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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Nine

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Nine

The Istyuli Plains

Welcome to Chapter Nine of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Eight!

Um, so it’s been

more than six months. Didn’t realize it. Been working on this next part off and on during that time. I went to Japan twice, and it always throws me off my habits, but I’m back at it. So hopefully won’t be so long. Sorry.

The Shape of virtue is inked in obscenity.


My Thoughts

That is an interesting proverb. My mind is trying to parse it. So it’s like the shape of Virtue is the negative space that is surrounded by obscenity. As if obscenity defines what is virtue. I think that’s what he is saying. It’s the bad acts that let us see what the good is. Without evil, how can we know what is good. That’s a very interesting thing to come from the Ainoni which are seen by the rest of the Three Seas as basically the Vegas of their world. That’s where all the bad things happen. Of course, they happen everywhere, but they like to look down at the Ainoni and think them of a lesser moral character.

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

Cleric is giving another sermon, and the Skin-Eaters gather with open mouths to receive the Qirri.

There are only twelve left as they leave behind the Mop to enter they dusty plain, their path through the Sea marked by their dead. Food is scarce even with Xonghis searching for burrowing rodents. When he finds a warren, Achamian uses his sorcery to rip apart the earth, which stuns most and makes them easy killing. They feast on them and keep the leftovers in case they don’t find more. But this comes with a risk since Hilikas dies from food poisoning.

Twelve become eleven.

They have no fire, starlight their only illumination at night. Kosoter only speaks to Cleric now, no one quiet able to make out what they speak about. The others “gather like shipwreck survivors” in small groups. Galian with Pokwas and Xonghis, the three joking and complaining and watching the others with suspicion. Conger and Wonard rarely speak. Sarl is alone, skinny and rarely even aping his role as Sergeant. He often glares at Kosoter, but Mimara isn’t sure if its with love or murder. Koll is the sole surviving Stone Hag. He looks gouged, abandoning everything from his armor to even words, hanging his sword from a string tied to his forehead, the blade draped down his back. He spits blood, his gums bleeding.

She avoids all thoughts of her belly.

Sometimes, while walking in the dusty cool of the morning, or the drought-sun glare of the afternoon, she catches herself squeezing her eyes shut and opening them, like someone warding much needed sleep. The others are always there, trudging through their own dust in a scattered file.

As are the plains, stretching dun and white to the limit of the bleached sky…

Passing like a dream.

Cleric gives another sermon talking about how he loved so much he would pull down mountain. He’s waving his arm in exultation, crying out in laughter. He would embrace damnation. As he preaches, Koll watches from the dark.

Achamian recites poetry and argues history and metaphysics with Mimara. He is wild in his rotten hides and “a Gnostic Mage from days of old.”

But he is a teacher most of all.

One night, he talks to Mimara bout how Qirri makes it seem like “you know everything you know.” She says it makes her happy. He smiles and says sometimes. That makes him frown for a moment before he smiles again.

The plains pass like a dream.

She sits alone in tall grass thinking she’s beautiful. She’s staring at her reflection and gets why beautiful people find pleasure in staring in mirrors. She learned vanity in the brothel where beauty was the only coin her and the other whores had. “Take away enough and people will treasure their afflictions.” She says to the watching Soma that she know his mission. He asks he what that is.

Soma is wearing her face but it’s far filthier than even her which seems impossible. It’s stained in blood from eating raw flesh. It’s even mimicking how emaciated she’s become. She says he’s studying her to replace her, learning how she acts. Adopting her form is the final act before killing and replacing her. He asks if Kellhus told her. She agrees and notices it even is copying the pregnant curve of her belly.

Soma questions that assumption and she asks what else is it doing. She wants to show this “beautiful thing.” Soma says he appears as her to declare “your beauty.” She gets annoyed and says to stop playing game because it has no soul. “You’re not real.”

“But I speak. How could I speak if had no soul?”

“Parrots speak. You are simply a cunning parrot.”

“I fear I am far more.”

“I can even prove it to you.”

“Can you now?”

She realizes she’s playing games, but she has questions she needs answered to survive. She’s rehearsed these reasons, but now they feel absurd. The “kinds of questions fat priests might ask starving children.” She’s reluctant now to ask even her primary question. She needs to know what it meant by Cleric killing them. But she can’t bring herself to ask.

And it has become as proper as proper can be, avoiding things troubling and obvious. To play games with inhuman assassins.

“A man comes to you saying,” she begins with a sly smile, “’Do not believe anything I say, for I am a liar…” She pauses to allow the words to resonate. “Tell me, thing, why is this a paradox?”

“Because it’s strange for a liar to say such things.”

She feels triumph at his answer because it proved that her stepfather was right. She remembers him telling her this trick and how he appeared deific to her. She has just proven this thing has no soul, but now it feels like a joke. She says it proves he has no soul and Soma doesn’t understand. She suddenly feels like she’s pretending things are better than they are.

“Only a soul can hold a paradox,” she explains. “Since the true meaning of paradox escapes you, you can only grasp non-paradoxical approximations. In this case, “strange.’ Only a soul can comprehend contradictory truths.”

Soma asks what it is and she just wanders why this is such a farce. She answers that he’s just an “abacus crafted of skin, flesh, and bone” created by Tekne. Soma thinks that is something special in it sown way. She suddenly feels that this is a mistake. She’s been here too long. Achamian will look for her so she departs.

Cleric is the first to spot the first ruins they’d come across since Meöri weeks ago. They have come across the path of the Great Ordeal as they head toward Golgotterath. He wonders how close the army is to them. Though this is a worry, it’s an ephemeral one like a “scarf floating across parched ground.” Nothing feels real and tethered to Achamian any longer.

Few men returned the same after months or years of travel—Achamian knew this as well as anyone. Sheer exposure to different sights, different customs, different peoples, was enough to alter a man, sometimes radically. But in Achamian’s estimation, the real impetus, what really changed men, was the simple act of walking and thinking, day after day, week after week, month after month. Innumerable thoughts flitted through the soul of the long traveller. Kith and kin were condemned and pardoned. Hopes and believes were considered and reconsidered. Worries were picked to the point of festering—or healing. For those who could affirm the same thought endlessly, men like the Captain, the trail typically led to fanaticism. For those with not stomach for continuous repetition, men like Galian, the trail led to suspicion and cynicism, the conviction that thought was never to be trusted. For those who found their thoughts quite repeating, who found themselves continually surprised by novel angles and new questions, the trail led to philosophy—to a wisdom that only hermits and prisoners could know.

Achamian thinks he’s a philosopher. In his younger days as a spy, he would actively think about what he believed and chart his own developing beliefs as he moved from place to place. His life had been traveling and that was all his focus, but this journey is different somehow. “Something was happening.”

Something inexplicable. Or something that wanted to be…

His dreams are also changing. He keeps dreaming of the chained captives, the line shrinking as more and more are dragged into the room. It’s horrible as they’re surrounded by Sranc rutting, the air full of the stench of their seed. “Degradations so proud that his soul had kicked free his body, his past, his sanity.”

In his dreams, the person he’s dreaming about has to stare past it. Not see it to keep from going mad. He stares toward the black opening where he’s being dragged. Coming closer and closer to the shiny bulkheads. He came closer and closer to that horrible place.

The Golden Room, he called it. And it was the sum of all horrors.

Inhuman horns sound and the chain is yanked, forcing everyone forward two steps. Always two steps. He listened to the shrieks one after another, begging for it to end. When he awakens, he knows that before the Dream had been refracted through the trees “lethargic wrath.” Now he’s dreaming clearly of the Dread Ark. He is somehow dreaming of a soul that had been a captive of the Consult in Golgotterath.

And yet, despite the mad significance of this latest transformation, despite all the care and scrutiny he had heaped upon his Dreams over the years, he had himself dismissing these ethereal missives with an inexplicable negligence. Even though their horror actually eclipsed his old dreams of the Apocalypse, they simply did not seem to matter… for some reason… for some reason…

The old Wizard laughed sometimes, so little did he care.

Seventeen days into the Istyuli Plains, and the day after Mimara’s encounter with Soma, she abruptly asks Achamian why he fell in love with her mother. She often talks about the “Empress” in mocking ways, intimating how she speaks and making mocking expressions of her face. She tries to act like she doesn’t care, but her brittleness betray her. It often amuses as much as it alarms him Achamian. He defends Esmenet and tells Mimara she’s not being charitable, but he’s held back his true feelings. He is hesitant because he feels motherhood “meant too much to be trusted to something as sordid as truth.”

Normally, he acts like a crabby old wizard to discourage her when her questions come to close to revealing his true feelings. For some reason, he doesn’t when she asks him why did he fall in love with her over all the other women he slept with.

“Because she possessed a sharp wit,” he heard himself reply. “That was why I… why I returned, I think. That and her beauty. But your mother… She was always asking me questions about things, about the world, the past—even my Dreams fascinated her. We would lie in her bed sweating, and I would talk and talk and she would never lose interest. One night she interrogated me until dawn glided the cracks of her shutters. She would listen and…”

He’s shocked by how much he’s confessed stops himself from expressing that last feeling. He’s surprised at how easy it was, confused why that would be. She asks him what he was about to say. “And she… she believed me…” She asks if he meant about the First Apocalypse and the Consult.

“That… But I was more, I think. She believed in me.:

Could it be so simple?

He then opens up to her about the horror of his dreams, how he was so weak and would rather “hatch plots in his soul than take any actions.” And despite being a “cringer and a coward,” she believed in him. He misses those days of needing her. Of living with her even as she continue to take custom. How he would wait in the marketplace picturing her making love with other men. He wonders if this is why she had joined Kellhus in bed after she thought Achamian was dead. “If there was any face from his past that caused Achamian to both flinch and marvel, it was the way he continued to love both of them after their joint betrayal.”

Esmenet. Such a strange name for a whore.

“Fear…” the old Wizard said in resignation. “I was always afraid with your mother.”

“Because she was a whore,” Mimara said with more eagerness than compassion.

She hit it on the head. He had loved a whore, and this was the price. He realizes that those last days of the Holy War were the same as Sumna where he was tied to the same rage and hurt. Still, he lies and says he was afraid because she was beautiful. A “proper lie.”

Mimara gets mad and wants to know why he never blames Esmenet for her part in it. Unlike Mimara who was sold into whoredom, her mother made the choice just like she chose to betray Achamian.

“Did she?” It seemed that he listened to his voice more than he spoke with it.

“Did she what? Choose? Of course she did.”

“Few things are so capricious as choice girl.”

“Seems simple to me. Either she chooses to be faithful or she chooses to betray.”

He asks about her and her time in the brothel. Was she chained to her pillow? No. So does that mean she chose to be there. That she had deserved that suffering. He points out why she didn’t jump into sea. “Why blame your mother for your willful refusal to run away.” He stares at him with hatred, but there’s also hesitation in her. The same hesitation that’s been in all her conversations of late. Like she’s acting hurt because he said something hurtful not because she truly felt pain. “That capacity, it seemed, had been lost in the dark bowels of Cil-Aujas.”

“There are chains,” she said dully, “and there are chains.”


She acts humble after that, but more because she’s tired by the talk than really understanding her mother. Still, he welcomed it. “Arrogance is ever the patron of condemnation.” Everyone at some level understands the “power of hypocrisy” so they lie to themselves that they’re better than they are to have a clean conscience to both sleep or to condemn another.

There is more than strength in accusation, there is the presumption of innocence, which is what makes it the first resort of the brokenhearted.

When Achamian first went into exile, he blamed and accused Esmenet in his mind. But after so long of living with his grievances, he remembers that people don’t they are wrong when making the wrong decision. The cleverer you are the more likely you are to make a fool yourself. “And Esmenet was nothing if not clever.” This allowed him to forgive her. It had been when he was frustrated with his research so he wanted to help his slave Geraus chop wood but instead ended up getting a splinter in his eye. He apologized the way a master would to his slave, feeling bad and yet wronged all at the same time. After all, he did mean to help out, but when his slave “commended him for his supernatural aim” Achamian’s annoyance vanished. He caught a whiff of the desert and suddenly he just forgave Esmenet.

Though he still accuses her for what she did, he has forgiven her and now he manages to explain that to Mimara. Then he tells her how they met with his mother shouting down from her window and making a fat joke while Mimara doesn’t believe. She doesn’t know the old fat Achamian just the skinny hermit. It was the summer after the famine, and the Empire had past an edict to void all sales of Nansur citizens into slavery last summer. They were even making exception for caste-menials who didn’t have citizenship to void sales. Esmenet was desperate for gold to bribe officials to get Mimara back.

Mimara realizes he gave her the gold. He did and explains how Esmenet thought she was saving Mimara from the starvation by selling her to Ainoni to take her far away from the famine. Esmenet didn’t expect to survive. Those were her chains. Mimara realizes the Ainoni won’t respect the edict and free their slaves, so it was pointless for Esmenet to even try to bribe anyone. Achamian agrees. He tried to tell Esmenet, but she wouldn’t give up. She got her Exception from a man Achamian still dreams of killing. Then she went down to the harbor by herself to find Mimara, something she had to do for herself.

It was a strange thing for a man to enter the world of a damaged woman. The apparent disproportion between event and evaluation. The endless sinkholes that punished verbal wandering. The crazed alchemy of compassion and condemnation. It was a place where none of the scales seemed balanced, where the compass bowl never settled and the needle never showed true north.

Achamian thinks this is the moment he fell in love with Esmenet. He can’t remember her leaving only a fat man she vanished behind. He thinks about the perversity of memory and gets why Nonmen go crazy. Then he talks about how it had turned into riots that day as the slavers fought back. A ship was burned. Hundreds killed. He went out to find her.

He idly wondered whether anyone had seen as many smoking cities as he. Many, he decided, if the rumors he had heard regarding the Wars of the Unification were true.

Sarl and the Captain among them.

He talks about how the riots exploded because men lose all their wits in a mob and once one person attacks, they all attack. He had to use the Gnosis to get to the harbor, a risk in a city full of Chorae sorcerers have their tongues “scraped out with oyster shells” if caught using it. After all these years, he remembers that day. It was the first time he had experienced something even close to his Dreams. Mimara asks if he found her. He didn’t which shocks her. He though the had found her dead. He remembers that horrible moment, seeing the dead woman in the same mauve cloak. Though now he thinks fear “has a way of rewriting things to suit its purposes.” he had rolled the woman over and felt joy and relief “unlike anything he would experience until the First Holy War.” He found Esmenet sitting on her still without even a bruise on her. She never spoke of Mimara again.

Not until she succumbed to Kellhus.

Achamian and Mimara are silent for a time as though they both were grappling with the importance of his tale. They just stare at the scalpers. Finally, Achamian says that Esmenet is a survivor like Mimara is. He starts to ponder that a part of Esmenet had died that day in the harbor. She had not come back the same. She had seemed to grow less melancholic and rose from the lethargy she possessed. He adds, “Let the Outside sort her sins.”

He didn’t like to talk about damnation because his sins will one day sort him. He doesn’t need the Judging Eye to know his fate. So he walks, waiting for Mimara to asks questions but she kept looking ahead at the endless, flat plain.

He starts thinking about his time in Carythusal, probably because they had been talking in Ainoni. He thought about an old drunk name Posodemas, a man who claimed to survive seven naval bodies and years of captivity by pirates. All he would talk about where his wives and mistresses and how they had all betrayed him in each humiliating detail. Achamian would just watch and nod encouraging while he would scan the crowd. Posodemas taught Achamian that shame is one of the most precious things to a man.

And that, he realized with no small amount of dismay, was what seemed to be happening here, on the long road to Ishuäl.

Endless intoxication. And with it, the slow strangulation of shame.

What good was honesty when it carried no pain?

Sranc are rushing across the plain. They have caught the scent of human and see dust in the distance. They rush fast and howl insults at the “hated sun.” They are tireless in satiating their desires. They can life off dirt. Violence is for bliss. They are weapons “of an ancient war, ranging a dead world.”

Smelling humans, they’re eager to cut holes in the men and rut in them. It has been generations since they’ve seen men, wanting to murder and rape them is “stamped into their flesh.” The crave to hear them scream watch them slowly die in agony.

They loped like wolves, scuttled like spiders. They ran for truths they did not know, for verities written in their blood. They ran for the promise of violation…

Only to be astonished by a human figure rising from wicks of scrub and grass.

A woman.

The sight of her causes them to stumble to a halt in an arc around her. They smell her scent and there’s something both “alarming and alluring.” Their Chieftain and advances and asks what she is. “A child of the same father.” That confuses the Chieftain because they don’t have a father except the earth. The woman smiles and says you do and they can’t pass. That angers them. He wants to Kill the woman and “Kill-muder-fuck the others!” But the woman points out that they have no hunger to kill her because they’re children of the same father. He brandishes knife.

The woman is, of course, Soma in Mimara’s form. She dispatches the chieftain with a swift blow. She tells the other Sranc that they are the children of the same father and asks if they “smell the truth-power of this?” They howl and she says the “Black Heaven” will call on them soon.

Mimara asks Achamian about his first meeting with Kellhus. “The old Wizard’s rely is typically long-winded.” He talks about how Ajencis would schooled his students for “confusing assent with intellect.” So when you meet someone profound like Achamian, it’s troubling. He explains how Mimara’s life is her ruler for measuring things even if it is so bent. So when someone else uses their own “ruler” to measure things, it will conflict with Mimara’s own experience and she’ll feel it’s wrong in her guts.

“So true wisdom is invisible? You’re saying we can’t see it when we encounter it.”

