Category Archives: Reread

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Two

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Two

The Istyuli Plains

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

We belittle what we cannot bear. We make figments out of fundamentals, all in the name of preserving our own peculiar fancies. The best way to secure one’s own deception is to accuse others of deceit.

—HATATIAN, EXHORTATIONS

It is not so much wisdom of the wise that saves us from the foolishness of the fools as it is the latter’s inability to agree.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

In the first quote, there’s a lot there. That’s how you tear down what you hate. Ridicule. Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals has it as one of the ways to take down institutions. Mock and belittle them.

Then we have projection. You see this a lot of puritans accusing others of the very things they are guilty of. And puritans are out there. They’re on Twitter screeching about every “ism” under the sun no different from a Southern Baptist preacher screaming fire and damnation from the pulpit. The fundamentals and ideologies might have changed, but the people who embrace them have not.

And then we see what happens to those who act this way. How they tear each other apart over purity tests and pettiness. They project their own sins on others then condemn them to hide their own shame. They rip apart what is strong because they are too foolish to understand what they are doing. It’s not wisdom that stops them. The wise are powerless. They can point it out, but will the foolish listen?

History says no.

These are also apt quotes since we see Kellhus beginning to deconstruct himself in Proyas’s eyes. To prepare him for what is to come.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), The High Istyuli

To the Sakarpi, men have two modes: joy and sorrow. It’s as if they have two different puppies in their belly, one that “nuzzles their heart” and the other that bits it. If they feel neither, they are doomed. And it doesn’t matter how many times you felt bliss in the past, one act of shame can end it. Sorweel feels nothing. He’s “Between Dogs.” Empty inside.

Suicidal.

His people were conquered for their Chorae Hoard, he’s been conscripted into Kellhus’s Ordeal, and Yatwer wants something from him. He’s fucked.

His prison is the Scions, a cavalry company of young hostages. They’re too valuable to risk, so they’ll be protected from combat while others died around them. All of them are eager for the fight even if they are marching for their fathers’ enemy. After all, “they were boys as much as men, and so their hearts were burdened with the violent longing to prove their mettle.” Sorweel is just like them. He wants the fight then feels guilty afterward for getting sucked in with the enthusiasm of the others.

He is torn. Warring against the Sranc is what his people have done since the First Apocalypse. Fighting them is how boys become men among his people. And now he’s doing it but beneath the banner of the “man who had murdered his father and enslaved his nation.” This is all his boyhood dreams realized in a perverse way.

The night before their departure on a patrol, Sorweel has dinner with Zsoronga. As the others boast about the fight to come on their patrol, Sorweel tries to hold his tongue until losing his temper and shouting they’re hostages. Zsoronga watches with a frown. Though Zsoronga is still friendly, there’s a chill between them since Kellhus declared Sorweel to be a Believer-King. Sorweel needed to explain how Yatwer’s spit, produced by the slave Porsparian, had hidden the truth from Kellhus. Sorweel still hated, but he could never spit out the truth. “Some silences, he was learning, were impossible not to keep.”

There are other hostages in the room like Prince Charampa of Cingulat, Tzing of Jekkhia, and Tinurit of Akkunihor (a Scylvendi). Sorweel demands to know why they “should celebrate fighting our captor’s war?” No one but Obotegwa understands him though they hear the tone. Obotegwa translates for Zsoronga. Sorweel is surprised he understands much of what is translated, picking up more Sheyic than Sorweel had realized. Tzing snaps back that this beast “rotting in our captor’s camp.” Charampa agrees and implores “Sorri” to think of it as a hunting trip. He makes a joke.

Sorweel glances to Zsoronga for support, but the Successor-Prince looks away but not before his eyes accuse Sorweel of being a Believer-King. Sorweel can’t help but note that Zsoronga’s friends from the Scions all come from nations outside of the New Empire. The Successor-Prince is plotting for the day when he rules Zeüm and has a chance to rival Kellhus. The prince is cultivating allies. Sorweel doesn’t understand why he’s still here if Zsoronga thinks him a Believer-King and thus a potential spy. Maybe Zsoronga was still deciding what to do.

The young Sakarpi King found himself brooding more than contributing as the night wore on. Obotegwa continued translating the others for his benefit, but Sorweel could tell that the white-haired Obligate sensed his despondency. Eventually, he could do little more than gave at their small flame, plagued by the sense that something stared back.

Was he going mad? Was that it? The earth speaking, spitting. And now flames watching…

He had been raised to believe in a living world, an inhabited world, and yet for the brief span of his life dirt had always been dirt, and fire had always been fire, dumb and senseless. Until now.

Charampa, who talks too much, walks Sorweel back to his tent. They make a good match. “The one talking without care of comprehension, the other unable to comprehend.” Sorweel is too lost in thought to even pretend to listen. He struggles to see his father’s face but sees Kellhus’s instead as the Aspect-Emperor rained sorcerery down on Sakarpus. He thinks about how tomorrow, the eighty Scions will be heading out as a hunting party to find game, though they are playing that it’s to fight Sranc. Still, they were riding out on their own. They could find Sranc. He thinks about fighting and killing, which makes him smile.

Charampa mistakes the smile for agreement and is excited as he marches off, leaving Sorweel bemused. Then he feels dread before entering his tent where Porsparian slept. He can see the slave making Yatwer’s face in his mind while he can’t believe that Kellhus named him a Believer-King.

A slave—a slave had done this! More Southron madness, Sorweel found himself thinking. In the story and scripture of Sakarpus, the Gods only treated with the heroic and the highborn—those mortals who resembled them most. But in the Three Seas, he was learning, the Gods touched Men according to the extremity of their station. The abject were as apt to become their vessels as the grand…

Slaves and kings.

Sorweel crept into his cot as silently as he could manage, tossed in what he thought was the beginning of another sleepless night, only to dissolve into a profound slumber.

The Interval wakes up Sorweel. A warm breeze for the dawn blows. In the morning, the slave isn’t scary but just a menial servant getting Sorweel ready. As Sorweel leaves, Porsparian tells him that he will return exalted. Sorweel snorts and says he’ll “do my best.” The old man starts yelling, “She!” over and over and Sorweel is frightened. He breaks free of the old man’s grip and heads to join the other Scions. The day is full of the sound of soldiers readying for the march.

The great host of the Aspect-Emperor… The other dog.

Yes, the young King of Sakarpus decided. Ne needed to kill something.

That or die.

Though the plains are starting to green, it’s not as much as it should be. Those who live on plains realize this is going to be a lean summer for the Great Ordeal. The warm wind blowing is called by the Sakarpi the Gangan-naru, something they fear. It comes once a decade, devastating their herds and turning plains into a desert. Some Kianene swears they smell sand in the air. The veterans of the First Holy War mutter how the righteous path is not an easy one. That “it is trial the separates the weak from the holy.” The drunk ones whisper about crossing the desert and the Trail of Skulls

Undaunted, the Great Ordeal marches on, a sea of humanity surrounded by a “cloud of horsemen” scouting and patrolling, searching for the Sranc and not finding them. In councils, Kellhus is asked about why the Sranc flee before me. He tells them that it will come. The Sranc will scratch their itch to crush them and they will wish that these peaceful days had never ended.

He smiled, and they smiled, finding levity in his wry humour, wisdom in his sober heart. He sighed, and they shook their heads at their juvenile foolishness.

“Fret not about the absence of our foe,” he admonished. “So long as the horizon remains empty, our way is secure.”

The grasslands dry out as no rain comes. Rivers dwindle. Dust shrouds them. Ceremonies are held for rain, but the sere wind howls. The soldiers worry about thirst and rumors of strife in the New Empire.

The horizon remained empty, and yet their way no longer seemed secure.

A halt to rest for a day is called while quartermasters become miserly. They are running out of provisions and have outrun their supply trains. They are draining rivers to fill waterskins. They are no on their own, cut off from civilization.

The time had come for the Great Ordeal to break into foraging columns.

Proyas can only describe Aspect-Emperor bed chamber as stark. He sleeps on the same cot as low-ranking officers, has a table with no cushions to sit on. No ornamentation. No gold. Only the columns that hold the roof have symbols on them. After twenty years of being Kellhus’s Exalt-General, Proyas I still perplexed by the man. It reminds him of his boyhood watching Kellhus and Xinemus play benjuka. He would wonder at their decisions that he can’t understand.

This, he had come to learn, was what it meant to serve the Holy Aspect-Emperor: to be a witness to incomprehensible decisions. The difference was that Anasûrimbor Kellhus took the World as his benjuka plate.

The World and the Heavens.

“To act without understanding.” Proyas realizes this is worship. He remembers leading the Sack of Srneveh that had so many dead, including 5000 children, that Proyas is still haunted by it. After, while alone puking and crying, Kellhus had stood over him and said he should grieve but not to think he had sinned. The world is too complicated, that’s why humans make things simple, and Virtue and Sin are the most complicated. Kellhus tells Proyas that every atrocity committed in the Aspect-Emperor’s name has a purpose. “Do you understand why you will never understand?”

“You are our father,” he [Proyas] had sobbed. “And we are your headstrong sons.”

Zaudunyani.

Though it’s only Kellhus and Proyas in the tent, Proyas kneels. He feels shame for having more stuff than Kellhus and vows to live as meagerly as an example. Kellhus invites Proyas to share his fire. Kellhus appears to have been sitting for some time in his simple rob. He looks normal except for his eyes. Those are extraordinary.

Proyas starts to ask if something is wrong and stops. Kellhus smiles and comments about how they have a weird relationship. They have to be formal sometimes and can be friends other than Kellhus makes a joke to break the tension. Proyas sits down but doesn’t laugh. Kellhus remembers when he did. Proyas says he was funnier back then. Kellhus asks when that was

“Before you beat the World to the last laugh.”

The Aspect-Emperor grinned and frowned at once. “That remains to be seen, my friend.

It still astonishes Proyas that Kellhus can shift between roles to be whatever was needed. Right now, he’s Proyas’s old friend. Normally, it’s hard for Proyas not to see Kellhus as a living miracle, but not right now.

Proyas asks if things are going bad. Achamian says it’s going and that things are unfolding according to the “true future” that he’s been allowed to glimpse. But they have dark decisions to make, and Kellhus doesn’t want to make them alone. “I’m not sure I understand,” Proyas answers feels ashamed for hedging his confession, not for ignorance. Despite the last twenty years, his pride sometimes rears up with little falsehood to “manage the impressions of others.”

How hard it was to be an absolutely faithful soul.

Kellhus no longer has to correct these lapses. Just being before Kellhus is enough for Proyas to rebuke himself. Kellhus continues that he doesn’t want to make guesses and that as a leader, Proyas should understand that. He agrees given the immensity of the stakes.

Proyas says he is ready to be commanded. Kellhus tells him to kneel before his hearth and bow his head in the flames. Proyas is surprised that he doesn’t hesitate. He kneels, feeling the heat, and remembers the story from the Tusk when Husyelt, a god, told Angeshraël to bow into his face. Kellhus used this very story in his Sermon of the Zigurrat when he first revealed his divinity. So many madmen had done this. Despite that, he was doing it. He even kept his eyes open. “And a part of him watched and wondered that a devotion, any devotion, could run so deep as to throw a face into the furnace…”

Across the crazed bourne of opposites. Into the lapping glitter. Into the needling agony.

Into the light.

His beard and hair whooshed into tinder. He expected agony. He expected to scream. But something was tugged from him, sloughed like flesh from overboiled bone… something… essential.

And he was looking out from the fire, into a thousand faces—and a thousand more. Enough to wrench the eyes, dazzle and bewilder the soul. And yet somehow he focused, turned from the battering complexity and took refuge in a single clutch of men, four long-bearded Men of the Ordeal, one gazing directly at him with a child’s thoughtless fixity, the other bickering in Thunyeri… Something about rations. Hunger.

Then he was out, on his rump in Kellhus’s gloomy chamber, blinking and sputtering.

Kellhus says that the “absence of space” is hard for people to handle. Proyas rubs at his face but he’s not burned. He’s embarrassed and glances at the hearth. Looks normal. Kellhus asks if it disturbs him that he spies on the army. Proyas is heartened because an army far from home can be capricious. After this meeting, Proyas will realize Kellhus already knew Proyas’s answer, and it makes Proyas question what was the point of the meeting.

Kellhus asks why he was shone this and if there is talk of mutiny. Kellhus says no mutiny, they’re just bitching about home. Proyas asks if this is a problem. Kellhus says it is, revealing that their enemies back in the Three Seas are making their move and the New Empire most likely will collapse. Proyas asks if that will cause desertion here and Kellhus says it will.

“But these men are Zaudunyani… They would die for you! For the truth!”

The Aspect-Emperor lowered his face in the yes-but manner Proyas had seen countless times, though not for several years. They had been far closer, he realized, during the Unification Wars…

When they were killing people.

Kellhus says that abstract ideas hold little power over Men save some rare few, like Proyas, who can “throw itself upon the altar of thought.” The army marches as much in their belief in Kellhus as their belief in his word. Proyas argues that they do believe that the No-God is about to return. Kellhus says but will the choice to save the world over saving a son. He then asks Proyas if he’s willing to risk his children for Kellhus’s gamble.

A kind of strange, tingling horror accompanied these words. According to scripture, only Ciphrang, demons, demanded such sacrifices. Proyas could only stare, blinking.

Kellhus assures Proyas he wouldn’t demand that sacrifice. Proyas is confused and Kellhus explains that these men march to save their wives and kids, their people, but not the world. So if they learn their families might die because they’re not there to protect them, desertions would begin. Proyas could see it. The men gossiping about the misfortune back home, building each other’s fears. He’s dismayed to realize that even the Zaudunyani were so weak.

So Kellhus is putting an embargo. No one can use Cants of Far-calling on pain of death. “Henceforth, the Men of the Ordeal shall march with only memories to warm them.” Proyas knows even beggars have a home. Proyas, though, having spent so much time from it, is a faint idea. His home is his wife, Miramis, and their children Xinemus and Thaila, whom hardly knew him. He’s gone so much, they feel more like strangers to him.

No. This was his home. Dwelling in the light of Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Waging his endless war.

Kellhus gives him a comforting squeeze and implies this is the last war. That comforts Proyas as he asks what will he tell them. He’ll say the Consult can spy on the scrying, though he’s not sure if he can. Other than to say they’ve had two thousand years to prepare, and that should frighten Proyas because Kellhus knows so little of them. Proyas makes a joke about having “not know terror” since meeting Kellhus, even though he makes things as difficult. Kellhus replies that Proyas will find fear once more before the end.

Proyas asks if Kellhus will maintain contact with the New Empire. Kellhus says, “No,” which shocks Proyas. He asks why. Kellhus doesn’t have time to worry about them when he isn’t seeing the whole picture. He can’t look back.

And Proyas understood that at long last the Great Ordeal had begun in earnest. The time had come to set aside burdens, to shed all complicating baggage.

Including home.

Only death, war, and triumph remained. Only the future.

At the Eleventh Council of Potentates, Kellhus breaks apart the Ordeal. They have to do this to forage. One host is too large for the land to support, so they need to spread out. But with the draught on them, they worry there still won’t be any food to find as the game has chased the rain. Kellhus and his mathematicians explain how they have to keep on course, they can’t chase the herds, or they will not make it to Golgotterath before winter and perish. They are in a bind that the harder they march, the more food they need. The more food they need, the more time they need to spent foraging. The more time spent foraging, the slower they go.

So they must take the Shortest Path. And there is only one of them. They must do this to save the world. And so the Ordeal is broken into the Four Armies. Kayûtas commands the Men of the Middle North. The Sawayal Sisterhood and the Grandmistress Serwa goes with him. They will be the westernmost army and the one most at risk.

Proyas commands the Ketyai of the East with the Scarlet Spires, led by blind Iyokus, and the Mandate. Saubon commands the Ketyai of the West (Nansur and Fanim) and has the Imperial Saik and the “rehabilitated” Mysunsai. These two columns would be the heart of the Great Ordeal and would only be a few days apart and will hold the bulk of their force.

On the east, King Sasal Umrapathur commands the Ketyai of the South (the Nilnameshi). The Vokalti school marches with them. They are rumored to have made many attempts to steal the Gnosis. They would be marching through the least charted lands.

It’s chaotic as they break apart into their new hosts the next day several are killed in a brawl between two units, but it was mostly a peaceful affair. The next morning, the Breaking was finished and the Four Columns broke apart. “Songs in a hundred different tongues scored an indifferent sky.”

Thus began the longest, and most arduous, and most deadly stage of the Great Ordeal’s bid to destroy Golgotterath and so prevent the Second Apocalypse.

My Thoughts

This is the folly of humans and their strength. We are passionate. Sorweel is doing the right thing but for the wrong person. It’s destroying him because he can’t let go of the death of his father. That he’s a slave. They might be riding to save the world, but that’s such a huge concept. He is trapped by that anger that he has betrayed his father. He wars to stay faithful against the impulse to surrender, and it’s tearing him apart.

I like the stuff about Zsoronga building up his allies for the day he’ll challenge the New Empire. Don’t think it’ll ever matter since I doubt any of them survive, but it’s showing that Zsoronga is a character with his own motivations and goals that are not aligned with Sorweel’s. Got his own thing going on. His story is just in the background of Sorweel’s story.

Sorweel raised believing in the Supernatural, but there’s knowing something and witnessing something. Things really don’t matter to us when they’re abstract, but when you get it in your face, when your emotions are responding, well, things get real.

Meeting the Gods is like meeting your heroes, it seems. In the story, they hang out with only the cool guys, but in reality, they are slumming with Porsparian the slave. Life isn’t what you think it is, and it’s painful when those illusions are shattered.

So, Sorweel is going to return exalted because he’ll spot the Yoke and make it back to bring word. This is Yatwer at work. She is positioning him to kill Kellhus. He’s the real White Luck Warrior. We have the one that is working through the Three Seas, but we also have a second. Sorweel. He’s the subtle one. He’s not possessed by the Goddess, but things are going to turn out just fine for him.

Up until he fails.

He’s rather suicidal, too. In a very vulnerable and emotional state. Very easy to manipulate by Yatwer.

Ah, miss you Xinemus.

And we have the beginning of Proyas’s lessons. Kellhus has a job for both his generals. And it’s for them both to die. Proyas and Saubon are the closest two men to Kellhus in the Great Ordeal, and he is going to lead them both to their deaths because it is the Shortest Way. But before that can happen, he has to mold them. Ready them. Particularly Proyas.

“Before you beat the World to the last laugh.” Kellhus’s response to this joke is quite telling. He’s not sure if he will. I think this has to do with his agreement with Ajokli and his plan to evade being the god’s bitch in the Outside. This is the hint that Kellhus has something against the WORLD in the works, but will it succeed? Well, the third series will hopefully answer this question.

“Usually Proyas found it difficult—given all the miracles of might and intellect he had witnessed—to think of Kellhus as a creature of flesh and blood, as a man. No so now.” This is the point of the lessons. Kellhus is deconstructing himself with Proyas. He’s unmaking himself as a god. Kellhus mentions “dark decisions” and this is all to prepare Proyas for the final march on Golgotterath that will end with Proyas being condemned. The scapegoat for the sins the Great Ordeal will commit to survive the Appalling Fields.

When Proyas is in the fire, one of the men with the “child’s thoughtless fixity” seemed to have noticed Proyas. Perhaps the man has some mental handicap or maybe he was just bored and staring at the fire. But the point is the effect it has on Proyas. A spiritual experience to mold him.

And we see that, afterward, Proyas is wondering what the point of the meeting was. This is starting him on his path to be conditioned for Kellhus’s purpose. Proyas thinks they’re friends when he’s really just a tool. Esmenet is the only person Kellhus cares for, and he barely can care for her.

Bakker draws our attention to how close Proyas thinks he is to Kellhus and the fact that such intimacy was brought about by violence. They were committing dark deeds together, giving them shared pain. Or, to Proyas, the illusion of shared pain.

And Proyas starts to think Kellhus is a Ciphrang for asking Proyas to wager his children’s life. More deconstruction at work. This conversation, looking in the fire, has all been to lead Proyas to these doubts.

One of the things that Kellhus needs to know is if the Dûnyain has taken over the Consult. He suspects it, and is planned for it, but he doesn’t know yet. And Dûnyain being in charge of the Consult should terrify everyone.

Kellhus is trying to ignore his love for Esmenet here. That’s why he can’t worry about her plight. But as we’ll see in the next book. He fails. He goes back for her and it leads to the No God reactivating. He knows he should abandon her, but as he just described, men don’t fight to save the world. They fight to save their loved ones. And, in his own vestigial way, he loves Esmenet. Without that, Kellhus would have embraced his father’s plan. He already sacrificed one person he cared for, Serwë, and it broke him. Drove him mad. It seems he can’t do it again.

It’s a short chapter. It gets us caught up on the players here and sets up the story arc for the Great Ordeal going forward until they get to Asgilioch.

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter One

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter One

The Meörn Wilderness

Without rules, madness. Without discipline, death

—NANSUR MILITARY MAXIM

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

My Thoughts

That is a very apt quote considering we’re picking up with the Skin Eaters. Rules impart order on the chaos of the world. And nothing is more chaotic than battle (or traveling through Cil-Aujas). Discipline keeps soldiers standing when they would have broken. The belief instilled in them, and the training they’ve gone through lets a person endure situations they could not without it.

Now going into Meörn Wilderness, we’re going to see that the Rules and Discipline of the Skin Eaters have been broken. They are going to fall into madness and death by the end of this book. Not even Kosoter will keep them in line.

The Skin Eaters are broken.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side”

Even when the Skin Eaters walked ways sheeted in sunlight, some shadow of Cil-Aujas lingered in their eyes. The reflection of friends lost. The glint of things not quite survived.

Two days have passed since the Skin Eaters have escaped Cil-Aujas. “There was madness in the deep, and the scalpers wore it more as fact than trophy.” They’ve been decimated. Men who have survived years of hunting Sranc have cracked from the strain. Whether sunny or rainy, they rejoice in seeing the open sky through the trees they march through.

They walked with the wonder of those who could not fathom their breath, their heartbeat. Who could not believe they still lived.

Achamian thinks they’re too few to have discipline and not sure any Rules of the Slog remain. They would have to find a new way. Kosoter is still in command but in an even more dominating way. Sarl skulks at the rear, no longer Kosoter’s mouthpiece. He mutters all the time but speaks with no one. Mostly he mutters about Hell and “The Slog of Slogs!” Galian has become the second. The Nansur soldier seems unscathed. He, Pokwas, and Xonghis have become “a nucleus of sorts, like a conspiracy of the sane within the greater company.” They maintain authority by not giving their opinion. Whenever Kosoter gives an order, everyone looks to Galian. He would pause and then nod his head, never dumb enough to contradict Kosoter.

Xonghis is the scout, moving ahead. Only he, and Cleric, move with any energy. The others trudge. Pokwas, his head wound gruesome, stays by Galian’s side. The three eat apart from the others, devouring meat cooked by sorcery. Xonghis eyes never stop moving. Pokwas polishes his sword while nursing a grudge. Galian sits between them, watching the other scalpers like a worried father. Soma and Sutadra were now excluded from the group for no reason Achamian can see. Sutadra is silent but is waiting for something to set off his temper. Soma seems the most the same and seems oblivious to how his friends snub him.

Nothing should be the same after Cil-Aujas.

The other survivors are the Galeoth that are both mutinous and complacent. They complain and object until Kosoter looks at them. Then they shut up. They are the ones most broken by Cil-Aujas. Wonard’s wounds are infected, Hameron cries in his sleep, and injured Conger is getting better. His limp has vanished.

But no one had been more transformed in the collective eye than Cleric. Where before they had walked with an enigma, one rounded warm and smooth by local acquaintance, now they walked with a Nonman Ishroi… a Quya Mage.

Even for men so bitten, it was no small thing to walk with a legend. And for a Wizard steeped in the ancient ways, it was cause for more than a few sleepless watches…

Night comes suddenly with the Osthwai Mountains to the west. They don’t make fires or other lights because they’re in skinny country. “They became a company of shadows, skulkers between the trees, loath to speak.” Their losses are so apparent when they camp. Cleric dispenses Qirri reach night, his armor still clotted with blood. He seems more animal than before. Then he would sit by the Captain who either sat like a stone or lecture the Nonman in a low voice.

The Qirri would soak through their bodies, relaxing them. Then the mutters and complaints would start until Cleric began his next sermon. They all fall silent, Skin Eaters, Wizard, and girl. “A silence not of expectation, but of men who awaited tidings of themselves.”

During one sermon, Cleric speaks about how they have wandered “out of light and life.” As he speaks, he seems like he’s judging their mistakes. Cleric speaks about how they have seen things few humans ever have. They will understand how power and history piles upon themselves.

“Ever are Men stranded on the surface of things. And ever do they confuse what they see with the sum of what matters. Ever do they forget the rank insignificance of the visible. And when they do honour the beyond—the beneath—they render it according to what is familiar… They disfigure it for comfort’s sake.

The old Wizard sat rigid.

“But you… you know… You know that what lies beyond resembles us no more than the potter resembles the urn…”

A sudden mountain gust swept the high ridges, whisked through the gnarled jack pine that crooked the stone about them. Mimara raised a hand to brush the hair from her face.

“You who have glimpsed Hell.”

“The Slog!” Sarl exclaimed in hoary tomes. “The Slog of Slogs—just as I told you!” His laugh was half gurgle and half rasp.

Everyone ignored Sarl’s cackling as Cleric continues, saying all things has their place, including death. They have seen what only dead men do. Achamian flinches from Cleric’s gaze. The Nonman hopes that death will “greet you as an old friend.” Silence follows until Sarl cackles again.

Achamian feels the weight of those who have died, those he knew, and those he didn’t. This is the price of his conviction. His quest is paid for by the blood of men he has tricked into this quest. “Distance and abstraction are ever the twin lures of disaster.” He realizes it was so easy to take that first step from his tower. Absurdly so. Now he had come so far through so much suffering because of that first step.

All for the sake of finding Ishuäl… The name spoken by a mad barbarian so many years ago. The Cradle of Anasûrimbor Kellhus. The hidden refuge of the Dûnyain.

Achamian had promised these men riches in the Coffers of Sauglish, the sorcerous vaults. It’s a lie, but these “wrecked and heartbroken” men don’t know that. He has held back his map and the Dreams. He knows the Whore of Fate is on them. Mimara’s presence is proof of that. He had known his “mad mission” would have a heavy toll, but he had deceived himself anyways.

The truth, he had told himself. The truth demanded sacrifice, from him and from others.

Could a man be called a murderer when he killed in the name of truth?

At night, he looks at the men he is deceiving, men who are crippled. No longer the strutting braggarts before Cil-Aujas. Men boasting about the riches they would find and how they would return as princes. Those men were gone. Achamian fears what will happen to them next to pursue his goal.

Mimara often watches him watching them. She was a woman who had skill reading men’s emotions and was always guessing at his. She thinks he feels remorse. He says Cil-Aujas proved her right, referencing how she called him a murderer when she learned of his real goal and had threatened to tell the others. She replies that it “has wronged me more.”

In the absence of consequence, lies were as easy as breathing, as simple as song. During his days as a Mandate Schoolman, Achamian had told innumerable falsehoods to innumerable people, and a fair number of fatal truths as well. He had destroyed reputations, even lives, in the pursuit of an abstraction, the Consult. He had even killed one of his beloved pupils, Inrau, in the name of what could not be touched or seen. He found himself wondering what it must be like for his former brothers now that the Consult had been revealed. What would it be like to belong to an Imperial School, to have princes and kings stammer in your presence? According to Mimara, they even carried Shrial Warrants, holy writ that exempted them from the laws of the lands that hosted them.

Mandate Schoolmen with Shrial Warrants! What would that be like?

Achamian would never know because he had left the Mandate just as Kellhus made the Consult’s existence concrete. Now Achamian seeks Kellhus’s origins through his Dreams. He’s “[s]acrificing the actual for the possible.” He both believes and doubts, and he has more men to kill.

You can only possess a dream while awake. They can take over your entire existence. “Dreams are the darkness that only slumber can illuminate.” Achamian is dreaming of walking through the Library of Sauglish, the home of the first School, the Sohonc. The place is heaped with Wards, making the place ugly “the way all sorcery is ugly.” And yet the perfection of it, like a ship’s great rigging, is beautiful. No invaders had ever attacked this place. They had always brought gifts because this “was the Library!”

Achamian is dreaming of Seswatha carrying the map of Ishuäl through the Library. He uses the Cant of Sideways Stepping to pass through stone. He enters the Upper Pausal, a part of the library the Nonmen had carved when they taught humans Gnosis. It is carved out of “living rock.” Seswatha is almost overwhelmed by all the marks of Sorcery, especially from the Great Gate of Wheels which is both a portal and a lock into the Coffers.

To the mundane eyes, it was a wonder of scale and machination. To arcane eyes it was nothing less than a miracle of interlocking deformities: enormous incantation wheels carved from milk-white marble, turning through a frame of bronze set with constellations of faces carved of black diorite, instilled animata—or proxies, as they called them—enslaved souls, whose only purpose was to complete the circuit between watcher and watched that was the foundation of all reality, sorcerous or not. So hideous was the Mark of the thing, so metaphysically disfigured, that bile bubbled to the back of his throat whenever he found himself before it.

Quya magic. Deeper than deep.

He pauses at the stairs and feels no alarm to see the golden map case was now a dead infant’s body. “Such is the madness of dreams that we can assume the continuity of even the most jarring thing.” To the dreamer, he always had a dead baby. He marches down the stair and stops before the Gate which the proxies open at a command. The baby starts squirming and now the Archmage glances down. He feels revulsion at the dead baby reaching for him. He throws it to the floor. Only it floats in place.

