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


When a man possesses the innocence
of a child, we call him a fool.
When a child possesses the cunning
of a man, we call him an abomination.
As with love, knowledge has its season.
Ajencis, The Third Analytic of Men


Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), the “Long Side


A human horn sounds followed by a moment of silence. Then Sranc come, running and howling with fury. They smell mannish blood. They run with joy, but the ground breaks beneath them. They’ve been ambushed. A handful of Men lunge into the Sranc’s midst and hack them to pieces.


A lone traveller calls out to a group of Scalpoi. They stare in his direction, ‘Just like animals,’ he thinks. He continues to approach passing a dead Sranc. The men return to their work save for three who continue to watch him warily. He has no doubt that the one he seeks is among them. The traveller walks into the scalpers’ midst as they cut flaps of skin from the crown of each dead Sranc. They are extremely conscious of his arrival, but they pretend otherwise.

The Scalping Years began nearly eleven years ago, when the Aspect-Emperor Anasûrimbor Kellhus declared the bounty on Sranc scalps. Most scalpers died within weeks, some prospered, and a few became legendary.

The traveller finds the man he seeks watching the others work. Behind him sits a second man, his face concealed by a black cowl. He is looking for an Ainoni called Ironsoul, he declares. The man, who is a veteran of the First Holy War, asks how he had found him, to which the traveller replies that they ‘find everyone,’ and that they want him.

Late Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), Momemn

Anasûrimbor Kelmomas

His Whelming complete, young Anasûrimbor Kelmomas watches a beetle as it hurries across the floor of the Allosium in Momemn. He follows it to the outermost aisle of the Allosium Forum, where the idols of the Hundred Gods resided. The beetle approaches the idol of Ajokli, the Four-Horned Brother. The Thief. Kelmomas observes that the godhouse of Ajokli is much poorer than the godhouses of his brothers and sisters. He thinks that the idol is also watching the beetle. He smiles and nods at the God. Suddenly, Kelmomas is moved by an unaccountable whim; he pins the beetle to the floor and pinches off two of its legs. He laughs to the Idol and begs it watch as the beetle spins around in panic. They “laugh together.” His mother approaches from behind him. Kelmomas is not surprised by her; he knew where she was all along. She has been painted white as part of his Whelming ceremony. He’s very excited to see her and thinks that she is the “world’s most beautiful thing.” She embraces him. “Never was there such a sanctuary,” he thinks. He follows her out of the Allosium. Looking back at Ajokli, he finds him still laughing at the beetle.

Kelmomas’ secret voice reminds him that he must hate and fear his father. He must never forget that the Strength burns brightest in his father.

Outside, they stand on the crest of the monumental steps that fanned down to the expanse of the Scuäri Campus looking upon the vast and mottled vista of the Momemn, the capital of the Three Seas. The Imperial Precincts are flooded with pilgrims and Momemnites who have come for the Whelming ceremony. Kelmomas, however, is repulsed and thinks that people are bugs. His mother leads him down the steps. A group of his father’s bodyguards escorts them through the Scuäri Campus toward the Andiamine Heights. Kelmomas asks Esmenet about her first daughter, Mimara. He is jealous of his mother’s love for her and recalls that it was the secret voice that made him drive her away, but now he thinks that maybe he should have killed her. Kelmomas asks about his father and smiles at the thought that he might die if the Great Ordeal fails.

Then there is commotion. Assassins approach.


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