“No. Only that we have great difficulty recognizing it.”

She asks how Kellhus is different. He thinks about his answer for a while and says he’s mulled that question over for years. He possess authority as the Aspect-Emperor, so people want to compare their ruler to his so they can correct theirs. But in the start he was a penniless fugitive. He speaks haltingly and explains he was good at implying things. Since “ignorance is invisible” it’s easy for fools to believe they know anything with certainty. Ajencis hated certainty, equating it with destructive stupidity. Achamian disagrees. Not all ignorances are the same. “I think there are truths, profound truths, that we somehow know without knowing…”

Mimara glances about, seeing Pokwas and Galian walking together. They are inseparable these days. Cleric strides with grace while Sarl paces Koll. They look like refugees now. Achamian says that Kellhus could look at you and pluck “half-known truths from you.” That makes you doubt your own ruler and use his. Mimara understands and says, “A deceiver could ask for no greater gift.”

“The wizard’s look is so sharp that at first she fears she has offended him. But he hast hat appreciative gleam in his eyes, the one she has come to prize.

“In all my years,” he continues, “I have never quite understood worship, what happens to souls when they prostate themselves before another—I’ve been a sorcerer for too long. And yet I did worship him… for a time. So much so I even forgave him the theft of your mother…”

He shakes his head as if trying to ward away bees, looks away to the stationary line of the horizon. A cough kicks through him.

“Whatever worship is,” he says, “I think it involves surrendering your cubit… opening yourself to the perpetual correction of another…”

She jokes about, “Having faith in ignorance.” He laughs and quips she must have caused her mother so many headaches. She smiles only to realize she’s become cleverer than she used to be. Which makes her realize it’s the Qirri. “It quickens more than the step.” The pair grow silent as they draw notice from the others. She then imagines Kellhus and her mother making love as her hand rubs at her belly, but she’s afraid of thinking about that. The world is bending.

The World is old and miraculous and is filled with a deep despair that none truly know. The Nonman, Mimara has come to understand, is proof of this.”

Cleric is preaching how his people once ruled the world. He stands shirtless and looks like the epitome of manliness to Mimara. When the Sranc weren’t numberless and men would offer up their children at the capricious commands of the Nonmen. Mimara is captivated by him. A secret that she has to solve to save her and Achamian. She worships him.

The most foolish wiseman is smarter than any human. Even Achamian is but a toddler aping his father. Man’s short, fast-burning life reveals more than they can fathom. Then he talks about how far his people have fallen, destroyed by the “very darkness we sought to illuminate.”

“This is the paradox—is it not? The longer you live, the smaller your become. The past always dwarfs the present, even for races as fleeting as yours. One morning you awaken to find now… this every moment… little more than a spark in a cavern. One morning you awaken to find yourself so much… less…”

Incariol, she thinks. Ishroi…

“Less than what you wanted. Less than what you once were.”

Mimara is in love with the “power and wonder of what [Cleric] was.” He talks about how one day, you realize you’re not strong and mighty and your body is failing you. He wonders how they’ll act. Will they be overshadowed by their sons or hide in their homes like the Nonmen did. Mimara feels like that knowing Cleric has made her more than she used to be. He continues talking about how one day, you’ll be old and lost. He lowers back to the earth at that point and mutters, “Lost like us.” He then reaches for his qirri patch while thunderheads rumble but no rain falls like always.

Mimara decides that the Rules of the Slog broke in Cil-Aujas along with the rest of the. A new Rule has formed throw it’s never been spoken. With the new rules there are no questions. “No doubters on the slog.”

The extraordinary thing about insanity, she has come to realize, is the way it seems so normal. When she thinks of the way the droning days simply drop into their crazed, evening bacchanals, nothing strikes her as strange—nothing visceral, anyway. Things that should make her shudder, like the nip of Cleric’s tail as his finger roams the inside of her cheeks, are naughty but part of a greater elation, as unremarkable as any other foundation stone.

It is only when she steps back and reflects that the madness stares her plain in the eye.

He’s killing you…” the thing called Soma had said. “The Nonman.”

She finds herself approaching Sarl, figuring someone as crazy as him might understand how the rest are going mad. He’d also known Lord Kosoter since the Unification War. She hopes Sarl can figure out what the skin-spy meant. She lamely starts with, “The Slog of Slogs.” He’s walking alone because the rest have abandoned him to his rambling tirades. She’s hoped Kosoter would shut Sarl up, but it never happened.

Sarl, it seems, is the lone exception to the Rules.

He calls her the second most beautiful thing, narrating with his happening. He doesn’t look at her but to her side like she’s an apparition haunting him. He was the most bedraggled member before Cil-Aujas. Now he’s tattered and ragged. She asks him how long he’s known Captain. He responds that you can’t explain Kosoter. “He’s not of this world.” She flinches at how loud he speaks and finds herself whispering her question, “How so?”

He says that “souls get mixed up.” He claims he’s a dead spirit bounced back, souls of old men born in babies. Or the souls of wolves. She asks what he’s saying, and he warns her never cross Kosoter. She snarks that he’s so friendly. He laughs, but it seems more like a reflex. He’s mimicking laughter. It was like speaking carefully to avoid saying “words that must never be said.” She reflects who she always lived some kind of life. Trying to avoid the truth of her reality, and her new lie is one of bliss. Even Sarl, she realizes, understands that they are being deceived.

She asks about Cleric and how they met him. Sarl says they found him like “a coin in the dirt.” She gets frustrated, wanting to know where and how. He says that after Carythusal, they were sent north by the Ministrate. They were sent to kill skinnies and to stay on the southeastern marches of Galeoth. She’s confused about that and asks about Cleric. He just repeats they found him.

That draws attention. She feels conspicuous and guilty like she’s a thief having fun joking with a madman. Even Achamian is confused. By speaking to them, she’s revealed that she’s searching for something. Kosoter has noticed.

“The Slog of Slogs,” she says lamely. “They’ll sing songs across the Three Seas, Sergeant—think on it! The Psalm of the Skin Eaters.”

He cries and blesses her, her self-serving words touching him. He starts limping as if his body just broke with his heart. He smiles at her and says he’s been so lonely.

They see dust on the horizon the next day after breaking camp. It’s far away and they can’t see who’s making it. So they only keep traveling and keep a wary eye on it. Galian and Pokwas think it’s Sranc. They hadn’t seen any so far crossing the Istyuli. The plum comes closer. Kosoter gives no orders even as they see figures now. They all hold hands to shade their eyes and peer at them. It’s not Sranc but riders. Fifty or so, enough to kill a single clan of skinnies. They are motley group of warriors whose shields identify them as Nangaels, a clan of Tydonni.

It’s the Great Ordeal. They are no longer in its shadow. Fear washes over her as she realizes this is an extension of Kellhus and she realizes she’s terrified of him. He used to be the only voice that made sense to her.

Galian thinks its a lost patrol but Xonghis says with authority that it’s a supply cohort who abandoned their supplies. The approaching riders are talking about the men they just found and what to do, the Skin Eaters just stay silent. They “no longer need fatuous words to bind them.” Finally, a graybeard Nangael in command motions for Galian to come speak to him. The graybeard notices Cleric and grows nervous.

When the graybeard speaks his tongue, Kosoter say they don’t speak gibberish. Mimara grows afraid as she glances at Achamian. He gives her a subtle warning to do nothing rash. Mimara studies the men and though they are travel worn, they look so different from the ragged Skin Eaters. She’s horrified that they look more like shambling corpses now.

The graybeard can’t believe their scalpers this far out. Galian says they had to flee a mob it drove them this way. The graybeard says that’s unlikely. Kosoter agrees and kills the graybeard. As he dies, Mimara can tell the graybeard was beloved by his men. Weapons are drawn but then Cleric sings. She recognizes the lines of white that reach out from him at the patrol as something close to the Seventh Quyan Theorem. Men are killed and horses fall thrashing.

The battle begins. The nearest charge. The scalpers meet the charge in “eerie silence.” They fight with deadly ferocity. Mimara is shocked to find she’s drawn Squirrel, the blade sharp. She uses it to defend herself from a wounded Nangael. She kills him. The fighting fades, the clouds of dust kicked up fading. The wounded writhe on the ground.

Mimara stares at the dying man she killed. He’s suffering, but she can’t bring herself to put him out of his misery. She looks for Achamian again. He’s standing by Koll who didn’t even move. The last Stone Hag just stands there. Achamian rises from his stupor to protest. Mimara thinks its the murder of the innocent patrol, but it’s the men that have escaped that has him crying out. He unleashes his sorcery and climbs into the sky looking like a rag doll.

He catches up with the fleeing men and kills them. Plumes of dust erupt, hiding the violence. None of the others cared. The others are unharmed but Conger who has a wound to his knee. He stares with dull horror as Kosoter marches up and dispatches him.

“No limpers!” the Captain grates, his eyes at once starved and bright.

And that is the sum of their plunder. It seems sacrilege, for some reason, to don possessions of others—things so clean they can only be filthy. The old Wizard returns on weary foot, framed by seething curtains of smoke. He has set the plains afire.

“I’m damned already,” is all he says in reply to Mimara’s look.

He stares at the ground and says nothing for the next three days.

Achamian’s silence doesn’t bother her a much as how little she cares. She gets why he had to run down the survivors, but his guilt and hand wringing is almost proforma. Just going through the motions, and so she can’t do more than pretend to be compassionate. After all, she feels the weight of her own murder.

After three days, the group running low on water, Achamian finally speaks and asks Mimara if he’s ever seen Kellhus with “it.” She’s confused until she realizes he means her “other eye.” The Judging Eye. He hesitates, afraid, before confirming.

Absolution, she realizes. He killed the Tydonni to prevent any word of their expedition from reaching the Great Ordeal. Now he seeks to absolve himself of their deaths through the righteousness of his cause. Men murder, and men excuse. For most the connection is utterly seamless: those killed simply have to be guilty, otherwise why would they be dead? But Achamian, she knows, is one of those rare men who continually stumble over the seams in their thought. Men for whom nothing was simple.

She says no and begs him to believe her, saying Kellhus hardly had time for his real daughters let alone a step-daughter. Which is true because he was mostly a dread rumor that sent the functionaries scurrying in a panic and realizes it’s the same here. “Was he [Kellhus] not the hidden tyrant of this very expedition?”

For the first time, it seems, she sees things through Drusas Achamian’s eyes: a world bound to the machinations of Anasûrimbor Kellhus. Looking out, she has a sudden sense of loads borne and stresses diffused, as if the world were a wheel spoke with mountains, rimmed with seas, one so vast that the axle lay perpetually over the horizon—perpetually unseen. Armies march. Priests tally contributions. Ships leave and ships arrive. Emissaries howl in protest and wriggle on their bellies…

All at the pleasure of the Holy Aspect-Emperor.

This is the world that the old Wizard sees, the world that frames his every decisions: a singular thing, a living thing, nourished by the arteries of trade, bound by the sinew of fear and faith….

A leviathan with a black cancer for a heart.

He does believe her, he was just curious. Kellhus power reminds her of the Allosium Mandala that had hung in the Andiamine Heights. It was an innovation on the Invishi craftsmen who sought to “capture creation in various symbolic symbols.” It was such an innovation, the creator was stoned to death. She creates her own and sees everyone, from the poor to the powerful, as existing in a “dark world, one battling a war long lost.” Despite how little emotions she’s feeling these days, she is buried beneath a sense of hopeless doom because the Aspect-Emperor is evil.

And then she realized that the opposite could just as easily be true.

She asks how he would react if she saw him wreathed in glory and there was no doubt he was divine. She realizes this is the doubt that gnaws at him day after day. He says she has a talent for asking hard questions. She can see his fear. She might ask the questions, but the dilemma is his. He glares at her with a hint of hatred, but it falls away like everything else. It’s simply “another passion too greased with irrelevance to be clutched in the hands of the present.”

“Strange…” he replies distantly. “I see two sets of footprints behind me.”

Mimara feels like everything is unraveling. She and the others feel like dandelion fluff wanting to drift in the air but caught in spider silk. In Qirri. Holy and pure Qirri. They queue up each night before Cleric to suck it off his finger. He probes their mouth. They can taste the spittle of the others, and that’s right. Qirri is there new Tusk. Their new God. Cleric is its prophet.

By day, the trudge across the monotony of the plains. By night, they listen to Cleric’s “incoherent declarations.” They gain an enlightenment “Devoid of claim or truth or hope.” Days pass like a dream.

Finally, after days, Mimara confesses to Achamian the Qirri frightens her. He doesn’t answer, but she senses his alarm. He has the same thoughts, and now she’s being a fool by throwing “stones at wolves.” She lies to herself everything will be fine. Finally, he asks her why

She talks about her time in the brothel. The girls who resisted were addicted to opium until they would do anything to get their fix. Achamian is silent as she continues, asking if the Nonmen is doing that to them.

Speaking this question is like rolling a great stone from her chest. How could it be so difficult to stand square in the light of day of what was happening.

Achamian asks why then if Cleric has made sexual demands of her. She says no but is worried about it. He stares at his feet then says they don’t need to be afraid because they understand the danger. But he sounds like a frightened boy trying to sound confident. Not sure what to say, but she thinks they can just refuse to take the Qirri at any time. “Just not now.” Achamian reinforces that though saying they need it to keep up the pace. She objects saying they’ve covered enough ground by now. But he counters with how the Stone Hags, men with endurance, are all dead save one. What chance does an old man and a woman have?

She wants to let the others outpace them or sneak away. Go on their won. She even thinks they can just steal the pouch of Qirri. It makes sense to her that she almost laughs aloud until she remembers that you don’t steal anything from a Quya Mage. Achamian says they can’t break their contract with the Skin Eaters. After all of they’ve sacrificed, they would hunt them down.

She thinks he’s coming around, so she suggests confronting Cleric before everyone about what he’s doing. But she realizes this is a mistake as she loses Achamian to doubt and fear. He says Galian only stays for the Qirri. She doesn’t care and says let him leave. Achamian counters that he’ll take Xonghis and Pokwas with him. Especially Xonghis since he finds food.

They smile at each other as the conversation that started real is no nothing more than pantomime of “numbing words and self-serving reasons.” She had hoped this would be the result. So they nine keep walking across the plain while only the last Stone Hag feels the exhaustion. She starts to cry softly so none can hear. She feels so relieved and is eager for the dark.

And of the soot smudged across the tip of Cleric’s white finger.

Mimara creeps out of camp that night, the wind howling. She knows she’d find the skin-spy here. Thanks to the wind, the company marches past night until they find whatever meager depression. She travels in the direction she knows a predator would favor, downwind.

She begs to know how the Nonman is killing them. It mimics her crouch posture, seeming harmless and deadly all at the same time. She feels fear, but it’s remote as she begs to know. He smiles with condensation, infuriating her. He wants her Chorae, and he promises to save her. She grabs the pouch between her breasts and says no more games.

Her anger surprises both. The skin-spy glances at the camp. She listens and can hear the mutter of sorcery as someone climbs up into the air. The skin-spy says to ask what the Qirri actually is. Then it runs off in a way no human could mimic. She turns around behind her to see Achamian climbing into the sky thanks to his sorcery. He starts trying to kill the skin-spy, but the dust conceals it and it escapes.

She stares at Koll, the last Stone Hag, as Achamian yells at her, demanding to know what she was doing so far away. Koll is the only one not watching the father scolding his daughter. Koll used to be a big man, but now he’s skin and bones. He’s thrown away his armor and only carries his sword because Kosoter would kill him if he had lost it.

She lies to Achamian and says it just came to her wearing her face. He’s mad because it could have killed her. He demands to know why she went so far from the others. She keeps staring at Koll and realizes he’s “the last pure thing in their mad company.” The only one who had never tasted Qirri. He shows just how depraved the rest are.

Achamian continues his tirade, saying the thing meat to replace her. As he yells at her, he’s squinting. It’s a cloudy, moonless dark. The Nail of Heaven is hidden. He can’t see her well because, she realizes, he’s not the skin-spy. He’s human. He keeps calling her a fool that it would have killed her and taken her place. She finally looks at him and asks what it is in Ainoni.

He is surprised but still angry and, she realizes, there’s a part of him that no longer cares what it is. He’s like the others, eager to get his fix. He asks what she’s talking about and is troubled because she switched to Ainoni, “The tongue of their conspiracy.”

Kosoter watches from the periphery, his knife sheathed. She tells Achamian it’s nothing because he doesn’t know what it is.

Qirri is Qirri…

The desire that forever slips the leash of your knowing. The hunger that laves no trace in your trammeled soul.

Xonghis tells them water is more important than food. There water-skins are empty. It should be simple to walk across the flatlands, but her soul is in turmoil. She feels like a chrysalis is in her soul unable to mature, trapping her in confusion. It makes the world feel like a dream. The world feels ephemeral, like foam. She doesn’t know what is happening to her.

Sarl says, “You have the look.” He cackles as she doesn’t disagree with him that she looks like a muddied path. He asks if he’s wrong then asks how many men she’s lain with. She should hate him for saying it, but she doesn’t have the strength to speak. “When has feeling become an effort?” She responds a lot of fools but few men. He is thrilled she admits it and she ask what did she admit while smiling at his. His smile drops from him.

“She burned a city for you—didn’t she?”

“Who?” she replies numbly.

“Your mother. The Holy Empress.”

“No,” she laughs in faux astonishment. “But I appreciate the compliment!”

Sarl laughs and nods in turn, his eyes once again squeezed into invisibility. Laughs and nods, trailing ever farther behind her…

What was happening?

