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Sneak Peak: Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

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Chapter One

Nineteenth Day of Compassion, 755 EU

The black gloves creaked. The dyed-sable minx leather gleamed. Ōbhin examined them, searching for the crimson stains he always expected, even dreaded, to find on them.

Every morning, he oiled the gloves, keeping them flexible. He never found the blood.

He could still feel the hilt of the dagger in his hand. Feel the impact of blade against flesh. Niszeh’s Black Tones, will it ever leave me? Continue reading Sneak Peak: Diamond Stained (Secret of the Jewels One)

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Four

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Four


Welcome to Chapter Four of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Three!

For He sees gold in the wretched and excrement in the exalted. Nay, the world is not equal in the eyes of the God


My Thoughts

This is about the subject view on who is and isn’t saved. It echoes the sentiment from Christianity that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. To Christians, this is a statement that material possessions are a path into sin because you focus on them and not putting God first. Bakker’s scripture is saying that it is better to suffer than to be praised. That pain in this life brings reward in the next while those who take glory in this world are in for a surprise. It echoes another Christian teaching about salvation in that doing good deeds to earn salvation is offensive to God like soiled menstrual rags, I believe, is how the translations often go.

In Bakker’s universe, damnation is something seen and judged. This is our first allusion to the title of the book and Mimara’s ability. Fittingly, it is her POV that starts off the chapter and her first unveiling of this power.

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

Mimara has no choice but to camp by Achamian’s tower. Where will she go? The brothel? Her mother’s palace (which is like a brothel)? She doesn’t tether her mule, Foolhardy, hoping he will wander free and escape then fearing that he’ll be eaten by wolves at night because of her carelessness. So far, he’s still there when she wakes up. As the days past, she tends her fire, thinking its “singularity of purpose” is divine.

Flare. Wax. Consume.

Like a human. Only with grace.

The children, learning she’s a witch, spy on her and gives fake screams of fright when she spots them. She is a witch because she can see the Wards that Achamian has put around his tower as well as the bruises to the world his violent defense of the valley against the Sranc had left. “The eyes of the Few were with her always, prodding her onto this path she has chosen, fortifying her resolve.”

But more and more the different eye seems to open, one that has perplexed her for many years—that frightens her like an unwanted yen for perversion. Its lid is drowsy, and indeed it slumbers so deep she often forgets its presence. But when it stirs, the very world is transformed.

For moments at a time, she can see them… Good and evil.

Not buried, not hidden, but writ like another colour or texture across the hide of everything. The way good men shine brighter than good women. Or how serpents glow holy, while pigs seem to wallow in polluting shadow. The world is unequal in the eyes of the God—she understands this with intimate profundity. Master over slaves, men over women, lions over crows: At every turn, the scriptures enumerate the rank of things. But for terrifying moments, the merest of heartbeats, it is unequal in her eyes as well.

She believes this “judging eye” is a madness brought on by what happened to her. “It has to be madness.” She wonders what Achamian will look like. She stares at his tower in the morning sun and thinks it’s not so tall. It’s height an illusion.

The world hates you…

This thought afflicts her when she least expects it. She knows this truth and didn’t need her little brother to remind her: “It hurts Momma to even look at you! She wishes she would have drowned you instead of sold you…” As she starves outside Achamian’s tower, she believes this more and more. She traveled all this way to be a witch and is denied.

There is no other place. So why not cast her life across the Whore’s table? Why not press Fate to the very brink? At least she will die knowing.”

She cries though she feels empty. She sees “the Wizard” pacing in his window. She can’t remember when she had cried and felt the emotion. She thinks maybe as a child. She stays because she has nowhere to go. All her choices are the same. Despair lies in all directions.

A broken tree, as her brothel-master once told her, can never yield.

Two days became three. Three become four. Hunger makes her dizzy, while the rain makes her clay-cold. The world hates you, she thinks, staring at the broken tower. Even here.

The last place.

One night, he appears, haggard like he hadn’t slept because of guilt. He has food and wine. She devours it like a “thankless animal.” He watches her and mentions Dreams like they are an old enemy he’s long fought. As she eats and stares at him, he speaks of his Dreams and what it’s like. She finds herself asking the lame question if they’re bad. In the firelight, she can see that though he’s suffered much, he still remembers how “to be tender and honest.” He answers her with a wink then fills a pipe and lights it. He tells her the dreams used to be. That confuses her. He then asks her why Mandate Schoolmen have the dreams.

She knows the answer. Her mother always resorted to talk of Achamian to salve the abrasions between her and her embittered daughter. Because he was her real father, Mimara had always thought. “To assure the School of Mandate never forgets, to never lose sight of its mission.”

“That’s what they say,” Achamian replies, savoring the smoke. “That the Dreams are the goad to action, a call to arms. That by suffering the First Apocalypse over and over, we had no choice but to war against the possibility of the Second.”

Achamian disagrees and says that her adopted father, Kellhus, is right that every life is a riddle that can be solved. He knows this to be a truth before telling her about the First Holy War and his “forbidden love” for Esmenet. He’d been willing to risk the World to have her. He is open and vulnerable with her, making it compelling. She’s heard this story before, but listens with “childish attentiveness,” letting herself feel his emotions. During it, she realizes that he doesn’t know that his love for Esmenet is a story told around the empire.

The only secret is that he still lives.

With these thoughts her wonder quickly evaporates into embarrassment. He seems over-matched, tragically so, wrestling with words so much larger than himself. It becomes cruel to listen as she does, pretending not to know what she knows so well.

“She was your morning,” she ventures.

This interrupts him, and he gets angry, glaring at her. He asks her to repeat it. And she does, explaining how Esmenet told her about what she meant to him. He then says he no longer fears the night because he doesn’t have the same Dreams as other Mandate Schoolman.

“I no longer pray for the morning.”

She leans back to pluck another log for the fire. It lands with rasping thump, sends a train of sparks twirling up through the smoke. Watching their winking ascent to avoid his gaze, she hugs her shoulders against the chill. Somewhere neither near nor far, wolves howl into the bowl of the night. As though alarmed, he glanced away into the wood, into the wells of blackness between the variant trunks and limbs. He stares with an intensity that makes her think that he listens as much as he hears, to the wolves and to whatever else—that he knows the myriad languages of the deep night.

It is then that he tells his tale in earnest…

As though he has secured permission.

Achamian thinks about how Esmenet, after his capture by the Scarlet Spire, had waited for him like Mimara had. He hadn’t come to see the girl out of anger, not wanting to reward her. He did it out of ear not wanting to be caught with missing Princess-Imperial. That he was doing her a favor because she was too old to learn the Nonman tongue to use magic. He used every excuse to hid from his pain.

Her mother, Esmenet, had waited for him on the banks of the River Semis over twenty years previous. Not even word of his death could turn her from her vigil, so obstinate, so mulish was her love. Not even sense could sway her.

Only Kellhus and the appearance of honesty.

Achamian recognizes Esmenet’s stubbornness in Mimara. How else could the girl have traveled so far alone? He finally realized he had to tell her the truth because she would die and he’d be destroyed by guilt. So he came with compassion and food and told her everything, including how his dreams had started changing. It had been twenty years since he spoke without issue. He explains how while the Mandate dream about Seswatha, they don’t witness the normal, day to day stuff. “‘Seswatha’ the old Mandate joke goes, ‘does not shit,’”

All the things that were forgotten, he realized.

The dreams took on new a character, subtle at first. Achamian merely thought it was his change in perspective. Achamian dreamed of Seswatha stubbing his toe to fetch a scroll. Mimara, as he speaks, stars at him the way Esmenet had. “Another abject listener.” He can’t read her, but she’s letting him speak. He explains how he was flabbergasted upon awakening. It wasn’t anything profound. He brings up how the Mandate have cataloged the variation of all the dreams. They could misfire, playing things out of order or corrupted. More than a few Mandate had become obsessed with them, thinking they found some greater truth. But they never could convince anyone else. So Achamian writes off the dream as his own. For two months, he dreamed the usual things, then he has one of Seswatha reading a scroll.

He trailed, though whether to let the significance settle in or to savour the memory, he did not know. Sometimes words interrupted themselves. He pinched the hem of his cloak, rolled the rough-sewn seam between thumb and forefinger.

Achamian notices how Mimara finishes off her gruel like a slave would before she asks what the scroll was. He says it’s a lost scroll by Gotagga. Parapolis. It’s famous. Mimara asks if Achamian invented it. He doesn’t think so. He wrote down what he remembered and it was far better than he could write. It proved they were real. He remembers that morning and the heady feel or realizing “he had begun dreaming Seswatha’s mundane life.” No other Mandate Schoolman had.

How strange it had been, to find his life’s revelation in the small things; he who had wrestled with dying worlds. But then the greater turned upon the small. He often thought of the men he’d known—the warlike ones, or just the plain obstinate—of their enviable ability to overlook and to ignore. It was like a kind of willful illiteracy, as if all the moments of unmanly passion and doubt, all the frail details that gave substance to their lives, were simply written in a tongue they couldn’t understand and so needed to condemn and belittle. It never occurred to them that to despise the small things was to despise themselves—not to mention the truth.

But then that was the tragedy of all posturing.

She asks why this happened. Why him. He has no idea, maybe Fate is fucking with him or maybe he’s gone mad, “for one cannot endure what I’ve [Achamian has] day and night without going mad.” Maybe since he’s abandoned his life, a new one filled it or Seswatha is reaching out to him. He comports himself and says there is a bigger question. He stares at her, watching her even while knowing he must appear as a bitter, old man.

But if there were judgment in her eyes, he could detect nothing of it.

“My stepfather,” she said. “Kellhus is the question.”

This makes him realize that she’s not ignorant of much of what he’s been talking to. She knew Kellhus personally. She’s his stepdaughter. It hadn’t clicked in his mind and he feels like an idiot for how obvious it was. Then he wonders why she came here. Did Kellhus send her even if she doesn’t know it? Is she a spy? Kellhus had seduced the Holy war. Mimara stood no chance.

How much of her soul was hers, and how much had been replaced?

Achamian asks if Kellhus sent her. She looks confused and bewildered. She says he’d drag her home in chains and return her to her mother. Achamian persists. She’s crying as she protests she’s not lying.

“This is the way it works,” Achamian heard himself rasp in an utterly ruthless voice. “This is the way he rules—from the darkness in our own souls! If you were to feel it, know it, that would simply mean there was some deeper deception.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! He-he’s always been kind—”

“Did he ever tell you to forgive your mother?”

She’s confused by that. He asks if he ever knew her heart better than she did. She says he had, not sure why it matters. He asks her if she felt awe in him. Saw him as more than a man. Did his attention make her feel gratified? Achamian is manic, shaking, frightening her. She calls him Akka, sounding to him like her “whore-mother.”

“When you stood before him!” he roared. “When you knelt in his presence, did you feel it? Hollow and immovable, as if you were at once smoke and yet possessed the bones of the world? Truth. Did you feel Truth?”

“Yes!” she cried. “Everyone does! Everyone! He’s the Aspect-Emperor! He’s the Saviour. He’s come to save us! Come to save the Sons of Men!”

Achamian stared at her aghast, his own vehemence ringing in his ears. Of course she was a believer.

“He sent you.”

Her presence returns him to the mindset of being in the First Holy War. In her eyes, he sees hope dying, like it had to him. When he approached her, she’d weakened, dared to believe finally something good would happen to her, and he’d snatched it from her. He believes she’s not a willing slave now and is reminded of Cnaiür who had “a soul at once strong and yet battered beyond recognition.” He sees Esmenet in her.

She was precisely the kind of slave Kellhus would send him [Achamian]. Part cipher. Part opiate.

Someone Drusas Achamian could come to love.

Achamian talks about the day Kellhus arrived at the Holy War. How Achamian was there. Kellhus had been a beggar claiming to be a prince with a Scylvendi. “It was my back he broke climbing to absolute power,” Achamian tells her. He goes on how Kellhus was his friend, his student, and how Kellhus stole his wife anyways. His morning. He dares her to speak now and she stays silent.

“The only thing,” he continued, his voice wrung ragged with conflicting passions. “The only thing I took with me from my previous life was a simple question: Who is Anasûrimbor Kellhus? Who?”

Achamian stared at the bed of coals pulsing beneath the blackened wood, paused to allow Mimara fair opportunity to respond, or so he told himself. The truth was that the thought of her voice made him wince. The truth was that his story had turned into a confession.

Mimara gives the obvious answer to his question: Kellhus is the Aspect-Emperor. Achamian isn’t surprised. Anyone, let alone Kellhus’s adopted daughter, would give this answer. People wanted things to be simple. They would mock questions “for fear it would make their ignorance plain.” Then they would claim to be open.

This was the iron habit of Men. This was what shackled them to the Aspect-Emperor.

He shook his head in slow deliberation. “The most important question you can ask any man, child, is the question of his origin. Only by knowing what a man has been can you hope to say what he will be.” He paused, brought up short by an old habit of hesitation. How easy it was to hid in his old pedantic ruts, to recite rather than talk. But no matter how woolly his abstractions always became snarled in the very needling particularities he so unwittingly tried to avoid. He had always been a man who wanted to digress, only to find himself bleeding on the nub

She gives the official answer, that Kellhus is “the Son of Heaven” as if it were the only one that could be. Achamian points out he’s a real person with parents born like anyone else. Where did that happen? She brings up Atrithau, but he cuts her off and says that Cnaiür, a dead man, told him. A memory of Cnaiür’s conversation, his warning on how Dûnyain “war against circumstances” and see men as dogs to be tamed. How they use love to control. The Dûnyain are Kellhus’s people.

She asks about his bloodline, and Achamian says he is an Anasûrimbor, the only clue to where he’s from. Where had that kingly family survived? She asks where else besides Atrithau since the North is ruined. The Sranc rule it. He says the Kûniüric High Kings must have created a refugee, something Cnaiür had mentioned in their conversation. Hidden in the mountains. Isolated for a thousand years so they could breed themselves into something better than world-born humans.

As he talks about the sanctuary, Achamian knows he sounds desperate to be believed even as he struggled to control how fast he gives Mimara the information. However, when calling the Aspect-Emperor a liar, their words never could come out slow enough. Mimara has gone blank, hiding her offended beliefs. Achamian thinks she sees him as a bitter cuckold railing against the better man who’d taken his wife and now paints a story with himself as the hero.

He breathed deeply, leaned back from the fire, which suddenly seemed to nip him with its heat. He resolved to refill his pipe, but he could only clench his fists against the tremors.

My hands shake.

Mimara watches Achamian as his voice grows shriller, his gestures wilder. At first, she was excited, but then she realizes he’s not free at all, but bound by the past. He’s not speaking to her, either, but to her mother. The irony that he mistakes her for her mother after she mistook him for her father hurts her. She realizes he’s more her brother, another person hurt and betrayed by Esmenet.

Mimara realizes she’s been wrong about him. Her imagination the opposite of reality. He lives only for vengeance against Kellhus. He’s ranting about how keeping Cnaiür alive was Kellhus’s mistake. The Scylvendi knew too much about Kellhus’s past. So now Achamian is using his mutated Dreams to get his vengeance. He’s spent twenty years sifting through Seswatha’s life to find what he needed.

It’s more than a fool’s errand; it is a madman’s obsession, on par with those ascetics who beat themselves with strings and flint, or who eat nothing but ox-hides covered in religious writings. Twenty years! Anything that could consume so much life simply has to be deranged. The hubris alone…

His hatred of Kellhus she finds understandable, though she herself bears no grudge against her stepfather. She barely knows the Aspect-Emperor, and those fare times she found herself alone with him on the Andiamine Heights—twice—he seemed at once radiant and tragic, perhaps the most immediate and obvious soul she had ever encountered.

You think you hate her,” he once said—referencing her mother, of course.

I know I do.”

There is no knowledge,” he had replied, “in the shadow of hate.”

She ponders those words and sees how Achamian has focused everything in his life towards unmasking Kellhus. His Dreams and his Hatred. If you can’t get your revenge, it devours you which only feeds your outrage at the source. She sees Achamian as the same as her.

She asks if he’s found what he’s been searching for in the dreams. He’s found a name, sounding embarrassed because it sounds so paltry compared to his boasts about his work. She nearly laughs, earning a bitter glare.

She reminds herself to take care. Her instinct, given all that she has endured, is to be impatient with the conceits of others. But she needs this man.

He says the name: Ishuäl. It’s almost a whisper. He explains it means ‘Exalted Grotto’ or ‘High Hidden Place’ in a Nonman dialect. She asks if that’s where Kellhus is from and sees it disturbs him when she speaks Kellhus name with familiarity. He is certain, however. She asks how he can find it. He says he’ll know soon. More and more of Seswatha’s life is opening to him. He’s getting the secrets.

