Excerpt: The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker – What Has Come Before … [Introduction]

Excerpt from The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker. Copyright © 2017 by R. Scott Bakker. On sale from The Overlook Press July 25, 2017. Reproduced with permission from The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker

The below is the introduction to The Unholy Consult. Click here to read “Chapter One – The Western Three Seas”.

The Unholy Consult

What Has Come Before …

THE PRINCE OF NOTHING

Wars, as a rule, fall within the compass of history. They mark the pitch of competing powers, the end of some and the ascendancy of others, the ebb and flow of dominance across the ages. But there is a war that Men have waged for so long they have forgotten the languages they first used to describe it. A war that makes mere skirmishes out of the destruction of tribes and nations.

There is no name for this war; Men cannot reference what leaps the short interval of their comprehension. It began when they were little more than savages roaming the wilds, in an age before script or bronze. An Ark, vast and golden, toppled from the void, scorching the horizon, throwing up a ring of mountains with the violence of its descent. And from it crawled the dread and monstrous Inchoroi, a race who had come to seal the World against the Heavens, and so save the obscenities they called their souls.

The Nonmen held sway in those ancient days, a people that surpassed Men not only in beauty and intellect, but in wrath and jealousy as well. Their Ishroi heroes and Quya mages defended the World, fought titanic battles and stood vigilant during epochal truces. They endured the Inchoroi weapons of light, watched their enemy wilt before their own. They survived the treachery of the Aporetics, who provided the Inchoroi with thousands of sorcery-killing Chorae. They overcame the horrors their enemy crafted: the Sranc, the Bashrag, and most fearsome of all, the Wracu. But their avarice at last betrayed them. After centuries of war, they made peace with the invaders in return for ageless immortality—a gift that was in fact a fell weapon, the Plague of Wombs.

Thus it became a war between doomed species, the one beauteous, the other vile. In the end, the Nonmen hunted the Inchoroi to the brink of annihilation. Their surviving Quya mages sealed the Ark, which they had come to call Min-Uroikas, and hid it from the world with devious glamours. Exhausted, bereft of hope or purpose, they retired to their underworld mansions to mourn the loss of their wives, their daughters, and the future of their once-glorious race.

As much as nature, history abhors vacuums. From the eastern mountains, the first tribes of Men began claiming the lands the Nonmen had abandoned—Men who had never known the yoke of slavery. Of the surviving Ishroi Kings, some fought, only to be dragged under by the tide of numbers, while others simply left their great gates unguarded, bared their necks to the licentious fury of a lesser race.

So began the Second Age, the Age of Men. Perhaps the Nameless War would have ended with the fading of its principals, but the Ark itself remained intact, and Men ever lusted for knowledge. Centuries passed, and the mantle of human civilization crept along the great river basins of Eärwa and outward, bringing bronze where there had been flint, cloth where there had been skins, and writing where there had been recital. Great cities rose to teeming life. The wilds gave way to cultivated horizons.

Nowhere were Men more bold in their works, or more overweening in their pride, than in the North, where commerce with the Nonmen had allowed them to outstrip their more swarthy cousins to the South. In the legendary city of Sauglish, those who could discern the joints of existence founded the first sorcerous Schools. As their learning and power waxed, a reckless few turned to the rumours they had heard whispered by their Nonman teachers—rumours of the great golden Ark. The wise were quick to see the peril, and the Schoolmen of Mangaecca, who coveted secrets above all else, were censured, and finally outlawed.

But it was too late. Min-Uroikas was found—occupied.

The fools discovered and awakened the last two surviving Inchoroi, Aurax and Aurang, who had concealed themselves in the labyrinthine recesses of the Ark. At their hoary knees the outlaw Schoolmen learned that damnation, the burden that all sorcerers bore, need not be inevitable. They learned that the world could be shut against the judgment of Heaven. So they forged a common purpose with the twin abominations, a Consult, and bent their cunning to the aborted designs of the Inchoroi.

The Mangaecca relearned the principles of the material—the Tekne. They mastered the manipulations of the flesh. And after generations of study and searching, after filling the pits of Min-Uroikas with innumerable corpses, they realized the most catastrophic of the Inchoroi’s untold depravities: Mog-Pharau, the No-God.

They made themselves slaves to better destroy the world.