“This,” Seswatha gasped, “is not what hap—!”

The gate opens. The infant falls to the ground and becomes the map case. Achamian stands still, the wind gusting out of the Coffers rippling around him. It’s then that Achamian sees there’s no roof. The Pausal is open to the sky. The Whirlwind has arrived.

TELL ME… the Whirlwind said.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

WHAT AM I?” The No God’s question echoes in Achamian’s minds as the scalpers cross the Meörn Wilderness, or the Long Side, as they call it. They knew they walked through lands once cultivated and had been through the ruined cities of the Meöri Empire. Once upon a time, the wildlands were on the other side of the Osthwai Mountains. Ten years ago, the first companies had been overwhelmed by the Srancs. The “Stick Days” because you were tossing number-sticks on where you would survive. After five years, the Sranc were driven back to a forest called the Great Mop. They were so successful, the Holy Bounty had to be halved to keep the New Empire from going bankrupt.

The reconquest of the Great Meöri Empire had begun, albeit by Men who resembled the Sranc more than otherwise. When Fatwall, or Maimor, was discovered, the Holy Aspect-Emperor sent a Judge and a company of Ministrate Pikeman to occupy the abandoned fortress over the summer months. Many among the Imperial Apparati spoke of reclaiming all the ancient Meöri provinces—from the Osthwai Mountains to the Sea of Cerish—with ten scant years. Some even argued the Holy Bounty should take precedence over the Great Ordeal. Why wage war against one, they dared ask, when with mere gold you could battle against all?

But the Great Mop changed things. No matter how many Sranc were killed, their numbers were not diminishing. They did not retreat. One mathematician believed these Sranc were reproducing as fast as they were killed. It was a futile endeavor. “He would be imprisoned for his impious accuracy.” The scalpers didn’t care. They understood. The Mop’s dense canopy strangled out the underbrush. It was always dark and dim, perfect for Sranc and the grubs they fed on. “It provided for all but their most dread appetites.

That is, until the coming of men.

With Xonghis in the lead, they planned to march to the ruins of Maimor (nicknamed Fatwall) and hope of getting resupplied. Mimara clings to Achamian, often leaning against him even though she’s not injured. Achamian remembers Esmenet doing the same during the First Holy War. If it wasn’t for the trauma of the last few days, he would have felt the pain of her loss. He asks her about how she drove off the Wight-in-the-Mountain with a Chorae, but she can’t give a satisfactory answer. He doesn’t understand why Kosoter’s didn’t do anything. “Well, I’m not the Captain, am I?” He keeps coming back to it, like an itch that never goes away.

The School of Mandate had long eschewed the Daimotic Arts: Seswatha had believed Ciphrang too capricious to be yoked to human intent. Still, Achamian had some understanding of the metaphysics involved. He knew that some agencies could be summoned shorn of the Outside, plucked whole as it were, while others bore their realities with them, swamping the World with porous madness. The shade of Gin’yursis, Achamian knew, had been one of the latter.

Chorae only negated violations of the real; they returned the world to its fundamental frame. But Gin’yursis had come as figure and frame—a symbol wedded to the very Hell that gave it meaning…

Mimara’s Chorae should have been useless.

He begs her to explain, knowing the Judging Eye somehow made it happen. She just gets mad, calling it madness and not understanding it herself. He says she must know more. She glares at him and calls him a hypocrite. He was equally as evasive when she asked for information about the Judging Eye. He suspects she’s getting back at him. He doesn’t want to burden her with the doom of her future. He doesn’t want her to “forget hope.”

The old Wizard knew this as much from his Dreams as from his life. Of all the lessons he had learned at life’s uncaring knee, perhaps this was the most hard won. So when she pestered him with questions—gazing at him with Esmenet’s eyes and airs—he would bristle. “The Judging Eye is the stuff of witches lore and old wives’ tales! I have no knowledge to share, only rumours and misapprehensions.”

She would ask to know those, but he would tell her to leave him alone. He told himself he did it to spare her. “There is mercy in ignorance.” This is something are born appreciating. The less they know, the happier they are.

Soma also receives Mimara’s anger. When he tries to talk to her, she ignores him. He’s trying to rekindle their old banter in a way to earn her forgiveness. “His approach was at once cowardly and eminently male: he was literally asking her to pretend that he had not abandoned her in Cil-Aujas.” She does not forgive. Finally, he tries to explain himself, saying things just happened so fast.

“But that’s the way it is with fools, isn’t it?” she said, her tone so light it could only be scathing. “The world is quick and they are slow.”

Soma is shocked by her words and looks dumbfounded. Galian mocks him. Later, Achamian joins Soma on the trail and tells him to give her time and let her anger die down because she is a forgiving woman. He adds she’s too smart not to understand the difficulties. Soma is confused and Achamian agrees with Mimara that he’s a fool. He tells him, “Courage for men is fodder for dragons.” Soma doesn’t get it.

“That courage is more complicated than simple souls credit… Mimara may be many things, Soma, but simple isn’t one of them. We all need to build fences about what… what happened.”

Soma just stares with that same affable gaze repeats that she needs more time like he’s taking it to heart. Achamian agrees and keeps walking while fearing that the “daft fool” would take Achamian’s advice as permission. Strong in the same ways, Achamian feels she needs protection. She’s has something beautiful that should not have survived her experiences. “This realization, if anything, made her company more irritating.”

Pokwas believes it’s significant that Mimara saved Achamian’s life. In his lands, a woman saving you means “deep things.” Achamian says she said them all, but Pokwas reiterates that she saved his several times while awe creeps in his expression. Achamian scowls and asks what. Pokwas makes a joke about who would save someone so old and used up. He snorted and jokes back that only a daughter would. At the same time, he flinches from the lie that he’s telling a man who he had shared such abject hardship with.

Maybe this lie had also come true.

Mimara studies Achamian like a “mother reviews her children: the counting of things beloved.” Before he infuriated her by withholding knowledge, starving her of information. Needing him was unforgivable before, but things are different now even though he still denied her. “Still he complains, upbraids, and rebukes.”

The only difference is she loves him.

She recalls her mother, back in the Andiamine Heights, telling her about “Akka.” Mimara asked if he was her father which caused her mother to recoil. Mimara used her father as a weapon since her mother, being a whore, couldn’t answer it. It reminds her of her past. This time, the words hurt and she has tears before answering that he is her father. The response stunned Mimara even as she knew it was a lie. Though she gets why her mother wants it to be Achamian. “Everyone tells lies to dull the world’s sharper, more complicated edges—some more pretty than others.”

This prompts Mimara to ask what Achamian is like. “Foolish, like all men. Wise. Petty. Gentle.” To hurt her mother, she asks why she left Achamian. But Mimara is the one flinching, feeling guilty for it. It’s one thing to hurt her mother over being sold into slavery, this is different, and shows how ugly Mimara is.

Few passions require quite so much certainty as spite.

Defeated and hurting, Esmenet says she choose Kellhus. Mimara remembers that as she watches Achamian she thinks of Esmenet being terrified for her safety. Mimara feels guilt until she remembers being that little girl shrieking “Mumma!” as the slavers took her away. The child still weeps in her.

She asks Achamian why Esmenet left him. He answers that he died, that it’s too hard to “wait for the dead.” She asks about waiting for the living. He stares at her and says you already know that answer. She’s surprised. He smiles at her as Galian and Sutadra walk between Wizard and girl, the pair feeling like strangers to her now. Then Achamian asks her why she didn’t abandon him in Cil-Aujas.

Because I lov—

“Because I need you,” she says without breath. “I need your knowledge.”

He stares at her, his beard and hair trembling in the breeze. “So the old wineskin has a few swallows left,” he says inexplicably.

He’s unfazed by her gaze as she’s annoyed by more riddles. She ignores him for the rest of the afternoon, offended that after she saved him he laughed at her. She is furious because he’s holding out on what she hungers for. She understands that some starve and some eat, that’s life. “It’s only when fat men make sauce out of other’s starvation that it becomes a sin.”

Mimara is no one of them. She belongs. They treat her differently. They tease her with “brotherly skepticism instead of masculine daring” They don’t stare at her with lust. They are lessened because of Cil-Aujas and greater because she’s one of them. Even Kosoter appears to accept her, staring at her like his men do.

They camp for the night and she realizes that they’re like lice, and the Mop is the world’s pelt. The others talk about its dangers, but it seems safe after Cil-Aujas. They eat, but she’s aching for the Qirri that is handed out after supper. She keeps ignoring Achamian who is confused about what he’s done, just like all men are. Soma tries to talk to her, but she glares at him. Though he had saved her in Cil-Aujas, he had abandoned her when it was the most desperate.

To think she had thought the fool charming.

She finds herself watching Sarl. The madman hasn’t bathed, his skin sainted with Sranc blood. His clothes are filthy though his hauberk is well maintained. He looks like he’s hiding as he crouches by a boulder. He talks to it like it were his friend.

“The fucking Mop… The Mop. Eh, lads? Eh?”

Viscous laughter, followed by snapping cough. The back of his thought is broken, she realizes. He can only kick and claw where he has fallen.

“More darkness, yes. Tree darkness…”

Mimara can’t remember what happened with the Wight-of-the-Mountain, but she feels that something “was open that should not have been open.” And she closed it. Once during one of the many attempts by Achamian to learn what is going on, he talks about how there’s a line between the World and the Outside and souls can return as a demon. He says it was impossible and asks if it was the Chorae. She wants to say it was the Tear of God. Instead, she shrugs, feigning that she doesn’t care.

She had been given something. What she has always considered a blight, a deformity of the soul, has become fraught with enigma and power. The Judging Eye opened. At the moment of absolute crisis, it opened and saw what needed to be seen…

A tear of the God, blazing in her pal. The God of Gods!

She had been a victim her whole life. So her instinct is the immediate one, to raise a concealing hand, to turn a shoulder in warding. Only a fool fails to hide what is precious.

The irony is using the Tear of God is incompatible with her desire to be a witch. She needs to understand this so it frustrates her that Achamian won’t tell her anything. “Frustration and torment is the very shape of her life.” It’s all she can trust.

She wakens to Sarl crooning. She peers at the Nail of Heaven, listening to his nonsense. She realizes he is old and dying. This makes her worried for Achamian. She looks around and realizes he’s sleeping near her. This comforts her, and she falls asleep staring at him.

I understand, Mother… I finally see… I really do.

She dreams of Kellhus as if he were the wight. “Not a man but an emblem.” He says, “You are the eye that offends, Mimara…” She wants to talk to Achamian about in the morning, but she’s still mad at him. She thinks how caste-noble wives would pay augurs fortunes to interpret dreams while the poor would pray to a god-like Yatwer. In the brothel, the girls would drip wax on pillow-beetles. If it trapped them, it was true. She knows dozens of other ways. But she doesn’t know what to believe. Achamian’s skepticism is wearing off on her.

The eye that must be plucked.”

This morning, the scalpers seem renewed. They’re almost their old selves as they ready for camp. Achamian even senses that the Skin Eaters have returned. “Somehow, they have recovered their old ways and roles.” Though there are signs they are afraid. It’s the Mop, she realizes. It’s worrying them enough to drive out Cil-Aujas. Sarl cackles about killing skinnies and that receives a cheer, but it’s half-hearted. Reminding them that they are so small and Sarl isn’t one of them.

Kosoter slings his shield, announcing the march has started. It’s treacherous terrain, and she annoys Achamian by steadying him as they head lower down the mountain and into the Mop. She starts gasping at how big the trees are. The air is alive with birds. It’s dark, a “piling on of shadows.”

It will swallow us, she thinks, feeling the old panic buzzing through her bones. She has had her fill of lightless bellies. Small wonder the scalpers were anxious.

Tree darkness, Sarl had said.

It finally clicks in Mimara just how enormous Achamian’s mission is. Cil-Aujas is just the beginning. There will be more trials ahead. The company keeps marching into the Great Mop.

Into the green darkness.

My Thoughts

We can see how Kosoter’s discipline has fractured. He needs Galian’s unspoken support now. He alone isn’t good enough to lead. What they went through has shattered the Skin Eaters. They are not the same. And we’ll see that by the end of the book how badly things have changed.

Only Soma is unchanged by Cil-Aujas, and he shouldn’t be. He’s acting the same. More subtle clues that he’s a skin-spy.

Cleric talking about “pilings of powers” is something humans rarely see because we’re always standing on the surface. We have no real appreciation of the past. We might know about it but we truly don’t understand how our present will one day be buried by something different. That all we think is important, all our great works, will one day be the foundation of another civilization. We think the collapse can never come to us, but every other civilization thought the same thing as they stood on the ruins of what came before them.

“May it [death] greet you as an old friend when you return.” Now isn’t that interesting. Harry Potter burst into my head reading that. The Tale of the Three Brothers has the last brother greeting death as the old friend. A joyful reunion. Not something tragic, but something inevitable and a part of life. Not something to be feared but treasured. And here we have a Nonman who can only be killed, he can’t die. He’ll live on and on, never getting to meet Death at all. Never getting to greet his old friend unless someone murders him. Is that what Cleric is looking for on this journey? Is he looking to be killed by an old friend? By Seswatha?

“Distance and abstraction are ever the twin lures of disaster.” What a great sentence. It’s easy to make decisions that affect those far away. Like ordering a drone strike from the Oval Office. Simple. You don’t have to see the effects. Aren’t going to be living where that missile falls. It won’t be the peace of your day shattered by an explosion. It’s the abstraction. Reducing things to simple, ignoring all the complexity, and then making decisions that you cannot possibly understand what the ramifications will be. Worse, you won’t even suffer the consequences for them.

Then he talks about how his first step is easy. It reminds me of Tolkien where Bilbo talks to Frodo about how you never know what will happen when you step foot outside of your home. That the road before their house can take you all the way to the Lonely Mountains.

“Could a man be called a murderer when he killed in the name of truth?” Yep. That’s the worst sort. The ones who think this is all for the greater good. But as we see, what Achamian learns in Ishuäl does not matter one bit. His quest for truth killed all these men for nothing. Isn’t that usually how it goes?

“In the absence of consequence, lies were as easy as breathing, as simple as song.” What a great quote. That is so true about humans. When nothing on the line, just lie. Media, government, corporations, individuals. When you’re not held to account, why behave responsibly?

Cant of Sideways Stepping allows you to walk through stone. That is fascinating. It’s such an evocative name to slip through the atoms of an object. I believe this is the only time we see it used. Maybe you have to do it with specially prepared stone? The library is surrounded by Wards and such. It seems really useful to use like when you’re trapped in another library and the Scarlet Spire is closing around you. Or, perhaps, it was lost to time and Achamian is seeing it for the first time since he’s dreaming one of the special Seswatha Dreams.

Living Rock is how Seswatha describes what the Nonmen carved the Pausal out of. I think this is just saying it’s natural rock, not actually alive. But, perhaps, to the Nonmen, it is alive in its own way. Maybe that is why they delve into the rock and adorn it with so much iconography.

Animata, or enslaved souls, are exactly what we saw with the Wathi doll Achamian had and later used to escape the Scarlet Spire. They are needed to observe reality. This implies that the foundation of reality is observation. If nothing of intelligence observes it, does it even exist? This allows the gate to open without the use of actual sorcery. They observe the spell and hold it ready to be activated.

The baby is the No-God. And since that is Nau-Cayûti is secretly Seswatha’s son, the soul of the No-God, of Nau-Cayûti, is reaching out to Achamian. At the end of the next book, Achamian will even dream Nau-Cayûti’s final moments before being thrown into the Golden Sarcophagus.

I like how they’re moving through the wilderness that used to be cultivated lands after leaving cultivated lands that used to be wilderness.

On the Mathematician who delivered bad news. Just remember, your political masters will only support the experts that agree with them.

That’s the problem with sparing people’s feelings. It pisses them off. No one likes it. She’s an adult. Tell her what’s coming, Achamian. It’s going to happen. Let her make informed decisions. I get Achamian likes her and all. She’s the step-daughter he couldn’t help molesting.

“His approach was at once cowardly and eminently male: he was literally asking her to pretend that he had not abandoned her in Cil-Aujas.” Yeah, sounds right. Why just speak about it? Well, that leads to talking and shit. Why not let it go and be cool. I’m for it, Soma. I mean, I know you’re an evil skin-spy and all, but I’d let it pass. I mean, I’d probably abandon your ass in the same situation. Course, I’m not a woman. It’s the wrong approach with a woman. Soma failed her shit-test. Hard to come back from that.

“But that’s the way it is with fools, isn’t it?” Mimara tells Soma. “The world is quick and they are slow.” See, failed that shit-test, and now she has no respect for him. And it was a big one. If he had rescued her from a horde of murdering and raping Sranc, things would be really different.

“Courage for men is fodder for dragons.” This is saying it’s easy to be courageous but it’s hard when you’re facing real danger. Then that courage is devoured. All men have their breaking point. I think Soma is struggling to understand why he was afraid. He was a skin-spy. Those Sranc would not have killed him on purpose. But he succumbed to the same terror as the others. He stopped being a hunter and became prey. And he doesn’t understand it. He can’t. He isn’t human. Worse, he’s playing at Soma. He needs to keep being Soma, but he doesn’t know how to play a Soma who went through such trauma. It’s why he’s unchanged and everyone else is different. He’s trying the same things and it’s not working with Mimara any longer. More confusion. He’s grappling with things beyond him.

Achamian has definitely grown to see Mimara as his daughter. Which makes their one time having sex a creepy problem in the relationship because, even then, the pair sensed that was what they were. Not biological father and daughter, but adopted through Esmenet, the woman who betrayed them both. In Cil-Aujas, they both came to understand their feelings for the other. As Pokwas said, Mimara saved Achamian. That means something. Yes, she saved the others, but that was to save herself. She risked a horrific fate to keep Achamian alive.

More pretty Bakker? Prettier is a word. I’m glad I’m not the only one that sometimes uses the adjective more instead of the -er ending.

Mimara wants to hurt her mother, but only when it concerns what happened to herself. She is a nice person at her core. She feels bad about using other weapons to hurt her mother. She’s so full of pain and hurt that it’s drowning out that compassionate core of her.

You can only hate so long as you are confident in the truth. You have anything that puts doubt, that makes you consider why the other person wronged you, or to see them as a person hurting like you, and it blunts that spite. Shatters it. So you have to keep honing it on pain. Like Mimara does when she remembers the day she was sold to the slavers.

She cannot admit she loves him because she hates being vulnerable, but it’s there. She knows it.

“It’s only when fat men make sauce out of other’s starvation that it becomes a sin.” This is so profound. Disparity is life. There’s no way to avoid it. It’s a law that the more you have the more you accumulate. It’s true of stars, cities, and wealth. 1% of the stars in the universe have 99% of the mass, 1% of the cities of Earth have 99% of the population, and 1% of people have 99% of the wealth. It’s when you are miserly with it, when you can share it and don’t, that’s when it’s a bad thing.

We see our first signs of addiction to Qirri. Mimara wants it more and more.

Shit tests, guys. You fail a woman’s shit test, and it changes how she sees you.

Want to read more, click here for Chapter 2!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Intro

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Intro

Here we are! Starting Book 2 of The Aspect-Emperor. I am trying to go back to past me and thinking what was I most looking forward to in this book. Achamian and Mimara’s storyline. I wanted to know how they were going to handle traveling through the Wilderness after all the losses the Skin-Eaters suffered in Cil-Aujas.

While Kelmomas messing things up in Momemn was interesting, and we have the whole White-Luck Warrior plotline that’s the title of the book, it was all the interesting things we were learning. About Seswatha. The promises of finding Ishuäl. Mimara and her strange powers. Cleric and learning more about the Nonmen.

The one I was least interested in was Sorweel. While he was our outsider POV and showing us the Great Ordeal, his storyline was interesting, but not exciting. There was the question if he had really fooled Kellhus or if Kellhus was playing along for his reasons. The Kelmomas/Esmenet storyline has this murderous child-Dûnyain causing problems and potentially putting her in danger, the Nannaferi/White-Luck Warrior had some weird stuff going on and intrigued by where it was going, but Sorweel… His storyline lacked that.

But this is really one long story and while Sorweel seemed to be just a reader POV, things are going to be changing in this book.

So, let’s delve into the books.

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

As in all the previous books, we start with a quote from the real world.

The heavens, the sun, the whole of nature is a corpse. Nature is given over to the spiritual and indeed to spiritual subjectivity; thus the course of nature is everywhere broken in upon by miracles.

HEGEL, LECTURES ON THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY III

My Thoughts

So I think we can see how this quote relates to the series. Nature is a corpse that is invaded by the subjectivity of the spirit which disrupts the corpse. And that is definitely what we have with the White-Luck Warrior. A man who is literally broken in upon by miracles. The young husband and father are stripped of his identity and then his youth and turned into an assassin who exists in all time. Past, present, and future is all the same for him.

We have the breaking of the Darkness that Comes Before because he is guided by Yatwer who sees all of time at once. There is no cause and effect that moves in a chain. She can break the links at any time and knows exactly what will happen.

Now, who is Hegel? His works are very influential on the canon of Philosophy. He died nearly 200 years ago. He wrote about “absolute idealism” that can overcome the dualism of things like “mind and nature” or “subject or object.”

Sound like what the Dûnyain want? The Zero that the Survivor pursues in the next book. To become a self-moving soul not trapped by the dualism of both being subject to nature and able to understand nature. To be beyond the Darkness that Comes Before.

To Hegel, Geist, spirit or mind in English, is the “manifestation of the logical concept.”

So, yes, this is an apt philosopher for Bakker to reference and one that has, no doubt, greatly influenced his formation of the Dûnyain and their goals.

With the framework of that natural world being violated by the supernatural world establish, we delve into The White-Luck Warrior.

Want to read more, Click here for Chapter One!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Interlude-Momemn

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Interlude: Momemn

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

Kelmomas is listening to a riot from a balcony. He watches the moon and the clouds drifting around it. “The Nail of Heaven flared white from a sailing summit.” He hears more shouts and cries.

He had no name for his rapture. Clam and slow breathing. Stationary. Stationary amid the clash of all things. The repose of a soul peering out from the world’s shrouded centre. The unmoved mover.

The ruler unseen.

As he hears the sounds of fighting, the voice in him murmurs, “You made this.” His mother asks what he’s doing and he says he’s scared. “Her smile was too fraught to be reassuring.” She tells him he’s safe and holds out her arms. He hugs her the way little boys did. Then they head to his bed. It’s dark because his new nurse, Emansi, had snuffed out the candles. Only a lantern burns.

Esmenet tucks in Kelmomas. Her gentleness was “yet one more thing he cherished with the ferocity of tears.” She slips in with him and holds him tight. He reads her emotions and thoughts. She thinks she’s here to give him comfort for the loss of Samarmas because of “how intense their bond had been in infancy!

This was what she told herself, he knew.

He starts to fall asleep encased in her love. He finds it an “oblivion indistinguishable from bliss.” He has no cares. There’s here and now. He doesn’t care about anything else. He turns over to lie on his side and stare into her eyes. This is the only thing that can be real. He lies that he misses “Sammi.” She does, too.

A part of him, the snake-sneaky part, laughed. Poor Samarmas. Poor poor Samarmas.

He comments he didn’t get to see Kellhus. She explains it’s the war and everyone, even “darling little boys” have to make sacrifices. She falls silent and he reads her thoughts that Kellhus feels nothing that Samarmas is dead.

Hesitantly, Kelmomas brings up Uncle Maithanet. And she asks what about him. He hesitates as she presses him until he says, “He [Maithanet]… watches you funny.” She asks what he means. He asks if Maithanet is angry at her. She says no, but he sees her worried. She adds Maithanet is her brother and then cups his face with her left hand, “the one bruised by what she called her ‘ancient tattoo.’”

The Prince-Imperial fluttered his lids as though overpowered by warmth and weariness. “But he has more power…” he whispered, pretending to fall asleep. He would open his eyes later, when her breathing slipped into the long trough of dreams.

Unseen rulers never slumbered, not truly.

My Thoughts

The riots are the people angry about the Matriarch’s death. And since Kelmomas killed her, he most definitely caused all that pain and suffering. But as we see, nothing is real to him but Esmenet. Nothing else matters but her. It’s all just a game.

Now we see him manipulate his mother. Twisted the dagger of her grief, driving a wedge between her and Kellhus, then throwing fuel onto the fires of her own fears and doubts about Maithanet. Kelmomas sees himself as the real ruler of Momemn, his mother his puppet. He needs her all to himself. Everything else can burn. He doesn’t care. They’re just amusements to be crushed.

And thus ends The Judging Eye.

I had to wait a few years to read this. I had the good fortune of finding The Darkness that Comes Before just when all three books of the first series were out. I could read from one to the next. But I had to wait for The Judging Eye. I had just lost my job in the middle of the Great Recession, but I still bought this book. I was reading the middle of it sitting at St. Claire’s emergency room after driving my roommate there. He ended losing a gall bladder. I can still remember sitting in that uncomfortable waiting room to find out what was going on and trying to distract myself.

It mostly worked.

This book sets the stage. It wasn’t what I expected. I found Sorweel’s character to be a strange choice, but seeing his entire story now, I get it. And he’s our outsider POV to get us into the Great Ordeal.

It was a delight to read this book. To see the story threads being set up. I remember all the speculation about the book: we’d see a crazy Dûnyain, a female one. There was all the speculation about what Kellhus would be doing. Achamian. The twenty-year jump works, but there are a lot of questions I have about what went on between. In the final book, there’s an expanded glossary and a lot of people die in the same year.

Wonder what that’s about?

This book does a great job of setting up what is to come, has some amazing sequences, and does one of the most brilliant things: denies us a Kellhus POV. Of the “surviving” major POVs of the last book, Kellhus, Esmenet, and Achamian, we only are given those two. We do not know what Kellhus’s intentions are with the Great Ordeal. His conversation with Moënghus at the end of The Thousandfold Thought echoed in my mind.

The Dûnyain will always side with the Consult because it’s the most logical course of action. The Shortest Path to escape Damnation and to make that world where they can become self-moving souls. How can you be a self-moving soul when the Outside destroys Cause and Effect. When the Darkness can come AFTER.

So that is the Judging Eye. I’ll be heading into The White-Luck Warrior. Thank you all for the encouragement. It’s what’s gotten me this far in the reread after all these years. I hope you’ll keep leaving a comment every now and then. It really, really helps.

JMD Reid, 3/17/21

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Sixteen

Cil-Aujas

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

A soul too far wandered from the sun,

walking deeper ways,

into regions beneath map and nation,

breathing air drawn from the dead,

talking of lamentations.

—PROTATHIS, THE GOAT’S HEART

My Thoughts

Not sure why this is called the Goat’s Heart, but it’s talking about our characters in Cil-Aujas. They have wandered too far from the sun and are moving through a crypt. They are in uncharted territory, beyond the boundaries of civilization. Not really much to say. It’s more setting the atmosphere for the chapter than anything more.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Mount Aenaratiol

She is terrified and alive.

Mimara runs through Cil-Aujas holding the light over her head. In her soul, it feels like it’s circling her while it swings back and forth. Despite her fear, she ponders how that doesn’t make sense. It feels both like light and not light. She’s excited that she’s holding to the sorcerous light only for fear to snuff it out. She knows why Achamian gave this to her. “Part of her, she realizes, will not survive this underworld labyrinth…”

She is inclined to see history as degeneration. Years ago, not long after her mother had brought her to the Andiamine Heights, an earthquake struck Momemn, no severe, but violent enough to crack walls and to set arms and ornaments toppling. There had been one mural in particular, the Osto-Didian, the eunuchs called it, depicting the First Holy War battling about Shimeh, with all the combatants cramped shield to shield, sword to sword, like dolls bound into sheaves. Where the other murals had been webbed with fractures, this one seemed to have been pounded by hammers. Whole sections had sloughed away, exposing darker, deeper images: naked men across the backs of bulls. In the shallow sockets here and there even this layer had given out, especially near the centre, where her stepfather had once hung out of proportion in the sky. There, after dabbling away the white powder with her fingertips, she saw a young man’s mosaic face, black hair high in the wind, child-wide eyes fixed upon some obscured foe.

That, she understood, was history: the piling on of ages like plaster and paint, each image a shroud across the others, the light of presence retreating, from the Nonmen to the Five Tribes to the New Empire, coming at last to a little girl in the embrace of hard-handed men.

To the daughter who dined with her Empress mother, listening to the tick of enamel tapping gold, watching the older woman’s eyes wander lines of sorrow, remorse thick enough to spit.

To the woman who raged beneath a wizard’s tower.

To now.

Cil-Aujas is the final proof of “history as degeneration.” This place is far more impressive than anything humans have done. She is breathing ancient air. “Dead air, the kind that lingers in the chests of corpses.” She feels the weight of the mountain and remembers her rages when she wanted to rip down the roof and die to get back at her mother, and wonders what it would be like if the mountain falls on her.

She runs holding the light, feeling a dark glee at finally being a witch. She had dreamed of this so many times. Then the company stops marching and sees her holding the light witch “wonder and consternation.” She says Sarl and Achamian are following. The scalpers are re-evaluating her. She finds herself strutting like her sister-slaves would when they had new clothes to wear and “posed like rare and precious things.” Even Mimara had enjoyed getting new dresses.

The scalpers look at the dark then back to her, studying her. They feel like a barrier to her as her light gleams off their armor and shields. “It paints white circles in their beasts’ black gaze.” She feels their wild pride and how they would rape her if not for Achamian. They would claim her as a trophy.

It seems she has always know that men were more animal than women were animal. She was sold before her mother could tell her this, but she knew. The animal continually leans forward in the souls of men, forever gnaws the leash. Even here, in the Black Halls of Cil-Aujas, this truth is no less ancient.

