shimeh. It seemed the only direction he knew.

Achamian trudges down the beach as the morning sun rises. The warm waves lap at his feet. He only takes a few breaks, including to make a staff from driftwood, tie a rope about his blanket, and to check his leg. It’s cut. The demon had injured Achamian before he cast his Skin Wards, keeping the demon from killing him. The fourth time he stopped, he notices his reflection in a tidal pool and sees the symbol of Fane drawn on it. He finds himself loathe to wash away the charm so only rinses out his beard.

He heads from the beach on his walk to the city. The heat grows away from the ocean. He finds signs of the battle then the camp of the Holy War. He walks through the battlefield and entered the Massus Gate. He pauses at the sight of a Scarlet Schoolman turned to salt. He then climbs up to the Juterum and sees no one until he reaches the Heterine Wall. Two Conryians who know Achamian kneel and cry, “Truth shines!” They want his blessing.

He spat on them instead.

He approaches the First Temple. Nearby, the Ctesarat, the home of the Cishaurim, is smoking ruins. He finds thousands of Inrithi crowding around it. He leans on his staff as the Men of the Tusk part for him, recognizing him. “He stood at the centre of the world—teacher to their Warrior-Prophet.” He ignores their cries and, before entering the temple, glares and laughs at them.

Inside the gloomy temple, everyone is kneeling amid the outer pillars. “The marble soothed his bleeding feet.” He feels hollow inside and only feels alive because he breathed and still has lice. He feels he’s about to die. He hears someone speaking “stern proclamations” and recognizes Maithanet’s voice. He glimpses him introducing Kellhus as the High King of Kûniüri and the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas.

The words winded Achamian as surely as a father’s blow. While the Men of the Tusk leapt to their feet, crying out in rapture and adulation, he staggered against one of the white pillars, feeling the cool of engraved figures pressed against his cheek.

What was this hollow that had so consumed him? What was this yearning that felt so like mourning?

They make us love! They make us love!

Achamian is lost in his thoughts and doesn’t realize for a bit that Kellhus is speaking. He’s drawn forward “irresistibly, inevitably.” He passes the lords dressed in looted Fanim clothing. Kellhus is declaring that he is rewriting everything “Your books, your parables, and your prayers, all that was your costume are now nothing more than childhood curiosities.” He is hear to bring them Truth, a new beginning.

Year One.

Achamian keeps limping forward and as he reaches the end he cries out that Kellhus is declaring the “old world dead!” People gasp. The last figures part revealing the splendor of the “Holy Court of the Aspect-Emperor.” Maithanet is dressed in his golden robes. Proyas, Saubon, and the other surviving Great Names appear radiant. Nautzera stands to represent the Mandate. The growing Ministrate look glorious in the “fraudulent station.” Iyokus even stands “as pale as glass” dressed as in Eleäzaras’s garb.

He saw Esmenet, her mouth open, her painted eyes shining with tears that spilled… a Nilnameshi Empress once again.

He could not see Serwë. He could not see Cnaiür or Conphas.

Neither was Xinemus anywhere to be found.

But he saw Kellhus, sitting leonine before a great hanging Circumfix of white and gold, his hair flashing about his shoulders, his flaxen beard plaited. He saw him drawing the nets of the future, just as Scylvendi had said, measuring, theorizing, categorizing, penetrating…

He saw the Dûnyain.

Kellhus agrees with “Akka.” Achamian leans on his staff and says Kellhus speaks of apocalypse. Kellhus says it is not that simple and adopts a pose of good humor, inviting Achamian to sit at his side. Then Esmenet burst from the dais and false weeping before Achamian. She stares up at him, begging with her anguish.

“No,” Achamian said to Kellhus. “I’ve returned for my wife. Nothing more.”

A moment of crushing, monolithic silence.

Nautzera is the first to object, ordering Achamian to obey. Achamian ignores him and stares at his wife, holding out his hand and calling her by his pet name. He notices that her pregnancy is showing for the first time.

Kellhus simply… watched.

Nautzera shows menace as he admonishes Achamian. Ignoring Nautzera, Achamian continues to beg, holding out his hand to Esmi.

This was the only thing that could mean anymore.

“Akka,” she sobbed. She glanced about, seemed to wilt beneath the rapt gazes that encircled them. “I’m the mother of… of…”

So the hollow could not be shut. Achamian nodded, wiped the last tear he knew he would ever shed. He would be heartless now. A perfect man.

She begs with him, reminding him about the world. He remembers his joke. “What will it be the next time I die?” He seizes her wrist and exposes her whore tattoo. People shout, but no one moves to grab him. Esmenet even shouts for everyone to leave him alone. Achamian renounces his position as the Holy Tutor and Vizier to Kellhus. Then he renounces being a Mandate Schoolman calling them “an assembly of hypocrites and murderers.” Nautzera shouts that Achamian will be killed. No one can practice sorcery outside of the schools. Achamian cuts him off.

I renounce my Prophet!”

Everyone is in an uproar. Achamian waits for it to calm as he stares at Kellhus. “Nothing passed between them.” Then Achamian glances at Proyas who looks older. Achamian sees in Proyas’s eyes they could have a reconciliation. But it’s late.

“And I renounce…” He trailed, warred with errant passions. “I renounced my wife.”

His eyes fell upon Esmenet, stricken upon the floor. My wife!”

Nooo,” she wept and whispered. “Pleeaaase, Akka…”

“As an adulteress,” he continued, his voice cracking, “and a… a…”

His face hardening, he marches away. Everyone is dumbstruck and angry. He can hear Esmenet weeping as the crowd parts for him. Finally, Kellhus shouts Achamian’s name.

Kellhus. Achamian did not condescend to turn, but he did pause. It seemed the future itself leaned inscrutable against him, a yoke about his neck, a spear point against his spine…

“The next time you come before me,” the Aspect-Emperor said, his voice cavernous, ringing with inhuman resonance, “you will kneel, Drusas Achamian.”

Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.

My Thoughts

I wonder if Bakker has ever read Tad Williams amazing Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy (or tetralogy if you read in paperback). In the third book, the main character is attached to a water wheel and spun around for days and days, dunked into water, brought back up. The imagery with Achamian describing his recovery reminded me of it. Maybe not. I know GRR Martin attributes the trilogy as a big influence of his ASOIF series. If you like Bakker, I’d check out Tad Williams. It doesn’t have the grimdark feel, but it has some powerful moments in it and is a partial deconstruction of normal fantasy tropes.

We’re seeing Achamian’s first dream that’s different. Where things aren’t happening the way they should. There have always been variations in the dream, minor differences that probably come from the fact that memories are never quite precise. That Seswatha dreaming in them doesn’t remember everything correctly, but we’re seeing a major deviation. It’s right after Achamian was unconscious and the Synthese promising to tell the boy a secret. It is possible that Achamian’s shifting dreams are not caused by Kellhus’s hypnotism, but something Aurang did to the unconscious Schoolman. Some glamour or spell.

Not wiping off the sign of Fane is the first hint at what Achamian is up to. Spitting on the Conryians is another. He is done with Kellhus and his religion. He has learned the truth and he’s here to satiate his ego.

Serwë, Cnaiür, Conphas, and Xinemus. Why those four names? Serwë and Xinemus, sure, they are Achamian’s friends. Cnaiür was once an ally, but Conphas? What do they have in common? They are all Kellhus’s failures. The proof he’s not a true prophet. He couldn’t save his wife, he couldn’t win the loyalty of the man who knew him longest, he couldn’t win the trust of his bitterest enemy, and he couldn’t heal a man blinded by the cruelties of the world.

Heartless. Perfect man. Achamian thinks Kellhus is a perfect man because Esmi is choosing him in the end, so he’s trying to become him. To flee the emotions that Kellhus can’t ever really feel. It’s a natural reaction. He has to grieve losing Esmenet all over again. If the demon hadn’t come, maybe, but she had days of Kellhus working on her, making her understand that she has her child to think about. A mother has to choose what’s best. I can understand it. It sucks.

And what an end to the series, Achamian, our protagonist, leaving behind everything in angry defiance. He has learned the truth and he won’t comprise any longer. He gave up Esmenet for the greater good, but know he’s learned that Kellhus is a fraud. That He’d seduced Esmenet away. I don’t know what passed between Esmenet and Kellhus, but I almost think the way she was pleading with Achamian that they could have still had their relationship, in private. However, he would be cuckolded over and over. He would have to watch as she still went to his bed to bear his children. She would be his Empress.

As we see in the next series, Esmenet’s feelings for Kellhus are not passionate. They have a comfort with each other grown by the two decades that pass, but she regularly cheats on him with younger men. She embraces the power and privileged that he’s given her. She ensures that Achamian isn’t punished for both his defiance and the book he’ll write. Kellhus loves her, but he couldn’t ever get true love from her, only worship.

Esmenet made the choice that was in her best interest. Achamian did the same. He’s done sacrificing for the world. It left him with nothing. He had Esmenet twice and both times he “died.” If the demon hadn’t carried him off, I still doubt she would have left Kellhus, but maybe things would have turned out differently. Though Iyokus accidentally saved his life, the blind Scarlet Schoolman once again robbed Achamian of happiness.

I remembered being shocked that the story ended here. Not only had the Consult//Second Apocalypse plot didn’t any resolution, but there was also still a good hundred pages of the book. I was expecting more. And while the Holy War resolution was great, I wanted to get to the true story.

Like with Game of Thrones, the Consult and No-God is the true threat. All of this has been necessary for Kellhus to gain the power to deal with it, but he still needed it. So I was glad that there more out there. That he was writing two more series. I was eager for the Judging Eye (which didn’t even have a title) to come out. I couldn’t wait for the Aspect-Emperor Series to come.

Luckily, I had that glossary. It helps explain a lot (like who Anasûrimbor Ganrelka was and how did he relate to Anasûrimbor Celmomas and Nau-Cayûti). It explains a lot about the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. Gives a great deal of background information.

I still have no clue what the Nail of Heaven is. That really bugs me. It might be a satellite in a geosynchronous polar orbit (which sounds impossible, but fantasy). There is a cryptic line in the second series that I need to keep an eye out which makes it sound like the Nail of Heaven preceded the Inchoroi by a few years. It’s bright as moonlight though.

Well, The Thousandfold Thought has come to an end. We’ve learned a lot that we need to remember going forward:

  1. The Dûnyain are not infallible. They can make mistakes. Their predictions can be flawed.

  2. The Outside is real. There are demons. Events can precede their cause. The Darkness that Comes Before is not an absolute in this world.

  3. True Dûnyain, when shown incontrovertible truth that Damnation is real and they are going to suffer, will see the logic in the Consult’s plan and side with them, preferring oblivion upon death to eternal torment.

  4. The Consult is searching for the Dûnyain through the north.

The Prince of Nothing has come to its end. Let the Aspect-Emperor commence.

“Retracing his bloody footprints, the Wizard limped on.”

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

To save the world, Ary must die!

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

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

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

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

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Review: Storm of Chaos (Heirs of Destiny 3)

Storm of Chaos (Heirs of Destiny 3)

by Andy Peloquin

Reviewed by JMD Reid

A new threat arises in the City of Shalandra. The Gatherers have more than one way to destroy it in the name of their death god. Evern and Kodyn both have to set aside working on their true reason for being in the city to deal with this new attack.

The Azure Rot Disease has mutated. It now kills in hours instead of weeks. It’s quickly clear it is not natural. While they have been dealing with the political machinations, the Gathers have been readying an even deadlier assault.

Evern has other problems to worry about, too. Hailen’s heritage was revealed by Briana to the Secret Keepers, a priesthood who do not reveal the truths they guard. To save their lives, Briana has no choice. But now Hailen is their prisoner to aid in their research.

Aisha, here to aid Kodyn, has her own problems. She needs to find a way to control her powers before they destroy her. She can’t just give them up, though. The strength they give her is necessary to save the city.

Will she survive?

Peloquin weaves his storylines together, the characters pasts, missions, and desires all entwining and branching off. Conflicting interests, various groups, and politics all vie for dominance in a city on the verge of exploding. For the Gatherers have other ways to attack.

The story flows fast, action bursting across the pages. The characters face even greater danger as the story hurtles you forward. It’s a hard book to put down, most pages leading you to want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Fans of Fantasy need to check out this series. It’s a thrill to read. The prose is good, the action clear, and the characters have their strength and flaws.

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

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Reread of The Thousandfold Thought: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of Prince of Nothing Trilogy

Book 3: The Thousandfold Thought

by R. Scott Bakker

The Final March
Chapter 16
Shimeh

Welcome to Chapter Sixteen of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Fifteen!

Hi, JMD Reid here. Sorry for how long this took to get out. Not only was this one of the longest chapters in the series, but this is also one of the longest writeups. On top of that, I went on vacation for two weeks in March and then I got sick this week. Between that and getting my novels published, I haven’t had the time to put to it. But I’ll be diving into the final chapter of Thousandfold Thought this Weekend and hopefully, it’s not as long!

Please leave comments because it is a great motivator to continue this. And please, check out my fiction. I’ve learned a lot from Bakker on characters that I’ve applied to my writing. I’m not promising his style of fiction, but I’ve learned many lessons from the greats in the genre to make my own!

Doubt begets understanding, and understanding begets compassion.

Verily, it is conviction that kills.

—PAARCIS, THE NEW ANALYTICS

My Thoughts

A very astute observation. It’s one of the themes of Bakker’s series. Doubt is something the wise do. They use their brains and question things. Seek to understand things. When you can step outside your own world view you understand others. Empathy forms.

The best way to counter things you don’t like, bigotry or hatred, isn’t to demonize but to socialize. To engage. To get to know your opponent. Speak to them. Host dialogues and share your ideas. You can open up both your minds and discover maybe you were a little close-minded, too. That common ground can be forged.

The zealot always believes they are right. And that always leads to violence when the “blasphemer” disagrees.

This leads directly to the goal of the Thousandfold Thought. The Dûnyain see the easiest way to unite humans is to make them all zealots for the same thing.

Spring 4112 Year-of-the-Tusk, Shimeh

Bowmen huddle in the sewers of Shimeh with a Cishaurim. Above, the buildings burn. The sounds of the Scarlet Spires sorcery has gone quiet. The bald Cishaurim commands the bowmen to douse their torches and cover their eyes. They do. The world goes black.

Then impossibly bright. A thunderous crack.

“Move!” the Waterbearer cried. “Climb! Climb!”

Suddenly all was blue, illuminated by a coin of incandescence that flared on the Waterbearer’s brow. They jostled forward, spitting at the dust. One by one they shouldered their way past the blind man, struggled up a slope of broken and blistering stone, then found themselves dashing through fiery ruins.

Moënghus concludes that the voices Kellhus hear are not from the Thousandfold Thought. Kellhus responds by demanding to see the captives. Moënghus asks what Kellhus will do if he refuses. Kellhus asks why Moënghus would.

“Because I need to revise my assumptions, to explore these unforeseen permutations. I had discounted this possibility.”

“What possibility?”

That the Wilderness would break rather than enlighten. That you would come to me a madman.”

Water, endlessly dropping, pounded air and stone. The thunder of inevitability.

“Refuse me anything, and I will kill you, Father.”

The Kianene boil out of the ruins of the collapsed city wall and race out to attack the Ainoni flank. The Tydonni who spotted the attack keep sounding the alarm, but the dust and smoke have hidden this attack from the rest of the Holy war. The Kianene cross the Jeshimal River, including war mastodons dragging rafts to make improvised bridges. They Tydonni charge into hopeless numbers.

Moënghus leads Kellhus through “absolute darkness,” leaving behind the waterfall. Kellhus explains all he had inferred about his father that he’d gleaned from Cnaiür then speculates what Moënghus did after leaving the Utemot. Unlike Kellhus, his father had carved the swazond into his arms meaning he would find no safety in the Nansur Empire forcing him south to the Fanim. This was before the Battle of Zirkirta, so while they didn’t love the Scylvendi they also didn’t hate them. Moënghus was first a slave, but after his “conversion” to Fane and with his intellect, he was freed by his master. Moënghus made his master love him. Soon, Moënghus’s knowledge of scripture outstripped the Fanic Priests. “Those who would whip you now implored you to travel to Shimeh… to the Cishaurim, and the possibility of power beyond anything the Dûnyain had conceived.”

