Prologue · I · II · III · IV · V · VI · VII · VIII · IX · X · XI · XII · XIII · XIV · XV · XVI · XVII · XVIII · XIX


Mid-Spring, 4110 Year-of-the-Tusk, Sumna

Sumna and the rest of the Three Seas are in the grips of the Holy War, and the propaganda by the Shrial apparati. Everywhere men, nobles and caste-menials, are preparing to go to war. Maithanet had called, and the entire Three Seas had answered. The back of the heathen would be broken. Holy Shimeh would be cleansed.”

Meanwhile, Esmenet has some bitter memories regarding her daughter. She thinks about her love for Achamian (and Achamian’s love for her), and the impossibility of stopping to take custom while he’s with her; she needs to keep her customers interested, because Akka eventually always leaves. They are falling into their old habits, when there’s a knock on the door. It’s Inrau, who has a bit of news for Akka: Maithanet has asked the Scarlet Spires to join the Holy War. Akka is quick to explain that the presence of a School is needed to get the army to Shimeh. A sorcerous counter for the Cishaurim is a necessity. Furthermore, it is to be expected that the Emperor will try to subvert the Holy War to his own needs; by employing the Scarlet Spires they can bypass a dependency on the Imperial Saik, the School indentured to the Emperor of Nansur. Esmenet points out that Maithanet must know something that would make the Scarlet Spires susceptible to the offer. Akka realizes that Maithanet knows about Sasheoka’s murder by the Cishaurim, which greatly disturbs him. He manages to get Inrau to get closer to Maithanet himself and to spy on him, because he shows himself to be altogether too canny to be what he seems.

Inrau thinks to himself about the two different paths of his life: “Through the wash, he could hear the supplicants wail. Arched into shapes of pain and sorrow, their song ran across the wet stone and cupped his thoughts in stretched notes. Hymns of suffering. Two voices: one pitched high and plaintive, asking why must we suffer, always why; the other low, filled with the brooding grandeur of the Thousand Temples and bearing the gravity of truth — that men were at one with suffering and ruin, that tears were the only holy waters.” Inrau feels indebted to Achamian, because he knows that by allowing him to escape the Mandate, Achamian saved his life.

Inrau goes to pray at an altar devoted to Onkis, “the Singer-in-the-Dark, the Aspect who stood at the heart of all men, moving them to forever grasp more than they could hold.” Inrau asks whether Onkis will forgive him for returning to the Mandate, and asks for strength when he hears voices behind him, and the flapping of wings. Looking for the source, he eventually steps out on the balcony.

Inrau realizes he is being confronted by the Consult; Lord Sarcellus and Mujonish, another Shrial Knight Inrau knows are also there. Sarcellus reveals that Inrau was spying for Achamian. Inrau is horrified that Consult is not only real, but much more up to speed than Akka knows, or even fears.

Inrau plays for time, in hopes of unleashing some sorcery. When he does, Mujonish grabs him by the hair, but “blasphemy tumbled from his lips.” Inrau turns to Mujonish and punches two fingers through his chain-mail and breastbone to seize Mujonish’s heart. Inrau utters more “impossible words”, and the blood that is strewn about bursts into incandescent flame. Inrau striks out towards the Synthese, which ducks with a shriek. “Blinding beads of blood cracked bare stone.” As he turns towards Sarcellus, Mujonish’s corpse distracts him: “The Shrial Knight had stumbled to his knees, wiping his bloody hands on his surcoat. Then, as though spilling from a bladder, his face simply fell apart, dropping outward, unclutching … No mark. Not the faintest whisper of sorcery. But how?” Sarcellus pummels the distracted Inrau, and uses a Chorae to subdue him. The Synthese orders Inrau to relent, but Inrau refuses. He uses further sorcery, but the Synthese is far too powerful. Oh, Akka! It’s worse than you dared imagine.

Inrau manages to lunge towards the balcony, not to kill the Synthese perched on the railing, but himself.

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