Even here, so tragically out of their depths, they lean to the promise of her vulnerability.

One asks where Achamian is. She retreats and glances to Lord Kosoter, risking “his dominating gaze” but looks at the dirt. This makes her look submissive. Then Somandutta asks what’s wrong. Another asks don’t be afraid of us. She’s rescued by Sarl and Achamian arrival. Only Soma pays attention to her, asking how she can hold the light.

She finds herself wanting to lean against Soma for comfort while Achamian is arguing with Lord Kosoter about Chorae moving beneath them. Kiampas suggest it’s the Bloody Picks, but Achamian says anyone rich enough to own one wouldn’t be a Scalper. “Mimara wonders if their Chorea-bearing Captain will take offense.” Cleric agrees with Achamian, sensing them, too.

The Skin Eaters open, back away, each staring at the company of prone shadows splayed across the dust scuffed about their feet. She knows they think they can feel the Chorae too…

Then suddenly she feels them. Her limbs jolt, and she sways, for her body had thought the ground solid, and now she senses open space, breaths and plummets between leagues of stone. Chorae, bottomless punctures in being, traverse them, a necklace of little voids carried by something that runs in a lumbering file… something.

Cleric says it’s traveling towards their destination, the Fifth Anterograde Gate. Kiampas asks if they mean to cut them off from leaving. No one answers. Sarl glances at Achamian, drawing her eyes to him and as she does, “she finds that her Judging Eye has opened.” As she does, she remembers what she read in Novum Arcanum, written by Kellhus. The God peers through all eyes. The Few are just better at recalling “something His all-seeing gaze and so could speak with the dread timbre of His all-creating voice.”

She sees Achamian as others do, stooped in his mad hermit robes, his beard stiff against his breast, his complexion the dark of long-used skins. She sees the Mark, soiling his colours, blasting his edges.

And though her eyes blink and roll against it, she sees the Judgment…

He is carrion. He is horror. His skin is burned to paste.

Drusas Achamian is damned.

Her breath catches. Almost without thinking, she clutches Somandutta’s free hand—the slick cool of iron rings and the grease of leather shocks her skin. She squeezes hard, as though her fingers need confirmation of their warm-blooded counterparts. The Chorae and their inscrutable bearers move beneath her feet, each a point of absolute chill.

Part of her, she realizes, will not survive this underworld labyrinth.

She prays it is the lesser part.

Sarl shouts for them to make haste and Pokwas curses at the mules as the company moves through Cil-Aujas, racing the enemy below. Mimara is panicking as she hurries with the other, worried that Achamian hasn’t said a word since they left the Repositorium. He staggers beside her, breathing heavily and coughing wetly.

As they run through halls, she can’t sense the Chorae any longer. Their pursuers got ahead of them. No one senses them. The Skin Eaters have put all their faith in Kosoter. “Questions have become perverse, an indulgence fit only for the obese.” Cleric leads them through the maze through tunnels that stretch them out in single file, those in the back trapped in darkness.

A pain climbs into her chest, and she imagines an eye squinting from her heart.

There is no doubt they move through the deeps now. Only when the walls are tight and the ceilings low can you feel their constricting aura—or so it seems. Only the threat of closure makes the boggling enormity plain. They are sealed from all things, not simply sun and sky. The world walls them in.

They reach another large chamber, not as big as the Repositorium, but still big. A mule collapses from exhaustion. They move through an underground marketplace, or so Mimara thinks. Achamian thinks it’s the High Halls but then a terrifying cry echoes. Everyone looks around realizing those are Sranc horns.

They feel it in their teeth—not so much an ache as a taste.

She’s never seen a Sranc, but she now understands the “madness that saw mothers strangle their own children in besieged cities of yore.” Cleric leads them on. They abandon the exhausted mule and keep running, the horns putting them all on edge. She can feel the hunters out amid the pillars, feeling like a herd animal being stalked. She feels like she knows this place, like she had always known her future and what’s to come.

They are coming. Out of the pit they are coming. The flutter of reverberations in her chest seems to confirm it. This is where she dies.

They stop and she is relieved to be able to catch her breath. They’ve reached the edge of the room. In the carvings on the wall, she sees Men have been carved. But not her people. These are the Emwama, the slaves of the Nonmen, the humans of Eärwa. She spies a woman in the carving, a naked slave, and thinks that could be her. She feels nauseated by the alienness of Cil-Aujas.

They are coming. And she is just a child—a child! Everything everywhere clatters with dread and threat. Angles become knives. Inaction becomes blood. A mad part of her kicks and bucks and screams. Her shriek bunches like a fist at the base of her throat. She must get out. She has to…

Out-out-out!

Achamian grabs her shoulders, telling her not to give in. To trust him. He tells her he will teach her while his eyes warned her not to be a sobber. She regains her breathing and her composure, so aware of Kosoter. “The mere thought of him has scared the panic from her—this, she realizes, is his warlike Gift.” The Skin Eaters stand shoulder to shoulder, forming a shield wall while Sarl tells them to toe the line. They are going to fight.

Suddenly all the reasons she feared these barbaric men become reasons to prize them. Those hoary trophies. Those deep-chested bodies, grit with chain, leather, stink, and soiled cloth. That bullying saunter. Those wide-swinging arms, with hands that could break her wrists. And for some strange reason, their fingernails, each as broad as two of her own, rimmed in black crescents. Everything she had scoffed at or despised she now sees with thin-lipped understanding. The glib cruelty. The vulgar posturing. Even the glares that nicked her when she was careless with the cast of her eyes.

These are Skin Eaters, and their slogs are the stuff of legend. They would eat her if they could—but only because they walk so near the world’s teeth.

Achamian thinks they should have stayed in the Repositorium, but Kiampas says this is a more defensive position. Achamian is worried about the Chorae, but Kiampas isn’t. “Believe you me, we know how to stack skinnies…” He trails off as the horns stop and silence falls. All they hear is the “ageless roar of Cil-Aujas.”

After being forgotten with the mules, Kiampas tells her to stay with the mules, maintain the torch, and asks if she knows any battlefield medicine. Can she use her sword. She answers honestly while Sarl cackles, “Oh, yes, boys, this is going to be a chopper!” She readies torches, lighting them then tries to soothe the mules. She feels like she’s mourning them. The tension builds. Kosoter stands just behind his men at the center of the line. He “looks as ancient as Cil-Aujas.” She realizes his shield as an Ainoni pictogram on it that means “duty and discipline.” He doesn’t feel alive to her. Achamian is beside Kiampas, the pair a few paces from the captain on the left. Cleric and Sarl are to the right. She draws her sword, something her mother gave her. She named it Squirrel “because of the way it always seemed to trembles in her hand.” Like now. She can’t remember the hours she spent training with her half-brothers. This place is too removed from the Andiamine Heights.

They come,” the Nonman says, his black eyes as inscrutable as the darkness they plumb.

Mimara expects to feel Chorae approaching, but all she hears is the scrabble of the approaching Sranc. It grows louder and then a rank scent feels the air. Sarl cries out it’s Skinnies like Kosoter said. Some of them crack jokes. Whey joke about whores which makes her squirm.

They speak more to their terror than to one another, she realizes. Ever do men play the mummer, strutting on the stage of themselves to avoid the parts the world has assigned them? Women would speak of their fear.

Jokes continue. Everyone is laughing. Even Sarl joins in, jokingly pointing out they are in mortal peril. “Lord Kosoter stands motionless.” She doesn’t notice Achamian stepping up to the line until he’s there. She’s afraid for him. He looks frail, but he’s speaking, and his voice knocks the laughter from the scalpers. A Ward appears around them and she sees him now as a Gnostic Wizard. Then one of the Surillic Points goes out and Kiampas calls for a torch. She lights a fresh one from the ones she had already lit. Kiampas flings torch out into the dark. She wraps her arm around a mule’s neck and names it Bastion. “She cares not who thinks her a fool!”

The darkness itself seems to rasp and chip and clank and wheeze. Inhuman barks ring across the unseen ceilings.

Cleric joins Achamian on the line and he throws back his cloak, revealing his silvery armor. She sees him as an Ishroi. He joins Achamian in chanting. “Deep words well up out of the root of things, so indecipherable they seem to yank at her eyes.” The last Point goes out. Now only torchlight and the glow of sorcery illuminates the world. Kiampas calls for more torches and chucks them out into the dark and lights up the approaching Sranc. She realizes they have Nonmen faces, but deformed. They have a canine cast to them.

She stumbles back to Bastion and hugs him. She whispers to him, praising his idiotic bravery. Lord Kosoter stands unmoving. The Skin Eaters ready shields while Cleric and Achamian add more Wards. Now she can feel the Chorae. The horns blow. The “underworld horde” charges over the torches. Sorcery slam into them. Their sorcery tears apart the Sranc and starts destroying columns. As another collapses, Achamian shouts, “Nooooo!”

The stench of burning Sranc blood fills the air while Sarl shouts that no one is to falter. Achamian retreats through the lines, bumping into Kiampas. Before he even recovers, he’s chanting a new ward. Someone shouts out that a Bashrag is coming and Sarl roars, “Not! One! Knee!”

The eyes have rules. They are bred to the order of things and mutiny when exposed to violations. At first she can only blink. Even though she has read innumerable descriptions of the obscenity, the meat of it overwhelms her faculties. Elephantine proportions. Cabbage skin. Amalgam limbs, three arms welded into one arm, three legs into one leg. Moles like cancers, ulcerous with hair. A back bent in a fetal hunch. Hands that flower with fingers.

The Bashrag charges into the scalpers and starts killing them with mighty sweeps of its ax. Achamian cries out behind his useless Wards while Mimara charges forward with Squirrel and cuts it below the elbow, severing sinew. But she only hurt one of the three arms welded together. It stares at her with a face made of three melted together. A predator recognizes her as prey. It raises its ax to kill her. She stands frozen, crying out with “[s]omething more plea than prayer.” Oxwora slams his shield into the creature’s guts and attacks with his ax, driving back the Bashrag and saving Mimara’s life. A Sranc jumps on Oxwora’s back and stabs him in the neck. He drops his ax and grabs the Sranc and rips it off of him. Another Sranc stabs him in the guts with a spear. He collapses to his knees but then rises. Spitting blood, he bear-hugs the one who stabbed him and crushes it as he falls to the ground.

The one Oxwora had choked turns to Mimara. It’s erect beneath its loincloth. It wasn’t to rape her. Fear seizes her only for invisible sorcery to drive it away. She spots a kneeling Achamian chanting Gnosis on the other side of the dead Bashrag. Mimara senses more Chorae closing in. The mules panic. People screaming. Pokwas sword-dancing. Kosoter is stabbing past his shield, killing Sranc while Cleric is standing on another Bashrag’s shoulder and riding its dead body to the ground, killing it with his sword. “And she thinks, Ishroi…”

Kiampas is shouting to hold when a Javelin skewers his head and kills him. One of the mules is on fire. Achamian grabs her and jerks her back, his grip strong. Another Bashrag is killing scalpers by “[h]ammering them aside like effigies of straw.” It then attacks the mules, massacring them. Bastion gets its head cut off as Achamian shouts they’ve lost the battle while Sarl is screaming to “Toe the line?” What line?

Sranc throw themselves against the spectral screens, thrashing, shields smoking, skin blistering, blades scraping sparks. She clutches the old Wizard, stares in something too numb to be fear or terror. Starved and hairless. Draped in flayed skins laced with iron rings. They are hunger. They are horror. They are the quick that renders hatred vicious in Men.

She hears the Wizard’s sorcerous call through his chest—the birth of his words. Incandescent lines flare from his palms, strike along the Emwama Wall, being scissoring to his gesticulations.

White light carves the darkness deep. The Sranc jerk and scream and burn.

One with a Chorae steps through the wards and swings his sword for Achamian, but she blocks with Squirrel. The Sranc punches Achamian with its hand holding the Chorae. He falls backward and collapses. She manages to kill the Sranc. It drops the Chorae, and she is transfixed by it on the floor.

It wrenches the eyes even to glance at it, to see both the plain iron ball tacked in Sranc blood and the pit that cries into oblivion. She clutches it, she who is not yet cursed, pressed it against her breast and bodice. Nausea wrings her like wineskin. The vomit surprises her mouth, her teeth.

Something strikes and she blinks, suddenly on her hands and knees, coughing, retching. Darkness swirls, as though it were a liquid chasing cracks in the light. And she understands with graven finality… No one recognizes their own death. It comes inevitable and absolute.

It comes as a stranger.

Achamian awakens. He’s lying on the floor staring up at the Emwama wall. He believes he’s about to die. “He knew his life was over.” He’s detached from everything, stunned. He passes out.

A stunned Mimara hears men in a panic asking after Cleric and to grab her and Achamian. They ask about Achamian since part of his face has turned to salt from the Chorae punch. Mimara is rising out of unconciousness and realizes that she’s being carried by Soma.

He [Soma] is a landmark, and the lay of her circumstances comes crashing back to her. “Akka!” she croaks. They are running with wounded haste, a meager party of nine or ten or maybe more. Soma tells her to clutch his neck, raises her chin to his shoulder. Between ragged breaths, he tells her the Wizard lives but that they know no more. She can feel the Chorae between their two hearts. He explains how she’s luck to be alive, how a Sranc javelin had capped her. He beings naming the fallen.

She’s not listening, still dazed from her head wound. She notices they are running along the Emwama wall and spots a sole torch remaining to illuminate the “wreckage of Men and Sranc and mules.” Someone is limping and losing ground, a straggler. Kosoter catches up with the limper and cuts him down. Beyond even him, Cleric is still casting sorcery, javelins “explode like birds” on his Wards. Three Bashrags surround him, each one wielding a Chorae. But he dodges around them, his sword swinging and sorcery killing. “The very air seems to shriek.”

And Cleric laughs and sings and exacts his dread toll, the last heir to Cil-Aujas.

The Emwama Wall comes to an end. Soma turns with the fugitive part in tho the dark. Stonework draws across the mad scene, blotting the horror and the glory with desperate practicalities of flight.

And she thinks, Incariol…

The word Flee echos in Mimara’s mind. She had fled from her mother, but this was different. She’s fleeing in terror and realizes this is what true flight is. “Fleeing is when the howls of your pursuers cut the nerves from your skin.” She wonders if Achamian can be roused to stop their pursues.

Fleeing is when all the world’s directions crash into one…

Away.

Cil-Aujas is obliging the survivors with no dead-ends so far. They keep finding directions that lead away. They only have two torches, but one soon goes out. The tunnels become narrower. Everyone is drenched in blood, wounds bandaged and tourniquets binding wounds. Sarl looks shell-shocked and Achamian is still unconscious. Pokwas wipes away tears. Only Kosoter seems to have “carried his inscrutability away intact.” He and Soma are holding her hands. She’s surprised that Soma looks so noble right now.

They run fast, chase by the baying of the Sranc. The horns start blaring. The others are moaning and crying. “They are all sobbers now.” They run into a bronze door that they have to pry open, feeling the Sranc on their heels. Pokwas, Galian, Xonghis, and others are pulling it open. Kosoter throws her down to Achamian. She understands that she has to get him up. She begs him to wake up. He starts to. She begs and pleaded as the efforts to pry open the door is failing. Galian shouts that they Sranc are here. Only it’s Cleric who appears out of the dark.

The scalpers stumble back, bewildered and horrified. Awash in Sranc blood, his skin and armour are filmed in soaked dust. Basalt dark, he looks like an apparition. Cil-Aujas made animate.

He laughs at the astounded Men, waves Pokwas from the door. His sorcerous murmur makes a deep-water pop in Mimara’s ears. His eyes and mouth flare white, and something, a flickering waves of force, shimmers through the air. There is a deafening crack; the bronze doors fly ajar.

“Time to run,” the Nonman says, his voice miraculously audible through the screeching roar.

With awe too brittle to be hope, the survivors scramble into the blackness beyond the bronze rim.

They are driven deeper into tunnels with now adornment. There rough, hewn from stone. It’s hot down here, the stones warm to the touch. They are in the mines where “the toil of a thousand human generations, slaves begetting slaves, dredging holy nimil for their Nonman masters.” The Sranc follow them, somehow seeing in the dark like bats. Cleric keeps having to face the Sranc, buying the scalpers more time. He laughs as he kills them. Fearing they’ll be cut off, Kosoter has them take every left and downward passage in hopes of scattering the Sranc through the maze of tunnels.

And the world piles higher and higher above them.

The heat only makes her exhaustion worse. She’s barely running. She can’t stop, though. She has to “run to the very edge of Away.” As she does, she begs her mother to forgive her. She trips, too weak to even hold her arms out before her to break the fall. She believes she’s going to die and asks for her mother’s forgiveness. Then Soma picks her up, smelling of myrrh.

You will not perish for me!” She hears his voice rasp. “I’ll carry you across the doors of hell! Do you hear me? Mimara! Do you hear me?”

She is too weak to move as he carries her, staring wherever her head turns her eyes. Ahead, Achamian is slumped between two scalpers. And then, they come across a burning light. They are shocked by it. It’s not Cleric’s doing, they’ve lost the Nonman behind them.

Suddenly she feels the heat felting the air, making ash out of emptiness. It seems she always sensed it, only as a shadow through the slick-skin chill of unconsciousness.

The world sets its hooks deep, ever drawing souls tight across its infinite contours. Circumstances are reborn, and hearts are renewed. A spark throbs through her gutted muscles, returns slack exterminates to her will. She glances at the man bearing her—Soma, stripped of his earnest foolery—and it seems she is a child in a swing.

She knows that he lovers her.

The light is luxurious. The tunnel opens up and into a ruined amphitheater, the floor covered in gravel. They are in a ravine made of “cliffs piled upon cliffs.” The air is sulfurous and so hot it dances. Everyone is silent as they move to the edge. Free of the tunnels, they can see just how many they lost. Friends and provisions are gone. They’re a remnant of what they had been. The light is coming from a lake of fire at the bottom of the chasm.

Soma sets Mimara down and collapses on all fours gasping for air. She crawls to the unconscious Achamian. He still breaths. She puts his head on her lap and he wakes up, whispering her name. She feels joy that he’s awake but he jerks from her, sensing the Chorae she had picked up. She had forgotten it. Now she can feel the gravity of it about her neck, “the sudden nothingness of it sucks the voice from her heart.”

Pokwas says that is Hell down there. They’ve gone too deep. Sarl claws at his head, looking more like a crying baby now. Xonghis agrees. He and Kosoter are the only ones still standing. Kosoter disagrees. This isn’t hell though Sarl cackles and says it is, pointing at it. Kosoter draws his sword and lifts Sarl’s chin with it. That makes him go still. Kosoter repeats this isn’t hell. Galian asks how he knows.

“Because,” the Holy Veteran says, his voice so cold it seems the sound should fog or frost. “I would remember.”

Hissing, Kosoter cuts Sarl’s cheek and then marches to a set of stairs and descends them into the crevasse. No one speaks for a moment then the sounds of Srancs have them look above. The Sranc are coming, and Mimara realizes Cleric must have been killed.

Cil-Aujas has slain her last remaining son.

Mimara is running again behind Galian and Soma who carry Achamian. “They run like the lost.” They are descending the stairs, the lake of fire far below. The heat rises around them, hot fumes spilling over them. The lava bursts with eruptions that sent fires shooting up higher than any of Momemn’s towers.

They have fled too far, too deep. They have passed beyond the rind of the World into the outer precincts of Hell. There can be no other explanation…

Not lost. Damned.

Lord Kosoter waits for them at the first landing. Already, the Sranc are swarming down after them, killing each other in their frenzy to reach them. She can see more coming as well as a Bashrag wadding through them. She can see in Kosoter’s eyes that they are dead. “Only death and bitter vengeance remained.” Sarl cackles about how they all knew hell and skinnies awaited them. They form a new line, throwing Achamian to the ground as the Sranc charge. Kosoter grabs Mimara and tells her to get the wizard up or they are dead.

She kneels by him. The heat is so intense she gets dizzy. He grabs her and keeps her from falling. Joy sparks through her as she sees him awake. He calls her Esmi as she begs for him to fight, but he thinks she’s Esmenet and he’s reliving the past when he tried to tell her what Kellhus was.

“Origins! Origins are the truth of us!” A fury screws his face, so poisonous she feels the shame of it even through her panic. “I will show you!” he snarls.

A numbness sops through her, a recognition…

The fighting has started. Pokwas begins sword-dancing ahead of the line, killing as he cries out in his Zeumi tongue. Mimara stands over Achamian and draws Squirrel. It reflects the hellfire rising from below.

She is Anasûrimbor Mimara, child-whore and Princess-Imperial. She will die spitting and bawling, be it at Cil-Aujas or the Gates of Hell.

“My dreams show me the way!” the unhinged Wizard bellows from her feet. He fumbles trying to press himself from the stone. “I will track him, Esmi! Pursue him to the very womb!”

As he’s ranting, Pokwas stopped the Sranc for “eleven miraculous heartbeats.” Then javelins start being thrown down on them. One Skin Eater is hit and falls of the edge. Two more javelins land around Mimara as she stands dumbfounded. Pokwas locks one with his sword only for a second to hit his helm and knock him down. He falls into the line of Skin Eaters. The Sranc swarm them. Despite this, the Skin Eaters beat back the attack and Pokwas is pulled to safety. Mimara is thrusting at the enemy, hitting two, but the first Bashrag, holding a Chorae, has arrived.

Then Cleric appears floating in the air in a shimmer of white light. He is casting spells as he walks on the air. His spells are killing the Sranc. He stands over the burning lake, his eyes glowing, as he kills the enemy.

Their inhuman screams skin needles into their ears.

And she thinks, Ishroi…

Kosoter commands them to run but Mimara stops at the second landing. The stairs smoke with Sranc corpses, however the two Bashrags are unharmed thanks to their Chorae. They throw Sranc corpses at Cleric but they don’t get past his wards. He just laughs and keeps casting spells. He destroys the stairs, sending one Bashrag falling to the lava below. The other flees.

Soma grabs Mimara and pulls her after the others running. She feels cool air for a moment. They find a tunnel leading away with cold air blowing down it. They run down it while a “vacant howl overpowers all other sounds.” They are still descending but at a shallow angle. They soon have to crouch to go through the tight tunnel. She can feel all of the mountain’s weight on her while the wind howls against them until it stops.

Sometime later, a voice Screams in Achamian to run, but he is just sitting at his ease. He wears fine clothes and smells jasmine and cinnamon. He’s in the Annexes with the High-King and the young prince Nau-Cayûti. They are staring at the map to Ishuäl. Achamian is dreaming of being Seswatha. Achamian studies the chase that holds it.

“A king,” Celmomas was saying, “stands before his people in all things, Cayû. A king rides at the fore. This is why he must always make ready, always prepare. For his foe is ever the future. Condic marauders on our eastern frontiers. Assassins in an embassy of Shir. Sranc. Pestilence… Calamity awaits us all, even you, my son.

“Some petition astrologers, soothsayers, false prophets in all their guises. Low men, mean men, who exchange words of comfort for gold. Me, I put my faith in stone, in iron, in blood, and in secrecy—secrecy above all!—for these things serve in all times. All times! The day words conquer the future is the day the dead begin to speak.”

He turned to Seswatha. The wolf’s head braided into his beard flashed in the glowering light.

“This, my friend—this is why I built Ishuäl. For Kûniüri. For House Anasûrimbor. It is our final bulwark against catastrophe… Against the darkest future.”

On the scroll case is written: “Doom should you find me broken.” Seswatha asks what that means. But Celmomas says that Seswatha needs to make this his “deepest secret.” Seswatha asks about the dreams Celmomas has been having. In the background, Achamian hears Sarl’s cries to “Toe the Line” in the dream as Celmomas tells Seswatha to bury the case in the Coffers.

Mimara is gazing at the company unable to move. She’s alive, somehow. The others are lie collapsed in the gloom. All are sprawled but Soma who sits like a mystic and Lord Kosoter who stands. Sarl, Pokwas, Galian, Soma, Xonghis, Sutadra, Conger, Kosoter, and three others are all that survive of the Skin Eaters. They are in some chamber where a wind blows through. There is some light, but it’s faint. She spots graffiti on the wall. Human graffiti, sings “scraped in the throes of human anguish.”

And somehow she just knows: This was once a place of great suffering.

A shadow appears in the doorway and that strikes fear in her. She sits up, as do others, but it’s only Cleric splattered in gore. Like Achamian, he has had patches of skin turned to salt by coming too close to a Chorae, but his do not appear as bad as Achamian’s. “Unwinded, he stares with spent curiosity at the spent Men, trades a long look with the Captain before turning to scan the shrouded spaces.” He ponders something only he can see before saying they are safe. For now.

This gives Mimara the strength to crawl to Achamian, her panic retreating. Xonghis points out this wind is cold. Cleric says they are near the Great Medial Screw, a set of stairs that goes to the height of the mountain. Galian asks if that’s an escape rough. Cleric thinks it is, if his memory is accurate. Palpable relief spreads through the survivors. They had focused everything on escape and now are relaxing. Xonghis asks what this place is. Cleric calls it a barracks for captives but Mimara corrects him. “A slave pit.” He grins at her with those fused teeth that were like a Sranc but not serrated. Then he summons a Surillic Point to shed light. They are in a large room with terraces. They can’t tell how high it goes, but can see bronze cages that could hold a single man. There are hundreds of them.

Even though Mimara can imagine how the room once looked, the tiers of piteous faces and clutching hands, it is the graffiti, scratched out along the lowermost wall as far as the light can reach, that most afflicts her heart. The Emwama, and their proof of misery, she realizes. She can almost see their shades, massed in hopeless clots, looks averted from the horrors hanging above, ears aching…

A shudder passes through her, so deep her eyes and limbs seem to rattle in their sockets.

And she thinks, Cil-Aujas…

Then she realizes no one else is experiencing her horror. They all stare to another corner, seeing something unexpected. They see great ribs and bones, a jawed carapace as tall as a man. Cleric pities the humans for carrying such a short span of memory while Sarl starts cackling about how he called “him” a fool.

The Skin Eaters gather, beaten by gust and fate alike, gazing in awe at the iron bones of a dragon.

Wracu.

The source of the wind’s cold hymn.

Though the survivors don’t say much, they are all drawn to the “rust-pitted” bones of the dragon. None speak of their dead friends. Violent men like them are used to losing comrades. “They pyre is their only constant friend.” For now, they plan what to do next. Galian and Xonghis have taken charge, the tragedy rewriting everyone’s place. Kosoter merely watches and grunts his agreement while Sarl mops by the graffiti. He’s become a sobber.

Mimara tends to Achamian while Cleric does what little healing he can to the others. He also gives them all a pinch of a black powder called Qirri that will rejuvenate them and help them deal with hunger and thirst. He also sprinkles some into the unconscious man.

It tastes of dirt and honey.

Mimara feels shy around Cleric. His power clings to him like an aura, making him more than the men around him. She’s reminded of seeing Kellhus and how his gaze reaches beyond the limit of her own. This reminds Mimara of Achamian worries bout Cleric. The Nonman is like Kellhus: “one of the world’s powers.” How Cleric fought replays in her mind. She feels humans are animals compared to Cleric. A “variety of Sranc, a corruption of their [the Nonmen’s] angelic form.”

She uses spit to clean the salted scabs on Achamian’s face. Parts of his skin have turned to salt down to the pores, but it’s only skin. It’ snot life-threatening. Cleric says the qirri will get him back on his feet. Though Cleric adds she should not get so close to him with the Chorae she has beneath her jerkin.

Knowing Achamian will recover, she moves away and pulls out the Chorae. It feels alien in her hands. An “inverted presence.” She doesn’t know why it fascinates her when it’s so anathema to her. “It is the bane of her heart’s sole desire, the thing she must fear above all once she begins uttering sorcery. Since the only light is the Surillic Point, the ball appears as a shadow in her hand, the sorcerous light unable to touch it. Only the dim light leaking in lets her see the script on the iron ball. It’s hard for her to look at “as if it rolls from her sight and thought each time she centres her attention upon it.” But she can’t help but stare at it while in the background, some of the scalpers are trying to loot the dragon’s iron bones. They do this because “even in disaster, their mercenary instincts have not abandoned them.”

Shivers scuttle like spiders from her palm to her heart and throat, pimpling her entire skin. She glares at it, concentrates her breath and being upon its weightless horror, as if using it to mortify her soul the way shakers use whips and nails to mortify their flesh. She flats in the prickle of her own sweat.

The suffering beings. The pain…

It’s liking thumbing a deep bruise at first, and she almost revels its odd almost honey sweetness. But the sensation unravels, opens into an ache that swells about wincing serrations, as if teeth were chewing their own mouth through sealed muscle and skin. The violence spreads. The clubs begin falling, and her body rebels down to its rooted bowel, gagging at memories of salt. Emptiness itself… Lying cupped in her palm, a sheering void, throwing hooks about her, a million lacerating stings.

She shudders and spits, noticing Achamian lying unconscious nearby. She sees him as a “corpse boiled in the fires of damnation” and realizes the Judging Eye has opened. She can feel it peering through her, casting off her worldly sight like it were dirty clothes. It draws “out the sanctity and the sin.” She stares with it at the Chorae.

And somehow, impossibly, passes through.

She blinks on the far side of contradiction, her face and shoulders pulled back in a warm wind, a breath, a premonition of summer rain. And she sees it, a point of luminous white, a certainty, shining out from the pit that blackens her grasp. A voice rises, a voice without word or tone, drowsy with compassion, and the light grows and grows, shrinking the abyss to a rind, to the false foil that it is, burning to dust, and the glory, the magnificence, shines forth, radiant, blinding…

And she holds all…In her hand she holds it!

A Tear of God.