A life spent mining the life of another, pondering glimpses of tedium through the lenses of holy and apocalyptic portent. Twenty years! How can he hope to balance the proportions? Grub through dirt long enough and you will prize stones.

“Like he’s yielded,” she forces herself to say.

Achamian says that’s just what it likes. He speaks as if Seswatha knows it and is helping him. She can’t imagine what sort of drive it would take to spend twenty years researching this. She doesn’t think any sane person could have such conviction and perseverance.

Faces. All conduct is a matter of wearing the appropriate faces. The brothel taught her that, and the Andiamine Heights simply confirmed the lesson. It’s as though expressions occupy various positions, a warning here, a greeting there, with the distance between measured by the difficulty of forcing one face from the other. At this moment nothing seems so difficult as squeezing pity into the semblance of avid interest.

She asks him again if no other Mandate’s had this happen. He says no and asks her what it means. She’s shocked and offended that he’s showing weakness. At that point, the Judging Eye opens, though she doesn’t know what this is. She sees more than the Mark on him. She sees the “hue of judgment, as though blessing and condemnation have become a wash visible only in certain kinds of light.” He bleeds evil. Damnation.

He is damned. Somehow she knows this with the certainty with which children know their hands. Thoughtless. Complete.

He is damned.

The Judging Eye closes and he’s just Achamian again. She feels great sorrow for this once strong man who is now a wreck. She knows, thanks to the brothel, that a madman needs to be believed. She tells him he’s a prophet from the past and leans in to kiss. “Her whole life she has punished herself with men.”

The memory of his power is like perfume.

After they have sex, they both regret it. She feels lonely as he sleeps beside her, wondering why that should be. She crawls to the fires, wrapped up in blankets, and tries to forget what they did. When he touches her shoulder, giving her kindness, she starts to cry.

“We have made our first mistake together,” he says, as though it were something significant. “We will not make it again.”

The forest is silent and suddenly she can’t stand it and sobs out, asking if she’s broken. If that’s why she runs. He says everyone carries silent burdens that bend them. She throws that back in his face, even as she hates herself for calling him broken. His hands stay on her in a comforting manner, though. He tells her he needs to find the truth more than for his hatred. She asks what difference does it make, and he’s shocked to learn the Great Ordeal has marched for Golgotterath. In a year, the Consult will be destroyed. Already, Sakarpus has already fallen.

Silence. Remorse comes crashing in.

Can’t you see? Something shrikes in her. Can’t you see the poison I bring? Strike me! Strangle me! Pare me to the core with your questions!

But she laughs instead. “You have shut yourself away for too long. You have found your revelation too late.”

My Thoughts

Why is the palace like a brothel? It’s a place where people are seen as objects. As things to be used and manipulated. As the Empress’s daughter, she would be seen as a valuable piece to be claimed as a wife. As an ear to her mother. As a wedge against a political rival. The brothel is, at least, honest.

Flare. Wax. Consume. Be energetic, get tired, and then eat food before you do it all over again. Life reduced to its most basic and honest form.

Unlike the Judging Eye, seeing sorcery’s mark on the world never goes away.

We get our first description of the Judging Eye and what our opening epigram is about: in this world, things are not equal. Men are seen as better than women. Why? I think it’s belief. The Outside exists so long as enough souls on this planet believe in it. That’s why the Inchoroi and the Consult want to depopulate it. To destroy this extra-dimensional realm that is being fed upon by the psyche of intelligent beings. Nonmen are evil because the majority species on this planet believe it. Whatever effect the Nonmen had on the Outside is gone. They’ve been depopulated. It’s all human now. Men think they’re better than women, which is a common thing we’re shown as a great evil in this series.

Bakker is accused of misogyny, but the whale room is his greatest condemnation of women being used as objects. The Dûnyain, who prized intellect above all others, who wanted to breed themselves into perfect beings, realized that the sex differences between women and men made it necessary to turn their women into better breeders. They destroyed their women because they had no emotions.

They did it through logic.

Then you have the other end. The Inchoroi. They are all about sex but don’t care about its biological purpose. Just the pleasure. They are all just men looking to rut with whatever holes they can find. They have a thousand words for ejaculate. Tells you a lot of their priorities.

Esmenet is the perfect person to show the flaws of these beliefs. An intelligent woman denied any chance to use it, forced to sell her body, even her own child, to survive. Achamian came close to treating her as an equal. Considering their culture, he went far beyond what’s normal. Kellhus used this to seduce her by respecting her and feeding her knowledge. However, his logic still led to the same position: she became a breeder for him.

How can Mimara ever heal and find resolution with her relationship with Esmenet when she has Kelmomas poisoning the well, polluting her thoughts with lies? We’ve seen Esmenet’s POV. We know the greatest mistake she’s ever made was selling her daughter.

A broken tree can never yield. A tree yields to the wind that blows past it, bending and swaying. To the forces of nature until those forces are too much and it breaks. The trunk collapses. Then it just lies there, unable to do anything. Unable to yield because it has collapsed. Is this what Bakker means? Maybe.

Reading this section of Mimara is something I can relate to. That feeling of helplessness. That nothing matters so why do anything. Just like you’re in a pit and will die because no one cares about you to come look for you. No one will miss you. Why even bother trying to escape? It takes too much effort. Just lie there and let it end.

Poisonous thoughts. The loss of hope is crippling.

Achamian says he no longer prays for the morning, and yet he just spent all this time talking about what Esmenet meant to him. What he was willing to give up for her. He would have condemned the world if it meant having the woman he loved. He isn’t over her at all. He is, after all, still trying to prove that Kellhus is not what he says. To find proof that he’s lying about salvation for sorcerers and even for Esmenet. That the Great Ordeal isn’t what he claims.

I don’t know about you, but I have dreamed of invented books before. I once heard you can’t read in dreams, but that’s not true. I have. Usually, it’s on the eve of a book I’m looking forward to reading coming out. The Wheel of Time books caused me to have them a few times. I’d be so excited to read them, but I could never find the same place in the books and sometimes would frantically be flipping through pages to find it.

The small things of life are where your true self comes out. Not the mask you wear around others, the various roles we all shift through like chameleons. The good employee. The patient friend. The polite cashier. Spouse. Confidant. Adviser. We never fully act our real selves around anyone but modify our behavior because it’s expected or to avoid friction.

And a brutal critic on those who pretend it doesn’t happen. Who project themselves as something more than the truth: they’re no better than any other human being.

Dûnyain influence on people is almost like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Only it’s still the person you love who betrays you because of Kellhus. Like what happened with Conphas and Martemus in the last series. Martemus was loyal until Kellhus began whispering. Then he nearly killed Conphas. And Conphas never betrayed Martemus. Conphas never did anything to Martemus that would have prompted a sense of betrayal. It was all Kellhus rewriting his soul.

Making Martemus into a new person.

It’s insidious if you’re trying to war against Kellhus. There’s no test like with the skin-spy. No mark left on the person physically. Not even the Mark.

Mimara, of course, was sent by a Dûnyain. Just not Kellhus. So Achamian is right, but, lucky for him, Kelmomas cares nothing about Achamian. He just needed Mimara to go away. She’s lucky not to be dead.

My theory is that Kellhus expected Achamian to try and find Ishuäl and use the Holy War as cover. I believe that’s why he arranged for the nonman king to be with the Ironsoul and his men. He cut a deal with the nonman erratic to let him relive his past through Seswatha (aka Achamian) in exchange for knowledge. He used that knowledge to send Serwa on an attack on Ishterebinth and secure his flank for the march on Golgotterath. Was Achamian supposed to be killed by the erratic? Was he supposed to find the truth about Kellhus?

I don’t know.

Once Kellhus had achieved his goal of defeating the No-God, he didn’t need to rule everything. Perhaps he was readying for some form of enlightened atheism. To have Achamian began to destroy his own myth after Kellhus achieved his plan. I think Kellhus wanted to close the Outside but not the way the Consult wanted to. Not through genocide. I could be just talking out of my ass here because Kellhus died without giving us any closure on Achamian’s storyline. In the end, Achamian’s journey didn’t change what happened at Golgotterath one bit. It was anticlimactic. Perhaps the point, but it seems like a waste of literary potential.

We’ll have to see how the next series handles it.

Achamian is unburdening himself now. He felt guilty for snatching away Mimara’s hope with his accusation. So even though he fears she is exactly what he dreads, a leash from Kellhus, he can’t help but explain himself. To fall into the Dûnyain trap.

People do not like their beliefs challenged. It causes turmoil. Why go through all that mental effort when you can just get on with your life? Like confronting contradictory information to what is in your core identity. Is it any wonder people hate philosophers. No one likes the status quo being challenged when you’re benefiting from it.

Beyond that, our minds take a lot of energy to operate. Humans burn a lot of calories to have our brains process so much, so our minds focus on important things and don’t like us to waste energy on things that cause it to have to burn more resources.

To understand something, you need to know how it came about. Whether it’s an astronomer studying a new cosmic phenomenon or a farmer trying to eradicate a new weed in his crops. The truth of origin can allow you to both understand something better and then categorize it. Handle it.

To war against it.

“There is no knowledge in the shadow of hate.” Mimara doesn’t hate her mother, she loves her. That is why she’s so hurt. Why she wants to punish her back. She doesn’t want to destroy her mother. Doesn’t despise her. She wants to make her mother bleed so she can find closure on the pain she received from Esmenet. You hate what you don’t know. One of the most successful men in defusing racial hatred is a black man named Daryl Davis. He sat down with members of the KKK, became their friends, and more than two hundred of them gave up their robes. He let them get to know what they hated and find understanding.

Achamian hates Kellhus. Mimara resents her mother.

One of those secrets of Seswatha, like how he’d cuckolded the king and is probably the father of Nau-Cayûti.

“Grub through dirt long enough and you will prize stone.” Value is subjective, after all. What looks like something as common as stone to one person is the material to build something great and vast to another.

Despite her upbringing, Mimara is having trouble hiding her pity for Achamian let alone feeling it. He’s touched her. Reached through her hard, bitter, cynical exterior that she drew around herself to protect her heart from the suffering she received as a child-slave in a brothel.

Interesting that the Judging Eye triggered as she’s judging him for being weak. I’m going to pay attention to its other appearance and see if there’s anything that triggers it, or if it happens at “random.” I put that in quotes because no book has random things in it. An intelligent mind creates a book and while their reasoning may not make sense, an author chooses when to put information in and for a reason.

Mimara has really only learned one way to deal with men. She hates it, but she doesn’t know other ways to get them to give her things. So she once again goes down that path, sensing Achamian’s vulnerability. This is her moment. She could have continued doing this with him, but he does the one thing she can’t take.

He’s kind to her.

Sex is a punishment for her. To willingly do what she’d been forced to do. What she hates. To be the thing she can never escape. He shouldn’t be kind to her, and yet he is.

She feels lonely beside him because she didn’t have sex out of love, out of a desire to truly be with him. She just wanted to get something from him. They had the veneer of intimacy but in fact, it’s not there. So she can’t take any satisfaction from his presence.

Ultimately, Mimara’s problem is that she hates herself. For how she has grown to become exactly what the brothel masters intended: a woman who uses sex to get things from men. And because of that, she wants the world to hate her, too. Her mother. Achamian. She lashes out at them even as she wants to stop. Even as she wants to receive their love. Until she can stop hating herself, she’ll never be able to accept the love of others.

And what Achamian offers her as he holds her face is love. Not sexual love, but that paternal love she came here seeking. He will become her father in truth over their journey, and since we’re in the world of grimdark fantasy, it comes after they had sex and she becomes pregnant with his child.

And with her pronouncement on the Holy War’s march, Achamian is launched into action. He has his quest. His chance to make it to his goal and find the truth. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. They arrive at the Great Ordeal not caring about the results. They don’t confront Kellhus. He’s never even seen with the Judging Eye. Because we, the readers, don’t need to see Kellhus in that eye. In those final moments, we see what Kellhus’s goals are. Whether or not he’s damned, he’s trying to change things his way. A way that doesn’t see humans suffer more than necessary.

Because, ultimately, he fell in love in his stunted way. He forged an emotional bond to Serwë and Esmenet. He let one of them die for his mission. He couldn’t let the other one. The irony is that this led to his fall. If he never went back to save Esmenet, if he hadn’t spared Kelmomas for her sake, what happened at Golgotterath would have played out very differently.

So what is the point of Achamian and Mimara’s journey? I haven’t read this series since the Unholy Consult came out and know how it ends. It sees these two broken figures reunited with Esmenet both transformed by their journey.

Let’s figure this out together and see if we can piece together what Bakker was intending. Is this another fantasy storyline that ends in failure like all the rest? Probably.

Ultimately, all are protagonists fail. Achamian and Mimara never reveal the truth of Kellhus.

Kellhus never defeats the Consult.

Sorweel never stops the evil emperor and live happily ever after with his princess.

Esmenet fails to protect her children.

But scattered through it is lives and passions, events that have meaning. That resonates. Let’s explore those as we march forward through The Aspect-Emperor.

If you enjoyed this, click here for Chapter Five!

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The Soldier’s Wife 3: The Beauty of Life

The Soldier’s Wife 3: The Beauty of Life


The Third Day of Autumn, the Three Thousand and Forty-Ninth Year of the Kingdom

Lamahavi always enjoyed her turn to watch the young boys at play. Today felt extra special.

She couldn’t stop smiling as she sat at the edge of the small courtyard full of sand where the young boys play-fought. It wasn’t serious training, but wild and unorganized. None were more than seven summers, when they would begin receiving more disciplined lessons in sword and spearplay. Now, they clacked their toy weapons together as they laughed and shouted and ran. They wore their yukatas of brown or dark blues or grays, the hems worn shorter than a girl’s, leaving their legs mostly bare as they darted to and fro.

A chaos of shouts and flying sand and laughter echoed. She smiled as she tried to watch them all.

The dangers of living in the Ringed City never felt so far away as when she watched the children play. Her season here had taught her to treasure any moments of peace she found. To live in the moment. Death fell with a swiftness here. Since she’d arrived, five Songblade Knights had died.

It was a bad summer when a class graduating from the Academy of the Shining Blade never produced more than fifteen. This year had only nine, including her husband.

The Songblade Knights couldn’t lower their standards in their fight against the demons. They held back the vile monsters who managed to breach the Diamond Ward that always glittered above her head, a distorting geometry thrusting into the blue autumn sky.

Lamahavi didn’t know why she enjoyed watching the young boys play more than the girls. Maybe she saw her husband in them. He had a mischievous nature, his inner child not destroyed by the weight of responsibility nor the fighting he’d already endured serving the world.

Her Yelaikav was once like these boys, trading blows with sticks, kicking up sand with his sandaled feet, laughing with other children. The girls had their own play with dolls and playing house and creating elaborate history for their toys. Those could be fun to participate in, but Lamahavi could just sit down for hours watching the boys’ exuberance race from one end to the other.


The loud crack of wood snapped her attention to one group. A boy, Vipaloza’s son, fell to the ground. He clutched his hand to his chest, his small body trembling. The other boys, all looking six and possessing a year or more of growth on the lad, laughed at him.

Going to cry, Lozehazi?” one taunted. “Just cracked your knuckles.”

The young boy on the ground shook his head with defiance even as the tears formed. Lamahavi could see them growing big in the child’s eyes. She rose and smoothed down the tight skirt of the flowery yukata she wore. Autumn had begun, but the days were still warm enough to wear lighter robes. Her sandaled feet whisked across the sand.

Some of the boys groaned. “See, you got a woman involved,” sneered the eldest. He kicked sand at Lozehazi. “You’re too weak to be a true knight’s son.”

Hey!” she barked at the boy, clapping her hands together. She’d also learned not to show a hint of fear before the children. They could be as vicious as a pack of wild hounds sniffing after an unattended baby. “What sort of knight kicks sand at his brother instead of offering him a hand to stand?”

He’s not my brother!” declared the eldest boy, Yemonu. He was the son of a knight in a different squad from Yelaikav’s. “He’s a sniveling baby. Look at him; he’s crying. It was just a little rap on the knuckles.”

Lamahavi arched her eyebrows at him. She stood over the boy, looming with the height her Easterner blood gave her. She had her brown hair pinned in a mass of braided curls held in place by her favorite hair comb given to her as a wedding gift by Yelaikav. Her deep-lavender eyes lanced down at Yemonu.

I asked you a question, boy,” she said, her tone cold.