Mimara feels like two women divorced from each other. One that remembers the past and old hurts, and the one that no longer cares. But she knows she’s really three because her stomach is starting to swell. The others laugh at her as she eats ravenously, and scolds Achamian when he doesn’t cook their dinner right away or Xonghis when he doesn’t find enough food. Then they wait for Cleric to start his sermon. When he does, they gather, some even crawl.

He talks about coming down from high to negotiate with kings of men and how he seduced their wives and healed their baby princes. He laughed at the superstition of their priests. He frightened and astonished them with his questions and insights. How he killed their warriors with ease. They used to give him tribute even babies.

“I remember the love your bore… The hatred and the envy.”

He raises his head, blinking as if yanked from a dream inhumanly cruel for its bliss. Veins of silver fork across his cheeks… Tears.

You die so easily?” he cries, howls, as if human frailty were the one true outrage.

He sobs, bows his head once more. His voice rises as if from a pit.

“And I never forget…”

One of the scalpers moans in carnal frustration… Galian.

“I never forget the dead.”

He stands, about to start the Holy Dispensation. The men yelp like dogs, hungering for the Qirri. They rock. Eager for it. She doesn’t know when that pouch had come to represent carnal pleasure. She sits rigid, feeling estranged from herself. She does want it, wondering how much longer it can even last. Then he’s over her, holding out the black dust on his wet finger.

She cannot move.

He asks her by name, calling to both of her selves. To “the one who knows but does not care and to the one who cares but does not know.” However, it’s the third one that snarls no. Cleric stares at her as the others realize what she’s doing. Achamian looks horrified. Cleric asks her again and she says no.

Desire, she has come to understand, is not a bottomless thing…

There is motherhood.

She dreams of something missing in her. Something precious. She gasps awake and finds Cleric over her. She doesn’t panic because it seems reasonable. She asks what he’s doing. He’s watching her. But why? Then she realizes that some sort of subtle sorcery has allowed Cleric to bend Achamian’s wards around his body like pressing fingers into a half-filled bladder. He says she reminds him of someone. The answer is that of a doddering old man. Frail. She asks what that is, but he doesn’t remember.

She asks him what Qirri is as Achamian stirs. He tells her they don’t bury all their dead. The greatest are burned. She realizes the right question is whose ash is it made from. He tells her to taste and she’ll see. He lowers his finger to her lips. She opens her mouth and closes her eyes, feeling his breath on her face. She seals her mouth about his finger and tastes the Qirri.

In the corner of her eyes she glimpses the Captain through overlapping lattices of dead grass—a wraith watching.

She feels the rush and the pleasure. He pulls his back his finger, but she bites down to stop him, her tongue stroking the tip to make sure she got every spec. He strokes her face before he rises. She cannot look away or smother her longing.

Her mouth tastes of ash and soot and glory…

Glory everlasting.

As Achamian walks, he remembers other travels. The time he saw a child break his neck falling from a tree. A woman stoned to death for witchcraft. Seeing the dawn rising over the First Holy War.

Adversity lay in all direction, the Nilnameshi were fond of saying. A man need only walk.

Mimara comes up to him and says she knows what Qirri is. The sun frames her face, a solar angel delivering “tidings of woe.” He asks what it is. She tells him its the ashes from a funeral pyre. He wants to know whose. She thinks it’s Cû’jara Cinmoi.

A name drawn from the root of history.

There was nothing to say, so he turned to the trackless world before them. Great flocks of tern rose like steam from the far-ranging folds of dust and grasses.

The plains…

They passed like a dream.

My Thoughts

Hey, another month has passed. It’s Summer now! If you didn’t know, months are tracked like this Early Spring, Spring, Late Spring, Early Summer, Summer, Late Summer, etc. Twelve months you can track that way.

The one about take away enough and people will treasure their afflictions. They will revel in the pain, dwelling in victimhood to lash out at the world. To punish others for the pain they’ve endured.

The talk about how different people handle doing activities that don’t require them to use their minds but are very physical and repetitive leads to different results. He uses walking, because that’s definitely it. Walking day after day especially now that they’re not talking but are almost all alone on the trail, are leading to these divergences. Fanatics, Cynics, and Philosopher.

Okay, Achamian is dreaming of Nau-Cayûti’s final moments before he becomes the No-God, and he doesn’t care about these changes. I believe this is caused by the Qirri. It’s causing him to access the memories of Seswatha’s son and simultaneously it has sapped away his curiosity.

“Motherhood, it seemed, meant too much to be trusted to something as sordid as truth.” What a profound sentiment. None of us really want to know everything about our mothers and the things she’s did while younger. Especially sexually. It’s not details you want to learn about your parents, especially your mother, even when those things must have happened.

It seems as if Achamian has forgiven Esmenet. Maybe because he understands the chains that bound her. The choice she had to make. He had returned too late to save her from Kellhus. If she had never gotten pregnant, she would have gone with im. He had broken the hold Kellhus had on her, just like the same hold had been shattered on Achamian. But there was another chain biding Esmenet. My mom divorced my dead when I was nineteen. She told me she had only stayed with him for so long because of my brother and me. She thought it was best to stay in the marriage for us. So I can get Esmenet’s choice.

“The fact that everyone thought themselves more blameless than blameworthy, Ajencis once, was at once the most ridiculous and the most tragic of human infirmities Ridiculous because it was so obvious and yet utterly invisible. Tragic because it doomed them to unending war and strife.” Such truth in that quote. It’s the reason we have “Karens.” Men and women who think they’re so virtuous and better that they can condemn anyone who offends them. There is no self-reflection in a “Karen.”

I think the opening up we’re getting from both Achamian and Mimara might be an effect of qirri. He mentions how he feels this open intoxication. That can lower self-control and a person is more likely to reveal secrets.

We have a great difficulty in recognizing wisdom. I like that. We all have our biases that we use to measure the world, and have a hard time going against them without a great deal of reflection and self-discovery.

I like that talk about how the world is old and miraculous and despair. Just look at the grand feats of architecture our ancestors built: the Pyramid of Giza, Angkor Wat, Easter Island, the Nazca Lines, and more.

Interesting how we have Achamian talk about worshiping something makes you compare your ruler to theirs and here we have Mimara seeing Cleric as a totem. And she already sees him as “the very image of manly grace and strength.”

Nonmen, I’m realizing, are a metaphor for growing old. I mean, really, really old. Where your body fails you. Your mind abandons you. The young ignore you, not realizing that you know so much but they don’t care. You fought too keep civilization burning bright only to see the next generation failing you.

So Sarl gives confirmation that Kosoter and Sarl were sent here by Kellhus’s government. The are here to watch for Kellhus and help him on his mission. Kellhus wants Achamian to get to Ishuäl. This is part of my theory that Kellhus wants to destroy his own image as a god. I think this goes back to whatever Kellhus did to Achamian during the hypnotism scene in The Thousandfold Thought. Achamian talked to Seswatha and changed how the dreams work for Achamian in the process. That scene might be one of the most important ones we never got to see.

I have to say the scene where Sarl cries because someone acted to him like they used to his heartbreaking. He’s clearly dealing with intense PTSD, and he has no support. He doesn’t know how to get back to himself. He’s lost, and she found him. He doesn’t get that she wasn’t caring about him. We’re seeing a theme of the series how we only see the outside of the person and never the inside.

Mimara used to see Kellhus so greatly, but then she heard the other side. This is the weakness of the Dûnyain. Once people get away from them, they can unlearn the programming. They only have the time for so many people. It’s why he cut off communication with the Empire so he wouldn’t have competition. He has this army, and they are his captive audience now.

“Was he [Kellhus] not the hidden tyrant of this very expedition?” Mimara is seeing it. She’s getting the little peaces. This is all because of Kellhus. A Dûnyain doesn’t do something that only accomplishes one goal. He’s not just trying to defeat the Consult; he’s trying to defeat the Outside.

Mimara wants to break free of the Qirri, but she is relieved when her attempts to convince Achamian fail. She is addicted. It’s clear that she knows she needs to stop, but she craves that next fix so much, she’s happy she failed.

Koll, worn down to skin and bones, is pure because he’s not being changed by Qirri. He’s not being stained by it. They are being changed by it. She calls it depravity. She senses that this is something wrong they’re doing. And since Qirri is the ash of a dead nonman, they’re consuming the dead. It’s cannibalism, and it is changing them.

This is the problem with Nonmen. They never forget those who die. They only remember the pain and agony. That’s why he’s become an erratic and is here. Why Kellhus has made this deal with the Nonmen. It’s a complicated one. It’s to neutralize the Consult’s leadership of Ishterebinth while at the same time, making Achamian into a weapon that will help to destroy his myth.

Now we know that Qirri is the ash of Nonmen King ruling when the Ark crashed to this world. No wonder it’s so potent. And we see Mimara as the drug addict knowing she needs to quit and how all those using drugs with her don’t want her to quit. They want her to stay addicted like them. This is something that happens. They don’t want to change, and you trying to change is an attack on them. So they try to keep you in the same destructive behavior.

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

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When the Stormriders attack …

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Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

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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 White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Eight

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Eight

The Western Three Seas

Welcome to Chapter Eight of my reread. Click here if you missed Chapter Seven!

Complexity begets ambiguity, which yields in all ways to prejudice and avarice. Complication does not so much defeat Men as arm them with fancy.


My Thoughts

When things are complicated, men can muddy the waters. They can use it to promote their prejudice or greed. It’s that murkiness that the media and politicians thrive in. When things are complicated, you can make a simple statement that is factually true and yet how you present it can give an inference the opposite of what happened.

And this is where the Dûnyain live. In ambiguity.

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

In Gielgath, two thieves assailed him, and the White-Luck Warrior watched them scuffle, drunk and desperate, with the man who was their doom. They lurched out of alleyway shadows, their cries choked to murmurs for fear of being heard. They sprawled dead and dying across cobble and filth, the one inert, the other twitching. He wiped his Seleukaran blade clean across the dead one, even as he raised the sword to counter their manic rush. He stepped clear of the one who stumbled, raised his blade to parry the panicked swing of the other… the wing that would notch the scimitar’s honed edge—as thin as an eyelid.

The notch that would shatter his sword, so allowing the broken blade to plunge into the Aspect-Emperor’s heart. He could even feel the blood slick his thumb and fingers, as he followed himself into the gloomy peril of the alley.

The White-Luck Warrior sees himself marching on and on to the end of his journey, killing Kellhus. He’s seeing time all at once. He’s moving through past and present and future. He’s crossing the world. After killing the thieves, no one noticed him as he effortlessly passes through the crowd that’s gathered. A priestess beggar sees him and recognizes him. He sees her joy a million times.

He passes slave plantations, “following his following.” He rubs his blood into the tops of wheat, which makes Yatwer happy. He rubs a cow’s afterbirth into his ears. He finds a child hiding in a ditch and says, “There is no greater Gift than to give unto death.” He touches the boy and sees the child’s head also decaying in the grass.

He spots a stork. He walks forever, trailing after himself and leading himself all at the same time. He walks all the way to the moment when he kills the False Prophet because it’s already happened. He keeps walking until he reaches Momemn. He sees everything he’s going to do here. How he’ll stand in the throne room.

Where the Gift-of-Yatwer glimpsed himself peering back, the Holy Empress beside him.


Inrilatas asks Esmenet why it troubles her to see him masturbating. Though she really can’t see it as she peers through the window just infer he’s doing it. She stares at him with “a mother’s flat gaze.” She’s not impressed. Maybe her years as a whore or maybe she just was exhausted by his behavior was why.

When she’s done, he’ll be chained to the wall and servants will search carefully for any dropped item, even the little thing. He’d made a shiv using his semen to stiffen cloth into a point. She tells him that she’s going to have Maithanet brought to him.

She could feel him peering into her face, the strange tickle of being known. She experienced some sense of exposure with almost all her children by Kellhus, but it differed with each one. With Kayûtas, it simply seemed to render her irrelevant, a problem easily dismissed or solved. With Serwa, it raised her ire because she knew the girl could see the pain she had caused her mother and yet chose to ignore it. With Theliopa, it was simply a fact of the time they spent together, and a convenience as well, since it allowed the girl to completely subordinate herself to her mother’s wishes.

But with Inrilatas it always seemed more proud, more intrusive, somehow…

Like the way she felt in her husband’s eyes, only without the sense of… resignation.

He says they can smell fear on her. She knows this and remembers how Kellhus said that Inrilatas’s soul was equal Kellhus’s intellect and her heart. The Dûnyain never mastered passion but destroyed it. “My intellect is simply not robust enough to leash your heart. Imagine bridling a lion with string.” He mocks her being a mere whore with delusions of commanding Men. She knows this, too.

While Inrilatas could make the most iron-hard general to tears, all his wounds against her only increased her pity for her son. He seems to try so hard to hurt her because of it. She was “a summit he must conquer.” Despite his intelligence, to her he’s just “an anguished little boy.”

It was hard to play God in the eyes of a heartbroken mother.

He climaxes and she tries to ignore the product landing on the floor. He always had to mark the space around him with body fluids. He’s driven to desecrate because all men love to break the rules because it means they have power. And the greatest form of power is to “violate another’s body or desire.” Inrilatas is trapped in a world of “thoughtless custom” other men use to judge one another.

She asks if he’s curious about Maithanet. He says she wants him to see if Maithanet is treacherous or not. He then says she doesn’t want to know if he’s treacherous, that’s her excuse. She knows she’ll fail and Maithanet will have to seize power to keep things from falling apart not out of greed or selflessness, but duty.

This is the game where Inrilatas will try to hurt her and prod her with truth. As Kellhus told her, “He will answer questions that you have never asked yet lay aching in your heart nonetheless.” If she has any revelation it’s because Inrilatas wants her to believe it.

Thus had her husband, in the course of arming her against their mad son, also warned her against himself. As well as confirmed what Achamian had said so very long ago.

She says she won’t fail even if Maithanet assumes so. He’s wrong. And if he turns on her, he’s broken Kellhus’s law. Her son laughs and says she will fail. He then asks why he should help her and not help Maithanet, saying only he can save the Empire. She wonders how she can trust her son. Then she says he’ll help because he has her heart. “Because half of your madness is mine…” She trails off, troubled by how he can reveal her words as false when they had seemed so “simple and true.”

She finally says he’ll do it because he wants the Empire to fall. His laughter is curious. He asks if she’d even trust him since he’s mad. She will because “I know that Truth is your madness.” She feels joy for a moment before feeling guilty. He son saw it, of course. No she’s afraid he’ll say no just to deny her for the fun of it. He liked to crush joy in her.

“Inspired words, Mother.” His tone was thin and blank, almost as if he mocked his older sister, Theliopa. “The very kind Father has warned you not to trust. You cannot see the darkness that precedes your thoughts, but unlike most souls you know it exists. You appreciate how rarely you are the author of what you say and do…” He readied his shackled hands for a clap that never came. “I’m impressed, Mother. You understand this trick the world calls a soul.”

“A trick that can be saved… or damned.”

“What if redemption were simply another form of damnation? What if the only true salvation lay in seeing through the trick and embracing oblivion?”

She asks if there’s no way to resolve such a debate, annoyed. He stops pretending to be Theliopa and acts more apish, laughing that Kellhus has rubbed off on her. She might have been amused if she wasn’t so hurt by his words. She gets angry, tired of these games. She snaps that she knows he can see right through her, understanding her predicament just by looking at her. He laughs and says she doesn’t understand him. If she did, she would have killed him. She leaps to her feet but Kellhus’s warning to not let her emotions rule her with Inrilatas. “Only by twisting, reflecting upon your reflections, will you be able to slip his grasp.”

“You lean heavily on Father’s advice…” he said, his voice reaching for intonations that almost matched Kellhus’s. “But you should know that I am your husband as he really is. Even Uncle, when he speaks, parses and pitches his words to mimic the way others sound—to conceal the inhumanity I so love to flaunt. We Dûnyain… we are not human, Mother. And you… You are children to us. Ridiculous and adorable. And so insufferably stupid.”

The Blessed Empress of the Three Seas could only stare in horror.

“But yo know this…” Inrilatas continued, his gaze fixed upon her. “Someone else has told you this… And in almost precisely the same words! Who? That Wizard? The legendary Drusas Achamian—yes! He told you this in a final effort to rescue your heart, didn’t he? Ah… Mother! I see you so much more clearly now! All the years of regret and recrimination, torn between terror and love, stranded with children—such wicked, gifted children!—ones you can never hope to fathom, never hope to love.”

“But I do love you!”

“There is no love without trust, Mother. Only need… hunger. I am reflex, nothing more, nothing less.”

He finally succeeded. She cries and screeches at him, saying she made a mistake. She just starts to leave when he says Kellhus cut off communication and that she’s “lost in a wilderness of subtleties you cannot fathom.” She admits it and looks at him, asking him to do this for him.

“Trust. Trust is the one thing you seek.”

“Yes… I…” A kind of resignation overwhelmed her. “I need you.”

Invisible things boiled through the heartbeat that followed. Portents. Ruminations. Lusts.

He says there can only be three present. She thinks he means her, him, and Maithanet, but he means his brothers. She’s confused by the plural. It frightens her because she thinks he’s talking about Kel and Sammi. She’s confused, unable to say Samarmas is dead. He is standing before her then throws himself at her, the chains stopping him before he can reach her. Her shield-bearers hid behind the wicked protection meant for her as he croons for her to come closer.

Mother!” her son shrieked, his eyes shining with murder. “Mother! Come! Closer!”

Something of her original imperviousness returned. This… This was her son as she knew him best.

The beast.