As she crouches over the Tear, Soma asks her where she got it. To her, it glows. It’s no longer a Chorae to her. She asks him if he sees it, and he shrugs and says a Tear of God. He doesn’t see it as special. He mentions how the others are trying to steal dragon teeth but she found her treasure. She isn’t here for riches and asks if he sees the light. He glances up at the Surillic Point, clearly seeing that. He has a hard time seeing her, though. She looks like a “breathing shadow.” She holds up the Tear and asks what he sees. But all he sees is a ball of shadow.

She puts the Chorae in her empty coin purse and Soma says that’s better. She’s no longer shielded from the sorcerous light falling on her. She feels that her Chorae is different now from Kosoter’s. No longer is hers a pit sucking everything in. It shines everything out. She wishes to see his to see if it also shines to her.

Fear flushes through her, seems to pull the ancient slave chamber into a slow roll about the axis of her heart. Something is happening to me…

This is when she notices the stranger.

A Nonman stands among them. She thought it was Cleric, their faces are identical, but he’s sitting in prayer or exhaustion. The newcomer sits like the others, eyes closed. He wears a silver crown of thorns and violet robes with nimil mail beneath. She asks Soma who that is over there, thinking she’s gone mad and scared he won’t see what she is. But he does and draws his sword. That sound rouses the others.

The Skin-Eaters draw weapons while Soma steps up before Mimara. Cleric looks up with “feline curiosity.” The stranger looks about but doesn’t seem to stare at them. Mimara notices the wind doesn’t touch his clothes and Galian cries out that he has no shadow. Kosoter barks them to be quiet. “A sense of mortal peril seems to ride the wind, a tingling certainty that the Nonman before them is less flesh or blood than a dread gate, a catastrophic threshold.” The strange Nonman does not move.

Cleric approaches and calls the Nonman cousin. That rouses the stranger. The Nonman moves. He speaks, but the sound comes not from his lips but from Pokwas and Achamian, the two who are unconscious. The stranger recognizes Cleric. Sarl cackles insanely. Cleric says he has returned.

Again the lips move, and the voice of the two unconscious men rise into the void of sound, the one reeded by age, the other deep and melodious.

They-they called-called us-us false-false.”

“They are children who can never grow,” Cleric replies. “They could do no different.”

I-I lovedloved them-them. I-I loved-loved them-them so-so much-much.

So did we all, at one time.”

They-they betrayed-trayed.

“They were our punishment. Our pride was too great.”

They-they betrayed-trayed. You-you betrayed-trayed.

You have dwelt here too long, Cousin.”

I-I am-am lost-lost. All-all the-the doors-doors are-are different-rent, and-and the-the thresholds-holdstheythey are-are holy-lee no-no more-more.”

Yes. Our age has passed. Cil-Aujas is fallen. Fallen into darkness.”

No-no. Not-not darkness-ness…

The Nonman King gains his feat and Mimara realizes he’s not in a robe but wrapped in purple cloth. He declares this is hell. Cleric, still kneeling, stares up at the Nonman figure in “anguish and indecision.” The apparition shouts how could they forget about Damnation. Cleric hasn’t forgotten. Meanwhile, everyone is gaping, their swords lowering from the shock of watching a living Nonman speak with a dead one. Mimara wants to flee but is rooted motionless.

Cleric knows him.

The bones of the dragon began to rattle while the apparition speaks without sound. This is because Pokwas and Achamian are both getting back up. She rushes to Achamian as he struggles to gather himself. He spits out something and she realizes it’s the qirri. She’s relieved that he’s awake and he asks where they are and what’s happening.

She finds herself almost whispering in his ear. “Akka. Listen to me carefully. You remember what you said? About this place… blurring… into the Outside?”

“Yes. The treachery… The betrayal that led to its fall…”

“No. That’s not it. It’s this place. This every room! It’s what they did—the Nonmen of Cil-Aujas… It’s what they did to their human slaves.”

Generations bred for the sunless mines. Used up. Cast away like moaning rubbish. Ten thousand years of sightless torment.

She knows this… But how?

Achamian asks what she’s talking about but then she glances at Cleric kneeling before the shade and begging for him not to do something. The sight brings Achamian fully awake as he gasps. Then he cries at everyone to run and follow the wind. “Courage will be your death here!”

Stand your ground!” the Captain roars.

The scalpers retreat despite Kosoter’s bellow. Mimara sees black bleeding from the wight. Kosoter believes that Cleric can stop this. Achamian tries to reason with Kosoter, but the Holy Veteran is adamant. Cleric keeps kneeling while the Nonman King walks around him to stand behind Cleric. Achamian shouts at the captain. Mimara grabs Achamian’s arm. Soma the other, Achamian still unsteady.

The specter looks to the ceiling, his soundless benediction growing more intense. He raises his arms to the ceiling. He lifts Cleric with black shadows. Kosoter stumbles back. The scalpers drag Pokwas and retreat with Mimara and Achamian. Conger leads the cackling Sarl away. The apparition grabs Cleric and he starts convulsing. There is fury in the apparition’s face.

For an instant, the company glimpses a seal, a savage emblem of hell…

The Surillic Point flickers out.

I dream,” Cleric’s voice booms through the wind howling black, “that I am a God.”

Mimara sobs. The Skin Eaters scream. Achamian begins casting spells in a panic. The light from his sorcery “paints Soma’s blank face against the greater dark.”

Mimara sees a new light. She’s in a new chamber and she can now see the Emwama in their cages, all shirking in agony. It’s “a thousand moments of anguish, a thousand souls, condensed into a mad, smoking blur.” She hears countless eons of pain and suffering of Emwama imprisoned from ever seeing the sun, all screaming in unison.

Mimara screams with them.

Cleric floats towards the scalpers as the Nonman King rants through him about how he hungers.

Despite Achamian shouting beside her, all Mimara can hear is the “million-throated wail.” Achamian, though weak, pulls her away as the apparition asks how a God can hunger.

Molten stone begins erupting around them, killing one scalper, leaving only his arm behind. Finally, Kosoter flees with the other.

The whole company, or what remains of it, is running.

The apparition laughs with “cruelties beyond the range of human comprehension.”

The survivors run through the dragons’ bones into the wind. They find stairs and climb while the damned cry out to them. They want to visit their suffering on others.

The Wight-in-the-Mountain chases them. Mimara feels on the verge of breaking. She is struggling to help Achamian while the others are racing ahead of them. Even Soma has abandoned her. She searches for strength, praying to herself to keep going. Then she feels the Qirri giving her endurance. She screams at Achamian to keep going.

The wind is too much for Achamian. He can’t battle against it. He speaks, but though she can’t hear him, she knows what he says.

Leave me.

Leave me. Daughter, please…

But she refuses. This old stranger… What is it?

Why should she dare hell?

She drags Achamian, laboring to do so. He casts sorcery and brings down the tunnel behind them, collapsing it.

