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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fifteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fifteen

Condia

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

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

—MEMGOWA, CELESTIAL APHORISMS

My Thoughts

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

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

Postmodernists would love Zeumi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today was but one more example.

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

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

He was about to be discovered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aspect-Emperor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven heartbeats of soundless thunder.

Blinking brilliance… and there he was.

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

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

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

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

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

The Aspect-Emperor paused.

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

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

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

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

Impalpotas, habaru—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How would he punish?

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

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

Never!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corrected.

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

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

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

“Blessed… Blessed you.”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fourteen

Cil-Aujas

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

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

—AJENCIS, THE THIRD ANALYTIC OF MEN

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

So, how does this fit into the chapter?

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

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

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

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

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

Age. Age and darkness.

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

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

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

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

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

Ten thousand years of woe.

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

Something abyssal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Remember this, Mimara.”

“Remember what?”

“This place.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s old. Older than old.”

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the impenetrable black of Cil-Aujas.

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

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

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

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

Someone listened. Of that much he was certain.

Someone or something.

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

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

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

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

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

“Where does all the judgment go?”

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

A second labyrinth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kellhus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So many calluses where he had only tender skin.

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

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

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

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

Had had been lonely, he realized. Lonely.

These past twenty years…

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

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

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

“Wait till you get older!”

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

Achamian bolted from his blanket with a gasp…

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

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

Achamian could only squint, slack-mouthed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your sins, the dead eyes whispered. Her damnation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the might Repositorium gaped on and on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A human eye stared at them.

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

“What happened here—”

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

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

Certainly not skinnies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And declared themselves man and wife.

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

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

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

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

Why did he let her get the best of him?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They had traveled past the point of study grounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another lesson learned at Kellhus’s knee.

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

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

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

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

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

Chorae…

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

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

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think a watch is a few hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Thirteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Thirteen

Condia

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

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

—ANASÛRIMBOR KELLHUS, NOVUM ARCANUM

My Thoughts

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

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

Is Kellhus God and thus able to make that proclamation?

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

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

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

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

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

“Trinkets?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Great Ordeal,” he heard himself say.

“No.”

Sorweel searched his tutor’s smiling eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You mean… your God of Gods.”

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

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

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

“Now I am saved.”

Love. He spoke with love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gazed at the earthen face.

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

Opened?

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

A mother wiping the face of her beloved son.

Look at you…

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

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

We can see Eskeles’s disregard for wealth and comfort. He breaks a rather expensive looking vase without thought to teach a lesson to his pupil. Eskeles might dress in silks and be fat, but he’s a man that has lived without much and understands how possessions can weigh you down.

Ideas have no boundaries. They spill from person to person. You can’t contain them. Can’t segment them. They spread as new people encounter them and embrace them or discard them. It is honestly why the idea of “Cultural Appropriation” is such a problem. The very act of strangers coming together rubs off some of their cultures on each other. It morphs and mutates and changes into new ideas (or bad ones). The more human cultures mix and exchange, the more advancements we make. Strangers can see what is common to one group in a new light and make a breakthrough in so many different areas. Haven’t you ever been stuck on a problem only for “fresh eyes” to easily spot what you’re missing?

And now we see Baker reinforcing for us, the readers, on his world’s metaphysics. Reminding us that the God is broken into an innumerable amount of pieces, each one inside of a person and peering out through their eyes. This is why his sorcery works. Those who can use sorcery are better able to see with “God’s Eye”. It’s also how Mimara’s Judging Eye works. Destroying this Oversoul is the goal of the Consult and the Inchoroi. With it gone, so are the effects of its existence.

Namely Damnation.

Eskeles speaks with all the conviction of the newly converted. There are none more fervent than those who have abandoned their past belief in favor of a new one. To have so changed their identity takes something powerful on their psyche, so they will really embarrass the new belief. If it’s a dangerous belief, this can be bad. As Dr. James Lindsey describes it, religions can come in two flavors. Those that look up and those that look down. A religion that looks up is one that’s about self-improvement. Being a better person. A religion that looks down is concerned with making sure your neighbors are being virtuous. You could say Jesus’s teachings are an upward-facing religion but many have turned it into a downward-facing one and used it to unleash horrors like the Inquisition or the Witch Hunts. Or the Teutonic Knights’ crusades in Eastern Europe.