And so the Nameless War raged anew. What has come to be called the First Apocalypse destroyed the great Norsirai nations of the North, laying ruin to the greatest glories of Men. But for Seswatha, the Grandmaster of the Gnostic School of Sohonc, the entire world would have been lost. At his urging, Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the High King of the North’s mightiest nation, Kûniüri, called on his tributaries and allies to join him in a holy war against Min-Uroikas, which Men now called Golgotterath. But his Ordeal foundered, and the might of the Norsirai perished. Seswatha fled south to the Ketyai nations of the Three Seas, bearing the greatest of the legendary Inchoroi weapons, the Heron Spear. With Anaxophus, the High King of Kyraneas, he met the No-God on the Plains of Mengedda, and by dint of valor and providence, overcame the dread Whirlwind.

The No-God was dead, but his slaves and his stronghold remained. Golgotterath had not fallen, and the Consult, blasted by ages of unnatural life, continued to plot salvation.

The years passed, centuries became millennia, and the Men of the Three Seas forgot the horrors endured by their fathers. Empires rose and empires fell. The Latter Prophet, Inri Sejenus, reinterpreted the Tusk, and over the course of centuries the faith of Inrithism—organized and administered by the Thousand Temples and its spiritual leader, the Shriah—came to dominate the entire Three Seas. The great Anagogic Schools arose in response to the Inrithi persecution of sorcery. Using Chorae, the Inrithi warred against them, attempting to silence their blasphemies.

Then Fane, the upstart Prophet of the so-called Solitary God, united the Kianene, the desert peoples of the Great Carathay, and declared war against the Tusk and the Thousand Temples. After centuries of jihad, the Fanim and their eyeless sorcerer-priests, the Cishaurim, conquered nearly all the western Three Seas, including the holy city of Shimeh, the birthplace of Inri Sejenus. Only the moribund remnants of the Nansur Empire continued to resist them.

War and strife ruled the South. The two great faiths of Inrithism and Fanimry skirmished, though trade and pilgrimage were tolerated when commercially convenient. The great families and nations vied for military and mercantile dominance. The minor and major Schools squabbled and plotted. And the Thousand Temples pursued earthly ambitions under the leadership of corrupt and ineffectual Shriahs.

The First Apocalypse had become little more than legend by this time. The Consult and the No-God had dwindled into myth, something old wives tell small children. After two thousand years, only the Schoolmen of the Mandate, who relived the Apocalypse each night through the eyes of Seswatha, could recall the horror of Mog-Pharau. Though the mighty and the learned considered them fools, the Mandate’s possession of the sorcery of the Ancient North, the Gnosis, commanded respect and mortal envy. Driven by nightmares, they wandered the labyrinths of power, scouring the Three Seas for signs of their ancient and implacable foe: the Consult.

And as always, they found nothing. Some argued that the Consult had finally succumbed to the toll of ages. Others, that they had turned inward, seeking less arduous means to forestall their damnation. But since the Sranc had multiplied across the northern wilds, no expedition could be sent to Golgotterath to settle the matter. The Mandate alone knew of the Nameless War. They alone stood guard, but they were both blind and a laughingstock.

Thus was the World when Maithanet was elected Shriah of the Thousand Temples and called the First Holy War, a great expedition to wrest Holy Shimeh from the Fanim. Word of his challenge spread across the Three Seas and beyond. Faithful from all the great Inrithi nations—Galeoth, Thunyerus, Ce Tydonn, Conriya, High Ainon and their tributaries—travelled to the city of Momemn, the capital of the Nansurium, to commend their strength and treasure to Inri Sejenus. To become Men of the Tusk.

Internal feuds plagued the First Holy War from the outset, for there was no shortage of those who would bend the campaign to their selfish ends. The Inrithi host marched victorious nonetheless, winning two great victories over the heretic Fanim at Mengedda and Anwurat. Only with the Second Siege of Caraskand and the Circumfixion of one of their own would the Men of the Tusk find common purpose. Only when they discovered a living prophet in their midst—a man who could see into the hearts of Men. A man like a god.

Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Far to the north, in the very shadow of Golgotterath, a group of ascetics called the Dûnyain had concealed themselves in Ishuäl, the secret redoubt of the Kûniüric High Kings ere their destruction in the First Apocalypse. For two thousand years the Dûnyain had pursued their sacred study, breeding for reflex and intellect, training in the ways of limb, thought, and face—all for the sake of reason, the Logos. They had dedicated their entire existence to mastering the irrationalities of history, custom, and passion—all those things that determine human thought. In this way, they believed, they would eventually grasp what they called the Absolute, and so become true self-moving souls.