The wind is gone.

~~~~~

A light hangs in the fog

Achamian tells her to keep going as her ears ring. He’s not sure that the cave-in will stop him. He jokes that the Wight can follow the “mile-long streak of shit I dragged across the floor.” This makes her laugh. He strokes her hair, happy he made her laugh. This makes her start to break up as she admits she thought he would die. He tells her they need to keep moving.

They stumble together, supporting each other. They are following the trail of the others in the dust and she asks how they could have gotten so far without Achamian’s light. He points ahead to a faint, blue glow. It’s daylight. She knows it deep in her soul. “It was the light her sires were born to, all the way back to the beginning…”

She sees shadows moving then Soma calls her name. She burns with a sudden fury that battles her weariness. Achamian senses it and says, “All men are traitors in a place such as this…” Now isn’t the time for anger. Though Achamian is haggard, she sees “intellect and resolution” in his eyes. This is the old Achamian back from the dead, even if it’s Qirri keeping him going. The other survivors are moving about with excess energy, and not just from Qirri.

They have found their way out of Cil-Aujas.

Achamian calls it the Great Medial Screw. The stones here are wet, water running down them. The stairs are wide as a wagon and spiral upward. In the open space, water pours down. Mimara feels dizzy realizing it runs up to the top of the mountain. She says it’ll take days to climb, but Pokwas says they’ll have water. Xonghis declares it clean. They begin drinking and wiping away grime, helping each other lean out over the empty space.

Achamian grows agitated and tells Kosoter they need to keep moving. Kosoter answers with a wordless gaze while Mimara can only think about water. She can’t remember the last time she drank it. This was a worse expression than the slave ship as a child, and she still has nightmares about that. The qirri is all keeping her going, she fears what will happen when it runs out.

She must have water.

Soma seems to sense her thirst and lets her have his place to get a drink. She thanks him but still angry about being abandoned. She wonders how in one moment Soma could be courageous and another so cowardly and wonders if she’s not any different. She leans out drinks the cold water. It falls hard and stings, but it’s refreshing. It nourishes her. She can see the sky and realizes they’ve left hell and Cil-Aujas behind. They were on the threshold of escape.

As she reflects on that as she hears Achamian arguing about how sorcerers don’t fly. “‘If there is a pit in the ground below,’ he croaks, ‘there is a pit in the sky as well!’” Suddenly, she feels something rising beneath them. Fear kindles in her. She glances at the pool below and sees a flicker in the water. She calls for Achamian but it’s too late. It’s been too late since they passed through the Obsidian Gate and entered Cil-Aujas.

It was always too late. No one leaves the Black Halls.

Hell rises out of the waters. The Wight-in-the-Mountain, the Nonman King with his seal behind him that is “packed with skulls and living faces,” floats up at them. The others sense it and fall silent. “In a moment of madness it seems she can see their hearts through their caged breasts, that she can see the eyes open…” Achamian clutches at his chest. Kosoter reels back. Others grab faces. Sarl cackles and Soma stands motionless. Sarl babbles that he can see while the Unholy Seal rises. Fire spills from it and roars with the voice of a Demon-God that seizes their souls and causes blood to spell out the pores of their skin.

The Gates are no longer guarded.

She falls to her knees and screams. At the same time, she fumbles out the Chorae in her purse. She cringes, a frightened child. The moans of the damn feel her ears. And in it, she “Lifts her Tear of God.”

She knows not what she does. She knows only what she glimpsed in the slave chamber, that single slow heartbeat of light and revelation. She knows what she saw with the Judging Eye.

The Chorae burns as a sun in her fingers, making red wine of her hand and forearm, revealing the shadow of her bones, and yet drawing the eye instead of rebuking it, a light that does not blind.

I guard them!” she weeps, standing frail beneath the white-bleached Seal. “I Hold the Gates!”

Climbing the Great Medial Screw is the greatest struggle they have. It steals all that remains of their “courage, strength, and endurance” they had after surviving the Sranc and the White. They climb and climb and climb. The first time the sun sets, despair almost destroys them before they remember that it always sets and will rise again. “They had been buried so long they had forgotten the cycle of days.”

Achamian appreciates the “marriage of patience and hubris” that built the Screw. It’s insane that it exists. For two days, Mimara has not spoken despite Achamian’s attempts. She would almost speak but couldn’t. He tries to figure out what she did, remembering seeing her holding the Chorae while standing before “a horror that should have devoured her whole, from the flesh of her fingertips to the final spark of her soul.” It makes no sense. While summoned Ciphrang could have their bodies destroyed by a Chorae, what they had faced was unreality. Hell. They should have all been taken.

But something had happened. She had happened.

Anasûrimbor Mimara, cursed with the Judging Eye.

He feels a great deal of pity for her, realizing that the Whore of Fate had brought her to this point. Without her, they would not have survived Cil-Aujas. She had been given to help him in his quest to find Kellhus’s origins and “to shed light on the darkness that came before him.”

When the qirri ran out, they all collapsed in exhaustion. And the climb grew worse and worse. Some fainted. Achamian vomits. The air grew colder and colder the higher they climbed. Achamian adds the Huiritic Ring to the light to keep them warm. More burden on him. As they get higher, they see the water comes from melting ice and snow that covers the final steps.

The icy steps defeat them. They do not have the strength to make it up the last part. It’s as if they all knew that “Cil-Aujas would never relinquish them.” But Achamian shows off the power of a Gnostic Wizard and he begins melting the snow and ice choking the last leg of their climb.

This was a kind of final knell for the Skin Eaters, a tipping point of comprehension. At last they understood the abyssal gap that had always existed between them, scalpers and Wizard. Achamian could see it in their sidelong glances. With the exception of the Captain, they began looking at him with an awe and reverence they had once reserved for Cleric.

And he felt an itch, something small and sharp against the buss of his utter exhaustion… Some time passed before he recognized it: the creeping return of his guilt. These men, these strangers he would kill, now seemed his brothers.

It was no small thing to crawl out of the abyss, to rise from Hell to the very roof of the World. Though their eyes had long adjusted, they still stood blinking, scattered atop the snow-encrusted debris that ringed the opening to the Great Screw. It made Achamian, who stood arm in arm with Mimara, think of the first Men, savages of the plains, rubbing their eyes at what they could only comprehend as a blessing.

With light comes life. With sky comes freedom.

The Halls of Cil-Aujas, the dread Black Halls, had at last relinquished them.

Achamian surveys the scalpers and sees only Kosoter and Soma are unscathed. Sarl is mad. Pokwas, Xonghis, Sutadra, and Galian are injured but are hale. Of the Herd, only Conger, Wonard, and Hameron survived, all three Galeoth. Wonard looks infected, Conger limps, and Hameron is a weeper. They stand on the vista, drenched in violet Sranc blood and patches of red. They are in Aenaratiol’s crater amid a frozen lake. Ruins cover it. They can see higher peaks rising above the rim.

Xonghis says that way is home and the other is the Long Side. Achamian holds his breath. Which way will they choose? Achamian still holds to his desire to find the scroll to Ishuäl. He can remember his dream of actually seeing the map. It exists. He just has to find it in the Coffers. He had used the Coffers as bait, but now he actually needs to get in the vault.

His lie. Fate was making his lie true.

The Skin Eaters look at Xonghis and the two choices but there’s no choice. They are being driven by the Whore of Fate. Sarl cackles about going to the Coffers. The company is content to let the madman choose for them. Kosoter is the first to begin the climb down.

They follow him, warmed by the Huiritic Ring. No one speaks. They find stairs the climb through the ruins, the architecture the same as below but instead of awing them, it’s tragic, even pathetic, to see its collapse. “The work of a race that had gone insane for staring inward.”

At the rim of the crater, they see the Osthwai Mountains spread out before them. It’s daunting. The task overwhelms the “newly born men.” But they can’t stop no matter how tired and starving they air. Then, as they are about to descend, Soma spots something though Achamian can’t see more than a black spec.

And at long last Mimara broke her silence.

“Cleric,” she said.

My Thoughts

So, the earthquakes in the latter book are set up here. Momemn is in a seismically active area.

A great reflection on history and how humans build on the past by burying it. They repurpose things and forget their original purpose. Pagans erected Temples, Christians co-opt them into Churches, and Muslims transform them into Mosques. We put our mark on history to pretend we are better than the generations that comes before. We rip down their monuments to erect our own. In our hubris, we think we’re more moral, more right, more worthy than them.

We’re not.

Suicide as revenge is a sad mental state. Show the world by depriving myself of it. Thinking it’s the only way you can affect the world, the only thing you can control. It shows us the depths of her anger with her mother. And she has every right to be angry. It’s hard to understand what starvation does to a person. Thinking it would be better your child was a slave than to die of starvation. Seeing no other way for you to survive. Unless Mimara goes through the same, she’ll never really understand. But this journey, I think, will show her deprivation. I’m curious to see how their relationship progresses in the next book.

I think the moment Soma sees her using sorcery is when he sees her as fulfilling some prophecy that he needs to respect. As a skin-spy, the scent of a pregnant woman is both disgusting and arousing. They really don’t like the scent of fetuses. They are everything that the Inchoroi hate: consequences to sex. The Inchoroi don’t like consequences. That makes them think about their actions.

And that’s why they want to commit genocide to keep from being damned. They don’t consider doing something to change their fate. To act in a different manner. They want to keep reveling in their pleasure.

Fifth Anterograde Gate is a weird name. Anterograde means to forget things after a traumatic event. It’s thematic to the Nonmen, but a strange thing for someone to name their gate. Like, why would the Nonmen have named it that? The world-building there is lacking, but Bakker likes to use thematic words for his name. Usually, they fit with the world. Gnosis, Angogic, Psûkhe all line up with how their respective magic works.

Kellhus wrote Novum Arcanum. We have heard about the God and the Oversoul before. This is an authoritative source on how sorcery works. Cishaurim and their Psûkhe are even better at it. That’s why they blind themselves so they can see the world even more clearly through the God’s eyes and thus change it without leaving the Mark. Though, I wonder if the Cishaurim didn’t blind themselves if they could see what each other does. Like they’re at a higher level than the normal Few. But maybe not.

So we see the Judging Eye in action. Achamian is damned, but it’s not proof enough to reveal if Kellhus can save people. Achamian has repudiated him, so he could be damned for that and not for using sorcery. But Lord Kosoter is seen and he is definitely damned. Way, way, way worse than Achamian. All the things he did during the Holy War were certainly not forgiven as Kellhus claims.

Pity Mimara didn’t look at Somandutta. Curious what a skin-spy would look like while the Judging Eye is active. Normal? There’s no soul in Somandutta to be damned. Only one skin-spy ever had a soul, and it took over Simas back in the last series.

Honestly, in the sort of situation they’re in, where decisions have to be made and there can’t be any questioning is a good thing if you’re following someone with intelligence and competence. Both things Kosoter has. They are fleeing for their lives. Asking questions, doubting decisions, are not things you need right now. They’ve been in hairy situations, they’ve been lead by Kosoter through dire circumstances. They’re like a military unit working together for one common goal.

This section is well done. The tension is incredible. Bakker is building it up and then come the Sranc horns. We all know this is Moira, but he makes it fit his world and adds his own to it. No story is wholly original. We all are building on the past, just like cities are built upon the rubble of the dead. Nothing wrong with it when you do it well. When you make it fit your world, adapt it to your story. Cil-Aujas maybe one of my most favorite parts of the entire meta-series.

“They are coming.” The same words that the unknown dwarf scribe writes in the Book of Mazarbul that chronicles Balin’s people reoccupying Moria. These are the last words he wrote in haste before being killed by the orcs. Bakker uses them here in a room full of pillars, just like in Moria. Gives me chills reading it.

Can I just say, Sarl’s way of talking reminds me of how orcs talk in the Lord of the Rings. “Oy, yes, boys, this is going to be a chopper. A classic chopper!” I’m just picturing orcs speaking like this.

So I think Cleric is out of control when they are attacking the Sranc, destroying those columns needed to keep up the roof. Hence, Achamian shouting “Nooooo!”

Damn, Oxwora’s a beast. Killed the Bashrag and managed to survive those wounds long enough to slay his killer.

Boy, I had Legolas flashbacks from the Lord of the Ring Movies when Cleric rides the dead Bashrag to the ground.

RIP Kiampas. Liked you.

Those Bashrags are brutal.

Cleric in all his Ishroi glory. Fighting and casting Gnosis is an impressive feat. Not even Kellhus has fought like this, but he’s never been in this sort of situation, of course.

Kosoter is helping Mimara escape. This is a guy who doesn’t let the weak drag him down, and he’s saving Mimara’s life. This is a big clue to just what Kosoter is really about here. He knows who she is, as I recall from the next book.

Interesting words from our Skin-Spy. “You will not perish for me.” He is not in danger from the Sranc like the rest are. He should be able to escape blend in with them and not be their prey. He doesn’t want Mimara to die for him. If she falls behind, she would slow the Sranc so they could have their fun with her. Maybe it’s just for show, but I wonder if this has to do with that “False Prophecy” he respects.

Kosoter would recognize Hell. He is so damned that he looks like a Demon when the Judging Eye falls on him. He would have gone through all of the Holy War’s catastrophes, including the madness of Mengedda. What did he see there? What did he do to survive crossing the desert and then the siege of Carythusal? What crimes did he commit during Shimeh’s pillage?

“Origins! Origins are the truth of us!” I have two things to comment on with this passage. First, we have the Darkness that Comes Before referenced here. “Origins are the truth of us!” To understand Kellhus, we must understand the Darkness that he comes from. The Dûnyain. We can see the poisonous fury in Achamian’s face that makes Mimara feel ashamed. This is the same fury she has at her mother.

The same fury of one who’s been betrayed. She knows the same pain he does.

King Celmomas’s speech about the responsibility of a king, or a leader, is apt. They have to think of the future. To not rely on faith but in reality. That is the duty they owe our people. Sadly, most leaders are self-centered little weasels who care about clawing for power and have no vision of the future.

Sarl’s “him” in who he was wrong for calling a fool is Kiampas. Before entering Cil-Aujas, it was Kiampas’s theory that a dragon lurked here and was killing the scalpers while Sarl just thought it was skinnies. He called Kiampas a fool. Of course, the dragon’s dead so Kiampas wasn’t wholly right.

Qirri tastes of dirt and hunger. Dirt, of course, references the grave. It’s the ash of a dead nonman after all. The honey is the sweetness. That addictive rush that will keep Achamian and Mimara going for the rest of their journey. It’s also a symbol of fertility and good things. The whole “Lands of Milk and Honey” promised to the Israelites during their wandering in the desert.

The Chorae is made of contradiction. A negation of reality. It is made of sorcery and yet destroys it. A singularity that affects the spiritual and not the physical. It sucks in that which is not natural like a black hole. She is seeing into it, able to see it thanks to being one of the Few for what it is. We’ve seen POVs from mainly Cnaiür handling it. He never feels anything weird about it. To him, it’s just a ball of iron. He can’t see with the imperfect vision of the God like a Few can. The Chorae is a foul thing. And then, when the Judging Eye is open, it becomes a Tear of God to her. She passes through that darkness and sees it through the Eye of Faith. The Judging Eye is the Eye of Faith. Of what the belief of mankind is and how they see the world. Not the God’s Eyes, but the belief that has shaped the Outside into what it is. The source of power for the Hundred. The lesser gods, the powerful Ciphrang, who have benefited and even shaped this belief.

The Chorae is both Evil and Good. Both Faith and Denial. That is the contradiction that binds it together. That’s what lets it unravel sorcery, or so I think. I could be way off basis.

It’s interesting that she’s changed her Chorae in some way. Maybe it as simple as she’s shifted her perspective from Sorcery to Faith. But what she did to it is why what she does to the shade of Gin’yursis coming up worked.

A nice twist that it’s the suffering of the poor Emwama that is the cause. They are the victims of both Nonmen and the Five Tribes. The humans who crossed over the mountains exterminated them save for that small population still living as slaves to the Nonmen of Ishterebinth. It makes you wonder who is really driving damnation in this world. The Emwama who are crushed beneath everyone’s heels? Gin’yursis claimed to love the humans, but he allowed them to be brutalized. And now they punish his soul. It’s why he is mad. Lashing out. He wishes to spread the pain to others. If he must suffer, so must they.

Soma has a blank face during the revelation of the Seal around Gin’yursis. He’s not panicking like everyone else. Further proof that he’s already a skin-spy.

So we come to Mimara destroying Gin’yursis’s spirit with the Judging Eye and the Chorae. The last thing the Wight-in-the-Mountain utters is, “The Gates are no longer guarded.” Meaning, it is free to bleed out of hell here. But she instead Judges that the Gates are guarded. She is that Guard. A Chorae negates what is perverted in the natural world by sorcerery. She has made it a Tear of God and does the same to the spiritual. She undoes the topoi and closes the Gate. Hell can’t bleed through any longer. Maybe forever. Maybe just enough for them to escape. The Judging Eye doesn’t just let her see whether a person is damned or not, it gives her some measure of control over these spiritual matters. The word “judging” was chosen by Bakker for a reason. Judging is not a passive concept. It’s not observation. There is directed intent when judging something. Mimara’s intent.

Soma, once again, spots Cleric. The clues that he’s more than human are really subtle. I certainly never twigged on them reading the book, but in hindsight, they stand out. Like in the Darkness that Comes Before when Nautzera notes that Simas has flawless vision despite his advanced age, a subtle clue of him being a skin-spy.

Soma has infiltrated the Skin Eaters no doubt because of Cleric. To watch the last king of Ishterebinth and figure out why Kellhus made a deal with him and what the deal entails. Cleric is here because Kellhus promised him a way to relieve his memory. He has promised him Seswatha. Or Achamian. Knowing Achamian will use the Great Ordeal to reach Ishuäl, Kellhus has put into place plans to aid Achamian. I honestly think Kellhus wants Achamian to succeed. If Kellhus plan to end the belief system that makes damnation, his own divinity will need to be deconstructed one day. Achamian is the man to do it. He’s obsessed over it. He’s been given the tools to succeed. How Mimara factors, I’m not sure. She ran away because of Kelmomas and not Kellhus’s actions. Certainly, I don’t think going into Cil-Aujas was the plan. Predicting that the passes would still be closed might have been outside of Kellhus’s projections or that Cil-Aujas was always a last resort path. It would have been better if they hadn’t gone through Cil-Aujas, but as we’ll see, Achamian makes it to Golgotterath with the truth of Kellhus, so it does work.

All in all, Cil-Aujas is one of the best parts of the story. This slog of a chapter is intense and riveting to read. After the build up, we have the chase. The terrifying race through the bowels of hell and out into the very pinnacle of the mountain. The comparisons to Lord of the Rings are there. Not only do they go through the mountain, they battle down into the bowels then rush all the way up to the peak of the mountain where they are reborn, just as Gandalf was. It’s homage down right because Bakker makes it fit seamlessly into his world and built on the worldbuilding he has done.

He made it his own.

Click here for the Interlude: Momemn!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fifteen

Condia

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

If the immutable appears recast, then you yourself have been transformed.

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

My Thoughts

This is a Zeumi aphorism. From the name, Memgowa, and Celestial, a word that we hear in regards to their civilization.

It’s talking about how if you see the world differently, if you see something you thought was monolith is something else, then it hasn’t changed, you have. It very much is observation dictates reality. It reminds me how they have that game they play at court where people play out the gossip about themselves to make the lie into Truth.

Postmodernists would love Zeumi.

Then we have Sorweel who appears to have been recast when he wasn’t. He has been transformed in a way Kellhus cannot see.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), Condia

It’s morning and Sorweel is watching Porsparian make a fire to cook their breakfast. Sorweel is trying to figure out the slave who is now as frightening to Sorweel as Kellhus. The King flinches, expecting to be struck. Porsparian is not “meek nor innocent nor powerless.” Porsparian is delighted to make the fire. Sorweel fakes a grin and brushes where the soil was smeared on his face.

Somehow, simply thinking her name, Yatwer, had become a premonition. And it shamed him. She was the Goddess of the weak, the enslaved, and now she was his.

Eskeles shows up, muttering how he dreamed about the Library of Sauglish again. Sorweel is tired of hearing of his dreams. Then Zsoronga shows up though no Obotegwa, forcing Eskeles to act as translator. Sorweel finds that annoying because Obotegwa has become his friend’s voice. Eskeles’s translation reminds Sorweel that there’s a rift between him and his friend that keeps them from communicating. And, of course, Zsoronga does not trust Eskeles so he doesn’t speak freely. Sorweel feels like it’s the early “dark days when all he could understand were the recriminations of his own voice.”

They go to the Umbilicus where Kellhus holds court. Things are subdued in the camp instead of the normal carnival feel it has. The men are all sleeping in or lounging around breakfast fires because they have nothing to do today.

Sorweel found himself staring at a young Galeoth warrior laying between guy-ropes with his eyes closed, his head propped on the tear-shaped shield he had lain against his pack. He was stripped to his waist, and his skin shone as white as a child’s teeth. A pang of envy struck the young Kin gas deep as a stabbing. After weeks of fear and indecision, he now knew that he, Varalt Sorweel III, was simply an ordinary fool, no wise, no stronger, than the next man. He had been born with the gifts of the mediocre, and yet here he was, stranded in the role of a captive king. He was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.

Cursed to war, not across plains as heroes do, but within the wells of his soul—to war as cowards do.

Today was but one more example.

No one knows why Kellhus has declared today a day of rest, but Sorweel and Zsoronga, and only them from the Company of Scions, have been called to the Council of Potentates, the senior officers of the Great Ordeal. Eskeles is along to be Sorweel’s interpreter. Sorweel finds himself more excited than afraid to see Kellhus. “It all seemed a gaggle of voices, nagging, warning, accusing, a chorus of contradictions.” He feels pulled by Yatwer and Porsparian, Achamian’s book and Zsoronga, his father, and Kayûtas inhuman perception, Eskeles’s fanaticism. All these ideas are burying his heart. He feels like he’s a dead man going through the motions.

And he was about to face the Aspect-Emperor—Anasûrimbor Kellhus!

He was about to be discovered.

As they head into the Umbilicus, Sorweel notices the Circumfix and realizes how the symbol of “wickedness and revulsion” was now “innocuous and commonplace.” People are flowing into the meeting room. Sorweel wants to tarry, but Eskeles doesn’t let him. Men from every nation of the Tree Seas are here. He feels like a country bumpkin in his Sakarpic clothes while Zsoronga walks with confidence “as a man should, as though what set him apart also set him above.” Everything about his clothes and posture screams out his prestigious heritage while Sorweel feels his communicates “ignorance, poverty, crude manners, and foolish conceits.”

He feels bullied by the strangers, their words insults that he can’t understand. He tries to rally his pride by raising “defensive contempt.” He tells himself that he was better than them. They didn’t even speak his language. They’re animals.

But he knew these thoughts for what they were: the shallow posturings of a boy. He could feel it in the way his eyes flinched from the glare of others, in the empty bubbles that crept through his bones.

He’s jostled into the Umbilicus and pauses to gape. Men push past him. He hears the Sheyic insult “Shit-herder” directed at him. This is the largest tent he’s ever been in, and he’s used to camping out on the Pale. It was bigger than his father’s hall. Eskeles is ecstatic, saying how he had dreamed of the events like this, but now he’s witnessing it with “living eyes.” Sorweel pretends to be distracted as he hates how he agrees with the sorcerer. It feels seditious to do that. Zsoronga has a guarded expression like Sorweel’s own. “The look of a boy striving to pass unnoticed in the company of men.”

Sorweel feels something is in the air, but isn’t sure what it is. Then he realizes it’s belief. The shared faith in Kellhus has brought this diverse group of men together and united them. It “defined them to their unguessed core.”

Here was belief, rendered sensuous for its intensity, made palpable in lilting voices and shining eyes.

Sorweel had known he marched in the company of fanatics, but until now he had never… touched it. The fever of jubilation. The lunacy of eyes that witnessed without seeing. The smell of commitment, absolute and encompassing. The Men of the Circumfix were capable of anything, he realized. They would weary, but they would never pause. They would fear, but they would not flee. Any atrocity, any sacrifice—nothing lay outside the compass of their possibility. They could burn cities, drown sons, slaughter innocents; they could even, as Zsoronga’s story about the suicides proved, cut their own throats. Through their faith they had outrun their every scruple, animal or otherwise, and they gloried in the stink of it—in the numbing smell of losing oneself in the mastery of another.

The Aspect-Emperor.

He wonders how Kellhus can “command such mad extremes in men.” He remembers that Kellhus makes men children. Sorweel then wonders if the world is about to end. As he ponders these thoughts, he studies the room. He then notices a tapestry that appears strange and he realizes it has sorcery on it to make shapes move in it.

He turns his attention to the two Exalt-Generals sitting on the dais. King Proyas looks refined and King Saubon glares. There’s something miserly about King Saubon “as if he had won his stature at too great a cost.” He’s always remembering what he paid. The Grandmasters of the Major Schools sit at a table. Sorweel spots the beautiful Anasûrimbor Serwa who looks too young.

“Striking, no?” the Mandate Schoolman continued in a lowered voice. “The Aspect-Emperor’s daughter, and the Grandmistress of the Sawayal Compact. Serwa, the Ladywitch herself.”

“A witch…” Sorweel murmured. In Sakarpic, the word for witch was synonymous with many things, all of them wicked. That it could be applied to someone so exquisite in form and feature struck him as yet another Three Seas obscenity. Nevertheless, he found his gaze lingering for the wrong reasons. The word seemed to pry her open, make her image wanton with tugging promise.

“Ware her, my King,” Eskeles said with a soft laugh. “She walks with the Gods.”

That line is a quote from a Sakarpi tale about a king who tried to seduce the god Gilgaöl’s mortal daughter and was cursed, his line ending. It surprises Sorweel that Eskeles knows this. Then he remembers the Schoolman is a spy.

He then notices Serwa’s brothers, Kayûtas and Moënghus, sits on the other side of the table with other Southron generals. According to Zsoronga, Moënghus isn’t really Kellhus’s son but the child of his first wife and a Scylvendi wayfarer.

At first this struck Sorweel as almost laughably obvious. When the seed was strong, women were but vessels; they bore only what men planted in them. If a boy-child was born white-skinned, then his or her father was white-skinned, and so on, down to all the particularities of form and pigment. The Anasûrimbor couldn’t be Moënghus’s true father, and that was that. It had been a revelation of sorts to realize the Men of the Circumfix, without exception, overlooked this plain fact. Eskeles even referred to Moënghus as a “True Son of the Anasûrimbor” forcefully, as though the willful application of a word could undo what the world has wrought.

But another glimpse of the madness that had seized these men.

The Interval is sounded and the stragglers enter, growing loud as the late-comers look for a place to sit. If it wasn’t for Sorweel’s fear of being revealed, this would be like Temple service. Eskeles then asks him what Sorweel sees in the other’s faces. The question is so strange that he feels he’s being mocked, though Eskeles has a friendly expression. Still alarmed, he blurts out, “Gulls and fools!” This just brings a chuckle from someone “too familiar with the ways of the conceit not to be amused.”

As the Interval sounds again, people start turning towards the tiers as though a will seized it. Sorweel doesn’t see the light right away, but then he notices a star that seems to resolve and grow into substance. “Skirts of gloom fell from the tented heights.”

A sloped landscape of faces—bearded, painted, clean-shaven—watched.

Seven heartbeats of soundless thunder.

Blinking brilliance… and there he was.

Kellhus appears sitting cross-legged while floating in the air, his head bowed. He has a halo around his head. Awe passes through the crowd. He tries to remember his father’s face as he reminds himself that Kellhus is a demon.

But the Aspect-Emperor was speaking, his voice so broad, so simple and obvious, that gratitude welled through the young King of Sakarpus. It was a beloved voice, almost but not quite forgotten, here at last to soothe the anxious watchers, to heal the sundered heart. Sorweel understood none of the words, and Eskeles sat slack and dumbstruck, apparently too overawed to translate. But the voice—the voice! Somehow spoken to many, and yet intended only for one, for him, for Sorweel alone, out of the hundreds, the thousands! You, it whispered. Only you… A mother scolding cracked into laughter by love. A father’s coaxing crimped into tears by pride.

And then, just when the music wholly captured him, the assembled Lords of the Ordeal crashed into with a booming chorus. And Sorweel found himself understanding the words, for they belonged to the first thing Eskeles had taught him in Sheyic, the Temple Prayer…

As the prayer is spoken, Anasûrimbor’s voice can still be heard distinct from them. Sorweel finds himself wanting to pray. He feels sinful for not joining them and sees Zsoronga looking as resistant as if they were both the fools “not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.”

The singing ends and one of the Nascenti order everyone to raise their faces and look at Kellhus. Sorweel realizes he has to look at Kellhus and nowhere else. Everyone seems to hold their breaths. It’s intense. Everyone’s hopeful and afraid as they all (except the two demon heads) look at Kellhus. Kellhus begins floating around the room staring into people’s faces, everyone tracking his progress. Sorweel is relieved when Kellhus zooms off to the far side of the room. Though everyone has a slightly different expression, all of them are confessing. “Grown men, warlike men, wept in the wake of their sovereign’s divine passage…”

The Aspect-Emperor paused.

The man beneath his gaze was an Ainoni, or so Sorweel guessed from the styling of his square-cut beard, ringlets about flattened braids. He sat on one of the lower tiers, and rather than descend, the Aspect-Emperor simply tilted in his floating posture to stud him. The rings of light about his head and hands gilded the man’s face and shoulders with a patina of gold. The caste-noble’s dark eyes glittered with tears.

Kellhus speaks to the man, Ezsiru, about how his family is loyal, especially his father Chinjosa. He then says that Ezsiru needs to make up with his father. “You do not understand the difference between the infirmities of youth and the infirmities of age.” Ezsiru is punishing his father the way he had been as a child. Kellhus asks if a father can discipline his son with the rod, which he can. But can a child do the same to the father? No.

“Love him, Ezsiru. Honour him. And always remember that old age is rod enough.”

Kellhus moves on to the next one, going from man to man. “And in each case, nothing more than some human truth was summoned forth, as though the Anasûrimbor need only look into the face of one who stumbled to get every man in attendance upon sure footing.” All Kellhus speaks is Truth, and it baffles how a demon can be miraculous. Sorweel’s heart races and fear clutches about his chest as Kellhus comes closer and closer to Sorweel. When he’s almost on Sorweel, he looks at someone in the level behind him.

Impalpotas, habaru—”

“Impalpotas,” Eskeles said with a quaver, “tell me, how long has it been since you were dead?”

Everyone gasps as Impalpotas just smiles like he’s “a rake caught wooing a friend’s daughter.” It’s at odds with the situation. Then Impalpotas explodes at Kellhus before he is caught in lines of sorcery, his sword falling from his hands. Everyone is crying out in outrage. Swords are drawn. Kellhus’s voice cuts through the noise as he reveals that Impalpotas is a skin-spy.

The Shigeki assassin had sailed out around the Aspect-Emperor and now floated behind his haloed head, a brighter beacon. The light that tattooed his skin and clothes flared, and his limbs were drawn out and away from his body. He hung, a different kind of proof, revolving like a coin in open space. He panted like an animal wrapped in wire, but his eyes betrayed no panic, nothing save glaring hate and laughter. Sorweel glimpsed the curve of his erect phallus through his silk breeches, looked away to his sigil-wrapped face, only to be more appalled…

For it flexed about invisible faults, then opened, drawn apart like interlocking fingers. Articulations were pried back and out, revealing eyes that neither laughed nor hatred, that simply looked, above shining slopes of boneless meat.

Rishra mei..” the Aspect-Emperor said in a voice that sounded like silk wrapped about a thunderclap. “I see…” Eskeles’s murmured in reedy tones, “I see mothers raise stillborn infants to blinded Gods. The death of birth—I see this! with eyes both ancient and foretold. I see the high towers burn, the innocents broken, the Sranc descend innumerable—innumerable! I see a world shut against Heaven!”

Everyone cries out in fear and fury. They are picturing their families killed and peoples destroyed and scream their defiance. Kellhus continues to talk about cities burning, the Tusk broken, and that the No-God walking. This makes them all groan. He points at the skin-spy and tells them “Behold!” and “See!” He dismembers the skin-spy with Gnosis and “a curtain of slop raining to the ground.” A breathless silence falls on them, things seeming normal again. “It had happened, and it had not happened.”

And then Kellhus continues moving around them like nothing happened. He is close to Sorweel. He fills his vision. The demons “puckered sockets” stare at Sorweel. He hopes that Kellhus picks Zsoronga. But Kellhus tops before Sorweel. His heart pounds, his fears almost overwhelming him. “What would he see?”

How would he punish?

“Sorweel,” a voice more melodious than music said in the tongue of his fathers. “Sad child. Proud King. There is nothing more deserving of compassion than an apologetic heart.”

“Yes.” A noise more kicked out of his lungs than spoken.

Never!

Kellhus asks if Sorweel repents his father’s defiance. Sorweel lies that he has while thinking Kellhus is a demon. Kellhus smiles like an old friend and declares Sorweel a Believer-King and departs. Sorweel is confused. He feels like he’s in the open sky as everyone smiles at him. Eskeles good naturally mocks him for calling the others Gulls and Fools. What follows is a council that Sorweel doesn’t care much about. Eskeles is overjoyed that Sorweel is saved.

Against a desolate backdrop, Zsoronga simply watched, speaking not a word.

Sorweel returns to his tent alone. He feels numb but free, no longer beset by fears. He drinks in all the sight and finds himself awed by the Great Ordeal. “There were simply too many warriors from too many nations not to be astonished in some small way.” In this moment, as he sees men looking back at him with hostility, indifference, and friendliness that they’re just Men. What made them believed, how they were all united behind a singular goal, that made them seem different.

It was at once glorious and an abomination. That so many could be folded into the intent of a single man.

The Calm slipped from his heart and limbs, and the mad rondo of questions began batting through his soul. What had happened at the Council? Did he see? Did he not see? Did he see and merely pretend not to see?

How could he, Sorweel, the broken son of a broken people, shout hate beneath the all-seeing eyes of the Aspect-Emperor, and not be… not be…

Corrected.

He touches his cheek where the mud had been smeared and thinks about Yatwer. He finds Porsparian back at camp. He’s been attending to Sorweel’s meager possessions, the tent even washed. He realizes this is “The High Court of the Sakarpic King.” Sorweel asks Porsparian what did he do, addressing him as a servant for the first time. This alarms Porsparian. He shouts at him to tell. He struggles to ask a simple question in Sheyic and manages to spit out, “What you do?” Porsparian is confused and Sorweel repeats it as he rubs at his cheeks in pantomime.

Like a flutter of wings, Porsparian’s confusion flickered into a kind of perverse glee. He grinned, began nodding like a madman confirmed in his delusions. “Yemarte… Yemarte’sus!”

And Sorweel understood. For the first time, it seemed, he actually heard his slave’s voice.

“Blessed… Blessed you.”

My Thoughts

It’s interesting how Sorweel flinches from Porsparian much like an abused child fearing his parent’s hand. As near as I can remember, there’s not a hint that Harweel ever abused Sorweel. He comes off as a good father. There’s something skittish about Sorweel, though.

And Eskeles is dreaming about what Achamian is obsessed about. Makes you wonder how this whole Soul of Seswatha works. The memories are imprinted by the heart of Seswatha held back in their stronghold (I’d love to find more about this).

“He [Sorweel] was cursed, cursed with the toil of pretending, endlessly pretending to be more.” That’s a big theme of Bakker’s work. How people present masks to the world. To change how we behave around others. The curse of humans is that we can only see the mask other people show and they can never see the true us. We are forever sundered from the truth of each other. Sorweel doesn’t realize this is everyone pretending to be what they need to be, pushing down their own impulses to adapt to the expectations of their neighbors or risk ostracization of being different.

