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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Five

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Five

The Western Three Seas

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

As death is the sum of all harms, so is murder the sum of all sins.

—CANTICLES 18:9, THE CHRONICLES OF THE TUSK

The world has its own ways, sockets so deep that not even the Gods can dislodge them. No urn is so cracked as Fate.

—ASANSIUS, THE LIMPING PILGRIM

My Thoughts

The first quote is interesting. What are the sum of all sins? What is a sin? When your selfish action impact another. And what is more impactful to another than ending their life? What does this have to do with the chapter? We’ll find out.

Then the next quote is about how there are events that not even the Gods can handle. That Fate is cracked and broken. You can’t possibly control everything You can’t hold everything in your urn. Things are going to leak out.

Even for someone like Kellhus. Or a god like Yatwer.

And since this chapter opens with the White-Luck Warrior’s POV, that’s a very interesting quote for the chapter. That Yatwer’s plans are not perfect even if she thinks they are.

Then we go to Malowebi who sees the costs of war and thinks that humans are like Sranc.

And the third part, we have Kelmomas plotting Maithanet’s death.

Late Spring, 20 New Imperial Year (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk), somewhere south of Gielgath…

That which comes after determines what comes before—in this World.

The Gift-of-Yatwer walked across ordained ground. His skin did not burn, thanks to the swarthiness he had purchased with his seed. His feet did not blister, thanks to calluses he had purchased with his youth. But he grew weary as other men grew weary, for like them, he was a thing of flesh and blood. But he always tired when he should grow tired. And his every slumber delivered him to the perfect instant of waking. Once to the sound of lutes and to the generosity of traveling mummers. Another time to a fox that bolted, leaving the goose it had been laboriously dragging.

Indeed, his every breath was a Gift.

He crossed the exhausted plantations of Anserca, drawing stares from those slaves who saw him. Though he walked alone, he followed a file of thousands across the fields, for he was always stranger he pursued, and the back before him was forever his own. He would look up, see himself walking beneath a solitary, windswept tree, vanishing stride by stride over the far side of a hill. And when he turned, h,e would see that same tree behind him, and the same man descending the same slope. A queue of millions connected him to himself, from the Gift who coupled with the Holy Crone to the Gift who watched the Aspect-Emperor dying in blood and expressionless disbelief.

He sees how he’s going to kill an assassin, an army besieging Shimeh, and how he’ll kill the Holy Shriah. He sees Esmenet dying. He walked alone but is “stranded in the now of a mortal soul.” He walks day after day. When he sleeps, he hears Yatwer whispering to him. He follows his own footprints leading to Kellhus being murdered.

The River Sempis

Malowebi finds comfort in his errand that at least he’d seen a ziggurat. Could his rival, Likaro, say that. Nope. He watches bands of cavalry crossing a land broken by irrigation dikes and over fields of millet and groves. Smoke rises on the horizon. One leads to the city of Iothiah.

Fanayal ab Kascamandri mentions that its dangerous to parley with “the enemies of dangerous men.” And Kurcifra is very dangerous. That confuses Malowebi until her realizes Kurcifra is Kellhus.

Malowebi is also a Mbimayu sorcerer and old enough to remember when Fanayal’s father ruled these lands. He remembers how Fanim missionaries were so frustrating when they entered Zeüm and call them sinful for worshiping their ancestors and the Gods. Instead of being repulsed, many Zeümi embraced it. “Not a month passed, it sometimes seemed, without some public flaying.”

Despite even that, when Fanayal’s father sent a delegation to attend the coronation of Malowebi’s cousin. The sight of the Kianene Grandees were seen as exotic with their simple garb and pious demeanor. It got so bad, the ancient Grooming Laws were enforced one more to stop Kianene goatees from being cultivated.

Now Fanayal’s men in the now would not have inspired such an uproar. They are ragged bandits. Horse-thieves and rapists. This was not what Malowebi had expected to find. Only Fanayal has that same demeanor. He wears helm of gold and one of the finest coats of mail. “His curved sword was obviously a family heirloom.” Using an old diplomat’s trick, he asked if the blade was Fanayal’s father’s.

Relationships went much smoother, Malowebi had learned, in the absence of verbal holes.

Fanayal says Kurcifra means, “The light that blinds.” Malowebi finds the Bandit Padirajah impressive and not an outlaw like his name suggests. Malowebi asks if Fanayal truly believes Kellhus is a man. He laughs and says while he knows that the Empress is a woman, and a former whore, but he does believe Kellhus can be killed. Malowebi asks how he knows.

“Because I am the one doomed to kill him.”

Malowebi is not so certain Kellhus is man considering how he appeared out of the wilderness with a Scylvendi savage and in half a year, is worshiped as a god and ruler of the Three Seas. It was too mad for human plans which are mean and stupid. That’s not Kellhus.

“This is how Men reason in the Three Seas?” he asked. He repented the words even as he spoke them. Malowebi was Second Negotiant for no small reason. He was forever asking blunt questions, forever alienating instead of flattering. He had more teeth than tongue, as the menials would say.

But the Bandit Padirajah showed no outward sign of offence. “Only those who have seen their doom, Malowebi! Only those who have seen their doom!”

Fanayal, the Mbimayu sorcerer noted with no small relief, was a man who relished insolent questions.

Malowebi changes the subject, asking why Fanayal has no bodyguards. He responds why Malowebi cares. Despite the men rampaging around them, the pair are alone as they ride across the field. There is one man wearing a hood that is following them. Not a bodyguard, but someone strange. Malowebi is surprised that there’s no one to protect Fanayal while he treats with an “outland sorcerer.” After all, Fanayal does have a ten thousand gold kellics bounty on his head.

Perhaps it spoke to the man’s desperation…

Malowebi answers that if Fanayal died, so does his insurrection. Why gamble on him becoming a martyrdom. But Fanayal believes he can’t die. Malowebi likes Fanayal because he’s always liked “vainglorious fools.” But he won’t let that cloud his judgment. Malowebi is here to assess Fanayal not to negotiate with him. The Satakhan knows that Kellhus’s empire is the first threat to Zeüm in a thousand years. But despite that, Zeüm’s future was not something that can be gambled with. Not with Zsoronga held as a hostage. Malowebi needs to see that Fanayal has a chance before committing to his aide.

Iothiah, the ancient capital of Old Dynasty Shigek. Iothiah would be an impressive demonstration. Most assuredly.

Fanayal says Kellhus is a punishment to his people for losing their faith and growing fat in their conquered lands. Now they are hard again, and he is anointed and chosen. But Malowebi says “Fate has many whims.” Fanayal laughs and says he has Meppa and tells him to show his face.

The hooded man reveals he wears a blindfold that’s held on by a silver circlet. He pulled it off. He has white hair and no eyes. Malowebi gasps in shock as he realizes he’s an idiot for missing the fact the man wore ocher robes.

Cishaurim.

Fanayal seems to think this revelation is all that Malowebi needs to be confident in the rebellion. He then adds that his very presence in this land inspires revolt and he just has to ride fast to spark of more fires than the New Empire can handle. But Malowebi is too shocked to think. The Cishaurim were supposed to be extinct, something every other school was thrill to learn. It explained how Fanayal had such luck.

Malowebi asks what he wants from Zeüm, trying to hide how flustered he is, but Fanayal had noticed. Nothing escapes his notice. “Perhaps he was the first foe worthy of the Aspect-Emperor. Fanayal says he is still just one foe, but if Zeüm joins, then others will find the courage to rise up and destroy the New Empire.

The Zeümi Emissary nodded as though acknowledging the logic, if not the attraction, of his argument. But all he really could think was Cishaurim.

So… the accursed Water still flowed.

“Discord is the way of imperial power.” The words of Triamis the Great on why his empire lacked peace. He says it’s better that you war on your enemies then to let them war on you. Strife is spreading across the New Empire.

In Carythusal, a slave is whipped by the judges in public. A lenient punishment for her blasphemy. They don’t notice that the crowd watching is unruly. They are not prepared for the mob to swarm them, the judges are soon hung from the Imperial Custom House. A riot consumes the city, forcing the Imperial Garrison to fight slaves and caste-menials. An eight of the city burns.

In Oswenta, a high ranking Imperial Apparati is found in bed with a slit throat. The start of many Shrial and Imperial functionaries being assassinated, some even by their own body-slaves or roaming mobs of angry menials.

Riots abound. In Aöknyssus, Proyas’s wife and children had to be evacuated during the riots that killed tens of thousands. Everywhere, insurrection flared. All the old foes hunger for blood. Fanayal seized the fortress of Gara’gûl. Alarmed, Esmenet sent four columns to defend Nenciphon. In the east, Famiri tribes revolt, killing administrators and converts. The Scylvendi raid Nansur that hasn’t been seen in decades. Veterans are called up. Militias formed. Skirmishes fought. Temples of Yatwer closed. The Slave Laws, which had given protection to the lowest, are revoked. “Speaking at public fountains became punishable by immediate execution.”

The nobles are united like never before in fear of their slaves. Enemies are now allies. Maithanet urged the Cultic priests to remember is the “God behind the Gods.” The faithful start murdering the sinners.

Sons and husbands simply vanished.

And though the New Empire tottered, it did not fall.

Momemn

Kelmomas sits in the Prince’s Box, his place at the Imperial Synod. His older siblings once set here, even Theliopa. Esmenet reminds Pansulla that he’s addressing the Empress. The room houses seats for the thirty Great Factions of the Empire. Cutias Pansulla, the Nansur Consul, paces in the “Slot” before everyone. He’s a fat man sweating through his clothes.

The man protests and saying that he must speak that the people claim the Gods have turned against the Empire. Kelmomas loves the Synod (so long as Kellhus isn’t there), but he pretends that he finds it boring with his mother. There is real conflict here with real consequences that can leave thousands of dead. “This was where real cities were burned, not ones carved of balsa.”

Esmenet demands to know if they’ll be remembered as craven? They will be judged for their actions one day, and they need to stop thinking she’s weaker then Kellhus. Kelmomas hides his smile, loving his mother showing her anger. He wonders if the fat man knows he’s in danger.

He certainly hoped not.

Pansulla says does not assuage their fears. He wants Esmenet to release a statement to the people. Kelmomas isn’t quite sure why Pansulla’s words were important, only that his mother had made a mistake and she’s no hesitating.

That one, the secret voice whispered.

Pansulla?

Yes. His breathing offends me.

Pansulla senses it and presses his advantage, saying they need tools to carry out her will. She glares at Pansulla, then gazes at the watchers and looks nervous. She tells him to read The Sagas about the First Apocalypse and ask why the Hundred allowed it to happen. This shuts everyone up. Esmenet tells Theliopa to tell everyone what the Mandate Schoolman believe.

“The Gods are-are finite,” Theliopa declared in a voice that contradicted the start angularity of her frame. “They can only apprehend a finite proportion of existence. They fathom the future-future, certainly, but from a vantage that limits them. The No-God dwells in their blind spots, follows a path-path they are utterly oblivious to…” She turned, looking from man to man with open curiosity. “Because he is oblivion.”

Much to Kelmomas’s delight, Esmenet gives Theliopa a “thoughtless gesture of thanks” proving she loves him the most. The voice agrees. Esmenet talks about how there’s a hidden world concealed from the Gods and they now are walking in it. This confuses everyone, even Pansulla. Kelmomas is so proud of his mother. Tûtmor, Consul to Ce Tydonn, asks about the Hundred.

Their Empress graced them all with a sour smile. “The Gods chafe, because like all souls, they call evil what they cannot comprehend.”

That’s even more shocking. Kelmomas thinks it’s funny anyone would fear the Gods, especially these powerful men. The voice adds the Gods are old and dying. Pansulla asks if the Gods have turned against them. This is a disaster and Esmenet’s cheeks pale. The voice hates Pansulla. Esmenet gathers herself and warns Pansulla not to voice “heretical supposition” and to remember Kellhus is the “God of Gods and his Prophet.”

It’s an obvious threat. Everyone’s whispering. Pansulla kneels and agrees. Hatred momentarily flashes on Esmenet’s face before she tells him and the others to have courage. Not to put their faith in the Hundred but Inri Sejenus and Kellhus.” Pansulla staggers to his feet and agrees then adds, “We must remind ourselves that we know better… than the Gods.”