The poplar metaphor is fairly obvious. That’s how ideas can work. If they get past your defenses, they can sprout and change you. It can be painful, but once it starts it’s hard to stop.

The Great Ordeal will be recalled until the end of time. But who will recall it? Given how this series ends, will there be anything left? We’ll have to wait and see for the third series.

Zsoronga sees the Dûnyain as performing. That’s very interesting. He comes from a culture that enjoys performing and acting differently in their day to day life. It makes him suspicious of everyone’s actions, I assume. Doubly so of a man claiming such inhuman piety. Sorweel’s answer to that Kellhus mummers (theater acting) is on point.

I do like the added bits of the problem with going through a translator. The words just don’t have the same effect coming from another’s mouth. And why should they? Another person can’t mimic the passions of the person for whom they’re speaking.

Zsoronga’s quote about the lies we tell children in regards to a religious holy war should probably let you know Bakker’s thoughts on religion. We lie to our children to control them, and religion lies to adults for the same reason. Kellhus is just really good at lying.

“How beautiful was his [Harweel’s] damnation.” Sorweel dreams of his father’s damnation was beautiful. His father had never surrendered to Kellhus. Had never succumbed to Kellhus. Sorweel, the perpetual child, has to his new father and that shames him to no end. So he dreams of his father’s defiance and sees it as beautiful. A stubbornness to refuse to bend no matter the cost.

Notice how the mud is like blood on Porsparian’s fingers. We’ve seen in the ritual creating the White Luck Warrior the importance of menstrual blood in Yatwerian rites. And it does hide him. Even Kellhus is fooled. It just doesn’t work. We hear a lot about Narindar, holy assassins, and that is what Sorweel is. He’s being used by Yatwer to kill Kellhus. Another young man being sacrificed.

Sorweel mentions how he’ll forever be a child. That’s how Yatwer is treating him.

Want to keep reading, click here for Chapter 14!

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

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Review: Oath: A Black Diamond Novel

Oath: A Black Diamond Novel

by Poppy Kuroki

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Colette, growing up on the streets, wants something different. She needs to get away. Travel the world. Find a better life.

She finds that with a group of assassins. Colette has found a home. A place. A skill to develop. But she’s not universally loved. Jealousy simmers, and her new life may not be as peaceful as she hoped.

Oath is a phenomenal book. I had trouble putting it down when I read it. Colette is an endearing character that you can’t help root for. From her time on the streets to her journey to find a new life to her yearning to have a family and home.

Kuroki has created a rich and wonderful world. Her characters are vibrant and you can’t help but root for them. There are some shocking twists and some powerful moments. This is a book willing to punch you in the guts when needed.

This is a story that comes from passion! It shows!

Kuroki does a masterful job of telling Colette’s story. This is a must-read fantasy novel!

You can buy Oath from Amazon.

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Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Twelve

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Twelve

The Andiamine Heights

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

Little snake, what poison in your bite!

Little snake, what fear you should strike!

But they don’t know, little snake—oh no!

They can’t see the tiny places you go…

—ZEÜMI NURSERY SONG

My Thoughts

This seems pretty clearly speaking about Kelmomas. The nursery rhyme is being dismissive of the little snake. What poison is in your bite? What fear should you strike? But this snake can go places you can’t suspect, just like Kelmomas. He moves through the palace with impunity. He slithers around and, though he’s a child and shouldn’t be feared by adults, he is killing those who stand between himself and his mother.

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

Kelmomas knows instantly that his father has returned by how people are acting. It’s a lot of subtle clues, from the Guards’ increased alertness to Apparati running around breathless. He didn’t make the connection consciously until he learned the Yatwerian Matriarch had pissed herself.

He’s come to console Mother, the secret voice said.