Five steps. Kellhus could smell the water drying across his father’s bare skin.

Moënghus responds that he had good reason to believe this. Kellhus agrees, pointing out that the worldborn are “less than children to us.” They see deeper in all their philosophies and sciences. Moënghus assumed becoming a Cishaurim and “taking up the Water” would be just as easy. He didn’t know that Psûkhe was all about emotions.

“So you let them blind you, only to find your powers proportionate to your vestigial passions. What you thought to be the Shortest Path was in fact a dead end.”

The Scarlet Schoolmen who are holding back from the main fray as Watchers feel the Chorae moving in the ground before the Thesji Bowmen appear. They cried warning but were confused by what to do. “Not since the Scholastic Wars had the Scarlet Spires waged such a battle.” Rimon is the first salted and killed. They scatter.

Their shouts catch Eleäzaras’s attention. He sees their fear but doesn’t feel any. Instead, he feels relief because the Cishaurim was finally fighting back. He sees the demolition of the city around him, creating a ring where they could fight the Cishaurim.

They come!” he boomed in a laughing, sorcerous voice. “At long last, they come!”

Arrayed across the pitched ruin, so small beneath the fires they had kindled, the Schoolmen of the Scarlet Spires cried out in exultant acclaim. Their Grandmaster had come back to them.

Then threads of incandescence, blinding blue and white, lashed through the encircling walls of flame.

Kellhus continues explaining that though Moënghus, going by Mallahet, was respected by Seökti and the other Cishaurim openly, they all secretly think he’s cursed for having so little Water. Worse, losing his eyes reduced his ability to “discern what comes before.” He could only see pinholes through them. He did what he could with his intellect and rose high, but whenever he left the powerful, the whispers about his weak powers would undermine his work.

Kellhus determines he first found the skin-spies twelve years ago. It shocks the Cishaurim and they blame the Scarlet Spire. What other school would dare to do this? But Moënghus understood that these weren’t made by sorcerers but “were engines of the flesh.” Though Moënghus couldn’t stop the Cishaurim from sending their assassins to kill the previous Scarlet Spire Grandmaster, starting the Holy War. Kellhus’s words are cut off.

Just then, Kellhus inadvertently kicked something lying upon the graven floor. Something hollow and fibrous. A skull?

Kellhus continues without giving the skull another thought, explaining how Moënghus had tortured the skin-spies and learned the truth about them, discovering about the last two Inchoroi, Aurang and Aurax, the Consult, and how they corrupted Meketerig and perverted Shaeönanra.

“These words you speak,” Moënghus said from the black, “‘wicked,’ ‘corrupted,’ ‘perverted’… why would you use them when you know they are nothing more than mechanisms of control?”

Kellhus ignores his father and explains how Moënghus would have thought of the Consult as long dead or Mandate delusion, but discovers the skin-spies story is too consistent. Moënghus became troubled learning that what he had dismissed as nonsense might be true. He had rejected the Sagas. After all who would be mad enough to destroy the world. What could you gain?

“But the skin-spies explained it all. Speaking in shrieks and howls, they taught you the way and wherefore of the Apocalypse. You learned that the boundaries between the World and the Outside were not fixed, that if the World could be cleansed of enough souls, it could be sealed shut. Against the Gods. Against the heavens and the hells of the Afterlife. Against redemption. And, most importantly, against the possibility of damnation.

“The Consult, you realized, were laboring to save their souls. And what was more, if your captives could be believed, they were drawing near the end of their millennial task.”

In the absence of light, Kellhus studied his father through the lens of different senses: the scent of naked skin, the displacement of drafts, the sound of bare feet scuffing through the dark.

“The Second Apocalypse,” Moënghus said simply.

Moënghus says the Consult has to be stopped. He spent years in the Probability Trance and is the only person who knew what the Consult was up to. Who could detect their spies? Kellhus thinks that this labyrinth is a place prepared for him by his father. He then says Moënghus began “contemplating what would become the Thousandfold Thought.” Moënghus agrees. Things change suddenly. They are in a larger room where a few things live but more have died.

“We have arrived,” his father said.

Gothyelk leads the Tydonni in a charge against the Fanim as they cross the river. The Inrithi cry out to Gilgaöl while the Fanim charge at them. The Men of the Tusk cry out to Shimeh as they set lances. The two groups crash together in a maelstrom of hacking death. The Tydonni drive through the horde and reach the riverbank, scattering those who crossed. They regroup like “angry bees” and attack the flanks.

Inrithi lords cajole their men to hold the river crossing. The Fanim began breaking apart their makeshift bridges as archers on the far bank pelt the Inrithi. Despite reaching the river, Gothyelk realizes he can’t hold it and sounds the retreat.

Kellhus lights the room with sorcery. For a nonman room, it’s austere (which means it still is pretty ornate just not excessive). Kellhus realizes it is access to the sewage system and hence why it is not as decorated. There are workbenches and a cistern. In between are four skin-spies spread eagle. Two more hang above pits, all shackled with iron. Kellhus notes a funnel above one’s head that is a force-feeding mechanism. He wonders how long they’ve been here. He then studies them, their facial limbs held back by a system of ropes and pulleys allowing them to be manipulated.

Kellhus asks when Moënghus realized he didn’t have the strength to face the No-God. Moënghus thought it was probably from the beginning. Thinking about it lead him to come upon the Thought. Kellhus continua his examination and notes that the skin-spies are lobotomized and have needles inserted into their brain. He brushes one, causing the skin-spy to defecate.

Kellhus has deduced that his father has some power, hence sending the dream. Moënghus nods while Kellhus ponders the secrets his father had learned from the skin-spies. Moënghus explains he is better at Psûkhe that requires subtly such as Scrying and Calling. The dreams were almost beyond him.

“I was the Shortest Path.” [asked Kellhus.]

“No. You were the only path.”

Kellhus notes a dead child and woman nailed to doors hung before the skin-spies. They are recently dead. Kellhus wanders if it was an interrogation technique or feeding them. As he does, he asks about his half-brother. Kellhus can almost visualize his half-brother from the way he had heard him described. At the same time, he feels his father’s scrutiny.

He uses every heartbeat to reassess. His son has returned to him insane.

Moënghus nodded and said, “You mean Maithanet.”

Esmenet, cuddling beside Achamian, stares up at the tree above them. She’s recently cried. She is astounded by how the tree keeps branching to thinner and thinner limbs, “all reaching for a thousand different heavens.”

She sighed and said, “I feel so young.”

His chest bounced in silent laughter beneath her cheek.

“You are… Only the world is old.”

“Oh, Akka, what are we going to do?”

“What we must.”

“No… that’s not what I mean.” She cast an urgent look to his profile. “He’ll see, Akka. The instant he glimpses our faces, he’ll see us here… He’ll know.”

He turned to her. The scowling hurt of old fears unearthed.

“Esmi—”

He’s interrupted by a horse. Alarmed, Achamian creeps out to view. She follows and is shocked to see Conphas’s Kidruhil riding in formation. She thought he was dead and then realizes Achamian isn’t. She realizes Cnaiür told him about it and to sound the alarm. Achamian was just so shocked by it that he didn’t think about it. He tells her to stay hiding. His tone causes her to shrink back. She asks what he plans to do. He says he can’t let Conphas succeed. She doesn’t want him to go, but he is afraid for her since she’s Kellhus’s wife.

Just like Serwë was.

In her soul’s eye she glimpsed the girl trying to palm blood back into the gash about her throat. “Akka!” she sobbed.

“I love you, Esmenet. The love of a fool…” He paused, blinked two tears. “That’s all I’ve ever had to offer.”

Then suddenly he stood tall. Before she could speak, he had stepped over the broken foundation. There was something nightmarish to his movements, an urgency that couldn’t be contained by his limbs. She would have laughed had she not known him so well.

He walked out and among the cavalrymen, calling…

His eyes shining. His voice a thunderclap.

Conphas is in a good mood as he witnesses Shimeh burning. He’s with Cememketri and asks the guy what it says about men that they find destruction beautiful. “That we are bred to war, God-of-Men,” answers the Schoolman. Conphas disagrees, saying that they’re bred to violence. “War is intellect, and men are stupid.”

Conphas feels everything is going perfectly. He had a smooth landing of his troops this morning and is arriving at just the right time to seize the day. He is delighted to see the Scarlet Spires fighting in the city and that the Holy War split, one half pouring into the city as the Tydonni are trying to stop Fanayal from outflanking them. He has achieved tactical surprise.

Whom do the Gods favour now, hmm, Prophet?

A defect carried from the womb… Please.

He laughed aloud, utterly unperturbed by the ashen looks of his officers. Suddenly it seemed he could see the future to its very limit. It wouldn’t end here, oh my, no! It would continue, first to the south, to Seleukara, then onward to Nenciphon, west to Invishi—all the way to Auvangshei and the legendary gates of Zeüm! He, Ikurei Conphas I, would be the new Triamis, the next Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas!

He scowls, realizing those around him couldn’t see anything but “their precious Holy City” burning. His thoughts are interrupted by General Areamanteras who is startled by Achamian walking towards them. Conphas realizes he’s casting sorcery and grabs his Chorae moments before fire engulfs him. Someone cries out to him and he realizes he’s no longer on his horse but on burned grass, Cememketri floating above protected with “ethereal ramparts.” Meanwhile, Achamian is destroying his troops with lines of light “more perfect than any rule.” His men are being butchered.

A blinding light rewrote all the shadows, and through upraised fingers Conphas saw a sun falling from black-bellied clouds, plummeting onto the figure of the Mandate Schoolman. Bursting fire, ribbons of it, arching off in all directions. Conphas heard himself cry out in relief elation…

But as his eyes adjusted, he saw the flames twining away into nothingness about an invisible sphere, and he glimpsed him, as clear as night beneath the Andiamine Heights, or in the Sapatishah’s Palace in Caraskand: Drusas Achamian, unharmed, untouched, laughing about incandescence as he sang.

From nowhere, a massive concussion. The air just cracked.

Cememketri is buckling, Achamian’s “parabolas of light” are tearing down the Saik Schoolmaster’s wards. Cememketri panics and stumbles on his words. He cries out for Conphas to run. Conphas does as Cememketri is ripped into bloody pieces.

The lone guardsman left to defend the Umbilica curses as he hears something. He’s terrified of what he sees. A figure that doesn’t look right “like a moth’s pupa or a bundle of collapsing cloth.” He wants to run, but he’s a Hundred Pillar. He feels enough shame at being left behind. He draws his weapon and demands it halt.

And miraculously, the thing ceased moving.

Forward, anyway, because it somehow clawed outward, as though soft inner surfaces were being peeled back, exposed to the needling sky.

A face like summer sunlight. Limbs barked in fire.

Reaching out, the thing grasped his head, skinned it like a grape.

Where, bolted a voice through his smoking skull, is Drusas Achamian?

The Scarlet Spire battled beneath the First Temple, led by “the thunder of their Grandmaster’s voice.” They are outnumbered by the Cishaurim. Everywhere, sorcery is unleashed. Cants are sung. Wards are strengthened. The Javreh shield-bearers struggle to block incoming Chorae arrows, but some get through. One kills Hem-Arkidu who, somehow, was perfectly balanced to remain standing as a “pillar of salt amid sizzling ruins.”

The Scarlet Schoolman retreat to each other, uniting their wards to create directed defenses. Protected, they counterattacked with Dragonheads belching fire, Memkotic Furies attack, and Meppa Cataract devours air. Cishaurim die while others are dragged away wounded. The Scarlet Spires own Chorae crossbowman reach the battle and, though they are buried beneath the rubble, killing dozens. The Cishaurim do not falter because “unlike their wicked foeman, they cared not for their lives.”

In the midst of their enemy, they spilled their Water.

The slaughter was great.

The Tydonni knights are in retreat now, pelted by Fanim arrows as they rout. Kianene cavalry overruns some. However, the infantry has formed lines and grow stronger with every moment as more and more men join the ranks. Standing amid a crumbling aqueduct, the ready to face the enemy. Some of the Ainoni are joining them now. The surviving knits reach their lines and ready to fight again. The heathens advance.

Missiles rained among them, like hail across tin.

“Here!” Earl Gothyelk roared. “Here we stand!”

But the Fanim parted before them, content to release storms of whirring arrows. The knights of Kishyat, their faces painted dread white above their square-plaited beards, had exacted a terrible toll on their flank. But even more, Cinganjehoi recalled well the obstinacy of the idolaters once their heels touched ground. As yet only a fraction of the Fanim army had crossed the Jeshimal.

Fanayal ab Kascamandri was coming. Lord of the Cleansed lands. Padirajah of Holy Kian.

Proyas’s men are losing their discipline More and more are raping and plundering the city. He’s given up, his heart grieving as the battle madness consumed them. He “understood what it meant to wager one’s life, and the bestial license that men took as their prize.” He’s realizing Shimeh isn’t any different. He finds himself separated from his soldiers and wandering through a market. Above, the First Temple is wreathed in smoke.

He enters a house and finds several dead men. Cringing in the corner is a woman and a young girl staring at him in fear. He is wearing his war-mark, hiding who he is. He realizes he’s splattered in blood. Memories of the fighting feel him mixing with his memories of kneeling before Maithanet. He approaches the mother. She’s crying out in her tongue and draws something on the floor. The tusk.

She keeps drawing the tusk and begging for mercy. He knows this is wrong, but the girl looks so young and inventing. He feels this urge for the “daughter of his enemy.” He wants to enjoy her, to take her.

An enormous crack shivered the air, thrummed through the building’s bones.

“Run,” he murmured, though he knew she wouldn’t understand. He pulled her back, held a soiled hand out to raise the mother. “You must find a better place to hide.”

This was Shimeh.

Moënghus explains that Dûnyain blood is the most precious commodity, but children born to worldborn women lack their full range of abilities. Maithanet isn’t Dûnyain. “He could do no more than preparing the way.” Kellhus feels a pang as he thinks of Esmenet’s name.

“Only a true son of Ishuäl could succeed,” his father continued. “For all the Thousandfold Thought’s innumerable deductions, for all its elegance, there remained countless variables that could not be foreseen. Each of its folds possess a haze of catastrophic possibilities, most of them remote, others nearly certain. I would have abandoned it long ago, were not the consequences of inaction so absolute.

“Only one of the Conditioned could follow its path. Only you, my son.”

Could it be? A tincture of sorrow in his father’s voice? Kellhus turned from the hanging skin-spies, once again enclosed his father within the circle of his scrutiny.

“You speak as though the Thought were a living thing.”

He could see nothing in the eyeless face.

Moënghus says thought is alive. He uses the Nilnamesh game viramsata (“many-breaths”) as an example. It is a game of truth. They have taken jnan so far, that they spread lies about each other and the person will act out those lies, “especially when they are elegant.” It blurs the line between what is fiction and lies. The best tale is declared Pivirsut (“this breath is ground”). It is a lie that has become truth, the foundation everyone walks on. Kellhus sees the connection to Inrithism and Fanimry.

“Precisely. Lies that have conquered and reproduced over the centuries. Delusional world views that have divided the world between them. They are twin viramsata that even now war through shouts and limbs of men. Two great thoughtless beasts that take the souls of Men as their ground.”

“And the Thousandfold Thought?”

Moënghus sees the Thousandfold Thought as a way to change history and transform the two religion into something new. Moënghus realizes to survive what is to come, then everyone must “all act of one accord.” Religious division cannot be allowed but must surrender to a “new delusion.” Kellhus asks where is Truth in this.