His sarcasm angers Esmenet which makes Kelmomas almost giddy with joy. He loves seeing her infuriated and is thrilled because he’s never killed a fat man before. Esmenet reminds Pansulla that they don’t know better but it is Kellhus that does. Esmenet always uses Kellhus’s authority when challenged, but Kelmomas realizes it undermines her own power.

Pansulla agrees and says they will put their faith in the Thousand Temples than asks when Maithanet will ever appear and give his counsel. Then Pansulla is interrupted by an Eothic Guardsmen charging in, flushed faced, gasping that Fanayal has attacked. She asks where.

“He has struck Shigek.”

Kelmomas watched his mother blink in confusion.

“But… he’s marching on Nenciphon…” A frantic not climbed into her voice. “Don’t you mean Nenciphon?”

The messenger shook his head in sudden terror.

“No, most Holy Empress. Iothiah. Fanayal has taken Iothiah.”

Kelmomas is with his mother as she heads through the labyrinthine Andiamine Heights. She prefers “discreet routes” even if it takes twice as long. Not Kellhus. She does this because she hates people bowing to her. With the Synod over, Esmenet and her son are heading back to a remote part of the palace with Theliopa and Lord Biaxi Sankas following.

Kelmomas asks if Maithanet will be mad at her again. She asks why he would say that. “Because he blames you for everything that goes wrong! I hate him!” She ignores him, angered by it. The voice warns Kelmomas is being too greedy. Sankas says that the strain between her and Maithanet is a problem, but she snaps that Fanayal is more pressing. Sankas presses her to speak with Maithanet but she shouts, “No!”

“He must never see my face,” she said more evenly. The shadow of an arch divided her from waist to shoulder so that her lower gown shimmered with light. Kelmomas pressed his face into the warm, scented fabric. She combed his scalp out of maternal reflex. “Do you understand, Sankas? Never.”

Sankas begs her forgiveness before asking why. Kelmomas almost chuckled and hides it by feigning boredom and looking to the roofs. Esmenet answers by asking Theliopa to confirm a skin-spy hasn’t replaced her. Sankas gasps that’s not it but Theliopa confirms it. Esmenet just says that her relationship with Maithanet is complicated and asks for his trust, which he assures her she has, but…

“But what, Sankas?”

“Maithanet is the Holy Shriah…”

Kelmomas watched his mother smile her calm, winning smile, the one that told everyone present that she could feel what they felt. Her ability to communicate compassion, he had long since realized, was easily her strongest attribute—as well as the one most likely to send him into jealous rages.

Esmenet then points out that Kellhus didn’t put his brother the Shriah in charge but her. She asks him why he did that. Sankas understands then and nods. Kelmomas realizes that men gamble all the time, wagering any and everything. “Once the gambit was made, you need only give them reasons to congratulate themselves.”

After that, Esmenet dismisses Theliopa and Sanaks, leaving her alone with the jubilant Kelmomas. He’s excited to be the only one she brings to her apartments. He’s exultant as they head to her room, passing Inrilatas’s room on the way. He’s not screaming much right now, going through phases. Kelmomas thinks Inrilatas has his ear to the door hearing them. It worries Kelmomas he doesn’t hear Inrilatas doing this, remembering that Inrilatas is the smartest of all his siblings. Kelmomas is glad he’s insane for having all that intelligence.

And so he hated Inrilatas as well.

Slaves attend to his mother once in her rooms, but she ignores them. She isn’t a fan of being helped, which Kelmomas never understands since his father never had a problem with it. Kelmomas just loves it because it lets him be alone with his mother and hug and cuddle with her.

Ever since he had murdered Samarmas.

He looks around her apartments and thinks this is where he’ll always live. He expects to be picked up and hug him, instead she is frightened. Reeks of fear. She slaps him on the cheek and hisses, “You are never to say such things!”

A tide of murderous hurt and outrage swamped him. Mummy! Mummy had struck him! And for what? The truth? Scenes flickered beneath his soul’s eye, strangling her with her own sheets, seizing the Gold Mastodon set upon the mantle and—

“But I do!” he bawled. “I do hate him!”

Maithanet. Uncle Holy.

She hugs him and shushes him, crying. She says he shouldn’t hate his uncle. And it’s even worse, a sin, to hate the Shriah. He keeps struggling until she stares him in the eye. Kelmomas protests that Maithanet is against Esmenet. And Kellhus. He asks if that makes him their enemy, but she cuts him off and says he can never say these things. He’s a prince and an Anasûrimbor. He shares blood with Maithanet.

Dûnyain blood… the secret voice whispered. What raises us above the animals.

Like mother.

She asks if he understands that it’s bad for others to hear him badmouth his family. He says yes. She continues that these are dangerous times. He asks if it’s Fanayal. She hesitates and says many things then says she wants to show him something that Kellhus had added when rebuilding the Andiamine Heights. She pushes a spot on the wall and it opens up to reveal a secret passage.

The next morning, Kelmomas is with Esmenet as she takes her “morning sun.” She’s sitting with Theliopa on the same bench, Theliopa sitting very close. You’d think it meant that mother and daughter were close, but really Theliopa just doesn’t get social cues and personal space. She wears a dress that looks made of many other dresses. Esmenet tells her daughter she doesn’t trust Maithanet.

Kelmomas is playing in the nearby garden, making buildings from dirt he could smash. Then he finds a line of ants and is having fun killing them. As he does, Theliopa asks why Esmenet thinks this. She thinks he’s behind the Yatwer cult’s rebellion, using them to seize power.

Of all the games he played, this was the one the young Prince-Imperial relished the most: the game of securing his mother’s constant attention while at the same time slipping beneath her notice. On the one hand, he was such a sad little boy, desolate, scarred for the tragic loss of his twin. But he was also just a little boy, too young to understand, too lost in his play to really listen. There was a time, not so long ago, when she would have sent him away for conversations such as this…

The real ones.

Esmenet asks if Theliopa is surprised, and she says doesn’t think she can feel surprise. That troubles Esmenet that her daughter isn’t complete. Kelmomas thinks he doesn’t hate Theliopa, one like Mimara, because Theliopa can never love his mother back. Mimara is the real problem, but the secret voice assures Kelmomas that Esmenet will love him more soon.

Theliopa asks if Esmenet has spoken with Kellhus. A look of pain crosses her face, easy to read, but Kelmomas thinks Theliopa can’t feel any stirring of sympathy. He can’t tell because, like Maithanet, Kelmomas can’t read Theliopa. But she’s harmless. Esmenet says that sorcerous contact has been lost with the Great Ordeal. That actually causes Theliopa as flicker of surprise and horror.

Esmenet reassures her daughter that’s all is fine. Kellhus has ordered an Interdiction. All the Schoolmen with the Ordeal are forbidden from speaking to anyone in the Three Seas. The way Far-calling works is the person traveling has to contact the other end and they have to be asleep in the same place. A spot known to the traveler.

Theliopa asks if Kellhus is drawing out spies in the school. Esmenet answer makes Theliopa realize that not even the empress knows why. Kellhus has told her nothing. Kellhus follows his own orders which makes Theliopa ask if he’s abandoned them.

The young Prince-Imperial abandoned the pretense of his garden play. He even beheld his breath, so profound was his hope. For as long as he could remember, Kelmomas had feared and hated his divine father. The Warrior-Prophet. The Aspect-Emperor. The one true Dûnyain. All the native abilities possessed by his children, only concentrated and refined through a lifetime of training. Were it not for the demands of his station, were he more than just a constantly arriving and departing shadow, Father would have certainly seen the secret Kelmomas had held tight since his infancy. The secret that made him strong.

As things stood, it was only a matter of time. He would grow as his brothers and sisters had grown, and he would drift, as his brothers and sisters had drifted, from Mother’s loving tutelage to Father’s harsh discipline. One one day Father would peer deep into his eye and see what no one else had seen. And that day, Kelmomas knew, would be his doom…

But what if Father had abandoned them? Even better, what if he were dead?

The voice cautions Kelmomas that they will never be safe until Kellhus is dead. It’s in this moment that Kelmomas realizes why his mother slapped him the other day. She’s afraid that with Father abounded him and it’s Maithanet’s fault. Kelmomas thinks he’s save while Theliopa tries to postulate that it’s a test or that the Consult has found out how to listen in on the conversations. It might not be Maithanet, but Esmenet is certain. “I can feel it.”

“I can rarely fathom Father,” Theliopa admitted.

“You?” the Empress cried with pained hilarity. “Think about your poor mother!”

Kelmomas laughed precisely the way she wanted.

Esmenet tells Theliopa to think. Kellhus knows that Esmenet and Maithanet’s relationship is strained and now chooses this moment to cut them off. Theliopa counters that Kellhus trusts Esmenet to solve this problem on his own. Esmenet starts to say that Kellhus thinks her ignorance will help before she trails off into anger. She curses Kellhus for his machinations. Theliopa asks if she’s okay. She is, calming down and says she doesn’t care what Theliopa sees in her face. Then asks if Theliopa can read Maithanet. She says only Kellhus and, after hesitating, Inrilatas. He was trained for a time.

Kelmomas interjects like a jealous bother only to be admonished by his mother. But he presses, and she says that Kellhus had tried to teach Inrilatas to master himself. This makes her wonder if Inrilatas if he can see if Maithanet is plotting treachery.

“Perhaps, Mother,” the pale girl replied. “But the real-real question, I think, is not so much can he, as will he.”

The Holy Empress of all the Three Seas shrugged, her expression betraying the fears that continually mobbed her heart.

“I need to know. What do we have to lose?”

Forced to dine alone because Esmenet has state business to attend, Kelmomas takes out his annoyance on the slaves. He blames his mother for the harm he inflicts. Then he works on his model of the city, focusing on Temple Xothei His mother had given him the knives and materials instead of a model, telling him he’ll treasure it more if he makes it himself. He makes his miniature perfect by eye.

He never showed his work to Mother. It would trouble her, he knew, his ability to see places just once, and from angles buried within them, yet to grasp them the way a bird might from far above.

The way Father grasped the world.

But even worse, if he showered his little city to her, it would complicate the day when he finally burned it. She did not like the way he burned things.

When that day came, he would fill the city with bugs. Like those ants then thinks about the Pillarian Guardsmen patrolling outside. He thinks about nearing around them “more shadow than little boy.” That reminds him of murdering the Yatwerian matriarch. When he kills, he sees another person in the eyes of the dying that’s begging not to be killed. The Worshipper is what Kelmomas calls this person and loves them more than his mother.

Kelmomas finds the Worshipper strange and wonders how he can move from person to person. The voice thinks that he’s locked in a room and dying frees him. Kelmomas finds that clever and sneaks off to Inrilatas’s room. His door is the one that the servants can’t clean his room until it’s safe.

Today, they’re into her cleaning. They have to wait for lulls in his tantrums then follow a precise schedule to clean and feed him at noon and midnight. He waits outside, afraid. But soon his curiosity overcomes his fear, since only Father terrifies Kelmomas more than Inrilatas, and he peers inside.

His brother is crouched in the corner and held by chain that ran to a hole in the wall where it can be winched back to hold him while the attendant scrubs the walls. For a moment, it seems as if Inrilatas wasn’t moving only to realize his brother was making faces, mimicking the expressions of the cleaner. The deaf-mute cleaning would stare fearfully at his expression.

Inrilatas then speaks that most of the attendants flee, talking to Kelmomas without glancing at them. “Sooner or later, they choose the whip over my gaze.” Kelmomas says they are fools, too scared to go into the room. Inrilatas says they are what they appear to be. He turns to Kelmomas. “Unlike you, little brother.”

Inrilatas is a strong, young man, muscled by fighting his restrains, and his voice is “deep and beguiling” like Kellhus. He beckons to Kelmomas and leaps for the entrance, scaring the Attendant. Inrilatas then squats and defecates before returning to the corner. He tells Kelmomas he wants “to discuss the shit between us.”

With anyone else, Kelmomas would have thought this a mad joke of some kind. Not so with Inrilatas.

He enters and smells the poop. He stops near it. The slave is alarmed to see him, but he then just goes back to his cleaning, his terror keeping him to his task. Inrilatas comments that Kelmomas isn’t disgusted. Not knowing what to say, Kelmomas keeps his mouth shut. Inrilatas says Kelmomas is like him.

Remember your face, the secret voice warned. Only father possesses the Strength in greater measure!

“I am nothing like you,” the little Prince-Imperial replied.