He shifted in his place, feet worrying a depression into the ground. The other boys with him were slowly backing away to melt off amid the others.


A knight wouldn’t do that, Madam Lamahavi,” he muttered, not meeting her eyes. “It’s just . . . he’s so small and weak.”

So you’re a bully?” She didn’t hide her disgust. “What an honorable knight you’ll make. I am sure your father will be proud of a son that hurts those weaker than him instead of standing steadfast in their defense.”

The boy’s brown cheeks darkened. He trembled.

Are you a bully, Yemonu?” she asked.

No, Madam Lamahavi.”

So, what are you going to do?”

He thrust out his hand at Lozehazi and helped the younger boy to stand. Tears had formed tracks down dusty cheeks. The boy looked down, still rubbing at his injured hand. The older boy muttered an apology and then raced off.

I am weak,” mumbled Lozehazi.

She sighed and sank down to look at him at eye level. She put on the most motherly smile she had, one she hadn’t much practice giving. She was young, only married since early summer. She produced a silk handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed the end against her tongue before she began wiping at his face.

Why do you think you’re weak?” she asked him with patience. The boys were shouting around her, back to playing.

I’m so small,” he muttered. “I’m not as strong as the others.”

He’s big for his age,” said Lamahavi. “And there’s no shame in being small.”

I can’t be a knight if I’m small.”

She paused. “You have plenty of time to grow up. And even if you can’t be a knight, there are other ways to serve. I’m not a knight. Don’t I do important things?”

You’re a woman.”

Her brow furrowed. She cupped his chin and lifted his gaze. “I am a person. Every one of us can be of service. The shame isn’t in being unable to do a role, it is in not doing what you can with what you’ve been gifted. We’re all equals. The farmer is as important as your father.”

No, he’s not,” the boy said. “My father’s a Songblade Knight. He keeps the bad demons from killing us all.”

And if he didn’t eat?” She gave him a serious look. “How much play can you enjoy when you haven’t eaten?”

He squirmed.

That’s what I thought. So just because you’re small doe—”

The taiko drum pounded.

Play stopped.

Lamahavi straightened as the deep boom of the drum exploded through the neighborhood. Her gaze snapped to the rising Bulwark, the dark-stone defenses that ringed the Diamond Ward and held back the gaping wound in Reality through which the demons bled. Her eyes studied the geometry of the Ward, Black Blood Rift a dark smear beyond the adamant force.

A breach, pounded through her mind with the same blazing beat of the drum. A breach. A breach.

The demons had come.

Lozehazi threw himself into her legs, hugging his face into her hip as he whimpered. She knew that fear well, but she couldn’t let it swallow her. She made the choice every time she heard the drums to act.

Boys! Boys!” she shouted. “Come on! All on me! You know what to do!”

Scared faces rushed towards her. Even Yemonu had lost all his bravado, his face paling as he rushed to her side. She gently pried Lozehazi off of her and took his hand. He gripped with fear. The drums meant death came. Any of their fathers might be the one to die. And if it was a bad breach, where the wives had to join the fighting, orphans could be made.

Come along, just like we practice,” she said, keeping her voice calm. With Lozehazi’s hand gripping hers and the other boys swarming around her, it was easier to hold back the terror wanting to surge through her body. “The shelter’s this way.”

Life in the Ringed City was unlike any in the world. The only city where the fortifications pointed inward, where no man worked his craft without a weapon at hand, where women watched children with a crossbow in reach. She fetched hers left at her seat and quickly belted on her quiver with its bolts. As she did, Lozehazi gripped her yukata’s skirt.

Stay together!” she kept saying as the taiko drums changed their beat. Three beats, a pause, two beats, a pause, then repeated. It signaled the breach’s location. It was Blossoming Lilac Octant, on the far side of the city from their own, Apple Blossom Octant. “Hold hands. Protect each other. Especially you older boys. That’s your job. Right now, you’re knights.”

She led them from the play area to the nearest shelter. Civilian workers—the blacksmiths, stonecutters, butchers, weavers, armorers, and the myriad of other craftsmen needed to support a city—were flowing towards them with their own families, holding spears or swords or their own crossbows. Wives of knights, like Lamahavi, had their own jobs to perform during a breach.

Normally, she manned the infirmary, but this day she had responsibility for the boys. She wouldn’t leave their side, no matter what. Her heart tightened as she heard the clatter of armor, the sound of knights rushing up the stairs to the Bulwark to flood into the breach and drive back the demons.

Thoughts of her husband filled her mind as she flowed down the stairs into the shelter. Dug into the earth and surrounded by heavy stone walls, it had doors made of thick iron. Designed to be closed and barred from the inside, they could sustain the occupants for a week before food ran out. Water came from a cistern that could keep them supplied for weeks longer.

It was dark inside. A few diamonds glowed, lit by tuning forks humming at the right frequency by them. Their song was lost to the shouts echoing through the chamber. The civilians knew where to go better than Lamahavi. The pallets seemed all claimed. Even the boys knew better than her, leading her to their area near the front. Another wife shepherded a group of girls to the other side.

Is everyone here?” she asked, staring at the frightful boys clustered around her. She counted, relieved to find none missing. They all sank down onto the pallets, whispering to each other.

Lamahavi settled down onto a bench along the wall and found Lozehazi before her. His face was a mask of fright. She gave him a reassuring smile, her stomach roiling with fear now. She had nothing more to do. She had brought her charges to safety. She didn’t have an infirmary to ready. To gaze out at the Bulwark and maybe witness the fighting and see how it was going.

She could only wait.

The large doors creaked closed. Boomed shut.

Lozehazi whimpered and threw herself onto her lap. She grunted in surprise and set her crossbow down on the bench. He shifted to get comfortable. It was near dark where they were, the diamond lights distant. She could hardly see his face, just an outline.

Her arms went around him and she found herself humming. Feeling the boy on her lap sparked something deep inside her, this maternal flame. She pressed her face into his hair, feeling the soft texture of it.

It’s going to be okay,” she said after a moment. “It’s alright to be scared. I’m scared, too.”

You are?” the child asked.

Everyone is,” she said, remembering words her husband spoke to her. “Being brave is something you can only do when you’re scared. When you feel that cold, clammy terror squeezing at your guts. Being brave is when you decide you won’t let the dread control you. That you’ll be strong and stand up.”

I’m not strong,” he whispered.

I’m not talking physical strength. There’s a different kind. It’s inside of your heart. It doesn’t matter how big and brawny you are or how much you can carry. It’s the strength that only shows up when you’re afraid. When things are difficult. It’s the strength that lets your parents be brave out there. It’s inside of all of us if we only believe.”

How can someone small like me be strong?”

When I was a child, I loved the story of the three brother horses. Do you know that one?”

No,” he said.

Maybe it’s an Easterner tale.” Lamahavi thought back to her father and sitting on his lap. “Once upon a time, there were three brother horses. One was strong and mighty. He could pull a plow all day long and not get tired. Just prancing up and down the field, drawing the iron through the earth and tilling it so his owners could plant good grain in and grow fine fields of wheat.

The second brother horse was lean and swift. He could race across the plains faster than the wind, his magnificent mane and silky tail flowing behind him. He delivered the most urgent of messages. The sound of his drumming hooves could be heard far and wide.

The third brother horse was a pony. He wasn’t big and strong nor was swift and fast. The best he could do was pull a little cart to the village market, loaded down with a few bushels of grain. Not the large wagons of his first brother or the heavy plow he could pull. He tried hard to pull more, but he was too small. He tried to run as fast as the second brother horse, but his legs were too short. He wanted to be just as good as they were, but he couldn’t.

But did he give up? Did he decide he was useless and couldn’t help out the family who owned them? No. He pulled his little cart to the marketplace. While his brothers were busy plowing fields and delivering messages, he could take a few bushels of grain to be sold and make the family money. He was proud of that.”

This is a boring story,” Lozehazi said.

It’s about to get exciting. You see, demons came upon the farm and word had to be given out to the nearest castle to alert them before they were caught by surprise.” She hugged the boy. “In those days, the White Goddess hadn’t created the Diamond Ward, so the demons were roaming everywhere, killing and hurting and trying to destroy us. They spread their foul resin wherever they went, building hives and trying to cover the world in their vomited black.

The three brother horses all vowed to go and deliver the warning. ‘I am the strongest,’ declared the first brother horse, ‘I shall gallop day and night and deliver word to the castle so the soldiers can be ready to fight and kill the invaders.’

“‘And I’m the fastest,’ declared the second brother horse, ‘and I shall race the wind itself and outrun those demons. I shall reach the castle and bring word before the demons can fall upon them unaware and slay those brave soldiers.’

Now the third brother horse still wanted to help. ‘I too shall go,’ he declared, ‘and bring word to the castle. I can trot at a steady pace. Pulling my little cart has given me endurance. I shall not fail. I will bring word and make sure that the soldiers are warned.’

The first and second brother horses laughed at him. ‘You will collapse with exhaustion before the day is done,’ said the first brother horse. ‘Then the demons will cut you down while you lie on the ground panting.’ The second brother horse declared, ‘You shall fall so far behind me that the demons will catch up to you and cut off your back legs. You’ll fall to the ground and they will butcher you. Just hide with the family and survive.’”

They’re right,” interrupted Lozehazi. “They’re bigger and faster than him. He should just hide. That’s what we’re doing.”

We are hiding, but the soldiers have been warned and are fighting. Now, in the story, certainly the first brother horse could pull more weight than the pony and the second brother horse could run faster, but was that enough? The journey to the castle was long and far. The straightest path cut across rough terrain. Anything could happen. The three brother horses all set out together. The second brother horse, as swift as he boasted, raced ahead of his siblings. Before they had gotten halfway across the first valley, he was already over the hill and out of sight. The first brother kept up his steady gallop with the pony at his side. The two ran as fast as they could.”

So the second brother horse will reach the castle long before them. Why did his brothers even bother going?” The boy squirmed on her lap. “Why not tell a story about fighting?”

The first brother horse was too stubborn to back down. He was the oldest. The strongest. He should have the honor delivering the warning. He ran as fast as he could, and the littlest brother just managed to keep up. They ran and ran all day long. But pulling a plow all day, while it had given him strength, had also made the first brother big. Too big to keep up that pace. Halfway through the second day, his heart gave out and he collapsed on the ground, thrashing as he died.”

No!” the boy gasped. “But he was so strong.”

Being big is sometimes a hindrance,” said Lamahavi. “Sometimes it’s a strength. But in that race, he had to carry all that extra weight. That sapped his endurance faster than it did the little pony. ‘Go on and sound the alarm,’ the first brother horse said to the pony as he lay dying. ‘Let the guards know.’ ‘I shall,’ whinnied the third brother horse. The littlest kept galloping, his eyes thick with tears because he couldn’t stop to help his brother. Warning the soldiers was more important.”

The boy nodded. She felt his breathless excitement. “But what about the second brother horse? He left first. Did his size get him in trouble?”

Not on the plains. His swiftness was an advantage, but then came the woods. They were thick and tangled. Not even the wind could howl through them. The air was dead inside. The second brother horse had to pick his way through them, growing more and more agitated with every step. He knew the demons rushed tirelessly behind him. But he couldn’t go forward at more than a crawl. All the time he’d gained was lost.

At the dawn after the first brother horse died, the third brother horse arrived at the woods. The little pony slipped beneath the branches with ease. He trotted around the trees, keeping his head low. He had to move fast. He could hear the demons coming behind him. They were getting closer and closer. They were chittering and clicking and making all those horrible sounds.”

Lamahavi’s memory burst with her close encounter with a demon on her journey to the Ringed City. The alien monster had almost killed her with its resinsword. It resembled a giant ant taller than her, mandibles sharp and ready to rip into her flesh.

Soon, the third brother horse’s small form slipped through the forest and found the second brother horse trapped. His great mane lay tangled in the bark of a gnarled pine tree. His tail had been caught in prickling brambles. Spiny brush wrapped about his forelocks, pinning him in place. ‘I’m trapped, little brother,’ the proud horse whinnied. ‘I ran fast and true with all my heart, but I couldn’t slip through the woods unscathed. Ride. Sound the alarm. Do not let the demons devour us.’”

Lozehazi quivered on her lap. He whimpered, his eyes wide as he stared up at Lamahavi. The glowing diamonds twinkled like stars in his liquid depths.

So the third brother horse trotted on. The sounds of the demons hacking and slashing and ripping through the woods grew louder and louder. The terrible moment came when second brother horse whinnied his defiance and fought to kick the beastly monsters and crush their carapaces. Then he went silent and the third brother horse knew he was alone. That it was all on him. Not the strongest. Not the fastest. But just the right pony to make it because he never lost faith. He never let himself be useless. He’d pulled his little cart and gained just enough endurance to burst out of the woods at a gallop.”

Lozehazi caught his breath.

He ran and ran. He could see the castle ahead. The place where the brave soldiers could face the demons, but only if they were alerted. His hooves drummed across the road. The demons chittered behind him. They knew he was going for the alarm, and they hated him. In their alien souls dwelt only black rage. They want to pollute our world. To destroy all that is bright and beautiful about it.

The third brother horse wouldn’t let them.”

The boy let out an explosive breath and gasped, “Yes, yes, he’ll make it! He’s fast enough! Strong enough!”

She smiled at his enthusiasm. Outside, his father and her husband fought those same demons to keep them from devouring the world. The other boys were crowding around her, drawn by the sound of her voice. In here, she waged her own little war against despair. Against the panic that could fill the soul and drown it.

The third brother horse ran and ran, his little hooves drumming. He whinnied as loud as he could, ‘The demons are coming! The demons are coming!’ Behind him, the demons chittered their rage at his neighing. Their clawed feet carried them ever closer, for he was growing tired. He’d run so very far, but he couldn’t stop now. The castle was so close. ‘The demons are coming!’ he shouted with every last breath he had.

The demon’s sword stabbed into his side.”

NO!” all the little boys, including the one in her lap, gasped.

He whinnied in pain, and it was his loudest shout yet. He wouldn’t let the demons win. He would let the soldiers know so they could protect all the farmers and craftsmen, the wives and weavers, fathers and seamstresses. He neighed even as the blood filled his lungs. The third brother horse’s alarm reached the castle. The soldiers heard.

As the third brother horse fell to the ground, twitching and dying, he saw the soldiers on the ramparts. The horn blew, sounding the warning. The Songblade Knights were gathering for their charge to rout the demons. The foul aliens would not fall on the castle unaware. The third brother horse had foiled their twisted plans. They gnashed their foul mandibles in despair and broke their resinswords in grief as the gallant Songblade Knights charged out.

He wasn’t forgotten, the third brother horse. After the demons were slain, the knights carried his body all the way to the City of the Embalmed Dead. They laid him to rest with all their brother knights who’d died battling demons. With the wives who took up spears to fight at their warrior-husbands’ sides to hold back the umbral tide pouring out of Black Blood Rift.”

Lamahavi stared into the young boy’s eyes, wide and wet, sad for the third brother horse. She brushed away his tears. “So you see, no matter how small you might be, you’re never helpless. There is always something you can do. And that’s an important thing, Lozehazi, because one day, you’ll be bigger. Year by year, you’ll grow, and there will be little boys who will look up to you. One might even be my son.”

Your son, Madam Lamahavi?” he asked.

Do you want to know a secret?” she asked.

He nodded.

There’s a little baby growing inside of me. A handsome son or a beautiful daughter. And one day, they’re going to need someone strong to watch out for them. Do you have that strength, Lozehazi? Is it in your heart?”

It is,” he said with such bold assuredness. “I’ll be strong. For them. I will.”

I know you will,” she said. “That’s the beauty of life. We are all strong in our own ways, we just have to find it inside of us. It’s like a little coal, so faint we don’t know it’s there until we fan it to life. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re weak. Because you’re not.” She tapped his chest over his heart. “Not in here, where it matters.”

His smile dazzled her, ignited this warm ache inside of her. As he slid off her lap, her hand rested on her belly. She’d missed two of her moon flows. A mix of her and Yelaikav. As the boys started playing the three brother horses in the dark of the shelter, the fear for her husband met the strength inside of her.

What grew in her womb, that tiny spark of hope, was what they all fought for. So that the beauty of life could continue. So the darkness couldn’t smother it. She waited for the fighting to end, to find out if her husband lived, while watching the next generation romp and play.

No matter the outcome, mankind endured.

To be continued…

Click here for part 4!

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To save the skies, Ary must die!

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

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

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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

Midnight Tides (Malazan Book of the Fallen 5)

by Steven Erikson

Reviewed by JMD Reid

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can buy Midnight Tides from Amazon.