“There is no Truth for the worldborn. They feed and they couple, cozening their hearts with false flatteries, easing their intellects with pathetic simplifications. The Logos, for them, is a tool of their lust, nothing more… They excuse themselves and heap blame upon others. They glorify their people over other peoples, their nations over other nations. They focus their fears on the innocent. And when they hear words such as these, they recognize them—but as defects belonging to others. They are children who have learned to disguise their tantrums from their wives and their fellows, and from themselves most of all…

No man says, ‘They are chosen and we are damned.’ No worldborn man. They have not the heart for Truth.”

Stepping from between his faceless captives, Moënghus approached, his expression a mask of blind stone. He reached out as though to clasp Kellhus’s wrist or hand, but halted the instant Kellhus shrank back.

But why, my son? Why ask me what you already know?”

Esmenet watches Achamian battling the Nansur. He no longer seems like Achamian, but different. Something “godlike and all-conquering.” She’s witnessing “the War-Cants of the Ancient North.” Despite the supernatural cadence of his voice, it’s still Achamian she’s hearing. For the first time, she’s seeing the presence that has always shadowed their love: the Mandate Schoolman. The Nansur are reeling in confusion and panic. They are breaking, but she knows that soon they’ll bring up Chorae bowmen.

She was about to watch him die, she realized. The only man who truly loved her.

He’s attacked by new sorcery, the barrage causing her to stumble backward. Four Imperial Saik Schoolmen are approaching. He kills them one by one with “blistering precision.”

The Cishaurim’s surprise attack kills dozens of Scarlet Schoolman. “Entire cadres were swept away in deluge after glittering deluge.” Chorae bowmen on both sides kill Schoolmen and Cishaurim. The Scarlet Spires coordination is disrupted and a sorcerous melee erupts. Schoolmen are fighting on their own for their own survival. Lesser Cishaurim are killed, but the Scarlet Spires had no idea the true strength of the Nine Incandati, the Cishaurim “whose backs could bear the most Water.” Their power is driving back the Schoolmen.

Eleäzaras is in a battle with two Cishaurim, including Seökti, the High Heresiarch. All Eleäzaras can do is sing his Wards. He uses all his knowledge to protect himself. He couldn’t afford despair. Then he is saved by Prince Hulwarga and his Thunyeri are rushing into the battle under the blare of horns.

Men of the tusk, come to save them.

On the field, the Holy War’s troops watch the Kianene horsemen maneuver to attack them. “All that remained of a proud and fierce nation, come for a final reckoning.” The Men of the Tusk began singing. The Kianene rode faster, howling in rage and anger.

So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.

The Kianene charge fast and crash into the ranks of the Inrithi. A wild melee erupts.

“Even the Dûnyain,” Moënghus said, “possess vestigial versions of these weaknesses. Even me. Even you, my son.”

The implication was clear. Your trial has broken you.

Kellhus wonders if he had broken while bound to Serwë’s corpse. The memory of walking away alive when he should have died and all the Inrithi staring at him in awe fills him. He reminds his father that there is more than this world.

He [Kellhus] could remember the voice.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

Even without his eyes, his father’s face still seemed to scrutinize. “You refer to your visions, the voice from nowhere. But tell me, where is your proof? What assures your claim over those who are simply mad?”

TELL ME.

Assurance? What assurance did he have? When the real punished, the soul denied. He had seen it so many times in so many eyes… So how could he be so certain?

Kellhus starts to feign that he’s wavering in as he brings up his “prophecy” of the Shrial Knights coming to pass. Moënghus calls it a “Correspondence of Cause.” It was just happenstance. He repeats that a cause always proceeds an effect, not the other way around. Kellhus knows this is true because if it wasn’t, if what came after could affect what came before, he wouldn’t have risen to power. “The Principal of Before and After simply had to be true.”

His father had to be right.

So what was this certainty, this immovable conviction, that he was wrong?

Am I mad?

Moënghus continues that while the Dûnyain are wrong about the world, and there is something Outside. He calls it “fractured and distorted reflection” of the material world. Moënghus hasn’t found any contradiction to Before and After. He explains that men, thanks to their limitations, can’t see this. They only pay attention to what confirms their basis and dismiss anything that contradicts them. “They are bent upon affirmation.” Moënghus has studied the world and realizes nothing from the outside acts on it.

“The God sleeps… It has ever been thus. Only by striving for the Absolute may we awaken Him. Meaning. Purpose. These words name not something given… no, they name our task.”

Kellhus stood motionless.

“Set aside your conviction,” Moënghus said, “for the feeling of certainty is no more than a marker of truth than the feeling of will is a marker of freedom. Deceived men always think themselves certain, just as they always think themselves free. This is simply what it means to be deceived.”

Kellhus looked to the halos about his hands, wondered that they could be light and yet cast no light, throw no shadow… The light of delusion.

Moënghus continues that they can’t fall into this trap because of the Inchoroi who have twice tried to destroy the world and will do so again. Kellhus nods and says the No-God “speaks to me as well.” Moënghus seems as shocked as a Dûnyain can be before he proclaims Kellhus insane.

Conphas is dazed from Achamian’s sorcerery. His men are shouting, thinking he’s dead. Some are not happy to be fighting for “Fanim pigs” and risking damnation. Then they notice he’s moving. He’s gripping his Chorae in a bloody hand and thinks he’s dead before he gathers himself and orders his mean to kill Achamian. He realizes the blood is Cememketri and thinks he’s useless.

He continues to order for Achamian death, but no one will look at him. He then glances at the battle and sees his Saik Schoolmen dying. Conphas has split his Schoolmen up among his columns. They don’t have the massed numbers to take on Achamian and his Gnosis. He didn’t expect to have a sorcerous battle. Not with the Scarlet Spire and the Cishaurim fighting.

This isn’t happening… not to me!

“My Chorae,” he said numbly. “Where are my crossbowmen?”

No one could answer—of course. All was in disarray. The Mandate filth had obliterated his entire command. The Emperor’s own standard had vanished in an eruption of fire. The sacred standard destroyed! He turned from the spectacle, scanned the surrounding fields and pastures. Kidruhil fled to the south—fled! Three of his Columns had halted, while the phalanxes of the farthest, the Nasueret, actually seemed to be withdrawing.

They thought he was dead.

Laughing, he pressed his way through the clutch of soldiers, opened his bloodied arms to the far-flung ranks of the Imperial Army. He hesitated at the sight of white-garbed horsemen cresting the far rise, but only for a heartbeat.

Your Emperor has survived!” he roared. “The Lion of Kiyuth lives!”

The Cishaurim shift their attacks from the surviving Scarlet Spires to engage the Thunyeri rushing at them. Eleäzaras watches stunned as “one barbarian, his beard and hair aflame, stumble across the pitch of fallen walls, still holding a Circumfix banner high.” Then he realizes he’s not being attacked. He strengthens his wards while realizing the Cishaurim are stronger than they are. He spots Yalgrota Sranchammer strangling a Cishaurim, protected by his Chorae. Seökti retreats to the Sacred Heights while the surviving Scarlet Spires renew their attack. Eleäzaras orders his Schoolman to fight while he realizes only one shield-bearer remains and he cowers on the ground.

Cursing the fool, the Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires stepped into the smoke-rent sky.

The Fanim led by Fanayal and the Inrithi battle outside the city. It’s a brutal fight, but then the Fanim retreat. The Inrithi cheer, shouting, “Wait! You forgot your blood!” The Men of the Tusk, seasoned by two years of fighting, regroup with ease as they see the Fanim massing. The sight shocks them.

Horns signaled. Someone, somewhere, resumed their song.

We shall raise glory to the morrow,

we shall bring fury to the now.

As the Fanim form up, they are charged by the outnumbered Shrial Knights lead by Gotian. The Men of the Tusk cheer at the disorder this causes the enemy. The Fanim faced the Inrithi as “the sons of Fane and Sejenus regarded one another.”

Sunlight showered across the fields, gleamed from clammy metal. Blinking, men looked to the heavens, saw vultures circling the glare.

Mastodons screamed among the Girgashi. An anxious rustling passed through the lines, both heathen and idolater. Spotters along the aqueduct’s crown shouted out warnings: heathen horsemen seemed to be re-positioning themselves behind their motionless brethren. But all eyes were drawn to the Coyauri, where the banner of the Padirajah himself pressed forward through the ranks—the Maned Desert Tiger, embroidered in silver on a triangular bolt of black silk. The rows parted and, draped in golden mail, Fanayal himself spurred his black onto the intervening ground.

Who?” he cried to the astonished onlookers—and in Sheyic no less. “Who is the true voice of God?”

The Fanim charge. The Inrithi brace for the attack. Fanayal’s words have shaken up the Inrithi and they are breaking through the Holy War’s lines. The Tydonni knights, lead by Gothyelk, charge into Fanayal’s horseman. Gothyelk and Fanayal find themselves face to face. Fanayal “swift blade” kills Gothyelk.

Death cam swirling down.

Kellhus asks his father what the No-God is. Moënghus states Kellhus was broken by the trial. Kellhus persists, saying if the No-God was destroyed, how can it send him dreams. Moënghus just says he mistakes his inner voice for something without, like any madman. Kellhus then asks what the skin-spy say.

Though walled in by the flesh of his face, Moënghus seemed to scrutinize him. “They do not know. But then, none in this world know what they worship.”

Kellhus asks what his father has considered about the No-God, but his father presses on the madness then starts to say something about Kellhus’s training when the sounds of others approach. Moënghus thinks Kellhus brought them while Kellhus recognizes Cnaiür by his heartbeat. Kellhus presses on and says that he’s been chosen to be the Harbinger.

“These voices,” Moënghus said with slow deliberation, “what do they say of me?”

His father, Kellhus realized, had finally grasped the principles of this encounter, Moënghus had assumed that his son would be the one requiring instruction. He had not foreseen it as possible, let alone inevitable, that the Thousandfold Thought would outgrow the soul of its incubation—and discard it.

“They warn me,” Kellhus said, “that you are Dûnyain still.”

Moënghus asks if this is why he has to die. Kellhus, glancing down at his hallowed hands, then says when the Inchoroi prove to Moënghus that damnation is real and the Dûnyain are all condemned to eternal punishment, his training as a will lead him to side with the Consult. Moënghus will “come to see tyranny in what is holy.” Kellhus assesses his father’s physical capabilities and knows he must strike fast.

“To shut the World against the Outside,” the pale lips said. “To seal it through the extermination of mankind…”

“As Ishuäl is shut against the Wilderness,” Kellhus replied.

For the Dûnyain, it was axiomatic: what was compliant had to be isolated from what was unruly and intractable. Kellhus had seen it many times, wandering the labyrinth of possibilities that was the Thousandfold Thought: The Warrior-Prophet’s assassination. The Rise of Anasûrimbor Moënghus to take his place. The Apocalyptic conspires. The counterfeit war against Golgotterath. The accumulation of premeditated disasters. The sacrifice of whole nations to the gluttony of the Sranc. The Three Seas crashing into char and ruin.

The Gods baying like wolves at a silent gate.

Kellhus isn’t sure if his father has seen this probability, where his plan would lead. Or maybe he had and merely accused Kellhus of being mad to throw off Kellhus. He then declares that His father is Dûnyain. Moënghus starts to say so is Kellhus, but he stabs his father in the chest before he can finish his words.

“I am more,” the Warrior-Prophet said.

Achamian realizes that he’s routed the Kidruhil and that the rest of the imperial army will soon march over the hill. He expects there to be Chorae bowmen and realize he’ll be killed as his Mandate Training kicks in. He then remembers Esmenet and is fearful for her when he sees how close the ruins are. She was alive, watching him. She had witnessed him fighting.

It shamed him for some reason.

She bursts out of cover to race for him as he yells at her to stop. Then the Ciphrang attacks from above. A powerful wind knocks Esmenet to the ground. As the demon descends, Achamian knows it is Iyokus’s doing.

Proyas finds a still-standing building and gazes out across the burning city of Shimeh. He watches the Scarlet Spire and Cishaurim fighting while everything below was destroyed. The First Temple stands untouched overall.

A loud crack almost knocks Proyas to the ground. He sees a pair of Scarlet Schoolman. They are sending sorcery at a floating Cishaurim. They unleash devastation that is answered by water-like energy from the Cishaurim that slams into their wards. The glare is bright. The Cishaurim rises until he’s level with Proyas. The sorcerery battle clashes before Proyas. The Cishaurim wins, killing the two Scarlet Schoolman.

“Sweet God of Gods!” he cried to the acrid wind. With bare hands he tore the Chorae from the chain about his neck.

“Who walk among us…” He drew back his sword-weary arm, secured his footing.

“Innumerable are your holy names…” And he cast his Tear of God, a gift from his mother on his seventh birthday.

It seemed to vanish against the iron horizon…

Then a flash, a black ringed circle of light, from which the saffron figure plummeted like a sodden flag.

Proyas fell to his knees on the brink, leaned out over the fall. His holy city gaped before him. And he wept, though he knew not why.

Despite the Tydonni knights’ charges, it’s not enough to rout the Kianene forces. Despite some victories, Fanayal’s forces are too much. The Inrithi forces are doomed to lose. Despite their loses, the Holy War holds their position.

The Fanim wept with fury, with outrage, as they cut down the Inrithi invaders. They cried out glory to Fane and the Solitary God, even as they wondered that the Men of the Tusk did not flee.

Achamian faces the demon and realizes it is a powerful demon. He struggles to think how to deal with it. He used an Odaini Concussion Cant to throw her clear before it landed on her. The demon advances on him speaking that it must take an eye for an eye. He is horrified by what Iyokus has unleashed and begs Esmenet to flee.

The thing leapt towards him.

Achamian began singing—the deepest of the Cirroi Looms. Glorious Abstractions knitted the air about and before him, a thresher of light. The demon laughed and screamed.

In the nonman ruins, Moënghus staggers back from his wound, his snakes coming out of recessed holes in the wall to curl about his neck. He realizes something in this moment about how Moënghus can see through the serpents, many becoming one. “What was soul became place.”

With three voices he sang, one utteral pitched to the world and two inutterals directed to the ground. What had been an ancient Cant of Calling became something far, far more… A Cant of Transposing.

Kellhus is wrapped up in the spell, illuminating the room in blue light. He sees his father looking so pale. Then he sees Serwë leaping at Moënghus out of the darkness. A moment later, Kellhus teleports away.

Achamian battles the demon while Esmenet is unable to look away. She’s transfixed by Achamian “surrounded by withered, burning grasses, he stood behind his sheets of light, at once glorious with power and dreadful with frailty.” The demon reaches his wards and breaks through them. Achamian’s sorcerer falters for one moment. The demon grabs him and carries him into the air.

She could not scream.

Conphas cries out that he’s alive, but no one cheers or looks relieved. They’ve mistaken him for a common soldier. He glances at a captain and orders him to find General Baxatas. The man hesitates but sees the “cold fire” in Conphas and obeys at a run. He is giving commands, telling a soldier to sound the advance. He hears shouting, thinking it’s his own soldiers only to see an army of horseman racing at him roaring, “There are no more nations!” They fly beneath the Red Lion and the Circumfix.

“Kill them!” Conphas howled. “Attack! Attack! Attack!”

For an instant it seemed nothing would happen, that nobody had heard. His army continued to mill in imbecile crowds; the interlopers continued to ride unmolested among them.

There are no more nations!”

Then the white-clad knights abruptly changed direction, began riding towards him.

As they charge, he remembers his grandmother when she was younger and beautiful. She was teaching him that an emperor needed to stay grounded and to measure “the purses of those who serve you, my little godling.” An emperor needs to know how much loyalty they have to spend. Today, Conphas’s found out the limits. His men don’t rally. They surrender. They flee. They break under the stress.

“I defeated the Scylvendi,” he said to the remainder. “You were there…”

Hooves pounding the turf. The ground shivered through his sandals.

“No man could do such a thing,” he said.

“No man!” one of the kneelers cried. The soldier clutched his hand, kissed his Imperial Ring.