It seemed strange, standing on the far side of the Door. And wrong. So very wrong.”

Inrilatas adds that all of them have some of Kellhus’s intelligence but mangled. Inrilatas possesses “his sensitivities, but utterly lack his unity… his control.” He is a slave of his desires. He isn’t bound by shame, free. He points to feces and says, “I shit when I shit.” Kelmomas goes to speak but the Voice stops him. Inrilatas asks, “Do you shit when you shit?” The secret voice panics at being noticed, saying Kelmomas has been reckless.

“Who?” Inrilatas laughed. “The shadow of hearing moves through you—as it so often does when no one is speaking. Who whispers to you, little brother?”

“Mommy says you’re mad.”

“Ignore the question,” his older brother snapped. “State something insulting, something that will preoccupy, and thus evade a prickly question. Come closer, little brother… Come closer and tell me you do not shit when you shit.”

Kelmomas lies and says he doesn’t understand, but Inrilatas knows it. Inrilatas wants to know who that voice is. Kelmomas retreats, realizing Inrilatas has crept closer. So Kelmomas blurts out Maithanet is coming to see Inrilatas. This gives the madman a heartbeat of pause. Again, Kelmomas is sidestepping the question but uses truth. Inrilatas thinks Esmenet is behind this visit.

The boy found strength in her mere mention.

He says Esmenet wants Inrilatas to read Maithanet’s face because she fears he plots against them. Inrilatas beckons him closer as Kelmomas says, “But Uncle has learned how to fool you.” The moment the words come out, Kelmomas knows he was clumsy. He’s speaking to an Anasûrimbor. A fellow Divinity.

“Kin,” Inrilatas crowed. “Blood of my blood. What love you possess for Mother! I see it burn! Burn! Until all else is char and ash. Is she grudge you bear against Uncle?”

But Kelmomas could think of nothing else to say or do. To answer any of his brother’s questions, he knew, was to wander into labyrinths he could not hope to solve. He had to press forward…

Kelmomas tries to convince Inrilatas that Maithanet will lie, charging forward. The only option with such a “monstrous intellect.” This voice says this is a mistake which Inrilatas instantly recognizes. He adds, “You do not like sharing… Such a peevish, devious little soul.” The voice is panicked.

Kelmomas tries to use pride to goad his brother by implying he can’t read Maithanet, but Inrilatas ignores that and keeps talking about the voice hiding in Kelmomas, asking if the voice wants Maithanet dead. Kelmomas keeps saying Inrilatas will want to kill Maithanet and he needs Kelmomas’s help. That just makes Inrilatas laugh.

“You will want to kill Uncle Holy,” Kelmomas repeated, his thoughts giddy with sudden inspiration. “Think brother… The sum of sins.”

And with that single phrase, the young Prince-Imperial’s dogged persistence was rescued—or so he thought.

Where his brother had fairly radiated predatory omniscience before, his manner suddenly collapsed inward. Even his nakedness, which has been that of the rapist—lewd, virile, bestial—lapsed into its chill and vulnerable contrary. He actually seemed to shrink in his chains.

Suddenly, Inrilatas seemed as pathetic as the human shit breathing on the floor between them.

Inrilatas then asks if Kelmomas knows why he does crazy things. Kelmomas doesn’t. He does it to make himself as damned as possible. Curiosity seizes Kelmomas. He wasn’t to know while the voice is cautions. Inrilatas answers, “Because I can think of no greater madness.” Kelmomas avoids really thinking about how mad it is to trade a fleeting life for an eternity of pain.

Kelmomas doesn’t understand why Inrilatas doesn’t just follow the rules so Mother releases him. Inrilatas studies his brother then asks who “rules the rule?” The voice is worried as the boy answers the God. Who rules the God? No one.

He breaths as you breathe, the secret voice whispered, blinks as you blink—even his heartbeat captures your own! He draws your unthinking soul into rhythms of his making. He mesmerizes you!

Inrilatas says the God is not bound. He stands up and smears his feces with his foot while saying, “So the God is like me.” In that moment, it all makes sense. His brother’s madness made sense and this place is holy. He is enraptured by his brother’s gaze.

Inrilatas then says that the worse you are, the worse God punishes you. Inrilatas says Kelmomas resembles the God. Kelmomas realizes he’s in a trap as he cries he’s not mad like Inrilatas. His brother laughs like Esmenet, warm and gentle. He then shouts that Kelmomas wants to add more pain to this world.

“I would…” Anasûrimbor Kelmomas admitted. “I would.” His limbs trembled. His heart hung as if plummeting through a void. What was this crashing within him? What was this release?

The Truth!

And his brother’s voice resonated, climbed as if communicating up out of his bones. “You think you seek the love of our mother, little brother—Little Knife! You think you murder in her name. But that love is simply cloth thrown over the invisible, what you use to reveal the shape of something so much greater…”

He remembers killing the beetle and the Yatwerian Matriarch. It makes him feel like he’s assuming glory. That he’s becoming a God. As he revels in it, Inrilatas croons to Kelmomas to come closer and cross “the line others have etched for you.” He starts to, but the deaf-mute slave grabs him from behind and pulls him back while Inrilatas laughs, telling his brother to flee. Inrilatas gets angry. He starts shouting and fighting the chains. He can feel himself coming closer to being divinity.

The boy stood astounded. At last he yielded to the Attendant and his shoulder-tugging hands, allowed the wretch to pull him from his brother’s cell…

He knew Inrilatas would find the little gift he had left him for him, lying along the seam between floor-stones.

The small he had stolen from the palace tinker… not so long ago.

Iothiah

Malowebi rides through smoke and screams with Fanayal beside him. It’s Malowebi’s first time a city being asked. Iothiah burns. It reminds him that his nation doesn’t know much of war and that the Men of the Three Seas “warred without mercy or honour.” All that matters is the goal.

“They fought the way Sranc fought.”

He sees bodies lying every where, several rapes in progress, and executions. Fanayal attempts to justify these atrocities by speaking of what the First Holy War had done. He speaks as if all this is right. “The Bloodthirsty Excuse,” as Memgowa had named retribution. Fanayal adds this is more than just vengeance but a lesson. Kill the first man and show mercy to the second. “The Honey and the Goad.”

Malowebi thinks how it’s easy to mix them up as he sees the Kianene reveling the atrocities and thinks he is among savages. Fanayal, perhaps sensing Malowebi’s disgust, cuts short their tour. The screams of a baby haunt Malowebi as they return to the section of city wall where Meppa had brought down. Malowebi gawks at it.

Fanayal points out that Cishaurim Psûkhe frightens him because he can’t see any evidence of sorcery like he should. Malowebi remembers Meppa’s fight with the sole Imperial Saik Schoolman guarding the city had “astounded, and mortified,” him.

To be sorcerer was to dwell among deformities.

He plays it off that while extraordinary, sorcerers like him are used to miracles. He says it almost like a bigger joke. He is impressed by Meppa’s power and Fanayal’s skill. What he most saw was how weak the New Empire was. Kellhus had gutted the Empire for the Great Ordeal, leaving behind the dregs to guard a disaffected population. Even more interesting, not a single Chorae was found in the city. He has to tell his people.

“The people call him Stonebreaker,” Fanayal said. “Meppa… They say he was sent to us by the Solitary God.”

Malowebi turned to him, blinking.

“What do you say?”

“I say he was sent to me!” the hawk-faced Padirajah cried laughing. “I am the Solitary God’s gift to his people.”

“And what does he say?” the Second Negotiant asked, now genuinely curious.

“Meppa? He does not know who he is.”

My Thoughts

Are very first line of this chapter stands in direct opposition to the Dûnyain supposition that the Darkness Comes Before. The White-Luck Warrior violates Cause and Effect. He is the Effect that precedes the Cause. As we see, he sees time in its totality. All of his actions he will take and has taken are with him in the present.

It reminds me of something called a TAS. This is a Tool Assisted Speedrun of a video game. If you ever see one, you’ll see the game being played in ways that are impossible. Well, not impossible but so improbable no human being can do it. It requires inputs performed on frame specific moments. When you view it, it seems almost like the person playing it is predicting the future.

In reality, a TAS is made by playing on emulators and using tools to manipulate the game often frame by frame and program it to do button presses and other inputs. This is how the White-Luck Warrior works. Yatwer can see all of time. She can know how every one of his actions will play out and change with the White-Luck Warrior does to give her the most optimal gameplay. To have the perfect route to beat the game (kill Kellhus).

Sorry for quoting so much, but it’s so telling to how the White-Luck Warrior works. How he can see himself going all the way to Kellhus’s death.

Flaying people for converting to another religion. Very nice, Zeüm. Very nice. And you’re going to be all judgmental on the sacking soon.

Fanayal is a fanatic. He thinks he has a destiny, and nothing is going to stand in the way. Why be mad that Malowebi is doubtful. It’s natural to be doubtful of such claims, but Fanayal is special. He doesn’t have the level of narcissism that Conphas had, but there is an ego there. A purity of belief.

The problem with expanding fast. It’s hard to keep what you take. It can take generations for a people to change their tribal identities, and if you can’t hold it, things will erupt. And even then, future generations will start to remember that they were abused and want their freedom again.

But the New Empire was made for a purpose. It has served it. Kellhus never cared if it survived. He just pretended he did for the sake of the men marching off to die for their families.

Good explanation from Theliopa on why the Gods can’t see the No-God. (Or a certain young psychopathic Dûnyain.)

We’re seeing Esmenet’s paranoia with Maithanet that Kelmomas is nurturing. He just wants mommy all to himself. He can do the manipulation, but he doesn’t understand about seeing beyond tomorrow. He lives in the now the way a child does.

I’m sure that Kellhus would be content not to have slaves wait on him, but he understands trappings. It’s his place to have it, part of his power, so he uses even that. Esmenet doesn’t play the role of caste noble. She’s not one at heart. She’s not the chameleon that Kellhus is.

Also, Bakker takes a moment to point out a sycamore visible from the balcony of Esmenet’s quarters and how its “limbs forking through the air.” Trees are symbols of the Dûnyain and the Probability Trance. We see it in Kellhus’s opening way back in The Darkness that Comes Before when he’s entranced by a tree. When Kellhus was taught how to fight as a child, he was told he must be a tree, reaching in all directions. Trees are possibilities that all have to accounted for and controlled. They spread wide, covering the land in their shadows.

We see that he is full of murderous anger at being slapped by his beloved mother. He doesn’t really love her. He is too much of a narcissist. Everything has to be about his desires. His id. He’s a child, and all he needs is his mother, but one day, he would have tired of her as he matured.

The whole exchange between Inrilatas and Kelmomas shows that, despite all of Kelmomas’s intellect, he’s still a child. He’s not ready to take on someone with his talents matured.

And there is something else that Inrilatas says he’s is the only “unbound soul.” Even Kellhus is bound by something, but Inrilatas can’t understand it. That’s Kellhus’s neutered love for Esmenet. He’s saving the world for her instead of destroying it. And in loving Esmenet, he spares Kelmomas which leads to Kellhus’s own downfall.

Kelmomas is not an unbound soul, though. He’ll be very bound.

Remember that beetle that Kelmomas killed in the first book? Yeah, we’re being reminded about it. Killing a beetle before the statue of Ajokli, the very god that is working with Kellhus. We are introduced to Kelmomas killing a beetle like he’s God. He plays at God, but Kelmomas is No God.

“They fought the way Sranc fought.” Bakker is setting the stage for what is to come after Dagliash.

“Meppa? He does not know who he is.” The line that launched the is Meppa Kellhus’s father. Is Moënghus who had some how survived. But this chapter proves he’s not. He has too much Water to be Moënghus. Meppa is a Primary, the best of the Cishaurim. It takes emotions to do that. Psûkhe is a dead-end for Dûnyain. Who is Meppa? I don’t actually remember what the books give other than I’m pretty sure he dies.

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow The Storm Below Box Set today!

Review: Chayna: A Black Diamond Origin Story

Chayna: A Black Diamond Origin Story

by P. Kuroki

 

Chayna is facing her execution for using purple smoke, an illegal narcotic. Trembling through withdrawals, she stares at the gallows.

But when a general rides up needing soldiers with the war, she finds a repreive. But is being a soldier any better? Especially when the general leads them weirdly into the mountains.

Cold. Hungry. Beset by rabid animals, Chayna and her fellow conscripts are taken deeper into the mountains. Is their general really interested in the war, or is he leading them to another fate?