The Soldier’s Wife 1 – Foundation of Courage 

The Soldier’s Wife 1: Foundation of Courage


Beautiful woman in a kimono with samurai sword isolated on white background

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

Halfway there,” Lamahavi’s new husband said. He nodded to his right at the passing terrain. “The Mid-Hive.”

A shiver ran through Lamahavi. The young woman held tight to the light yukata, a thin robe of cotton, she wore. The light-blue cloth was decorated in a pattern of soaring cranes and white orchids, her namesake. Her delicate face rippled with distaste at the first sight of the demonic hive. She’d grown up all her life knowing about the dark beings who constantly sought to invade her world. The Forbidden Kingdom had guarded the human race for three thousand and forty-nine years.

Their watch had never failed.

Their guard had never wavered.

They were the shields of the world, chosen by the Goddess Layiv herself to defend against the Black Blood Rift that lay in the heart of the rolling plain they crossed. The Rift was a permanent scar left over from the Shattering. The one place where the Tonal Barriers could not be healed by the Diamond Lady. Layiv’s one failure.

The Mid-Hive was an eruption of black rocks forming winding tubes and spires. They had a bulbous and knobbly texture, not unlike termite mounds. No termite mound towered higher than any building constructed in the Forbidden Kingdoms.

Grass grew around the hive’s base and the weather had worn down its irregular surface. They rode over a battlefield. For twenty-one days, the Songblade Knights, supported by regular infantry and the famed Rangers, fought to contain the breach.

Three thousand had died stopping the demons.

Mid-Hive wasn’t the farthest the demons had ever tunneled, but it was the largest eruption. It lay halfway between the great city Fortress and the Black Blood Rift itself. To face the invaders, a guard had been created. Men like her husband trained to stand the watch armed with a Songblade.

Pride surged through her at his accomplishment. She recrossed her legs, covered in baggy wool pants called hakama, and glanced away from the hive. Her lavender eyes desired to focus on Yelaikav instead. He held the reins of their carriage in an easy grip, their water buffalo plodding along at a steady pace that devoured the leagues they had to travel. Their belongings filled the back of the covered wagon. The furniture their family and friends had gifted as well as wedding presents, clothing, stores of food for the garrison, and more.

A smile spread on her husband’s face. They had only married a moon’s turning ago, uniting after his anointing. He was young, like her, approaching his twenty-first summer. He had the hairless cheeks that characterized a Westerner, his skin the same yellow-brown as her own. His brown hair was cut short along the back and side while the top was shaved to expose his smooth crown. There the character for protection, a diamond surrounded by a wall on all four sides, had been tattooed in black ink. The mark of a Songblade as much as the hilt he wore tucked into the belt of his yukata. His robe was cut in the men’s fashion, worn loose. The light brown cloth, bearing no design, hung open to reveal his hairless chest. Westerners weren’t as hirsute as Easterners or Northerners.

He had the same height as her. Though she was from the east, she was tall for a woman. She wore her brown hair in a complex coil of loops piled up to her crown and held in place by her wedding gift from her husband: an alabaster hair comb shaped with a turtle holding an orchid in his mouth.

She treasured it more than any other possession she owned.

Is there something on my face?” Yelaikav asked. He glanced at her, his eyes a deeper shade of purple from her own.

What?” she asked, cocking her head.

You are studying my face like I have dirt on it.” He rubbed his cheek into the shoulder of his yukata. “Did I get it?”

There’s no dirt on your face,” she said, relaxing as the ruined hive slid past them.

Ah, so it’s just the masculine perfection of my face that you are drinking in.” He puffed out his chest. “I know, it is the visage that inflames your womanly passions.”

His playful tone helped to ease the talons of fear clutching at her heart.

Yeah, that’s it,” Lamahavi said. “Just take me right here.”

Interest gleamed across his eyes. “Really?” He glanced behind them. Three other wagons trailed behind theirs, the newest knights heading to the Black Blood Rift. “I wouldn’t want to make the other wives jealous of my prowess.”

Oh, and I thought you didn’t want to embarrass yourself before your fellow knights,” she said, a saucy heat rippling through her. She rubbed her shoulder against his. Of the two men she’d had in her life, Yelaikav proved the more satisfying lover. “I’ve heard rumors of Asozyem.”

Is that why Jiabevu always has a big grin in the morning?” he asked without pause.

She gave a wicked giggle. He had a talent for saying the right thing to lift her mood. He’d rescued her from the grief when she’d broken off her first engagement with Vevoztaj. That day, Yelaikav had produced a handkerchief and his smile.

Some women look radiant when they cry, but you’re the type of woman who shines when smiling,” he’d said that day when she’d taken the handkerchief from him.

It had shocked her. “Are you saying I look ugly?”

Undignified.” His eyes had danced with good humor. “But the choice is yours.”

Not to cry?”

No, whether you can smile.” His lips had spread wide. “It always makes me feel better no matter how sad I am. Jimuja once wrote:

Tears flowing down cheeks

banished by a simple act

smiling to spite grief

I never heard that poem of hers.”

I lied,” he’d said, winking at her. “I wrote it myself. But I think it captures a simple truth. Happiness is a choice. It can be a struggle to embrace it. Sometimes, we need those in our lives to inspire us to release our radiance.”

So she’d forced herself to smile. It had helped. The pain in her heart didn’t fade for weeks, but it lessened. After, Lamahavi had noticed him more and more around the Academy of the Shining Blade. When she’d returned his handkerchief a few days later, he’d asked her to walk through the garden beneath the moons. The plum trees had been in blossom, the air crisp with frost.

She hadn’t needed to force a smile that night.

She took Yelaikav’s right hand. He held the water buffaloes’ reins in a loose grip in his left while she played with his fingers. He had callouses from practicing with swords and spears and bows.

He glanced at her and recited:

When wife is pleased

blissful peace is known to man

harmony sings joy

Mmm, I like that one,” she said. Yelaikav wasn’t a great poet, but his words were always precious to her. She’d recorded them in a journal, carefully drawing the characters with a flowing brush made from her own hair. I’ll paint this one on a scroll and hang it over our door.

He squeezed her hand as they trundled across the Forbidden Plains.

They traveled closer and closer to the Black Blood Rift. An hour past the Mid-Hive, dust gleamed on the horizon. A patrol of the Rangers, the elite cavalry of the Forbidden Kingdom, passed them. They were the finest horsemen in the world. Many women who chaffed at the role of wife and mother found success amid their illustrious ranks. A woman’s lighter form allowed her horse greater range. They kept watch for any tunnels and breaches, so were often the first line of defense against any demons who’d escaped the Rift.

If they failed, the Hundred Forts ringing the Forbidden Plains would stop any demonic incursions.

The group stopped for lunch with the sun high overhead. She joined the other four wives in preparing the simple meals of bread and meat. Every knight sought a wife. The Diamond-Born Emperor and his Warlord believed a soldier fought best with the knowledge that his family would perish if he failed. She was both her husband’s inspiration as well as his succor from the trials of his duty.

A plum tree to give restful shade.

To Lamahavi, there was no shame in this. It didn’t make her lesser. It took a different sort of strength to be a soldier’s wife. To endure the fear without breaking. To face the same risks without flinching. Wives were as revered as their husbands. Stories abounded of their feats. Many had statues erected in their honor.

And she wasn’t helpless. There was one final defense of the Black Blood Rift. If their men fell, the wives would lay down their lives. They would fight with spear and crossbow. In her own way, she was as much a soldier as her husband.

She brewed a tea mixed with soothing chamomile while the other wives carved bread and cut slices from hunks of salted beef. The women chatted and laughed while the men patrolled the edges, looking dangerous.

Yelaikav’s swagger brought a smile to her lips.

Look at you and those hot eyes,” said Jiabevu as she cut the shank of beef, producing thick slices with plenty of succulent fat on the edges. “We heard you and your husband last night.”

Kavi,” moaned Saipoz in imitation of Lamahavi, her eyes bright. She was a Northerner with her silver hair styled in a dozen braids wrapped in blue ribbons. She had them drawn up to the crown of her head and pinned together by a hair comb of alabaster shaped like a wading heron. “Oh, Kavi!”

The three women around Lamahavi burst into laughter, Bioku covering her mouth as she giggled.

My husband is quite proud of his sword,” said Lamahavi without missing a beat as she measured out the tea leaves for their drinks. The hum of the tuning fork powering the ruby in the kettle was hardly noticeable. “What wife wouldn’t want to shower him in praise?”

Saipoz laughed louder, her youthful face bursting with delight. She glanced at their men circling in their solemn pose. “They do perform better when you don’t laugh, eh, Bioku?”

It was crooked,” Bioku said. “I didn’t think they were supposed to be. I felt so bad when he wilted.”

Still, he was a true knight and soldiered on despite your mocking sally,” Saipoz said, nudging Bioku. “I see him strutting now.”

Bioku smiled as she resumed cutting the bread on a board balanced over her knees.

Lamahavi enjoyed talking with the three others. They had all trained together at the Academy. These women would be her support when their men stood watch of the Diamond Ward, the barrier of light constraining Black Blood Rift from poisoning the whole world.

They were good women. The instructors at the Academy were skilled at winnowing out the chaff from the useful grain. Those women who they thought had the strength to be a soldier’s wife were encouraged to stay while those who weren’t were tormented.

Sometimes, the tormented persevered, proving they had the inner strength after all.

Lamahavi hoped she did. Saipoz certainly had the mettle to be a soldier’s wife. Behind her playful laughter lurked a woman as hard as a widowed matron with steel for hair.

After their meal, they were on the move again. She dozed on the driver bench, leaning back against a crate of clothing, warm from the tea and full from the food. She let herself drift, rocked by the wagon following the only road across the Forbidden Plains.

A water buffalo bayed.

A skittering sound like sand tumbling down a hill.

A curse from Yelaikav. Vile. Terrible. “Layiv’s cunt!”

Yelaikav!” she gasped in shock, her eyes snapping open.

Yelaikav hauled on the reins to stop them and shouted, “Demons!”

The sound of skittering sand increased. To her right, the grass covering the hill bowed outward. Something wiggled beneath the soil. Something large. A slimy sensation, like falling into a pile of rotting blossoms, drenched her skin. Bursting out of the sod reared a black, insect-like head. Sharp mandibles, caked with dirt, snapped. More soil spilled off spindly arms as they reached out of the hole and grasped the ground. Bristling hairs jutted from the chitinous limbs.

The demon hauled itself out of the earth.

She wanted to scream. Nothing could escape the fear strangling her throat.

Shouts roared behind her as she stared at a demon. Not an image painted in watercolors. Not a statue carved of marble or cast in bronze. This was no design stitched on a tapestry.

The black-shelled invader from another Reality moved.

It stood a head taller than her father, its body segmented like a bug. Its triangular head, adorned with multi-faceted eyes gleaming like foul obsidian, was perched atop a spindly neck. Antennae twitched above, ending in feathery fronds. Its thorax was wide, three pairs of limbs thrusting from it. A narrow tube connected to its swollen abdomen. Its rear brimmed with a foul venom it could deliver with a massive barbed stinger. It stood on the largest of its six limbs, three claw-like toes thrusting from the armored legs. The upper limbs were short, ending in finger-like appendages that could bend in all directions. Its middle limbs held its weapons. Swords formed of resin, the same substance from which they fashioned their hives. They regurgitated it and shaped it before it hardened.

A second burst out of the hole, its resinsword possessing a deadly curve. The third scrambled free of the hole in a heartbeat. It held two shorter blades. All three demons’ antennae twitched in her direction. She felt their compound eyes focusing on her with alien regard.

They chittered.

She struggled to say her husband’s name.

He rose on the wagon, the wind rippling around him. He looked so calm. “Lama,” he said, his voice rising over the shouts behind them, “surrendering to fear is a choice, too. I can feel it clawing at me.”

What?” she croaked, shocked to hear him admit it.

That’s what they tell us. It’s a choice to be scared just as it’s a choice to be brave. To fight on despite the horror in your bowels. I need you to make the choice. Fear or bravery.”

I-I-I,” she sobbed. She shrank into the wooden back of the bench as the three demons scuttled down the hill towards them.

They’re scouts!” snarled Yelaikav. “We have to kill them now before they can report to the hive that they made a successful breach. There are eight of us here.”

Eight? He’s counting me and the other wives? Tears stung her eyes.

Love is the backbone of courage,” he said as he stepped past her. “Love is the foundation of bravery.”

Love is the bedrock of civilization,” she whispered, finishing the aphorism of the Songblade Knights.

He hopped off and drew the simple handle at his side. It looked like a sword hilt, though wider than most. It was fashioned from the hollow wing bone of an Imperial Condor, the largest bird in the world. As a wedding gift, she’d carved out of jade an orchid sprouting from a diamond; a union of their two names. She’d then inserted it into the hilt.

White Orchid and Diamond Sword.

He smacked the hilt into his hip and revealed why it was hollow. The tuning fork inserted in the hollow handle sang. A single note. A heartbeat later, the diamond capping the handle erupted into a blade of pure white.

A Songblade.

Down their small convoy, the three other Songblade Knights activated their own Blades. Purple and Green and Red swords sprang into existence, each matched to their owner’s temperament. Only a few condors could be harvested a year; their species wasn’t fecund. Thus, only a few blades were manufactured.

Only the best could be trained in their use. They had almost no weight. They could slice through flesh and bone. Even steel. Fighting with one was unlike any other blade. The knight had to maintain the tuning fork’s resonance. The exact Tone activated the gem.

Yelaikav faced the demons rushing down the hill, his blade raised in a guard position. The three monsters split apart, rushing at the knights. The one with the curved blade came for Yelaikav. It chittered.

She sat on the bench, helpless. You’re a soldier’s wife. What are you doing?

It’s a choice.

Love is the foundation of bravery.

Training drilled into her during the last year surged through her. She turned around and lifted the canvas flap, exposing their packed belongings. Against a crate leaned a crossbow carved of maple. It was a weapon that took little training to master. It didn’t require the brawny strength of a bow or years of honed reflexes like the sword. She worked the windlass with practice cranks.

Three swift revolutions and the limbs were drawn back.

The demon rushed at her husband. A foul scent of bile filled her nose. They broke Black ichor dripped from its mandibles. The stink of their resin churned her stomach. She snatched up a bolt. It had a special tip, blunt instead of sharp; no crossbow bolt could penetrate a demon’s natural chitin. It served another purpose.

Bolt seated, she raised the weapon and set the butt against her shoulder. She aimed down it, tracking the demon’s movement. It was almost on Yelaikav. Her finger rested on the trigger mechanism, a length of thin steel running down the side of it to the windlass pinned against the haft to form it into a lever.

She exhaled.

The demon raised its blade to attack her husband.

She fired.

The bolt blurred through the air, flashed above Yelaikav, and slammed into the shoulder of the demon. The force of the blunt tip striking against its armored thorax threw off its next attack. Its resinsword slashed wide. His Songblade hummed. He swung hard, taking advantage of the opening.

The demon didn’t let itself get hit. Antennae twitching, it scuttled back on its wide legs. The white-glowing Songblade hissed before the monster. Already, Lamahavi worked the windlass. She had to support Yelaikav. She had done this a hundred times in training.

She’d learned to aim with skill.

To hit her target.

Cranking the crossbow windlass was a normality that reached through the fear choking her. Three swift turns and the triggering mechanism locked in place with a reassuring click. She drew the next bolt as his blade slashed through the air at the demon.

She raised her weapon and waited for her next opening.

Yelaikav moved with skill. A man’s looser yukata gave his legs more room to move. His sandals kicked up dust from the dry grass. The demon’s resinsword slashed down. He parried. Attacked.

There was one substance a Songblade couldn’t slice through. The demon’s regurgitated resin. Whatever foul substance coagulated to form their nests and weapons had toughness beyond anything found in the true world. The alien substance could not be destroyed.

Only eons of erosion could weather them.

The demon moved with speed despite its size. It scurried on its lower legs and swung its sword in a blur. Yelaikav danced with the bug, moving with all the grace she’d witnessed on the training sands. He swept through his forms.

Sweeping Swallows.

Plum Blossoms Dancing.

Crane Taking Flight.

The strikes merged from one to the other. Some were a flurry of three or four slices, like Badger In His Den. Others were hard slashes, Falcon’s Dive, or even powerful thrusts, Viper’s Poisonous Strike. Each returned to a guard position, a place where he could parry the demon’s counterattack.

She stood up on the wagon bed, taking advantage of the height. She focused on the demon’s triangular head. There was one spot that her crossbow bolts could inflict damage. She sighted on the compound eye, the multifaceted surface reflecting the brilliant light of Yelaikav’s sword.