Kelmomas reacts badly to this. He works on his model of Momemn while wanting to deny this reality that Kellhus was here. He’s always reluctant to think about him. To plot against him. Not fear. But he finally has to face reality and heads to his mother’s apartments. He hears Inrilatas “ranting about the Gods,” his voice broken from years of shouting. He never stopped raving. He has to pass Inrilatas’s door to reach his mother’s rooms. He reaches the door and slows his breath to hear Kellhus telling Esmenet to keep Theliopa at her side. Esmenet asks if he fears skin-spies.

Their voices possessed the weary burnish of a long and impassioned conversation. But the roots of his father’s exhaustion stopped short of the deeper intonations that warbled in and out of his discourse. A heart teasing hum, and a kind of ursine growl, far too low to be consciously heard by Mother. These spoke from something as unwinded as it was inscrutable, an occluded soul, entirely hidden from lesser ears.

He manages her, the voice said. He sees through her face the way you do, only with far more clarity, and he shapes his voice accordingly.

How do you know? Kelmomas asked angrily, stung by the thought that anyone, even Farther, could see further than him. Further into her.

Kellhus says the Consult will grow increasingly desperate as the Great Ordeal marches nearer. They will use everything they have so Theliopa should stay with Esmenet all the time because only she and Maithanet can see the skin-spies. Kelmomas loves stories of skin-spies and their “wicked depredations.” He loved seeing that one getting flayed alive, though he was careful not to let Mother know that. Kelmomas knows he can see skin-spies, too, but he’ll keep it a secret. Hoping to find one and spy on it. “What a game it would make!”

He wondered who was faster…

Mother is horrified that the Consult will attack the Andiamine Heights. Kellhus says it makes sense to distract him. “But nothing distracts you,” complains Esmenet. In this moment, Kelmomas realizes his mother knows what Kellhus is. As Kellhus says he’s leaving, Kelmomas hears the pain in his mother’s voice. He’s about to burst in to comfort her but his secret voice stops him, saying he’ll be recognized by Kellhus. The voice can’t be sure how much Kellhus sees, but Kelmomas needs to be with his mother, wanting to be hugged and kissed by her.

He’s the root, the voice replied, and you’re but the branch. Remember, the Strength burns brightest in him.

For reasons Kelmomas was entirely unable to fathom, that dropped his hand like lead.

The Strength.

Kelmomas runs. But not in flight. He has a plan. He steals a silver skewer while matronly slaves ruffle his hair and give condolences for his dead brother. He plays with them before running off. He can’t get into the Imperial Audience Hall. Luckily, a balcony door is open and he climbs up to it. From here, he can look down at his mother’s seat. This unnerves him. It’s a reminder that no matter how powerful you are, someone can be higher.

He slides down a tapestry and then mounts the Mantle, the seat of his father’s power. He wants the sparrows to come. He waits a while until one gets caught in the net. He doesn’t have a stone, though, but all he has is a skewer.

The world he walked was far different from the world walked by others. He did not need the voice to tell him that. He could hear more, see more, know more—everything more than everybody save his father and maybe his uncle. His sense of smell, in particular.

He smells his mother’s scent and his uncle. It’s the Matriarch’s piss that attracts his attention. He breathes it in. It excites him in a primal way. He then darts to the balcony behind the thrones. The moon’s out over the Meneanor Sea. The dark sea is ominous. It’s too vast and trackless to be known, even for Kellhus.

Ever did Men drown in blackness, even in sun-spliced waters.

He jumps off and avoids the sorcerous Wards with ease since he’s one of the few. He dodges the Pillarian Guard without any effort. The problem is the Eothic Guard. They have a lot of bowmen and they’re very good at hitting things. Saubon sponsors archery contests to find new recruits for the guard. Only the Agmundrmen from Galeoth are better. So Kelmomas is risking getting feathered. Though the risk sounds fun, he doesn’t actually want to hit.

It was no easy task, culling risks from possibilities.

He skulks across the roofs, using every trick he can to keep from being seen. He fights against a savage grin. He revels in the fun of creeping past Guardsmen without making a sound. He eluded them, enjoying being behind them in the dark and unseen. One nearly spotted him, but he keeps his body motionless. Once he was past, the thrill of almost getting caught rushes through him. He wants to cry out in glee. The rest of the guards “stared out in utter ignorance of their ignorance.” It felt like he existed in a different world from them. He could do anything. Then he feels like he’s testing them. “What if he were a skin-spy?” They fail to spot him, and that angers him and decides on what they should learn. “The darkness, he wanted to tell them, was not empty.”