Some thirty years previous, Kellhus’s father, Anasûrimbor Moënghus, had fled Ishuäl. His reappearance in the dreams of the brethren fairly upended the order, given the Dûnyain repudiation of sorcery. Knowing only that Moënghus dwelt in a distant city called Shimeh, the elders dispatched Kellhus on an arduous journey through lands long abandoned by Men—to kill his apostate father.

But Moënghus knew the world in ways his cloistered brethren could not. He knew well the revelations that awaited his son, for they had been his revelations thirty years previous. He knew that Kellhus would discover sorcery, whose existence the forefathers of the Dûnyain had suppressed. He knew that given his abilities, Men would be little more than children to him, that Kellhus would see their thoughts in the nuances of their expression, and that with mere words he would be able to exact any devotion, any sacrifice. He knew, moreover, that eventually Kellhus would encounter the Consult, who hid behind faces that only Dûnyain eyes could see—that he would come to see what Men with their blinkered souls could not: the Nameless War.

The Consult had not been idle. For centuries they had eluded their old foe, the School of Mandate, using doppelgängers—spies who could take on any face, any voice, without resorting to sorcery and its telltale Mark. By capturing and torturing these abominations, Moënghus learned that the Consult had not abandoned their ancient plot to shut the world against Heaven, that within a score of years they would be able to resurrect the No-God and bring about a new war against Men, a Second Apocalypse. For years Moënghus walked the innumerable paths of the Probability Trance, plotting future after future, searching for the thread of act and consequence that would save the world. For years he crafted his Thousandfold Thought.

Moënghus had prepared the way for his Dûnyain-born son, Kellhus. He sent out his world-born son, Maithanet, to seize the Thousand Temples from within, so that he might craft the First Holy War, the weapon Kellhus would need to seize absolute power, and so unite the Three Seas against the doom that was their future. What he did not know, could not know, was that Kellhus would see further than him, think beyond his Thousandfold Thought …

That he would go mad.

Little more than an impoverished wayfarer when he first joined the Holy War, Kellhus used his bearing, intellect, and insight to convince ever more Men of the Tusk that he was the Warrior-Prophet, come to save mankind. He understood that Men would render anything to him, so long as they believed he could save their souls. He also befriended the Schoolman the Mandate had dispatched to observe the Holy War, Drusas Achamian, knowing that the Gnosis, the sorcery of the Ancient North, would provide him with inestimable power. And he seduced Achamian’s lover, Esmenet, knowing that her intellect made her the ideal vessel for his seed—for sons strong enough to bear the onerous burden of Dûnyain blood.

By the time the battle-hardened remnants of the First Holy War laid siege to Shimeh, Kellhus had achieved absolute authority. The Men of the Tusk had become his Zaudunyani, his Tribe of Truth. While the Holy War assailed the city’s walls, he confronted his father, Moënghus, mortally wounding him, explaining that only his death could realize the Thousandfold Thought. Days later Anasûrimbor Kellhus was proclaimed Holy Aspect-Emperor—the first in a millennium—by none other than the Shriah of the Thousand Temples, his half-brother, Maithanet. Even the School of Mandate, who saw his coming as the fulfillment of their most hallowed prophecies, knelt and kissed his knee.

But Kellhus had made a mistake. Before reaching the Three Seas and the Holy War, his passage across Eärwa had delivered him to the lands of the Utemot, a Scylvendi tribe renowned for warlike cruelty. Here he had struck a murderous compact with the tribe’s chieftain, Cnaiür urs Skiötha. Moënghus had also fallen into the hands of the Utemot some thirty years prior, and had used the then adolescent Cnaiür to murder his chieftain father and effect his escape. The youth had spent tormented decades pondering what had happened and had come to guess the inhuman truth of the Dûnyain. So it was that Cnaiür and Cnaiür alone knew the dark secret of Anasûrimbor Kellhus. Before his disappearance, the barbarian revealed these truths to none other than Drusas Achamian, who had long harboured heartbreaking suspicions of his own. At the coronation, before the eyes of the entire Holy War, Achamian repudiated Kellhus, whom he had worshipped; Esmenet, whom he had loved; and the Mandate masters he had served. Then he fled into the wilderness, becoming the world’s only sorcerer without a school. A Wizard.