Firing!” she screamed, remembering her training.

Yelaikav backpedaled suddenly, his feet a blur as he retreated a few steps and dodged a scything blow. She exhaled, tightened her finger on the trigger, and—

The wagon rocked.

As she fired, the jostle threw her forward and her aim down. The bolt leaped ahead and slammed into the flank of the left water buffalo. The blunted tip at such close range penetrated its thick hide. He bellowed in pain and charged forward, blood bubbling over his coarse hairs. She screamed. The sudden shift of momentum threw her back into the supplies. She crashed into a crate.

Lama!” Yelaikav screamed.

The wagon jostled and bounced. She shuddered, hearing wood cracking and snapping behind her. She had no idea what had caused the impact. She struggled to right herself in the tight confines of her yukata. Fabric ripped. Her legs suddenly had more freedom.

She pushed herself to her feet and clutched to a crate of clothing for support. She peered over it. Something was in the back of the wagon, thrashing. A snapping mandible appeared over the box and lunged at her head.

She screamed and thrust the butt of her crossbow out before her. The mandible snapped into it. Wood cracked. The body of the crossbow split in half before it was ripped out of her grasp. The demon chittered and thrashed its head.

A feathery antenna brushed her cheek.

The wispy caress felt like the kiss of cobwebs. She screamed in panic and threw herself back. She landed on the driver bench, her back on the rump of the right water buffalo. Muscles flexed beneath her as it snorted in fear. A resinsword slashed through the canvas top of the wagon. It parted the covering. The demon clambered to reach her. It was missing its left sword arm, greenish ichor bubbling down its black, waxy side.

She pushed with her feet against the back of the wagon seat and slid onto the broad back of the side of the water buffalo. It snorted beneath her as it barreled across the plain. The demon slashed down, its sword hacking through the blocking crate. Wood burst. Clothing spilled out around it. It ripped silk kimonos and cotton hakama away. The thing climbed over the wreckage and set a clawed foot on the driver bench.

She scrambled upright and straddled the right water buffalo, riding it backward. She struggled to think. The beast beneath her was yoked and harnessed. She couldn’t unhitch it with swiftness or ease. The ground sped passed them. She didn’t see any hope of escape.

The demon thrust its sword at her.

She threw herself to the side.

The ground rushed up at her. The water buffalo bellowed behind her, impaled by the demon’s blade. She hit the dusty grass. The world spun about her. Her back and arms burst in bruising pain. Strands of wild sorghum whipped at her face. She tumbled to a stop.

The water buffalo stabbed in her stead collapsed in groaning pain. The momentum of the wagon crashed into it. Wood snapped. The back end of the wagon lifted into the air. The other beast squealed in fright while the demon was pitched off. It struck the grass in a blur of segmented limbs. It rolled and came to a kicking stop.

Lamahavi had to move. She couldn’t lie there. A surge of cold exhilaration rushed through her, energizing her flesh. She hardly felt the bruising throb on the back of her left thigh. A trail of dust led back to the main fight. To her husband.

She ran into the brown mist.

The demon skittered behind her. Its chittering assaulted her panicked mind. She didn’t look back. She rushed ahead on her sandals, the leather straps wrapped tight about her sock-clad feet. Her torn yukata didn’t slow her down. Bruised muscles screamed, but fear had driven her beyond notice. She hadn’t run races since she’d been sixteen summers. Her legs remembered. They stretched out before her.

She raced across the plains as fast as she could, her torn yukata flapping about her legs. In her frantic mind, she could see her husband waiting for her. She’d find safety in Yelaikav’s arms. His smile would banish the fear. His laughter would drive away the demon.

The skittering grew louder.

A shadow fell on her. Over the scent of dust, the acrid bite of bile burned her nostrils.

She could almost see her Diamond Sword riding towards her rescue on the back of a water buffalo. She stared ahead at that fevered image, focusing on the fantasy that Yelaikav was hurtling to save her. She embraced the delusion as the final moments of her life approached.

The demon raised its sword.

I wanted to be your plum tree, she thought to the phantasm rushing to her rescue.

Queerly, the fantasized image of her husband raised a crossbow to his shoulder.

A loud twang. A dark streak hurtled through the air and hissed over her head. A loud thud and a chittering screech. A blade slashed behind her, missing her by the width of her fingers spread wide. Footsteps faltered. The demon crashed to the grass.

It was no fantasy. No hallucination brought on by fear. Yelaikav was riding a water buffalo towards her. The beast panted, sweat lathering its dark hide. He leaped from the back of it, his yukata flapping around his waist, and landed before her. He drew his Songblade hilt and slammed it into the meat of his right thigh.

The tone hummed. The blade of white light burst from the hilt. He rushed forward, face twisted in a fierce mask of anger. Blood matted the right side of his face. Dark ichor soaked his left sleeve. He charged past her.

Lamahavi’s steps faltered.

She collapsed to her hands and knees, panting. Sweat dripped off the tip of her nose and ran down her forehead from her disarrayed hair. She glanced back to see Yelaikav falling on the demon as it rose. The Songblade flashed, the cuts too fast for her to follow.

A leg severed in a spurt of dark-green ichor. The demon fell on its side. It slashed its resinsword at Yelaikav’s legs. Yelaikav parried and followed with a powerful flick that swept his sword up the thing’s thorax, splitting it open. The blade carved upward and then slashed through the triangular head.

A bubbling laugh burst from Lamahavi’s throat. A sound verging on mad hysterics as she witnessed the demon’s death. It spasmed on the ground, limbs flailing in mockery of life. Yelaikav pressed the fingers of his left hand into the hollow of his hilt, stilling the tuning fork. The note died.

The light vanished.

Lama,” he said, his voice soft.

She stared at him as the laughter became tears. The fear metastasized into sobbing exhaustion. Into disbelief and relief and a clinging horror that another of the demons might lurk beneath her.

They’re dead, Lama.”

I-I-I got scared,” she sobbed out.

So did I,” he said, “but you chose!” He seized her shoulders and lifted her into his arms. He held her tight and spun her around. His laughter danced around her. “You chose to be brave and fight! You escaped a demon, Lama!”

She shook her head, tears spilling down her face.

You didn’t freeze. You didn’t panic. You escaped and survived!” He set her down, his smile broad, contrasting with the blood oozing down from a gash in his forehead. “You almost outran one.”

I was just . . . so scared . . . that it would . . .” She struggled to say anything coherent. “Kavi, I was terrified.”

You picked up a crossbow and fought.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “How many soldiers can say the same and still look as beautiful as the sun setting over the Golden Sea?”

Beautiful?” she gasped, his words cutting through her emotional turmoil. “I must be a mess. I am covered in dust and sweat and my yukata is torn. How can you say that?”

Because you’re alive.” He said those last words like a prayer. His arms tightened around her. Her ribs creaked. “Layiv’s blessing, you’re alive. You spat in the demon’s face and escaped. Fear isn’t just an enemy. It can be your friend. We can only be truly great when the consequences matter. When we have terror beating in our hearts.”

Those words sank in. She had escaped. The demon had burst into the back of her wagon, wounded from Asozyem’s attack. It had sought easier prey. She’d kept her wits long enough to escape. Only when it had seemed hopeless had she succumbed to her fear.

It had given her the speed to stay alive just one heartbeat longer.

She rested her chin on his shoulder and stared at the twitching demon. The invader from the Black Reality spasmed with mock paroxysms of life, its body failing to realize it had died. She’d faced the most dangerous thing in the world and survived. She’d fought.

She could be a soldier’s wife.

Her family carved jade, a profession she loathed for its tedium. Any stone could have a hidden flaw. One that wouldn’t be known until the shaping began. Chip by chip, the outer layers were chiseled away, revealing either the sublime beauty of the stone or the disfiguring crack that would see it discarded.

Her husband was right when he’d called her beautiful. Her inner depths had been laid bare. She had not crumbled. This day, she’d faced what life at the Diamond Ward, guarding Black Blood Rift, would be like. It had not broken her. Would not break her.

Lamahavi did not regret her choice to be a soldier’s wife.

To be continued…

Click here to read Part 2!

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter One

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter One


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

Upon the high wall the husbands slept, while ‘round the hearth their women wept, and fugitives murmured tales of woe, of greater cities lost to Mog-Pharau


My Thoughts

Pretty straight forward, a reminder of the devastation caused by the First Apocalypse. The men are sleeping at their posts, unable to leave the defenses in case of attack while their women weep because all their children are stillborn. They hear the rumors. They know what is coming.

It is fitting to open Chapter One which also starts out with the Great Ordeal and its mission to stop the Second Apocalypse and the re-awakening of the No-God. Here are the stakes that are being gambled upon. Kellhus has to surpass the original Ordeal that Anasûrimbor Celmomas led two thousand years. He only had to cross the final leg of the Great Ordeal’s march. Kellhus’s army has to survive the ruins of the north just to reach Celmomas’s starting point.

Also, it’s good to know how to pronounce Mog-Pharau. It rhymes with woe. Though the selection is written out as prose, it’s lyrical poetry.

Early Spring, 19 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), The Kathol Passes

The tracks between whim and brutality are many and inscrutable in Men, and though they often seem to cut across the impassable terrain of reason, in truth, it is reason that paves their way. Ever do Men argue from want to need and from fortuitous warrant. Ever do they think their cause the just cause. Like cats chasing sunlight thrown from a mirror, they never tire of their own delusions.

Across the lands, priests of the Thousand Temples and Judges of the Ministrate preached the Truth and hunted for those who disputed it or ignored it for greed. Caste-slave and caste-noble alike are taught “the Great Chain of Missions.” This is how each person’s job helps other people’s job allowing the Empire and the Great Ordeal to succeed against “the apocalyptic designs of the Consult.” The Great Ordeal is the greatest host in the history of mankind. It took ten years to prepare. They have gathered for their march across the “Sranc-infested Wilds of the Ancient North” to reach Golgotterath.

“It was a mad endeavor.” It was no simple task. It required a massive movement of food and supplies. A knight, his mount, the pack mules that carried the supplies, and the slaves who prepare his supper all needed food. “This was why the most arduous battle waged by the Great Ordeal would not be against the Consult legions, but against Eärwa’s own wild heart.” They had to survive to make it to Golgotterath. So for years, the New Empire produced food and stored them in granaries while herds of livestock were driven north. The records to track this required their own warehouses to store them.

The call to arms did not come till the last.

The Zaudunyani come across the Three Seas to take up the Circumfix from Conryia to Kian. The Schools send their sorcerers including the new Saway Compact of Gnostic witches. Preeminent among them is the Mandate who are no longer seen as fools. They gather in Oswenta in Galeoth, swelling the city with foreign lords and soldiers. “The bowl of each nation had spilled, and now their distinct and heady flavors swirled together, continually surprising the palette with some unheard-of-combination.”

Summer and autumn passed. The lessons of the Holy War are remembered. The officer core is made of Zaudunyani veterans who won’t allow any trespasses. Punishments are swift and lethal because too much was at stake. This is the Shortest Path. “Mercy required a certain future, and for men, there was none.” Two skin-spies are uncovered by Kellhus and publicly executed. The Great Ordeal passes winter at the city of Harwash where the caravans that travel to Sakarpus and Atrithau depart from. Twenty thousand die to lungplague.

It was, the Aspect-Emperor explained, but the first of many tests.

As spring approached, preparations to march were underway. Men weep when the order to march is given. As they march, the men feel like the entire world is kneeling before them, approving their actions. King Saubon of Caraskand, who’s one of the two Exalt-Generals, leads the first host with the faster units. Kellhus’s eldest sun, Kayûtas, leads the Kidruhil with Conphas. They are the most famed heavy cavalry in the Three Seas. Sakarpus’s retreats before them, leaving only their skirmisher to harass the Great Ordeal. Behind them, King Proyas of Conryia leads the rest of the host, including the sorcerers. The column is so long, communication between the front and the back is too great for any rider to travel it quickly.

It snowed the fourth night, when the priests and judges led ceremonies commemorating the Battle of the Pass, where an ancient alliance of refugee Men and the Nonmen of Cil-Aujas had defeated the No-God in the First Apocalypse, so purchasing the World a year of precious respite. Nothing was said of the subsequent betrayal and the extermination of the Nonmen at the hands of those they had saved.

As they march, they sing to Kellhus, to their own might, to their wives and families, and about the world they would save. At evening, they shed armor to pray and listen to sermons. It took days for them all to file through the pass onto the “thawing fields of the Sagland.” The Sakarpi have left scorched earth behind, the King of Sakarpus hoping hunger would save his city.

Few Three Seas Men had ever seen grassland steppes, let alone the vast and broad-back Istyuli. Beneath grey skies, with tracts still scabbed with snow, it seemed a trackless and desolate place, a precursor to the Agongorea, about which they had heard so much in endless recitations of The Sagas. Those raised on the coasts were reminded of the sea, of horizons as flat as a rule with nothing but limits for the eye to fasten upon. Those bred along desert margins were reminded of home.

It was raining when the multitudes climbed into the broad scruffs of land that lifted the Lonely City above the plain. At last, the two Exalt-Generals clasped arms and set about planning the assault. They scowled and joked and shared reminiscences, from the legendary First Holy War to the final days of the Unification. So many cities. So many campaigns.

So many proud peoples broken.

Sorweel finds sleep eluding him so is already awaken when the emissary from the Great Ordeal comes to speak with his father, King Varalt Harweel II. Sorweel attends as the crown prince of Sakarpus, as he has attended all such important meetings. “But until recently, ‘important’ had meant something quite different.” Fights with Srancs, diplomatic issues with Atrithau, disgruntled nobles. He’s usually bored. Now he’s scared. He’s a year from his “first Elking,” on the cusp of full manhood, and is staring at King Nersei Proyas standing before his father. Through translators, Proyas broaches what King Harweel says about Kellhus. Harweel sneers about his “blasphemy,” showing his disdain for Kellhus’s godhood.

“Blasphemy…” the Exalt-General said. “He would not say that.”

“And what would he say?”

“That you fear, as all man fear, to lose your power and privilege.”

Sorweel’s father laughed in an offhand manner that made the boy proud. If only he could muster such careless courage.

Harweel, sounding merry, asks if Proyas actually sees him as using his people as pawns to protect them as opposed to standing up to Kellhus to protect his people. Proyas does see it that way by saying no man can “stand between a God and the people.” It unnerves Sorweel how Three Seas Men speak of Kellhus as a living god. Harweel says his priest call Kellhus a demon.

“They say what they need to keep their power safe,” the translator said with obvious discomfort. “They are, truly, the only ones who stand to lose from the quarrel between us.”

To Sorweel, the Aspect-Emperor had been an “uneasy rumour.” His earliest memories are sitting on his father’s knee as traders spoke about Kellhus. From them, Sorweel had heard about everything in the south. His father would always warn that one day, Kellhus would come for them.

“But how can you know, Da?”

“He is a Ciphrang, a Hunger from the Outside, come to this world in the guise of a man.”

“Then how can we hope to resist him?”

“With our swords and sour shields,” his father had boasted, using the mock voice he always used to make light of terrifying things. “And when those fail us, with spit and curses.”

But the spit and the curses, Sorweel would learn, always came first, accompanied by bold gestures and grand demonstrations. War was an extension of argument, and swords were simply words honed to bloodletting edge. Only the Sranc began with blood. For Men, it was always the conclusion.

Perhaps this explained the Emissary’s melancholy and his father’s frustration. Perhaps they already knew the outcome of this embassy. All doom requires certain poses, the mouthing of certain words—so said the priests.

Sorweel can feel Kellhus lurking outside the walls. “An itch, a name, a principle, a foreboding…” Sorweel knows they have come to kill the man, rape the women, and enslave the children. His father is boasting how Sakarpus survived the No-God and will survive Kellhus.

The Exalt-General smiled, or at least tried to. “Ay, yes… Virtue does not burn.”

Harweel asks what that means and Proyas explains all that is left after death is the good things your children record about you. “All men flatter themselves through their forebears.” Harweel snorts and says Sakarpus is still around, proving his strength. But Proyas says Kellhus has been here when Sakarpus was merely the frontier of a great empire. Its lack of importance is why Sakarpus survived. Chance is ever as fickle as a whore. The silence from his father unnerves Sorweel. The stakes were crushing his father. He was pretending everything was fine, but Sorweel could see the lie.

Proyas continues that the entire Three Seas and all the schools are here. Proyas pleads with Harweel to see that he can’t win, appealing to him as a fellow warrior who has fought and seen the terrors of war.

Another ashen silence. Sorweel found himself leaning forward, trying to peer around the Horn-and-Amber Throne. What was his father doing?