He soon reaches the guest apartment. He feels like that crossing without being seen was both impossible and inevitable. He feels like he broke the world with his actions. That amuses him to no end.

He leaps into a hay pile and wiggles through it. He watches slaves from within it while a group of drunk Kidruhil harasses the workers. A horse is pulling a wagon. Kelmomas times his movement with the horse’s hooves hitting the cobblestones. He jumps beneath one of the horses and clings to its belly, becoming an extension of the horse and enters the Batrial Campus, the guest compound, unseen. He soon drops to the ground and lets the wagon roll over him. He darts to his destination, smelling the Matriarch’s scent.

He follows the trail, thinking it’s like what a worm would make. He hears a guard’s heartbeat around the corner. He takes a single heartbeat to peek around the corner and memorize the hallway and the guard before the Matriarch’s door. He’s not one of the palace guards. Kelmomas starts “crying” and runs around the corner to the guard. The Yatwerian sentry goes to comfort the boy, revealing himself to be a father and used to soothing children. He bends down.

Kelmomas stepped into the fan of his [the guard’s] multiple shadows.

“Come, now, little man—”

The motion was singular, abrupt with elegance. The skewer tip entered the sentry’s right tear duct and slipped into the centre of his head. The ease of penetration was almost alarming, like poking a nail into soft garden soil. Using the bone along the inner eye socket for leverage, Kelmomas wrenched the buried point in a precise circle. There was no need, he thought, to mutilate geometry as well.

The man falls to the ground, Kelmomas using the man’s dead weight to pull the skewer free. He lives for a moment or two longer. Then Kelmomas takes the man’s knife and goes through the unlocked door. A body slave, sleeping on the floor, rouses, waking up three more. He steps between them, slashing with precise strikes to kill them without being splashed by any of their spurting blood. “To walk the cracks between heartbeats.”

The Matriarch was quite awake by the time the little boy slipped into her bedroom. “Tweet!” he trilled. “Tweet-tweet!” His giggling was uncontrollable…

Almost as much as her shrieking.

Esmenet is outside the Matriarch’s quarters. She doesn’t want to see the woman’s corpse. She’s seen enough death in her life. She says they’ll wait here to Phinersa and Captain Imhailas. She sometimes thinks he’s too decisive while Phinersa is too fretting. She feels like Imhailas is always controlling urges he doesn’t even realize he has. He’s always standing close to her, wanting her even though he knows it’s wrong. A sin. As a prostitute, she knows that a man who feels guilty about his actions is more dangerous than the one who doesn’t. “What had the strength to seize also had the strength to choke.”

Maithanet arrives, stepping with care to avoid blood. He’s dressed plainly, the clothing revealing the strength he has, a reminder that he can “break necks with ease.” He has come from the Cmiral temple-complex. To maintain separation of the political and the spiritual, he never stays in the palace. He asks after Kellhus and his opinion. Esmenet snaps at Maithanet, revealing Kellhus left right before the murders were discovered. She then asks how a cult could do this, even Yatwer’s cult.

Maithanet suggests a Narindar, the legendary Cultic assassin. Esmenet presses Maithanet, saying he doesn’t believe that. He doesn’t know what happened other than this was a shrewd move. Sharacinth was the only way they had to seize control of Yatwer’s cult from within or creating a civil war. Phinersa notes Sharacinth is now Yatwer’s weapon.

Esmenet had concluded as much almost the instant she had stepped into the blood-splattered antechamber earlier that night. She was going to be blamed for this. First the rumors of the White-Luck Warrior, then the Yatwerian Matriarch herself assassinated while a guest of the Empress. The bumbling preposterous of it mattered not at all. For the masses, the outrageousness of the act would simply indicate her fear, and her fear would suggest that she believed the rumours, which in turn would mean the Aspect-Emperor had to be a demon…

This had all the making of a disaster.

