With this first book of his Aspect-Emperor trilogy, R. Scott Bakker returns to the world he created for The Prince of Nothing, giving readers a story filled with action, treachery, passion, and detail. Two thousand years have passed since the No-God last walked the earth; now Anasûrimbor Kellhus has seized absolute power with the promise of preventing his dread return.Will Kellhus save the world or has the end already begun?
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Scott Bakker is the recipient of a Canada Council for the Arts Fellowship, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Fellowship, and the winner of the Helen B. Allison Gold Medal. He is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including the Prince of Nothing Trilogy, a series that Publisher’s Weekly calls “a work of unforgettable power.” His novels been translated into more than a dozen languages. He lives in London, Ontario with his wife and daughter.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
THE JUDGING EYE
CHAPTER ONE - Sakarpus
CHAPTER TWO - Hûnoreal
CHAPTER THREE - Momemn
CHAPTER FOUR - Hûnoreal
CHAPTER FIVE - Momemn
CHAPTER SIX - Marrow
CHAPTER SEVEN - Sakarpus
CHAPTER EIGHT - The River Rohil
CHAPTER NINE - Momemn
CHAPTER TEN - Condia
CHAPTER ELEVEN - The Osthwai Mountains
CHAPTER TWELVE - The Andiamine Heights
CHAPTER THIRTEEN - Condia
CHAPTER FOURTEEN - Cil-Aujas
CHAPTER FIFTEEN - Condia
CHAPTER SIXTEEN - Cil-Aujas
Character and Faction Glossary
What Has Come Before …
Also by R. Scott Bakker
THE JUDGING EYE
R. SCOTT BAKKER is the author of Neuropath and The Prince of Nothing series, which includes The Darkness That Comes Before, The Warrior-Prophet, and The Thousandfold Thought, a trilogy that Publishers Weekly calls “a work of unforgettable power.” He spent his childhood exploring the bluffs of Lake Erie’s north shore, and his youth studying literature, languages, and philosophy. He now lives in London, Ontario, with his wife, Sharron, and their cat, Scully.
Also by R. Scott Bakker
THE PRINCE OF NOTHING SERIES
The Darkness That Comes Before, Book One
The Warrior-Prophet, Book Two
The Thousandfold Thought, Book Three
Neuropath (writing as Scott Bakker)
First published in paperback in the United States in 2010 by
The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.
141 Wooster Street
New York, NY 10012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.
Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library of Congress
To Ricky—friend and brother
But who are you, man, to answer God thus? Will what is made say to him who made it—Why have you made me this way? Does the potter not have power over his clay, to make, from the same mass, one vessel for honour, and another for dishonour?
Exalt-Minister, most glorious, many be your days.
For the sin of apostasy, they were buried up to their necks in the ancient way, and stones were cast into their faces until their breathing was stopped. Three men and two women. The child recanted, even cursed his parents in the name of our glorious Aspect-Emperor. The World has lost five souls, but the Heavens have gained one, praise be the God of Gods.
As for the text, I fear that your prohibition has come too late. It was, as you suspected, an account of the First Holy War as witnessed by the exiled Schoolman, Drusas Achamian. Verily, my hand trembles at the prospect of reproducing his vile and abhorrent claims, but as the original text has already been committed to the flames, I see no other way to satisfy your request. You are quite correct: Heresy is rarely singular in its essence or its effects. As with diseases, deviations must be studied, curatives prepared, lest they erupt in more virulent form.
For the sake of brevity, I will limit my review to those particulars that either directly or indirectly contradict Doctrine and Scripture. In this text, Drusas Achamian claims:
I) To have had sexual congress with our Holy Empress on the eve of the First Holy War’s triumph over the heathen Fanim at Shimeh.