Now, after twenty years of war, conversion, and butchery, Anasûrimbor Kellhus prepares to realize the ultimate stage of his father’s Thousandfold Thought. His New Empire spans the entirety of the Three Seas, from the legendary fortress of Auvangshei on the frontiers of Zeum to the shrouded headwaters of the River Sayut, from the sweltering coasts of Kutnarmu to the wild rim of the Osthwai Mountains—all the lands that had once been Fanim or Inrithi. It was easily the equal of the old Ceneian Empire in terms of geographical extent, and far more populous. A hundred great cities, and almost as many languages. A dozen proud nations. Thousands of years of mangled history.

And the Nameless War is nameless no longer. Men call it the Great Ordeal.

THE ASPECT-EMPEROR

In the Year-of-the-Tusk, 4132, the Second Holy War crosses the Imperial frontier and besieges Sakarpus, the ancient vault of the Chorae Hoard. In twenty years, Anasûrimbor Kellhus has rebalanced the whole of the Three Seas upon the axis of his Great Ordeal, bent the labour of millions to forge this, the earthly spearhead of the Thousandfold Thought. History has never seen such a host, more than 300,000 souls drawn from the far-flung reaches of the New Empire. The finest warriors of every nation comprise it, led by their Kings and Princes and Heroes. All the Major Schools accompany it, the greatest mustering of sorcerous might ever witnessed.

Sakarpus falls and Sorweel, the grieving son of the slain King Harweel, becomes a hostage of the Holy Aspect-Emperor. But he is nowhere near so helpless as he believes. To play Prophet is to risk the wrath of the Gods: Yatwer herself, the Dread Mother of Birth, has taken umbrage with Anasûrimbor Kellhus, loosing the White-Luck upon him, the vengeance of the oppressed against the oppressor. And Sorweel discovers himself central to her design. A priest posing as a slave rubs Her spit into his cheeks, shielding him from the all-seeing Anasûrimbor, convincing Kellhus and his children, Serwa and Kayûtas, that Sorweel stands among the Empire’s most ardent Believer-Kings. She also provides a murder weapon: a pouch that conceals sorcery-killing Chorae from sorcerous eyes.

But the youth is conflicted, for evidence of the Aspect-Emperor’s cause encircles him, and he finds himself torn between the demands of Heaven and the testimony of his heart. The Goddess compels him. His father’s blood demands vengeance. Even his friend, Zsoronga, Prince of Zeum, counsels murder. And still he cannot but ask why … If the Unholy Consult were simply a fiction, why forge something so stupendous as the Great Ordeal? Nonmen emissaries intercept the Host in transit, offering an alliance in return for three hostages. The Aspect-Emperor promptly sends Sorweel along with his daughter, Serwa, and his adoptive son, Moënghus—not realizing that Nil’giccas, the Nonman King, has fled the Mountain, and that Ishterebinth has fallen to the Consult.

The three youths are seized and interrogated upon their arrival, but when the Nonmen discover that Sorweel has been doomed to destroy the Aspect-Emperor, they release him to Oinaral Lastborn, who seeks to save his Mansion. At long last, the youth learns the wicked truth of Golgotterath, not simply from Oinaral, but from the Amiolas, a sorcerous artifact that allows Men to understand Nonman language via the trapped soul of Immiriccas. The youth need only remember the losses suffered by the long-dead Ishroi to understand the depravity of the Aspect-Emperor’s foe, and therefore the righteousness of his cause, the Great Ordeal.

At long last he embraces the faith of his Enemy. With Oinaral, he embarks on a quest to the very bowel of the Weeping Mountain to find the Lastborn’s hero father, Oirunas, intent on overthrowing Nin’ciljiras, the Consult pretender to Nil’giccas’s throne.

The Great Ordeal, meanwhile, continues crawling north toward the everwithdrawing, ever-growing Sranc Horde. The desolation of the Istyuli gradually gives way to the knuckled landscape of ancient Sheneor, and the Ordealmen rejoice for finally reaching the outskirts of scripture. But if the Ordealmen find their conviction renewed, their Exalt-General, Proyas, finds his faith in his Aspect-Emperor challenged as it has never been challenged before—and by Kellhus himself, no less.