Chayna is another origin story for one of the Black Diamond assassins. This one was an interesting one. They’ve all been different, exploring different parts of the world.

I really liked how the flute was used. This is a short fantasy story, but Kuroki does a fantastic job of making you care for the supporting cast. Like Sammick and Pevrel.

Another great offering from Kuroki and leaves me salivating for more.

If you’re looking for something to read that’s quick, you’re going to find a lot of depths in this fantasy story.

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Four

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Four

The Istyuli Plains

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

All ropes come up short if pulled long enough. All futures end in tragedy.

—CENEIAN PROVERB

And they forged counterfeits from our frame, creatures vile and obscene, who hungered only for violent congress. These beasts they loosed upon the land, where they multiplied, no matter how fierce the Ishroi who hunted them. And soon Men clamoured at our gates, begging sanctuary, for they could not contend with the creatures. “They wear your face,” the penitents cried. “This calamity is your issue.” But we were wroth, and turned them away, saying, “These are not our Sons. And you are not our Brothers.”

—ISÛPHIRYAS

My Thoughts

An interesting quote. All futures end in tragedy. The tragedy of death, certainly. But also the tragedy of history. The cycles of violence because we cannot see each other as brothers and we cannot take responsibility for our mistakes as we see in the second quote.

The Nonmen didn’t want to admit their responsibility in the Inchoroi’s survival nor did they want to ally with those they thought were their lessers. Especially those who are being harmed by their mistake. They could have helped them, but didn’t. Not until it was the ruin of them all.

And now we find ourselves back with Sorweel heading out on their patrol. And where does his future end?

Tragedy.

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

The Scions are crossing the plain to the southwest looking for game to drive towards the Army of the Middle-North. But they find so little, they’re barely feeding themselves. The Parching Wind doesn’t cease. Sorweel, despite being “bred to the plains, to open endless skies” feels so small on the barren, flat plain. It’s a reminder to Men that the World is far bigger than their ambition.

Sorweel can’t ever shake how small he feels, not even during the embarrassing language drills with Eskeles. Sorweel feels like a schoolboy around Eskeles not the King of Sakarpus despite Eskeles saying he’s here to chaperon all the members of the Scions. But he is because they are special to their parents, the enemies of Kellhus that remain a threat to the New Empire. Sorweel finds the fat man with no armor or weapons with them ridiculous and yet believes that Eskeles is there to protect them with his sorcerery.

At night, he pretends that those around him are his father and uncles out hunting pumas, a costume called the Lioning that the men of his family do during the planting season. He had loved that more than anything.

The Lioning was how he learned his father was truly funny… and genuinely beloved by his men.

SO he would lie with these memories, curl about their warmth. But whenever it seemed he could believe, some dread would lurch out of the nethers and the pretense would blow away like smoke before gusting apprehensions. Zsoronga. The Aspect-Emperor. And the Mother—the Mother most of all.

He wonders what Yatwer wants from him. He spends many sleepless nights trying to understand what happened. How he could pray to Yatwer and have never wondered what “Lay behind the ancient names.” What does her name even mean? He had not paid too much attention to her. She had been something “dark and nebulous.” Too near to the beginnings of things.

All children come to temple with a fear of smallness, which the priests then work and knead like clay, shaping it into the strange reconciliation-to-horror that is religious devotion, the sense of loving something too terrible to countenance, too hoary to embrace. When he thought about the world beyond what his eyes could see, he saw souls in their innumerable thousands with only frayed threads to hold them, dangling over the gaping black of the Outside, and the shadows moving beneath, the Gods, ancient and capricious, reptilian with indifference, with designs so old and vast that there could only be madness in the small eyes of Men.

And none were so old or so pitiless as the dread Mother of Birth.

That was what her name was: childhood terror.

He feels pinched between Yatwer and the Aspect-Emperor. “Gods and Demons.” He wants to escape the Great Ordeal and all of this madness. He’d rather be out here on the plains. One night, he asks Zsoronga his fear with as much care as he can, using the discussion of omens and portents that proclaim that Kellhus’s dynasty is doomed for overreaching.

“What happens,” Sorweel finally ventured, “if we fail the Gods simply because we don’t know what they demand?”

Tzing says, damnation. “The Gods care for nothing for our excuses.” Zsoronga disagrees and says only if they fail their ancestors. They decided who gets into heaven, not the gods. Charampa gets mad, calling that Inrithi nonsense and saddened the Zeumi believe it. Zsoronga says honoring ancestors predates Inrithism. “Family survives death.” Sorweel, listening hard to what is being said, and realizes that as a conquered people, he’s turning to foreign beliefs. He asks, what if his family is damned? Through Obotegwa, Zsoronga has an answer.

“Then you must do everything in your power to discover what the Gods do want. Everything.”

Sorweel understands that the Zeumi see death as the “great life.” So it’s important to have ancestors that got your back. Sorweel asks what happens if you don’t have that. Zsoronga studies him to see if he can trust Sorweel.

“Otherwise you are lost.”

Morning comes, making the world seem larger as night if banished. It’s a bright day. Sorweel, bred to this land, finds it dizzying because he is “beyond the Pale.” Beyond Sakarpus’s domain. Not only that, but the Place feels like a “moral boundary.” He thinks of all the miles between him and his holy city. He finds it insane that such a small company is riding out here alone.

However, his respect for Captain Harnilas brings him comfort. Old Harni is a veteran of the Kidruhil, and it shows. He had tried to hate the man, like the other Scions, but the man is too good and full of “warlike wisdom.” The man so didn’t care what others thought of him. Zsoronga calls him a nkubaru, “stone-hewers.” A man has to be stronger than stone to cut it. Eskeles added, “Or smarter.”

Sometimes they chat. Other times they ride in silence. Usually, it would be a momentary spark then snuffed out. On the tenth day, they sighted the tracks of elk. A huge one, thousands of hoofs crossing the vastness of the world.

Sorweel cursed himself for a fool, such was his relief.

They track the elk for two days and spot crows. They are excited until Sorweel understands what it means. He rides up to the front where Captain Harnilas snaps at him. But the says the word that “transcended all languages of Men.”

“Sranc.”

As he stares Captain Harnilas in the eyes, Sorweel realizes this man is much like his father’s bondsmen. A man who quarantine’s his compassion from clouding his senses, loving only “in the cracks and crevices of a warring world.” Eskeles joins them. Sorweel says those are not crows but storks, holy birds that only follow Sranc. Captains Harnilas believes him.

Through Obotegwa, Sorweel learns there is a debate between Captain Harnilas and Eskeles. The Schoolman wants to use Gnosis on them while Captain Harnilas wants to attack with the Scions to give them a taste of real combat even if some will die. “Better to begin with an easy blooding, he says, then a hard one.”

They track the storks and realize that it’s a warband of three hundred, not a migrating clan. They travel at an angle and close within a mile of the enemy. It’s here that the argument happened. It’s been a thrilling afternoon, everyone smiling and eager for the fight. They’re gleeful for the first fight. Sorweel feels no fear and is glad for that. He’s eager for the fight, too. Even his pony is hungry for it.

“Of course Eskeles was intent on ruining everything. Blasphemer, Sorweel found himself thinking.

Rumor says Mandate Schoolman outrank even the Judges, but Sorweel hopes Captain Harnilas can outrank Eskeles. Especially since the captain wasn’t a political man, hence his position leading the Scions. Intrigue, as Sorweel’s father always said, kills more men than battle.

Captain Harnilas loses his temper at Eskeles, driving off the Schoolman who calls him a fool. Sorweel sings out, “Practice-practice,” as the Schoolman always said during their language drills. Zsoronga chuckles while Eskeles glares as Sorweel before regaining his composure. He hopes Sorweel is right.

A chill seemed to creep into the shadow.

Captain Harnilas gives orders and they ride out in a wedge formation. The Sranc don’t move as they approach which surprises Zsoronga who is shocked that their group hasn’t been seen. Sorweel says the Sranc are probably resting since they like traveling at night. Zsoronga is confused why they wouldn’t camp on a hilltop. Closer to the sun they hate. Zsoronga points out that men hate the night and keep watch only for Sorweel to counter no men have walked this land in thousands of years. “Why should they keep watch for myths and legends?”

His earlier eagerness seemed to slip out of him, plummet through the soles of his boots. They climbed a slope, riding into their shadows at an angle to the dust that pealed away from them. Everywhere he looked he saw the ground, and yet it seemed he rode the lip of a perilous chasm. Vertigo leaned out from him, threatened to pull him from the saddle. There was no certainty, he realized. Anything could happen on the field of war.

Anything.

The Sranc all cry together at once then fall off into individual squeals as they mob together. They draw weapons and raise their standards of human skulls attached to bison hide. They bated them into attacking and the Scions know it.

For a moment, the two sides face each other before they charge. Sorweel whispers in his pony’s ear, “One and one are one…” The two sides crash together. His lance strikes a shield, deflects to the other side, and kills a different Sranc. He draws a sword and swings, killing them with ease. It was no “different from practice melons.”

Then he’s cut through the horde and finds Zsoronga grinning at him. Sorweel grabs a lance gutting from the ground and turns for the next charge, howling his war cry. The Sranc flee and are run down. Sorweel felt joy in the pursuit. He finally feels like he’s a Horselord. He was born for this.

There was joy in the race. Ecstasy in the kill.

One and one were one.

The Scions exterminated the Sranc, losing three with another nine wounded. Eskeles isn’t happy, but Harnilas is thrilled. They are all exultant, slapping each other on the back. Including Sorweel. He ends up climbing to the top of a hill and stares across the plain. He thinks about his ancestors doing this, killing Sranc. Killing “those who did not belong.”

The darkening sky was so broad that it seemed to spin with slow vertigo. The Nail of Heaven glittered.

And the World towered beneath.

Harnilas busts out the rum so the Scions can celebrate. They are “boys drunk on the deeds of men.” They only get two swallows. They also stake a surviving Sranc down. Most of them were “youths of gentle breeding” who don’t do more than kick the Sranc. Sorweel finally gets fed up and puts out its eye. Some love it, but others say torture is a crime. Part of their “effeminate and obscure laws of conduct.” Sorweel is shocked by this and Captain Harnilas moves to his side and tells Sorweel to explain just what the Sranc really are.

Through Eskeles, not Obotegwa, he tells how the Sranc usually attack in winter when they can’t dig grubs out of the frozen ground. This is why his people have a strong defense on their border. But one tower is almost always overwhelmed and the Sranc will reach a village. They mostly kill the men. But women and especially children are taken for their rape. He trails off, remembering that day when he was fourteen and his father showed him the aftermath of one of those pillages.

We could torment a thousand of these creatures for a thousand years,” his father had told him that night, “and we would have repaid but a droplet of the anguish they have visited upon us.”

He repeated those words.

When he hears silence, Sorweel thinks they hated it and Eskeles’s continued speech is him trying to undo the damage. But Obotegwa translates the Eskeles is saying Sorweel peaks true. That Sranc are “beasts without souls” and “flesh without spirit.” They are not beings with feelings, but things no different from dirt. Despite Eskeles’s strong words, the Scions look at Sorweel. He realizes they weren’t condemning him.

Respect. Admiration, even.

Only Zsoronga seemed to watch him with troubled eyes.

The sport began in earnest after that. The Mannish laughter was as shrill as the inhuman screams were crazed.

What was left twitched and glistened in the blood-sodden grasses.

The next day, they are surprised vultures aren’t feasting on the Sranc. They ride out laughing and joking, acting like veterans but they still are talking like boys. “Easy victories, as a Horselord would say, grow no beards.” They resume tracking the elk only to find them slaughtered and left to rot in the hot sun. None of the Scions can utter a world as they stare at fields of dead elk. Vultures feast and fill the air with their cries. Sorweel sees they have been gutted and their entrails strewn across the ground.

They descend into the massacre which unnerves Sorweel because they’ll be seen for miles, alerting anyone that their feast was disturbed. Zsoronga doesn’t understand this. It’s madness. Eskeles say it’s a Hording. Sorweel can see the Sranc massacring the elk.

“In ancient days,” his Mandate tutor continued, “before the coming of the No-God, the Sranc would continually retreat before hosts too powerful for any one clan to assault. Back and back, clan heaped upon clan. Until their hunger forced them to take game, until their numbers blackened the very earth…”

“And then?” Sorweel asked.