Let me see your mouth, Mother!”


“The woman called Psatama Nannaferi” is taken before Fanayal with all the other captives, but Malowebi notes that unlike other attractive women, she’s not being catcalled and humiliated. They’ve heard rumors of the woman, Malowebi realizes, and did not share them with him, reminding him he’s still an outsider here.

Fanayal set up court in one of the temples to hold curt. All the trappings of the Tractate and the Tusk were destroyed. The parts celebrating the First Holy War now lined the horse’s stalls. Despite that, Tusks and Circumfixes abounded, “unscathed evidence of the Aspect-Emperor and his faith.”

Fanayal’s men saw no irony in wearing the trappings of their conquered enemy, doing to Iothiah what the Holy War had done to them. After being hunted in the desert for decades, they are feasting on the rewards.

Even still, they looked more a carnival of dangerous fools than a possible ally of High Holy Zeüm.

Only Fanayal doesn’t indulge. He sits on a plan wooden chair with the “elegance and reserve” in a white tunic with a coat of golden mail the armor that the Coyauri he’d commanded in the First Holy War. Meppa’s at his right hand while Malowebi is in the shadows to the left. He watches as hundreds of prisoners coming before Fanayal to suffer his “vengeful whims.” The men are given the choice to repudiate the Aspect-Emperor and embrace Fane. If they did, they were sold as slaves. If not, executed on the spot. The women were just given out to his men as spoils. It went on and on, “becoming more sordid and farcical” until it became boring. His feet start hurting and back aching.

Something about Psatama Nannaferi, however, instantly dispelled his boredom and discomfort.

The guards throw her done before Fanayal, but not with their glee but with “mechanical reluctance.” Fanayal, for the first time, leans forward and studied her. She stands with grace despite being naked and changed. Though she looks like a young, beautiful woman, her posture and her eyes appear someone far older. Fanayal says that he’s been told she’s the Mother Supreme of Yatwer. She says she is while smiling with condensation. Fanayal adds she is the reason these lands were already in revolt. She nods but says she’s merely a vessel that has no control of what she spreads.

Even after so few words, Malowebi knew her for a formidable woman. Here she stood, naked and manacled, yet her gaze and bearing communicated a confidence too profound to be named pride, a majesty that somehow upended the stakes between her and the famed Bandit Padirajah.

“And now that your Goddess has betrayed you?”

“Betrayed?” she snorted. “This is not a sum. This is not a wager of advantages over loss. This is a gift! Our Mother Goddess’s will.”

Fanayal is doubtful that Yatwer wanted her followers killed and raped, her temples pillaged. Malowebi feels a with pressing on him the longer he stares at her. He’s feeling an attraction to her almost virginal figure. Though she feels ancient, she feels like a fertile and nubile woman that he aches for. He feels something reptilian is peering through her as she talks about how ever much they suffer in this world, Yatwer will save them in the other. So suffering is her gift because they will have glory in the afterlife.

Fanayal laughs and scoffs that her captivity is a gift. It is. And if he lets his men rape her? She says he won’t. Why? She says she’s been reborn “as black as earth, as rain and sweating sun.” She is the image of her fertile goddess. He won’t let other men have her because his loins burn for her. He cuts her off, thinking it’s ridiculous that he would ache for her. But it’s forced.

She mocks him and says he’s eager to spill in her “soft earth deeply ploughed.” More laughter echoes but it all falters. A tightness grips Malowebi. He can feel that Yatwer is here. Nannaferi has one foot in the outside. He wants to cry out in warning, but he stops himself. He remembers he’s not friends with these men. He’s an observer to see if Zeümi is served helping Fanayal. But he’s worried that Fanayal is a fanatic who calls the gods demons, and if he becomes Yatwer’s enemy, Zeümi would be a fool to help him. His people didn’t pray to them, but they did respect the Hundred.

“’Soft earth deeply ploughed,’” Fanayal repeated, gazing upon her form with frank hunger. He turned to the lean and warlike men of his court. “Such are the temptations of evil, my friends!” he called, shaking his head. “Such are the temptations!”

More laughter greeted these words.

He continues that all her sisters are dead and temples destroyed. “If these are gifts, as you say, then I am in a most generous mood.” He pauses for the laughter, but it’s just a few pathetic chortles. He debates hanging her or whipping her or having Meppa use Psûkhe on her. Nannaferi doesn’t even blink. Malowebi can’t believe that Fanayal acts with such thoughtless ease. Is he oblivious to the danger, or is he just as much a fanatic as Nannaferi. Either possibility are bad.

She says she’s been reborn, so she’s beyond any torment he can inflict. He calls her a stubborn, devil-worshiping witch. This time, there’s lots of laughter. But Meppa says he would not use his power on her. She sneers at him and says she’s behind his devilry. She serves Yatwer.

Never had Malowebi witnessed an exchange more uncanny, the blinded man speaking as if to a void, the shackled woman as if she were a mad queen among hereditary slaves.

He accuses her of worshiping a demon. She laughs at the absurdity of it. She cackles, reducing the men to boys who’ve had their pride batted from them. She doesn’t care if they call Yatwer a demon. She’ll probably worship her. After all, the hundred aren’t good. “Madness governs the Outside, Snakeheads, not gods or demons—or even the God!” People worship them because they have power over people and Yatwer is the strongest.

Malowebi wants to beg the Fanim to let her go and sacrifice a hundred bulls to Yatwer because she’s here. Meppa scoffs that the Gods are anything more than powerful demons who just want to devour human souls. He thinks she’s a fool for not seeing that. She agrees that the “fat” will be eaten but the faithful will be celebrated.

Meppa’s voice was no mean one, yet its timbre paled in the wake of the Mother-Supreme’s clawing rasp. Even still he pressed, a tone of urgent sincerity the only finger he had to balance the scales. “We are a narcotic to them. They eat our smoke. They make jewelry of our thoughts and passions. They are beguiled by our torment, our ecstasy, so they collect us, pluck us like strings, make chords of nations, play the music of our anguish over endless ages. We have seen this, woman. We have seen this with our missing eyes!”

Malowebi scowled. Fanim madness… It had to be.

Nannaferi is pleased that Meppa knows he’ll be endless eaten by Yatwer. She mocks his Solitary God, saying its hubris that he can create borders in the outside. Just like the idiot Sejenus. “Birth and War alone can seize—and seize She does!”

This outrages the other Fanim men. Some of them make warding gestures as they realize “something profound was amiss.” Fanayal shouts at her to stay her curses, losing his cool. Nannaferi cackles and says that it would be a delight to seize him. Meppa shouts out he knows the “true compass of your power.” He reminds her that all men can fail and that she’ll be defeated when her tool breaks. Nannaferi agrees that all men save one. Meppa says, “The White-Luck.” Fanayal is confused by that but Malowebi realizes that the Hundred are at war.

“There are infinite paths through the tumble of events,” Meppa explained to his sovereign. “The White-Luck, the idolaters believe, is the perfect line of action and happenstance that can see any outcome come to pass. The White-Luck Warrior is the man who walks that line. Everything that he needs, happens, not because he wills it but because his need is identical to what happens. Every step, ever toss of the number-sticks, is a…” He turned back to the fierce glare of the Yatwerian Mother-Supreme.

“Is a what?” Fanayal demanded.

Meppa shrugged. “A gift.”

Nannaferi laughs and says they’re but a temporary blight. A trial for the faithful while a greater war wages. The Cults against the Thousand Temples. She urges him to conquer what he can because in the end, they are serving Yatwer and will be eaten. Fanayal realizes that the White-Luck Warrior is after Kellhus. “The Goddess hunts the Demon.”

Fanayal asks Meppa if he likes her. The blind man does not and is nonplussed by what is an obvious joke. Fanayal likes her and is pleased by her curse. He wants her spared because she knows things. Malowebi realizes the truth, though, that Fanayal is making excuses. He wants Nannaferi’s fertile soil.

And the dread Mother of Birth would work her inscrutable will.


Esmenet has been crippled by grief for Samarmas and for Mimara running away. Only anger saves her. At Kellhus for abandoning her and her servants for doubting her. That and her love for Kelmomas. She’s having trouble sleeping and stalks the palace. She’s caught guardsmen gambling and slaves making love. Kellhus would have punished them, but she pretends not to notice. When she enters the Imperial Audience Hall she finds herself gawking like a caste-menial, which she was.

How? How did a low and mean whore, the kind who would sell her daughter in times of famine, become the Blessed Empress of the Three Seas? This, she had always thought, was the great question of her life, the remarkable fact that historians would ponder in future generations.

She had been the rut, the track long muddied, and now she found herself the charioteer.

The inversion is the paradox of the Circumfix where the “God Almighty” had hung upside down. Though all men are born helpless, they grow complicated until they reach their summit. Even when groveling, they look down on the world. Even slaves would become emperors when the taskmasters aren’t looking. Her rise was miraculous. She’s becomes a beacon, striking fear in the nobles who beat their slaves harder and for the slaves, she reminds them how much their lives suck.

But their question was essentially the same. Who was she to be exalted so?

That’s the real question. How “could a whore be an empress.” Why her? She would show them why. It’s why she’s been working so hard since Iothiah’s fall. She’s been having emergency meetings with the Home Exalt-General, Caxes Anthirul. With Werjau, the Prime Nascenti of the Ministrate. Weirdly, the Scylvendi have all but stopped their raids allowing her to redeploy soldiers while worrying her because they destroyed empires.

She knows the Scylvendi are deadly and cunning. After all, she knew Cnaiür and raised his son Moënghus. So the change worries her but she still gambles on stripping soldiers from the frontier to put down Fanayal and the Yatwer revolts. She needed to strengthen Gedea to buy time for reinforcement from western territories. She has to respond because Fanayal has attacked her legitimacy.

Esmenet would make him suffer. She’s actually eager to destroy someone. She’s never felt that before. Nor does Esmenet care that her old self would be horrified that she could have such “malevolent passions.” She wanted him to scream for Mercy. She meets often with her Master of Spies and Vizier-in-Proxy. She expects them to fold, but they are thriving. She is surprised that her husband’s ministers are rallying about her. But the Empire’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. It’s too big to act swiftly, so her people had to believe that she could act swiftly so they didn’t revolt. Now that the cracks were showing, it was falling apart.

And Iothiah’s fall only made it worse. Losing it was nothing. A minor province. The symbol, however, was devastating. She is facing a crisis of confidence. Her empire was no longer balanced, and she had to rise to the occasion to save it. She had to act like she would save it and spite the naysayer. And by acting like she would succeed, everyone believed that she could. Kellhus had impressed this truth on her many times.

To know is to have power over the world; to believe is to have power over men.

She would use that belief to save the Empire because if she failed, her children were doomed. And she cannot face having another death like Samarmas. In the coming days, she realizes why functionaries are so important and why Kellhus always spared them They know how to speak the language of the bureaucrats and get things done swiftly. The only thing out of her reach is the Thousand Temples, but she thinks that she’s about to expose Maithanet of treachery and remove him.

As she gazes out at the city, made up of all these little parts like “innumerable larva” all piled together, she thinks of Kellhus’s worlds. “We walk the Shortest Path… …the Labyrinth of the Thousandfold Thought. This is the burden the God has laid upon us, and the burden of the Gods begrudge…”

Expediency would be her rule. As ruthless as it was holy.

She knows Kelmomas will be awake when she returns because he always as. Because she was so busy, she let him sleep in her bed. Unless she was horny and took Sankas or Imhailas to her bed.

On a windy day, she sits with Theliopa at a table on a veranda outside the Imperial Audience Hall. Maithanet steps out, confused and angry about why he’s spurning his council while everything is falling apart.

She hopes she looks impressive all her finery while wearing a porcelain mask. That only makes him more exasperated. She had thought about how he would act, and after talking with Inrilatas, she realized he would prey on her doubts so she was ready for it. He says this is about Sharacinth and how she believes he killed the Yatwer’s cult “official” head. But she doesn’t answer because she could trust herself unless she felt cold inside. Theliopa’s instructions.

So he takes the waiting seat acting furious. Then he makes it seem like Samarmas’s death has made her mad with grief. She knows he phrases this to cajole her into shared commiseration over the child’s death so he can “pry open her trust.”

But she had already decided the path this conversation would take.

She dips some bread and shredded pork into a sauce and hands it to him. He doesn’t hesitate. And since he didn’t use her honorifics, she chooses to call him Maitha as she asks him if she ever told him about the time Proyas took her hunting antelope. He hadn’t.

The mask tingled against her cheeks. She found herself wondering if this was how skin-spies felt behind the digits of their false faces. Safe.

She talks about how they tracked a mother and her foal only to find wolves were also stalking them. They arrived in time to see the wolves spring their trap, but the mother bolts and escapes, rushing almost straight at them. She even kicks at the wolves. Esmenet is exultant that she escaped only for Proyas to point out it was all part of the wolves plan to separate her from her fawn. They killed the fawn then allowed themselves to be driven off by the mother. They waited for her to abandon her child’s corpse so they could feast. The wolves could do this because they knew how she would react.

She had practiced this story hoping he wouldn’t be able to tell much from her voice. She fought to conceal passion and asks if he understands that she has to know if he’s the wolf about to kill her. Anger and compassion seems to war through him as he asks how she could think that.

She breathed deep. How had she come by her suspicions? So often the past seemed a cistern sloshing with dissolved voices. Inrilatas had said she feared Maithanet because she despised herself. How could he not try to save the Empire from her incapacity? But something in her balked at the possibility. Her entire life, it seemed, she had fears without clear origin.

She reminds herself he’s just trying to engage her morally to put her on the defensive. So she taps the mask and says it’s because he’s Dûnyain. For a moment, Esmenet thinks Maithanet will murder her in that moment until he points out Kellhus is Dûnyain. She agrees and realizes how messed up this is. “Was there ever a family so deranged as theirs?”

Maithanet says if he does this test it’s only to reassure her. More than being her brother-in-law, he willingly serves Kellhus as a slave. They are bound. So she insists she do this for her and she’ll apologize if she’s wrong. She’s backed into a corner.

It was all a game for them, she realized. No word, no expression, simply was. Everything was a tool, a tactic meant to further some occult and devious goal.

Even love… Just as Achamian had said.

She had known this, but now she understands it as she plays this game with a Dûnyain. She knows without her mask, she wouldn’t even have chance. Even as Maithanet pretends to be at his wit’s end, he asks if she’d trust what Inrilatas would even say. She trusts her son which makes him ask again if he trusts her son to read his face. She realized that something in her voice had hooked his interest. She agrees.

Maithanet points out it takes training to read faces. Esmenet turns to Theliopa who is Dûnyain who inherited Esmenet’s need to please people. Esmenet thinks she can trust those fracture pieces of her in her children. Without those, she would have to see everyone as an enemy. Theliopa points out that reading face is “largely native” and Inrilatas is second only to Kellhus. Esmenet points out Maithanet knows this.

Gasping in exasperation, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples fell back in his chair. “Esmi…”

The tone and pose of an innocent bewildered and bullied by another’s irrationality. “If his actions conform to your expectations,” Kellhus had told her, “then he deceives you. The more unthinkable the dissembling seems, Esmi, the more he dissembles…” Even though her husband had been referring to their son, the words, she knew, applied all the same to Maithanet. Inrilatas had said it himself: the Dûnyain were not human.

And so she would play the mummer’s role.

She says if he’s innocent, he has nothing to lose. She knows Inrilatas would see the guilt. Maithanet protests the boy is insane. She responds, “He loves his mother.”

Kelmomas is running through the bones of the Andiamine Heights. The hidden tunnels he realized that he had known existed from noticing strange discrepancies in room size. He moves through the dark with a candle for light his hand shields from drafts. He doesn’t need the light to find his way, but he does need it to see if there’s anything interesting. What he does see is Kellhus’s work. How he took existing parts of the old palace and made them into this network of tunnels during the rebuilding. It’s a maze that covers the entire palace.

Sadly, there were a lot of locked doors and hatches, realizing that agents were allowed in here, but controlled where they could go based on what keys they had. Kelmomas has to learn how to pick locks. Though he knows this will anger his mother if she finds out, he has to explore these. He is able to spy on everyone. When he hears a couple having sex, he watches.

“This is the way you are to me,” he whispered to the secret voice.

This is how I am to you.

“One bright.”

One dark.

He realizes that he’s been smelling sex on every man and woman in some strength he’s met, including mother. But he can’t keep watching because he has his own needs to answer so he retreats, letting his candle snuff out. He knows the way back by memory. Despite heading back to beat his mother back, he failed and she’s mad.

She slaps him. He could have stopped her, ducking or catching her hand and breaking her hand. He thinks while she winces, he could rip out her hair pin and kill her. Instead, he leans in and lets her slap him harder than she meant so he could fake crying. She would revel in her “love and regret and horror.”


Psatama Nannaferi rises from Fanayal after they had sex. He’s deep in a post-nut sleep. His seed runs down her thighs, rejected by her womb. He’s so asleep, he doesn’t notice her spitting on him. She could kill him and send him to hell where he would never realize he wasn’t having a nightmare that he could never awake up from.

She laughs at that as she wanders about his tent, looking at the “heirlooms of a destroyed empire.” An old man, a slave, cowers in the corner “watching [Nannaferi] the way a child watches a wolf.” Nannaferi stops before the altar to the Solitary God and says to the slave that he’s loved by Yatwer despite the wickedness he’s made to do. She touches the holy book on the altar, the leather rotting at her touch.

“You give,” she murmured, turning to fix the old man with her gaze. “He takes.”