“Come…” the Exalt-General said, his voice one of genuine entreaty. “Harweel, I beg of you, take my hand. Men can no longer afford to shed the blood of men.”

Sorweel can’t believe how aged his father appears. He’s not old, but looks it, his crown heavy. For a moment, Sorweel wants to speak to cover his father’s weakness, but Harweel finds his strength. He tells Proyas if he doesn’t want to fight, then leaves and march to die at Golgotterath or return to “hot-blooded wives.”

As though deferring to some unknown rule of discourse, Proyas lowered his face. He glanced at the bewildered Prince before returning his gaze to the King Sakarpus. “There is the surrender that leads to slavery,” he said. “And there is the surrender that sets one free. Soon, very soon, your people shall know the difference.”

“So says the slave!” Harweel cried.

The Emissary did not require the translator’s sputtering interpretation—the tone transcended languages. Something in his look dismayed Sorweel even more than the forced bluster of his father’s response. I am weary of blood, his eyes seemed to say. Too long have I haggled with the doomed.

He stood, nodding to his entourage to indicate that more than enough breath had been spent.

Sorweel was hoping his father would take him aside and explain why he appeared so fearful. To Sorweel, his father is the bravest man. He’d earned it through is room, revered by his Boonsmen and feared by the Horselords. “How could he of all Men be afraid?” Sorweel fears his father is holding back something important. Sorweel can only watch in the wake of Proyas’s departure as his father gives orders. At dawn, he is marched through the streets with his father’s High Boonsmen, seeing the refugees from the Saglands who’d entered the city, mothers looking dazed as herding their children. Sorweel wants to fight, but he hasn’t had his Elking, so he’s not allowed.

It begins raining as the hours past. It soaks through his armor. He feels useless and miserable. Finally, his father calls for him after a while. He’s brought to an empty barrack and warms his hands at a fire with Harweel. His father is troubled. Sorweel has no idea what to say.

“Moments of weakness come upon all Men,” Harweel said without looking at his son.

The young Prince stared harder into the glowing cracks.

“You must see this,” his father continued, “so that when your time comes you will not despair.”

Sorweel was speaking before he even realized he had opened his mouth. “But I do, Father! I do desp—!”

The tenderness in his father’s eyes was enough to make him choke. It knocked his gaze down as surely as a slap.

His father explains that men who see things in absolute terms can’t handle fear or despair. It breaks them because they have not struggled with doubt before then. His father asks Sorweel if he’s a fool like that. Sorweel is hurt because the question is genuine. He answers no. He has so much fear and doubt in him. He can’t speak it as he feels ashamed for doubting his father. He realized he’d been a burden to his father instead of supporting him on this day. Before he can explain his thoughts, three Horselords enter, calling for them.

Forgive me…

Standing on the walls of Sakarpus, he still feels warm after his talk with his father. He’s in the northern tower It’s raining. He stares at the thick walls and can’t imagine them being destroyed. It’s lined with soldiers in the “ancient armour of their fathers.” Archers wait to fire arrows. He’s proud of his people’s courage and determination. He knows that beyond the rain-choked gray, the Great Ordeal lurks.

He says the war prayers to Gilgaöl like he was trained and to Anagke, the Whore of Fate, to keep him from bad luck. The High Boonsmen pray around him for deliverance from “the Aspect-Emperor’s grasping hand.” Sorweel tries to convince himself that Kellhus is a demon and will lose.

A horn rings out. After a pause, more sound. “Suddenly the whole world seemed to shiver, its innards awakened by the cold cacophony.” More prayers and curses are muttered by unnerved men. The horns die while a father tells his son to “Take heart,” and speaks of an omen that means they’ll have good fortune, but the man’s confidence sounds forced.

Peering after the voices, Sorweel recognized the Ostaroots, a family whom he had always thought hangers-on in his father’s Royal Company. Sorweel had always shunned the son, Tasweer, not out of arrogance or spite, but in accordance with what seemed the general court attitude. He had never thought of it, not really, save to make gentle sport of the boy now and again with his friends. For some reason, it shamed Sorweel to hear him confessing his fears to his father. It seemed criminal that he, a prince born to the greatest of privileges, had so effortlessly judged Tasweer’s family, that with the ease of exhalation, he had assessed lives as deep and confusing as his own. And found them wanting.

His remorse is swallowed up by warning shouts. Out of the rainy mist, siege towers appear. Their size surprises him. They are massive and had to be carried across the wilderness in pieces to reach here. They crawl forward in a V formation, covered in tin armor. They have the Circumfix painted across their fronts. Sorweel had seen that symbol tattooed on missionaries his father had ordered burned. Everyone on the wall grows breathless as they approach. The battle has finally begun. The previous months of stress are over. Behind the towers marches the vast Great Ordeal.

Once again the horns unnerved the sky.

Sorweel sees ten times the number of the defenders (who themselves number ten thousand) approaching. So many strangers who came from lands he’d never heard of. These people didn’t care about Sakarpus. “The Southron Kings, come to save the world.” Sorweel had imagined those lands, wanting to run away as a child to a place where “Men yet warred against Men.” He’d learned, however, to hide his fascination. The South is viewed with contempt. “It was a place where subtlety had become a disease and where luxury had washed away the bourne between what was womanish and what was manly.”

But they were wrong—so heartbreakingly wrong. If the defeats of the previous weeks had not taught them such, then surely they understood now.

The South had come to teach them.

King Harweel appears at his son side and tells them not to fear the Schoolman. They won’t attack because of all the Chorae Sakarpus possesses. The king is inspiring his son and the others. Harweel gives a rousing speech about how they stood unbroken against the Sranc and—

His speech is cut off by a stork swooping down before him, startling everyone. Sorweel presses on his belly, feeling the Chorae tied against his bellybutton. The stork shouldn’t be flying in the rain. The stork stares at them without fear, unnerving the men. Harweel pushes himself forward to stand over the stork. A bright light in the sky, like a star, draws Sorweel’s attention. When he looks back, the stork is gone.

Activity explodes across the battlement, men shouting as the siege towers move forward as the star winked out. It reappeared closer over the front of the marching army. Sorweel realizes that there is a man or a god surrounded by blue light

Sorweel fond himself clutching the pitted stone of the battlements.

The Aspect-Emperor.

The rumor. The lifelong itch…

Sorweel cries a warning to his father as heavy winds blow rains over the walls. Ballistae fire Choraetipped bolts, but the sudden wind cuts their range. They miss him. At the same time, Sorweel hears words of sorcery. Silver lines race out from Kellhus, forming “incandescent geometries, a sun-bright filigree.” Sorweel realizes Kellhus is making mist to blind them. The Southron armies are singing hymns as they advanced.

Harweel grabs his son and tells him to go to the Citadel. That it was a mistake to bring him here. Sorweel is horrified, protesting that his father would treat him like a child. He cries out, “My bones are your bones!”

Harweel raised his hand to Sorweel’s cheek. “Which is why you must go. Please, Sorwa. Sakarpus stands at the ends of the world. We are the last outpost of Men! He needs this city! He needs our people! That means he needs you, Sorwa! You!”

Sorweel protest that he won’t leave, crying hot tears hidden by the cold rain. His father punches him and knocks him to the ground and orders Narsheidel to carry him to the Citadel. Narsheidel obeys and drags Sorweel away. He cries out in protest, seeing his father one last time before the fog hides him.


The clamour of arms descended upon the world.”

Sorweel continues his struggle against Narsheidel, but the man won’t relent. He sees his father’s eyes watching him, full of love and concern and even regret. He sees a father’s pride and hope that “he might live with greater grace through the fact of a son.” Soon, they’re in the city streets, soldiers rushing to the fight.

And a solitary figure in the midst of the confusion, crouched like a beggar, only clothed in too much shadow…

And with eyes that blinked light.

The Herder’s gate is destroyed with sorcerery. The enemy flood into the streets. Men die, killed by sorcery. A siege tower reaches the wall supported by Angogic sorceries. Harwell is dragged farther and farther from the battle while his father’s blue, beseeching eyes fill his mind. He reaches the Citadel where he once again sees Kellhus as “bright as the Nail of Heaven—only beneath the clouds.” Narsheidel is overcome with fear while retainers and guards ask where the king is. In his panic, Narsheidel is screaming that the Citadel must hold secrets that will save them because it is old. He’s dragged to an antechamber where he finally shouts at Narsheidel to stop. He asks where his father is and is told that Harweel is dead.

The words winded him. Even still, Sorweel heard his own voice say, “That means I am King. That I’m your master!”

The High Boonsman looked down to his palms, then out and upward, as though trying to divine the direction of the outer roar—for it had not stopped.

“Not so long as your father’s words still ring in my ears.”

Sorweel looked into the older man’s face, with its strong-jawed proportions and water-tangled frame of hair. Only then, it seemed, did he realize that Narsheidel too had loved ones, wives and children, sequestered somewhere in the city. That he was a true Boonsman, loyal unto death.

Sorweel starts to shout that his father is dead when the wall explodes. He is thrown to the ground while the commander of the Citadel, Lord Denthuel, has his head crushed by debris. Sorweel lies stunned as he stares at a gaping hole. He doesn’t remember if he spoke. Through the hole, he sees the Aspect-Emperor striding through the air. The rain doesn’t touch him.

The shining demon crossed the threshold, framed by gloom and deluge.

A nameless guard flees when Kellhus steps through the breach. Narsheidel charges. Kellhus smoothly doges and whips out his sword, beheading the Boonsman. “The demon” stares at Sorweel the entire time, but Kellhus’s eyes seem far too human.

“On his knees, Sorweel could do naught but stare.”

Kellhus feels unreal, like he’s both physically here and in a spiritual place. He stands taller than Sorweel’s father and wearing a mail of nimil (Nonman steel). He wears the severed heads of two demons on his belt, and he has scabs of salt on his skin. The “vision” announces his identity and Sorweel pisses himself and collapses onto his belly.

“Come,” the man [Kellhus] said, crouching to place a hand on his [Sorweel’s] shoulder. “Come. Get up. Remember yourself…”


“You are a King, are you not?”

Sorweel could only stare in horror and wonder.

“I-I d-d-d-on’t understand…”

A friendly scowl, followed by a gentle laugh. “I’m rarely what my enemies expect, I know.” Somehow, he was already helping him to his feet.

Kellhus explains that this fight was a mistake, he’s not a conqueror, but here to save mankind. Sorweel calls him a liar. Kellhus tells him to grieve because it’s natural. “But take heart in the fact of your forgiveness.” Sorweel asks how Kellhus can forgive anything. Kellhus says Sorweel misunderstands what he meant.

“Misunderstand what?” Sorweel spat. “That you think yourse—!”

“Your father loved you!” the man interrupted, his voice thick with a nigh-irresistible paternal reprimand. “And that love, Sorwa, is forgiveness… His forgiveness, not mine.”

The young King of Sakarpus stood dumbstruck, staring with a face as slack as rainwater. Then perfumed sleeves enclosed him, and he wept in the burning arms of his enemy, for his city, for his father, for a world that could wring redemption out of betrayal.

Years. Months. Days. For so long the Aspect-Emperor had been an uneasy rumor to the South, a name heaped in atrocity as it was miracle…

No more.

My Thoughts

Bakker starts right off with a discussion on men and how they are controlled by Cause and Effect. Humans do not like being the villains so we always rationalize our actions and find excuses for them. Some are better than others, but most do it. We come up with why we lie, we cheat, we steal. Why we are selfish.

We spin out our delusions to justify our crimes.

“Men, all Men, warred all the time.” Pure Bakker there. Men are in competition, and war is the ultimate competition. Whether they are competing (warring) with the field they till or competing for the affection of their lover.

It’s clear Bakker thought a lot about how the host would survive the march. It’s great to see that level of detail.

Hello, skin-spies. Slipping them in early. Need to remember that they exist because there’s another one out there.

Men and their delusions are illustrated with: “The Men of the Ordeal could feel it: an approving world, a judging world.” Also, we see judging again. The Judging Eye does exactly what these men believe is happening as does the Inverse Fire.

We have our first reference to Cil-Aujas, the Nonman ruin which dominates the finale in this book. We get the first glimpse of its history, how the humans and Nonmen fought off the No-God and then how the humans later butchered them. It’s a whitewashing of history as well as planting the first seeds for a big story hook to come.

Bakker starts off the Great Ordeal by mirroring how it will end. The army crosses a plain that has been depleted of food, just like they’ll find when crossing the Agongorea, the Field Appalling. There, hunger will reduce them to cannibalism to survive. Like with Sakarpus, the Consult tries that same tactic of starvation to defeat the Great Ordeal. Only we see the armies here at the start, strong and proud and confident, eager to break another proud people.

They don’t realize they’re a proud people.

Bakker’s irony is on full display with the Great Ordeal fighting to save mankind by starting his campaign with conquering a city that has stood up against the Consult and the Sranc since the Second Apocalypse ended. In other fantasy, Sakarpus would welcome and aid the Great Ordeal.

Sorweel is our primary POV for the events of the Great Ordeal. He’s a young man who has to grow up and see the world for what it is. He still idealizes his father like any boy would. It’s easy to see someone as being brave when you don’t know the fear inside of them. It’s as Bakker described in an earlier book, that humans are a two-sided coin. There’s the face the world sees of us and the face we see of ourselves. You can never see how the world sees you, and the world can never see how you view yourself.

Proyas is trying diplomacy here. It is admirable. Harweel is as Proyas describes. He wants to keep his power. He seems like a good man, so he probably has his reasons like protecting his people and defying a demon. The rationalization to justify his desires. After all, Sakarpus survived the No-God. How could Kellhus threaten them?

Kellhus is a Ciphrang… An interesting comment to have in the prose given the deal he’s made Ajokli between the two series.

Bakker brings us some good insight on fighting and why it happens. Some say war is the failure of diplomacy, others say it’s the only way to accomplish it. Force is required to bring people to the peace tables. The threat of it or its actual unleashing. The outcome can often be seen ahead of time, which only makes the tragedy to come pointless. But people are stubborn. They have hope. They don’t want to see reality. They are consumed with pride or fear. A hundred reasons that can lead to men dying on the battlefield. They’re rarely good ones.

Well, Chapter One and fortune is compared to a whore!

Sakarpus says they are here because of the strength of their wall, the might of their ancestors, and the Chorae Horde (which why the Holy War is here). Kellhus says they were on the periphery of events and lucked out that the consult didn’t come. I imagine it’s more in the middle. They did weather attacks but they never felt the full brunt of the No-God.

Sakarpus reminds me of Game of Thrones. The North talked a good talk about how they were strong than their southern men, worth ten of them, and then Arya finds them slaughtered when Ned Stark is captured. She’s confused that their bravado didn’t match reality. Sorweel is starting to see through his father’s bravado before the face of the might before them.

The end is writ in stone. Everyone knows it, but Harweel cannot break free of the expectations that lie on him and the fear of losing all he has. He is grasping at straws to stay free and Proyas knows it. We see that after twenty years, Proyas has grown with more compassion. This isn’t the zealot we first met, but the man who witnessed Shimeh burn.

How many cities has he seen burned since?

I make no bones about how much I dislike Kellhus. What he does to Proyas in this series is brutal. The shortest path as no room for compassion or love.

Great father and son stuff between Sorweel and his father. His father is getting him ready for what’s to come. The fact that they’re going to lose. Harweel can’t bring himself from surrendering without a fight. He must feel trapped by duty and expectation. Sorweel can start clean as the subject ruler. He recognizes how Kellhus operates. He prefers to leave those in place who will be followed if they bend the knee. Sorweel is that person. Someone he can use as both a hostage and a ruler to keep Sakarpus in line after the defeat. Harweel needs his son to be strong enough to survive what is coming.

Sorweel is maturing fast now, feeling empathy to a boy he disliked out of habit. Humans fall into a social hierarchy, and you act in your place to maintain it or risk falling from your place and losing the ability to climb higher.

It’s interesting the relief that can come when the dreaded thing happens. You can finally deal with it and not worry about it, even if it goes bad. Stress is not good for humans in our current modern world. Its designed for life-and-death situations, not worrying for days or weeks on whether you’re going to lose your job. It’s not great having that building pressure with no release for too long.

Warrior cultures always think they are superior in military might to more civilized nations. They can often be surprised then to lose. Those countries might not have the culture on the surface, but that doesn’t mean they’re not humans who, when need to, can be just as aggressive to survive. Barbarians might win when they sweep unprepared against a “soft” enemy, but if the enemy can regroup, they can fight back. The Japanese saw the Americans as weak and easily swept aside. They were followers of Bushido. During the Battle of Midway, in one of the opening skirmishes, a US dive bomber almost crashed into the bridge of an aircraft carrier, nearly killing the admiral in command of the Japanese forces. This shook them badly seeing an American willing to go that far. On that day, they saw inexperience American forces, but not cowards. Not men who wouldn’t fight.