II) To have learned certain secrets regarding our Holy Aspect-Emperor, to whit: That He is not the incarnation of the God of Gods but rather a son of the Dûnyain, a secret sect devoted to the mastery of all things, body and spirit. That He transcends us not as gods transcend men, but as adults transcend children. That His Zaudunyani interpretation of Inrithism is nothing more than a tool, a means for the manipulation of nations. That ignorance has rendered us His slaves.
(I admit to finding this most unnerving, for though I have always known that words and events, no matter how holy, always admit wicked interpretations, I have never before considered the way beliefs command our actions. For as this Achamian asks, if all men lay claim to righteousness, and they do, who is to say which man claims true? The conviction, the belief unto death, of those I send from this world now troubles me, such is the treachery of the idle intellect.)
III) That our Holy Aspect-Emperor’s war to prevent the resurrection of the No-God is false. Granted, this is merely implied, since the text was plainly written before the Great Ordeal. But the fact that Drusus Achamian was once a Mandate Schoolman, and so cursed with dreams of the First Apocalypse, renders his suspicions extraordinary. Should not such a man hail the coming of Anasûrimbor Kellhus and his war to prevent the Second Apocalypse?
This is the sum of what I remember.
Having suffered this blasphemy, I understand the profundity of your concern. To hear that everything we have endured and cherished these past twenty years of war and revelation has been a lie is outrage enough. But to hear such from a man who not only walked with our Master in the beginning, but taught him as well? I have already ordered the execution of my body-slave, though I mourn him, for he only read the text at my behest. As for myself, I await your summary judgment. I neither beg nor expect your pardon: It is our doom to suffer the consequences of our acts, regardless of the piety of our intentions.
Some pollution begs not the cloth, but the knife; this I accept and understand.
Sin is sin.
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 horn pealed long and lonely beneath the forest canopies. A human horn.
For a moment all was quiet. Limbs arched across the imperious heights, and great trunks bullied the hollows beneath. Shorn saplings thatched the intervening spaces. A squirrel screeched warning from the gloom of interlocking branches. Starlings burst into the squinting sky.
They came, flickering across bands of sunlight and shadow.
Running with rutting fury, howling with rutting fury, through the lashing undergrowth, into the tabernacle deep. They swarmed over pitched slopes, kicking up leaves and humus. They parted about the trunks, chopping at the bark with rust-pitted blades. They sniffed the sky with slender noses. When they grimaced, their blank and beautiful faces were clenched like crumpled silk, becoming the expressions of ancient and inbred men.
Sranc. Bearing shields of lacquered human leather. Wearing corselets scaled with human fingernails and necklaces of human teeth.
The distant horn sounded again, and they paused, a vicious milling rabble. Words were barked among them. A number melted into the undergrowth, loping with the swiftness of wolves. The others jerked at their groins in anticipation. Blood. They could smell mannish blood.
Seed jetted black across the forest floor. They stamped it into the muck. They exulted in the stink of it.
The scouts returned, and at their jabbering the others shuddered and convulsed. It had been so long since they had last glutted their rapacious hunger. So long since they knelt at the altar of jerking limbs and mewling flesh. They could see the panicked faces. They could see the gushing blood, the knife-made orifices.
They ran, weeping for joy.
Cresting a low ridge, they found their prey hastening along the base of a back-broken cliff, trying to make their way to the far side of a gorge that opened as though by miracle several hundred paces away. The Sranc howled and chattered their teeth, raced in wild files down the slope, skidding across leaves, their legs kicking in long leaps. They hit the ground where it flattened, scrambling, running, burning hard in their rotten breeches, watching the soft Men turning mere paces before them, their faces as enticing as thighs, coming closer and closer, almost within the circle of wild-swinging swords—
But the ground! The ground! Collapsing beneath them, like leaves thrown across sky!