“They attacked…”

They realize the Great Ordeal has forced the Sranc back and back until the Hoarding is now happening. Eskeles tells Captain Harnilas about the danger of this. Sorweel stares at the destruction and it worries him at how many it would take to do this to the elk. Sranc clans never numbered more than a few hundred. Rarely, a chieftain would enslave a few other clans then besiege Sakarpus. It happened five times. Still, this slaughter is something more.

Only some greater power could have accomplished this.

Sorweel realizes that Kellhus’s war is real. Zsoronga concedes it might be, but still questions Kellhus’s motivation.

Zsoronga’s warning that Sorweel is lost without his ancestors echoes in his mind over the coming days. Zsoronga, despite being young, has “salt.” He’s mature. He can’t deny that Yatwer has possessed him even though he was “trothed to her brother Gilgaöl” since he was five. It’s strange because he’s a warrior, a Taker and a thief in her eyes. It was a humiliation that she had chosen him, and one he was worthy of. He just wants to know why.

Porsparian would know. The slave is clearly some priest even though Sorweel thought only women “attended to the worldly interests of the Ur-Mother.” He was never educated on Yatwer. She’s a goddess for the poor. He feels an idiot for not realizing that Porsparian would be the key. Sorweel just had to learn Sheyic to get his answers.

That night, Sorweel remembers Porsparian making the face in the mud only to realize he’s doing it right now. It is insane and makes his stomach churn. He has trouble making the face in the dry soil. But he works to form it. Once done, he stares at it. “For a mad moment, it seemed the whole of the World, all the obdurate miles he had travelled, multiplied on and on in every direction, was but the limbless body of the face before him.” Instead of Yatwer, he realizes he made his father’s face. And his father speaks to him, calling him “son.”

He felt himself bend back… as if he were a bow drawn by otherworldly hands.

Water,” the image coughed on a small cloud of dust, “climbs the prow…”

Eskeles’s words?

Sorweel raised a crazed fist, dashed the face into the combed grasses.

Sorweel hovers between waking and sleeping, remembering what Eskeles said about the Sranc building up like water before the prow of the ship. Despite never seeing many boats, he understands the metaphor. Sorweel realizes that they are very far from the prow tracking game. Something doesn’t make sense about the massacre. So he waits for dawn to tell the others what he’s realized.

“With all due respect, my King…” the sorcerer said with a waking sneer. “Kindly go fuck your elbows.”

Eskeles is not happy to be woken by this and snaps out, letting his rare temper ride free. Captain Harnilas watches, but Sorweel doesn’t speak Sheyic well enough. He explains how the Sranc had no sentries. Eskeles just wants to go back to sleep, but he persists and asks how water piles behind the boat. That has Eskeles blinking. Then he groans and gets up. They go to Captain Harnilas and Eskeles takes too much time. Impatient, Sorweel snarls, “We’re tracking an army!”

That raises alarms. Harnilas asks why he thinks that. Because the Sranc can’t be Hoarding. Something is driving them. He speculates the Consul knows about the Hoarding and is using that knowledge. Eskeles admits the Consult would know about it. Sorweel continues to explain the Consult will know when the Hoarding reaches critical mass and attacks the Great Ordeal. Eskeles concedes that’s possible.

Sorweel through of his father, of all the time she had heard him reason with his subjects, let alone his men. “To be a worthy King,” Harweel had once told him, “is to lead, not to command.” And he understood that all the bickering, all the discourse he had considered wasted breath, “tongue-measuring,” was in fact central to kingship.

Sorweel says that their expedition is a joke. They are patrolling a safe place where you wouldn’t have patrols to keep them busy and safe. But then they stumble on a war party with no sentries who are not afraid of the Great Ordeal. They think they are safe. And the fact they slaughtered the elk is something they shouldn’t be doing here. Eskeles encourages Sorweel to keep talking, to give his thoughts, but he doesn’t know what is happening. He feels unsure.

Sorweel guesses that they have stumbled onto elements of a Consult army. They’re using the elk to hide their passage and shadow the Ordeal. This army will attack the Great Ordeal from behind when they fight the Hoarding. But this confuses Sorweel. The Sranc don’t do this. They don’t plan. Use tactics. This worries Harnilas and Eskeles. They ask what Sorweel thinks they should do. He says to ride for the Ordeal and sound the alarm. Harnilas agrees and approves.

Sorweel asks if his theory is possible because it makes no sense. Sranc don’t use tactics. Eskeles has a fatherly gleam in his eyes as he thinks. Then he talks about the time before the No-God was activated. Back then, the Consult would chain Sranc into massive armies called Yokes and drive them like slaves. They starve them. When they’re famished and desperate for food, they strike their chains and let them rampage.

Something within the Sakarpi King, a binding fear and hope, slumped in relief. He almost reeled for exhaustion, as if alarm alone had sustained him through all the sleepless watches.

Eskeles asks if he’s okay. He dismisses the worry then glances at the horizon. He asks what Harnilas said. Eskeles replies that he thinks Sorweel has “the gifts of a great king.” Eskeles has a look of fatherly pride that makes Sorweel feel guilty.

Gifts? something within him wanted to cry. No…

Only things the dirt had told him.

My Thoughts

We see Yatwer working on Sorweel to do what she wants him. Through Zsoronga and his talk of honoring ancestors and families surviving death, he is saying what Sorweel needs to embrace Yatwer and be her Narindar. He just doesn’t see how the circumstances are being manipulated from the outside by a being that can see past and future all at the same time. The Darkness that Comes Before as a weapon being turned against Kellhus. Sorweel doesn’t even know it.

The “Our smarter” line from Eskeles is a nice point to his character and contrasts with the captain who is strong while Eskeles is smart. Two different ways to come at something.

Why does he curse himself for a fool? Because he’s relieved that they found food for his enemy. He is bouncing between two people: the rebel and the conquered.

Come on Eskeles, let’s not be a party pooper!

Interestingly, we see our hero is the one who does the most vicious act. He is shocked they don’t want to torture the monster. This is not the first parallel we’re going to be drawn between Sranc and Men. But you’ll never see Sranc hesitating. Men are trapped between Intellect and Desire. The Dûnyain and the Inchoroi. Some are closer to one end of the other. Both lead to bad decisions. The balance has to be struck.

“Go fuck your elbows?” There’s a phrase.

Yatwer continues guiding him. She’s positioning him as someone insightful and knowledgeable. She’s winning him respect. Bringing him more into the notice of Kellhus so he could be in a position to strike when the time came.

Not a lot to say, but we are seeing those strings being pulled. It puts Sorweel on a very typical journey, but it’s out of his control. He’s not a hero who’s answered the call. He’s just dragged along on the journey by the will of a goddess that will end up with him dying.

And yet, I think he has a big impact on Serwa. But we’ll get to that when we get to the fourth book.

Not a lot to say. Pretty straightforward chapter.

Want to read more, click here for chapter 5!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow The Storm Below Box Set today!

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Three

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Three

The Meörn Wilderness

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

The bondage we are born into is the bondage we cannot see. Verily, freedom is little more than ignorance of tyranny. Life long enough, and you will see: Men resent not the whip so much as the hand that wields it.

—TRIAMIS I, JOURNALS AND DIALOGUES

My Thoughts

My, my, what a fun quote to start the chapter. We touch on the Darkness that Comes Before, how men are not truly free. How they’re shaped by their environment to believe and behave in certain ways. So long as we don’t see who’s doing it, this doesn’t matter. But when there’s a face that’s oppressing you, that’s a different matter.

Why do you think news media and politicians spend so much time gaslighting us to deflect us to the true oppression going around us. Making us believe that we have to suffer for our own good when it’s really to their own profit. A leader who understands this and can act from the shadows is one that prospers. It’s best if you’re not the figurehead taking all the blame.

What does this have to do with the chapter? It’s Captain Kosoter trying to re-establish his dominance. To re-yoke the Skin-Eaters. From the murdering of the sobber to how he recruits the Stone Hags. Resentment is building. He’s losing control. They is mutinous talk whispering in the background.

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

Birds sing in the canopy of the Mop. When Mimara looks up, the sky is just pinpricks of light that squeeze through the thick branches. It’s so dense and vast, she thinks entire nations can vanish into it. Other than the tree trunks, it’s easy travel, the only real obstacle is thick veils of moss that hang down from branches they have to hack through.

It seems unthinkable that men had once taken hoe and plough to this earth.

The scalpers fear the Mop for good reason, she supposed, but for some reason her fear has left her. It is strange the way trauma deadens curiosity. To suffer cruelty in excess is to be delivered from care. The human heart sets aside its questions when the future is too capricious. This is the irony of tribulation.

To know the world will never be so bad.

She’s so lost in thoughts when Achamian says her name, she jumps and realize he’s standing beside her. He blends in too easily after having spent twenty years living in the wilderness. He tells her she won’t be with how little he knows about it. She thinks he’s afraid to tell her, but he says he’s not. The Judging Eye is a folk tale like the White-Luck Warrior or Kahiht. She sees fear in her eyes and thinks herself cursed.

The Wizard regards her for several unblinking heartbeats. Worry. Pity.

“Aye… I think you are cursed.”

Mimara has told herself this from the very beginning. There is something wrong with you. There is something broken. So she assumed hearing the same from Achamian would leave her intact, confirmed more than condemned. But for some reason tears flood her eyes, and her face rebels. She raises a hand against the gaze of the others.

He says pregnant women get the Judging eye. That makes her gape, numbing her pain. She asks why. He doesn’t know though he speculates that it has to do with childbirth and how carrying a new life in a woman’s body also means having a new soul, a piece of the Outside, enter her. This reminds her of her mother pregnant with Kelmomas and Samarmas.

She demands to know what the curse is with such ferocity she is immediately mad at herself, afraid she’s scared him off now that he’s talking. “People punish desperation as much out of compassion as petty malice.” He explains the women who bear dead children have the Judging Eye and shrugs as if saying that’s not you. But she feel s a chill at that he explains and demanded clarification.

A scowl knits his brow. “The Judging Eye is the eye of the Unborn… The eye that watches from the God’s own vantage.”

She’s shocked, saying she’s had this all her life. It’s not possible. He then says that the Outside makes cause and effect tricky, but she doesn’t understand and gets mad at him speaking in riddles.

“I’m just saying that in a sense your life has already been lived—for the God or the Gods, that is…”

She asks what that means and he scowls and says nothing, angering her. Then there’s a scream and Achamian tackles her and she feels his incipient wards around them as then Cleric is crying. Sutadra had been hit by a shaft in the face.

Again, she realizes. The Skin Eaters are dying again.

Achamian tells her to hold onto his belt as someone shouts Stone Hags. Mimara thinks about what she knows about Mandate Gnosis. Incipient wards are spells that trigger during a surprise attack. She’s always sensed them around him, even at his home. Now they “crackle with life-preserving ugliness.” The arrows hitting his wards dissolve. She tries to make sense of it then realizes that it’s humans firing down at them from the top of the ravine. Cleric has his own wards, Kosoter at his side.

Achamian shouts to rally on him. To stand close. The attackers shout in alarm, using the Galish word for Sorcerer. Then Achamian starts singing. Light flashes up at the attackers who run. Pokwas calls them the Stone Hags.

Fire assaults Cleric’s wards. The Stone Hags have an angogic sorcerer conjuring ethereal dragons. Achamian rakes the attackers with lines of bright white that is blinding. The light sweeps around them, the Compass of Noshainrau. Trees are destroyed. Part of the ravine collapses. The Stone Hags Flee.

Cleric stands unharmed before the Angogic sorcerer and laughs at the pathetic magic. Achamian grips her as Cleric kills the enemy sorcerer. He continues to laughter like “a murder of crows crying across thunder.”

At the end of the battle, everyone pants and stares in shock. Kosoter climbs up to the top of the ravine and taunts the fleeing Stone Hags and promises to murder them all. Mimara goes to Sutadra lying on his side, the arrow buried in his cheek. They have never talked before despite all they’ve been through. She is shocked by that as she watches him die.

She asks what she can do for him. He tries to speak but is choking on his blood. In the background, Galian explains that the Stone Hags that prey on fellow scalpers and them them easy pickings.

Hands held out and helpless, she stares down at the dying stranger. Why are you doing this? someone cries within her. He’s dying. There’s nothing to be done! Why—

The Judging Eye opens.