Such a deep sound, the charge of the Inrithi. Thunder about horses snorting, gear clanking. So this was what the heathen heard.

The Emperor of Nansur turned, not really believing…

He saw King Saubon leaning from his saddle, his face ruddy with murderous intent. More than sun glinted in the man’s blue eyes.

He saw the broadsword that took his head.

Eleäzaras closes in on Seökti, the Heresiarch of the Cishaurim. He plans on avenging his “beloved teacher” and his school. He screams his mentor’s name between Cants. Eleäzaras smote Seökti with magma and fire, with suns and fury. Eleäzaras is laughing as he sang because “vengeance had made hatred a thing of rapture and glory.” However, he’s attacked by blue plasma, the Holy Water of Indara-Kishauri. Eleäzaras’s wards crack. Eleäzaras strengthen his defenses and then realizes he’s alone in the skies.

All about him the world had become a tidal surge of brilliant white and blue, tearing, pounding. Markless, as virginal as the Godspun world.

Tearing. Pounding.

The Grandmaster of the Scarlet Spires grunted, cursed. Jets of incandescence exploded through his Wards, immolating his left arm even as he screamed deeper defenses. A fissure opened before him. Light blew across his scalp and brow. Like a doll, he was thrown backward.

His corpse toppled into burning tracts below.

Outside the city, Fanayal’s forces are encircling the Inrithi. Things are looking bleak for the Men of the Tusk. Gotian, in a desperate charge, is slain along with most of his Shrial Knights. Then they hear a horn sound. They spot the Imperial Army marching towards the battle. But mixed in among the banners of the Nansur Columns were the Circumfix and the Red lion.

This wasn’t the treachery of an Emperor—an Ikurei—come to seal a pact with their Padirajah. The hated standard of the Exalt-General, with its distinctive Kyranaean disc, was nowhere to be seen.

No. This wasn’t Ikurei Conphas. It was the Blond Beast…

King Saubon.

Cnaiür is struggling to breathe as he sees Moënghus slumped against the walls. The Scylvendi had moved for hours through the halls following Serwë and the other skin-spies. They tracked Kellhus’s scent. He knows he is farther from the Steppe than ever. Serwë attacks Moënghus first, but Moënghus uses a mix of hand-to-hand fighting and Psûkhe to kill her. The other skin-spies attack. One is seized by the throat and consumed from within by flue fire.

Cnaiür advances at a numb shamble. He feels that same dread on the day he approached Kellhus on his father’s barrow. Today is different. Kellhus had been where he departed. “This was his destination.” Moënghus, through his snakes, notices Cnaiür and calls him, “Nayu.” He sounds just like Kellhus. He says that Nayu has returned just as he knew. Moënghus beseeches Cnaiür and he feels a tug of joy and remorse.

Cnaiür stopped at the threshold, mere paces from the man who had butchered his heart. He glanced uneasily about the room, saw Serwë splayed motionless to his right, her long blonde hair swept across a bloodied floor, and captive skin-spies hanging abject within a curtain of pulley sand chains. The walls warred with inhuman images. He squinted at the light that hung impossibly beneath the graven vaults.

“Nayu… put down your sword. Please.”

Blinking, he saw the notched blade in the air before him, though he had no recollection of drawing it. The light rolled like liquid across it.

“I am Cnaiür urs Skiötha,” he said. “The most violent of men.”

Moënghus calls that a lie to hide his weakness. Cnaiür calls him the lie. Moënghus says he sees love in Cnaiür. He screams, “I hate!” Moënghus is full of pity and starts talking about how he showed Cnaiür he was different from the others. Cnaiür calls this deceit. Moënghus asks if they’re lies, why do they torment him. “It is truth that burns, Nayu—as you know… for you have burned in it for uncounted seasons.” Cnaiür feels the weight of the earth and knows he has strayed too far from his people. He drops the sword. He cries.

And Moënghus was holding him, enclosing him, healing his innumerable scars.

Nayu…”

He loved him… this man who had shown him, who had led onto the trackless steppe.

I am dying, Nayu.” Hot whispers in his ear. “I need your strength…”

Abandoned him. Forsook.

He had loved only him. In all the world…

Weeping faggot!

They kiss and Cnaiür feels shame. The snakes curl around his head as he finds this so different from kissing Serwë or Anissi. He can surrender here. He doesn’t have to be strong. He pulls his Chorae out of his breeches.

His eyes leaden with ardour, he murmured, “I wander trackless ground.”

Moënghus gasped, jerked, and spasmed as Cnaiür rolled the Chorae across his [Moënghus’s] cheek. White light flared from his gouged sockets. For an instant, Cnaiür thought, it seemed the God watched him through a man’s skull.

What do you see?

Moënghus spills dead on the ground as Cnaiür cries out in grief, asking how Moënghus could leave him again. He laughs, mad, realizing he has a final swazond to make. It was all too much. “He cackled with grief.” He loses track of time as he cries over Moënghus. Only the fading of the sorcerous light pulls him out. He looks over to Serwë, her face cracked for a moment before it’s smooth. “Seamless and perfect.”

Yes. Serwë… The first wife of his heart.

His proof and prize.

Absolute darkness engulfed him.

Proyas witnesses the destruction of the Scarlet Spires, the five surviving Cishaurim standing over the scorched landscape. Proyas was lucky to have survived without his Chorae. He’s confused, stunned as he witnesses the ruins of Shimeh. He stars up at the sky, the smoke choking out all but a glimmer of the sun. Then he notices something sparkle. The point became a geodesic dome. A burst of air drives back the smoke from the spell.

And Proyas saw a figure standing where the light had been, so distant he could scarce make out his features, save that his hair was gold and his gown billowed white.

Kellhus!

The Warrior-Prophet

Proyas blinked. Shivers splashed across his skin.

Kellhus begins chanting as marches at the Cishaurim. The five turn and face the Warrior-Prophet walking towards them on solid air. Debris begins to circle him, pulled up in various orbits. He uses the orbiting debris to deflect Chorae missiles shot up at him. When they hit, they disrupted the spell, sending the debris flying. At the same time, light flashes from Kellhus, attacking the bowmen.

The five Cishaurim advance on Kellhus. They send their water-like spells to crash against his spherical Wards. “Somehow, perfect lines flicked from the maelstrom, coiled into knifing geometries about the nearest of the Cishaurim.” He’s ripped to pieces. But the attacks from the others are weakening his wards. He has to strengthen them. Proyas fears he can’t win if he has to stay on the defensive.

Suddenly, the Cishaurim stop their attack. Kellhus has vanished. He reappears behind one Cishaurim and rams his sword through the Cishaurim’s back. Kellhus teleports as the three remaining Cishaurim are stunned. “Had they eyes, Proyas was certain they would have blinked.” Kellhus teleports behind another and beheads him. Kellhus catches a Chorae crossbow bolt and throws it at the fourth Cishaurim, turning him into a pillar of salt.

Proyas whooped. Never had he felt so renewed, so young!

And Anasûrimbor Kellhus was singing the Abstractions once again. White robes boiled in the clearing sun. Planes and parabolas crackled about him. The Very ground, to the pith of its ruin, hummed. The surviving Cishaurim floated in a broad and wary circle. He knew he had to keep moving, Proyas realized, to avoid the fate of his brothers. But it was already far too late…

There was no escaping the Warrior-Prophet’s holy light.

On the shores of the Meneanor, a peasant is picking along the beach as the sun sets. He finds a “dead sorcerer” lying on the beach next to a giant figure of salt. The battle is over. He’s chipping away at the salt figure, fearful he’ll get caught. He fills the purse with salt. When he finishes, a voice asks if he’d like to know a secret. He gasps to find the syntheses staring at him. Terrified, the boy nods.

The voice tells him to come closer.

My Thoughts

Looks like Eleäzaras was wrong about those Chorae being beneath the rubble as belonging to dead men. He’s walked right into a trap.

Things have shifted now. You can feel the tension in the conversation between Moënghus and Kellhus. He thinks Kellhus is mad. Is he? We know he saw visions during the Circumfix. He probably saw visions even earlier in book two. He had a ‘revelation” in an early probability trance. The balance of power is shifting in ways Moënghus didn’t expect. It’s interesting that he’s honest. Why would Moënghus refuse?

I have to stall for time and come up with Plan B.

Dûnyain are interesting. They do not lie to each other. They follow logic. They want facts. Truth. Then they will debate and one side will convince the other. Now Kellhus has to convince his father he’s not insane.

Moënghus made a big mistake. Nice of Bakker to have a type of metaphysics that wasn’t tied to intellect. And, interestingly, that’s the one that can’t be seen. It’s the one that matches creation far more closely than Gnosis, even then produced by the Quya.

Mallahet was mentioned as being one of the most influential Cishaurim back in book one. It was said then that the only reason he wasn’t the High Heresiarch was his foreign blood.

There are lots of theories about the skull Kellhus trips over. However, it’s just showing Kellhus is blind so he couldn’t see it, that Dûnyain does have weaknesses, and to break up the conversation with something interesting. I wouldn’t read anything into it.

Moënghus brings up an interesting point. Kellhus is painting the Consult as evil, a subjective description from the point of view of the Dûnyain. Kellhus doesn’t even engage this. Kellhus is preparing to go to war with the Consult.

The woman and the child… Shows you the Dûnyain priorities there. He needs to do something for the skin-spies. I imagine they require some level of violence innate in them. It’s also a preview to what we’ll find in Ishuäl in the next series.

Maithanet being half-Dûnyain explains a lot. We had the clues right from the beginning. He had blue eyes showing he was half-Ketyai and half-Norsirai. Further, he came out of nowhere from the south. The real question is, where did his mother go? Because Kellhus was having a hard time getting kids. He tried a lot of other women besides Esmenet. Smart women. Only she produced any viable offspring, and even most of hers had problems.

Achamian and Esmenet’s brief moment of happiness is ruined. Esmenet is his greatest motivation. It’s behind his actions in the next series. He wants to prove his theories right about Kellhus for her. To get her back. Now, he’s going to fight an army to protect her.

Conphas’s take is interesting about human nature. Bred to violence. It’s in us all. There is something in us that delights in destruction. In seeing something torn down. Not anything that we worked on. Destruction of objects acts as a proxy for darker emotions. Ones we know we can’t act on. Push us hard enough, some harder than others, and we all embrace violence.

Poor Conphas. He’s facing the Gnosis. One man ruins all the fun. And we get to see just why the Mandate are truly to be feared.

Bakker’s demons are truly alien and terrifying. Poor guardsman. Tension is mounting now.

Proyas is a real believer. Shimeh is his Jerusalem, and he’s helping to destroy it. His men are killing, raping, and stealing. He’s reeling, the poor guy. He’s feeling that wild exhilaration of risking his life conflicting with his faith. His illusions are being shattered. The horrors of war are filling him. They’re twisting him, turning him into something like the Inchoroi, losing his humanity, just caring about his own desires.

Remember what Proyas does in The Unholy Consult once his illusions of Kellhus are shattered even worse. We get a preview for the darkness of the human soul while seeing how it can be controlled now. He fights it here. This is what war and violence do to humans. It destroys us.

It will destroy Proyas eventually. Just not in Shimeh.

Kellhus just got confirmation that Esmenet can’t give him full Dûnyain children. This hurt Kellhus because he has that bit of love for her. As much as he can love.

As it has been apparent, Moënghus conditioned the path for Kellhus to walk on. It has been a massive program to see if Kellhus would solve the equation. It’s like a mathematician writing software to calculate something beyond his ability to solve and then letting it run. If he did it right, the solution would be derived.

The Dûnyain philosophy is a bleak one. There is a reason humans have a yearning for belief. Something about religion is important to our survival. Even those who think they’re not religious usually adopt a secular belief and put it in that same position. They can become just as zealous as any fanatic. The Dûnyain see these beliefs as the problem, but it’s really just humans twisting ideas for their own self-interest. That’s what has to be battled against. Not religion, but selfishness. The Dûnyain see the only way forward to unite everyone in the same selfish belief instead of freeing their minds. The Dûnyain want to be self-moving souls but care little for doing the same for others.

Interesting that Kellhus pulls back from his father’s gesture. It’s a clear rejection of Moënghus, almost revulsion. And yet, they’re Dûnyain. Moënghus couldn’t be reaching out like a father to find comfort in his son, and Kellhus shouldn’t be acting in revulsion, but we know Kellhus has emotions. Perhaps this was a test on Moënghus’s part, to see how he would act. To see how “mad” Kellhus is.

In the midst of her fear and seeing Achamian for who he truly is, Esmenet is finally honest with herself. Achamian loves her. Kellhus has some feelings for her. He loves her in the stunted way, but he can’t ever give her what Achamian can. What Kellhus can give her is other things and, being pregnant, she has to think of more than herself.

There is something ironic about Eleäzaras being saved by Men of the Tusk. He’s a sorcerer condemned by the Tusk to Hell, and yet he is being saved by them.

“So many wrongs suffered. So many deaths unavenged.” The cycle of violence. So hard to break.

Kellhus seems to think his survival at the Circumfix was a miracle. And definitely something weird happened. He plucked Serwë’s heart out of his own chest. A topoi had formed there. The outside bled in while he was on the Circumfix. He spoke with the No-God, or, I should say, interfaced with its connection. It’s an indication that Anasûrimbor blood can activate it. I think because they have nonman blood in their veins. The only time, it seems, that a nonman bred a human woman was the ancestor of the Anasûrimbor dynasty.

Kellhus believes he’s special. I think this is what lead him into venturing into the Outside between books. He had to find proof. Assurances of what he thinks. Bakker has an interesting world. He’s a materialist and yet created a world with the spiritual being a real thing. Is Kellhus actually special? Or is it all a delusion on his part? What if it’s a mix of all of it? He’s a fulcrum for the outside. For Ajokli and for the No-God.

Kellhus is an interesting character. A man raised to logic who know has embraced some modicum of faith. He’s seen beyond this world and seen the Outside touch it. Maybe the prophecy to the Shrial Knights was just good luck, but he had a “revelation” of the Circumfix. Bakker chose that word with care. Not a guess, not a probable outcome, but a revelation. He’s realizing it now, and he has to decide if he’s crazy or to trust that he’s not. He has to go against being Dûnyain, which is what keeps him from falling into the logical decision of siding with the Consult like the Mutilated do.

Force of personality is all that has held his army together. With him dead, they are lost. It’s not a good thing for an army. They should be able to survive the loss of any officer. It gave him this loyal force, but now it’s biting him in the ass as they think he’s dead.

I recently read a series with a character that is similar to Conphas. Someone who thought himself better. Someone who believed he was a God because of his abilities. He had the arrogance to think he could reshape the world in his own image, so certain in his vision of what right and wrong meant that he could impose it on the world. I won’t name the character so as not to spoil it, but in the end, when he realizes he lost, he starts to panic. He breaks down in disbelief and becomes a bitch.

Eleäzaras knows they can’t win, but he orders his survivors to fight. He can’t let this go. Not after all he’s done to his school. They have to win. He’s desperate for it.

No one can know what they worship because God stands outside our world. If there is something beyond the physical world, we can never reach it. We can never escape our universe. We’re limited. The more we learn, the more we realize we’ll never reach outside our universe.

He recognized Cnaiür by his HEARTBEAT! Jesus, that’s precise.

Kellhus pronouncement on his father is correct. We see that at the end of the Unholy Consult. I wondered all through the second series if Kellhus would still be Dûnyain. If he was leading the Great Ordeal to their destruction as a bargaining chip to assume command of the Consult and continue their work. Bakker was smart to deny us POV’s of Kellhus in the second series until near the end.

Such a strange heroes journey Kellhus has been upon. Now that we’ve seen the whole of the series and know his true intentions, this is a powerful moment in his story when he says he’s more than Dûnyain. It’s when he rejected his path and accepted the Call. Death and rebirth is also part of the Hero’s Journey. Will that play a role in the final series?