Tears greased his cheeks.

She will reach for you when your flesh stumbles, and you are pitched into the Outside. But you must reach for Her in turn. Only then…”

He shrank into his refugee as she stepped for him.

“Will you? Will you reach for Her?”

She looks away before seeing his nod because she knows his answer. She heads for the entrance, catching her reflection in a mirror. She paused to study her youthful body and likes the sight. She exults in it. Before, she had never cared about sex, only engaging it in as part of her duties. But now to be a mature woman with a young body was exhilarating.

Her temples looted and burned. So many of her sisters raped and put to the sword, and here she stood, drunk with joy.

She calls Meppa a dog as he lurks in the threshold. She faces him, seeing the anger. Though he stares at her, his asp stares at the old man. She knows he’ll be killed before dawn and will reach for Yatwer. She mocks Meppa for guarding his master’s door. He hisses at her to cover herself.

“You do not like what you see?”

“I see the withered old crone that is your soul.”

“So you are a man still, eh, Snakehead? You judge my beauty, my worth, according to the youth of my womb… My fertilt—”

“Still your tongue!”

Bark, dog. Rouse your master. Let us see whose snout he will strike.”

The snake now stares at her as he grimaces. Nannaferi goes back to staring at her reflection, continuing to mock him. He has the Water in him and could easily destroy her, and yet trades insults with her. He says he serves his lord. She laughs as she realizes that this heathen army is her new temple. The Fanim her new priests. It doesn’t matter what they believe so long as they do what Yatwer wants.

She says he lies about serving Fanayal. He says he’s been anointed, but she cuts him off saying he’s been Anointed by Yatwer. That angers him with her blasphemy. She mocks all men as fools who think they are the center of the world. But she points out that Meppa has seen how small humans truly are. Little specks, and he’s still puts his faith in the Solitary God. Instead of gambling on salvation, he just has to kneel and receive it.

He says nothing so she turns and finds Fanayal is awake and standing. Meppa asks his sleeping lord if he can see Nannaferi’s devilry. He roughly orders Meppa to leave.

A moment of equipoise followed, the mutual regard of three overbearing souls. Their breathing abraded the silent air. Then, with the merest of bow, the Cishaurim withdrew.

Fanayal looms over her. He grabs her, calling her a witch, and throws her down, strangling her. She clutches his arms as she wraps her legs around waist. He takes her hard while the doomed slave watches and weeps.

Soft earth deeply ploughed.

There’s little ceremony when Maithanet arrives. Kelmomas is mimicking his mother’s behavior knowing that is how children act. Even the oblivious ones are “ever keen to their parent’s fear and quick to behave accordingly.” Something so momentous even the idiot courtiers notice. Vem-Mithriti can’t believe this is happening.


The Shriah of the Thousand Temples was about to be interrogated by their God’s most gifted, destructive son.

Maithanet pushes through the courtiers to kneel before Esmenet. She seems imposing thanks to her mask while Kelmomas hates how much Maithanet occupies the room. He always had an aura of “neck-breaking strength.” He demands that she cancel the frivolities, impatient to get this done. He’s dressed very simply for him. Esmenet merely inclines her head to the exact degree Jnan required while squeezing Kelmomas shoulder. He liked that.

No one spoke on the way to Inrilatas’s quarters except Vem-Mithriti who can’t keep up and asks if he follows at his own pace. They left the old Schoolman behind. Soon, they arrive at the Door. It appears bigger and grander than he remembered maybe because the bronze was polished so no longer was covered in verdigris. He wants to ask if his brother will be set free but the voice tells him to be quiet.

There is silence as Esmenet appears in prayer before the door before Maithanet asks why Kelmomas is here. His tone is clear, saying, “What is this morbid fixation?” She’s not sure. It was Inrilatas’s condition. Maithanet thinks this is to publicly humiliate him, but she says it’ll only be his two nephews.

Madness…” the Shriah muttered in feigned disgust.

At last she turned her mask toward him. “Yes,” she said. “Dûnyain madness.”

She nodded to Imhailas who opens the door. Maithanet took Kelmomas’s hand and ask if he’s also afraid of his uncle. Feigning anxiety, he glances back at Esmenet who reminds him he’s a Prince-Imperial. He follows Maithanet into Inrilatas’s cell.

It’s dark in the cell, the one brazier providing light for the chair and just revealing his brother crouched in his chains. The voice warns Kelmomas they need to figure out what Inrilatas wants from him. Why else had he demanded Kelmomas’s presence?

The moment the door closed, Maithanet lets go of his hand. He then wedges the door shut locking them in. Inrilatas laughs and says, “Truth Shines.” Maithanet repeats it and takes the seat. Kelmomas, however, is unnerved at being locked in here. “It had never occurred to him that Uncle Holy might have plans of his own…”

The voice begs him to shout for Esmenet while Inrilatas grins and winks. Kelmomas is confused. Frightened. He’s missed something. He’s trying to figure it out as Inrilatas asks if Maithanet plots Esmenet’s murder. Maithanet refuses each time it’s asked though with emphasis on different words.

The boy breathed against the iron rod of alarm that held him rigid. Everything was explicable, he decided. Inrilatas played as he always played, violating expectations for violation’s sake. His uncle had stopped the door for contingency’s sake… The little boy almost laughed aloud.

They were all Dûnyain here.

Inrilatas points out that Maithanet has spent so many years plotting, so how can he stop now? He’s suffered being around all these idiots. He has to wonder why one of these children were raised above him. Why would Kellhus choose Esmenet over Maithanet? The Shriah does not know but he suspects that Kellhus doesn’t trust him.

“Because he [Kellhus] knows, doesn’t he? He knows the secret of our blood.”


“He knows you, knows you better than you know yourself.”


“And he has seen the flicker of sedition, the small flame that awaits the kindling of circumstance.”


“And have the circumstances arrived?”

“No,” Maithanet answered bluntly, prompting laughter from Inrilatas who says but they have. Maithanet doesn’t understand but Inrilatas calls him a liar, screeching. Maithanet scrutinizes Inrilatas with full Dûnyain awareness and the voice warns Kelmomas that Maithanet is their first true challenge.

Inrilatas asks how many children Moënghus sired. Maithanet answers six. Both are speaking toneless, abandoning the charade of being “normal.” Inrilatas asks if any of them were like him. Maithanet has no idea, the other five were all drowned at the first sign of “peculiarities.” Maithanet was the only one who was balanced. Inrilatas says Moënghus would have drowned him. Maithanet agrees.

The stark appraisal of a Dûnyain, directly to the point, careless of pride or injury. In an arena packed with the blind and the beggared, he and his family were the only sighted players. They played as the blind played—goading, commiserating, flattering—simply because these were the moves that moved the blind. Only when they fired one against another, the young Prince-Imperial realized, could they dispense with the empty posturing and play the game in its purest, most refined form.

Inrilatas asks why Kellhus spared him. Maithanet says because the world watched him. Inrilatas presses, not because of Esmenet. Maithanet counts her in the world, but Inrilatas points out Maithanet does not believe that. He thinks “Mother has compromised Father.” Maithanet hesitates as he thinks. Inrilatas pounces and continues that Maithanet believes Esmenet has caused Kellhus not to take the Shortest Path but to “walk in arcs to appease his heart.” He should be ruthlessly follow the Thousandfold Thought. Kelmomas thinks Inrilatas might have unmasked Maithanet and starts to think his uncle isn’t a big threat at all.

Maithanet demands to know how Inrilatas knows this while Inrilatas ignores this distraction to say, “You think Father risks the very world for his Empress’s sake—for the absurdity of love!” Maithanet demands to know if Esmenet told him about the Thousandfold Thought while Inrilatas says he is proof of Kellhus’s folly.

Maithanet enters the probability trance while Kelmomas hates he hasn’t been trained to sue all these gifts. Kellhus is only a threat to Kelmomas because he won’t ever help him and can see what he truly is.

Maithanet admits that he does see Inrilatas continued life as a mistake but he points out that if Inrilatas could see this, then so could Kellhus. If he doesn’t fear these seditious thoughts, why should Maithanet. Inrilatas asks how Maithanet will kill him when he seizes power.

“These tricks, Inrilatas. These tactics… They only work when they are hidden. I see things the same as you.”

“Strange, isn’t it, Uncle? The way we Dûnyain, for all our gifts, can never speak?”

“We are speaking now.”

Inrilatas laughed at this, lowered his beard-hazed cheeks to his knees once again. “But how can that be when we mean nothing of what we say?”

“You conf—”

“What would they do, you think, if Men could see us? If they could fathom the way we don and doff them like clothes?”

Maithanet counters with what would a child do if they could understand their fathers. Inrilatas says it depends on the father then adds that’s the answer Maithanet wants. Maithanet disagrees, saying that is the answer. Inrilatas then asked if Dûnyain can be different from one another. Be good or evil. “I know so,” answers Maithanet. Kelmomas realizes that Inrilatas is tense for a strike while acting like an awkward youth to hide his lethal intentions. The secret voice warns that this is all “simply for show.”

And that was the joke, Kelmomas realized: Inrilatas truly meant nothing of what he said.

Inrilatas talks about how they all have their “peculiarities.” They have different strengths or weakness, but they all have reflection. While normal men are thinking ahead without thinking about what comes before, they reflect on what has and trace it back. Kelmomas senses something is going to happen but when?

Inrilatas says they all deceive while Maithanet counters that the children make their choices. Inrilatas chides Maithanet to speak like he’s with Kellhus because Inrilatas sees his lies. He says there is no freedom here. No ability to make choices. Maithanet is tired of Inrilatas philosophy and finds him abhorrent. This entire farce only proves Esmenet’s “failing reason.”

“Mother?” his older brother exclaimed. “You think Mother arranged this?”

A heartbeat of hesitation, the smallest crack in Maithanet’s false demeanor.

Something is wrong, the voice whispered.

Maithanet asks who. Inrilatas glances at Kelmomas. Maithanet reacts not in surprise but in the emotionless manner of the Dûnyain. “Inrilatas gazed at the young Prince-Imperial as if he were a puppy about to be thrown into a river…”

“A thousand words and insinuations batter them day in and day out,” the youth said. “But because they lack the memory to enumerate them, they forget, and find themselves stranded with hopes and suspicions not of their making. Mother as always loved you, Uncle, has always seen you as a more human version of Father—an illusion you have laboured long and hard to cultivate. Now, suddenly, when she most desperately needs your counsel, she fears and hates you.”

“And this is Kelmomas’s work?”

“He isn’t what he seems, Uncle.”

Kelmomas isn’t sure what’s worse: his brother’s betrayal or Maithanet’s inscrutable face. Maithanet admits he’s suspected this. The voice urges Kelmomas to say something, but he can’t. Inrilatas says he’s as mad as the rest and he’s the worst, inflicting the most pain on Esmenet. He killed Samarmas. This is another crack in Maithanet’s armor.

Kelmomas is exposed. If Maithanet realized he could kill Samarmas and Sharacinth, he would see the guilt in the young Dûnyain. All that’s protected Kelmomas from Maithanet is that ignorance is as much a problem for the Dûnyain as the world-born. Kelmomas feels terror for the first time. As much as he feels like he’s about to be washed away, he’s curious about this feeling and curious about being curious about it.

Maithanet says Samarmas died being foolish. He was there. Inrilatas points out so was Kelmomas, and he could have Dûnyain cunning. Maithanet said he could in time. Inrilatas says Kelmomas was born like himself, able to use the gifts.

Kelmomas could hear all three of their hearts, his beating with rabbit quickness, his uncle’s pounding as slow as a bull’s—his brother’s dancing through the erratic in-between.

Inrilatas reveals he hasn’t just murdered his brother but others. Kelmomas can’t believe how everything has gone so wrong so fast. Inrilatas extorts Maithanet to talk to Dûnyain and focus his full scrutiny on the boy. Kelmomas can’t believe his mad brother is trying to destroy him and not Maithanet. That was the point of this.

The Shriah of the Thousand Temples turned to the boy, not as a human might, frowning, questioning, but with the glint of void in his eyes. As a Dûnyain.

“The sum of sins,” Inrilatas continued. “There is nothing more godly than murder. Nothing more absolute.”

And for the first time Kelmomas found himself trapped within the dread circuit of his Uncle’s scrutiny.

The voice begs Kelmomas to hide while his brother is cackling how Kelmomas should be chained up instead. Kelmomas shrieks lies as the Shriah orders the boy to look at him. In that moment, Inrilatas strikes, his chains clinking as the links snapped, weakened by a file. He swings both chains at Maithanet. Both hit him around the neck.

Kelmomas can’t look away as Inrilatas yanks Maithanet off his feet. Inrilatas is strangling Maithanet. But Maithanet pulled out a blade from beneath his vambrace. He stabs Inrilatas in the eye which pops and than the chest. That gives Maithanet just enough to break free and attack Inrilatas again. He punches Inrilatas in the left brow and collapses his eyes socket, killing him.

“Soft…” Maithanet said, as if noting a natural curiosity. He turned to the dumbstruck boy, his right sleeve crimson with blood. “And you?” he asked without a whisper of passion.

“Do you have your mother’s bones?”

The door burst open and the guards charge in. Kelmomas cries for his mother and says Maithanet killed Inrilatas to keep her from knowing Maithanet is plotting against her. Esmenet sees her dead son. Maithanet tries to explain, but she doesn’t care as she moves to her dead son. Then he asks if she wanted this to happen. That angers her, but she’s so calm she sounds crazed as she denies that she would want him to kill her son.

“Esmi…” he began.

But some sights commanded silence—even from a Dûnyain. For several giddy, horrifying moments, Kelmomas did not so much see his mother slump to her knees as he saw the Empress of the Three Seas collapse. A stranger. He told himself it was the mask, but when she pulled it from her face, the profile of cheek and brow did not seem familiar to him.

Holding the thing in ginger fingers, she set it upon Inrilatas’s shattered brow.

She starts saying how she knew she could defeat him. He asks how, and she tells about a story Kellhus told her about a god and a hero who made a wager and she realized it was a warning to her against all the Dûnyain. Kellhus, her children, and Maithanet. The story revealed the Dûnyain’s weakness. To beat them, you just have to be willing to sacrifice yourself to do it. She was willing to let the empire burn if he didn’t cooperate which is why he agreed to the meeting. He begs her to see sense. But she won’t have it. He killed her son and orders Imhailas to seize Maithanet.

But Imhailas is standing in shock that almost caused Kelmomas to giggle. Imhailas questions Esmenet. Maithanet will not be taken. He starts to walk off, everyone stunned into silence. But Esmenet screeches to seize him before she starts sobbing over her dead son. She’s lost another one.

Not another one, the secret voice whispered, laughing.

Later, Kelmomas is lying in his mother’s bed in the dark. He likes this new and different world. It’s better. Part of Kelmomas is counting his heartbeats to “know the measure of his bliss.” He’s up to 3427 before Sankas enters and reports Maithanet just walked out of the palace. No one would stop him. Esmenet stiffens but says nothing. She asks if Imhailas did try but his men didn’t help him. Kelmomas hopes Imhailas is dead while his mother is afraid for her lover. She asks if he’s okay.

Only his pride was injured and Sankas suggests reliving him of command, but she disagrees. He protests because his men mutinied. His command is now broken, and she refuses. They all were broken tonight. Sankas agrees.

Esmenet starts to shake with her grief as if something else was controlling her body. Finally, she relaxes and she has made a “fatal resolution.” She says that since Sankas is from a proud house, he should have resources independent of her palace to get what she needs. He’ll give her anything.

She wants a man who can kill, but not just any men. One with miraculous skills. This frightens Sankas but he agrees. He’s from an older generation and this went against his sensibilities, different ways of behaving that were different from how Kellhus had shaped the court. Like sitting on the edge of Esmenet’s bed as he agrees to hire a Narindar.

The Narindar used to be the most feared assassins who served the Cults. That was until the skin-spies were unmasked. This excites Kelmomas. Sankas promises to arrange everything, but she just wants him to arrange the meeting. “The damnation must be mine alone.”

Kelmomas is surprised his mother thinks she’ll be damned but the voice reassures him she knows Maithanet isn’t holy because he’s Dûnyain. They’re all frauds. Sankas admires the Empress’s resolve to take this burden.

And the boy craned his head up to see the tears at last overwhelm her eyes. It was becoming ever more difficult, finding ways to make her cry…

She clutched her boy tight as if he were her only limb remaining.

The gaunt Patridomos bowed precisely as low as jnan demanded of him, then withdrew to afford his Empress the privacy that all anguish required.

My Thoughts

Well, there’s that notch in the sword. Such an important notch. Or is it. I’m pretty sure that when this happens in the Great Ordeal, it does not happen at all the way we’re shown in this book. There’s this random Chorae that pops out of the ceiling. I remember being very confused, and so I’m going to pay attention on this re-read. Figure out if I misunderstood things, or if Bakker changed what happened.

Anyways, we’re seeing how he sees it all over and over again. “He saw her sob for joy a million times.” That’s because he’s reliving every moment of his existence at once. So he is constantly seeing her because he’s constantly walking every moment of his journey. After all this is a “quest that had already ended in the death of the False Prophet.”

Did the White-Luck Warrior kill the boy? Did that boy give death to him.

Kellhus could never tame Esmenet’s heart. We saw that in the last series. He had her completely entwined around him, and yet only her pregnancy with Kayûtas kept her from leaving with Achamian. She didn’t stay with Kellhus out of the love she once thought she had. She stayed for the love of the child in her belly and for the promise of finding the child she lost.

She stayed as a mother not a wife.