“In his heart, words simply accumulated, piled one on top of the other.” The world is overwhelming young Sorweel. He has not had the life experience to withstand this and it is crushing him. It would crush many of us. It’s how he differs from the typical protagonist of other books who would rise to meet them.

Sorweel has the mindset of a loser. If you don’t know this about us humans but when you lose a challenge of dominance, it causes a decrease of serotonin levels in your brain. This leads you to feel lesser than what beat you. Makes you feel ashamed and less likely to challenge again. While winning increases serotonin. This is a very primitive reaction, one that can be found in creatures as ancient as lobsters who have similar serotonin levels that dictate confidence and weakness. Sorweel has been crushed. His people decimated. His father unmade. He has all the signs of low serotonin levels. Thinking he’s worse than his victors, that he can’t compare to them. That they’re better than he is.

Belief is a powerful motivation. I’ve been reading stuff about the Soviet Union and something struck me. It was talking about wedding practices, which were completely secular, and yet the new bride and groom were expected to lay flowers at a memorial to Lenin. Though the Soviet Union professed atheism, they believed in Lenin and his Socialist Paradise. It defined them. On his birthday, I believe, or the nearest Saturday to it, every worker was “encouraged” to work on their day off for no pay to show their support to the State and the Communist Party. The USSR abounded with religious sentiments masked under secular trappings to motivate the people to work hard for their country and not question their leadership. To trust them like the peasants of old trusted their priests and noblemen.

So this is interesting. Gilgaöl has a mortal daughter. That’s rather fascinating. We’re seeing that old, pagan polytheism that Inrithism has all but buried in the Three Seas. And it’s very Indo-European paganism. Greek, Old German, Latin, etc. This is the start of our love story between Sorweel and Serwa. The very classic of falling in love with the evil tyrant’s daughter and winning her heart while defeating her father.

Interesting that Sorweel sees the halo. This implies that at some level, he believes in Kellhus’s divinity. In the last series, people only started seeing the halos when they believed in him. It’s not around his hand, but his head, though. So that is different. Maybe it has to do with Inrithi Sejenus having haloed hands versus the more pagan beliefs of Sakarpi.

Despite how much he fights, Sorweel is caught up in it. He would end up a Believer-King without Yatwer’s intervention. He believes Kellhus is divine. Maybe a demon, but that’s still divine.

They [Sorweel and Zsoronga] were the fools here, not because they dared stand in the company of kneelers, but because being a fool consisted of no more than being thought so by others.” This is how good people stand by while bad things happen. It might even be a group who all think it’s wrong but don’t realize it and think they are alone. That need to conform to the group is a strong evolutionary pressure on our behavior.

Chinjosa. That name is definitely familiar to me. He must have been one of the Ainoni notables. I do recall a general who was quite skilled and helped hold things together during the disastrous battle at Mengedda, perhaps.

It’s good that Kellhus doesn’t believe in abusing the elderly. I have a feeling poor Chinjosa is suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer. He’s become like a child and, clearly, it sounded like he was a brutal discipline to his son. That’s the effectiveness of Kellhus, he often gives great advice that can lead to positive change.

Kellhus’s speech about what he sees coming if they fail is what we get to look forward to in the next series!

It’s safe to say after reading the rest of this series, Yatwer deceived Kellhus. You can get hints that words were being forced out of Sorweel.

Sorweel is on his first steps of a Narinder. An assassin for Yatwer to kill Kellhus. It’s such a simple story. It’s been played out over and over again, and yet Bakker will turn it on its head as Sorweel is turned into a pawn for a Goddess who is blind to what is going on. His life is destroyed for nothing.

Click here for Chapter Sixteen!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fourteen

Cil-Aujas

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

The world is only as deep as we can see. This is why fools think themselves profound. This is why terror is the passion of revelation.

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

What an interesting quote to start the chapter of Achamian’s company moving through Cil-Aujas.

I think we all have met people who think they are smarter than they are, who believe they know everything, or think the pretentious and inane things they are posting on Twitter (cough Jayden Smith cough) are mind-blowing. Now, the second half of this quote about terror being revelation’s passion is the intriguing part.

It implies, to me, that terror is what drives revelation. The fear of the unknown drives us to want answers. To have the darkness revealed to be something that we can understand. The fool will latch onto ideas that are not logical. The divine, for instance.

Bakker uses REVELATION. That carries the connotation of Moses and the Burning Bush. God telling you what’s up. The fool, terrified of what is around him, latches onto anything to make his fears lessen. Any explanation that their small minds see as profound. Even if it is shallow.

So, how does this fit into the chapter?

Well, we definitely have a lot of small minds heading into a place of sheer terror. Let’s not even consider the fact that it’s a topoi that has trapped the souls of the Nonmen murdered by treacherous humans and that hell itself is bleeding into the place. Just being underground is unnerving. If you’ve ever been in a cave or a mine shaft, it can creepy with all that stone over your head. And you do not know what darkness is until you find yourself in a lightless mine shaft. When I was a boy scout back in New Mexico, we went into an abandoned cinnabar mine on a camping treat. Most of us had flashlights. I did not. Everyone turned theirs off.

It was a complete darkness and it had weight. It was terrifying, and I knew there were people around me that had light sources.

Then we take into account the messed up stuff that’s about to happen and, as I assume we’ll see, we’re going to find scalpers (cough Sarl cough) making up stories to explain the strange things. The horrors. They will latch onto a revelation to carry them through the darkness.

And now reading the chapter, it’s a perfect quote because revealing what is really going on only inspires terror and threatens to break the Skin Eaters.

Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), south of Mount Aenaratiol

Age. Age and darkness.

The Chronicles of the Tusk is the measure of something ancient to humans, but now in Cil-Aujas, the Skin Eaters are discovering a place older than the language of the Tusk. “Here was glory that no human, tribe or nation, could hope to match, and their hearts balked at the admission.” Achamian sees it in their eyes. All their boasting is now proving lies.

Cil-Aujas, for all its silence, boomed otherwise.

The company is moving through a subterranean. The trails after the Cleric and Achamian who both have sorcerous lights before them to illuminate the dark. Every sound brings cringes. Every inch of wall is covered in images, the tunnel hacked out of the mountain.

It was the absence of weathering that distinguished the hall from the Gate. The detail baffled the eye, from the mail of the Nonmen warriors to the hair of the human slaves. Scars striping knuckles. Tears lining supplicants’ cheeks. Everything had been rendered with maniacal intricacy. The effect was too lifelike, Achamian decided, the concentration too obsessive. The scenes did not so much celebrate or portray, it seemed, as reveal, to the point where it hurt to watch the passing sweep of images, parade stacked upon parade, entire hosts carved man for man, victim for victim, warring without breath or clamour.

This is Pir-Pahal, a room memorializing the Nonmen’s war with the Inchoroi. Achamian spots the traitor Nin’janjin (the guy who gave sold immortality to the Nonmen) and Cû’jara-Cinmoi. Even Sil, the Inchoroi King, is shown holding the Heron Spear which makes Achamian stumble. Mimara is unnerved by the sight of the Inchoroi. Achamian realizes, remembering the Great Ordeal marches for Golgotterath, that the war shown here has never ended.

Ten thousand years of woe.

Achamian explains that the Nonman carved their memories into the walls to last as long as they. Many are not happy that Achamian broke the “sacred” silence. They head deeper, covering miles. Then they come across a gate carved with a pair of wolves. These are more totemic than past carvings, each wolf carved three times to show them flowing from three different emotions to capture a living creature in stone. The writing here is Auja-Gilcûnni, the First Tongue. So ancient, not even the Nonmen can read it which “meant this gate had to be as ancient to Nonmen as the Tusk was to Men.” Achamian’s excitement quickly dwindles. He feels light-headed. He feels something here.

Something abyssal.

The gate swam in the Wizard’s eyes, not so much a portal as a hole.

Cleric increases his light’s brightness and tells them all to kneel. The Skin Eaters are shocked as Cleric kneels. The Nonman looks at them and shrieks at them to Kneel. Sarl, looking amused, can’t believe Cleric is serious.

“This was the war that broke our back!” the Nonman thundered. “This… This! All the Last Born, sires and sons, gathered beneath the copper banners of Siöl and flint-hearted King. Silverteeth! Our Tyrant-Saviour…” He rolled his head back and laughed, two lines of white marked the tears that scored his cheeks. “This is our…” The flash of fused teeth. “Our triumph.”

He shrunk, seemed to huddle into his cupped palms. Great silent sobs wracked him.

Embarrassed looks are traded by the humans. Everything looks strange, too, the shadows not lining up. Maybe a trick of the light or maybe not. “It was as if everyone stood in the unique light of some different morning, noon, or twilight.” Only Cleric, though, looks like he belongs here. Lord Kosoter kneels at Cleric’s side, putting his hand on the Nonman’s back and whispers to him. Sarl looks shocked by the intimacy of their captain’s action. Then the Nonman hisses out, “Yessss!”

“This is just a fucking place,” Sarl growled. “Just another fucking place…”

All of them could feel it, Achamian realized, looking from face to stricken face. Some kind of dolour, like the smoke of some hidden, panicked fire, pinching them, drawing their thoughts tight… But there was no glamour he could sense. Even the finest sorceries carried some reside of their artifice, the stain of the Mark. But there was nothing here, save the odour of ancient magicks, long dead.

Then, with a bolt of horror, he understood. The tragedy that had ruined these halls stalked them still. Cil-Aujas was a topoi. A place where hell leaned heavy against the world.

Achamian says this place is haunted but is cut off by Kiampas telling everyone to shut up. This is a dangerous place. All those companies had vanished in here. They might have Cleric and a guide, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lose control. They need to be ready to fight. It’s “a slog, boys, as deadly as any other.” Xonghis agrees from the rear. He picks up the bone of a dead Sranc that’s been eaten. More bones little the floor like “sticks beneath silt.” Lord Kosoter still whispers to Cleric, but the words sound hateful, complaining of a “miserable wretch.” Achamian stares at the wolves towering over the black hole and feels something.

When he blinked, he saw yammering figures from his Dreams.

A scalper asks what eats Sranc. At that moment, they realized that all the other companies saw this portent and still march on deeper. “Never to be seen again.” Then Galian wants to know why the gates have no doors.

But questions always came too late. Events had to be pushed past the point of denial; only then could the pain of asking begin.

They sleep near the Wolf Gate, Achamian’s light glowing down on them to “provide the illusion of security.” Kiampas arranges sentries while Cleric sits alone. Lord Kosoter falls asleep immediately, though Sarl sits beside him muttering insanely. Achamian sits by Mimara who stares at his light. She asks if he can read the script. He says no and she mocks his knowledge. He says no one can read it and realizes she’s teasing him.

“Remember this, Mimara.”

“Remember what?”

“This place.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s old. Older than old.”

“Older than him?” she asked, nodding towards the figure of Cleric sitting in the pillared gloom.

His momentary sense of generosity drained away. “Far older.”

They grow silent while Mimara stares at the Cleric. She asks what’s wrong with him. Achamian realizes he’s afraid to even think about Cleric let alone talk about him. He’s an Erratic and “every bit as perilous as traveling these halls, if not more so.” It reminds Achamian just how far he’ll go to unmasks Kellhus and all the lives he’s willing to risk. He tells her to hush and that Nonman has better hearing. He is irritated by Mimara’s presence. She threatens his twenty years of work, risking all “for a hunger she could never sate.” She switches to Ainoni and asks him to speak in a tongue he doesn’t know. He asks her if she was taken to Ainoni.

The curiosity faded from her eyes. She slouched onto her mat and turned without a word—as he knew she would. Silence spread deep and mountainous through the graven hollows. He sat rigid.

When he glanced up he was certain he saw Cleric’s face turn away from them…

Back to the impenetrable black of Cil-Aujas.

Achamian drams of the Library of Sauglish burning. Skafra, a dragon, swoops over it. Only it’s not Seswatha he’s dreaming as. It’s himself hanging all alone in the skies. “Where was Seswatha?”

The next day, they find a boy’s mummified corpse huddled like a kitten against the wall. There are offerings to Yatwer around his body meaning he had been here for a while. Soma added a coin and prays in his native tongue. He then looks to Mimara to see if she saw his “gallantry.” Achamian warns her to watch out for Soma. This is the first time they’ve spoken since last night. He finds it absurd considering the circumstances but “the small things never went away, no matter how tremendous the circumstances.” She disagrees saying it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about. Those men bide their time. She learned that in the Ainoni whorehouse. As they speak, some of the scalpers are arguing over who and how the child had died, sparking a sense of normalcy to the group.

The group continues. The scalpers, weirdly, start talking about which “trades were the hardest on the hands.” In the end, deciding to count feet, that fullers had it the worst spending their day in piss. (The ammonia in stale piss is used to wash clothes and the fullers mash the clothes up with their feet). Soma claims he saw a no-armed beggar. No one believes him since he always is telling stories. Galian has to outdo him saying he saw a headless beggar. That brings some laughter. Pokwas tells more chokes and everyone is laughing.

Judging by her expressions, Mimara found the banter terribly amusing, a fact not lost on the scalpers—Somandutta in particular. Achamian, however, found it difficult to concede more than a smile here and there, usually at turns that escaped the others. He could not stop pondering the blackness about them, about how garish and exposed they must sound to those listening in the deeps. A gaggle of children.

Someone listened. Of that much he was certain.

Someone or something.

Cleric, Lord Kosoter at his side, leads them through a labyrinth of the underground city. Some passages are straight or others are serpentine. The place smells of a tomb but the air is more than breathable, though “something animal within him cried suffocation.” He figures it’s the lack of sky and not his earlier fear. Soon, the joking falls into silence.

Water roars and they entered into a large room with a waterfall. Cleric leads them into a shrine. There are animals on the friezes that look more like demons to the scalpers. “It wasn’t monsters that glared from the walls, he knew, but rather the many poses of natural beasts compressed into one image.” The Nonman used to be obsessed with time especially “the way the present seemed to bear the past and future within it.”

Long lived, they had worshiped Becoming… the bane of Men.

The company refills their waterskins while Achamian drags Mimara around the room to stare at all the images. There are indents worn into the wall from Nonmen foreheads. Mimara asks what they pray to. He spots Cleric standing with his head bald, before a statue of a Nonman on a throne. The Nonman is speaking in his language to the statute, not praying. Achamian starts translating what he says. He is speaking to the king, saying how strong and mighty he is and then asking, “Where is your judgment now?”

The Nonman began laughing in his mad, chin-to-breast way. He looked to Achamian, smiled his inscrutable white-lipped smile. He leaned his head as though against some swinging weight. “Where is it, eh, Wizard?” he said in the mocking way he often replied to Sarl’s jokes. His features gleamed like hand-worn soapstone.

“Where does all the judgment go?”

Then without warning, Cleric turned to forge alone into the black, drawing his spectral light like a wall-brushing gown. Achamian gazed after him, more astounded than mystified. For the first time, it seemed, he had seen Cleric for what he was… Not simply a survivor of this ruin, but of a piece with it.

A second labyrinth.

Mimara asks who the Nonman on the throne is. He says the greats of their kings, Cû’jara-Cinmoi. She asks how he can tell since they all look exactly the same. He says they can tell the difference between each other. She asks how he knows, though. He points out it’s written on the throne. He cuts off her next question, saying he has to think. He’s worried since their lives are in an Erratic’s hand. “To someone who was not only insane but literally addicted to trauma and suffering.” Cleric says he’s Incariol, but Achamian still wonders who he is and “what would he do to remember.”

Kuss voti lura gaial, the High Norsirai would say of their Nonmen allies during the First Apocalypse. “Trust only the thieves among them.” The more honourable the Nonman, the more likely he was to betray—such was the perversity of their curse. Achamian had read accounts of Nonmen murdering their brothers, their sons, not out of spite, but because their love was so great. In a world of smoke, where the years tumbled into oblivion, acts of betrayal were like anchors; only anguish could return their life to them.

The present, the now that Men understood, the one firmly fixed at the fore of what was remembered, no longer existed for the Nonmen. They could find its semblance only in the blood and screams of loved ones.

Beyond the shrine, they move through a residential area. They soon find a thoroughfare that moved through the heart of the mountain. Seswatha had walked through them two thousand years ago and Achamian mourns what was lost. They are walking through the part of the mansion where the Nonmen had built their palaces and shown off their riches. Now it’s all ruined and the scalpers finally realize the scale of the place and how vulnerable they are to attacks.

They camp for the night, a few of the more adventurous poking around the nearby streets but staying within the sorcerous light. They start making camp, the scalpers sleeping in armor. Achamian finds himself with Galian and Pokwas. They ask him questions, clearly the pair had worked to corner him to get some answers out of the sorcerer. They’re eager to know about dragons and if one lived in here.

“Men have little to fear from dragons,” he [Achamian] explained. “Without the will of the No-God, they are lazy, selfish creatures. We Men are too much trouble for them. Kill one us today, and tomorrow you have a thousand hounding you.”

Galian asks if any dragons live and he says they certainly do. Many survived and they’re immortal. Galian presses and asks if you wander into its lair. The Wizard answers that they would just wait to leave. Especially if they think you have strength. Galian is still not convinced but Pokwas gets mad and says they’re not wild animals who would attack not knowing they’re a mistake. Dragons are smart. Achamian confirms that. He feels a reluctance to speak. Not shyness but, he soon realizes, shame. He didn’t want to be like the scalpers. Worse, he didn’t want their trust or admiration, which he’s now earned because they “risked their lives for his lie.”

Pokwas then asks what happened to the Nonmen, clearly worried about Cleric. Achamian is confused since he’s told this but Galian asks why their race has dwindled. Achamian grows angry at the belief of these men and snaps about how their Tusk calls Nonmen “False Men.” They’re cursed and their ancestors destroyed many of the Mansions out of religious fervor. Pokwas is confused, saying the Nonmen were already broken when the Five Tribes crossed the mountains. What did that to them. Achamian says the Inchoroi, and Galian asks if he means the Consult.

Achamian stared at the man, not quite stunned, but speechless all the same. That mere scalper could mention the Consult with the same familiarity as he might mention any great and obvious nation seemed beyond belief. It was a sign, he realized, of just how profoundly the world had changed during his exile. Before, when he still wore the robes of a Mandate Schoolman, all the Three Seas had laughed at him and his dire warnings of the Second Apocalypse. Golgotterath. The Consult. The Inchoroi. These had been names of his disgrace, utterance that assured the mockery and condescension of any who might listen. But now…

Now they were religion… The holy gospel of the Aspect-Emperor.

Kellhus.

Achamian explains that this was before the Consult and talks about the thousand-year-long war between the Nonmen and the Inchoroi. Achamian finds himself feeling the same awe as the scalpers as he discussed this in Cil-Aujas. “Voices could stir more than the living from slumber.” This causes Achamian not to be long-winded but concise, speaking about the Womb-Plague and the “bones of the survivors’ immortality.” Galian, it turns out, had trained for the Ministrate so knew much of this. As he spoke, he would keep an eye on Mimara. She’s talking with Soma. He’s very sociable and absurdly confident, the effects of his caste-noble upbringing. If they were at a king’s court, he would be a fawning courtier. Though he seems harmless, Achamian won’t let his guard down around the scalpers.

Galian asks why he hunts Sranc. He can’t imagine it’s the money since they all spend what they make in vice right away. Galian says Xonghis leaves his money with the Custom House. Pokwas cuts off Galian’s explanation saying Xonghis will never spend it.

But Galian was shaking his head. “Your question, sorcerer, is not so wise. Scalpers scalp. Whores whore. We never ask one another why. Never.”

“We even have a saying,” Pokwas added in his resonance, accented voice. “‘Leave it to the slog.’”

Achamian smiled. “It all comes back to the slog, does it?”

“Even kings,” Galian replied with a wink, “shod their feet.”

They then start talking about mundane stuff, arguing over inane things in “good-natured rivalry.” Just a way to pass the time. Achamian thought it strange that Cil-Aujas would be the host to such petty words after all these eons. “Perhaps that was why the entire company seemed to fall mute sooner than their weariness merited.” They can tell there are ears that are listening. Soma looks disappointed when Mimara settles down to sleep beside Achamian, like she had every night since joining the scalpers. This night, the pair end up sleeping face to face which feels uncomfortably intimate to Achamian and doesn’t bother Mimara. It reminds him how Esmenet could sit around casually nude talking about sex the way a professional would his craft.

“So many calluses where he had only tender skin.

Mimara is awed by how much effort it took to carve all those images. He says that they only started piling all those images on each other when they began forgetting. It’s their history. She asks why not paint a mural and he says they can’t see paintings. She frowns. She might get angry easy but she looks like she’ll be fair with what he says. “The Nonmen may resemble us, Mimara, but they are far more different than you can imagine.” She finds that frightening.

An old warmth touched him then, one that he had almost forgotten: the feeling carrying another, not with arms or loves or even hopes, but with knowledge. Knowledge that made wise and kept safe.

“At last,” he said, closing eyes that smiled. “She listens.”

He felt her fingers press his shoulder, as though to poke in friendly rebuke but really just to confirm. Something swelled through him, then, something that demanded he keep his eyes shut in the presence of sleep.

Had had been lonely, he realized. Lonely.

These past twenty years…

Achamian dreams of High King Celmomas telling Seswatha about Ishuäl where Celmomas’s “line can outlive me.” Seswatha thinks it’s not needed, confidence in the Ordeal being successful. They even have Nil’giccas, the Nonman king, with them. Seswatha asks if he stocked it with beer or concubines, and he says seeds. The High King smile falls and he says he hadn’t wanted to believe Seswatha, but now that he does believe. But he trails off, saying it’s just a premonition that has him worried.

This concerns Seswatha and says a king’s premonitions should “never be taken likely.” They are then interrupted by a young Nau-Cayûti who jumps into his father’s lap. Celmomas jokingly cajoles his son by saying, “What warrior leaps blindly into the arms of his foe?”

The boy chortled in the grinding way of children fending fingers that tickle. “You’re not my foe, Da!”

“Wait till you get older!”

The boy fights off the tickles. Achamian starts laughing, calling the boy a wolf. Nau-Cayûti finds a scroll in his father’s pocket and asks if it’s for him. Nope. It’s a “great and powerful secret” for Uncle Seswa. The boy begs to give it to Seswatha and, humoring his son, Celmomas agrees. The boy runs over and climbs into Seswatha’s lap saying, “Tell me, Uncle Seswa. Tell-me-tell-me! Who’s Mimara!”

Achamian bolted from his blanket with a gasp…

…only to find Incariol kneeling over him the deep shadow. A line of light rimmed his scalp and the curve of his cheek and temple; his face was impenetrable otherwise.

The Wizard made to scramble backward, but the Nonman clasped his shoulder with a powerful hand. The bald head lowered in apology, but the face remained utterly obscured in shadow. “You were laughing,” he whispered before turning away.

Achamian could only squint, slack-mouthed.

As dark as it was, he was certain that Cleric had sobbed as he drew away.

Achamian wakes up feeling far older. Every bit of him aches. He is envious of the Skin Eaters moving about with ease as they readied to depart. Worse, he’s horrified to realize he is in fact in Cil-Aujas and it wasn’t a dream. He feels the weight of the earth over him. Mimara asks him three times what’s wrong and “he decided he hated the young.” He envies their strength and their “certainty of ignorance.” He imagines them dancing happily down the halls while he limps after them. So make it worse, Soma treats him like a mule needing to be goaded. He snaps at him and regrets it as people laugh and feels a petty satisfaction for his retort even as he wonders if he’s getting a cold.

This does drive him into picking up his stuff. As he falls into the rhythm of marching, he relaxes and his mood improves, proving an old aphorism “one need only walk to escape them.” As he walks, he struggles to remember what Seswatha knew about Cil-Aujas, building a map in his mind. But it’s hazy. Even when Seswatha had been here, the place had been mostly abandoned. Still, Achamian thinks Cleric knows where they’re going. He feels they’re closer to the northern exit.

Within a watch, they leave behind the residential area and are back in the tunnels covered in friezes. This opens into a huge room that’s dark presses in, squeezing the party close together out of nervousness. Still, though it’s unnerving, Achamian feels relieved because this must be the Repositorium where the Nonmen “had shelved their dead like scrolls.” This proves Cleric knows where they’re going because Achamian knows where this place lies.

It takes time to cross the distance seeing nothing but the dust around their ankle. At one point, Cleric stops them and they just stand there listening to nothing. Not long after, they pass bones lying scattered. They’re so ancient they crumble. Evidence of a battle that had been fought here. Sarl laughs to cheer up his “boys” but no one responds.

Suddenly, they find a slop of debris blocking them. This is surprising to Cleric who starts talking with Kosoter. They can’t tell how big this obstruction is. Asward, one of the Scalpers, begins to babble in fear. Sarl watches as Galian and Xonghis try to talk the man down looking ready to kill the panicking man for breaking the Rule of the Slog.

Tired and annoyed, Achamian simply walked into the blackness, leaving his sorcerous light hanging behind him. When Mimara called out, he simply waved a vague hand. The residue of death stirred no horror in him—it was the living he feared. The blackness enveloped him, and when he turned, he was struck by an almost gleeful sense of impunity. The Skin Eaters clung to their little shoal of light, peered like orphans into the oceans of dark. Where they had seemed so cocksure and dangerous on the trail, now they looked forlorn and defenseless, a clutch of refugees desperate to escape the calamities that pursued them.

This, Achamian thought to himself, is how Kellhus sees us…

Knowing his voice chanting the words of sorcerery from the dark would frighten them, he wants to remind the scalpers who he was. He conjures the Bar of Heaven. A light so bright it revealed the entirety of the room. “The ruined cemetery of Cil-Aujas.” This reveals the debris before them is the collapsed ceiling. “The way was barred.” Lord Kosoter doesn’t seem pleased as the light goes out. Kiampas orders them to pitch camp though it was impossible to say if a day had passed.

Mimara grabs Achamian arm and, greedily, asks to learn that. He realizes she’s going to pester him for hours with her questions. For the first time, he feels like her interest is genuine and not angry calculations. “To be a student required a peculiar kind of capitulation, a willingness not simply to do as one was told, but to surrender the movements of one’s soul to the unknown complexities of another’s.” To let yourself be “remade.” He can’t resist being a teacher despite his misgivings.

But it’s not the time. He gently tells pushes her aside because he has to speak with Cleric and find out if the Nonman knew another way out or if they had to head back the way they came and abandon his mission. Worse, if Cleric pretends he knows a way or isn’t remembering things right, they will most likely die. As he’s explaining this to Mimara, Lord Kosoter grabs Achamian, pissed at the wizard’s antics.

It was impossible not to be affected by the man’s dead gaze, but Achamian found himself returning his stare with enough self-possession to wonder at the man’s anger. Was it simple jealousy? Or did the famed Captain fear that awe of another might undermine his authority?

Mimara comes to Achamian’s defense, asking if they should have just stumbled about blind. Lord Kosoter glances at her, making Mimara pale in fear. Achamian, however, agrees to not do anything else like that. Lord Kosoter maintains the stare for a few more heartbeats then glances at the Wizard and nods. Not at Achamian’s concession, but that Mimara will suffer in his place.

Your sins, the dead eyes whispered. Her damnation.

The scalpers sit around their fires. Lord Kosoter ran her whetstone across his sword, acting indifferent “as though he sat with a relative’s hated children.” The chatter is quiet, more whispers between people sitting beside each other. No one talks about their dire circumstances. Soon, though, everyone is quiet and stares at Cleric.

He suddenly stands up and says he remembers. Achamian thinks he means how to get them through Cil-Aujas but then he sees how the others react. Sarl is staring at Achamian and not Cleric as if to say “Now you shall understand us!”

“You ask yourselves,” Cleric continued, his shoulders slumped, his great pupils boring into the flames. “You ask, “What is this that I do? Why have I followed unknown men, merciless men, into the deeps?’ You do not ask yourself what it means. But you feel the question—ah, yes! Your breath grows short, your skin clammy. Your eyes burn for peering into the black, for looking to the very limit of your feeble vision…”

His voice was cavernous, greased with inhuman resonance. He spoke like one grown weary of his own wisdom.

Fear. This is how you ask the question. For you are Men, and fear is ever the way of your race questions great things.”

He speaks of a wise man, though he’s not sure if it was a year or a thousand years ago. He asked the wise man why humans feared the dark. The wise man says it’s because the darkness is “ignorance made visible” and men prize ignorance but only so long as they do not see it. Cleric sounds accusatory, a preacher castigating his flock. He explains how Nonmen find the dark holy, or they used to “before time and treachery leached all the ancient concerns from our souls…” Galian is shocked, asking about that. Cleric smiles.

“Of course… Think on it, my mortal friend. The dark is oblivion made manifest. And oblivion encircles us always. It is the ocean, and we are naught but silvery bubbles. It leans all about us. You see it every time you glimpse the horizon—though you know it not. In the light, our eyes are what blinds us. But in the dark—in the dark!—the line of the horizon opens… opens like a mouth… and oblivion gapes.”

Though the Nonman’s expression seemed bemused and ironic, Achamian, with his second, more ancient soul, recognized it as distinctively Cunoroi—what they called noi’ra, bliss in pain.

“You must understand,” Cleric said. “For my kind, holiness begins where comprehension ends. Ignorance stakes us out, marks our limits, draws the line between us and what transcends. For us, the true God is the unknown God, the God that outruns our febrile words, our flattering thoughts…”

He trails off. Only a few scalpers look Cleric in the eye. Most stare at the fire, the only thing making a sound. Then Cleric asks if they now understand why this journey is holy, a prayer. No one even breathed. “Have any of you ever knelt so deep?” After a few heartbeats, Pokwas asks how can they pray to something they don’t understand. Cleric scoffs at there being prayer. There is only worship of “that which transcends us by making idols of our finitude, our frailty…” He trails off and slumps.

Achamian fights his scowl. “To embrace mystery was one thing, to render it divine was quite another.” The words are too close to something that Kellhus believed and different from Nonmen mystery cults. Achamian can’t believe he’s never heard of Incariol before considering the depth of Cleric’s mark and how there are only a thousand or so Nonmen left alive.

Sarl makes a joke about the Nonmen’s god swallowing them while Lord Kosoter had spent the sermon sharpening his sword “as though he were the reaper who would harvest the Nonman’s final meaning.” Finally, he finishes and sheaths his sword. The fire makes his bearded face look demonic.

A sparking air of expectancy—the Captain spoke so rarely it always seemed you heard his voice for the first vicious time.

But another sound spoke in his stead. Thin, as if carried on a thread, exhausted by echoes…

The shell of a human sound. A man wailing, where no man should be.

With a new Bar of Heaven lighting the Repositorium, the scalpers search for the source of the cry. Cleric had pointed at the direction of the sound. No one speaks as they march in a line. They spend almost a watch walking. The darkness grows as they get further from the light. They don’t speak, sword and shields at the ready.

And the might Repositorium gaped on and on.

They find a man kneeling and staring at the Bar of Heaven. They encircle him, nervous. He doesn’t seem aware of them. He is covered in blood. Sarl yells at them to form a perimeter. Achamian, holding Mimara behind him, and the Captain approached with the other officers. Mimara notes the madman is holding onto a woman’s severed hand. Kiampas recognizes the man as a member of the Bloody Picks. That makes the men flinch then he croons to the severed hand that he had promised her light.

Xonghis asks what happened. The man is confused and Xonghis presses for more, asking about Captain Mittades. The man starts to stutter, struggling to speak, then babbles about how it’s too dark to see the blood. “You could only hear it!” the man cries. Sarl asks who he heard dying.

“There’s no light inside,” the man sobbed. “Our skin. Our skin is too thick. It wraps—like a shroud—it keeps the blackness in. And my heart—my heart!—it looks and looks and it can’t see!” A shower of spittle. “There’s nothing to see!”

He begins having a seizure and rants how you can only see by touch, waving the woman’s hand. He held onto Gamarrah’s hand. He never let go of her. He shrikes that he held on. Lord Kosoter rams his sword through the madman. The severed hand rolls away from the dead man’s grip.

Lord Kosoter spat. In a hiss that was almost a whisper, he said, “Sobber.”

Sarl’s face crunched into a wheezing laugh. “No sobbers!” he cried, bending his voice to the others. “That’s the Rule. No sobbers on the slog!”

Achamian glances around. Cleric stands with his mouth open as if tasting the air and Xonghis and Kiampas have expressionless faces Achamian wants to fake. He knows something is wrong. He tells Xonghis to cut the man open. Achamian needs to see his heart, the madman’s words echoing in his mind. Sarl orders Xonghis to do it while Lord Kosoter watches. He uses his heavy knife to crack open the ribs and then cuts out the heart. As he washes it, he suddenly stops and notices a scar or suture. He pushes it open.

A human eye stared at them.

Sarl curses and stumbles back. Xonghis carefully puts it on the man’s stomach as Kiampas asks what is going on. Achamian looks at Cleric and asks if he remembers the way. Cleric, after a moment, says yes while Kiampas wants to know what is going on and how Achamian knew. He answers, “This place is cursed.” Kiampas is not satisfied. He wants answers. Achamian starts to explain.

“What happened here—”

“Means nothing,” Lord Kosoter grated, his voice and manner as menacing as the dead eye watching. “There’s nothing here but skinnies. And they’re coming to shim our skulls.”

That settles matters. They don’t discuss it, but they all knew something had happened. Sarl keeps stalking about how Sranc had killed the Bloody Picks, but the Skin Eaters had Lord Kosoter and two “light-spitters.” He continues about how this is the “slog of all slogs” and nothing will stop them from getting to the Coffers.

Certainly not skinnies.

However, those who saw the heart trade worried looks. They can feel the threat of this place now. Mimara clutches at Achamian’s hand. She stares upward at the dark ceiling and seems young and fragile. He notices her skin is lighter than Esmenet’s and wonders who Mimara’s father was and why she had overcome the whore-shell’s magic to be born.

They would survive this, he told himself. They had to survive this.

They head back, the men left behind to watch the pack animals had worked themselves into a fright. Sarl and Kiampas orders them to ready to march despite how everyone is exhausted. “There would be no more sleep in the Black Halls of Cil-Aujas.” Hell is invading.

Achamian is hesitant to dispel his bar despite how maintaining it takes some concentration. As they ready to leave, Mimara asked what this is but he says nothing and releases the Bar of Heaven. Sarl then announces the plan he and Lord Kosoter had come up with, saying odds are this place is huge and they won’t run into what killed the Bloody Picks, but they’re marching “on the sharp.” They’ll march like ghosts.

These words, Achamian was quite certain, had been directed at him.

The walk around the collapse and leave it behind. Mimara presses him for answers on the eye. She saw no Sorcery. He asks what she knows of the Plains of Mengedda and what the First Holy War found there. She talks about how the earth vomited the dead. He is momentarily remembering how he and Esmenet fled the Plains and camped by themselves. They had loved each other.

And declared themselves man and wife.

He says this place is like Mengedda. She makes a sarcastic remark like that explained anything. He explains how the boundary between here and the Outside are breaking down and that this is a topoi. “We literally walk the verge of Hell.” She doesn’t immediately answer and he thinks he silenced her.

“You mean the Dialectic,” she said after several thoughtful steps. “The Dialectic of Substance and Desire…”