Achamian asks if the Stone Hags will return. Galian isn’t sure. No one knows where they winter. They might be desperate. As they talk, Mimara sees the “moral sum” of Sutadra’s life. It’s easier counting emotional wounds than your sins. People like to forget them but the World remembers. For every one hundred Heavens there are a thousand Hells.

She can see it all, intuitions bundled into the wrinkled architecture of his skin, the squint about his eyes, the cuts across his knuckles. Sin and redemption, written in the language of a flawed life. The oversights, the hypocrisies, the mistakes, the accumulation of petty jealousies and innumerable small and selfish acts. A wife struck on a wedding night. A son neglected for contempt of weakness. A mistress abandoned. And beneath these cankers, she sees the black cancer of far greater crimes, the offences that could neither be denied nor forgiven. Villages burned on fraudulent suspicions. Innocents massacred.

But she also sees the clear skin of heroism and sacrifice. The white of devotion. The gold of unconditional love. The gleam of loyalty and long silence. The high blue of indomitable strength.

Sutadra, she realizes, is a good man broken down, a man forced, time and again, to pitch his scruples against the unscalable walls of circumstance—forced. A man who erred for the sake of mad and overwhelming expediences. A man besieged by history…

Regret. That is what drives him. This is what delivered him to the scalpers. The will to suffer for his sins…

And she loves him—this mute stranger! One cannot see as much as she and not feel love. She loves him the way one must love someone with such a tragic past. She knows as a lover knows, or a wife.

She knows he is damned.

As he dies whimpering like child, she lies and says he’s going to Paradise. But then a shadow falls on them. Kosoter is over her. As she does, the Judging Eye closes giving her a glimpse of a “coal-orange eyes leering from a charred face.” He finishes off Sutadra and growls, “You rot where you fall.”

She stares at the dead man and wipes away the dirt from Kosoter’s boot off Sutadra’s face. The captain snarls at the Skin Eaters that they are weak. That is why they were ambushed. He won’t stand for any more weeping. “This is a slog!”

“The Slog of Slogs!” Sarl screeches out, chortling.

“And I am the Rule of Rules,” the Captain grates.

They leave behind Sutadra and head out, Xonghis taking them on a path away from where the Stone Hags fled. As Achamian walks, he realizes that Sutadra had been a mystery to the group. The man rarely talked, keeping to himself.

This was the way with some men. They sealed themselves in, bricked their ears and their mouths, and spent their remaining days speaking only with their eyes—until those became inscrutable. Many, you could wager, held chaos in their hearts, shrill and juvenile. But since ignorance is immovable, they seem immovable, imperturbable. Such is the power of silence. For all Achamian knew, Sutadra was little more than a weak-willed fool, a peevish coward behind the blind of an impassive demeanor.

But he [Achamian] would always remember him as strong.

He’s shocked by Mimara’s tears and silence. He didn’t think she could be affected by violence after Cil-Aujas. He tries to talk to her, but she’s lost in her grief. So he goes to Galian and Pokwas and learns about the Stone Hags. They’ve been haunting the Mop for five years. Pokwas despises them for preying on their own while Galian says it takes balls to do what they do, but it’s clearly an attempt to bait Pokwas. But Achamian agrees that it takes balls to hunt men who hunt Sranc.

They talk about the Stone Hags captain, a renegade Mysunsai wizard name Pafaras. He kept breaking contracts and his school drove him out to the hinterlands. He was the first “Spitter” to become a Scalper. A pompous asshole who later burned down an Imperial Custom House and was outlawed from the Scalper counts. That’s why the Stone Hags live out here preying on their own kind. Because they’re sloppy, Scalpers have escaped to tell the tale of them. They’re the only band more famous than the Skin Eaters.

Achamian glances at Mimara and see’s she’s still grieving, not distracted by the talk. He joins her and says, “He died the death allotted to him.” This makes her defensive and she asks why he would say that. He thought she mourned his death, that she knew him.

“The Eye,” she snapped, her voice cracking about bewildered fury. “It opened. I saw… I saw him… I saw his-his life…”

It seemed he should have known this.

“It’s his damnation I mourn,” she said. The damnation you will share, her look added.

Achamian knew he was damned. Lived with it so long it was easy to dismiss and scorn. But sometimes, he pictured all those thousands of Schoolmen screaming in torment. Even after two decades since breaking with the Mandate, he clutches to their catechism. “Though you lose your soul, you shall gain the World.”

He points out she’ll be damned if he teaches her sorcery. She ignores that with mercurial ease that frustrates him. Then he realizes it’s been days since his last lesson. Since Cil-Aujas, he’d expended no effort. He didn’t have the stomach to teach and figured she didn’t want to learn. Now he wonders if she has new reason not to.

Life’s harder turns had a way of overwhelming naïve passions. He found himself recalling his earlier advice to Soma. She had been given something, something she had yet to understand.

Time. She would need time to discover who she had become—or was becoming.

They stop in a clearing created by a huge oak that had toppled over. Pokwas calls it the stump, a place scalpers know about. He tells about a legend that each tree is a crypt that “Inhaled the dead from the earth.” A few years ago, thinking they could drive the Sranc deeper into the mop, Pokwas and Galian spent three days cutting down the tree. He then point at it and says, “Look what we found.”

Achamian saw it instantly near the peak of the rough-hewn cone. At first he thinks it’s been carved—the product of some morbid scalper joke—but a second look told him otherwise. A skull. A human skull embedded in the coiled heartwood. Only a partial eye socket, a cheek, and several teeth—molars to canine—had been chiseled clear, but it was undeniably human.

A shudder passed through the old Wizard, and it seemed he heard a voice whisper, “The heart of a great tree does not burn…”

Memories from a different age, a different trial.

Pokwas says that some claim this is the Sranc’s forest, but he thinks the dead own it.

Camping in the clearing was different, the woods around her was as dark as Cil-Aujas. They’re on edge supposedly because of the Stone Hags, but it’s being surrounded by the wall of black. Achamian remembers how the witches believe that trees were “as much living souls as they were conduits of power.” They take a hundred years to awaken and would hate, especially if they are planted in blood-soaked soil. In fact, the Ainoni mothers would bury their children and plant a sycamore tree so they could sit under its branches and feel their lost child, though the Shrial priests aid it was a “diabolical simulacrum” and have failed to stamp it out.

For his part, Achamian did not know what to believe. All he knew was the Mop was no ordinary forest and that the encircling trees were no ordinary trees.

Crypts, Pokwas had called them.

The woods are endlessly creaking and groaning while insects buzz. Achamian can’t sleep and starts to think the sounds are a language warning them to leave. Pokwas says nightmares of being choked by wild things are common here. It makes Achamian wonder if the place was a topoi. A “place where trauma had worn away the hard rind of the world.” The place could be “soaked in Hell” like Mengedda had been. The dreams Achamian had suffered there forced him to flee. He fears the same would happen.

But instead he dreamed of finding the No-God then the same dream he’d had since Cil-Aujas, the High King Celmomas giving Seswatha the map and placing it in the Coffers. He doesn’t sleep well as he lies with his back to Mimara. He is half-awake and half-dreaming, seeing the map case and its curse on it should the seal be broken, “Doom, should you find me broken.”

And he thought, Strange…

Finding knowledge in sleep.

He falls back into dreams and is in chains one of many bounced together. He’s in a shadowy tunnel. He is panicked, not sure where he is. He sees that the walls are golden for a moment. Ahead, there’s an opening that is “bright with things he did not want to see.” He thinks he’s been beaten, his teeth missing. Then he is surrounded by trees, waking up and realizing what is going on.

Trees! Crypts, the scalpers called them…

He yells at the trees to stop messing with him or he’ll burn them all down. But as he does, he realizes he’s screaming “with the wrong lips in the wrong world.” He’s still in the dream, being dragged down the hall. Something blares but not a horn. He’s yanked towards the light and terror grips him. He pleads in his mind.

Let this be the end.

Achamian wakes up already sitting, his hands gripping his shoulders. He struggles to gather wits as the others sleep. Someone begs in terror in their sleep in Galish. Hameron, the one “most broken by Cil-Aujas.”

There was a time Achamian had thought himself weak, when he had looked on men such as these scalpers with a kind of complicated envy. But life had continued to heap adversity upon him, and he had continued to survive, to overcome. He was every bit the man he had been, too inclined to obsess, too ready to shoulder the burden of trivial sins. But he no longer saw those ingrown habits as weakness. To think, he now knew, was not a failure to act.

Some souls wax in the face of horror. Others shrink, cringe, bolt for an easy life and its many cages. And some, like young Hameron, find themselves trapped between inability and the inevitable. All men cry in the dark. Those who did not were something less than men. Something dangerous. Pity welled through the old Wizard, pity for a boy who had found himself stranded on scarps too steep to climb.

Pity and guilt.

He notices the Nail of Heaven in the sky. It’s higher than he’d ever seen it outside of his dreams. Then he glances to Mimara sleeping beside him. Someone climbs down from a sleeping platform above. To Achamian’s horror it’s Kosoter. He climbs past Achamian’s platform, their eyes meeting. There’s a starved hunger in Kosoter’s eyes. Then he’s gone out of sight. He hisses, “Sobber!” and kills Hameron.

Fear fills Achamian. He lies down beside Mimara and pretends to sleep as Kosoter climbs back up to his platform. The sound is so loud, it almost hurts Achamian’s ears. He just lies there breathing, feeling the absence of the dead man’s life. Guilt twists Achamian. He had just feigned sleep while the boy was killed for his Achamian’s lie.

The obsession.

Strength, Achamian told himself. This! This is what Fate demands of you… If his heart had not yet hardened to flint, he knew it would before this journey was done. You could not kill so many and still care.

Fail or succeed, he would become something less than a man. Something dangerous.

Like the Captain.

Not even Mimara asked about Hameron the next morning. Everyone ignores them as Kosoter loomed over them all. Nothing is said, not even talk of the Stone Hag, proves that the men aren’t happy that the Rules of the Slog back in effect. As they march into the woods, it feels even more oppressive with two less members of their party.

The distance between each member grows as the day was on which causes Pokwas and Galian, who are shunning Sutadra, walk beside Achamian and Mimara. Galian whispers that it’ll just be Kosoter sitting on a pile of Sranc bones, everyone else dead. Pokwas agrees.

They were not so much searching for an understanding, it seemed, as they were acknowledging one that already existed. If anything proves that Men are bred for intrigue, it is the way conspiracies require no words.

Achamian thinks he’s gone mad. That sparks Mimara to laugh. She’s been silent since the attack. Galian says Kosoter’s survived more Slog, though he does have a pet Nonman adds Pokwas. Galian says everything is upside down. Madness is now sanity. Achamian asks what they should do. Galian asks Achamian that question. Then what chance do they have to reach Achamian’s “precious Coffers.”

This was when Achamian realized that he stood against these men. Mad or not, Lord Kosoter showed no signs of wavering. If anything his most recent acts of madness displayed a renewed resolve. As much as Achamian hated to admit it, Hameron had been a liability…

The old Wizard found himself warding away thoughts of Kellhus and his ability to sacrifice innocents.

Pokwas complains how they’ve “barely reached the Fringe,” have last three-fourths of their numbers. Achamian points out that once they are out of the woods, they’ll be in the wake of the Great Ordeal and their path clear. They ask if the Coffers are what he claims.

Achamian could feel Mimara watching his profile. He could only pray her look was not too revealing.

“You will return princes.”

Cleric hears a cry then the others. It’s distant. It’s so soft they wonder if they hear it. The sound seems to be all around them. Then a sorcerous crack echos and everyone glances at Cleric. The Nonmen says the trees are playing “games with sound.” And with them. Achamian says they have to free of them. So he climbs into the air with sorcerery.

He has to climb around the branches and pull himself past them while he suffers vertigo. Despite how many times hes done this, his body “resented the impossibility.” He finally breaks free and blinks at the brightness. Even now, the trees are still rising around him, but he’s clear of their canopy. He goes higher and all he can see is a green sea.

From up here, the cries were clearer and to the north. He sees a bit of stone rising out of the forest and uses a Cant of Scrying to zoom on a group of men. They are fleeing something. Another group of them is running towards the Skin Eaters, both fleeing something that has frightened them. Then a tide of Sranc appear and kill those who had stood to fight. There is so many of them, their terrible cries reaching his ears.