She orders this to be covered up, but from the nervousness of her subordinates, they know it’s too late. She sighs, resigned. Imhailas declares they should take go on the attack. Up until now, he hadn’t made himself noticed, certain he would be blamed for the assassin getting through. Maithanet agrees but says there might be another possibility about what happened. As they speak, she stares at the dead. It feels surreal that they are holding their “council of war” before the corpses whose lives had been extinguished.

But then, she realized, the living had to forever look past the dead—on the pain of joining them.

She wants the crime investigated by someone with interrogatory. Maithanet suggests a Patriarch of another cult like Yagthrûta, who is “as rabid as his Patron God when it comes to matters of ritual legality.” He’s the leader of Momian’s cult and greatly respected for his piety and honesty. He’d even crossed the Meneanor in a skiff to show his faith. And as a barbarian, no one thought he was a Shrial or Imperial agent. Esmenet likes it and wants them to find Nannaferi. Imhailas agrees, wanting her dead to defang the cult. Esmenet is annoyed by the “inane adages” he always says. Usually, she likes them, not minding because he does it to impress her, but it doesn’t feel appropriate right now.

Phinersa doesn’t have anything new to add other than they think Nannaferi is in Shigek. Hard to say with Fanim raiding across the River Sempis. Esmenet grimaces, and he flinches. Fanayal ab Kascamandri sudden aggression is both annoying and effective. He’s severed the overland routs to Nilnamesh and so attacking fortified towns with a Cishaurim. It was “precisely the kind of confusion the Mother-Supreme needed.”

Weakness, she realized. They smelled weakness, all the enemies of the New Empire, be they heathen or Orthodox.

Phinersa says they’ll need to issue arrest warrants to capture her. Then she’ll be tortured. She isn’t sure and turns to Maithanet wondering if Sharacinth’s murder can be blamed on internal Cult feuds to give the pretext to order Nannaferi’s arrest. Maithanet advises caution and suggests consulting Kellhus.

Esmenet felt her look harden into a glare.

Why? she sound herself thinking. Why doesn’t Kellhus trust you?”

She says they need to prepare for riots and infiltrate the cult. She wants the Imperial Precincts secured to keep any more assassinations from happening. She wants to have the palace prepared for a siege and then orders the Acrong Columns recalled. Everyone is stunned by her sudden burst of orders. She shouts at them which startles them into action. She thinks Phinersa glanced at Maithanet to get confirmation before obeying.

So many looks. So many qualms. It was always the complexities that overwhelmed us. It was always the maze of others that robbed us of our way.

My little boy is dead.

She presses down her misgivings and asked Maithanet if he thinks skin-spies killed Sharacinth. He answers, “I find this turn… incalculable.” Esmenet is reminded of the “septic reaches of Caraskand” and the First Holy War. She is convinced this is the work of the skin-spies as Kellhus has warned her.

My Thoughts

We see Kelmomas’s jealousy on full display as he spies on his mother and Kellhus. He’s that little snake that is creeping around. Not even Kellhus appears aware that he’s there. Probably because he’s exhausted by traveling so far. There are limits even for Kellhus in what he can handle.

His childishness is still on full display with his fascination of skin-spies, not caring about the danger the pose for him and his family. He wants to play with one. Find out who’s the best little snake at crawling around the palace. It’s a game we’ll see him play with the White Luck Warrior in the next two books.

Kelmomas’s childishness is warring with his Dûnyain half. The secret voice claims to be Samarmas, but really it is his Dûnyain logic battling against the human half of him. That part that just wants his mother all to himself.

“When he reached the final pillar, it unnerved him to see that he look down on the Mantle and his mother’s seat.” Kelmomas has his first brush with the concept he’s better than his mother. He’s afraid of this. If he ever crosses that line, he’ll lose his mother as something he can love. He’ll lose what little humanity he has, and he’s not ready for that. If he had grown up, I can imagine him killing Esmenet when he reached maturity.

There’s something I don’t think I ever noticed or paid attention to that Kelmomas is one of the few.

I like that Bakker keeps Kelmomas playing children’s games. Just fucked-up and deadly ones.