I suspect Achamian is shamed by Esmenet witnessing him killing. Seeing the true him, as she noted: the Mandate Schoolman not her husband.

So the Ciphrang tries to kill Achamian and inadvertently saves him from the Imperial Army’s Chorae bowmen. Iyokus accidentally saves Achamian’s life. I’ve never noticed that.

I think Proyas weeps because he is losing all his innocence. This was supposed to be a special place, and they are destroying it. Not the Fanim, but the Inrithi. To save it, they are defiling it. To protect it, they are breaking it. They came here thinking they were doing good, but only committed evil upon evil.

Kellhus realized that souls are things mapped on the outside. That they can be plotted. They can be a place. So he needs coordinates. He has previously speculated on using a second inutteral, something Achamian claimed impossible. Now he used it and took a two-dimensional spell and made it into three dimensions, inspired by the Cishaurim peering through the souls of their snakes.

Nice touch with the “rumbling climbing into the sky” as the demon carries off Achamian in the background of Conphas’s scene.

So long Conphas. Your men followed you so long as you were winning. Conphas had never run. When he faced the Warrior-Prophet after the Circumfix, he stayed proud, in charge. He was defiant and so they were, too. But today, he ran from Achamian. He broke and spent the last of their loyalty and faith in him.

Eleäzaras, obsessed with vengeance, is slain. His obsession with defeating his enemy has led his school to ruin. Arrogance let him think he was better than the Cishaurim. They’ve learned the hard way.

Oh, Saubon. That guilt got to you. Now you’re sweeping in to save the day. If Achamian hadn’t broken Conphas with his attack and delayed the Nansur advance, who knows how this battle would have resulted. Now the tied has turned.

I wondered why Kellhus didn’t just kill Moënghus but stab him. Cnaiür was here. Kellhus wounded Moënghus enough to give Cnaiür the ability to kill him. Kellhus upheld his bargain with Cnaiür in the end. He didn’t have to. Ensuring Moënghus died would be the more practical thing. The Dûnyain thing.

Kellhus is more than Dûnyain now.

What do you see?” This whispers in Cnaiür’s mind as he thinks he sees God through Moënghus’s dying eyes. The God is asking the question. The same question that the No-God sees. We go back to Kellhus’s theory that every soul is merely a point of the Oversoul, the unity trying to understand itself. The No-God is an artificial soul. It absorbs the pieces of the Oversoul, sucking them up and thus preventing the cycle of rebirth. Diminishing the Oversoul, the God, until it can’t keep the outside manifesting. So it can’t keep claiming the souls of the survivors. The No-God is it’s opposite, it’s inverse, and it asks the same questions. It wants to know the same thing.

What do you see? What am I?

Cnaiür admitted at long last he loved Moënghus. That was why his hate was so great. He loved this man and was abandoned by him. He found him, kissed him, and he knew that Moënghus would just abandon him again. Cnaiür knew that as he felt Moënghus manipulating him. “I need your strength.” That was the only reason Moënghus was so warm. He knew he would be abandoned again.

So he killed him to protect himself. Then he retreats back to his people. He’s come far, but he has Serwë again. It’s the surviving skin-spy brother, hence her face momentarily cracked as it changed appearances. By embracing Serwë, he’s rejecting the freedom of the Dûnyain and the trackless step. He’s choosing to return to the “absolute darkness.”

He’s embraced by the darkness that comes before. The lie is easier than the truth.

When we next see Cnaiür, he’s Scylvendi again.

So, the Psûkhe is different from other sorceries. It’s all about passion. There very best, the five Kellhus just annihilated, are probably on par with an average Mandate with the Gnosis through sheer passion and strength of will. It’s hard to say since we’ve never seen Cishaurim fight the Gnosis save this one instant, and, well, Kellhus.

If you didn’t know it, salt was a valuable commodity in ancient times. It was either found in natural salt flats or gathered along seashores and traded inland. To the boy, finding a demon turned into salt is like finding a huge stack of gold.

So, what is going on with this scene? Somehow, Achamian defeated the demon after it grasped him. A demon’s body seems to turn into salt when it is defeated. Then Achamian landed on the beach. He survives, but the boy thinks him dead.

What is the Synthese’s secret? I have no idea. What does this boy matter? Don’t know. Did the Synthese kill him, tell him some profound secret. Who knows. All we can say is the Synthese was over Achamian while he slept, probably with skin wards around him protecting him. The Synthese doesn’t have the strength to do any physical sorcerers, only glamours. It’s Bakker being cryptic.

Maybe Bakker had plans for this boy in the sequel series and it never manifested. Maybe it’s hinting that something was done to Achamian by the Synthese. After all, something changes with his dreams of Seswatha in the next series. I’ve always attributed it to being hypnotized by Kellhus in this book, but there is no conclusive proof.

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

To save the world, Ary must die!

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

Her taint threatens to destroy all he loves.

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

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

Click here for Chapter Seventeen, the final part of The Prince of Nothing trilogy!

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Snippet 3 – Storm of Tears

For all my amazing fans…

Here is a snippet of Storm of Tears, the third novel in my epic fantasy series!

Chapter Two

The Skyland of Vaarck

Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, Uickthio Rnuilsick, stood on the balcony at the rear of the Imperial Palace. The white marble beneath her feet, veined with scarlet, encased the entire exterior of the center of power for the Vaarckthian Empire. She stood, hands clasped behind her, her red officer’s jacket buttoned to her neck, her white trousers freshly laundered and starched. Polished, black boots squeaked as she shifted her weight to relieve the growing ache in her lower back. Age groaned against Uickthio’s stamina, wrinkling her ebony face and streaking her red hair with gray.

How much longer shall the Emperor make us wait upon his glorious folly? she thought.

The balcony overlooked the edge of Lake Bkeurn, the largest body of water in the skies, its silver-gray surface rippling with mist that washed against the beach. Qopraa, the capital of the Empire, was entirely lost to the haze, along with the farthest regiments of the Imperial Army. Three-quarters of the Empire’s might stood in formation before the palace. The Emperor’s scheme of constantly assembling his army for inspection was for this moment. For a decade, they’d assembled in the fall before returning to their winter barracks.

Hopefully, it had allowed the army to assemble for war without alarming the Vionese.

Uickthio clenched her jaw when Satrap Qozhnui Uulvigk strolled out through the double doors. His jowls shook as the man shivered. Thick ebony fingers adjusted the front of his crushed velvet doublet.

“Brisk, isn’t it?” Qozhnui, the Master of Secrets, said as he joined her, his tone almost jovial. But Uickthio knew the shark too well.

“A chill in the air stiffens the soldiers’ spines,” the admiral answered. “Is the Emperor finally deigning to join us?”

“Soon, Admiral. He must be perfect. Our troops will need to be inspired this morning.” His eyes flicked to the mist. “Especially on such an uninspiring morning. The weather controllers should be flogged for allowing fog to form on the lake.”

“The weather controllers were given no special instructions to maintain operational security, as you well know.”

Qozhnui laughed. “Yes, yes. But, still, such a chill. The poor lads look like wraiths instead of the brave soldiers of the Empire.” He glanced behind him. “Now where is the old boy? I want to get out of the damp.”

“And back to your wine?”

“Imbibing mulled wine while watching Lake Bkeurn’s fog is one of the greatest delights. If you would ever relax, you would discover that.”

“Someone had to plan this folly.” For weeks, since the Emperor had grown more certain that the foolish plan with the Bluefin Raiders would bring a fair wind, she’d plotted with generals, admirals, colonels, and captains, strategizing the invasion of the Autonomy of Les-Vion. War games were played. Predictions were made.

Their plans were made of delicate, Ethinski rice paper. The slightest pressure, and they would tear.

“I have good news to ease your endless worry,” Qozhnui said. “Last night, President Kalthin met with his cabinet. A letter of great urgency had arrived from the Admiralty Board.”

“And?”

“The Autonomy’s admirals have not been fooled by our ruse and believe the ships we supplied to the Bluefin Raiders was an act of war.”

Uickthio’s cheek twitched. “How is this good news?”

“Kalthin and his advisers scoffed. They cannot dream we’d ever go to war with them. After all, trade has never been more prosperous between us. The president has rejected the Admiralty Board’s request for a state of emergency and the immediate ferrying of the southern militias to the border skylands. All he granted was recalling veterans to outfit a few ships. That will take weeks. You will have conquered much of their territory by the time they react.”

Uickthio snorted. “Liberated, remember?”

“Yes, yes. Liberated. A much prettier word, eh?”

Uickthio didn’t fly towards his bait. “How do you know what was said in the capital of the Autonomy last night? No ship sails so swiftly.”

The man’s smile grew.

“Yes, you have an engine that allows for instantaneous communication.” Uickthio pursed her lips. “It sounds useful for the military. In fact, I have a proposal written for the Emperor. The Navy would benefit greatly from faster communication, particularly during the invasion.”

The smile froze on Qozhnui’s lips. “Well, that would spread word of its invention. Soon the Autonomy would have it, and then its usefulness would be blunted.”

“To the Navy, or to you?”

“Why, both. And since you need my intelligence, you should be my most fervent ally in preserving its secret.”

“I disagree.”

“Well . . . I can see it from your point of view.” His jowls bulged like a toad’s croaking throat as he nodded. “Perhaps I could part with an engine. Your adjutant has Moderate Mist, yes?”

“He does.”

“I could communicate any relevant information to him. He can be trusted to keep this out of the Autonomy’s grasp.”

“That should suffice,” Uickthio said.

“Then I shall deliver—”

The doors crashed opened and out swept the Emperor. Veukni I Aepriqoigk possessed a warrior’s bearing, a tall man dressed in a red Naval coat and white trousers, his epaulets tied with knots matching the ones on Uickthio’s own shoulders, his boots polished to a gleam. He marched to the edge of the balcony and gazed upon his empire.

A loud cheer rose from the soldiers, their arms thrusting in the air, fists clenched, in salute. Uickthio felt the honesty of the love and affection the army possessed for their leader. The Emperor, while not a military genius, had learned one lesson from his mother, Empress Aepriqo I Vthuimnick: “To maintain the empire and expand its borders, you must have the love of your soldiers and sailors. Your generals can never unseat you if the troops love you more. Cultivate their affection, and you shall be the greatest emperor since Zhnavth overthrew the Republic.”

Veukni had embraced her teachings. He was constantly meeting with the troops. He walked among them, handing out gifts to the privates, shaking their hands, engaging them in conversation. He asked about their families and thanked them for their dedicated service to the Empire.

It was the only virtue Uickthio respected in her leader.

In private, he was vain and boisterous, convinced he had the genius and the ability to reclaim all the lands the Empire had lost. The Autonomy was just the start. He planned on reclaiming the Free Nests of the Soweral, the Ethinski Republic, and the Tribes of Zzuk. Uickthio knew the truth. They may win the war with the Autonomy, but they wouldn’t retake all of it. Holding the territory would be costly even with the Church of Riasruo’s blessing.

The Luastrian archbishopress, sent from holy Ianwoa, followed daintily in the Emperor’s wake, draped in her robes of pure white that contrasted with the dun-brown of her feathers. She stood at the Emperor’s side, giving official sanction to this war.

“My soldiers,” the Emperor called out, his voice a clear baritone that carried through the still air, “I see before me the finest men and women to have ever assembled. The strongest winds of your generation have gathered you on the shores of Lake Bkeurn for our Mother Empire. Your parents and grandparents and your ancestors, stretching all the way back to the dark days of the Wrackthar Wars, look upon you with pride.

I look upon you with pride!”

A cheer erupted through the troops. A vast, roaring gust of zeal swept over the balcony and sent a chill through Uickthio’s blood. They do love him.

“I look upon you and am moved to weep at your bravery. The gallant soldiers of the Empire have never lost so long as they have kept the love of the great Motherland in their hearts. They never faltered when the entire faith of our people and their ancestors wished them fair winds. They never broke beneath the brutalities of war so long as the golden light of Riasruo shone upon them.”

Another cheer. Louder, swelling like a rising gale. Arms and weapons were lifted in unearned triumph.

The Emperor, standing tall, waited for the exuberance to die. “The Motherland has been weak. Traitors and rebels have broken our once proud nation apart. To the south, the corrupt government of the Autonomy of Les-Vion keeps our fellow citizens in bondage. Whether Vaarckthian, Vionese, or Zalg, they are taxed and oppressed by the corrupt President Kalthin. They yearn for liberty, and we shall deliver it!

“I promise you all that we come not as conquerors, but as liberators. The sons and daughters of the Autonomy yearn to rejoin the Empire. They wish to throw off the yoke of the tyrannical rebels and traitors. So I charge you to be faithful, brave, gallant, and just. I charge you to free our brethren so they may be welcomed back into the loving arms of Mother Empire!”

The third and final cheer slammed into Uickthio with the force of a hurricane. She almost staggered beneath the voluminous celebration. They believed their leader. Her pulse beat faster beneath her skin. The soldiers of the Empire had righteous conviction in their hearts, a zeal that would hurtle them into battle.

What if we can win?

Pride in her countrymen sang in her heart.

“Grand Admiral Rnuilsick shall lead us to victory!” proclaimed the Emperor.

Uickthio stepped forward. Tears burned in her eyes as she gazed out at the soldiers of Vaarck. I will lead you to victory, she promised every last soldier standing in the field. Their cheers lifted her spirits.

War had come, and she would see the Empire triumph.

*

The Skyland of Tlele

After the funeral for the Dauntless’s crew, Ary folded his uniforms on the kitchen table, smoothing his good hand over the wool. Chaylene sat nearby, nursing a glass of orange wine. A basket filled with freshly caught fish, red potatoes, and lemons sat beside her.

“Do you think this will take long?” Chaylene asked.

“Probably,” Ary answered with a shrug. “Paperwork.”

He had two red jackets spread out on the table, one adorned with the medals he had worn to the funeral a few hours before. He set that one aside. As an officer, Ary was allowed to keep his dress uniform even after his discharge. His medals clinked as he shifted it. He placed a white cotton shirt and a pair of blue trousers atop the dress jacket. The rest he tied up in a bundle with twine. He wore civilian clothes: a pair of brown denim overalls and gray shirt similar to what he had worn so many months ago when he’d ridden to Ahly for the Summer Solstice. Only the heavy sword belt and Stormrider sabre hanging from it were different.

Ary stared down at the bundle. “I can’t believe it’s over.”

“For you,” Chaylene muttered and took another sip of her wine.

Ary stiffened. His left thumb rubbed along the stump of his hand. “You’re right. It’s not over until we’re both free.” He placed his good hand on her shoulder. “I don’t have to go.”

“You do, Ary.” Chaylene set her glass down. “Don’t make this harder by offering to stay.” Her hand grasped Ary’s on her shoulder, squeezed. “We both need to be free of Theisseg. We’ll never have a life otherwise.”

“You are an amazing woman,” Ary whispered. His eyes flicked to the wine. His stomach tightened. “You are strong. I know it. It’ll be hard without you, but . . .”

“Just don’t stare at the pretty girls in . . . Where are you going?”

Ary blinked. “I . . . don’t actually know.”

“Well, when you get there, don’t stare at the girls’ fruits and forget about mine.”

Ary smiled, his eyes drifting to the swells of her blouse. “I’ll keep the memory of yours seared in my mind.”

Life warmed her eyes. “After dinner, I’ll make sure you have a memory to keep you warm on all those cold, boring nights spent with Estan and his teacher.”

Ary bent down and kissed her lips, which were sour with the orange wine. Her hand tightened on the back of his neck, holding him in place. Fires kindled as his britches grew tight. Ideas of picking her up and throwing her down on the bed gusted through his mind.

Mustering out can wait, right?

Chaylene broke the kiss. “There, that’s motivation for you not to linger at the quartermaster’s.”

Ary chuckled. “Yes, because the quartermaster’s warehouse has all the entertainment of an inn’s common room. Maybe a Sowerese Talesinger’ll be there.”