Kellhus had to know that by teaching Esmenet how to handle Inrilatas, he would be teaching her how to handle himself. But he also knows that he has her bound so tight to his purpose, that she will keep faith with him out of necessity. She loves her children, so she has to keep the New Empire alive. Even if she know hates Kellhus, even if she takes lovers and cuckolds him, she won’t betray his purpose. So though she can be wary of him, she’ll still do what he needs her to do.

“What if redemption were simply another form of damnation? What if the only true salvation lay in seeing through the trick and embracing oblivion.” This is the same thing that Kellhus’s son, the sole-surviving Dûnyain, comes with. I’m blanking on the character’s name, but this is the Thousand-Fold Thought. How to escape the “trick” of the afterlife and find annihilation. It’s a bleak solution for the bleak world of Bakker.

And it’s also the goal that Kellhus is working toward. He wants to end the game without ending life. That’s the easy way. The Shortest Path is genocide. It’s why the Mutilated embrace the Consult’s ideology. They’re seeking oblivion by annihilating life on this world and ending the Outside. Kellhus, broken by his ordeal and insane from Dûnyain perspective, has felt love. A weak and tepid form of love, he wants to “free” mankind. Destroy their religion. End it a different way. That means stopping the Consult so he can then work on demystifying himself.

Only he died.

There can be no love without trust. That is very powerful. I love my family. I trust them. My mom, my brother, my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. I wouldn’t be afraid around them, but Esmenet is with him. However, I think he’s wrong. You can love something and fear it. He wants to prey on her to make her hate him. That’s what I think most of Inrilatas. He hates himself, he wants to die, but his mother’s love keeps him alive. Keeps him chained. He can’t find the oblivion he wishes, overwhelmed by passion and logic. He has to break her hoping she’ll finally end him.

And if he can’t get his mother to kill him, he’ll kill her because she’s the only thing keeping him alive.

Even the most depraved acts become boring. Rote. It loses it’s titillation. But we’re seeing that it doesn’t matter who side conquers, they treat their enemies the same. And we do the same, we just don’t do it so brutal. We do it in other ways. Cancel you. Right hit pieces about you. Make up lies to destroy your reputation. Get you fired from your job.

Got to love a fanatic that can stand naked and in chains and say be conquered by their rival faith is what her Goddess wanted. Of course, she really is being guided by Yatwer who can see everyone (but Kelmomas’s) fate. So, yeah, she’s right. This is all to Yatwer’s advantage, as we’ll see. Fanayal is about to become Yatwer’s biggest simp.

Meppa’s talk about the Gods getting high off human souls tracks with Kellhus’s words that souls are just bread for the Gods. They eat them. The faithful just get eaten by whatever God they follow. That’s why Yatwer is so powerful. She’s the Goddess of the poor, so she has plenty of faithful. Plus, as it says in the bible, “It’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of the needle than a rich man fit through the Gates of Heaven.” The poor aren’t distracted from their faith as much, though they are plenty of vices they can fall into from drugs, drink, apathy, etc. But Yatwer is a religion for the downtrodden that give them comfort in their misery.

We see Birth and War linked, Feminine and Masculine. There’s an old saying that a woman’s battlefield is the birthing bed. Through pain and blood, they bring in new life while risking their own life. This isn’t modern times where we have doctors, drugs, surgeries. Back in the day, a women died more in birth. And men die more in war. So again we see Yatwer and Gilgaöl linked like with the birth of the White-Luck Warrior or the war that Sorweel is going through. He wants to follow the Masculine but the Feminine has claimed him.

We get a nice description of the White-Luck Warrior. Meppa gives an accurate one without prejudicing it. He only realizes something there at the end, that Nannaferi believes this is all part of the White-Luck. It frightens him, but he covers it with that shrug, dismissing it to belittle it. To make it smaller.

Nannaferi is clearly hot enough for Fanayal to overlook her craziness. It’s a graph. The hotter a woman is, the more craziness a man will endure to be with her. But he’s going to pay for that decision.

The Protathis quote I butchered above about slaves becoming emperors is a great one. It comes down to those prison guard experiments where someone gets power, and they become tyrants. All that keeps us from being like that is knowing someone is looking over our shoulder, but when all those controls are lifted, we become tyrants.

The Scylvendi have withdrawn from the Empire’s borders. Our first clue that the Scylvendi are gathering to fight of the Consult as we see near the end of the series.

Werjau is “irascible.” I wonder if he ever kept investigating Esmenet like he was at the end of the last series.

Esmenet can’t tolerate losing another child, and she’s about to lose one.

I love why she realizes functionaries and bureaucrats are so necessary. They have created a special language, legalese we can call it, that keep outsiders from understanding what is going on while they understand it making themselves necessary and indispensable. It’s all about the job security. Just like today. Why do we need lawyers? Because they become politicians and write complicated laws so that other lawyers can argue technicalities. Legal disputes is just two parties arguing, but it’s been put into a foreign language that outsiders can’t understand and are forced to hire these professionals. Only a fool or someone desperate represents themselves in a modern courtroom.

Esmenet has learned from her time. She’s going to be one of those tyrannical leaders, and we can see why she heads down this path. Its the Shortest Way. She needs to save the Empire, and she can’t do that by playing nice. She has to be the tyrant to hold it together because chaos will be far worse. But how would history judge her? Would they understand the reasons she made her choices? Or would they just see the actions?

Esmenet comes so close to realizing that she’s been manipulated into not trusting Maithanet. So close to realizing the idea’s been put in her mind. Shame she didn’t. She doesn’t remember all those little things Kelmomas has said to put her on this path. She cannot see the Darkness that led to this decision.

Esmenet is so wrong about Kelmomas having her capacity to love. He has her capacity to own. To possess. The fact that he even contemplates murdering his mother shows that. He didn’t need to go that far in his thoughts.

Interesting how Nannaferi and Kelmomas are mirrors. They’re both using someone they think about killing in back to back passages. She’s very much like a Dûnyain just she’s a puppet for Yatwer, doing what her goddess wants. Kelmomas serves no one but his hungers, however Yatwer also only serves her hungers. They’re both beasts.

Beasts with too much intellect.

Interesting. Yatwer can only take if you give. And this is why she hates slave masters. Because they take what’s hers. Slave masters are men who dare to pretend to have the power of gods. To have her power over her slaves. Her food.

So Yatwer has a very Christian soteriology. You just have to believe to be saved in Christianity. There’s no about of doing good deeds, which is gambling that you’ll do enough good to outweigh your evil. Makes me wonder if Bakker was raised in some sort of Calvinist sect of Christianity given his views on religion.

Always the crazy ones have the best pussy. Fanayal is caught up in that. He’s arrogant enough to think he’s in control but he’s not. He’s out of control with his lust. His victory probably let his guard down. His self-control slipped. He’s denied himself probably for years lurking out in the desert and now… Now there’s this hottie, and he just can’t get enough. He’s addicted to her.

And like all addictions, it will destroy him.

We see that while Kelmomas has the intellect, he doesn’t see past the immediate. He doesn’t think about what will happen tomorrow. He just wants his own base needs satiated. Now he’s realizing that he should have thought things through.

Such an important point. If the Dûnyain are ignorant of fact, it can blindside them. Maithanet saw Kelmomas as a child. Nothing worth putting attention onto. Now he’s attacked by Inrilatas from the side. Inrilatas has his own plan here as we’ll see.

Poor Kelmomas. He thought he was the master of everything, and instead he’s playing his brother’s game.

To beat the Dûnyain, you have to be willing to sacrifice yourself. Kellhus knows this. I think we just hit on why he made his deal with Ajokli. It didn’t work because he got killed by Kelmomas, but I think that was the plan. He would sacrifice himself to beat them. It’s something Dûnyain would be weak to. Dying to win a contest means you don’t benefit from it. That there has to be another angle. This isn’t convincing a fantastic to kill themselves, this is someone working for their own self-interest who is willing to die to beat you and if they do die, it’s bad. She cornered Maithanet.

Then Inrilatas used this to commit suicide. He wants to die. We’ve seen that. He’s provoking people to get them to kill him. He finally did it here. He got the jump on Maithanet but didn’t manage to deliver an instantly lethal kill. Maybe he thought killing Maithanet would achieve the same result, but I really think he’s suicidal. He’s like the Survivor in the next book. There’s no point in living.

Kelmomas is one of the most evil characters I have ever read in fiction. Inrilatas is right. His greatest motivation is to make the one person he cares about cry. He wants to hurt Esmenet so she’ll spend time only with him.

Want to keep going, click here for Chapter 9!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Six

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Six

The Meörn Wilderness

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

Everything is concealed always. Nothing is more trite than a mask.


If you find yourself taken unawares by someone you thought you knew, recall that the character revealed is as much your own as otherwise. When it comes to Men and their myriad, mercenary natures, revelation always comes in twos.


My Thoughts

So these two quotes are a riff on Bakker’s coin analogy. Where every person is like a coin. They have two faces. The face that they show themselves, how they see themselves. The second face is the one that you can’t see but is the one that everyone else sees. Ajencis is saying that everyone wears a mask, and that’s what’s so trite about it. It’s banal. The other one is that the face we see of another is often one that we project on them that can reveal our own biases.

Now, we are heading back to the Skin Eaters. Last time, Mimara realized that Soma is a skins-spy. A literal mask.

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

It tracked their blundering flight through the Wilderness. It watched and it hungered and it hated…

How it hated.

The thing that pretends to be Soma is following the Skin-Eaters by running through the tree limbs. It gleefully eats living creatures, especially a litter of wild kittens. It’s been following them for weeks now. It watches them march and sleep. Three times the Skin-Eaters have fought “the errant children of the Old Fathers.” Sranc.

Sometimes, it gets close to Mimara and dry-hump trees as it watches her. She saved it, and now it lusts at her with “a singularity unknown to Men.” At night, it climbs the tallest trees to scream so high pitch only rats can hear it.

Screaming. Until its mouth filled with blood.

The brutal pace of the Skin-Eaters is killing the surviving Hags. They can’t keep up with the brutal pass the qirri lets the Skin-Eaters maintain. When their de facto leader gets pissed about it, Lord Kosoter murders him. They are losing Hags one after the other. No one comments on the dead. That’s the Scalpers way.

The rains start, making it even harder, especially with the Hags. They drop. One develops a limp and is left behind with a look of panic, another is washed away crossing a river. One attacks Pokwas, tired of being called a cannibal jackal. Pokwas beats him to death. Only Mimara didn’t walk that. Sarl continues to be crazy.

Something was happening…

Achamian could feel it in his bones—catch glimpses of it in the eyes the others. Mimara especially. He had watched a human head hammered into a wineskin, and he felt nothing more than… curiosity?

It was the Qirri. It had to be. The medicine seemed to numb their conscience as much as it quickened their limbs and stretched their wind. Even as Achamian felt himself becoming closer to Mimara, he found himself caring less for surviving Skin Eaters and not at all for the wretched Hags.

Achamian’s experience with other narcotics lets him know he’s becoming an addict and how dangerous that was. But that’s counterbalanced by the fact they are covering lots of ground. They soon reach the ruins of a great bridge called Archipontus of Wûl, proving they had crossed a large distance in two weeks. At this pace, they’ll reach Sauglish by the end of summer. It was just killing the Hags.

The Hags are becoming crazed hostages, bewildered and frightened. A youth screams, demanding answers. When the Captain rises, he bolts into the dark. Galian claimed something grabbed him from the trees.

No one cares. “The dead had no place in their [the scalpers] history.” Every day, the Stone Hags drop as the Skin Eaters stay strong. They have no pity. It has no place on the slog. “You could not be wholly human and survive the Long Side, so you became something less and pretended you were more.”

In subsequent days Achamian would come to look at this leg of their journey with a peculiar horror, not because he had lived necessary lies, but because he had come to believe them. He was a man who would rather know and enumerate his sins, bear the pain of them, than cocoon himself in numbing ignorance and flattering exculpation.

You can only believe in so many lies before becoming one of them.

Receiving the Qirri has become a sacred ritual. What Mimara once called, “The Holy Dispensation.” Every night, the line up before Cleric. He would mostly give it out silently. He pushes his finger into their mouths so as not to waste it. Achamian would kneel when it was his turn. The euphoria it gives makes him think of kneeling before Kellhus. It disturbs him but how good he feels makes him stumble away and seeps into the thoughtless stupor.

One Stone Hag mocked it. They found him dead the next morning. None of them made fun of it again. Occasionally, Cleric would give a sermon, speaking of wonders and horrors.

Often he spoke of war and tribulations, of loves and unravelled and victories undone. But no matter how the scalpers pressed him with questions, he could never recall the frame of his reminiscences. He spoke in episodes and events, never ages or times. The result was a kind of inadvertent verse, moments too packed with engima and ambiguity to form the narrative wholes—at least none they could comprehend. Fragments that never failed to leave his human listeners unsettled and amazed.

Mimara keeps asking Achamian if he knows who Cleric is based on these stories. But he doesn’t because Cleric only speaks of “breaking of things.” He’s a puzzle missing pieces. Even he doesn’t know what he’s lost. And he’s older even than the Tusk, the earliest of human writing. Even their youngest were alive during those times, and Cleric was in his prime when the Ark crashed.

An actual contemporary Nin’janjin and Cû‘jara Cinmoi…

He tells her to go to sleep. Achamian thinks it doesn’t matter who it was. Another night, after Cleric says, “You look upon me and see something whole… singular…” Then says they’re mistaken. Mimara asks what that mean. Achamian asks that he’s not a self any longer like Mimara is.

Because of memory. Memory is what binds us to what we are. Go to sleep.”

But despite telling her to go to sleep, he can’t. He keeps seeing how ugly his Mark. He feels a fool for spending so much time worrying who Cleric was. But he’s an Erratic, one of the Wayward. Whoever he was, he’s not any longer. He stops even pondering Cleric, but more because he’s thinking about why a skin-spy was with them. And it’s simple. The Consult is watching Achamian, so infiltrated the Skin Eaters after he hired them.

He was Drusas Achamian.

But the further Soma fell into the past, the more Cleric’s presence irked his curiosity, the more the old questions began prickling back to life.

The Qirri is affecting even his dreams. Without ink or parchment, he can’t writ down how they’ve changed. He’s now dreaming of things that Seswatha had never dreamed of, like when the Library of Sauglish burned. This night, he’s once more dreaming that he’s in the line of chained, nameless others. Broken and brutalized men. He can see they are going to a brightly lit space before him. He feels a fear that seems to come from outside of him in time and space.

And he did not know who he was.

A horn blares and the line is pulled forward. Everyone who steps into the light vanishes. There’s a scream. Then the horn blows and the line is yanked forward again. He dreams this over and over again. It’s mostly the same. He would sometimes be closer to the end or farther.

Was it the Qirri? Was it the deathless rancour of the Mop, or a cruel whim of Fate?

Or had the trauma had the trauma of his life at last unhinged him and cast his slumber to the wolves of grim fancy?

For his whole life, ever since grasping the withered pouch of Seswatha’s heart deep in the bowel of Atyersus, his dream had possessed meaning… logic, horrifying to be sure, but comprehensible all the same. For his whole life he had awakened with purpose.

And now?

As they walk through the forest, Achamian asks Mimara what it was like living in the Andiamine heights “as an Anasûrimbor.” Mimara is skeptical since he’s the enemy of her family but he jokes, “Just think, no more running.” That brings a smile to her since anger and sarcasm are reflexive for her. It’s how she hides herself. But if he can weather her initial anger, a hard thing, he can get some answers out of her.

She says it’s complicated. He suggest starting at the beginning. She talks about the beginning in Carythusal when she was found in the whore house. As she talks, they let the others get ahead of them, even the Stone Hags. She explains that to her, she didn’t feel wrong. She was a brothel-slave from the time of a child. She just believed she was made to be “violated, abused over and over” until she was too old. That was how it was until the Eothic Guardsmen showed up and beat the brothel master. It made no sense to her that anyone would care about her. “You thought you were being attacked instead of saved.”

She nods numbly. She was taken away before the killing began, but she knew it would happen because the soldiers were “as merciless as any of these scalpers.” They were there to kill all who abused her. Her dictation grows rougher, her refined speech falling away. She sounds like an Ainoni whore now, and if it wasn’t such a serious matter, Achamian would teas her about that.

She was brought to a ship and suddenly everyone is kneeling before her. Imperial Apparati begged her to give them orders. They would do anything to make her comfortable. She will never forget how they she went from being valued only for being a young girl with the Empress’s face to someone to be worshiped. She begs them to stop the killing, which is the one thing they can’t do. Why?

“’Because the Blessed Empress has commanded it,’ they said…”

So she watched the Worm burn. Men, women, and children jumping from burning roofs. Achamian is careful to keep pity out of his expression as he realizes she watched her old world burn as she went from child-whore to Imperial Princess.

Esmenet, he understood, had tried to undo her crime with the commission of another. She mhad mistook vengeance for reparation.

“So you understand,” Mimara continued, swallowing. “My first years on the Andiamine Heights were hateful… shameful, even. You understand why I did everything I could to punish Mother.”

He nods after a moment. As he says he understand, the party enters a clearing and can see the sun, a rare thing. He and Mimara were “both victims of Esmenet.” They walk in silence until Mimara thanks him. He doesn’t know why.

“For not asking what all the others ask.”

“Which is?”