A kind of breathless remorse struck the old Wizard. This was how scalpers died, he realized. Lost. Thrown over the edge of civilization. A crazed death—not simply violent. Unwitnessed. Unmourned.

They survivors have to climb down a cliff, throwing off their gear. One steps out, the Mysunsai Schoolman and barely manages to walk on the air. Achamian realizes that the man too high up to stand on the “arcane echo” of the ground and instead is using the slope of the cliff. Achamian is watching the Stone Hags die.

Then their sorcerer leader starts casting agnostic spells to burn the Sranc and his own men. As he is doing that he makes a misstep and falls to his death. Achamian watches, not sure what to do now as it’s over when Cleric startles him and says they should return.

“Who?” he [Achamian] cried before his wits returned to him. “Who are you?”

A Mysunsai Schoolman keeping company with scalpers seemed mad enough, but a Nonman?

A Quya Mage?

Cleric just says the Sranc are moving in force and coming at them. They have to warn the others.

On the ground, Cleric starts telling what happened then trails off and Achamian finishes. Pokwas laughs and is glad the Stone Hags were killed. Galian says he’s missing the point, but Soma also is glad that the Stone Hags are dead. Then Pokwas says they should just kill the Sranc only to be cut off by Kosoter calling them fools and they won’t be doing that.

The black-skinned giant turned to regard his Captain with round-eyed outrage. Lord Kosoter’s scrutiny, which was angry at the best of times, narrowed into a murderous squint.

Galian begs for Pokwas to listen and also seems to be warning him that it’s too soon to push Kosoter. Achamian noticed it as did Mimara, but did Kosoter. They are witnessing the new order of the group being tested while Galian shouts the Hags are the biggest company which is how they get away with killing other scalpers. And they just got massacred by the Sranc, and so will the Skin Eaters.

Xonghis asks if the Sranc are heading this way? Achamian says they are. The Sranc would find their trail, their scent, they would hunt them down. Kosoter says they’ll make for Fatwall as planned. They’ll either lose them or make their stand there.

“Fatwall!” Sarl cackled, his gums blood red and glistening. His grins had seemed to eat up his whole face as of late. “Latrine of the Gods!”

They “skip-marched,” a fast trot that Achamian fears will do him in. But though he’s old, his body is keeping up, but he’s nearly done for when they stop for the night. He can hardly remember the march, just the pain. Though dinner is nice, he’s desperate for more Qirri. Mimara collapses exhausted, too, while Xonghis, with as much stamina as the Cleric and Kosoter, gets dinner ready while everyone else is lies down.

Kosoter and the Cleric have wondered off like they always did during camp’s set up. Cleric would sit while Kosoter muttered over him. It’s a mystery to Achamian. After coughing hard, Achamian shuffles to the pair. The pair look at Achamian and anxiety seizes Achamian. He just needs Qirri. Cleric starts to give it to him but Kosoter stops the Nonmen, making Achamian nearly panic.

“We need to speak first,” the Captain said. “Holy Veteran to Holy Veteran.”

Achamian had the impression of a sneer over and above the contempt that generally ruled the man’s expression. Something, a demoralizing wave, crashed through him. What now? Why? Why did this mad fool insist on beating complexity and confusion out of simple things?

He needed his pinch.

Wizard nods and Kosoter asks what the others are saying. Achamian says they worry that they won’t reach the Coffers. Achamian is so aware of the threat of the Chorae Kosoter has while says nothing. Achamian then asks if this sort of talk is a violation of the “Rules of the Slog.”

“Talk,” the Captain said, spitting to the left of his feet. “I care nothing for your talk…” The man’s smile reminded Achamian of the dead he had seen on the battlefields of the First Holy War, the way the sun would sometimes shrink the flesh of the face, drawing cadaverous grins on the fallen.

“So long as you don’t weep.”

Mimara keeps thinking how the “North means Sranc.” Back in the Andiamine Heights, the North was talked about like it was meaningless. Something that didn’t matter to her or others. Just like hearing about a famine in Ainoni. “What are these people to me?” Now she feels a fool as she’s running from Srancs once more, now in the Mop.

Qirri is what keeps them running, following Cleric with his pouch and his sorcerous light. Cil-Aujas had crushed in on them but the Mop feels like a void. A never-ending expanse. There was nothing but the “Skin Eaters and rushing shadows.”

For no reason she can fathom, images from her old life on the Andiamine Heights plague her soul’s eye. Gilded folly. The farther she travels from her mother, it seems, the more a stranger she becomes to herself. She cringes at the thought of her former self: the endless straining to stand aloof, the endless posturing, not to convince others—for how could they not see through her in some measure?—but to assure herself of some false moral superiority…

Survival, she realizes, is its own kind of wisdom. Scalper wisdom.

She has learned the truth. Everything is weak and dies. Especially the “conceits of the perpetually wronged.” Someone comments that she’s smiling. It’s Soma, the sort of “Disowned Prince” that the girls in the brothel dreamed of saving them instead of hurt them. But she doesn’t quite trust the restlessness in him. “A strength out of character to his foppish character.”

Soma says that eventually, everyone starts laughing on the slog, but the real trick is to know how to stop. She tries to ignore him, concentrating on the trail and not twisting her ankle, which could be a lethal mishap out here.

Unlike her sisters in the brothel, Mimara had despised men like Soma, men who continually apologized with grand gestures and false concerns. Men who had to smother their crimes beneath pillows of silken guilt.

She much preferred those who sinned with sincerity.

She keeps ignoring him as he keeps trying to talk to her. She knows he’s just another fool after her body. Then they are running again and she finds it peaceful to flee. She’s been doing it all her life, from the brother and her mother, from her fears, from her regrets. But now she’s running from the Sranc. The Qirri gives her endurance but makes her feel like just a small dot, a “plaything of enormities.”

I have the Judging Eye.

She laughs. Galian then Pokwas then everyone joins her. They all are laughing in the oppressive woods fleeing Sranc. This stops Cleric. He pauses and listens beneath his sorcerous light, appearing like an inhuman angel. He says something comes. She draws Squirrel as they all hear it, tensing for danger.

It’s a Galeoth, injured and exhausted, so scared he’ given up. She realizes that she truly hasn’t begun to flee because she hasn’t thrown her all into it like this man has. “To run as they ran in Cil-Aujas.”

The man babels to Galian while Kosoter demands to know what is going on. The Sranc are on his heels. Then Pokwas sees another light moving through the trees. It’s the surviving Stone Hags and they’re carrying their injured sorcerer leader on a litter. Galian and Pokwas shove the Galeoth to his knees to kill him, Achamian arguing that he won’t allow it. Kosoter ignores it all and whispers to Cleric who smiles. Sarl gurgles about Hags.

Then the Stone Hags are on them, blundering into Cleric’s light. They are shocked, dropping the litter, raising pleading hands. They are screaming that there is no time. Everyone is shouting, drowning out the sound of the approach until they hear the twigs snapping. The Sranc are on them.

Mimara is dead. She knows this absolutely. She and Soma are standing on the periphery, several paces from the commotion of the latest arrivals—from Achamian and his life-preserving Wards.

Achamian shouts at everyone to rally on him then he starts casting sorcery. The Sranc attack, and Mimara is fighting to defend herself. There are too many of them. Then she realizes that Soma is fighting with skill beyond the other scalpers. He moves too fast. With too much skill. It’s a “performance written in each singular moment.” The fight’s over quick.

Achamian pulls Mimara close and she hugs him back realizing that Soma is “standing above the twitching dead, watching her.”

Achamian is relieved that Mimara survived, expecting her to be hurt. Killed. Then they here Kosoter yelling. He holds Pafaras, the Stone Hag sorcerer. The man is standing on one foot, his other leg badly broken. The other Stone Hags just watch, knowing Pafaras is dying and not willing to fight for him. Kosoter shouts, “Tell me!”

Pafaras says it’s at least four clans chasing them. Galian is shocked and asked if they are mobbing. Pafaras pauses and says maybe. Achamian asks what that is. Pokwas says it’s “scalpers greatest fear.” The Sranc clans normally war with each other, but occasionally they band together though no one knows why. Pafaras continues to say that a few followed them down the cliff, the others must be looking for a way around.

“Your sort,” the Captain grated in disgust. He bent his face back to show the mayhem in his eyes. “Come to flee the Ordeal, is that it? Come to lord your power?”

“N-no!” the man coughed.

The Captain raised his Chorae as though inspecting a jewel, then, with a kind of casual malice, slammed the thing into the Hag’s mouth.

Sparking light. The whoosh of transubstantiation.

Achamian watches as the salted Pafaras falls backward onto the soft ground. Kosoter pries out his Chorae from the dead man’s mouth then glares at all of them but Cleric. Mimara asks what he’s doing. Achamian says Kosoter is recruiting. Achamian feels pity for the dead Pafaras since that could be his own fate. Kosoter stares at the surviving Stone Hags.

“You dogs have a choice,” he grated. “You can let the Whore play number-sticks with your pitiful lives…” A rare grin, sinister for the murder in his eyes.

“Or you can let me.”

And with that, the Stone Hags ceased to exist, and the Skin Eaters were reborn.

Like fugitives, they run. The former Hags don’t have Qirri and beg for a rest or a slower pace. Not even Achamian and Mimara listen. “This was the Slog of Slogs.” The Hags had to adapt or die. Already, two had fallen behind.

They come across a river called the Throat that is swollen with the spring melt. They see smoke on the horizon and Xonghis says Fatwall is burning. They find a ford several miles down. A Hag drowns the crossing. They run through the woods and hit the Throat again where they had first found it but on the others side. They can now here the Sranc following their trail down the far bank to the ford.

“Skinnies, boys!” Sarl cried with a gurgling laugh. “Mobs of them! Didn’t I promise you a chopper? Eh? Eh?”

They are chased now, the Sranc on their heels. Then they hit the edge of the woods and find the old fortress of Aenku Maimor. Fatwall. Achamian can barely recognize the place after it’s fall in the First Apocalypse and two thousand years of time. It has been rebuilt in spots, palisades used to patch holes in the wall by the scalpers. Those are now burning.

Pokwas is worried. The Sranc are ahead and behind them. He thinks this is more than a mobbing and that they’re all dead. Achamian realizes that these men fear for their lives in different ways than others. They gambled them on every trip and so are more blase that their luck has run out.

The fortress seems abandon. Cleric walks the sky to check it out. He motions them forward. They enter daylight, the Hags looked more like slaves terrified of their master. Despite Achamian thinking that these men, who preyed on other scalpers, are the lowest scum there is, they’re still human. And when you’re hunted by Sranc, that matters a lot.

Any reckoning of their crimes would have to come after.

They enter the fortress but don’t find any sign of a slaughter or pillage. Xonghis says the Imperial garrison here had burned the fortifications before they fled. Achamian likes ruins because he always had found “freedom from the demands of his calling as well as connection with the ancient days that so tyrannized his nights.” He feels complete here.

Mimara calls him Akka, sounding like her mother. He finds her smiling as she witness the ancient Norsirai construction for the first time. While not as grand as Cil-Aujas, it’s still impressive. He starts to talk about them but realizes she’s looking off at something else. Then in Ainoni says, after hesitating, that Somandutta is a skin-spy.

He is shocked then remembers that as a Princess-Imperial, she has been trained to recognize them and probably knows more about them then he does. She explains how he fought. How it was impossible. He’s shocked that there’s one here. He can’t believe it at all while she says he exposed himself to protect her.

“Soma!” Achamian called again.

The man spared him a sideways glance before turning back to the mutter of those about him. Conger. Pokwas. Achamian blinked, suddenly very feeble and very old. The Consult? Here?

The entire time.

He revealed himself to save me…”

The confusion did not so much lift as part about necessity, leaving only naked alarm and the focus that came with it.

Achamian gets pissed and casts the Odaini Concussion Cant to take him down. But Soma jumps over it and lands “with the scuttling fury of a crab.” He flees before Achamian even finishes casting the spell. Everyone just gapes while Sarl cackles and tells the Hags, “Steer clear the peach, lads.”

“What the Captain doesn’t gut, the Schoolman blasts!”

They sleep in the sunlight since everything is topsy-turvy. The Qirri wears off and everyone including Mimara, Cleric doesn’t hand any of it. She can’t stop thinking about the events of her life as Achamian sleeps. They are in the central keep, the only place they have a chance of defending against the Sranc. Cleric sits cross-legged on the battlements keeping watch while the others try to rest.