The darkness is never empty. That goes into the central thesis of the entire series: our actions are defined by the Darkness that Comes Before. All those things we are unaware of in our past. In those around us. All the thousands and thousands of stimuli that we experience every day that shape our perception and actions. Men like to think they can ignore what they can’t see.

Always a mistake.

No, we don’t want to mutilate geometry, do we, Kelmomas? That line as he’s scrambling the guard’s brain to make sure he’s dead made me chuckle.

So we started his journey with him wanting to kill a sparrow trapped in the netting above the throne room. He can’t get to it since he only has a silver skewer. Then he finds another “sparrow” to kill, the Matriarch. He tracks her and then “tweets” like a bird in mockery as he kills her.

Bakker uses Kelmomas to show us just how much security is at the Andiamine Heights to show that even a child Dûnyain struggles to sneaks around. No wonder Esmenet is so disturbed by the assassination. If they could reach the Matriarch, they could get to anyone. This is the start of Esmenet’s paranoia that Kelmomas will use to turn her against Maithanet.

Reality means that we can’t let grief keep us from living. From acting. Especially in disaster, you have to keep moving. Keep surviving. The dead are gone. You’re still going.

Is this the first mention of the god Momian? He wasn’t in my custom dictionary for the series. Apparently, he’s the god of law. And, interestingly, this is the first cult to have a Thunyeri reach the highest level of authority. Most must be dominated by Nansur and other Ketyai races. It shows the cult respects law more than politics.

So, it has been six months since I have worked on this. I’ve had a crazy time. I’ve been doing a podcast, promoting my new fantasy series Secret of the Jewels, and then I had to move in August. So, I’m trying to get back into the habit of working on this every day! Back to the commentary!

We see more of Esmenet’s doubts with Maithanet already falling into place. The foundation of their conflict is growing especially when she thinks (and I believe it’s her imagination) that Phinersa glances at Maithanet. Kelmomas’s schemes starting to bear fruit.

Maithanet has no clue who killed Sharacinth. It’s an irrational act. He doesn’t have the data to know that Kelmomas is acting in such ways so he can’t see why this happened. He can’t see any motivation to kill her. Not with the capability of getting into the palace and out so cleanly.

Boy, I finished my reread in less than 10 minutes. I was so close to the end of the chapter.

We see the seeds of doubt getting planted in Esmenet’s mind about Maithanet. She sees this as skin-spies so clearly, yet he has no idea what happened. He can’t calculate this event. These are the hooks Kelmomas will use to drive the wedge between his mother and all those taking away her attention. Killing Sharacinth is just one step in that.

Besides the fun he had doing it, of course. He has too much emotion. That’s what makes him so much dangerous. Kellhus’s intellect with Esmenet’s emotions. Well, the emotions of a child, which are always feral and wild things that need to be nurtured and guided so they become well-adjusted adults.

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

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

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

When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

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Review: A Bard’s Lament by Poppy Kuroki

A Bard’s Lament

by Poppy Kuroki

Reviewed by JMD Reid

Ella and her sister Lucinda are trapped by crushing debt, forced to earn coin to pay off their dead mother’s bills. Luckily for Ella, she has a talent. She’s a bard.

Unlucky for Lucinda, she has only her body.

As Ella sings her songs, she struggles to take care of her sister while plotting their escape from their plight. But every day things grow worse and worse and worse.

Will all Ella have left is a lament?

Kuroki’s return to fantasy is amazing. This novelette is a powerful, emotional, and tragic tale of two sisters trapped in a prison of an uncaring society. Crushed beneath inequity, they are doing what they can to survive.

The prose is lyrical and moving. Kuroki slowly ratchets up the tension until you’re desperately tapping on the side of your eReader to read what happens next. With such a short space, she brings Ella and Lucinda to life, makes you care for them, and takes you on the journey of their lives.

Though a short read, it’s an impactful one!

You can buy A Bard’s Lament from Amazon.

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Review: Someday I’ll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1)

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed (The Chronicles of Lorrek 1)

by Kelly Blanchard

Reviewed by JMD Reid

The Chronicles of Lorrek is a fantasy/sci-fi epic (yes, it is both). Ten years ago, Prince Lorrek vanished defeating a technological monstrosity attacking his kingdom with his magic. His brother, wracked by guilt, has given up inheriting the throne to search for him.