Achamian is shocked to hear her say that phrase and sarcastically says she’s read Ajencis. That work was one of the philosopher’s great treaties on metaphysics. He saw the difference between the World and the Outside was in degrees. “Where substance in the World denied desire—save where the latter took the form of sorcery—it became ever more pliant as one passed through the spheres of the Outside, where the dead-hoarding realities conformed to the wills of the Gods and Demons.” Mimara starts talking about how Kellhus had encouraged her to read from his library. She thought she could be like her father. She’s looking for pity but he feels bitter and asks who that would be.

They walked without speaking for what seemed a long while. It was odd the way anger could shrink the great frame of silence into a thing, nasty and small, shared between two people. Achamian could feel it, palpable, binding them pursed lip to pursed lip, the need to punish the infidelities of the tongue.

Why did he let her get the best of him?

As they walk through the Repositorium, Achamian wonders if they’re not walking deeper into hell. He distracts himself by thinking about what he’s read about the Afterlife both from the Tusk and other treaties. He even wonders if Kellhus truly went into the Outside as rumors suggest. The entire time, Mimara walks beside him and he could ask her if Kellhus truly has the severed heads of demons hanging from his belt. If he asked, it would heal the hurt, but he had tried not to learn her opinions. “The simple act of asking would say much.”

Instead, he rubbed his face, muttering curses. What kind of rank foolishness was this? Pining over harsh words to a cracked and warped woman!

Mimara breaks the silence by saying Achamian doesn’t trust the Nonman. He adopts an expression of “annoyance and mystification.” It’s his “Mimara-face.” But he realizes she’s making the overtures of peace. He tells her, brusquely, it’s not the tame. He’s shocked she could care about that given what was happening around them. He thinks this makes her seem crazier. That’s the problem. She’s smart but her personality is broken. She doesn’t give up and asks if it’s his Mark that makes Achamian afraid.

Achamian instead mumbles a song from his childhood. He misses those innocent times as Mimara says when she glimpses Cleric out of the corner of her eye he appears “like something monstrous, a shambling wreck, black and rotted and… and…”

Horror at her words focuses her attention on him. She gives him a helpless look, failing to better describe. Then he asks her is she can “taste his [Cleric’s] evil.” She always not always. Then he continues on that he sometimes looks that way to her as well. She asks if he sees the same.

He shook his head in a way he hoped seemed lackadaisical. “No. What I see is what you see typically, the shadow of ruin and decay, the ugliness of the deficient and incomplete. You’re describing something different. Something moral as opposed to merely aesthetic.” He paused to catch his breath. What new madness was this? “What antique Mandate scholars called the Judging Eye.”

He watches to see if that pleases her but he sees concern. She’s been worried about this for a while. She asks what it is. He tells her that she sees sin. He starts laughing. She grows indignant at that. He is laughing at the irony of her having this power and being Kellhus’s step-daughter. She proves that Kellhus has lied about the Old Law being revoked. He remembers the Mandate Catechism: “Though you lose your soul, you shall gain the world.”

“Think,” he continued. “If sorcerery is no longer abomination, then…”Let her think it was this, he told himself. Perhaps it would even serve to… discourage her. “Then why would you see it as such?”

Achamian realizes they’ve stopped walking and the Skin Eaters have left them behind. He can just see them at the edge of his light, Cleric’s even dimmer. He’s alone with Mimara. “Silence sealed them as utterly as the blackness.” She admits that she knows there’s something wrong with what she sees. It’s not how any book she’s read described the Mark. She explains that “when I see it, it burns so… so… I mean, it strikes me so much deeper than at any other time.” This feeling is too strong not to have been recorded. She thought something was wrong with her. Achamian is shaken by not only having her show up but that she can see the damnation of sorcery. He thought the Whore of Fate had left him alone.

“And now you’re saying,” she began hesitantly, “that I’m a kind of… proof?” She blinked in the stammering manner of people find their way through unsought revelations. “Proof of my stepfather’s falsity?”

She was right… and yet what more proof did he, Drusas Achamian, need? That night twenty years ago, on the eve of the First Holy War’s final triumph, the Scylvendi Chieftain had told him everything, given him all the proof he would ever need, enough to fuel decades of bitter hate—enough to deliver these scalpers to their doom. Anasûrimbor Kellhus was Dûnyain, and the Dûnyain cared for naught but domination. Of course he was false.

It was for her sake that the Wizard trembled. She possessed the Judging Eye.

He remembers that night where they had sex and how sordid it was. He sees her as a pale image of her mother that he’s delivered unto this torment. He says they have more immediate concerns. Cleric. She doesn’t agree but he has to be careful how he tells her about her ability. As he does, he sees the irony that he has to protect everyone from Cleric’s madness while leading everyone to their deaths. He tells her he’s Ishroi, a noble. She can tell he’s hiding something because he’s talking about his fears to her, something he doesn’t do.

He tells her how Ishroi are remembered in history. He’s never heard of Incariol, not even in the Nonmen’s Pit of Years. She glances to Cleric’s light in the distance, making the Skin Eaters shadows moving in the dark.

They had traveled past the point of study grounds.

Resigned, she says the Judging Eye is a curse. Achamian can feel fate driving him forward. He’s not in control of what’s happening. He feels trapped by them. He says he only knows legends about it. Instead of answering, he points out they’re getting left behind. Then they realize Sarl is in the dark watching them. He says they’ll speak later. Mimara glares “naked fury” at Sarl.

Wanting to head off any confrontation, he tells her to take his light. She’s shocked, but he says she can “grasp it with your soul, even without any real sorcerous training…” She should already feel the possibility of doing it.

For the bulk of his life, Achamian had shared his calling’s contempt of witches. There was no reason for this hatred, he knew, outside of the capricious customs of the Three Seas. Kellhus had taught him as much, one of the many truths he had used to better deceive. Men condemned others to better celebrate themselves. And what could be easier to condemn than women?

But as he watched her eyes probe inward, he was struck by the practicality of her wonder, the way her expression made this novelty look like a recollection. It was almost as if women possessed a kind of sanity that men could only find on the fir side of tribulation. Witches, he found himself thinking, were not only a good thing, they could very well be a necessity. Especially the witch-to-be before him.

She can feel it. Sarl just watches, and Achamian is grateful that he has a chance to explain this to her. He says it’s the Surillic Point, a small Cant. He explains how she can focus on it, how to take it, as if she was walking together with it. For a while, it’ll be difficult, but she’ll get used to it “like any other reflex.” She grabs it and almost trips in her excitement. Then she marches past Sarl not hiding her contempt as she heads to catch up with the others with grace.

And she glowed, the old Wizard thought, not only against the stalking black, but against so man memories of harm.

Achamian moves to Sarl, the pair falling more and more into darkness, and asks what the man wants. It’s a message from Lord Kosoter. Achamian fights the urge to punch the man, a common reaction when he’s near Sarl. The message is that Achamian is too honest and arrogant. Achamian repeats those words. “There was something deadening about the discourse of fools.” He’s losing patience. Sarl then says he and Achamian are “learned men” which he scoffs out. Sarl bemoans his diplomacy being met with rudeness. He then explodes, snarling, “Fine fucking words spoken to fine fucking fools!”

Achamian believes Sarl is a threat. That the man is mad. He contemplates killing him with sorcery. Sarl berates Achamian for lighting up the Repositorium. Lord Kosoter knew what this place was and didn’t need Achamian scaring the men. The darkness was a shield. Sarl then tells Achamian to remember the first rule.

There was reason in what he was saying. But then that was the problem with reason: It was as much a whore as Fate. Like rope, you could use it to truss or snare any atrocity…

Another lesson learned at Kellhus’s knee.

He asks what is the first rule. “The Captain always knows.” Achamian realizes that Sarl worships Lord Kosoter. It disgusts Achamian to be marching with fanatics again. Achamian shouts belligerently asking if Sarl thinks he can intimidate him. He’s a Holy Veteran like Kosoter. “I have spat at the feet of the Aspect-Emperor himself!” He has his Gnosis and Sarl thins to threaten him. But Sarl just says you’re outside your expertise. “This is the slog, not the Holy War…” or a school. He explains their survival depends on all of them having resolve. Achamian risks breaking the men and dragging them all down. This is his only warning.

Achamian knew he should be polite, conciliatory, but he was too weary, and too much had happened. Wrath had flooded all the blind chambers of his heart.

“I am not one of you! I am not a Schoolman, and I am certainly not a Skin Eater! This is, my friend, is not your—”

His anger sputtered, blew away and outward like smoke. Horror plunged in.

Sarl takes a few more steps before he realizes that they’re not alone. He asks what it is. In the past, Achamian has tried to tell people what it’s like seeing the Mark, how he could see more. It’s hard to describe. Right now, he’s sensing something. He looks down and feels all the miles of tunnels beneath them. He can sense them because something is moving through them. A “constellation of absences” travels them.

Chorae…

Tears of God, at least a dozen of them, borne by something that prowled the halls beneath their feet.

The riot of thought and passion that so often heralded disaster. The apprehension of meaning to be had where no sense could be found, not because he was too simple, but because he was too small and the conspiracies were too great.

Sarl was little more than a direction in the viscous black. “Run!” the Wizard cried. “Run!”

My Thoughts

First off, we have gone to Spring and now it’s no longer the 19 New Imperial Year but 20. However, it’s still 4132 of the Tusk. So it looks like these calendars have different new years.

We all like to boast. We are rarely confronted with the situation that proves us liars. Skin Eaters are realizing they are not the biggest bads strutting around the land.

We see Sarl trying to deny this place is special, but they are all feeling it. This leads us to the chapter’s epigram. Small men like Sarl are feeling the terror. It’s going to feed the passion of revelation. What will they make of it? Right now, Sarl is clinging to the fact that places weren’t special. He’s refusing to see the things like the weird way the light only seems to fall naturally on Cleric. Only he belongs. This place recognizes the humans as interlopers.

The quote about questions always come too late is great. They’ve jumped into a situation and only now are asking questions they should have before. But it’s too late. They’re in the topoi. They’re about to walk through hell. “Terror is the passion of revelation.” Questions are only asked when fear gives you pause.

Achamian is as dangerous to the scalpers as the Nonman is. That’s why he doesn’t want to think about Cleric being an erratic. He’s using the scalpers and leading them to their deaths. Mimara, too. His obsession is as insane as Cleric’s madness.

Now that is an interesting dream. Achamian, not Seswatha, dreaming of the past. I suspect this is the effect of the topoi. It can cause weird stuff.

“…the small things never went away, no matter how tremendous the circumstances.” If there’s one thing 2020 has taught me is the truth of that statement.

The quiet ones are always thinking. They’re simmering. Bottling up their emotions.

We see that Soma, though, is taking interest in Mimara. The Skin-Spy must be figuring out she’s needed for the prophecy. (Which one, I don’t recall ever getting an answer on this, but I need to reread the later books more).

“Long-lived, they had worshiped Becoming… the bane of Men.” I am honestly not understanding what Bakker means here. The Nonmen worship Becoming. They worship the entirety of existence. The past, present, and future. They see it all at once. They want to be it all. Men don’t want to think about the future. Not really. We live in the present. We forget the past, remembering only the good stuff, and we don’t think about the future so we can do the things in the present we know are bad for ourselves.

Cleric is like a second labyrinth because he’s a Nonman, which means how he thinks is inscrutable to a human. Then he’s an Erratic after that, so even Cleric doesn’t know his own mind. He’s lost, forgotten so much that he has lost himself.

Nonmen kill because then they will remember the person they’ve killed since the betrayal will be a trauma, and those they remember after everything else has gone. It’s messed up. Cruel. They are a dead race that is just taking such a long time in dying. It’s a terrible thing the Inchoroi did to them. They killed all the women (there never seem to be female Inchoroi besides maybe their Ark), and let the men live forever to slowly become like the Inchoroi: living only for bestial needs.

Lazy dragons. It’s a good reason why they aren’t out marauding. Too much work. It sounds exhausting to me. I’d be there with those dragons.

Achamian has lived all his life with the Consult being the Mandate’s secret. What they war against and what they’re mocked for believing. Now these unlettered scalpers know about it. Know enough to ask if the Inchoroi are the Consult. That would be surreal for anyone. He has been out of the loop for twenty years. It’s like when you’re mom knows what a Karen is. Things have changed.

“Even kings […] shod their feet.” That reminds me of the origin of high-heeled shoes. There was a time, especially at the Parisian court, where a symbol of power was wearing ridiculous shoes that were not comfortable to walk in for any length of time. Men, including the king, would wear high heels to show that they didn’t have to walk around all day like the commoners.

I like this bit about Nonmen not being able to see paintings. It shows how human and Nonmen brains work differently. They have no trouble seeing an image carved to show different poses all at once as a complete entity where it seems chaotic and abstract to humans, but the ability to see shapes on flat surfaces is impossible. Pareidolia, it seems, doesn’t exist for Nonmen. Pareidolia is what lets humans see shapes in flat or flat-seeming objects like clouds or stains on the wall or a collection of oils on a canvas. Pareidolia is also what lets us read, though. So clearly the Nonmen had a way to read that used some other principal. Or, perhaps, the simplicity of their alphabet or syllabary they use is easy for them to tell apart.

I think the moment that Mimara pokes him in the shoulder they’ve become that father and daughter relationship they have for the rest of the series. He’s her step-father. Of course, it’s Bakker, so she’s pregnant with his kid. But it’s that moment where he stops being lonely. He’s missed out on his family for twenty years, what he had with Esmenet for these few months.

A father telling his son that when he’s an adult, they might be enemies. Sons have to rebel against their fathers to find their own way. They can war with each other. Maybe it never comes more to arguments, but when you’re dealing with royalty, well, sons have deposed fathers before.

So, Achamian’s dreams are blending with Seswatha’s. I am convinced Kellhus hypnotizing Achamian to speak with Seswatha broke down the walls between them. So Achamian’s desires are guiding what Seswatha dreams about and now it’s getting worse and worse. We’ll see Achamian dream as Nau-Cayûti.

I’d be terrified of walking up to a crazy Nonman over me. How long has it been since Cleric laughed? Erratics can only laugh in madness, not out of the simple joy brought about by a child’s innocence. Who wouldn’t cry deprived of those memories?

I think a watch is a few hours.

“…fear is ever the way your race questions great things.” Cleric’s quote feeds right back to our epigram from Ajencis. Fear is how we react. It’s how we’re controlled. How governments get us to go against our best interest, how media beats us into the path of knowledge they want to master. Fear is ingrained in us, our survival instinct that can be so easily twisted and abused by the callous, the greedy, and the sociopaths. Fear is what keeps the scalpers from asking themselves why they’re doing this insanity. Fear of being different. Fear of consequences of questioning why they’re doing this insanity. Fear of losing out on all the treasures of the coffers. Achamian has lied to them. He’s a merciless man leading them all to their deaths for his selfish goals.

Humans like not knowing how things work but we hate to have this pointed out to us. Every day, we use devices we do not know how they work, eat food that we do not know how they were manufactured, and receive news without understanding how the journalist crafts their narratives. We like ignorance. Being blissfully unaware just how blissfully unaware we truly are about how the world works around us. Politics, media, culture, food production, manufacturing practices, and more. That wise man was right about us humans.

The Nonmen believed in oblivion after death. This appears to be the same thing that the Inchoroi and the Dûnyain Mutilated are after. Even Kellhus, perhaps, wants oblivion. But Kellhus doesn’t want to commit genocide to achieve. Neither do the Nonmen, interestingly. At no time did they try to wipe out the humans who’s collective belief created Damnation for the entire universe.

Cleric is speaking almost Dûnyain theology. A departure from Achamian knows about the Nonmen mystery. This is another clue that Kellhus has been in contact with the Nonmen, Cleric in particular. Who is, of course, the King of Istherebinth. The last great Nonman who has fallen finally into being an Erratic. He was then placed in Achamian’s path for his mission.

Why does Kellhus want Achamian to succeed at his mission? I suspect that Kellhus always intended to die at Golgotterath. He just didn’t die the way he planned. Achamian was supposed to be the start of breaking down the mythology of Kellhus after he had accomplished his mission of ending Damnation. Or, so I think.

The Nonmen knew the direction the shout came from. Humans would have a hard time in such a vast space with all the echoes. Bakker doesn’t point this out, but it’s a nice bit of world-building about Nonmen. They like living underground. They’re a blend of dwarves and elves, so having the ability to deal with echoes would be useful.

Really want to know how long a watch is. An hour? They’re creeping along, but still, how far away was that shout if they’ve walked an hour and not found the source.

I remember reading this part the first time and finding a human eye on the guy’s heart was freaky. Bakker had really captured the eeriness of being underground. The fear and terror of the unknown and then throws somebody horror in to ramp up the tension. They’ve gone too deep and are now trapped with something evil.

Light-spitters. What a great slang for sorcerers in this world.

Mimara clutches at Achamian’s hand. Just as the woman Gamarrah had held to the dead Pick’s hand. Makes you think if the same will happen to Mimara. Nice bit of writing there. Subtle but it can eat at the back of your mind and ramp up the tension.

Achamian is really starting to see Mimara as a daughter as she holds his hand. We also see that Mimara is a fighter. She survived the birth control that should have prevented her conception.

I would be a bad wizard if I had to maintain a spell the same way as holding a number in my mind for more than a few minutes.

“Where substance in the World denied desire—save where the latter took the form of sorcery—it became ever more pliant as one passed through the spheres of the Outside, where the dead-hoarding realities conformed to the wills of the Gods and Demons.” This is probably one of the clearest descriptions of Bakker’s cosmology of his afterlife system. Substance versus Desire. And topoi, then, is where the two meet.

You could say it is the difference between Intellect and Passion. Dûnyain versus Inchoroi. And where do they meet? The No-God. The goal both the Mutilated and the Consult work towards.

I think Mimara represents everything Achamian lost when Esmenet chose Kellhus. His family. Mimara wants him to be her father, but he’s bitter because she’s not really his father. They’re both broken by Esmenet in different ways and though they get close, they can’t help but hurt each other, either.

We have our first hint of the Judging Eye from her. Seeing how damned Cleric is, when she describes what she sees out of the corner of her eye.

I think sorcery is still damned because not enough people truly believe that. I think normal people might have heard it, but in their hearts, they don’t. Most probably never really have. All those millions of peasants that just are trying to survive, many of them in the grip of old cults like the Yatwerians.

When Achamian sees Mimara as a “pale image of her mother” right after thinking about the night they had sex, he realizes she’s pregnant. It’s her destiny to have a stillborn child because she possesses the Judging Eye.

Sarl and Achamian both think the others are fools, though for a different reason. Sarl’s all about survival, and Achamian does things that endanger it because he has his Gnosis. Lighting up the Repositorium, for instance, could have drawn so much death on them if the place is full of Sranc. Sarl, of course, acts as the jester to prod and cajole and prick at people to keep them off-balance so Lord Kosoter can maintain his control. Both men have their reasons for doing things.

“There was reason in what he was saying. But then that was the problem with reason: It was as much a whore as Fate. Like rope, you could use it to truss or snare any atrocity…” This reminds me of an epigram from the first series that, essentially says, Reason is the slave to Desire. We use reason to rationalize the acts we do no matter how evil so that we can live with the fiction that we’re not evil and are doing nothing wrong.

People can be strong, but take them out of what they know, they can become weak. The intelligent foolish. And in those circles, the foolish can suddenly become wise. It’s easy for the arrogant to think they are the master of all their circumstances, but they’re not.

This was a great chapter of building tension from all sources. Cleric’s growing threat, Lord Kosoter, and the topoi around them.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Fifteen!

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When the Stormriders attack …

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Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Thirteen

Condia

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

Damnation follows not from the bare utterance of sorcery, for nothing is bare in this world. No act is so wicked, no abomination so obscene, as to lie beyond the salvation of my Name

—ANASÛRIMBOR KELLHUS, NOVUM ARCANUM

My Thoughts

So we have Kellhus’s justification for why sorcerery is cool these days. And, if I understand the rules of this world, if enough humans believe this, it will happen. We know the Inchoroi wrote the Tusk to make their task easier, and before the Tusk there were Shamans. Prophets and Sorcerer both. But then the Tusk comes along and condemns them. It’s the dominant belief, and now Sorcery is damned. However, I don’t think Kellhus accomplished his goal of actually making sorcery not damnable. Too many people still believe the opposite. Either way, he is convincing the Few that they are not going to be damned and that’s all he cares about.

Now, how does this quote relate to the chapter? Well, Sorweel is getting to know his new tutor in this chapter. A Mandate Schoolman. He’s dealing with something he considers an abomination. This is to give us the start of the New Empire’s view on it versus Sorweel’s, which he’ll be grappling with.

Is Kellhus God and thus able to make that proclamation?

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

Sorweel’s people despise scholars, calling them hunched ones and see it as a disease. None are weaker than a “hunched one.” Sorweel’s new tutor isn’t just a hunched one but a Three Seas Schoolman. This is a problem. Sorweel believes the Tusk that “sorcerers were the walking damned.” Still, he has always been secretly fascinated with sorcery. He wonders, “What kind of man would exchange his soul for that kind of diabolical power?”

As a result, Eskeles was both an insult and a kind of illicit opportunity—a contradiction, like all things Three Seas.

Not long after the day’s march started, Eskeles would begin teaching Sorweel Sheyic. It’s mind-numbing tedium. He comes to dread these lessons. He even asks Zsoronga to hide him, but the Successor-Prince betrays Sorweel, wanting to be able to speak to Horse-King without going through Obotegwa. Sorweel finds Eskeles strange. He’s fat by Sakarpi standards but there are fatter men in the Great Ordeal. Despite wearing silk and leggings, his robe is open leaving his chest exposed to the cold. But he never seems cold. He’s a friendly and merry man. He’s hard to dislike despite being a sorcerer and a Ketyai.

Eskeles learned Sakarpi while being a Mandate spy posing as Three Sea traders to the city. He says it was a dreadful time. Sorweel thinks because it doesn’t have “Southron luxuries” but it’s because of the Chorae horde. He calls them trinkets.

“Trinkets?”

“Yes. That’s what we Schoolmen like to call them—Chorae, that is. For much the same reason you Sakarpi call Sranc—what is it? Oh, yes, grass-rats.”

Sorweel frowned. “Because that’s what they are.”

Despite his good humour, Eskeles had this sly way of appraising him [Sorweel] sometimes, as if he were a map fetched from the fire. Something that had to be read around burns.

“No-no. Because that’s what you need them to be.”

Sorweel understood full well what the fat man meant—men often used glib words to shrink great and terrible things—but the true lesson, he realized, was quite different. He resolved never to forget that Eskeles was a spy. That he was an agent of the Aspect-Emperor.

Sorweel discovers learning another language is hard as he discovers grammar for the first time. He learns how his own language is constructed so he can then learn how others are. He pretends to be aloof (he is with a hunched one) but is disturbed how he could know grammar without knowing it. “And if something as profound as grammar could escape his awareness—to the point where it had simply not existed—what else was lurking in the nethers of his soul?”

So he came to realize that learning a language was perhaps the most profound thing a man could do. Not only did it require wrapping different sounds around the very movement of your soul, it involved learning things somehow already known, as though much of what he was somehow existed apart from him. A kind of enlightenment accompanied these first lessons, a deeper understanding of self.

It still was boring. Luckily, even Eskeles would tire of it by afternoon. Then Sorweel could satisfy his own curiosity. All save the one that fascinated him the most: sorcerery. He learned about the various people of the Great Ordeal. As he did, Sorweel realized that Eskeles “discussed all these people with the confidence and wicked cynicism of someone who had spent his life traveling.” And, despite being vain, Eskeles wasn’t arrogant. He’s honest about the strengths and weaknesses of each nation.

Finally, after several days, Sorweel dares to ask about Kellhus, starting with an abridged version of the emissaries to Zeüm who slit their throats. He’s awkward as he wants to know what Kellhus is. Eskeles nods as if he had worried this question would come up and tells Sorweel to come with him. Since the Kidruhil ride on the front of the left flank, it doesn’t take the pair long bore they are riding ahead of the host. They climb a knoll from where the plains stretch to the horizon, the land looking dead. No longer the green of the lands to the south. Eskeles point out and asks what is out there. He peers out and then sees the great herds of elk that cover the plains in countless numbers. Then Eskeles turns and points back at the Great Ordeal and asks what that is. He turns back and is confused. He sees countless men stretching back to the horizon.

“The Great Ordeal,” he heard himself say.

“No.”

Sorweel searched his tutor’s smiling eyes.

“This,” Eskeles explained, “this… is the Aspect-Emperor.”

Sorweel keeps staring at them but he doesn’t understand. Eskeles says there are many ways to divide up the world, saying this part belongs to this man and so on. But what if you did that with his thoughts. Where does a man’s idea begin and end? Sorweel’s brain hurts, still confused. Eskeles dismounts and starts fishing in his mule’s rump pack. He produces a small vase. Sorweel is dismissive of it as “another luxury of the Three Seas.” Eskeles tells him to come and then searches for a stone rising out of the grass. He calls the vase a philauta used for sacramental libations. As he raises it, Sorweel sees little golden tusks on it and hears something rattling inside. Sorweel flinches when Eskeles shatters it on the stone. He tells Sorweel to stud the various pieces. Eskeles picks a splinter up.

“Souls have shapes, Sorweel. Think of how I differ from you”—he raised another splinter to illustrate the contrast—“or how you differ from Zsoronga,” he said, raising yet another. “Or”—he plucked a far larger fragment—“think of all the Hundred Gods, and how they differ from one another, Yatwer and Gilgaöl. Or Momas and Ajokli.” With each name, he raised yet another coin-sized Fragment.

“Our God… the God, is broken into innumerable pieces. And this is what gives us life, what makes you, me, even the lowliest slave, sacred.” He cupped several pieces in a meaty palm. “We’re not equal, most assuredly not, but we remain fragments of God nonetheless.

He asks Sorweel if he understands. The boy does. More than he wanted. “The Kiünnatic Priests had only rules and stories—nothing like this.” Eskeles makes too much sense. He wants to object, but he can’t. Eskeles continues his lesson by asking what is the Aspect-Emperor. He gathers up a chipped replica of the original that had been inside rattling around.

“Huh?” The Schoolman laughed. “Eh? Do you see? The soul of the Aspect-Emperor is not only greater than the souls of Men, it possesses the very shape of the Ur-Soul.”

“You mean… your God of Gods.”

Our God of Gods?” the sorcerer repeated, shaking his head. “I keep forgetting that you’re a heathen! I suppose you think Inri Sejenus is some kind of demon as well!”

Sorweel feels embarrassed and says he’s trying to understand. Eskeles says they’ll discuss Inri Sejenus and says Kellhus is soul is the same shape as the God. He prompts Sorweel to say, “He is the God in small…” That terrifies Sorweel saying it. Eskeles is proud and says this is why people cut their throats for him and all these tens of thousands march behind him. “Anasûrimbor Kellhus is the God of Gods, Sorweel, come to walk among us.” This causes Sorweel to collapse to his knees. He feels fragile, on the verge of falling apart.

Eskeles continues how sorcerers used to be damned. “We Schoolmen traded a lifetime of power for an eternity of torment… But now?” Sorweel thinks of his father being killed by sorcery and wonders if Harweel is still burning from it because sorcerery is damned. However, Eskeles’s eyes are full of “uncompromising joy.” It’s the look of someone who has been rescued. He speaks with worship now.

“Now I am saved.”

Love. He spoke with love.

He keeps thinking that Kellhus is God walking among them as he eats his meal with Porsparian. “Men often make decisions in the wake of significant events, if only to pretend they had some control over their own transformations.” So Sorweel decides to ignore it, as if being rude to Eskeles would stop the process. Then the youth laughs but it peters out.

Then he finally decided to think Eskeles’s thoughts, if only to pretend they had not already possessed him. What was the harm of thinking?

As a boy, he once found a poplar seed beneath a bush. He would watch it as it slowly grew, destroying the bush in the process. When his city fell, it had become a big tree and he realizes, “There was harm in thinking.” He feels what Eskeles has spoken is true. The Mandate Schoolman’s explanation makes too much sense. That even Sorweel is a piece of God. He realizes this is why the Kiünnatic Priests had demanded Kellhus’s missionaries to be burned.

Had they been a bush, fearful of the tree in their midst?

As he lies beneath his blankets, he relieves his first meeting with Kellhus and fears that he’ll come to believe in Kellhus like the others.

When he wakes up, he feels relief instead of a clutch of fear. For a moment, there is only silence and then the Interval tolls for morning prayers. Soon there are drills and his pony is finally responding to Sakarpic riding commands. He has no problem with the drills this morning and is called Horse-King.

When chance afforded he leaned forward to whisper the Third Prayer to Husyelt into the pony’s twitching ear. “One and one are one,” he explained to the beast afterward. “You are learning, Stubborn. One horse and one man make one warrior.”

He suddenly feels shame. He’s not a man since he never has, and never will, go through his Elking. “A child forever without the shades of the dead to assist him.” He glances at the wonder of the Great Ordeal and feels small.

Later, as he’s riding with Zsoronga and Obotegwa, he asks what the Successor-Prince thinks of the Ordeal. Zsoronga thinks it’s their end. Sorweel asks if Zsoronga thinks their goal is a real one. The Ordeal believes it. He’s not sure how Sorweel sees it from his one city, but Zeüm is a nation mightier than any other and he’s never seen anything like this. No Satakhan could ever have gathered so many and marched them to the world’s end. This event will be “[r]ecalled to the end of all time.” After some silence, Sorweel asks what Zsoronga thinks of the Anasûrimbor.

The Successor-Prince shrugged, bunt without, Sorweel noticed, a quick glance around him. “Everyone ponders them. They are like the mummers the Ketyai are so found of, standing before the amphitheater of the world.”

Everyone thinks he’s a Prophet or God. Sorweel asks but what does Zsoronga think. He quotes the treaty Kellhus made with Zsoronga’s father. Kellhus is the “Benefactor of High Holy Zeüm, Guardian of the Son of Heaven’s Son.” Sorweel presses for a real answer. Zsoronga asks what Sorweel thinks about Kellhus.

“He’s so many things to so many people,” Sorweel found himself blurting. “I know not what to think. All I know is that those that time with him, any time with him whatsoever, think him some kind of God.”

As Zsoronga confers with Obotegwa in their tongue, Sorweel realizes that Zsoronga is a spy and he, Sorweel, is but a distraction to the Successor-Prince. Zsoronga looks at Sorweel like the Successor-Prince wants the Horse-King to be a trustworthy ally.

Finally, Zsoronga asks if Sorweel’s heard of Shimeh’s fall in the First Holy war. Sorweel shrugs and says not much. Zsoronga brings up Achamian’s “forbidden book.” Zsoronga explains that Achamian had been Kellhus’s teacher and that the Empress had been Achamian’s wife, stolen from him by Kellhus. He adds how Achamian declared Kellhus a fraud and a liar. Sorweel has heard something of that. Achamian only lives because “the love and shame of the Empress prevent his execution.” Zsoronga laments that while his book rings true, it’s also the bitter account of a cuckold that casts doubt on it. Still, Sorweel has to know if Achamian thought Kellhus a demon but learns he doesn’t. Sorweel begs to know exactly what Achamian, pleading his friendship with Zsoronga to get the Successor-Prince to speak.

The Successor-Prince somehow grinned and scowled at once. “You must learn, Horse-King. Too many wolves prowl these columns. I appreciate your honesty, your overture, I truly do, but when you speak like this… I… I fear for you.”

Obotegwa had softened his sovereign’s tone, of course. No matter how diligently the Obligate tried to recreate the tenor of his Prince’s discourse, his voice always bore the imprint of long and oft-examined life.

Still, Sorweel wants to know what Achamian wrote. Zsoronga finally answers him that Kellhus is a mortal man with a vast intellect that makes others seem children. Sorweel presses for more. Zsoronga says, “The important thing, he [Achamian] says, isn’t so much what the Anasûrimbor is, as what we are to him.” Sorweel is frustrated by the answer. He urges Sorweel to remember what being a child was like and how you believed nursemaid’s tales and your emotions always were on your face. How adults had molded you. Kellhus is the adult and everyone is a child.

Zsoronga dropped his reins, waved his arms out in grand gesture of indication. “All of this. This divinity. This apocalypse. This… religion he has created. They are the kinds of lies we tell children to assure they act in accord with our wishes. To make us love, to incite us to sacrifice. This is what Drusas Achamian seems to be saying.”

These words, spoken through the lense of wise and weary confidence that was Obotegwa, chills Sorweel to the pith. Demons were so much easier! This… this…

How does a child war against a father? How does a child not… love?”

This dismays Sorweel and shames him, though he realizes Zsoronga feels the same way. Sorweel then asks what Kellhus’s true goal is. Achamian never said, though Zsoronga fears they’ll learn by the end.

Sorweel dreams of his father arguing with Proyas from the earlier chapter when Proyas came to parley. They are feuding about bondage. Proyas says there is slavery that sets one frees, which Harweel denounces, “So says the slave!” Harweel shouts while burning. Sorweel thinks, “How beautiful was his [Harweel’s] damnation.”

Porsparian wakes Sorweel from his nightmare and soothes the prince. He tells the uncomprehending slave he saw his father burning. Porsparian’s touch feels grandfatherly and comforting. He asks if his father is damned. “A grandfather, it seemed, would know.” Porsparian forms the feminine face of Yatwer in the dirt of the tent floor. He then rubs dirt on his eyes and prayers, rocking back and forth “like a man struggling against the ropes that bound him.” The sun rises, lighting up the tent as the slave keeps praying. Porsparian’s movement grows jerky. Violent. He spasms and convulses. Worried, Sorweel leaps to his feet and cried out in concern.

But he feels the ritual’s rules demand he not interfere, so he just watches. Porsparian is writhing on the ground like he’s being beaten. Then, he suddenly springs upright and pulls his dirty hands from his eyes. They are stained red. Then he looks down.

Gazed at the earthen face.

Sorweel caught his breath, blinked as though to squint away the madness. Not only had the salve’s eyes gone red (a trick, some kind of trick!), somehow the mouth pressed into the soil face had opened.

Opened?

There’s water pooled in the mouth that pours into Porsparian’s palm, his eyes no longer red. “Muck trailed like blood from the pads of his [Porsparian’s] fingers.” Sorweel backs away. Suddenly, the slave seems made of river mud. He says this is spit to keep face clean. It will hide him. Suddenly, Sorweel understands that the Old Gods are protecting him. He closes his eyes and the mud is smeared on his cheeks. “He felt her spit at once soil and cleanse.”

A mother wiping the face of her beloved son.

Look at you…

Somewhere on the plain, the priests sound the Interval: a single note tolling pure and deep over landscapes of tented confusion. The sun was rising.

My Thoughts

Grass-rats. I do like that name for Sranc. Sorweel, is of course, right. We give glib names to terrible things. Or grand things. We like to minimize. Like America and England like to call the Atlantic “the Pond” as if it was just this small thing separating our two countries.

There is a lot of things humans do without thinking about it. Language is the most unique trait of our species. No other creature on earth has language. They can communicate, but even the gorillas and chimpanzees who have been taught sign language can only string together a few words to form a very basic idea. They can’t speak with the complexity and nuance of grammar. This is hard-coded into human beings when we’re young. English, despite its large vocabulary, has had its grammar flattened to an extent. You would not realize this if you only spoke English, but our complicated grammar is simple compared to a many other languages. Some can have such a complexity to it only native speakers can ever grasp its nuance. It actually seems the more a language is spoken by only a small group of people, the more and more complicated it becomes.