Supplies become ever more tentative, and the Sranc grow ever more desperate, ever more bold. Disaster strikes the westernmost contingent of the Host at Irsûlor, and the Great Ordeal loses a full quarter of their contingent, as well as the Vokalati, a Major School. At Swaranûl, the Holy Aspect-Emperor reveals the catastrophic truth: they have scarce travelled halfway and already they were out of food. Henceforth, he informs his astounded followers, the Men of the Circumfix will subsist upon their raving foe.

And so the Host of Hosts advances across the eastern shoulder of the Misty Sea, the Horde a roiling, retreating tide before them. The Ordealmen gorge upon their foe, feast about fires of Sranc carcasses. A darkness grows within them, consuming more and more of what comes before. Kellhus reveals the truth to Proyas in stages, first dismantling his certitude, then his faith, and finally, so it seems, his dignity and his heart.

At the derelict fortress of Dagliash, the Horde is cornered, and the might of the Great Ordeal is unleashed whole. But within the fortress itself, a Tekne artifact detonates and the very earth is Scalded. Thousands die, among them Saubon, who finds himself cast into the Hells.

Gazing upon the foul toadstool of smoke boiling above them, Kellhus tells Proyas that he must leave, that it is up to him to deliver the Great Ordeal to Golgotterath alone.

On the wild fringe of the Three Seas, meanwhile, Drusas Achamian has spent twenty years exploring his Dreams of the First Apocalypse. If he can find Ishuäl, he believes, he can answer the question that burns so bright in so many learned souls …

Who is the Aspect-Emperor?

Anasûrimbor Mimara, the step-daughter of his foe, arrives demanding he teach her sorcery. Her resemblance to her mother, Esmenet—who has become Empress of the Three Seas—returns the old Wizard to all the pains he sought to escape. Desperate to win his tutelage, Mimara seduces him.

This event casts a shadow over all that ensues, for not only does Mimara become quick with child, the Judging Eye—the ability to see the goodness and evil of things—fully awakens within her. Only in the shameful aftermath does she tell the old Wizard that Kellhus has already embarked on his quest to destroy the Consult and so save the world from a Second Apocalypse.

The old Wizard does not know where Ishuäl is, but thanks to his dreams, he knows the whereabouts of a map marking its location: in the famed Library of Sauglish, deep in the northern wilds. He contracts a company of Scalpers, hard men who make their living selling Sranc scalps to their Holy Aspect-Emperor, to accompany him on the quest: the Skin-eaters, renowned as much for their ruthless Captain, Lord Kosoter, as for his sorcerous companion, a Nonman Erratic known as Cleric. The outcast expedition sets out for the Library of Sauglish, fraught with grudge and rivalry from the beginning. The Judging Eye turns their trek into a march of the damned for Mimara, simply because not a soul among the company is saved—apart from her own. They pass through the ruined Nonman mansion of Cil-Aujas, and would have died there, were it not for Mimara and her cryptic use of her Chorae.

The journey across the Sranc-infested North harrows both the old Wizard and the Princess-Imperial alike, for they have come to increasingly depend on the Nonman, Cleric, and his dispensations of Qirri, the soul-quickening ashes of the legendary Cû’jara Cinmoi. After months of toiling, the expedition arrives at Sauglish maddened for both the drug and the deprivations it has enabled them to endure. Cleric is revealed as Nil’giccas, the Last Nonman King, bent on finding memory in betrayal and tragedy. The Skin-Eaters turn upon one another, and all are destroyed save Achamian and Mimara.

Together, they find the ancient map described in Achamian’s dreams, the map to Ishuäl—the hidden stronghold of the Dûnyain, the birthplace of the Holy Aspect-Emperor. They gather the ashes of Nil’giccas to replenish their supply of Qirri, then set out on the final leg of their journey. They persevere, gain the Demua Mountains, and surmount the glacier overlooking the vale of the Dûnyain. At long last, they see it, Ishuäl … ruined.

Beneath the toppled walls, they wander through the blasted galleries of the Thousand-Thousand Halls, across floors gravelled with the bones of Sranc. In the room of the Whale-mothers, the Judging-Eye opens and Mimara sees the dizzying evil of the Dûnyain. But does this mean Kellhus is evil? They realize their quest is not over until Mimara apprehends Kellhus with the Judging Eye.

They also find two survivors, the son and grandson of Kellhus himself, the former scarred beyond recognition. Mere days into their journey, he kills himself upon imbibing the Qirri, seeking the Absolute in annihilation. They glimpse the Scalding of Dagliash over the horizon, wonder at the pillar of ash. As they cross out of the mountains hying north, they are seized by Scylvendi outriders, and find themselves dragged before the insane regard of Cnaiür urs Skiötha, the King-of-Tribes …

The People of War shadow the Great Ordeal.