Sakarpus is seeing the same. The “weak” south has marched with the same martial fervor that any human can muster.

Harweel might be the best father in this series. He’s trying to keep his son alive, even if that means punching him in the face to get him to leave. Everything we’ve seen about him through Sorweel is positive. It’s a shame Harweel couldn’t bend his knee, but then giving up power is one of the hardest things to do. The darkness that comes before had its hand around Harweel. He couldn’t break free.

This shadowed beggar is something I’ve never noticed before. Eyes that blinked light. A follower of Yatwer? At some point, Sorweel drew the Goddess’s notice. She makes him her Narindar. I thought it was with the slave he later meets, but it might have been as early as right now.

Sorweel is trying to be an active main character here. His father is dead, and he knows he has to take charge, but Narsheidel is panicked. He’s obeying his last order no matter what. He’s placed Sorweel above protecting his own family because he finds comfort in following his oath. It’s something familiar.

Then Kellhus steps in and removes that agency from Sorweel that he almost had. Sorweel’s story is one of lacking agency. He wants it, but he’s continually forced into different roles, and in the end, becomes nothing more than a pawn for Yatwer.

“On his knees, Sorweel could do naught but stare.” Sorweel meets Kellhus as a kneeler king. Just as he thinks of all those others who serve in disdain, that’s how he meets our Dûnyain.

Kellhus’s Mark is probably at the point where even a near miss from a Chorae can cause him issues.

Come on, Bakker, you can’t use pronouns like this: “Somehow, he was already helping him to his feet.” That’s two different men being referenced by the pronouns. Kellhus is helping Sorweel stand but it sounds like one person is helping himself stand. And that one person would be Kellhus, who is standing! I love Bakker’s writing, but his pronouns sometimes drive me nuts.

If you hadn’t known anything about Kellhus, if this was your first introduction to him, you would buy his act. Hugging the enemy of his son after reluctantly fighting his people in the greater goal of saving the world is something you’d see in fantasy. The savior of mankind with his inhuman power.

We know every word he spoke to Sorweel is an act to win his support and through him the resources of Sakarpus.

Sorweel is fantasy trope of the captured enemy who is out to avenge his father and in the process seduces the daughter of his enemy to his side. He only manages to seduce the daughter, and that only happened because he became a pawn of a Goddess using him in an act of mad defiance to kill Kellhus. It ends in failure. In his death, having no agency. Never taking his own power. He is perpetually pulled from event to event (quite literally when he’s dragged into the bowels of Ishterebinth in The Great Ordeal). Like with Kellhus in the first series, he is a subversion of this trope. In some ways, he’s a mirror of Kellhus. They both start out as the young man stepping out into the world, each their own fantasy trope, and each radically different. One seizes agency, the other is seized. However, they both end up being possessed by the gods.

Sorweel is a pawn. A slave to the darkness that comes before. Only it’s the darkness of Yatwer who can’t see the No-God and his actions. She doesn’t understand the context of the future and can only seek to stop it the way a blind man can: by blundering. Sorweel is one of those who are in her path.

Let’s follow him on his journey and study his character. His part in The Unholy Consult is something I’m eager to dig in when we (eventually) get there.

Click here for Chapter Two!


To save the skies, Ary must die!

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

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Review: Empire of Grass

Empire of Grass

by Tad Williams

Reviewed by JMD Reid

When we last left off, Prince Morgan, the grandson of Simon and Miramele, is fleeing into Aldheorte Forest fleeing the attack at his camp. At the Hayholt, Simon is struggling to hold the High Ward together as their deadly enemies, the fey-like Norns, are planning to attack and resume the war that ended thirty years ago. His wife, Queen Miramele, sells into the viper’s nest of Nabban to bring peace to two feuding power. In the grasslands, Unvar declares himself the Shan of Shan of the nomadic Thrithings and promises to drive back the foreigners encroaching on their grassland.

And behind much of this misfortune, Simon’s trusted adviser, Parcelleus, plots Simon and Miramele’s deaths and the end of their rule.

The characters are thrust into new danger. Everything is in upheaval. The past of the last three decades is crumbling. Treachery and betrayal are undoing everything Simon and Miramele had achieved in their youths while the Queen of the Norns has reawakened after the wounds she took at the end of the war. Competing interests clash and clatter. Events are spiraling out of everyone’s control.

Chaos threatens to destroy all.

It’s a great followup to the Witchwood Crown. It’s full of twists and turns, misfortune and misunderstanding sparking new conflicts, disrupting plans on both sides. The plot is engaging, keeping you reading to find if Simon and Miramele can hold their life’s work together and protect their grandchildren.

Will Prince Morgan survive being lost in the forest? Will Parcelleus treachery lead to Miramele’s death in the chaos of Nabban? What will happen to Count Eolair as he surrenders to the men who attacked and butchered his men? The Norn are descending on the world of men while they’re torn apart by petty conflicts.

Williams prose and story structure are engaging. The cast of characters is engaging, especially the trolls. They again are a favorite of mine. His plot has more pieces going than the original series, but he’s keeping it going so far.

Things have never seen bleaker. I can’t wait for the next book in this series!

You can buy Empire of Grass from Amazon!

Review: Untold Stories from the World of Myrrah Volume 1

Untold Stories from the World of Myrrah Volume 1

by Autumn M Brit

Reviewed by JMD Reid

A collection of short stories set in her delightful World of Myrrah. Fleshing out the world surrounding her two fantasy series Rise of the Firth Order and Games of Fire. They involve many of her main characters from before the first series and between the two. Stories of love and guilt, stories of growth and pain.

These were a fascinating collection of stories. Some are short and sweet, others have some real depths, and others full of action and suspense. The writing holds all of Brit’s charm. The stories reveal new facets of her characters and shows the events that shaped them.

Her world has so many corners to explore, and I was glad to enjoy it. If you’ve read Brit’s fantasy series, you have to read this. If you’re a fan of imaginative and exciting fantasy stories, there is plenty in here even for newbies to her writing (though the last few will spoil Rise of the Fifth Order).

I was glad to pick this up and thoroughly enjoyed returning to Brit’s World of Myrahh. I can’t wait for volume 2!

This book peels back more of her world and reveals the underlining pinning of it. This is such a fast-paced and fun book to read. The stakes have never been higher, and the emotions have never been stronger. If you haven’t started reading Brit, then you need to pick up Born of Water and start reading this amazing series!

Fans of fantasy will fall in love with the writing of Autumn Brit! I can’t wait to see what new and imaginative worlds she’ll create next.

You can buy Untold Stories from the World of Myrrah Volume 1 from Amazon!

Blood to Flame

Blood to Flame

Day of Flames, Month of the Fire, Year of Heart’s Flooding 1062

Passion burned in Sdacsa’i.

Taek’a buzzed with euphoria as he rose from the woman’s embrace, his seed spilled in her. She cooed her delight, her ebony skin gleaming in the torchlight spilling between the two ruined buildings. The revelry raged beyond, the clash of cymbals, trumpeting of horns, and the rill of pipes created a melody of disharmony. A dozen different songs blending together with the shouts of the celebrants.

In Sdacsa’i, passions did not have to be constrained. Only one oath mattered, and only a fool would take that one.

Taek’a lurched with drunken laughter from the woman, his loincloth half-covering his manhood as he stumbled into the debauchery. He hardly thought of the woman who called herself Sa’ina. It meant “Desire” in his Ki’manese tongue.

A fake name. But who cared.

The oaths to the Passions didn’t matter here. The duty to family, friends, town, and Ki’mana did not hold power. Sleeping with a girl, spilling his seed in her, didn’t mean he had to take her for his wife and care for her children.

He’d come to taste fire. The raw Passion without any oaths or rules constraining him. A last chance of freedom before the repercussions of his deeds crushed him. Before he added his melody to Wueda and settled down to manage her father’s bakery.

He didn’t have flour on his hands here. He had the scent of a woman’s passion. He inhaled as he lurched out into the revelers dancing on the edge of the desert. Here, the fertility gifted by the Heartspring ended and the fiery death of the Anvil loomed ahead. The dry scent of the desert brushed his nose. He felt the warmth from its sands even though the sun had long set.

A giggling girl, naked and smiling, pressed a drink into his hand before being dragged off by a pair of her friends. All laughing and stumbling. He inhaled the fruity scent of fortified strawberry wine, the alcohol almost drowned the sugary sweetness. He took a swing, his tongue and throat almost dead to the burning.

Once a decade, this town lived. Once a decade, any acts here were free of the weight. Passions didn’t have to be constrained. He felt a freedom he’d never had in his village alongside the Heartspring, the massive lake at the heart of Ki’mana. From it sprang the Three Mother Rivers, the blessed channels that spread the life-giving water across what should be arid savanna.

A bonfire blazed to his right. Women danced around it, the firelight painting across their ebony skin. Like Taek’a, they were Ki’manese, not pale-tan like the Tethyrians to the north, or snow white like the staid followers of Elohm across the sea. They were the Children of Water and Fire, of passions restrained and blazing.

He drifted to the women, entranced by their movements. Some wore skirts of beads that flashed and swayed, exposing parts of their body kept hidden across the rest of Ki’mana. Breasts heaved, oiled and gleaming. Men clapped a beat around them, drinking, singing, lusting. A feverish pitch burned through Sdacsa’i.

Something built. Taek’a could feel it in the root of his phallus.

Did Wueda come here? he wondered idly. You never announced if you were going to Sdacsa’i, and your family and friends would pretend you hadn’t left. She was a fine girl and would make a fine wife, but…

He smiled as a girl darted past chased by an older man, his snowy beard almost shining against his dark skin. His muscles sagged, but he still had the virility to chase her into the dark corners between the ancient walls of the city.

Taek’a finished off the rest of his fortified wine, the flavor of strawberries lingering on his lips. He looked for a pretty girl to kiss. His eyes cast around, flicking past two men locked in their own embrace. It was Sdacsa’i.

Nothing was forbidden on this night.

The song around the bonfire hit a feverish pitch. The women were swaying in ecstatic passion. The growing sensation he felt rippled through him, a deep, resonating harmony. All the Passions had their own tones. The Passion of the Wind, of the Earth, of Father and Mother. Here, the Passion of Fire reigned. The most destructive. The most fierce. The one most needed to be controlled, or it would destroy everything.

The one place where it could sing to its fullest.

He felt it in the root of his manhood. Everyone did. The rhythm clapped louder and louder. The fire burned and blazed. The flames danced at any one moment looking like frozen crystals of oranges and reds and yellows before they shifted to the next pose. The coals of the burning logs blazed bright. The flames roared to a feverish pitch. The ground rumbled beneath his feet.

She was coming.

The Avatar of Fire. The Passion of Flames given flesh. The time to pledge the one oath enforced in Sdacsa’i had arrived. The one action that was binding. The one drunken boast you never wanted to make here.

The harmonics hummed. The buildings rattled. Groaned.

The bonfire collapsed. Logs spilled towards the dancers. They screamed, fleeing. Coals spilled across the desert sands. Sparks danced through the air. Men yanked gaping women to safety. A silence descended despite the roar of the spilled fire.

The harmony ended.

Well, well, well, look at all of you,” a voice purred in a strange form of Ki’manese, accented but not like any of the Relashim traders that passed through Taek’a’s town.

The woman who stepped up to the spilled fire had skin as pale as milk, her hair the color of spun gold. Her age was hard to say, at once young and bursting with hormonal passion, then mature and blessed with the wisdom of years. She held a silver goblet studied with garnets in one hand. She took a long drink, her ruby-red eyes flashing about the watchers.

O’csari had arrived. The Passion of Flame made flesh.

She finished her drink and threw the goblet into the fire. She laughed and pulled the nearest woman to her. Their naked bodies came together as O’csari planted a hungry kiss that made every watching male groan, Taek’a included. The woman shuddered, her ebony skin as dark as night against the Avatar’s flesh.

Mmm, don’t go far,” purred the Avatar as she broke away. She whirled around and fire burned at her fingertips. They blazed up her arms as a harmonic ringing filled the air. The single note of a tuning fork plucked.

The cup in Taek’a’s had purred.

Look at all of you,” O’csari said, her voice ringing through the night. In the dark around the bonfire, revelers gathered. She stalked around the spilled blaze, her pale flesh painted in dancing reds and oranges. “All this passion unleashed. You burn with it.”

She passed a woman, stroking her face with fiery fingers. The woman shuddered and touched her dark cheek, maybe to soothe a burn or to savor the caress of the demigoddess. The Seven Passions were sacred to Taek’a’s people. They could embody Avatars to enact their will, divinities with purposes mere mortals could never understand.

Yes, yes, you blazed with it.” O’csari breathed deep. “I can smell it. Intoxicants on the air. Lust brimming in all of you. No focus. No control. You spend your fires without any purpose. Isn’t it wonderful?” She smiled. “All this freedom. Look at what you do with it.”

A strange shame rippled over Taek’a as he realized his manhood was exposed. He shifted his loincloth. Women tugged at the scant clothing they wore. Men squirmed in place, shoulders hunching as O’csari circled the blaze, eyes judging.

She shook her head, golden hair dancing down her back. “This? You can do anything in Sdacsa’i, and this is what you choose? To fornicate with any man or woman you find? To sing songs and stumble around in a fog of drugs and wine? To satiate your own passions with no concern for others?”

Taek’a swallowed. Silence reigned

No one?” she asked. “No one wants to defend the pleasures you’ve indulged in? The freedom you’ve chosen?” She paused, glancing at a large man, his chest powerfully muscled. “Not you? You’re a strong one. What do you do?”

Blacksmith,” he grunted.

You know all about passions then,” she said. “Huh? Controlling the fire. Tempering heated metal. Is that why you’re here? Did you think you’d find satisfaction in dancing like the ephemeral flame? Swaying this way and that, blazing bright until you’re snuffed out.”

The man shrugged.

Why aren’t you reveling now?” O’csari looked around. “You have your freedom. Do not let me stop you.” She liked her lips, eyes falling on some of the half-naked dancers huddling together. “Not when there are such beauties to enjoy unless… Unless you came here for the ultimate expression of passion.”

The fire on her fingertips swelled up her arms as the resonance grew louder. It hummed through the soil and rattled Taek’a’s bones. He stood transfixed by her. The flames reached her shoulders, dancing towards her head and caressing her blonde tresses. The tips of her fingertips seemed to blur like the tines of a tuning fork.

She’s humming, he realized, the harmony coming from her divine flesh.

The ultimate resonance of passion is to give yourself completely to something else. Something beyond your selfish existence.” She whipped her gaze around. “You’ve fled your dreary existence to find freedom in this night of excess. You are tired of giving a little of yourself. To your parents. Your children and spouses. Your community. You think you want passion, that you’ll find it in this momentary pleasure. To truly resonate with passion, you have to surrender everything to the flames.”

Her eyes, almost glowing like ruby jewelchines, fell on Taek’a for a moment.

Feed it everything you have until nothing, not even ash, remains.” She shuddered. “That is why you are here. You don’t want freedom. You want the slavery that comes from true passion. To be a servant to something greater than yourself. Do you have the courage to face the trial of the desert? To let the blazing sun consume you and the sizzling sands devour you? Can you survive the furnace and become something better?

A Bloodfire?” someone called.

Bloodfires… The greatest warriors in the world. Unparalleled in their skill. They fought without fear because they had none. Every ten years, O’csari recruited for her fighters. Men and women who could take wounds that would slay Taek’a. Who could run for days on end? They never disobeyed because they gave themselves utterly to their master. They were the ultimate expression of Passion.

It terrified Taek’a that any could take the oath.

O’csari thrust her arms high.

Are you cowards?” she demanded. “Are you too scared to give yourself to me. You didn’t fear surrendering to the wine you drank, the drugs you chewed, the lusts you enjoyed. You willingly threw yourself into debauchery. You have come close to the flames. They are waiting for you. Cast yourself in. Blaze with me and be reborn as something noble. Something beautiful. Give yourself unto me and find the ultimate freedom.”

A drunken man stumbled forward, his hair shaved in the manner of a Kiwuj Ki’manese. He wore a dirty, tunic-like thwab. “I’ll become a Bloodfire!”

The Avatar of Fire whirled. Flames blazed across her entire body as she sauntered to him. She cupped his face and kissed him. The fire burning on her fingers danced to the harmonic resonance surging through the air.