“How I could have stayed all those years. How I could have allowed myself to be used as I was used. Apparently everyone would have run away, slit their master’s throat, committed suicide…”

“Nothing makes fools of people quite like a luxurious life,” Achamian said, shaking his head and nodding. “Ajencis says they confuse decisions made atop pillows for those compelled by stones. When they hear of other people being deceived, they ‘re certain they would know better. When they hear of other people being oppressed, they’re certain they would do anything but beg and cringe when the club is raised…”

“And so they judge,” Mimara said sourly.

“They certainly picked the wrong woman in your case!”

This coaxed another smile—another small triumph.

She slowly starts talking about her siblings. She seems surprise as she talks, revealing her hatred of her family is more a way of propping up her own view of herself as being all alone. But as she reveals all the little, familiar details that contradicts it. She talks about Kayûtas, the child Esmenet was pregnant with when she chose Kellhus, would have been a god if she didn’t live with Kellhus. Kayûtas is like a more approachable Kellhus. Moënghus was both the most normal and most difficult. He had a temper. Mimara often had to babysit the two boys, a ploy on Esmenet’s to bring her children together.

The worst part was when she took them swimming because Moënghus would dive in the water and stay down so long, Mimara and the guards would think he’s drowning. Then he’d appear and treat it as a joke. He kept doing it until Kayûtas told Mimara that Moënghus wants “people to think him dead.” Mimara also reveals that no one questions the lie of Moënghus’s paternity.

Lies, Achamian mused. Deceit heaped atop deceit. In the early days of his exile, he would sometimes lie awake at night, convinced that sooner or later someone would see through Kellhus and his glamour, that the truth would win out, and all the madness would come crashing down…

That he could come home and reclaim his wife.

As the years passed, Achamian realized what a fool he was for thinking that. He studied Ajencis. “Truths were carved from the identical woods as lies—words—and so sank or floated with equal ease.” Worse, men don’t like truth. It doesn’t appeal to their vanities.

Theliopa was the only one that would have a true smile. Mimara describes how Theliopa’s autism keeps her from understanding social norms. She was also really smart, had a photographic memory. She became an Imperial Adviser at twelve, often at her mother’s side. Mimara pitied Theliopa even as she was in awe of her. Achamian asked if anyone gossiped about her autism, knowing how deformities would cause people to speculate maliciously about the cause. Mimara says only that her father’s seed was “too heavy for mortal women to bear.” His concubines all either had still births or died from complications. Only Esmenet could bear him children.

Achamian could only node, this thoughts roiling. Kellhus had to have known this, he realized. From the very beginning he had known Esmenet possessed the strength to survive him and his progeny. And so he had set out to conquer her womb as one more tool—one more weapon—in his unceasing war of word, insight, and passion.

You needed her, so you took…

Mimara has little to say on Serwa who was raised by the Sawayali and is no the Grandmistress. Esmenet has hated Kellhus for sending her away while Mimara was so jealous that Serwa was allowed to learn Sorcery, the one thing she wanted. Then then talks quite a lot about Inrilatas. She helped to look after him. He had the most of Kellhus’s strength and Esmenet’s weakness. He spoke as a baby and asw far too deep. She believed his madness was inevitable seeing only the “brute truths.” He would tell Mimara hateful things about how she didn’t punish her mother to avenge her slavery.

“Because what?” [asked Achamian.]

“Because I was broken inside,” she said, her lips set in a grim and brittle line. “Because I had suffered so much so long that kindness had become the only cruelty I could not endure—kindness!—and so suffering would be all I… all I would ever know…”

She trailed, turned her face to swat at the tears cltotign her eyes.

“So I told him,” she continued, avoiding Achamian’s gaze. “I told him that I had never known kindness because everything—everything!—i had been given had been just another way to take—to steal! ‘You cannot stroke a beaten dog,’ he replied, ‘because it sees only the raised hand…’ A beaten dog! Can you believe it? What kind of little boy calls his grown sister a beaten dog?”

A Dûnyain, the old Wizard thought in an unspoken reply.

She get angry at the sorrow he feels at it. She’s pissed he’s pitying her, attacking him now. He begs her not to do this. She demands to know what she shouldn’t do. “Make Inrilatas true.” This killed her anger. She stumbles forward with a look of “desolate horror.” Achamian asks about her other siblings to prod her out of the fugue. “The best way to retrieve a conversation from disaster, he often found, was to speak as if the disaster had never happened.”

She takes some time to collect herself, the company walked through what had been a stream bed, forming a channel. Finally, she says they were the only ones she knew from the beginning. Her mother became pregnant after Mimara was found. She was there for the birth and seeing that, Mimara truly loved her mother. The only time she ever felt that.

“You’ve never stopped loving her,” Achamian said. “You wouldn’t care to hate her otherwise.”

She gets angry but doesn’t lash out. She’s trying to earn his trust like she wants to understand how Achamian asks her. She then asks what he meant. He says no love worth anything is simple. She protests.

“But nothing,” he said. “Fart too many of us confuse complexity for impurity—or even pollution. Far too many of us mourn what we would celebrate as a result. Life is unruly, Mimara. Only tyrants and fools think otherwise.”

She rolls her eyes and asks if that’s Ajencis, his go-to philosopher. He says it’s just his own insight. He doesn’t borrow everything. They walk and her smile fades before she starts talking about Kelmomas and Samarmas, confirming the second one is actually an idiot, and both were feared to be idiots. They spent all day just staring at each other for years before a famed physician pried them apart.

They were normal boys after that, exposing she was fond of them. “They were innocent born into a labyrinth—a place devious beyond compare.” They didn’t see the Andiamine Heights for what it was, a prison, a carnival, and most of all a temple. It wasn’t where children should be raised. She told her mother to raise them somewhere else then trials off as they’re forced to duck beneath a fallen tree.

Once clear, she has lost her enthusiasm for the conversation. He nudges her by speculating Esmenet refused claiming they would have to learn about the dangers of politics. She agrees. He asks if she trusted Kelmomas. She is incredulous as she says he was only a child who adored her so much it annoyed her and drove her to find Achamian.

Something troubled the old Wizard about this, but as so often happens in the course of heated conversations, his worries yielded to the point he hoped to press home. “Yes… But he was a child of Kellhus, an Anasûrimbor by blood.”


“So, that means he possesses Dûnyain blood. Like Inrilatas.”

They walk in silence before she gets pissy and says that Kelmomas just has to be “manipulative and amoral.” She thinks he’s been in the wilds too long. He’s just a child. He disagrees.

“That’s all they know, Mimara. The Dûnyain. They’re bred for it.”

But she dismisses that and he realizes she is as blind as everyone else to what Kellhus and his ilk are. Achamian, on the other hand, had spent so much time remembering over and over everything about Kellhus and Esmenet. The words Cnaiür told him. Now he has trouble remembering what it was like being in “the circuit of [Kellhus’s] glamour.” Achamian had still loved Kellhus even after Esmenet’s seduction. Achamian had rationalized it.

Worse, everything Kellhus has done since to prepare for the Great Ordeal proved he was serious about preventing the Second Apocalypse. He was doing what the Mandate—what Achamian—had begged every ruler in the three seas to do. He wonders if he has so biased he can’t see the truth about Kellhus.

He had seen it before: men who had borne perceived injustices so long they could never relinquish them and so continually revisited them in various guises. The world was filled with self-made martyrs. Fear goads fear, the old Nansur proverb went, and sorrow, sorrow.

Perhaps he was made. Perhaps everything—the suffering, the miles, the lives lost and taken—was naughty but a fool’s errand. As wrenching as this possibility was, and as powerful as the Scylvendi’s words had been, Achamian would have been entirely prepared to accept his folly. He was a true student of Ajencis in this respect…

Were it not for his Dreams. And the coincidence of the Coffers.

He mulls this over, troubled by learning that Kellhus’s children were a miss and he mostly absent. He feels pity for Mimara, a broken soul brought to a place she could never mend. The same place that Esmenet could not mend, either. Achamian wonders if that proves that Kellhus only brings pain and war. “Every life that fell into his cycle suffered some kind of loss or deformation.” Is that proof he’s evil? Achamian’s not sure. Pain is the price of revelation, something Achamian understands.

It is proof of Mimara’s feelings. How she talks about her family reveals much about herself. She paints herself as the victim. It’s how she wants to be seen by him. Achamian learned from Kellhus people present themselves as virtuous and innocent. She doesn’t want Achamian to see her as a full of shame and loathing for others for what happened to her as a child.

And he loved her the more for it.

That evening, she says it was foolish of her to speak. That makes him think of his own family in that poor Nroni fishing village. They’re strangers to him now. Not doting sister and a tyrannical father. He realizes that his true family are the “mad children of the man who had robbed him of his wife.” He’s a victim of Kellhus like they are which makes the “mad woman trekking beside him” his only family.

His little girl…

When he had been Proyas’s tutor, he would walk and think about his problem, an old Ceneian practice. He remembers on those walks a beggar he would see which always knocks Achamian out of his thoughts. The beggar just stared ahead beyond caring about anything. He sees a man truly alone and fears it as the man just waits and waits. Achamian then realizes his mother is probably dead.

Mimara finds having to relieve herself a challenge because she’s well aware that all the men are lusting for her. She can’t let them think she’s giving them a glimpse and stroke their lust, so has to go far from them. As she’s squatting, she realizes that Soma is watching her from the tree.

She isn’t afraid. Not really. She realizes if he wants to kill her, she’s dead, or to kidnap her, he’d already take her. He wants something else. She knows she should cry out and send it fleeing, but she’s doesn’t. She’s curious what it wants from her. So she stands slowly and draws up her pants. He studies her.

He’s kill you,” it coos. “The Nonman.”

She knows skin-spies. She’s been taught about them. How they sow discord and how violence turns them on. “They are, as her mother once told her, the consummate union of viciousness and grace.” She says she’ll kill Cleric first, shocked how resolute she is. It’s surprised by her reply and hesitates, thinking, and realizes it doesn’t want the Nonman dead. He finally says she doesn’t have the power. She starts to say her father, and he cuts her off and says he’ll die, too.

There is only one way to save yourself,” it rasps.

“And how is that?”

Kill the Captain.”

Mimara heads back to the others and doesn’t tell them even knowing she should. But this is her instinct to “hide and hoard,” a byproduct of her childhood. It flatters her that Soma approached her. She keeps thinking that as she plays with her Chorae. She can’t understand why it saved her at the cost of exposure nor why it’s following her. Talking to her.

Achamian had, understandably, that Soma was here to spy on Achamian. Here to kill Achamian if he found anything out important. She’s worried more than anything that Soma is here to help Achamian expose Kellhus. Achamian is the enemy of the Consult’s enemy. The Consult fear that there are more like Kellhus. The Consult needs to find Ishuäl and exterminate the Dûnyain. Why not help Achamian. He’s the enemy of their enemy. She can’t tell him that. She remember Achamian saying, “The only thing they found more terrifying than your stepfather was the possibility there could be more like him.”

The possibility of Ishuäl

The origin of the Aspect-Emperor. As much as Achamian desires this knowledge to judge Anasûrimbor Kellhus, would not the Unholy Consult covet it even more?

This makes her wonder if Achamian is damned for being a wizard, which contradicts Kellhus’s claim that sorcery was not an unforgivable sin, or if it’s his sin of blasphemy. That his damnation she witnessed with the Judging Eye is to strike Kellhus down for love only to unleash the very Apocalypse he fears will happen. She cannot tell him that all those who he killed have been in vain.

No. She will not speak what cannot be heard. Soma would have to remain her secret, at least for the immediate future. She needs to discover more before going to the Wizard…

Soma’s words about killing Kosoter echo in her mind. She knows that it’s a trickster, has seen the bones of its “false face.” She knows how to confuse the soulless creature with the right questions. For whatever reason, it needs Kosoter dead. Mimara needs to understand why to figure out what Soma’s true plans are.

So she watches the group and sees how things are changing. Sedition gleams in Galian’s eyes. Achamian is relying more and more of Kosoter’s ruthlessness. The man will get them to Sauglish, a man so driven that the world would yield to him. “He was the Captain.” A shadow on the periphery. Now, though, she’s probing at the men. Testing them. Soma hinted something would happen that she and Achamian weren’t seeing. So pretends to sleep to spy on conversations. She vows to figure it out.

The Mop seems never ending, covering hills and plains. It’s humid. Dark. She feels like a mole. She remembers the Stone Hags who have already died. Then one day, they find a massive stone formation that thrusts out of the earth. It lets them see the sky. The Captain wants them to climb it. So despite a few hours left before night, they camp.

Though there is relief in the sunlight, it seems to expose the suspicion on everyone’s faces. Covered in dirt, they seem damned. As the others break into small group, Kosoter motions Cleric to follow him and they leave. Mimara waits then follows at a crouch, hearing muttered voice. She manages to find a spot to spy on them.

They remind you…”

The Captain’s voice. It shocks her as surely as a knife pressed against the back of her neck.

She creeps along the outer circuit of the tortoise stone, nearer, nearer… As shallow as it is, her breath burns against the tightness of her high chest. Her heart thumps.

What’s happening?” the Nonman says. “I don’t… I don’t understand…”

You are truly a blasted idiot.”

Mimara stands up and stares at them. They can’t see her because they’re facing away. Cleric looks so dejected as he sits, Kosoter so close his Chorae is turning Cleric’s scalp to salt. Cleric begs to know why he’s here. Kosoter, annoyed, says because they remind him. Who? Cleric needs to know. Kosoter starts to say of someone you now when he senses Mimara and glares at her, murder in his eyes. She lies and says she needs Qirri. Kosoter decides not to kill her, and Cleric apologies and says it’s not time.

Later, she keeps seeing his lips moving as they spoke her name like a kiss.

She stays by herself the next day, much to Achamian’s obvious relief. She is lost in thought when Cleric walks beside her. She’s shocked, his “unearthly beauty” unsettling her as much as how deep and blasted his Mark is.

“Is it true,” he inexplicably asks, “that being touched by another and touching oneself are quite distinct sensations for Men?”

The question bewilders and embarrasses her, to the point of drawing even more heat to her flushed face. “Yes… I suppose…”

He doesn’t say anything for a while. He overwhelms her. Not in the martial prowess of the others, but that he’s just so much beyond them. He reminds her of Kellhus and “the way the world always seemed to bow at his passage.” She wonders what it would be like to die before him and thinks it would be beautiful.

He finally says he thinks he knew this once. She has trouble reading his emotions and remembers that Nonmen “souls often move in ways counter to the tracks of human passions.” She wonders if “tragedy could be a passion.” She smiles and says he knows again. He says he will never know it again. She asks why his question.

“There is… comfort… in rehearsing the dead motions of the past.”

She finds herself nodding—as if they were peers discussing common knowledge. “We are alike in this way.”

“Mimara,” he says, his tone so simple with astonishment that for an instant he seems a mortal man. “Your name is… Mimara…” He turns to her, his eyes brimming with human joy. She shudders at the glimpse of his fused teeth—there is something too dark about his smile. “Ages have passed,” he says wondering, “since I have remembered a human name…”


She thinks it’s pathetic that memory can make Cleric falter. She realizes Achamian is watching, which he always did. He’s always trying like her mother. He asks with heat what Cleric wanted. She snaps back, asking why he fears Cleric. She doesn’t understand why she knows how to “throw men on their heels.” Achamian scowls at her and says he doesn’t know if he’ll win “when the time comes.”

“When the time comes…” she says in mocking repetition.

He turns to her profile, studies her.

“He’s an Erratic, Mimara. When he decides he loves us, he will try to kill us.”

That reminds her of the conversation she overheard last night between Kosoter and Cleric and asks how he can know. Because Erratics kill their loved ones. She states, “To remember.” She asks if he has memory problems that he can’t keep track of the days, how can he beat Achamian. He answers there’s more than one type of memory. Remembering people and events is not like skills. “They don’t pile on the same way across the ages.” But worse, sorcery needs the “purity of meaning.” He’s had ten thousand years of embracing that purity. What Achamian finds a toil to do, meaning his sorcerery, it’s a reflex for Cleric.

He stars at her and she says, “A Quya Mage.” He repeats it and adds very few things are more dangerous. Tears assault her followed by worry and fear. She tires to small, but is overcome by emotion and looks away. It’s all too much until she sees Achamian giving her a sad but reassuring smile. She suddenl feels like they can survive because she stands “at his gruff and tender side.”

Akka. The world’s only sorcerer without a School. The only Wizard.

“Akka…” she murmurs. A kind of gentle beseeching.

She understands now why her mother still loves him—even after so many years, even after sharing her bed with a living God. The uniform teeth behind his smile. The sheen of compassion that softens even his most hostile glare. The heart and simple passion of a man who, despite all his failings, is capable of risking everything—life and world—in the name of love.

He asks what? She feels shy as she realizes no other man has ever made her feel safe. “May our dooms be one,” she tells him. He smile and agrees.

The skin-spy Soma throws a pebble that wakes up Mimara and only her. She knows it’s Soma, not the real one who’s dead near Marrow. This thing has no soul. She moves from the camp, out of the incipient Wards, and finds Soma wearing her face telling her it can smell her baby and that if she wants her child to live, she has to kill the Captain.

She doesn’t believe she’s pregnant. She thinks this is a deceit. Normally, her thoughts whisper, a habit from her time as a slave. Now it shouts at her. This must be a lie. Skin-spies “play on your frears, your vulnerabilities, use them to craft you into their tool.”

Words echo in her mind. The skin-spy claiming she’s pregnant, that only pregnant women have the Judging Eye, and what the skin-spy wants. She denies it vehemently. She is knows if she embraces the lie, she’ll believe it. Which is what she’ll do.