When Afternoon arrives, Cleric begins his sermon, talking how they once more are stranded and “trapped in another of the World’s hard places…” Stranded resonates with Mimara. Cleric says he’s been in spots like this thousands of times. “This is my place!”

“Wreaking destruction on these perversions… Atoning… Atoning!”

This rouses the Skin Eaters while the Stone Hags gape. Cleric says this is their place now, too. Sarl cries out his agreement. And then the Sranc began baying. Thousands are in the mop. Everyone leaps to their feet and crowd the wall, everyone peering out to the woods. As the Sranc come closer, birds taking to the sky, Cleric continues his sermon. “A thousand times over a thousand years!”

“You live your life squatting, shitting, sweating against your women. You live your life fearing, praying, begging your gods for mercy! Begging!” He was ranting now, swaying, and gesticulating with kind of arrhythmic precision. The setting sun painted him with lines of crimson.

Unseen throats howled and barked across the distance—a second congregation.

“You think secrets dwell in these mean things, that truth lies in the toes you stub, the scabs you pick! Because you are small, you cry, ‘Revelation! Revelation hides in the small!”

The black gaze fixed Achamian—lingered for a heartbeat or two.

“It does not.”

The words pinched the old Wizard deep in the gut.

“Revelation rides the back of history…” Cleric said, sweeping his eyes to the arc of the horizon, to the innumerable miles of wilderness. “The enormities! Race… War… Faith… The truths that move the future!”

Every one is struck by awe, even Achamian who remembers being around Nonmen thanks to the dreams. Only Kosoter is unmoved as Cleric adds, “Revelation rides the back of history,” “And it does not hide.” His ancient years seem to pour off him, washing away everything but the “pain and crazed profundity.” Dusk falls and the first Sranc rushed out of the woods.

As they did at Pir-Pahal during the First Apocalypse, the Sranc charged them, flowing over the walls and firing “an endless spray of arrows.” The Nail of Heaven glitters as the sky darkens. The scalpers huddle behind their few shields while Cleric and Achamian stand on the battlements.

All was screaming destruction below. Monochrome madness. The Men gagged on the porcine smile. And they watched, knowing that they witnessed something older than nations or languages, a Gnostic sorcerer and a Quya Mage, singing in impossible voices, wielding looms of incandescence in wide-swinging arms. They saw hands glow about impossible dispensations. They saw light issue from empty air. They saw bodies pitched and prised, and burned, burned most of all, until the ground became croaking charcoal.

Incariol had spoken true… It was a mighty thing, a sight worthy of the pyre.

A revelation.

My Thoughts

The way that nature can swallow up the works of men. What was once fertile farmland is now a forest. I lived in New Mexico. It’s a rather barren areas, full of scrub lands. You’d never know that about a thousand years ago, the Anasazi farmed the entire area before their civilization collapsed thanks to the changing climate and poor farming technique that destroyed the fertility of the soil allowing the desert to claim it. Same thing with North Africa. Now the Sahara, it was once the bread basket of the Roman and Byzantine empire, supplying grain too much of the Mediterranean.

Survival instincts shut down a lot of the higher processes of the brain, focusing you on fight or flight. Prolonged stress will deaden you. Instead of dealing with trauma, your brain is ignoring it to let you keep on going. Keep marching ahead. That’s what PTSD is, your brain having trouble coming out of this mode. You’re stuck in that heighten state of survival when things are not dangerous. So instincts that are necessary in war or other dangerous situations are now detrimental in a peaceful setting.

What’s Kahiht? No idea. This might be the only reference to it in the entire series.

Are you really ever prepared to hear the truth about yourself even if you think you know it? Mimara’s not.

The Judging Eye staring at Sutadra. At man who has done terrible things because he had to and how it broke him. Why he is here where he will die. Punishing himself. But that’s not going to save him. There is no saving him in this world. He is damned. He will be fed on by devils. How could Mimara not love him after knowing him so completely. For all that jaded shell around her, she really does have that heart of gold. It’s battered, gouged, and pitted by what happened to her in her childhood, but you see it gleaming through from time to time.

The attack by the Stone Hags has knocked the rust off Kosoter’s blade. He was as affected as the others (well, not our favorite skin-spy Soma). He allowed discipline to fall. But no longer. They all almost died. He has to stop wallowing himself. He’s taking charge, and they better obey him. Can he hold them together. (Well, if you’re read the book you know the answer).

Just because someone is talking, doesn’t mean they are wise. They could just have nothing to say. They could be empty inside. Or full of knowledge. Pain. Anger. The silence makes them into a rorcshach that we can see what we project on them. We’d like people to think us strong and wise if we had the courage to not speak the dumb things that pop in our mind.

“The heart of a great tree does not burn.” I have searched every book published so far, and I can’t find this phrase. This must be from Seswatha’s life, but I can’t find where it is. I get what it means. If there’s a forest fire, the flames will never burn that far into the wood. It will survive.

And we get a little bit more tidbits on witches. They can use trees as conduits of power. I wonder if Bakker will explore witches in the next series. He certainty has teased us. They commonly bind souls and think trees have souls. They also make contraceptive charms for women.

Achamian’s dream of being chained to captives and moving through halls that seemed Golden is an incomplete version of the dream he has as Nau-Cayûti at the end of The Great Ordeal. Where the prince is dragged through with the others and shoved into the Sarcophagus to become the No God.

The Nail of Heaven is higher in the sky the farther north you go. More indication that it’s something glowing bright right above the pole. Not a star, though. It’s too bright and there are some indications it predated the crash of the Ark, like a satellite they sent ahead, but I don’t know how a satellite can hold position above the pole. You can only do that over the equator.

Maybe Achamian would have become a different person, but he is still feeling that guilt for what he’s doing. He certainly still cares as the series goes on.

Achamian doesn’t want to face the fact he is becoming a sort of Kellhus to find the truth of Kellhus. Stare too long into the abyss and all.

With Pokwas and Kosoter’s stare-down when the company learns about the Sranc, we are seeing that Kosoter isn’t in charge as well as he thinks. There is resentment and defiance in them.

So Kosoter talking with Cleric is probably because Kosoter is his elju. His book. Something errant Nonmen use to store memories. Kellhus promised Cleric that he would remember again, that Achamian would substitute for Seswatha, someone Cleric knew as we’ll see at the end of the book. Odds are, Kosoter is prepping Cleric for this. After all, Kosoter is out here to keep an eye on Achamian and to be in position to guide him. I still think Kellhus wanted to be deconstructed after his victory with the Consult. He wants to end the Outside but not through genocide. Through atheism. Kill people believing in this stuff, and it will end. But that’s just my theory.

We’re seeing the Qirri addiction on full display. Like any junkie, when things get worse, you need that fix sooner.

Maybe Kosoter should be concerned about the talk. Oh, wait, he is. But he’s blustering. He has to be seen as strong and uncaring, but if he really didn’t care, he wouldn’t have asked. He knows that his position as leader is precarious. Cil-Aujas broke the Skin-Eaters. If they hadn’t gone there, I am curious what would have happened at the Coffers.

Mimara is sensing that there’s something inhuman about Soma.

Got to like that Mimara not a fan of the hypocrite pretending their a good person and not a jackass.

Kosoter doesn’t like that people are avoiding fighting in the Great Ordeal. Like he hates himself for not being there. He would if he wasn’t here on his mission from Kellhus. But that disgust he has for the others who avoid it is palpable.

Cleric talks about his place is killing Sranc and atoning. The guilt for the Womb Plague, for trusting the Inchoroi back in the day, is there. He’s immortal and his race is doomed. And all he can do about it is kill Sranc. There’s no escape for him.

Cleric’s sermon, where he talks about how you think Revelation hides in the small, then looking and Achamian is interesting. He’s almost saying, “You think that finding Ishuäl is going to matter? That you’re going to find Revelation there in the mundanity of the Dûnyain life?” And does Achamian find it there? No. What happens at Golgotterath, where Achamian ends up at the end of this series, that is were Revelation happens. That is where the important things happen.

And we end it there. The scalpers besieged as Revelation happens once more.

Want to read more? Click here for Chapter 4!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow The Storm Below Box Set today!

The Virtues of Plotting Your Novel by Jonathan Pembroke: Authors in Focus Episode 120

Hi! Welcome to this episode of Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

My new book, Mask of Guilt (Mask of Illumination Book 1), is out!

We all wear masks. Some of us to hide our guilt. Lady Foonauri, lost in the malaise of depression, finds purpose with a group of all-women thieves, the Cracked Gems. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, and adventure swirls around her in this epic fantasy tale!

Today, I’m joined by Jonathan Pembroke! He is the author of fantasy thriller Rumble in Woodhollow! Follow him on Facebook and Goodreads. Check out his blog!

Finally Writing That Novel Rattling Around in Your Head by R. R. Riley: Authors in Focus Episode 119

Hi! Welcome to this episode of Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

My new book, Mask of Guilt (Mask of Illumination Book 1), is out!

We all wear masks. Some of us to hide our guilt. Lady Foonauri, lost in the malaise of depression, finds purpose with a group of all-women thieves, the Cracked Gems. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, and adventure swirls around her in this epic fantasy tale!

Today, I’m joined by R.R. Riley! He is the author of the sci-fi novel An Average Man! Follow him on Facebook and Bookbubs! And check out his website and his books on Amazon.

Writing Books with Your Spouse by Kelly Blanchard and Matthew Dale: Authors in Focus Episode 117

Hi! Welcome to this episode of Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

My new book, Mask of Guilt (Mask of Illumination Book 1), is out!

We all wear masks. Some of us to hide our guilt. Lady Foonauri, lost in the malaise of depression, finds purpose with a group of all-women thieves, the Cracked Gems. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, and adventure swirls around her in this epic fantasy tale!

Today, I’m joined by Kelly Blanchard & Matthew Dale! They are the authors of the fantasy novel, The Crown’s Secret. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and you can find more of Kelly’s book are her website!

Drawing from the Fiction You Love for Inspiration with Ryan D. Meier: Authors in Focus Episode 116

Hi! Welcome to this episode of Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

My new book, Mask of Guilt (Mask of Illumination Book 1), is out!

We all wear masks. Some of us to hide our guilt. Lady Foonauri, lost in the malaise of depression, finds purpose with a group of all-women thieves, the Cracked Gems. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, and adventure swirls around her in this epic fantasy tale!

Today, I’m joined by Ryan D. Meier! He is the author of the fantasy novel Shadows of Creation (Creation Chronicles Book 1)! You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. And check out his website, the World Hoppers Guild, and his books on Amazon!

Authors in Focus Episode 101: Revamping Your Novel with Melissa Sell

Hi! Welcome to this episode of Authors in Focus Podcast. I’m James Reid, a fantasy author publishing as JMD Reid. This podcast is all about getting to know writers, their books, and what makes them tick.

We all have a storyteller inside of us. Join me as we find out what the rising stars and established voices in publishing have to say about their craft and inspiration.

My new book, Mask of Guilt (Mask of Illumination Book 1), is out!

We all wear masks. Some of us to hide our guilt. Lady Foonauri, lost in the malaise of depression, finds purpose with a group of all-women thieves, the Cracked Gems. Intrigue, romance, betrayal, and adventure swirls around her in this epic fantasy tale!

Today, I’m joined by Melissa Sell! She is the author of portal fantasy novel The Chronicles of Fey: Rising! You can follow her on InstagramFacebookTik Tok, and Website. And check out her books on Amazon!

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter One

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter One

The Meörn Wilderness

Without rules, madness. Without discipline, death

—NANSUR MILITARY MAXIM

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

My Thoughts

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

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

The Skin Eaters are broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing should be the same after Cil-Aujas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old Wizard sat rigid.

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

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

“You who have glimpsed Hell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quya magic. Deeper than deep.

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

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

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

TELL ME… the Whirlwind said.

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

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

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

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

That is, until the coming of men.

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

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

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

Mimara’s Chorae should have been useless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this lie had also come true.

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

The only difference is she loves him.

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

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

Few passions require quite so much certainty as spite.

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

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

Because I lov—

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

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

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

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

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

To think she had thought the fool charming.

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

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

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

“More darkness, yes. Tree darkness…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eye that must be plucked.”

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

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

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

Tree darkness, Sarl had said.

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

Into the green darkness.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to read more, click here for Chapter 2!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

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