Chaylene rolled her eyes. “I didn’t think you liked Talesingers. That one in Ahly had you out of sorts, and you wouldn’t tell me why. I remember being annoyed with you.”

“His tale reminded me of my dreams.”

The mirth in Chaylene’s eyes died. “Another reason for you to go.”

Ary grimaced. How long until the Church learns of Wriavia’s death? How often did he report in? He died eight days ago. They’ll know in . . . He wasn’t sure how long it took a ship to voyage to Ulanii. Maybe a day or two before he’s overdue. Then what? Send another assassin?

Ary swallowed his dread that a new assassin would track him and harm Chaylene. He didn’t mention that fear, his eyes glancing at the glass of wine. She had enough storms lurking in her soul.

“I’ll hurry back.”

Chaylene nodded her head as she pulled the fish from the basket. Without the gas sac, it had no buoyancy and flopped onto the table. Ary’s mouth watered. Years of Chaylene taking care of herself while her mother drank had taught her how to make a savory meal out of lesser ingredients.

Ary hefted his bundle, the armory keys, and his bone sabre before marching out the door. Twilight lengthened the shadows of the whitewashed buildings of Rheyion Naval Port. High above, a lone shark drifted across the darkening skies. Ary gauged its size and relaxed; the beast was too small to be a threat to an adult. Shark attacks were rare, but the occasional child was savaged by a larger beast drifting out of the deep sky.

“Adjutant-Lieutenant,” Corporal Huson called out. The fading light made her tan features even more matronly.

“I won’t be for much longer.”

“You’ll always be a marine, sir.”

“I suppose.” Training and combat had smoked being a marine into his flesh like an ostrich’s haunch cured for winter.

“Would you like any assistance, sir?”

“I can manage. I only lost half a hand.”

Corporal Huson paled. “I didn’t mean to cause offense, sir.”

Ary chuckled. “You need to relax your spine sometimes. Don’t be so rigid.”

“The keel of a ship is rigid to provide the support. The marines require someone to maintain discipline. It is my . . . strength. So I shall exploit it to keep your men sharp.”

“You can relax?” Ary didn’t hide the surprise in his voice.

“Rarely. I have been schooled in . . . prudence.”

Ary almost pressed her, but a wariness entered her stance. Everyone deserves their secrets, he decided. “Well, I assume this is where we part ways, Corporal. Unless you have business at the quartermaster’s?”

“No, sir. I was on my way to the mess.”

Ary snapped a salute in farewell to the corporal then kept marching along. He passed between the warehouses full of supplies for the naval port. Centered amid them was the quartermaster’s office. No one enjoyed coming here. The Navy’s labyrinthine bureaucracy could punish a sailor who’d lost vital equipment, ruined his uniform, or failed to read the paperwork he’d signed. Ary hoped mustering out would be a simple process.

He feared it wouldn’t.

Nearly an hour later, he stumbled out of the quartermaster’s office, glad to be away from the tedium of filling out and signing his muster and pension papers. He leaned against the building’s wall as he stared at the sun vanishing behind a warehouse.

I lived my childhood dream for five months and twenty-one days. He glanced down at his maimed hand.

“Ary.”

Estan, accompanied by the thump of his crutch, approached with Esty at his side holding a bundle of clothing. Estan wore a respectable waistcoat over a gray silk shirt and dark trousers, the right leg pinned up.

“Mustered out?” Estan asked.

Ary nodded. “Mind the quartermaster. If she gives you any issues, mention my name.”

“I hope you did not terrify the poor woman with that glower,” Estan said, a grin spreading on his dark cheeks. He glanced at Esty. “He frightened the quartermaster at Camp Chubris, too.”

“He does have the face for it,” Esty said, a smile on her pink lips. Her black hair, gathered in multiple beaded braids, framed her pale face.

Ary grinned back as he straightened from the wall. “Someone has to keep the quartermasters honest.”

Estan chuckled.

Esty glanced at Ary then at Estan. “Ary, this is my husband.”

Ary blinked. “Uuuhhh . . .” He didn’t know what to say to the declaration from the slender Agerzak maid. “That’s . . . sudden.”

“Estan is my husband,” she said, hooking her right arm around Estan’s left.

A foolish grin spread across Estan’s lips. Ary couldn’t help returning it as Esty stated a third time, “This is my husband.”

“Well, congratulations,” Ary said, shaking Estan’s hand. “I didn’t know you went down to the temple. I would have stood with you, and I’m sure, uh, Chaylene would have . . . Well, she would have been happy to be there.”

“I fear you misunderstand,” Estan said, still smiling, his teeth flashing white between dark lips. “You just witnessed it.”

“I have declared it three times in front of a witness,” Esty said, her cheeks blushing scarlet. “That’s all it takes for my people.”

“Just . . . one of you saying it three times?”

“No, the woman says it.” She gave Estan a look, her expression melting into the same joy Ary had beheld on Chaylene’s face during their wedding. “The man doesn’t get a choice. It’s too important a decision to leave to them.”

“Agerzak men have little say over whom they marry,” Estan explained through his grin. “Generally, they make their preference known to the woman, but it is her decision. If she says the words, they are married. I suspect that it is another custom borne out of the struggles of her ancestors to survive beneath the Storm.”

“Our menfolk are too busy killing each other or playing pirate. Without us women forcing the issue, they’d be content to just whore around and drink.” Esty smiled at her husband. Estan’s joy shone as bright as the noon sun.

Ary’s heart was lifted by the couple’s happiness.

While still staring at his wife, Estan said, almost sounding like an afterthought, “We’ve found a ship. The Varele sails just after dawn tomorrow.”

“So soon?” Ary asked, the warmth deflating out of him.

Estan wrenched his gaze from his new bride. “Well, given the pressing circumstances, I believe it is prudent to reach my tutor with haste.”

Ary exhaled. “I suppose you’re right. Uhhh . . . where exactly are we going?”

“Master Rlarim dwells in exile on Thunely.”

*

Estan rose from his muddled dreams later that night to the painful itch in his leg. His eyes opened, and he stared up at the strange ceiling as he scratched at the bandage over the stump of his leg, wishing he could scratch at the missing flesh.

As the sleep vanished from his mind, he realized he was alone in bed. He felt the warmth of Esty lingering in the sheets but not her body. He cast his gaze across her dark bedroom above the Last Port Tavern.

The reason that she had a room here, her form occupation as a prostitute, didn’t bother Estan. To Estan, selling her body was no different than a strong man hiring out his labor to haul cargo or pull nets. She had assets—a lush form and flirty wit—she’d leveraged to survive. It was logical. Learning that she’d actually used illusions, one of Theisseg’s Gifts she possessed, to make her clients think they’d lain with her only made Estan appreciate her more. She had used her talents in a clever way to avoid an unpleasant task.

“Esty?” Estan called.

“Yes,” she answered out of the darkness. Her words were hoarse. Pained.

“What is the matter?” Estan sat up and groaned, rubbing at his thighs. His right hand brushed the linen bandages wrapping around his stump.

“I just . . . had a dream.”

“Your brother?”

The gloom retreated as his eyes adjusted. He spotted her sitting on the floor, leaning against the walls. The slight moonlight, a mix of red Jwiaswo and blue Twiuasra, picked out the naked curves of her body.

Night’s chill pervaded the room. Autumn gripped the southern skylands. While the days were still warm, the temperature plunged after sunset. Estan pulled the blankets around his shoulders before grabbing his crutch. Awkwardly, he stood on one leg, the crutch’s butt digging into his right armpit.

There has to be a better way than this, Estan thought, his mind always chasing new ideas. He stopped his drifting and focused on Esty.

He hobbled over to his wife and sank down beside her. Esty wiggled under his arm and blanket, leaning against him. His father would be apoplectic to learn that he’d married an Agerzak, spoiling his pure, Vaarckthian bloodline. A nasty, vindictive part of Estan wanted to write the Lord-Mayor of Amion a long, detailed letter about his new daughter-in-law being an Agerzak with keen intellect, who was also the sister of the most feared pirate in the last five years.

“Do you want to talk?” he asked.

Esty shook her head.

To some, it might seem strange that Estan loved the sister of the man who had almost killed him. It wasn’t logical, but, Estan was discovering, his heart didn’t care.

In the silence, he studied the profile of her face. His thoughts drifted to the day he’d spied her peering down into the Storm. Her beauty had stuck him with a physical intensity. Her pale, Agerzak skin contrasting with her dark hair had, along with the ample bounty of her bosom, attracted his interest.

Her intelligence, however, had captured his heart.

“Is it wrong of me to be glad he’s dead?” Esty asked after several dozen heartbeats.

“Are you glad he is dead, or relieved that you won’t have to wait in dread for the news of his passing?”

“I’m not sure.” Her voice was low. “I miss the boy who cared for me when our mother died. He would hold me when I had bad dreams and sing a song or recite a story to me to banish away my fears. The sweet boy was utterly consumed by his rage. Every time I saw him as an adult, he was harder, leaner, angrier. Less and less like my brother.”

Estan closed his eyes, hating the pain in her voice. He wished he knew a way to banish her pain and make her smile. He understood the principals of buoyancy in regards to the engines that powered ships, and the mathematics behind the force of gravity. He could debate the various theories on how the skylands hung in the air in seeming violation of natural law. He’d studied the celestial movements of the stars, could name the features of both moons, and could predict when the next seven solar eclipses would happen.

He had no idea how to talk to his grieving wife.

It seemed holding her as she cried on his shoulder was enough. It startled Estan to discover such a simple principal. It required little effort on his part, and yet it was such an important moment. He stroked her black hair as the window lightened and lightened. Dawn approached. Their ship would soon be sailing.

What a remarkable creature she is. Her birth has denied her the opportunities afforded me. If she’d had a tutor of Master Rlarim’s talents, she would have earned a spot at the University of Rlarshon or even the grand University of Qopraa.

Estan vowed to himself to see that Master Rlarim gave her such a tutelage.

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

To save the skies, Ary must die!

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

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Snippet 2 – Storm of Tears

For all my amazing fans…

Here is a snippet of Storm of Tears, the third novel in my epic fantasy series!

Chapter One

The Skyland of Tlele, Lheshoa 20th, 399 VF (1960 SR)

How far will he go for knowledge, Ary?” Chaylene asked her husband, biting her lip. She trembled against him, feeling his heart thundering beneath his rib cage as she clutched him in the darkness of their bedroom.

Ary stared at her. “Estan?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you sound concerned about Estan?” Ary asked, pulling away from her. “And not . . . Theisseg’s warning?”

Her husband’s latest dream of the Dark Goddess Theisseg frightened Chaylene to her core. The intensity of Ary’s words had her shuddering, fear cutting through her hangover’s headache. She didn’t understand how Theisseg’s sister, the Sun Goddess Riasruo, was returning. Once, Chaylene had believed Riasruo was a benevolent Goddess, that Theisseg was the one to be feared, but now . . .

“Well . . .” Chaylene bit her lip. Riasruo was a remote threat, but Estan . . . The words he had spoken a week ago still gusted through Chaylene’s mind, shaking her trust in their intelligent and serious friend.

“Tell me, Lena,” Ary said.

In the dim light of their bedroom, she could make out Ary’s forehead furrowing. His square jaw worked and his eyes narrowed. A few strands of his blond hair tumbled down across his tan-brown forehead. Her ebony hands gripped his broad shoulders. Running a farm at the age of ten, and then serving as a marine, had given Ary a body thick with muscles. She pressed her face into his chest, her blonde locks tumbling about her dark cheeks.

“Lena?” Ary asked, his strong arms engulfing her. The young woman closed her eyes. She felt safe held in his embrace. And he’s leaving me. Estan’s taking him away.

“It’s just . . .” Chaylene didn’t quite know how to voice her nebulous fears. Estan was obsessed with knowledge. He constantly poked and prodded, driven to uncover truth. “Sometimes, I fear he cares more about knowledge than others.”

Ary snorted. “He’s a good friend, Lena.”

Chaylene had believed that until Estan had threatened to reveal Ary’s secret if Ary didn’t heal Esty, Estan’s lover. Ary had forgiven Estan, taking it as a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment, but for Chaylene the threat hung around them.

Estan knew too much about Ary’s past.

Her hand slipped down her husband’s stone-hard chest and touched the puckered scar on his side. During the Cyclone that had ravaged their home as children, Theisseg’s lightning had struck him there. Ary was Stormtouched. The Church of Riasruo had sent assassins to kill him. Chaylene herself had almost died in two of those attempts. Worse, their own country, the Autonomy of Les-Vion, imprisoned Stormtouched in the infamous Rhision Prison out on the skyland of Rhogre. Only a month ago, Investigator Archene Thugris, hunting for Stormtouched, had interrogated Ary, Chaylene, and the rest of the crew of the Dauntless after they’d battled a Cyclone.

Stormtouched were thought to be cursed by Theisseg. People feared they were controlled by Her, threats to the skylands. Chaylene should be equally as scared, equally as repulsed by Theisseg’s taint on her husband. But she loved him. She’d vowed to Ary’s own sister to protect him. She wouldn’t let anyone harm him. She knew the truth. It wasn’t a curse. What Theisseg had given her husband had saved Chaylene’s and other’s lives.

“Just . . . be careful when you travel with Estan,” Chaylene said, stroking his scar.

“There are more important things to worry about,” Ary said.

“I know.”

His right hand stroked her ebony shoulder. Unlike Ary, who was a full-blooded Vionese with brown skin and red eyes, Chaylene was half-Vaarckthian, her coal-black skin inherited from her dead mother, her blonde hair from her dead father.

“What does it mean, that Riasruo is coming?” Ary asked. “Does Theisseg mean there are more assassins after me, or is it something else?”

“I don’t know.” Chaylene bit her lip, thinking on the stories. “Neither Theisseg nor Riasruo ever soared the skies in any of the legends. They only appear in certain places. Like Mount Wraiucwii.”

“Where Iiwroa somehow betrayed Theisseg.” Ary sighed, his face furrowed.

Chaylene had no idea how Iiwroa, the great leader of the Hopeful Company, could possibly have betrayed Theisseg. Iiwroa was Theisseg’s enemy. However, Chaylene had learned, from Ary and his dreams, that the stories about the Wrackthar Wars and the origin of the Storm Below were not what the singers and storytellers had claimed.

There was a secret concealed by Riasruo’s Church.

“I’ll talk to Estan in the morning,” Ary said. “Maybe he’ll have an idea.”

“Yeah.” Chaylene couldn’t deny that Estan was intelligent and had studied the very esoteric secrets that had been thrust upon Ary when he was Touched. Her labored heart tightened knowing Ary had to leave her. “I wish I could go with you.”

“Me, too.” Ary stroked his thumb across the stump of his left hand. The pirate Nrein had cut off the top of his hand, slicing through his palm right above his thumb, which he still possessed, during the Battle of Grion Rift. If Chaylene hadn’t missed her shot . . .

Tomorrow, Ary would be officially discharged from the Navy, free to live his life as he chose.

Chaylene snuggled tighter against her husband, clutching him. She didn’t want to let Ary go. She wanted him to stay at Rheyion Naval Base. He was her only shelter against the winds of her guilt. Tears burned in her eyes. Her mouth opened, desperate to ask him to stay. To beg him.

She knew he would.

But he has to find these answers, she reminded herself. She couldn’t be selfish. The Church would never stop hunting Ary. If he freed Theisseg and ended the Storm . . . We can go home to Vesche and be farmers. It wasn’t her dream. Hers had died with Whitesocks.

The image of her pegasus—a majestic beast with a coat of cinnamon and wings of iridescent gray—rose in her mind. She had once dreamed of flying around the skies on him, seeing new wonders. Her body shook, throat tightening. Sobs burst out of her while tears poured down her cheeks.

Whitesocks’s dying snort echoed in her mind, his broken legs kicking as she stroked his neck, loving him until the light left his black eyes. Other nightmares filled her mind: Stormriders galloping at the Dauntless, the Vionese sailor glaring at her right before her pressure bullet punched through his skull, Ary kneeling over Estan while the pirate loomed.