Days have passed without seeing Soma. She feels relived by that. One night, she finds a solitary pool. She stars into it, the moonlight letting her see her own face. She needs to see her reflection after the skin-spy wore her appearance. Part of her wants to primp and preen like she used to.

Then, in the empty interval between breaths, the Judging Eye opens.

For a time she gazes in stupefaction, then she weeps at the transformation.

Her hair cropped penitent short. Her clothing fine, but with the smell of borrowed things. Her belly low and heavy with child…

And a halo about her head, bright and silver ans so very holy. The encircling waters darken for its glow.

She can’t believe she is good. This is more than she can handle. She returns and Achamian pesters like he always does, especially seeing evidence of tears. She pushes him away, which hurts and confuses him because he sees her as his daughter. But she knows they aren’t because they had sex.

So she spurns him, even as she allows him to curl about her.

To shelter.

Weeks pass as the Skin Eaters keep marching and fighting Sranc. Weeks of feeling her stomach. And then they left the Mop. Everyone stares in awe at it. There’s thirteen of them, including the three surviving Hags. They’re all filthy and disheveled. They stare out at the Cerish Sea and the salt marches around it. They see some ruins that Achamian declares it to be Kelmeol, the capital of Meöri.

She stares at him as she absently rubs at her belly and thinks, Your father, as she fights off throwing up.

Achamian is thrilled to see the Kelmeol. It’s proof that this is working. His mission has a chance. Doubt’s gnawed at him since leaving the Marrow. It’s a miracle they made it this far. He can’t believe he’s done something this momentous, but he has.

The company has to wade through the mire assaulted by mosquitoes, to cross the salt marsh. They reach the ruins of Kelmeol on the other side. Most is buried beneath the ground. This is the oldest ruins Achamian has ever been in. Seswatha had come here. It makes him feel discombobulated thanks to Seswatha’s dreams, it feels like the city just fell. He spots reminders, monuments and remains of prominent buildings from his dreams.

They make camp in the spot in the ruins that provided some defense. Achamian feels grief as he stares at the great city destroyed by the No-God two thousand years ago. He almost feels like he’s walking through one of the Three Sea’s great cities in ruin. That no matter how far he travels, this is all he’s going to find. He feels alone.

Without thinking he reached out for Mimara’s hand. He did not answer her wondering gaze.

He finds himself walking with one of the surviving Stone Hags, Hurm, and Galian. So far, Hurm has kept up with ease. He has constitution that doesn’t need the Qirri. Galian was pressing the man about which scalapers the Stone Hags had murdered. Pokwas warns Galian to back off, but Galian is furious. He wants to know how this man can kill men when there are plenty of srancs. He replies a scalp is a scalp. They still get paid. Galian cries, “The Bounty is the Holy Bounty, is it not?” Hurm asks if it is. What else is it?

It’s merely gold to Hurm. To buy drink. Food. And women. He stares at Mimara with lust. Achamian senses madness brewing now as Galian asks if the man would risk damnation for comforts. The man is skeptical he’ll be damned. Galian grins slyly and says Kellhus declared it is holy. Hurm has a bad view on Kellhus, and Galian is eager to here it.

What was happening here?

The Tydonni thane grinned with alehouse cruelty. “I think his gold was born to burden my urse. I think he overlooks the likes of me… and of you! I think all those prayers, all those little wire circumfixes, are naught but wasted effort! Because in the end,” he continued with a conspiratorial lean, “I think he’s no different than you or me. A sinner. A dog. A demon when too deep in his cups! A fool. A fraud. A scalper of sou—!”

Kosoter appears and stabs Hurm in the neck. Mimara screams. Achamian just watches in shock as Kosoter hacks off the head while Sarl chortles, “No blasphemers on the slog!” Achamian realizes Galian goaded Hurm to get him killed. The captain raves about how Kellhus is god and cutting off Hurm’s head was Kellhus’s work.

Achamian could only watch with detached wonder, the kind that afflicts the survivors of sudden catastrophes. He saw well enough. He knew well enough. And yet none of it made the slightest sense.

He found himself wondering how long before Cleric called on them to dispense the Qirri. He needed it. To the point of wringing hands and clenched teeth, he needed it.

The Captain, it seemed, was a Believer.


Soma the skin-spy runs through grass with only the “pretense of thought.” He glories in the destruction of the city that the Old Fathers had unleashed here. He is aroused by the thought of the thousands who died here. “These were holy facts—sacred.” It has to stay hidden instead of thinking about these things because Xonghis and Cleric had keen eyes.

Soma has his mission, but he stops at Hurm’s headless corpse. He pauses to savor how erect it makes him before he follows the trial. He finds the camp, smelling where they set. He finds Mimara urniated but the scent of her unborn child sickens him. The “sour musk” of Cleric gives him pause.

Something was happening… Something unanticipated by the Old Fathers.

Unnerved, Soma shouts in his “second voice.” This summons the Synthese who has been following all day. Soma bows as the Synthese is not happy because he was only supposed to watch. He says things have changed because Achamian hired the Skin Eaters to go for the coffers. The Synthese is amused that he “old fool” is back in the game. He is surprised Achamian uncovered Soma, but it was Mimara who’s been trained to spot skin-spies. A pregnant woman. The Synthese questions to make sure Mimara is pregnant. Soma is sure.

“Then she cannot be harmed. All the prophecies must be respected, the false as much as the true.”

He says she does. The Synthese asks if she ever leaves the safety of the group. Only to pass waste. Soma has spoken to her and thinks she will yield “their” secret soon. The Synthese is surprised Achamian hasn’t interfered, but he doesn’t know. That makes the Syntheses laugh.

Brave girl…” the Old Father cooed, still considering the crumbs of the age-long feast that was the Meörn Empire. “Continue tracking them, Tsuör. At the very least, they will take you home.”

My Thoughts

Nice to see the Skin-Spy POV and see just how Consult creatures think.

The qirri effect is interesting. It’s a subtle drug that’s altering Achamian’s brain chemistry in a way he’s starting to find negative. He’s feeling the cravings. The addiction. It’s not a good thing. It’s making him even harder.

And the poor hags. They ran to the wrong people for sanctuary. It’s cruel what’s being done to them. The Skin Eaters are showing their darker nature. Perhaps it’s the qirri. Things are breaking apart, though. We’ve seen the signs that these are not men. They’re beasts. They’re little more than Sranc, and when they spot weakness in Kosoter later in the novel, they pounce.

That youth was killed by Soma. I’m ninety-percent sure you all know that, but just putting it out there. A nice way to remind us that Soma is still following the party.

There is nothing more dangerous than a man who believes his own lies.

Memory is what binds us. Without memory, we are not us. We are made up of our experiences. I’ve read some great fiction to cover this. Including one series where five books in we learn that main character’s little sister isn’t just terrified of going out because of how bad she was bullied in junior high. She was bullied so badly that she disassociated and formed a new personality. She forgot her whole life and became a new version of her. One that her mother and father had trouble accepting. They wanted their original daughter back, meaning the new personality would have to die. The problem is the main character came to love this new version of his sister, to care for her, so when her original memories start coming back he has to deal with the fact that one of his little sisters is going to die.

Was the Skin-Spy here for Achamian or to keep tab on Cleric and why he was here with this Skin-Spy. To figure out what Kellhus is up to. But Achamian thinks it must be about him. He must be important since he taught Kellhus Gnosis.

I never caught that the qirri is why Achamian’s dreams are going beyond Seswatha. He’s dreaming things he couldn’t have seen, and now he’s dreaming of being Nau-Cayûti, Seswatha’s son though not even Nau-Cayûti knows that. We’re seeing the moments leading up to Nau-Cayûti becoming the first No-God.

Mimara’s explanation at being raised in a brothel is heartbreaking. She just accepted that the abuse was natural. How the world worked. She knew no better so how can she understand that anyone would come to rescue her. That’s not why men came to her.

It’s easier to commit another sin than to face what we did. To act out of anger instead of remorse. We don’t want to face the evil that we do, so we do more evil to avoid it.

Mimara had every right to be angry at her mother for selling her into slavery, but the real crime was putting the guilt of all those thousands of deaths on that small child.

I love the part about the delusions of living a luxurious life. It’s so easy to say what you would do when the stakes don’t matter. But when you’re facing life or degradation, must people pick life. They choose to survive. To bend the knee. To even rationalize what is happening to them to cope with it.

Moënghus has a very sad childhood. His mother never wanted to admit who his real father was, and everyone pretended he was Kellhus’s son even when it was so obvious. He was surrounded by fake humans. He’s Cnaiür’s son and seems to be pretty intelligent and has figured this out.

Mimara has endured so much at a young age, it truly has broken her. But Achamian told her something interesting there. She had a choice to make what Inrilatas said was true or to do something else. That changed her.

I like Achamian’s self-doubt. Is he wrong about Kellhus? That’s the central question of this series. Is what Kellhus doing ultimately to save the world or to save himself?

The relationship between Achamian and Mimara is transforming more and more into that father/daughter relationship that Mimara had craved and her own self-loathing and hatred of her mother had perverted that night they had sex.

Walking is a good way to think. It occupies part of your mind with the rhythm of walking while leaving you to think. Doing something that can occupy your body but not conscious mind is a great way to think. Plus, you’re pulled away from other distractions.

I can get Mimara’s curiosity. As a reader, I wanted to know what’s up with the skin-spy. It’s always nice when a character can naturally act in a way to satiate the reader’s desire. It makes sense why she wants to know. Skin-spy shouldn’t act like this.

Soma doesn’t want the Nonman dead. That’s what he’s here. To keep an eye on Cleric.

Mimara’s logic is great here, and feeds into us readers who remember how the Warrior-Prophet ended with Aurax hunting of the Dûnyain among the tribes of barbarous humans that survive out in the wilderness feuding with the Sranc claims. But as we find out in the next book, the Consult already wiped out the Dûnyain save for the few they spared and took as prisoner. The Mutilated who took them over. Soma is not here to aide Achamian or kill him. He’s here for Cleric. And for reasons of a prophecy, he sees Mimara as someone that has to be protected for the Consult’s plans.

Mimara wanting to protect Achamian is further driven by the love that’s growing for him. Not romantic love, but familial love. She wishes to spare him pain.

So we can see that not only was Kosoter put here to wait for Achamian by Kellhus, but that Cleric is here for that same reason. The deal he made with Kellhus to remember what he’s forgotten. Achamian will be Seswatha for Cleric. Mimara wasn’t supposed to be here, though. She was sent here by Kelmomas after Kellhus had already left.

The nonman is curious about human masturbation and sex, huh?

Mimara thinks it’s pathetic that losing his memory has destroyed Cleric, but she hasn’t made the connection that memories are identity. Without your memories, are you you any longer?

The part where Mimara realizes she can be safe with Achamian is powerful. She’s truly becoming his daughter. She sees why her mother loved him. She knows that he’ll protect her. That he won’t hurt her like all those men who came to the brothel, by the slave traders. Even by her own mother. This man will risk the World for someone he loves, and he loves her.

Achamian wondering if he’ll only ever find ruined cities, that one day he’ll see Momemn in ruins, might come true in the next series.

It’s interesting how Soma world view is seen through a religious one. That what the No-God and the Consult does is holy and sacred.

What are these prophecies about a pregnant woman that must be respected even if it is false? I don’t know. I hope we’ll get back to this in the next series. Or I have missed it in my readings of the series.

And the Synthese is back. I can never remember which one is the Synthese, but it’s interesting to see that the Mutilated aren’t aware of what Achamian is up to. They’re here to figure out the deal Kellhus has made with Cleric. It’ll matter for the next book when we go to Ishterebinth.

Want to keep going, click here for part seven!

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

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Five

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Five

The Western Three Seas

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

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


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


My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, his every breath was a Gift.

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

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

The River Sempis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps it spoke to the man’s desperation…

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

So… the accursed Water still flowed.

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

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

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

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

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

Sons and husbands simply vanished.

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


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

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

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

He certainly hoped not.

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

That one, the secret voice whispered.


Yes. His breathing offends me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He has struck Shigek.”

Kelmomas watched his mother blink in confusion.

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

The messenger shook his head in sudden terror.

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

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

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

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

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

“But what, Sankas?”

“Maithanet is the Holy Shriah…”

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

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

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

And so he hated Inrilatas as well.

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

Ever since he had murdered Samarmas.

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

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

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

Maithanet. Uncle Holy.

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

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

Like mother.

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

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

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

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

The real ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can rarely fathom Father,” Theliopa admitted.

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

Kelmomas laughed precisely the way she wanted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The way Father grasped the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mommy says you’re mad.”

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

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

The boy found strength in her mere mention.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Truth!

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

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

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

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

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


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

“They fought the way Sranc fought.”

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

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

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

To be sorcerer was to dwell among deformities.

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

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

Malowebi turned to him, blinking.

“What do you say?”

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

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

“Meppa? He does not know who he is.”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to read more, click here for Chapter Six!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

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Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter Four

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Four

The Istyuli Plains

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

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


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


My Thoughts

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was what her name was: childhood terror.

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

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

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

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

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

“Otherwise you are lost.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A chill seemed to creep into the shadow.

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

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


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

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

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

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

One and one were one.

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

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

And the World towered beneath.

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

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

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

He repeated those words.

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

Respect. Admiration, even.

Only Zsoronga seemed to watch him with troubled eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

“And then?” Sorweel asked.

“They attacked…”

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

Only some greater power could have accomplished this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eskeles’s words?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts? something within him wanted to cry. No…

Only things the dirt had told him.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a lot to say. Pretty straightforward chapter.

Want to read more, click here for chapter 5!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

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

Reread of The White-Luck Warrior: Chapter One

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 2: The White-Luck Warrior

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter One

The Meörn Wilderness

Without rules, madness. Without discipline, death


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

My Thoughts

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

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

The Skin Eaters are broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nothing should be the same after Cil-Aujas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The old Wizard sat rigid.

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

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

“You who have glimpsed Hell.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quya magic. Deeper than deep.

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

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

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

TELL ME… the Whirlwind said.


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

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

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

That is, until the coming of men.

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

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

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

Mimara’s Chorae should have been useless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe this lie had also come true.

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

The only difference is she loves him.

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

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

Few passions require quite so much certainty as spite.

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

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

Because I lov—

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

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

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

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

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

To think she had thought the fool charming.

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

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

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

“More darkness, yes. Tree darkness…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eye that must be plucked.”

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

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

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

Tree darkness, Sarl had said.

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

Into the green darkness.

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to read more, click here for Chapter 2!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Interlude-Momemn

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Interlude: Momemn

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

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

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

The ruler unseen.

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

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

This was what she told herself, he knew.

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

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

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

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

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

Unseen rulers never slumbered, not truly.

My Thoughts

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

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

And thus ends The Judging Eye.

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

It mostly worked.

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

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

Wonder what that’s about?

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

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

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

JMD Reid, 3/17/21

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

Get it now.

You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Sixteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Sixteen


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

A soul too far wandered from the sun,

walking deeper ways,

into regions beneath map and nation,

breathing air drawn from the dead,

talking of lamentations.


My Thoughts

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

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

She is terrified and alive.

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

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

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

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

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

To now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drusas Achamian is damned.

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

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

She prays it is the lesser part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It comes as a stranger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she thinks, Incariol…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the world piles higher and higher above them.

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

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

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

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

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

She knows that he lovers her.

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

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

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

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

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

Cil-Aujas has slain her last remaining son.

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

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

Not lost. Damned.

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

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

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

A numbness sops through her, a recognition…

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

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

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

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

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

Their inhuman screams skin needles into their ears.

And she thinks, Ishroi…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she thinks, Cil-Aujas…

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

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


The source of the wind’s cold hymn.

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

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

It tastes of dirt and honey.

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

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

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

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

The suffering beings. The pain…

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

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

And somehow, impossibly, passes through.

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

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

A Tear of God.

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

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

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

This is when she notices the stranger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So did we all, at one time.”

They-they betrayed-trayed.

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

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

You have dwelt here too long, Cousin.”

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

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

No-no. Not-not darkness-ness…

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

Cleric knows him.

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

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

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

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

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

She knows this… But how?

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

Stand your ground!” the Captain roars.

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

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

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

The Surillic Point flickers out.

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

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

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

Mimara screams with them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave me.

Leave me. Daughter, please…

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

Why should she dare hell?

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

The wind is gone.


A light hangs in the fog

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

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

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

They have found their way out of Cil-Aujas.

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

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

She must have water.

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

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

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

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

The Gates are no longer guarded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But something had happened. She had happened.

Anasûrimbor Mimara, cursed with the Judging Eye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With light comes life. With sky comes freedom.

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

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

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

His lie. Fate was making his lie true.

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

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

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

And at long last Mimara broke her silence.

“Cleric,” she said.

My Thoughts

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

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

We’re not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Kiampas. Liked you.

Those Bashrags are brutal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He made it his own.

Click here for the Interlude: Momemn!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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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


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.


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.


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…


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

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

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

“Blessed… Blessed you.”

My Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for Chapter Sixteen!

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

Now it’s been turned into an Audiobook!


When the Stormriders attack …

…Ary’s people have little chance.

Can he find a way to defeat them?

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

He knows the cost of war.

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

But wanting the Stormriders to stop attacking…

…isn’t going to make it happen.

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

The adventure begins.

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

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You can buy or burrow Above the Storm today!

Reread of The Judging Eye: Chapter Fourteen

Reread of The Aspect-Emperor Series

Book 1: The Judging Eye

by R. Scott Bakker

Chapter Fourteen


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.


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.”


“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.


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.


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 …

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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.

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