While Sorweel has this vast revelation about knowledge, I know when I studied German, I didn’t have any profound epiphany on the nature of reality. However, it does tie into the greater theme of the Second Apocalypse: how little men understand why they do the things they do. Language has always been a large part of the series. Just notice the appendix at the end of The Thousandfold Thought that shows the family tree of the languages of men. It also ties into the fact that sorcerery requires learning another language that buffers the purity of meaning from the way a spoken language drifts and meanders. Words change so drastically, sometimes in a generation, and can come to mean even their opposites or something wholly alien.

Eskeles has a mule like Achamian. He’s very much a surrogate for that role, teaching Sorweel while during a holy war. Only Sorweel is the opposite of the Young Prince trope that Kellhus was. Neither one of them fulfill the trope but subvert it in different ways. Sorweel never avenges his father. He dies a failure. Though, he did get the princess before the end. I think that decision is one of the reasons Serwa behaves as she does during the climax of the Unholy Consult.

We can see Eskeles’s disregard for wealth and comfort. He breaks a rather expensive looking vase without thought to teach a lesson to his pupil. Eskeles might dress in silks and be fat, but he’s a man that has lived without much and understands how possessions can weigh you down.

Ideas have no boundaries. They spill from person to person. You can’t contain them. Can’t segment them. They spread as new people encounter them and embrace them or discard them. It is honestly why the idea of “Cultural Appropriation” is such a problem. The very act of strangers coming together rubs off some of their cultures on each other. It morphs and mutates and changes into new ideas (or bad ones). The more human cultures mix and exchange, the more advancements we make. Strangers can see what is common to one group in a new light and make a breakthrough in so many different areas. Haven’t you ever been stuck on a problem only for “fresh eyes” to easily spot what you’re missing?

And now we see Baker reinforcing for us, the readers, on his world’s metaphysics. Reminding us that the God is broken into an innumerable amount of pieces, each one inside of a person and peering out through their eyes. This is why his sorcery works. Those who can use sorcery are better able to see with “God’s Eye”. It’s also how Mimara’s Judging Eye works. Destroying this Oversoul is the goal of the Consult and the Inchoroi. With it gone, so are the effects of its existence.

Namely Damnation.

Eskeles speaks with all the conviction of the newly converted. There are none more fervent than those who have abandoned their past belief in favor of a new one. To have so changed their identity takes something powerful on their psyche, so they will really embarrass the new belief. If it’s a dangerous belief, this can be bad. As Dr. James Lindsey describes it, religions can come in two flavors. Those that look up and those that look down. A religion that looks up is one that’s about self-improvement. Being a better person. A religion that looks down is concerned with making sure your neighbors are being virtuous. You could say Jesus’s teachings are an upward-facing religion but many have turned it into a downward-facing one and used it to unleash horrors like the Inquisition or the Witch Hunts. Or the Teutonic Knights’ crusades in Eastern Europe.

The poplar metaphor is fairly obvious. That’s how ideas can work. If they get past your defenses, they can sprout and change you. It can be painful, but once it starts it’s hard to stop.

The Great Ordeal will be recalled until the end of time. But who will recall it? Given how this series ends, will there be anything left? We’ll have to wait and see for the third series.

Zsoronga sees the Dûnyain as performing. That’s very interesting. He comes from a culture that enjoys performing and acting differently in their day to day life. It makes him suspicious of everyone’s actions, I assume. Doubly so of a man claiming such inhuman piety. Sorweel’s answer to that Kellhus mummers (theater acting) is on point.

I do like the added bits of the problem with going through a translator. The words just don’t have the same effect coming from another’s mouth. And why should they? Another person can’t mimic the passions of the person for whom they’re speaking.

Zsoronga’s quote about the lies we tell children in regards to a religious holy war should probably let you know Bakker’s thoughts on religion. We lie to our children to control them, and religion lies to adults for the same reason. Kellhus is just really good at lying.

“How beautiful was his [Harweel’s] damnation.” Sorweel dreams of his father’s damnation was beautiful. His father had never surrendered to Kellhus. Had never succumbed to Kellhus. Sorweel, the perpetual child, has to his new father and that shames him to no end. So he dreams of his father’s defiance and sees it as beautiful. A stubbornness to refuse to bend no matter the cost.

Notice how the mud is like blood on Porsparian’s fingers. We’ve seen in the ritual creating the White Luck Warrior the importance of menstrual blood in Yatwerian rites. And it does hide him. Even Kellhus is fooled. It just doesn’t work. We hear a lot about Narindar, holy assassins, and that is what Sorweel is. He’s being used by Yatwer to kill Kellhus. Another young man being sacrificed.

Sorweel mentions how he’ll forever be a child. That’s how Yatwer is treating him.

Want to keep reading, click here for Chapter 14!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Twelve

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Twelve

The Andiamine Heights

Welcome to Chapter Twelve of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Eleven!

Little snake, what poison in your bite!

Little snake, what fear you should strike!

But they don’t know, little snake—oh no!

They can’t see the tiny places you go…

—ZEÜMI NURSERY SONG

My Thoughts

This seems pretty clearly speaking about Kelmomas. The nursery rhyme is being dismissive of the little snake. What poison is in your bite? What fear should you strike? But this snake can go places you can’t suspect, just like Kelmomas. He moves through the palace with impunity. He slithers around and, though he’s a child and shouldn’t be feared by adults, he is killing those who stand between himself and his mother.

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

Kelmomas knows instantly that his father has returned by how people are acting. It’s a lot of subtle clues, from the Guards’ increased alertness to Apparati running around breathless. He didn’t make the connection consciously until he learned the Yatwerian Matriarch had pissed herself.

He’s come to console Mother, the secret voice said.

Kelmomas reacts badly to this. He works on his model of Momemn while wanting to deny this reality that Kellhus was here. He’s always reluctant to think about him. To plot against him. Not fear. But he finally has to face reality and heads to his mother’s apartments. He hears Inrilatas “ranting about the Gods,” his voice broken from years of shouting. He never stopped raving. He has to pass Inrilatas’s door to reach his mother’s rooms. He reaches the door and slows his breath to hear Kellhus telling Esmenet to keep Theliopa at her side. Esmenet asks if he fears skin-spies.

Their voices possessed the weary burnish of a long and impassioned conversation. But the roots of his father’s exhaustion stopped short of the deeper intonations that warbled in and out of his discourse. A heart teasing hum, and a kind of ursine growl, far too low to be consciously heard by Mother. These spoke from something as unwinded as it was inscrutable, an occluded soul, entirely hidden from lesser ears.

He manages her, the voice said. He sees through her face the way you do, only with far more clarity, and he shapes his voice accordingly.

How do you know? Kelmomas asked angrily, stung by the thought that anyone, even Farther, could see further than him. Further into her.

Kellhus says the Consult will grow increasingly desperate as the Great Ordeal marches nearer. They will use everything they have so Theliopa should stay with Esmenet all the time because only she and Maithanet can see the skin-spies. Kelmomas loves stories of skin-spies and their “wicked depredations.” He loved seeing that one getting flayed alive, though he was careful not to let Mother know that. Kelmomas knows he can see skin-spies, too, but he’ll keep it a secret. Hoping to find one and spy on it. “What a game it would make!”

He wondered who was faster…

Mother is horrified that the Consult will attack the Andiamine Heights. Kellhus says it makes sense to distract him. “But nothing distracts you,” complains Esmenet. In this moment, Kelmomas realizes his mother knows what Kellhus is. As Kellhus says he’s leaving, Kelmomas hears the pain in his mother’s voice. He’s about to burst in to comfort her but his secret voice stops him, saying he’ll be recognized by Kellhus. The voice can’t be sure how much Kellhus sees, but Kelmomas needs to be with his mother, wanting to be hugged and kissed by her.

He’s the root, the voice replied, and you’re but the branch. Remember, the Strength burns brightest in him.

For reasons Kelmomas was entirely unable to fathom, that dropped his hand like lead.

The Strength.

Kelmomas runs. But not in flight. He has a plan. He steals a silver skewer while matronly slaves ruffle his hair and give condolences for his dead brother. He plays with them before running off. He can’t get into the Imperial Audience Hall. Luckily, a balcony door is open and he climbs up to it. From here, he can look down at his mother’s seat. This unnerves him. It’s a reminder that no matter how powerful you are, someone can be higher.

He slides down a tapestry and then mounts the Mantle, the seat of his father’s power. He wants the sparrows to come. He waits a while until one gets caught in the net. He doesn’t have a stone, though, but all he has is a skewer.

The world he walked was far different from the world walked by others. He did not need the voice to tell him that. He could hear more, see more, know more—everything more than everybody save his father and maybe his uncle. His sense of smell, in particular.

He smells his mother’s scent and his uncle. It’s the Matriarch’s piss that attracts his attention. He breathes it in. It excites him in a primal way. He then darts to the balcony behind the thrones. The moon’s out over the Meneanor Sea. The dark sea is ominous. It’s too vast and trackless to be known, even for Kellhus.

Ever did Men drown in blackness, even in sun-spliced waters.

He jumps off and avoids the sorcerous Wards with ease since he’s one of the few. He dodges the Pillarian Guard without any effort. The problem is the Eothic Guard. They have a lot of bowmen and they’re very good at hitting things. Saubon sponsors archery contests to find new recruits for the guard. Only the Agmundrmen from Galeoth are better. So Kelmomas is risking getting feathered. Though the risk sounds fun, he doesn’t actually want to hit.

It was no easy task, culling risks from possibilities.

He skulks across the roofs, using every trick he can to keep from being seen. He fights against a savage grin. He revels in the fun of creeping past Guardsmen without making a sound. He eluded them, enjoying being behind them in the dark and unseen. One nearly spotted him, but he keeps his body motionless. Once he was past, the thrill of almost getting caught rushes through him. He wants to cry out in glee. The rest of the guards “stared out in utter ignorance of their ignorance.” It felt like he existed in a different world from them. He could do anything. Then he feels like he’s testing them. “What if he were a skin-spy?” They fail to spot him, and that angers him and decides on what they should learn. “The darkness, he wanted to tell them, was not empty.”

He soon reaches the guest apartment. He feels like that crossing without being seen was both impossible and inevitable. He feels like he broke the world with his actions. That amuses him to no end.

He leaps into a hay pile and wiggles through it. He watches slaves from within it while a group of drunk Kidruhil harasses the workers. A horse is pulling a wagon. Kelmomas times his movement with the horse’s hooves hitting the cobblestones. He jumps beneath one of the horses and clings to its belly, becoming an extension of the horse and enters the Batrial Campus, the guest compound, unseen. He soon drops to the ground and lets the wagon roll over him. He darts to his destination, smelling the Matriarch’s scent.

He follows the trail, thinking it’s like what a worm would make. He hears a guard’s heartbeat around the corner. He takes a single heartbeat to peek around the corner and memorize the hallway and the guard before the Matriarch’s door. He’s not one of the palace guards. Kelmomas starts “crying” and runs around the corner to the guard. The Yatwerian sentry goes to comfort the boy, revealing himself to be a father and used to soothing children. He bends down.

Kelmomas stepped into the fan of his [the guard’s] multiple shadows.

“Come, now, little man—”

The motion was singular, abrupt with elegance. The skewer tip entered the sentry’s right tear duct and slipped into the centre of his head. The ease of penetration was almost alarming, like poking a nail into soft garden soil. Using the bone along the inner eye socket for leverage, Kelmomas wrenched the buried point in a precise circle. There was no need, he thought, to mutilate geometry as well.

The man falls to the ground, Kelmomas using the man’s dead weight to pull the skewer free. He lives for a moment or two longer. Then Kelmomas takes the man’s knife and goes through the unlocked door. A body slave, sleeping on the floor, rouses, waking up three more. He steps between them, slashing with precise strikes to kill them without being splashed by any of their spurting blood. “To walk the cracks between heartbeats.”

The Matriarch was quite awake by the time the little boy slipped into her bedroom. “Tweet!” he trilled. “Tweet-tweet!” His giggling was uncontrollable…

Almost as much as her shrieking.

Esmenet is outside the Matriarch’s quarters. She doesn’t want to see the woman’s corpse. She’s seen enough death in her life. She says they’ll wait here to Phinersa and Captain Imhailas. She sometimes thinks he’s too decisive while Phinersa is too fretting. She feels like Imhailas is always controlling urges he doesn’t even realize he has. He’s always standing close to her, wanting her even though he knows it’s wrong. A sin. As a prostitute, she knows that a man who feels guilty about his actions is more dangerous than the one who doesn’t. “What had the strength to seize also had the strength to choke.”

Maithanet arrives, stepping with care to avoid blood. He’s dressed plainly, the clothing revealing the strength he has, a reminder that he can “break necks with ease.” He has come from the Cmiral temple-complex. To maintain separation of the political and the spiritual, he never stays in the palace. He asks after Kellhus and his opinion. Esmenet snaps at Maithanet, revealing Kellhus left right before the murders were discovered. She then asks how a cult could do this, even Yatwer’s cult.

Maithanet suggests a Narindar, the legendary Cultic assassin. Esmenet presses Maithanet, saying he doesn’t believe that. He doesn’t know what happened other than this was a shrewd move. Sharacinth was the only way they had to seize control of Yatwer’s cult from within or creating a civil war. Phinersa notes Sharacinth is now Yatwer’s weapon.

Esmenet had concluded as much almost the instant she had stepped into the blood-splattered antechamber earlier that night. She was going to be blamed for this. First the rumors of the White-Luck Warrior, then the Yatwerian Matriarch herself assassinated while a guest of the Empress. The bumbling preposterous of it mattered not at all. For the masses, the outrageousness of the act would simply indicate her fear, and her fear would suggest that she believed the rumours, which in turn would mean the Aspect-Emperor had to be a demon…

This had all the making of a disaster.

She orders this to be covered up, but from the nervousness of her subordinates, they know it’s too late. She sighs, resigned. Imhailas declares they should take go on the attack. Up until now, he hadn’t made himself noticed, certain he would be blamed for the assassin getting through. Maithanet agrees but says there might be another possibility about what happened. As they speak, she stares at the dead. It feels surreal that they are holding their “council of war” before the corpses whose lives had been extinguished.

But then, she realized, the living had to forever look past the dead—on the pain of joining them.

She wants the crime investigated by someone with interrogatory. Maithanet suggests a Patriarch of another cult like Yagthrûta, who is “as rabid as his Patron God when it comes to matters of ritual legality.” He’s the leader of Momian’s cult and greatly respected for his piety and honesty. He’d even crossed the Meneanor in a skiff to show his faith. And as a barbarian, no one thought he was a Shrial or Imperial agent. Esmenet likes it and wants them to find Nannaferi. Imhailas agrees, wanting her dead to defang the cult. Esmenet is annoyed by the “inane adages” he always says. Usually, she likes them, not minding because he does it to impress her, but it doesn’t feel appropriate right now.

Phinersa doesn’t have anything new to add other than they think Nannaferi is in Shigek. Hard to say with Fanim raiding across the River Sempis. Esmenet grimaces, and he flinches. Fanayal ab Kascamandri sudden aggression is both annoying and effective. He’s severed the overland routs to Nilnamesh and so attacking fortified towns with a Cishaurim. It was “precisely the kind of confusion the Mother-Supreme needed.”

Weakness, she realized. They smelled weakness, all the enemies of the New Empire, be they heathen or Orthodox.

Phinersa says they’ll need to issue arrest warrants to capture her. Then she’ll be tortured. She isn’t sure and turns to Maithanet wondering if Sharacinth’s murder can be blamed on internal Cult feuds to give the pretext to order Nannaferi’s arrest. Maithanet advises caution and suggests consulting Kellhus.

Esmenet felt her look harden into a glare.

Why? she sound herself thinking. Why doesn’t Kellhus trust you?”

She says they need to prepare for riots and infiltrate the cult. She wants the Imperial Precincts secured to keep any more assassinations from happening. She wants to have the palace prepared for a siege and then orders the Acrong Columns recalled. Everyone is stunned by her sudden burst of orders. She shouts at them which startles them into action. She thinks Phinersa glanced at Maithanet to get confirmation before obeying.

So many looks. So many qualms. It was always the complexities that overwhelmed us. It was always the maze of others that robbed us of our way.

My little boy is dead.

She presses down her misgivings and asked Maithanet if he thinks skin-spies killed Sharacinth. He answers, “I find this turn… incalculable.” Esmenet is reminded of the “septic reaches of Caraskand” and the First Holy War. She is convinced this is the work of the skin-spies as Kellhus has warned her.

My Thoughts

We see Kelmomas’s jealousy on full display as he spies on his mother and Kellhus. He’s that little snake that is creeping around. Not even Kellhus appears aware that he’s there. Probably because he’s exhausted by traveling so far. There are limits even for Kellhus in what he can handle.

His childishness is still on full display with his fascination of skin-spies, not caring about the danger the pose for him and his family. He wants to play with one. Find out who’s the best little snake at crawling around the palace. It’s a game we’ll see him play with the White Luck Warrior in the next two books.

Kelmomas’s childishness is warring with his Dûnyain half. The secret voice claims to be Samarmas, but really it is his Dûnyain logic battling against the human half of him. That part that just wants his mother all to himself.

“When he reached the final pillar, it unnerved him to see that he look down on the Mantle and his mother’s seat.” Kelmomas has his first brush with the concept he’s better than his mother. He’s afraid of this. If he ever crosses that line, he’ll lose his mother as something he can love. He’ll lose what little humanity he has, and he’s not ready for that. If he had grown up, I can imagine him killing Esmenet when he reached maturity.

There’s something I don’t think I ever noticed or paid attention to that Kelmomas is one of the few.

I like that Bakker keeps Kelmomas playing children’s games. Just fucked-up and deadly ones.

The darkness is never empty. That goes into the central thesis of the entire series: our actions are defined by the Darkness that Comes Before. All those things we are unaware of in our past. In those around us. All the thousands and thousands of stimuli that we experience every day that shape our perception and actions. Men like to think they can ignore what they can’t see.

Always a mistake.

No, we don’t want to mutilate geometry, do we, Kelmomas? That line as he’s scrambling the guard’s brain to make sure he’s dead made me chuckle.

So we started his journey with him wanting to kill a sparrow trapped in the netting above the throne room. He can’t get to it since he only has a silver skewer. Then he finds another “sparrow” to kill, the Matriarch. He tracks her and then “tweets” like a bird in mockery as he kills her.

Bakker uses Kelmomas to show us just how much security is at the Andiamine Heights to show that even a child Dûnyain struggles to sneaks around. No wonder Esmenet is so disturbed by the assassination. If they could reach the Matriarch, they could get to anyone. This is the start of Esmenet’s paranoia that Kelmomas will use to turn her against Maithanet.

Reality means that we can’t let grief keep us from living. From acting. Especially in disaster, you have to keep moving. Keep surviving. The dead are gone. You’re still going.

Is this the first mention of the god Momian? He wasn’t in my custom dictionary for the series. Apparently, he’s the god of law. And, interestingly, this is the first cult to have a Thunyeri reach the highest level of authority. Most must be dominated by Nansur and other Ketyai races. It shows the cult respects law more than politics.

So, it has been six months since I have worked on this. I’ve had a crazy time. I’ve been doing a podcast, promoting my new fantasy series Secret of the Jewels, and then I had to move in August. So, I’m trying to get back into the habit of working on this every day! Back to the commentary!

We see more of Esmenet’s doubts with Maithanet already falling into place. The foundation of their conflict is growing especially when she thinks (and I believe it’s her imagination) that Phinersa glances at Maithanet. Kelmomas’s schemes starting to bear fruit.

Maithanet has no clue who killed Sharacinth. It’s an irrational act. He doesn’t have the data to know that Kelmomas is acting in such ways so he can’t see why this happened. He can’t see any motivation to kill her. Not with the capability of getting into the palace and out so cleanly.

Boy, I finished my reread in less than 10 minutes. I was so close to the end of the chapter.

We see the seeds of doubt getting planted in Esmenet’s mind about Maithanet. She sees this as skin-spies so clearly, yet he has no idea what happened. He can’t calculate this event. These are the hooks Kelmomas will use to drive the wedge between his mother and all those taking away her attention. Killing Sharacinth is just one step in that.

Besides the fun he had doing it, of course. He has too much emotion. That’s what makes him so much dangerous. Kellhus’s intellect with Esmenet’s emotions. Well, the emotions of a child, which are always feral and wild things that need to be nurtured and guided so they become well-adjusted adults.

If you want to read more, click here for Chapter Thirteen!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Eleven

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Eleven

The Osthwai Mountains

Welcome to Chapter Eleven of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Ten!

Since all men count themselves righteous, and since no righteous man raises his hand against the innocent, a man need only strike another to make him evil.

—NULL VOGNEAS, THE CYNICATA

Where two reasons may deliver truth, a thousand lead to certain delusion. The more steps you take, the more likely you will wander astray.

—AJENCIS, THEOPHYSICS

My Thoughts

So Cynicata makes me think of cynic. And that is certainly a cynical view of people. And it’s so true. We are all the heroes of our own story, and we are all too quick to look at someone else and “strike” them. Make them evil. We’ll use bigot, or racist, or homophobic. Quick labels to let us feel comfortable in our moral superiority so we can maintain the fiction that we’re not just as evil as the man we labeled.

This leads us into the second quote which is about following delusional ideas. Going too far down the path of an idea can lead to so many problems. Look at any philosophy embraced by a nation-state or a tribe or a religion and see where it can go.

If you believe what we do, you’ll be saved. It’s moral for us to save unbelievers. So it’s moral for us to force them to believe so we can save them.

Currently, the Skin Eaters think they’re going to find riches at the Coffers. They need to reach the Coffers by midsummer. To do that, they have to get over the mountains now. But the passes are snowed in. So let’s go through the haunted and cursed Nonman mansion that scalpers disappear in all the time. We’re the Skin Eaters. We’re better than other Scalpers. We’ll be fine.

A bad idea leading to disaster combined with their moral superiority that they are better Scalpers than others. We see this at the end of the chapter with Sarl asking why the Skin Eaters hadn’t come to Cil-Aujas.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), the Osthwai Mountains

The Scalpers have named the mountain ahead Ziggurat. They don’t know its real name. Cleric might have even forgotten that it is called Aenaratiol (Smokehorn), but Achamian remembers. Beneath it lies Cil-Aujas, the Black Halls. At the time, Achamian was willing to do this out his desperation to reach Sauglish by midsummer. But now he’s remembering that it’s a dangerous place. Only Golgotterath is worse.

The Skin Eaters have their own theories about the Black Halls, making up their own tales to explain Cil-Aujas had fallen. Achamian knows the truth and begins telling him that it was refugees who caused its downfall. He has the Bitten listening with the intensity of children, especially Xonghis. More than the Bitten join them. Even Sarl and Kiampas gather. Mimara sits beside him while the fire burns bright before them.

He talks about the Nonmen and how great they were back when Men were savages. Before the Tusk had been written. Back then, Cû’jara-Cinmoi had been their greatest king. But the wars with the Inchoroi left him broken, unable to resist the Five Tribes of Men who entered the world. Then he speaks of the First Apocalypse.

“If you want to look at the true ruin,” he said, nodding to the barren knoll where the Captain sat alone with his inhuman lieutenant, “look no further than your Cleric. Reduced. Dwindled. They were once to us as we are to Sranc. Indeed, for many among the Nonmen, we were little more.”

He talks about the Meöri Empire, the White Norsirai kingdom that ruled the wilderness on the other side of the mountains. What the Scalpers called the Long Side. Crushed by the No-God, their hero Nostol led his people to Cil-Aujas ruled over by its king, Gin’yursis. They join together and the two made a stand at Kathol Pass and stopped the Consult form crossing the mountains for a year. Despite their alliance, Nostol and his Meöri people came to hate the immortal and angelic Nonman. They coveted the Nonmen’s glory and used scriptures from the Tusk to justify their greed.

There are three versions of the tale. In one, Nostol and his thanes seduced the Emwama concubines, human slaves used by the Nonman as substitutes for their dead wives. He hoped this would spur the Nonmen to retribution. A pretext he could use to attack them back. Nostol was said to have personally impregnated sixty-three of them.

“Talk about farting in the queen’s bedchamber!” Pokwas exclaimed.

“Indeed,” Achamian said, adding to the chorus of laughter with the mock gravity of his tone. And there are no windows in the deeps of Cil-Aujas…”

In the second version, Nostol merely seduces Weyukat, the Nonman King’s favored concubine. She had twice gotten pregnant with Gin’yursis’s child but miscarried. Still, that was better than most. So when she comes up pregnant, he thinks it’s his. If she has a daughter, it could mean the salvation of the Nonman race. Instead, she gives birth to a child named Swanostol. The king killed the babe and Nostol had his outrage.

In the final version, Nostol ordered his men to seduce the Nonmen nobility and create friction and passion. Achamian thinks this one is the correct version since all this happened in a year, and that’s not feasible for all these pregnancies and births to occur. He also has seen scraps from Seswatha’s dream that bears it out. However, they all end in the same way.

War.

In the darkness of the underground mansion, the Nonmen sorcerers unleashed their Gnosis on men bearing Chorae. It was a bloody fight. At the end, drenched in gore, Nostol and slain Gin’yursis and sat on the dead king’s throne. He wept and laughed at his deed.

“With courage and fell cunning,” Achamian said, his face hot in the firelight, “Men made themselves masters of Cil-Aujas. Some Nonmen hid, only to be found in the course of time, but hunger or iron, it mattered not. Others escaped through chutes no mortal man has ever known. Perhaps even now they wander like Cleric, derelict, cursed with the only memories that will not fade, doomed to relive the Fall of Cil-Aujas until the end of days.”

Galian says he’s heard this story. It’s why Galeoth are “cursed with fractiousness” since they’re descendants of Nostol’s people. However, Achamian says that Gin’yursis cursed all men, blaming them all for what happened.

“We are all Sons of Nostol. We all bear the stamp of his frailty.”

The next morning, they continue on with little conversation. They are approaching the Ziggurat with trepidation. They follow the hilly Low Road around the mountain’s base, the trees growing more and more scraggly. By noon, the Ziggurat dominates the sky. “They tramped onward in a kind of stupor.” Not even Mimara is drawing eyes as the weight of that height presses on them. The mountain is impossible to ignore. “The Skin Eaters, each in their own way, seemed to understand that this was the prototype, what tyrants aped with their God-mocking works, mountains into monument, migration into pageant and parade.” The mountain is too old and vast for any word to capture it.

The mountains proclaim that they are small. They keep advancing and soon, as noticed by Sutadra, they are walking an ancient road. Instead of being good news, it only troubles them more. The weight of history rises around them. “There was comfort in a simple track, Achamian supposed, an assurance that the world they walked did not laugh at them.”

After a few hours, they round a bend and see the entrance. A tall wall gouged into the mountain. They have reached the Obsidian Gate. They gather beneath it, dwarfed by its size. They are not prepared for the stories. They stare at it “like emissaries of a backward yet imperious people trying to see past their awe.”

Nothing bars the way into the abandon mansion. Every bit of the walls is carved with images of the Nonmen. From warriors fighting beasts to captives. Even in ruins, the scale of the carvings, its grandeur and detail, beggars them. This is something beyond human skill.

For the first time, Achamian thought he understood the crude bronze of Nostol’s betrayal.

Mimara asks what they are doing. Achamian thinks they are reflecting on mankind. Then Xonghis points to one pillar carved with the markings of other scalper companies. They gather around and see which companies have braved it. The most recent one belongs to the Bloody Picks who left a fortnight ago. They remember the member of that company they passed on the way here.

The following silence persisted longer than it should. There was a heartbreak in this furtive marks, a childishness that made the ancient works rising about them seem iron heavy, nigh invincible. Scratches. Caricatures with buffoonish themes. They were so obviously the residue of a lesser race, one whose triumph lay not in the nobility of arms and intellect, but in treachery and the perversities of fortune.

Kiampas spots the High Shields sign and says he’s right, they did die in there. Sarl disagrees, saying they died on the Long Side. Then Sarl scratches the Skin Eaters’ sign on it. Sarl then asks why they waited so long to come here. The Skin Eaters were legends as was this place. It was fate they should meet. “Such was the logic.”

His [Sarl’s] face pinched into a cackle. “This is the slog of slogs, boys!”

Cleric just enters the gate and starts turning before yelling, “Where are you.” He is disgusted no one guards the gate. He seems old and frail, confused. Only the strength of his Mark reminds Achamian of his power. Ironsoul claps a hand on Cleric’s shoulder.

“They’re dead, you fool. Ancient dead.”

The cowled darkness that was his face turned to the Captain, held him in eyeless scrutiny, then lifted skyward, as though studying the lay of illumination across the hanging slopes. As the gathered company watched, he raised two hands and drew back, for the first time, his leather hood. The gesture seemed obscene, venal, a flouting of some aboriginal modesty.

He turned to regard his fellow scalpers, smiling as if taking heart in their astonishment. His fused teeth gleamed with spit. His skin was with and utterly hairless, so much so that he looked fungal, like something pulled from forest compost. His features were youthful, drawn with the same fine lines and flawless proportions as all his race.

The face of a Sranc.

Cleric acknowledges reality. He’s crying and laughing.

Night falls. There’s not much fuel for a fire here, so the entire company shares one. It’s a miserable night with only Sarl’s mad declarations rising above muttered conversations. Fear is palpable, especially when some claim that the carved images are changing in the flickering camp light. Sarl mocks them by claiming he saw one turn into something sexual. This makes them all laugh as Sarl ensures dread is kept at bay.

Achamian keeps glancing at Cleric, realizing that the ruined mansion and the Nonmen are the same. Both as “old as languages and peoples.” Mimara leans against him unlike her mother who liked to hold his hand. She speaks with Soma. Achamian starts listening to their conversation. Soma says she acts like a lady of noble birth, but she replies that her mother was a whore. Soma shrugs, not caring. He’d burned his ancestor list. She asks, mockingly, if that frightens him. He asks how. She points to the others and says they’re vicious men who have some record of their fathers, an unbroken line of fathers. He asks why that should be frightening.

“Because,” Mimara said, “it means they’re bound to the unbroken line of their fathers, back into the mists of yore. It means when they die, entire hosts will cast nets for their souls.” Achamian felt her shoulders hitch in a pity-for-the-doomed shrug. “But you… you merely wander between oblivions, from the nothingness of your birth to the nothingness of your death.”

“Between oblivions?”

“Like flotsam.”

“Like flotsam?”

“Yes. Doesn’t that frighten you?”

Achamian starts scowling at the Nonmen friezes. The hundreds watching them. It’s like proof of souls. That sends him to stare at Cleric again. Nonman returns the stare. It’s sparked by an exhausted kinship and is broken without “rancour or acknowledgment.” Then he hears Soma admit it does frighten him. Mimara says of course it does. Soon, all taking dies down. Men find their bedrolls.

Few slept well. The black mouth of the Obsidian Gate seemed to inhale endlessly.

In the morning light, the ruins are more sad than scary. Still, they ate in silence. They force a semblance of normalcy to calm their nerves. The fire burns out, forcing Achamian to boil water for his tea with sorcerery. Xonghis speaks with Kosoter than they enter the “Black Halls of Cil-Aujas with nary a commemorating word.”

Achamian, with Mimara at his side, gives a final glance at the sky before he follows the others in. He spots the Nail of Heaven which “twinkled alone in the endless blue, a beacon of all things high and open…”

A final call to those who would dare the nethers of the earth.

My Thoughts

Smokehorn does not fit with a mountain that’s a flat top like a Ziggurat. Horns are pointy. It makes me wonder why the Nonman would choose that. Is it a shield volcano that blew its top off and the nonman saw that? A smoking horn and now it has crumbled to a flat top? Maybe the story will explain it and I’m speculating needlessly.

Wonder if we’ll ever find that missing tribe. Norsirai, Ketyai, Satyothi, and Scylvendi. One, I believe, is missing. Some think they stayed over on the other side of those mountains in Eänna and didn’t enter Eärwa.

We get a very classic tale, two races coming together to stand up against the darkness. They prevail, but instead of ending in a great and enduring friendship like in many fantasies, Bakker turns it to the dark. To the twisted ambitions and frailty of the human soul. Men are ever jealous of those greater than them and scheme to pull them down into the muck. We see it all the time in our world under the guise of “progress.”

The story also reminds me of the Fall of Gondolin in the Silmarillion. An underground city betrayed and destroyed out of jealousy. Though it was an elf jealous of a human. Still, we see that same sort of tragedy that was common in the ancient tales and has fallen out of favor in modern times.

I think it’s clear why the last story survived. What warrior wants to be remembered as a seducer of other men when they could boast of cuckolding their enemy and stealing their future as well as their lives.

Some great description to the lead up to the Obsidian Gate and then its carving. Bakker really captures the epicness. As someone who lives in the sight of Mount Rainier, which looms the way the Zigurrat does, I understand what he’s describing.

It always does feel like what the people did before us is more impressive than today. More grand. More profound like each generation of man has grown more buffoonish. And now you have these men faced with the works of a long-lived race. Even before the Womb Plague, the nonman had long, long lives. They had the time and patience to build such monuments.

And all the scalpers can do is shitty graffiti.

Hubris is something you have to watch out for. Sarl is full of it. The Skin Eaters are the best, so they’ll do what all these other companies failed to do.

Erratics are Nonmen with Alzheimer. In that moment, Cleric was in the past. He can’t tell the difference. It’s sad. He’s losing himself. The only problem, he has a young body and powerful sorcery. That’s what makes the Erratics so dangerous.

The description of Cleric is haunting. Especially that last part: the face of a Sranc. It’s one of those parallels with Lord of the Rings. The orcs were elves twisted into monstrous beasts. The Sranc were based on the Nonmen. We also get hints that the nonmen are some sort of fungal-based life. Not mammalian at all. Not sure if that’s true. They can reproduce with humans. In the real world, that would mean they were very close genetically. Even if the breeding is rare, it can happen. But this is fantasy where you get cross-species reproduction all the time.

Interesting that Soma, our skin-spy, talks about destroying his ancestor list. Mimara explains to us that it means for their culture. That your ancestors look out for you in the afterlife and make sure you’re not lost. But the Consult wants oblivion. That is what they want there to be when they die. They don’t want to suffer for eternity. In fact, it’s the same goal that Kellhus will be working for. But he just doesn’t want to destroy the world to do it. My theory, anyway.

It’s so anticlimactic as they finally enter the ruins. After a night of stress, the reality of their worries is underwhelming. Almost a disappointment. Little do they know…

Okay, the Nail of Heaven is bright enough to be seen in daylight. I really, really want to know what this is.

Click here for the next part!

And you have to check out my fantasy novel, Above the Storm!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

At 19, Ary has spent ten years mourning his father’s death. The aftermath of the attack still haunts him. Now, on the eve of the draft he faces his greatest fear, being sent to become a marine.

He knows the cost of war.

All he wants is to marry Charlene, who he has loved since they were kids. Building a farm and starting a family sounds perfect. There’s just one problem, his best friend Vel adores her, too. He’d give anything for peace.

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

For love, for his people, and especially for the life he wants, Ary makes a decision that will change everything.

The adventure begins.

You’ll love this beautifully creative dark fantasy, because James Reid knows how to create characters and worlds you’ll grow to adore.

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!