As if sensing her pain, Ary held her tight.

“Will the nightmares ever go away?” Chaylene asked.

“I hope they do.”

Ary found his sleep after her tears had dried. She listened to his heart thud, his chest rising and falling beneath her head with his slow breaths. Chaylene feared what waited in her dreams. Whitesocks had been such a beautiful pegasus. Smart, intelligent, and loyal. Every day for five months, Chaylene had gone to his stable, curried his hide, checked his wings and hooves, and fed him an apple or plum. They’d flown through the skies together. He’d soared into the battle over the pirate fortress out of love and duty for her.

Right into an Agerzak arrow.

She stared at the window, watching the horizon lighten through the bubbled, imperfect glass.

A new day dawned.

*

The frustrating itch in the calf muscle of Estan’s leg drew him out of sleep. He reached down to scratch it. The sensation drove him wild. The prickling tingles radiated up and down from his knee to his ankle.

His fingers touched no flesh.

The shock snapped Estan awake, heart pounding ice through his veins. For a frantic moment, he fumbled to feel his leg and . . .

Groaned into full memory.

He lay on a narrow cot in the naval base’s medical building. His right leg itched even though the surgeon had amputated it above the knee. An Agerzak greatsword, wielded by the pirate Nrein, had ended Estan’s short career as an Autonomy Marine. Once, he’d believed he was destined to study at the great University of Rlarshon, to be a philosopher in the natural sciences and follow in the footsteps of his tutor, Fehun Rlarim.

Why are we disobeying the church and studying forbidden knowledge?” Estan had asked Master Rlarim as a boy. Pursuing it had driven Master Rlarim from the academic halls into the household of the Lord Mayor of Amion.

Knowledge should never be hoarded and only handed out with miserly annoyance like a merchant bemoaning the debts he must pay,” Master Rlarim had answered. “Knowledge is like the sun shining down on us. It should be free for everyone to enjoy. To drink in, much like the plants growing in your father’s garden drink in the sun’s rays for energy. Knowledge invigorates and illuminates. It is worthless if kept hidden. And, like the sun, it is not something that should be feared.”

Unless you’re a Stormtouched and Riasruo’s church sends assassins to kill you, Estan thought.

The itch intensified. Estan groaned through his clenched teeth as he stared at the infirmary’s dark ceiling, wishing he could scratch the severed part of his leg. Lieutenant Aychiov, the medical officer, had disposed of it into the Storm. Maybe some creature is gnawing on it. Ary had told a story of an amputee he knew who held that superstition. That is why it itches badly.

Estan recognized the weakness of his hypothesis, but it was hard to care. He groaned again and gave up on scratching at his ghostly limb. He wasn’t alone in the infirmary. The wounded of past battles occupied the other beds. Of the Dauntless’s crew, only the fierce Bosun and Ienchie, the sailor friend of Chaylene, recuperated with Estan. Those two had both been grieved to learn that their injuries had prevented their deaths when the Dauntless had mysteriously detonated during the Battle of the Rift. Even Estan, who’d spent considerable time thinking on nothing else, failed to understand how their ship could have been so catastrophically and suddenly lost.

His fingers absently scratched at his stump as he considered the Dauntless’s fate. He wished Esty, his Agerzak fiancée, had not been forced to leave by the medical officer. Her lively conversation helped to focus his mind from the burning itch.

Alone, he muttered to himself: “The only cause that makes rational sense is an explosion in the powder magazine.”

In the bow of the Dauntless, below the two forward ballistae, lay the powder magazine. There the clay shots, filled with black powder and a variety of fuses, were stored during sailing. During combat, a sailor would be in the magazine placing the shots into a canvas sling to be hauled up to the ballistae.

“I suppose the sailor could have dropped the shot,” Estan mused. “There is a theoretical chance such a mishap could break the glass fuse. My own observations show a shot can be dropped from clumsy hands without detonation. Of course, proper tests should be conducted with a variety of fuses. If there is a flaw in the way warships store their shots, then it needs to be found and—”

“Private!” the growling voice of the Bosun cracked through the darkness of the infirmary.

Estan’s stomach clenched. “Yes, Bosun?”

The large woman sat up on her bed. Though he could not see her face in the shadows, he was certain her one good eye was fixed on him. “Will you Stormin’ be quiet, or I’ll pick up your gimped body with my broken arm and carry you to the skyland’s edge. Do you know what I’ll do next, Private?”

“Cast me down into the Storm Below, Bosun.”

“I’m glad we understand.”

Estan swallowed. He really didn’t think the Bosun would follow through on her threat, but she did have large fists. . . He’d witnessed her use them effectively on the sailors of the Dauntless.

Estan kept his mouth shut for the rest of the night. He only wished his leg would stop itching.

*

Lheshoa 21st, 399 VF (1960 SR)

Zori came awake in a flash. She bolted up on her cot in the nearly empty barracks for the crew of the Dauntless. Corporal Huson and Zeirie, the only other women sharing the top floor with Zori, were dressing in their marine uniforms. So many beds were empty. The normal bustle, laughs, and groans of the others waking up were absent.

The hollow echo blunted Zori’s usual good mood. It was hard to be excited about a new day when she’d be saying goodbye to the crew of the Dauntless who perished when their ship was destroyed. To the women she’d bunked with for months. Despite the sorrow, Zori forced herself to smile, the way her mother would, to forget her pain.

It mostly worked.

She felt Corporal Huson’s eyes on her. Zori grimaced. The corporal never spoke but always watched, looking for some infraction to gig a marine. It wasn’t uncommon for her to report to the Bosun if a female sailor was too slow to rise or too sloppy in her dress. Zori didn’t care how slovenly she looked.

She was a scout.

Zori let her stretch linger, ignoring Huson’s studious gaze. She didn’t have to fake her insolent smile. The linen chemise she slept in rustled while her short legs dangled over the edge of her cot. Zori was the shortest member of the crew, and her body was slim and compact. It had given her many advantages while living on the streets after her mother died. She’d dodged the militiamen wanting to throw her in the workhouses and the pimps wanting to throw her in the brothels.

Zori loved the Navy. Mostly. She had three meals a day where she didn’t have gulp down her food like a sow at the trough, afraid someone bigger would steal it. She had a clean bed and friends she trusted to watch her back. She had Guts.

And she had Dancer.

There was such wonder in flying. The wind rushing past her face, whipping her short, blonde hair behind her while the flight muscles of Dancer flexed beneath her when the pegasus flapped his wings. She could spiral high up then dive to the earth, whooping and hollering.

It would be perfect without the fighting, she thought, the emptiness of the room pressing upon her.

Zori ripped off her dirty chemise, the corporal watching. Zori fixed Huson a hard look. Technically, Huson outranked Zori, but Zori was a scout. It would be futile for Huson to report her to Chaylene, Zori’s bosom friend.

Zori stuck her tongue out at the corporal before bending over to slowly dig through her chest of drawers for a clean uniform. Despite the chill in the barracks, her skin pimpling, she forced herself to take her time until she felt the corporal’s eyes leave her.

That’s right. I’m not one of your marines with a stick rammed up my backside. I’m a person who does what she wants. Zori paused. Mostly.

The two marines left Zori behind to head to the parade grounds for the final muster of the Dauntless. Ary would be there, and Guts would be looking so handsome and strapping in his red jacket. Zori grinned. She loved watching Guts march in his uniform. She didn’t care that his face was disfigured.

Dressed in her scout uniform—white linen britches bloused into her stiff, black boots, a knife tucked into her boot top, a starched linen shirt, not buttoned all the way to her neck, and a sky-blue jacket left open—she skipped down the stairs, passing the two floors the unmarried men lived in. They were as vacant as the women’s.

She burst out into the daylight.

*

Buttons proved a challenge for Ary now.

Only having four fingers and two thumbs made many mundane tasks more difficult. Fastening his red jacket was almost more than he could manage. His teeth ground as he struggled to pop the bone button through the eyelet.

“May I?” Chaylene, dressed in the navy-blue jacket of an officer over her white blouse and britches, asked. A few errant strands of her blonde hair, tied back at the nape of her neck, tumbled down her ebony skin.

“Fine,” Ary growled.

Chaylene’s fingers were nimble, working their way up the front, popping each button effortlessly through its hole. Ary noticed her cloudy eyes misting as she asked, “Did I ever tell you that you look handsome in your uniform?”

“Maybe,” Ary said, his back straightening.

“When I was a little girl, before the Cyclone, I sometimes pictured you in this uniform. Dashing and daring.”

“I . . . I didn’t know.” Before the Cyclone, it had been Ary’s dream to be a marine. He used to watch them drilling at Aldeyn Watch on the edge of their home skyland, Vesche. To the young boy, the marines were the epitome of brave and gallant, the Stormwall of the Autonomy. He’d pretended to march and fight with them.

Then he’d witnessed the Intrepid’s sortie against the Cyclone. Seven years later, and Ary couldn’t forget how insignificant the Intrepid had looked as she’d sailed before the wall of boiling clouds spanning the horizon. He’d clutched at the stones of the ruined watchtower, his heart hammering in his chest, afraid and excited all at the same time.

Then the Cyclone had struck Vesche.

He’d felt its terrible force as the Intrepid wallowed in the winds. Ary had prayed to Riasruo to protect the warship. The Goddess hadn’t answered his prayers. A false sun . . .

A different Goddess had heard Ary. He was struck by Theisseg’s lightning and had his first dream of the supposedly evil Goddess bound in chains of pulsing lightning, screaming in agony, and begging for her freedom. Theisseg wasn’t to be feared. Only pitied.

Ary feared Riasruo now.

She’d ignored Ary’s prayer and allowed the Intrepid to crash. The crew perished. Riasruo wasn’t the benevolent Goddess the Church claimed. She was a monster who sent assassins to kill Ary.

And they almost killed Chaylene.

Seeing the dead of the Intrepid had scarred young Ary. He’d vowed give up dreams of glory and become a farmer. Until Chaylene was drafted into the Navy, Ary had no intentions of ever donning the red jacket. But he did. He served. He fought as a marine for his country, and now his maimed hand had ended his career.

Almost six months. I hated it. He snorted at his thoughts. Now that it’s over, I so desperately want to stay.

It wasn’t just for Chaylene that he yearned to stay, but for Guts, Corporal Huson, Zeirie, Jhech, and Messiench. His marines. Ary had led them into battle first as their corporal, then their sergeant, and lastly as their adjutant-lieutenant. He ached to serve on the Adventurous and protect the remnants of the Dauntless’s crew.

Today was his last day as a Marine of the Autonomy. Tears stung his eyes.

Impulsively, he pulled Chaylene to him, holding her tight. After a moment, her arms went around him, clutching him, clinging to him. I’m abandoning them all, he thought.

“I’ll be fine,” Chaylene whispered, her voice cracking. She cleared her throat. “The Bluefin Raiders are done. The Eastern Fleet won’t have much to do but patrol. It’s fine. You have to go, Ary. You have to find the answers.”

“I know.”

“You’re my Bronith. You’ll find me again.”

Ary squeezed his eyes shut. Chaylene loved the tale of the moon nymph Eyia who’d dance down on a rainbow of light when both the red and blue moons were full. The mighty hunter Bronith spied her in a glade, captivated by her beauty. When dawn came, she had to return home upon the moonbeams. Bronith would not be deterred. He followed her into the sky where he chased her to this day, their constellations shining bright.

Ary cleared his throat. “My Eyia.”

After one more desperate heartbeat, they broke apart.

Ary buckled on his sword belt, a metal Stormrider sabre hanging from it. They donned their boots, Chaylene blousing her britches into the tops of hers. Despite being promoted to the rank of lieutenant, she was still a scout at heart. For Ary, tying his boot laces proved easier than buttoning his jacket. He couldn’t perform the task as swiftly, but he could pinch the lace between his thumb and the stump of his left palm while the fingers of his right fashioned the knot.

Dressed, the pair left their small house and separated for the day. Ary marched to the Dauntless’s parade ground, his back straight while his boots crunched on the gravel walkway. The sky was clear.

Corporal Huson had the surviving marines standing at attention. Ary’s eyes flicked from one to the other. Corporal Huson stood before them, the sabre-thin woman’s back rigid, her face severe and bony. She wore her blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun, stretching smooth the tan-brown skin of her forehead. She was Ary’s age, but carried herself like a spinster.

“Adjutant-Lieutenant,” she said, snapping a salute.

“Corporal.” Ary saluted back as he stopped beside her.

“I am afraid not all the marines are accounted for, Adjutant-Lieutenant.” Her small lips pursed tight as she glanced to her right. Estan limped across the grounds with a crutch, the end of his trouser leg pinned up to his thigh, his red coat buttoned tight. His face was twisted as he struggled forward. Esty, his Agerzak paramour, lurked on the edge of the field, watching with hands clasped before her.

“I think he’s earned his tardiness, Corporal,” Ary answered.

“As you wish, sir.”

Guts caught Ary’s gaze. The big man rolled his eyes, a smile crossing his lips beneath the fake leather nose he wore strapped to his face. He’d lost his real one fighting Stormriders a few months back. Though Ary was a large man, his young body strengthened by running a farm at a young age, Guts was even taller and broader in the chest. The hilt of an Agerzak greatsword peeked over his shoulder. The sword had once been Ary’s. After being maimed, he’d traded it for Guts’s sabre.

The other marines waited in stoic silence for Estan as his crutch thunked with every step. Not even Zeirie made a comment. Estan’s back was straight. His Stormrider sabre hung in a sheath at his hip. Ary felt his marines’ admiration for their compatriot. Estan may have been the rich son of a Lord Mayor, but he’d never hesitated to perform the strenuous and dangerous duty of a marine.

“Private,” Ary said when Estan arrived.

“Adjutant-Lieutenant.” Pain creased Estan’s face as he fell in formation beside Zeirie. The half-Agerzak woman gave Estan a nod.

Emotion clung to Ary’s throat as he gazed at his men. He’d fought and bled with all of them, even Zeirie. In some ways, they were closer to him than his siblings. He could never tell his brother Jhevon what it was like to brain a man with a sword. He could never describe to his sister Gretla the sheer terror of standing at the railing while sailing into the maw of a Cyclone.

His marines understood.

“I would give anything to continue serving with you,” Ary said, fighting against the burning in his eyes, his words hoarse. He had to be strong. He was their commander. He clasped his maimed hand behind his back. He stared each of them in the eye as he spoke. “You are the finest marines in the Autonomy. You have served in more danger and muck in your first year of service than most will see in four. Not once did you complain. Not once did you shirk your duties. You stood beside me before the Cyclone. You rappelled down to the docks of Offnrieth behind me. You came to my rescue when Chaylene’s pegasus was shot from the sky at the pirate fortress.

“I . . .” His words faltered for a moment. His throat closed. The world grew watery. “I am truly fortunate to have met you all. The Sergeant-Major entrusted your safety to me. I did my best, now I entrust it to Corporal Huson. I know she’ll take good care of you.”

“I will, Adjutant-Lieutenant,” the corporal said, and Ary caught a rare gleam of emotion in her green eyes.

Impulsively, Ary hugged the corporal. She was a stickler for formality. Rarely had she relaxed her discipline. Only once, after his maiming, had she called him Ary. Today, she broke discipline again and embraced him back.

After a moment, he released her, emotion fighting to be freed as he stepped before Estan and engulfed him in a hug. Chaylene may have had her doubts about Estan, but Ary knew the Vaarckthian would never betray him. They’d bled together.

Ary released his friend and came face to face with Zeirie. The woman had once bullied Chaylene for being half-Vaarckthian, slinging mud with others. That didn’t matter now. Zeirie was his sister. He embraced her.

“I’ll watch out for your wife, Adjutant-Lieutenant,” Zeirie whispered, returning his hug with a fierceness.

Ary nodded.