The fire melted into the man. He stiffened and gasped. She broke the kiss. “I accept your oath. Dawn, you start your journey.”

Bloodfire!” a man shouted in salute.

Bloodfire!” Taek’a roared with the others.

I’ll be one!” a lean woman said, pressing from two others. She swayed with drink. “I’ll do it. Sounds easy.”

As easy as being born,” said O’csari before seizing the lean woman’s face with burning fingers and planting the fiery kiss.

The resonance hummed.

Why would they do this? Taek’a asked as another man stepped forward followed by the blacksmith. Most die. Who could survive walking days through the desert without water or food? It’s madness.

I can do it,” slurred a slender man who tripped as he marched forward, falling on his face on the sand. “I can swing a sword.”

Anyone can,” O’csari said as she knelt to kiss him.

Are they too drunk to know? He felt the alcohol burning through his own veins. The fire intense. They’re abandoning everything. They’re families. Their homes. A life of making bread…

He stared down at his dark hands. Wueda would make a fine wife. She had a plump figure. Her father’s bakery was profitable. It would be his one day, and until then he would make loaf after loaf. Day in and day out.

You slept with her that night, he reminded himself. You spilled your seed in her. You made an oath with her that night.

He thought of Sa’ina and the other women he’d enjoyed in drunken romps since arriving in Sdacsa’i. It didn’t matter here that he’d enjoyed their bodies. Even if a child quickened, it would be their husbands’ responsibilities to raise.

If Wueda is here… He pushed that thought away. She didn’t chafe under the regimented life in their village. Every day the same thing, forcing himself to wake up before dawn to work in the bakery. To find his bed before dusk.

He’d grow slowly fat like her father had from nibbling on his own wares. He’d face the ovens day in and day out. This strange horror filled him as his future stretched out before him. He swayed, dizzy from the wine.

Who else has the courage to surrender everything to the fire?”

Everything… His eyes lifted. He met her ruby gaze. A smile spread on her lips.

I can see it,” O’csari said. “Say it. Make the oath.”

I’ll be a Bloodfire,” he said, flinching from that stark feature. He never should have slept with Wueda. He’d been drunk for the first time on wheat beer, the music had been pounding, and the girl he’d wanted to dance with had instead chosen Bue’ab.

I’ll be a Bloodfire!” he declared, his voice slightly slurred. “Better than being a baker.”

Giving life is more work than taking it,” agreed O’csari before her blazing hands seized him. Fiery lips kissed him.

The resonance he felt early intensified. It shook his entire body. He shuddered as his bones shook. His flesh suddenly felt liquid. Porous. It was like the vibrations were energizing every bit of him, allowing him to become one with her flames.

They merged into his body.

She broke the kiss, and he collapsed to his knees, panting. Sweat dripped from his brow. Locks of ropy, twisted hair spilled down his cheek. He looked up to see O’csari collect the first woman she’d kissed, snag a flagon of wine from a man’s hand, and vanish into an alley.

What did I just do?” he groaned, feeling the weight of his oath. The only one that mattered here.


The Bloodfire oath was not easily broken.

Taek’a felt it in his bones as he waited for the sun to rise with the others who’d made it. The fire lurked in him, waiting for him to uphold his word, or he would truly surrender everything to the flames. The lean woman rocked back and forth a few paces from him, her eyes wide with the horror at what she’d done. On his other side, the blacksmith wept, staring down at his broad hands.

Every time I get drunk, I make a bad oath,” Taek’a said.

The blacksmith glanced at him, tears staining his ebony face.

I mean, it could be worse, right?” Taek’a tried to focus on that. “We’ll be warriors. Invincible. Not forced to marry the ugliest girl in the village because we were too drunk to see straight.”

The blacksmith looked down, his broad shoulders rippled. The lean woman barked a laugh that turned into a croaking sob. She shook her head and rubbed at her temple.


She nodded. “I’ve never been drunk before.”

I know a great hangover cure.”

She groaned, “What?”

Baking in the desert. We’ll be feeling the sun frying our bodies soon.”

She cocked her head. “Do you always babble stupidly in the morning?”

When I’m nervous. Too drunk last night to be nervous but now…” He glanced out at the desert. The sun neared rising, the world lightened to iron grays. Sand stretched across the horizon. It was said to be nothing but dunes between here and Bue’csa’i. The fortress where O’csari trained the Bloodfires lay at the end of the peninsula.

We’re not going to make it,” groaned the blacksmith. He flexed strong hands. “Passion’s curse this oath!”

But it’s what you want,” the purring voice of O’csari said.

Taek’a glanced behind him to see her emerging wrapped in a robe of Demochian silk. It clung to her lithe, pale body, her ruby eyes almost glowing. A woman hugged her from behind, ebony face blissful, eyes glazed from liquor or chewing brown soothe.

Passion has driven you here. Passions have hammered your life into the shape they now hold. Be free of them. Surrender them to the flames.” A cruel smile crossed her lips. “One way or the other, your lives have ended. You accepted my kiss. My flames burn in you. What will be left once they blaze? What will be born from your ashes?”

The blacksmith snarled and lunged at her. His bulk crossed the iron-gray sands in a flash, a charging rhino. A hum rippled through the world, the vibration of creation itself, the Passion of Fire roaring from O’csari.

Taek’a didn’t see her move. The woman hugging O’csari gasped, suddenly holding empty air. The blacksmith flipped through the air and slammed down on his back. It was an impossible feat of strength. O’csari weighed half of the blacksmith’s bulk and stood two heads shorter. She planted her foot on his broad chest.

Sun is about to rise,” she said. “Burn here or burn in the desert.”

Let me go back!” the blacksmith snarled. “I’ll make their passion-cursed pots and pans. I’ll slave before the furnace. Release me!”

But you gave your oath.” She leaned over. “There are consequences to everything. I used to think differently, I did. I believed in Anidze. We thought we could change the world, and instead we shattered it. We ruined it all.” Her lips curled in a smile as confusion rippled through Taek’a. Anidze sounded so much like A’nimize, the deadly manifestation of the Black Passion. The dread one that caused strife and discord, which had ruined the world in the distant antiquity, fracturing the peoples. It was why oaths were important.

A word spoken held power. A deed committed held repercussions. He could feel that truth in him.

Passions must be channeled, and if you do not have the self-control to manage it yourself…” Her eyes flicked to Taek’a and the others. “Go or die with him. Perhaps you’ll be reborn into something with purpose. Something strong and powerful. Perhaps you can be free of it all.”

A Bloodfire?” I asked.

Her smile flicked across her lips. “Maybe. We’ll see. Succeed or fail.”

Taek’a felt the harmony in him swelling. He glanced at the desert before him, gray, almost cool and inviting. The hairs at the back of his neck stood up. He ran a hand over his hair dreadlocks. He thought of Wueda. Is this better than marrying her?


He jogged out into the desert, the others rushing with him. Flames erupted behind him. The blacksmith howled in agony, his screams flogging Taek’a. His legs found endurance. Despite the queasiness in his stomach, his pace quickened. He ran as fast as he could. His sandaled feet smacked on the sun-baked sand. The muscles rippled beneath his dark skin. The pounding in his head intensified. The taste of blood soon filled his mouth. His side throbbed.

He ignored it. He pressed into the desert.

The sun rose behind him. He felt its fire kissing his back. It spilled over his skin. A coating of sweat gleamed over his flesh. Scrub brush passed him by as he crossed the sandy soil. Lizards scurried into cover and desert thrushes chirped from thorny bushes. Grasshoppers bounded with him, their bodies as tan as the soil.

Finally, his endurance failed. He stumbled to a gasping halt. The sun’s heat already hammered at him. The air danced and wavered on the horizon, showing deceptive pools of refreshing water.

Thirst attacked him.

He looked around and saw none of the others. He glanced back behind him and only saw his footsteps disturbing the sandy slope of a dune. His head cast about while the pulsing rhythm of fire buzzed through his bones.

It pulled him onward.

You’ll be a warrior of legend,” said Taek’a as he stumbled forward. His feet kicked at the sand. His chest heaved. He licked lips, finding them cracked. He panted, his mouth dry. He rubbed his tongue across the roof of his mouth, struggling to generate moisture. “A mighty Bloodfire. Won’t that be something?”

Of course, have to be consumed by the desert,” he answered himself.


The sun’s heat intensified as he spoke to himself. The sheen of sweat on his body evaporated by noon. None replaced it. When he stopped to urinate, a weak stream of dark yellow spurted out. It hurt. He kept rubbing his tongue against the roof of his mouth, struggling to find any moisture.

His steps grew woozy. He stumbled and swayed, panting. His heart screamed in his chest. He felt it pounding with a frantic rhythm. He sucked in breaths, the air as hot as a baker’s oven. He coughed and wheezed. The sun kissed every inch of his body. His skin broiled in it. He shook his head, the world stumbling about him.

Someone has to make it through this,” he muttered, his bones buzzing. “I’ve seen a Bloodfire, remember?”

The Water’s Gift Festival?” he asked himself.

Yes, yes, the big chap with the huge sword. All the girls swooned over him. More than a few tried to entice him into a marriage.”

Not that he cared. Do Bloodfires even care about pleasure?”

Don’t care about anything, do they? Not surprising, feel like I’m getting wrung dry.”

Every drop squeezed out.”

His words trailed off as he stumbled forward into the setting sun. He blinked at that, his thoughts molten. It shone on him, half-blinding his eyes. His back and shoulders throbbed. His skin felt pinched taut by a thousand tiny fingers. He licked cracked lips oozing sluggish blood.

He tripped.

Pain flared through his toe. He gasps, stumbling and falling on the sizzling sand. He sucked in a breath, rolling over onto his back. He screamed in agony at the pain bursting across his blistered skin. He staggered to his feet, swaying.

Stared at the skull he’d tripped over.

Sand spilled out of one of the eye socket. More gagged the mouth. It was human, the exposed parts bleached white, the buried stained a dirty brown. He groaned and picked it up.

Look at you,” he said. “What happened to your flesh? Burst into flames?”

A mad cackle rasped from Taek’a. “Tried to turn your blood into fire, eh? That’s what I’m doing. Feeling it boiling out of me. Soon, soon, I’ll blaze!”

He turned and stumbled forward again, marching into the sunset, a skull gripped in hand. Sand tumbled off his back, spilling over the oozing blisters cooked into his dark flesh. The sun vanished. He’d survived the first day in the desert.

One down,” he muttered. He chortled again, his mind broiling. “See, did better than you, huh? Can’t fail. Can’t be like the blacksmith. He burst into flames…” A mad idea popped into Taek’a’s sun-addled mind. “Is that you, Blacksmith? Did you blaze here? Where did it happen?”

He staggered as the world cooled around him. Darkness deepened. He collapsed onto his chest and sank into dreams.

A dark, warm confine held Taek’a. He felt safe, curled up into a ball, his knees pressing into his chest. Whatever held him rippled and shifted. It squeezed him tight like a babe wrapped in swaddling.

Are you strong enough?” whispered a woman. “Birth comes in blood and pain.”

His eyes snapped opened.

The sun cooked him. Heat danced around him. Movement cracked pain across his back, muscles rippling splitting open blisters. Thick puss oozed across leathery skin, quickly congealing in the heat. He clutched the skull and staggered to his feet.

It was a wild night,” he babbled to the skull. “You know it. You were there.”

I was, answered the skull. He spoke with the deep timbre that reminded Taek’a of his father. Good harvest. A night of bounty. Many oaths were sworn.

Wrong oaths,” Taek’a muttered. “Wueda nice enough girl, but Obra’a… Now there was a girl to marry.”

She danced with Bue’ab. What was so wrong with Wueda?

Shrugged. He stumbled towards the west, the sun flogging his aching back. His heart screamed in his chest, struggling to pump his thickening blood. He shook his head, the skull floating beside him. Ropy locks of hair spilled around the bleached-white bones of her face.

Wueda’s hair

Yes, what was so wrong with me? Wueda’s skull asked, mandible moving, teeth clattering together.

Just… Just…” Taek’a shook his head. His ebony skin had a waxy complexion where it wasn’t blistering from the sun’s burning touch. “It’s not fair. One drunken mistake, and I had to marry you.”

I know, Wueda’s skull said. If I had been sober… Well, I was willing to make it work, but you were a coward. Too afraid of your passions. It’s why you’re going to fail. You’re not going to make it.

Show you,” he muttered and staggered forward.

The day passed in a haze of hallucinations. Skulls drifted around him, laughing, jeering, cheering. He struggled to speak to them, but his tongue didn’t seem to work. It felt shriveled in his mouth. Everything about him felt reduced.

He fell to his knees, not even feeling the searing heat of the sand. He crawled forward, staring at the horizon, at the ball of the setting sun. Skulls danced around it, a spiraling circle feeding the fiery orb. He would join them soon if he stopped.

His blood boiled away. It poured out of his pores, a red steam. His heart hurt. Every beat a struggle to pump congealing gunk through his veins. He dug at the sand, pulling himself forward another pace. He wanted to laugh. To cry. To… to…


Taek’a collapsed into a ball. He dreamed he was in a womb, the comforting presence squeezing around him. Flames danced around him. They burned, hungry to swallow him. His bones yearned for it. For the end, but he was still safe here.


He sucked on his thumb, his body held tight.

Do you have the strength to see the Eternal Tone? the mother asked him. Her voice echoed from all directions. To harmonize with pure fire. Your blood is gone. Sludge oozes through your veins. Do you feel it? The darkness? Do you want that?

He did not. Fear ripped through him. He trembled in the womb, the last of his passion raging in him. That was the last bit of him that existed. It had a name. Taek’a. He would have to surrender it to be born. He would have to give up everything to emerge from the womb.

His heart labored. He could feel the pain that living cost him. It was proof that he wasn’t gone. That he still breathed. If he gave up his last passion, it would take away his will. He would be bereft of it.

Terror rippled through him. He didn’t want to stop being Taek’a. He was scared of giving up his identity. It was his core. The flames burned around the womb. The fire wanted to devour his essence. If he were born, he would die.

He couldn’t surrender.

NO!” he screamed and clutched onto that last bit of life. He held it into his heart.

His blood caught fire.

He gasped as he felt his will, his desire to live, surging through his veins. The thick sludge that had become his blood, almost desiccated of any moisture, burned with hunger. It spread through his body. His heart pumped living flames through his network of arteries and veins. They spread, consuming everything.

Taek’a’s memories became the fuel for his life. His body grew stronger, sustained by his own passions, a never-ending inferno. He wouldn’t die. He wouldn’t pass from life into death. His flesh would survive.

You swore an oath, a voice whispered. To give it all up.

Taek’a’s awareness quivered at that revelation then it was gone, devoured by the fire now sustaining his body. His identity reduced to ash. The flames spread through him, merging with him. He became a living flame. The heat of the desert did not matter. The sun did not hurt. He didn’t need water when he had fire burning through his veins.

He opened his eyes.

I see you failed,” a disappointed voice said. A mother’s voice.

She stood over him, her pale skin framed by blonde hair, her red eyes soft. She touched his ebony face. The caress was tender and gentle. Pain swelled in her eyes as she stroked down to his thick lips. Her flesh felt cool, almost icy, on him.

They always fail,” she said. “No one can surrender everything to the flames. You tried. You were close. You came far, but it wasn’t enough, was it? You didn’t want to stop existing.”

Who am I?” he asked, his voice a rumbling monotone.

Her head cocked. “Why, a Bloodfire. A failed ascension. I have to keep carrying my burden.”

The Bloodfire blinked eyes.

You don’t understand. They never do.” She sighed and rose. “You need a name. How is… Ni’mod?”

Ni’mod shrugged. He flexed fingers, feeling the heat pulsing beneath his veins. A harmony sang inside of him, fiery and hungry. It demanded to be unleashed. It wanted to roar from him, to blaze and burn.

Come, Ni’mod,” she said. “I think one more made it far enough.”

As Ni’mod rose, his naked body hole and hale, he noticed a lean woman standing with a blank expression. He didn’t give her a thought. He turned and followed the pale-skin mother as she marched across the desert, lit by the setting sun. Ahead, another figure lay curled up in a fetal position, rust-red steam rising from dark skin.

Ni’mod walked into his future without care. Whatever burdens drove him into the desert were gone, consumed within his fiery blood. Only his life remained. The last passion he’d clung to. His final act of selfishness.


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Blood to Flame takes place in the Jewel Machine Universe!


Death rides in the Cyclone!

The demonic Stormriders are the greatest threat…

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

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

When the storm clouds come, what will Ary do?

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

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

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