Far to the south in Momemn, the capital of the New Empire, Esmenet struggles to rule in her husband’s absence. With Kellhus and the bulk of his armed might faraway, the embers of insurrection have begun to ignite across the Three Seas. The Imperial Court regards her with condescension. Fanayal ab Kascamandri, the Padirajah of what had been the heathen Kianene Empire before the First Holy War, grows ever more bold on the fringes of the Great Carathay Desert. Psatma Nannaferi, the outlawed Mother-Supreme of the Cult of Yatwer, prophecies the coming of the White-Luck Warrior, the godsent assassin who will murder the Aspect-Emperor and his progeny. Even the Gods, it seems, plot against the Anasûrimbor Dynasty. Esmenet turns to her brother-in-law, Maithanet, the Shriah of the Thousand Temples, for his strength and clarity of vision, yet she wonders why her husband would leave the Mantle in her incapable hands, when his brother is Dûnyain like himself.

Even as the first rumours of this sedition reach his mother in Momemn, young Kelmomas continues his own devious insurrection. Where before he had driven Mimara away, now he engineers the death of his idiot twin, Samarmas, knowing that grief will make his mother even more desperate for his love. He secretly murders Sharacinth, High Priestess of the Yatwerians, an act that incites riots across the Three Seas. When he fears that his uncle, Maithanet, is beginning to suspect his double-game, he plots with his mad older brother, Inrilatas, to murder him as well, but the attempt goes awry, and Maithanet ends up killing Inrilatas instead.

War breaks out between Empress and Shriah. Grief-stricken and paranoid, Esmenet contracts a Narindar, a priest of the Four-Horned Brother, to murder her brother-in-law, not knowing that she parlays with the White-Luck Warrior. But Maithanet strikes first, storming and seizing the Andiamine Heights during her absence, and so Esmenet finds herself a fugitive in the very Empire she ruled, trapped with Naree, a prostitute living much as she had before marrying Kellhus and mothering his inhuman progeny. When she is finally captured and dragged in chains before Maithanet, helooks into her soul and sees the truth of the conflict between them. But before he can name Kelmomas, the White-Luck Warrior strikes him from the one place overlooked. As the sole remaining connection to her husband, she finds herself acclaimed as Holy Empress once again, even as Fanayal and his bandit army besiege the walls about Momemn.

She hastens to organize the city, showing the will her ailing subjects so desperately need to see. She invites the White-Luck Warrior, whom she still thinks is a mere Cultic assassin, to live with her and her surviving family in the Andiamine Heights. As much as his mother’s newfound strength dismays him, Kelmomas is more fascinated by the White-Luck Warrior, whom he sees as proof that Ajokli, the evil Four-Horned Brother, has chosen to be his protector. This conviction is confirmed when he watches the man bring about the death of his sister Theliopa—for she, after Maithanet, had been his greatest threat. But this triumph is instantly transformed into disaster when his mother, wild with grief, spies him celebrating his sister’s death.

A powerful earthquake strikes Momemn, laying low her walls and exposing her inhabitants to the desert fury of Fanayal and his Kianene. Psatma Nannaferi mocks the Padirajah as he readies himself for the assault, watched by an apprehensive Malowebi, the Emissary of the Zeumi Satakhan. Though the Mother-Supreme is Fanayal’s captive, the Goddess Yatwer has assured her mastery of the man. Without warning, Kellhus steps into their midst, killing both Fanayal and the Mother-Supreme. He overpowers Malowebi and severs his head, which he transforms into one of the Decapitants bound to his hip.

Aftershocks hammer the Imperial Capital. Kelmomas follows the White-Luck Warrior through the collapsing palace into the throne room, still thinking him a servant of Ajokli. But when he glimpses his father standing with his mother upon the dais, he realizes that the assassin hunts no less than the Aspect-Emperor—and at his mother’s behest. The little boy gains the assassin’s attention, hoping to assist, but the man gazes at him as though dumbstruck, as if a completely different soul has awakened behind his once implacable eyes.

The ceilings give way, and the boy learns that what is ruined can become more ruined still.

End of “What Has Come Before …”

Click here to read “Chapter One – The Western Three Seas”.

The Unholy Consult by R. Scott Bakker