He embraced the quiet and burly Messiench next, the man’s rough beard scraping on Ary’s neck. Next, Ary engulfed the stout Jhech, the man slapping Ary’s back. Ary shuffled down the formation to stand before Guts. Besides Estan, Guts was Ary’s closest friend.

“Theisseg damn, I didn’t see it ending like this,” Guts said as they crushed each other with brotherhood. “Out of all of us recruits, you were the only one of us that wasn’t a fish scurrying before the shadow of the Sergeant-Major. Had you running the perimeter during our first muster.”

Ary grinned. “And if you hadn’t had a head stuffed full of ostrich feathers, you wouldn’t have laughed and joined me.”

Guts laughed, the rich, honest bass rumbling from him while his arms tightened. Ary didn’t mind his spine cracking.

“It’s not going to be the Stormin’ same without you, Ary.”

*

Zori snorted as the marines jogged by, led by Ary. Only poor Estan was absent. She caught Guts’s attention and shook her head at him. Guts flashed her a broad grin that made his fake leather nose shift unnaturally.

“Why are you running?” Zori shouted. “It’s our last day on the Dauntless. No one cares.”

“Ary does,” Guts answered as his smile fell.

Like Estan, Ary would be discharged from the Navy that day. A marine with one-and-a-half-hands wasn’t needed. But he would still be living on Tlele, waiting for Chaylene to return from the boring patrols on the Adventurous.

Three and a half years of boring sounds just fine with me, thought Zori.

Zori never expected to fall in love. That was something for heroines in the stories. In the real world on the streets of Sey, there wasn’t love. There was plenty of lust. It was nice snuggling up to a dumb, strong man on a cold night, protected in exchange for a short time pumping on top of her. Zori had always kept a good eye out for a big man who would defend her but not hit her.

Besides, she hadn’t minded the pumping. Sometimes, it had made her burn quite hot. She really enjoyed it with Guts.

With Guts, however, she wasn’t giving herself for protection. She didn’t have to give herself at all. She did it because she liked being with Guts. He was funny, with a quip or a joke that kept her entertained. Zori even pictured a future with him once their service was over.

Next I’ll be cooking him dinner like Chaylene does for Ary. We’ll be playing house and talking about children. Her hand touched her belly. A long-buried emotion rose, the pain of Amiria threatening to escape.

Zori stuffed it back down in her and focused on the present.

It seemed so alien to Zori, and yet she yearned for it. Guts had crept under her skin. Their star watching had only supposed to be fun. Her mother had always advised her to never love a man. “They’ll tell you such sweet lies in bed. They’ll tell you sweet promises that you’ll want to believe. Your heart will beat fast. You’ll think you’re in love, but it’s lies. Men never tell the truth. They just take and leave. So don’t let them hurt you. Don’t let yourself love them. Take their money, their gifts, and their protection. Take what you need from them before they grow bored and find another woman to deceive.”

Zori was glad she hadn’t eaten all of her mother’s bitter meal. While it had sustained Zori on the streets, seeing Ary with Chaylene had taught her that not every man lied and maybe, just maybe, Guts was like Ary.

Zori was taking the chance.

She whistled a bawdy ditty sung in the taverns of Sey as she strolled to the stables. The words would make Chaylene’s ebony cheeks blush darker. Her grin twisted her lips. Maybe I should sing it for her.

The Dauntless’s section of the Rheyion Naval Port felt abandoned. All the life had evaporated. She kept expecting to see familiar faces rounding a supply building. She whistled harder to prevent the sadness from dragging her into foggy mires, her back straight, her arms swinging. She popped into the kitchen to snag a hard pear. She tossed it in her hand as she kept walking to the stables. They were whitewashed like the rest of the buildings, though smaller. The stale, sour scent of dung tickled her nose mixed with the earthy musk of a pegasus.

“I was wondering if you were sleeping in,” Velegrin said as he stepped out of the stables leading Blackfeather, his pegasus. His blond hair was its usual bird-nest mess, his shirt rumpled. “Or maybe your scrawny foot had slipped between the cracks of the floorboards and you’d gotten stuck.”

“Scrawny?” Zori arched an eyebrow. “There is nothing scrawny about me. I am perfectly proportioned.”

“For an eleven-year-old.”

“Eleven?”

“Sorry, eight.”

The pear struck Velegrin in the face with a wet thunk. Velegrin laughed as he managed to catch it on the rebound. “Definitely eight. You could have thrown it harder if you were older.”

Zori groaned through her teeth. As Velegrin passed her, he held the pear up for Blackfeather to eat. The pegasus bit deep.

“That pear’s for Dancer,” protested Zori.

“Then why did you give it to me?” Velegrin asked.

“I threw it at you! It was an attack.”

Velegrin cocked his head. “So, I should give my attacker back her weapon? That hardly seems prudent. Better if Blackfeather enjoys his snack.”

The pegasus munched on the pear. His black-feathered wings, an oddity for a Vionese pegasi, fluttered and his tail swished. Velegrin scratched Blackfeather’s neck as he led his mount for a walk.

Zori’s shriek was an angry sow’s squeal mixed with a falcon’s screech. She stalked into the stables where the far-more-deserving-of-a-pear-than-Velegrin’s-stupid-pegasus Dancer waited. He neighed in greeting, his roan muzzle peeking over the top of his stall.

“No pear for you,” Zori muttered. “Mean ol’ Velegrin took it for his piggish pegasus. Can you believe that?”

A sob answered Zori. It came from the next stall.

The slim scout frowned then sidled a few steps and peered into the pen. Chaylene sat in the straw, hugging her legs, her eyes swollen red and tracks of tears staining her cheeks.

“Chaylene,” Zori whispered. She darted inside. “What’s wrong?”

“Ary’s leaving.”

Zori sank down beside her friend and put an arm around Chaylene’s shoulders. “What do you mean, he’s leaving? The Navy? I know it won’t be great not having him onboard, but—”

“Onhur. He’s leaving Onhur.”

“What?” Anger hissed out of Zori. “That Storm-cursed, downyheaded jackanape! How could he?”

Chaylene blinked at Zori, her forehead furrowing. “What?”

“I thought he was a better man than to abandon his wife. I mean, I thought that—” Zori clamped her mouth shut before bringing up Chaylene’s unfortunate infatuation with Vel that had caused so many problems for her marriage a few months past.

“No, he’s not abandoning me. He has to go. He needs to . . . learn things. Find a way to . . .”

“Oh . . .” Zori swallowed. She didn’t want to say the “S” word, but it gusted around them. Zori had learned about it when Ary saved Guts’s life after the fight with the Luastrian assassin two weeks or so before.

Chaylene nodded. “With Estan. It’s just . . . I don’t want Ary to go. I want to beg him to stay.”

“Then do it. Tell your man what you want.” Zori flashed her friend a naughty grin. “It did wonders for me and Guts. The man did not know what to do with his hands.”

Chaylene groaned, and Zori fought her giggle. She loved teasing her friend with earthy suggestions.

“Ary needs to do this,” Chaylene said. “I know he’d stay if I pressed him, but it’d be wrong of me. Another assassin will come. And . . . it’s all . . . too much . . .” Her body shook. “The Dauntless is gone. Captain Dhar’s dead. And . . . and . . .”

Zori noticed the bridle clenched in Chaylene’s hand. The leather creaked as Chaylene rubbed it against her tear-stained cheek.

“I came . . . in . . . and . . . he wasn’t . . . here . . .” Chaylene sobbed, her entire body shaking. “I don’t . . . know why I thought . . . he would be . . .”

Zori held her friend. She loved Dancer. He gave her so much freedom, an extension of her. With Dancer, Zori could fly. That was a marvel to the poor girl from the streets of Sey. To lose that . . . lose him . . .

Zori held her friend until the horns blew.

“Time for the funeral,” Zori whispered.

Chaylene nodded. She stood, dusting the straw from her backside then wiping her cheeks with a handkerchief. “I could really use a drink.”

Zori blinked. “It’s pretty early.”

Chaylene didn’t answer. She marched out of the stall, her back straight. Zori swallowed, a chilly wind gusting through her. Zori’s injury during the Cyclone had caused her to miss the fight at Offnrieth and the choking plague. When she’d returned to the ship, she almost didn’t feel part of the crew. They’d all been through something transformative. Now a foul, dark shadow covered Chaylene, obscuring some of her warmth.

Zori ached to banish it.

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

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!

If you want to stay informed on my writing and Reavers of the Tempest’s release, sign up for my newsletter and receive a free fantasy story!

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Snippet 1 – Storm of Tears

For all my amazing fans…

Here is a snippet of Storm of Tears, the third novel in my epic fantasy series!

Prologue

The Skyland of Ulanii

Bishriarch Rwiistrau chirped in relief as she was roused from sleep by a commotion outside her room. She ruffled her brown feathers as she stretched up from her nest. The new leader of the Church of Riasruo, elected after the tragic death of Swuiuprii IV in the wake of the Cyclone attack upon Ianwoa, shook her head, struggling to banish the nightmare.

It was a familiar one, plaguing her for the last month. It always began the same: the Cyclone rising over the edge of Ulanii, threatening the great city and the heart of Riasruo’s church in the skies. Its winds roared, hungry for the deaths of every hen and drake. The Stormriders glinted in the midst of the angry clouds, galloping on their steeds, thirsting for blood.

“You cannot disturb her,” screeched the normally level-headed Praiocwii, the young acolyte who served Rwiistrau. “She is sleeping. It can wait until morning.”

The door crashed open.

Rwiistrau squawked in surprise, her wings fluttering. She wore only a loose nightgown over her feathered body. Her scaly feet clutched at the shredded wool of her nest as she rose to her full height. Captain Shzuugz sze Tezl filled her doorway.

The hulking, female Ethinski cared little for modesty. She, like the other Tezlian guards, wore only a simple loincloth of white over her crimson scales. The lizardwoman squeezed through the door before striding across the room in three long steps. Even the shortest Ethinski Gezitziz towered over a Luastrian.

And Shzuugz was hardly short.

Her black tongue flicked out as she knelt before the Bishriarch. This merely brought the Gezitziz down to Rwiistrau’s eye level. Her tongue darted out again, the end forked while the dead, reptilian eyes stared into Rwiistrau’s.

“What is it, Captain?” asked Rwiistrau. “What news is so urgent to disturb my sleep?”

“The Book was opened. Archbishopress Uarioa sang a Song. After an hour, my guards peered inside. They found only her vestments.”

Rwiistrau’s gizzard clenched and writhed about her stones. What Song did she sing? What has Uarioa done?

The Book of Iiwroa was precious. The truths it contained needed to be protected and guarded. None outside the Synod of the Faithful, the body of archbishopresses who advised Rwiistrau, could know its contents.

“Did your guards touch the book?” Rwiistrau tensed, feeling her office’s weight.

If someone uninitiated had read the secrets, they had to die. The entire foundation of life in the skies would be shattered if the truth came out. It was a monstrous crime the Dawn Empresses and their successors, the Church of Riasruo, committed.

But necessary.

“None. They only stuck their heads into the room and saw she’d vanished.” Shzuugz’s tongue flicked. “I ordered the pair to be confined to their quarters. They have not spoken of what transpired to anyone but me.”

“Good,” Rwiistrau clucked. Annoyance at Uarioa tightened her gizzard. “Convene the Synod.”

“Your Radiance,” nodded Shzuugz before she rose.

“Praiocwii. My robe.”

The acolyte assisted Rwiistrau into the pure, white robes of the Bishriarch. The soft silk rasped on Rwiistrau’s dull-brown feathers. Her distal feathers, nimble like a human’s digits, adjusted how the robe rested on her shoulders. Praiocwii fetched the crown carved from yellow cedar, a poor imitation of the Crown of the Dawn lost so long ago.

Dressed, Rwiistrau swept through the slumbering halls of the Grand Temple of Riasruo. It was an open structure; ruddy columns carved like flames supported the ceiling. Mosaics of red, orange, and yellow covered the floors and walls. To Rwiistrau, she strode through stylized fire, the surface of Riasruo’s sun.

The chill of the autumn night robbed her of the illusion.

A pair of Tezlian guards, standing silent, opened the doors to the Synod. Inside, a table stood at the center made of yellow sandstone surrounded by fifteen perches. Rwiistrau’s talons clicked on the red sandstone floor.

Sitting on the table was the Book. Open.

She rushed forward. What did Uarioa do? Her eyes read the page. “The Song of Embodiment . . . ?” Rwiistrau’s gizzard sank. “What madness possessed you to do this, Uarioa?”

“Why have you roused me from sleep, Bishriarch?” demanded Archbishopress Saiuvii, the head of the Canton of Vion. “Has the Empire invaded the Autonomy? It was a mistake to send Puoupyi and lend legitimacy to the emperor’s insanity.”

Rwiistrau did not bother rebuking the insolent Saiuvii. She stared at her rival, the one voice who had dissented her elevation, and said, “Uarioa performed the Song of Embodiment.”

“Lanii’s golden feathers! Has her disease driven her to madness?”

Rwiistrau’s head cocked. “Disease?”

“She suffered from the mottling. It had progressed far. She had, perhaps, a month before it attacked her wings.”

Rwiistrau clucked her beak in a moment of sympathy. Nothing was worse to the bird-like Luastria than losing their feathers. The mottling had no cure. Once the disease reached the wings and attacked the distal feathers, a Luastria would lose the ability to do most day-to-day activities.

“So she sought to escape her mortality by incarnating as the Golden Daughter?” Incredulity echoed in Rwiistrau’s voice. “It is madness. She thinks herself worthy to be a living goddess? The book warns against following in Iiwroa’s wake. We do not need a ‘goddess’ to lead us.”

Saiuvii chirped in amusement. “You mean, you don’t want to bend your stiff neck before Uarioa when she hatches from the golden egg.”

“Exactly,” clucked Rwiistrau. “Two thousand years of empresses, bishriarchs, and archbishopresses have handled Iiwroa’s book. None were insane enough to do this.”

“Well, it is too late to stop it.” Saiuvii mounted her perch. “What shall we do about it?”

“Embrace it.” Rwiistrau’s gizzard almost ejected its stone. “The Church must spread the glorious news. Riasruo has seen her children’s plight.” She spoke the lies with practiced ease. “She knows the Cyclones grow ever more frequent, so She has sent Her golden daughter. Lanii shall return in two cycles of the blue moon.”

“Sixty-four days,” agreed Saiuvii, the time it would take for the Song to create Uarioa’s new body. “Yet more lies we must tell.”

“Will you argue against me?”

Saiuvii ruffled all her feathers. “It would split the Church not to support Riasruo’s daughter.”

The others filed in, squawking in annoyance. None continued when they learned of Uarioa’s madness. The vote was taken. All eleven archbishopresses present stood with Rwiistrau. The Church’s prophecy would sail on every ship that left Ianwoa, to be carried to every skyland. All the faithful would rejoice.

Another tarnished lie, gilded in pure gold, would stand as a beacon of hope.

*

Uarioa’s spirit floated through the Void.

The archbishopress screeched in rage. Or, at least, she thought she screeched. She no longer had a body. Her soul tumbled through the darkness, drifting farther and farther from her flesh hijacked by the Goddess.

“You tricked me!” Uarioa raged, her voice a piercing tweet. The Luastrian soul twisted in the Void. “You stole my body! I trusted you!”

The Goddess had stolen Uarioa’s chance for rebirth. The Book of Iiwroa, the tome that had guided first the Dawn Empresses and later the Church of Riasruo, had deceived Uarioa. She’d thought herself enlightened after reading its “truths.”

Was it all lies? Or had Iiwroa only written the truth as she knew? She was tricked, too. Why did she ever trust Her? Why did I?

Uarioa wept. The Void spun about her. Featureless black. Her new eternity: drifting through the space between life and death.

Lost.

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

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!

If you want to stay informed on my writing and Reavers of the Tempest’s release, sign up for my newsletter and receive a free fantasy story!

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