Then one night, Lorrek appears at the castle of another kingdom, a place where magic is frowned upon. That’s a problem for Lorrek since he’s one of the most skilled mages in the world. How has he survived? Where has he been? And what does he need?

Beneath a snarky and abrasive exterior, Lorrek is a man searching for redemption. He has made mistakes that wrack him with guilt. Now he seeks to do what he can to undo it, but is there ever enough to make up for his mistakes.

Lorrek’s story begins.

Someday I’ll Be Redeemed is all about loss. Each of the characters is dealing with someone missing in their lives. Whether it’s Lorrek brothers believing he’s dead, or other characters missing their dead sister, mother, or husband. They are all grieving in their own way. They are all trying to find their own way.

This story is an epic. Multiple kingdoms and royal families that all interact and conflict. Multiple wars threaten to erupt and those who seek to take advantage to seize power. The book moves fast, using magic to transport the characters across the world in heartbeats.

It also mixes in science fiction with one kingdom having advanced tech. It’s an interesting series. The characters are endearing. And once you’ve finished reading it, Blanchard has you aching to read the next book.

You can buy Someday I’ll Be Redeemed from Amazon.

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Author in Focus Podcast Episode 2 – Interview with Kelly Blanchard

Hi! Welcome to this episode of the 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.

I am excited to say that my second fantasy series, Secret of the Jewels, is being published. Diamond Stained is available from Amazon and is free in Kindle Unlimited. On May 5th, Book Two, Ruby Ruins, will be out.

In this episode, I’m interview Kelly Blanchard, the author of the fantasy/scifi series, The Chronicles of Lorrek. She has just relaunched her series with Fallbrandt Press and has a lot planned for her story universe with many series already written and many more in the works!

Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/MusesRealm

Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/AuthorKellyBlanchard

Twitter: www.twitter.com/kellannetta

Instagram: www.instagram.com/kellannetta

Website: www.kellannetta.com

Want to listen to more indie writing podcast, you can find them at Fantasy-Focus.com

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Author in Focus Podcast Episode 1 – Interview with Andy Peloquin

Hi! Welcome to this episode of the 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.

I am excited to say that my second fantasy series, Secret of the Jewels, is being published. Diamond Stained is available from Amazon and is free in Kindle Unlimited. On May 5th, Book Two, Ruby Ruins, will be out.

In the inaugural episode, I’m interviewing Andy Peloquin. A veteran of indie fantasy, he’s now taking the plunge into Sci-Fi with Assassination Protocol

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/andyqpeloquin/

Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/andypeloquin/

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Interview: Robert Cano

Today we’re getting to know Robert Cano. He is the author of The Dark Archer, an intriguing fantasy book!

1. If you were stranded on a desert island, what three books would you want with you.

Three books, huh?  That’s a tough one.  I think I’d have to go with The Silmarillion, Hannibal, and The Vampire Armand.

Those are some interesting choices. I’ve read two of these and maybe the last one. I don’t remember those Ann Rice novels that much any more and how far I got. I know I got through Queen of the Damned.

2. What animal best describes your personality?

Bald eagle.  Or dolphin.

Fascinating. Such different animals.

3. If there was one place in the world you’d love to visit, where would it be?

Just one?  Ouch.  I think I’d have to go with either Iceland or China.

And like any good writer, you managed to slip in a second choice, LOL!

4. Are you a cat or dog person?

Is both acceptable?  I think cats more closely resemble my attitude toward life.  But dogs are always so kind and loving and excited.

I suppose both are!

5. If you could have a dinner with one historical person, who would it be?

Probably Alexander the Great.  The man was a tactical mastermind.

That would be interesting. He had some great ideas. Love how he dealt with war elephants.

Now let’s get down to brass tacks and find out about Robert’s writing.

1. Besides writing, what are you passionate about?

Reading!  I also love spending time with my family (although with recent events I’ve discovered that there can be too much of a good thing), and I love movies and video games.

All great things!

2. What drew you to the craft of writing?

At first it was poetry.  I began writing poetry in earnest when I was around 19 and in college.  Trying to impress the girlfriend or some such craziness.  Thankfully, me, and my poetry, grew out of that…

Awesome. It’s so interesting where life can lead us.

3. When writing a novel, are you a detailed planner or do you fly by the seats of your pants?

I am definitely a pantser.  The strange part about it is that I have had the world in my head for so long that it sometimes feels like it’s already happened, I’m just chronicling it now.

It’s always interesting to hear about other author’s processes. That’s how Steven King often describes it.

4. Tell us why we’ll love reading The Dark Archer

Life and what it means, the chase for redemption, for hope.  And all with something as dark as a wraith to find these things.  In my book, as with Fae lore, the wraith is a soulless entity, frightening to all in the world, for it must feed off of the life of those in the world, always searching for completion…  I think we can all relate to that.  There are some pretty heavy topics within it as well, for my characters deal with the concepts of PTSD and depression.  In the end, however, there is always hope.

This sounds like a really interesting book!

5. Inspiration is such a fascinating phenomenon. Where did the inspiration for The Dark Archer come from?

I had written a short story to submit to an anthology, and although it was turned down, I was told that the story was not only good, but merited a longer telling.  That story is currently on ice, but my novella, The Suffering (which comes chronologically before The Dark Archer) gives the background to a character I introduced in that short story.  The Dark Archer is a spinoff of The Suffering.

That’s how my current series came about. I created a short story called the Assassin Remorse, the first complete fantasy story I ever finished, and I created this jewel-based magic system. I never planned on going anywhere with it, but people really liked it and I started thinking of it and it blossomed into a large series of books.

6. The concept is fascinating. A character trapped between life and death. Were there any particular challenges in writing this series?

I think my main challenge was having to be careful as to how I navigated the MC.  Bene is incredibly powerful, and his power only grows throughout the next book as well, but to balance all of this, I gave him both physical and mental/emotional limitations to what he could do, or would be willing to do.  That internal struggle is indicative of any of us throughout every day life.

Yeah, you have to watch out with a character that’s too powerful.

7. What is your favorite character from the Dark Archer?

I think my favorite character would be Feorin.  He is a satyr war hero who was stripped of his honor and exiled when he decided to walk away from the war he had known all his life.  The Great War was all he had ever known, and he was a high ranking official, but all he wanted was peace, and for his actions in war, redemption.  The only reason he wasn’t killed upon abandoning the war, was because of his heroism…

He sounds fascinating. This really does sound like a great book.

8. What is next for you and writing?

Well, later this year, the sequel to The Dark Archer comes out.  This new novel picks up a few months after the end of The Dark Archer, and then sweeps us off on a whirlwind of an adventure.  Our favorite characters must discover the origins of The Shadow Cult, and then figure out how to survive it.  In the process, they also discover a far more sinister enemy, one that may be coming back in the distant future.

I bet your fans are eager to read it! You really have something that feels special here.

9. Last, do you have any advice for a new or aspiring author?

Run away!!!!  Just kidding.  My biggest piece of advice is to learn learn learn.  Read, learn, apply.  Repeat.  Take what works for you and apply it in your own way into your work.  We must never stop learning.   But what I think might be the biggest thing is find your voice.  Don’t be another author.  Be you.  And then become the best you you can be.

That’s the best word. Authenticity sales. People are good at sniffing out the fakes.

Thanks for the chat, Robert! 

All he wanted was the safety of his princess. What he received was eternal torment. Bereft of a soul, a wraith who should have no ties to humanity, Bene wants nothing more than release from his twisted existence. Trapped between life and nothingness, he hopes to reclaim his soul and find the death he so desperately desires. Bene finds rare solace in the company of Feorin, a satyr war hero who chose exile over continuing the centuries long war with the Fae. He doesn’t look at Bene with fear or contempt, but rather hope. If a wraith can find a path to redemption, perhaps he could as well…

To purchase Rober’s works, you can find him anywhere, but Amazon is probably easiest.

The Dark Archer:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/1950722309

For my reader group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/620898828753102

Twitter and Instagram: @shadowyembrace

My blog: shadowyembrace.com

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