Dozens of them were sucked shrieking into the black. The others clutched and jostled, tried to stop, only to be bumped screeching by their crazed kin. Their screams trailed as they plummeted into the concealed gorge, popped into silence one by one. Suddenly all was uncertain, all was threat. The war-party yammered in fear and frustration. None dared move. Eyes rolling, they stared in lust and apprehension …
A hard-bitten handful, running as though by magic across the false forest floor. They lunged into the Sranc’s midst, their heavy swords high and pitching. Shields cracked. Mouldered iron was bent and broken. Limbs and heads were thrown on arcs of glittering blood.
The Men roared and bellowed, hammered them to earth, hacked them to twitching ruin.
“Scalper!” the lone traveller cried out. His voice possessed the gravel of an old officer’s bawl. It boomed through the gorge, easily audible over the white roar of water. As one, the men upriver stood and stared in his direction.
Just like animals, he thought.
Indifferent to their gaze, he continued picking his way along the treacherous stones, sloshing through water every several steps. He passed a Sranc, white as a drowned fish, floating face down in a pool of translucent red.
The traveller glanced up to where the gorge walls pinched the sky into a wandering slot. Trees had been felled across the opening, forming the rafters for an improvised ceiling of saplings and sticks, covered over with leaves. The sky glared bright through numerous holes. Leaves still twittered down in a steady cascade. If the numbers of inert forms scattered and heaped about the rocks were any indication, it had been a very effective trap. In places, the river’s foam spouted pink and violet.
Most of the men had returned to their work, but three continued to watch him warily. He had no doubt that the one he sought was among them.
The traveller tramped into their midst. The smell of burst entrails soured that of water and scoured stone. Most of the party sorted through the dead Sranc. Bodies were kicked off bodies. Broken heads were pulled from the water. Knives flashed. It was the same each time: pinch, saw, swipe, then on to the next one. Pinch, saw, swipe—again and again. A flap of skin cut from the crown of every one.
Nearby, a young Galeoth swordsman washed a small hoard of scalps. He rinsed them, then laid them out, glistening and fatty white across dry stone. He handled each swatch with ludicrous care, the way a halfwit might handle gold—which scalps had pretty much become in the High Middle-North. Though the Aspect-Emperor had lowered the Hallow Bounty, a scalp still fetched a full silver kellic from honest brokers.
They were all extremely conscious of his arrival, the traveller knew. They simply pretended to be indifferent. Usually, they encountered outsiders only when they trekked south to the brokers, flush with hundreds of tanned scalps, bound and dangling from lengths of leather string. This work, the work of collecting and counting, was the least manly portion of their trade. It was their menial secret.
It was also the point.
Nearly eleven years had passed since the Aspect-Emperor had declared his bounty on Sranc scalps, before the last of the Unification Wars had ended. He placed the bounty on Sranc because of their vast numbers. He placed the bounty on scalps because their hairlessness made them distinctive to Sranc. Men such as these, the traveller supposed, would be far happier poaching something less inclined to kill back—like women and children.
So began the Scalping Years. Over that time, countless thousands had trudged into the northern wilderness, expedition after expedition, come to make their fortune as Scalpoi. Most died in a matter of weeks. But those who learned, who were wily and every bit as ruthless as their foe, prospered.
And some—a few—became legendary.
The man the traveller sought stood upon a rounded stone, watching the others work. He knew him from his dogged devotion to the traditional costume of his caste and race: the pleated war-skirt, stained grey and black and shot through with holes; the corselet with rusty scales stitched into rotting leather; the conical helm, bent back like a single ram’s horn. He looked a wraith from another age. A second man, his face concealed by a black cowl, sat three paces behind him, leaning forward as though straining to hear something in the water’s ambient rush. The traveller peered at him for a moment, as though trying to judge some peculiarity, then returned his gaze to the first man.
“I’m looking for the Ainoni,” he said. “The one they call Ironsoul.”
“That would be me,” the standing man replied. His face had been tattooed with the cosmetics favoured by his countrymen. Black lines about his eyes. Purpled lips. His look neither accused nor questioned but remained mild in the manner of bored assassins. Incurious.
“Veteran,” the traveller said, bowing his head in due respect. Failing to properly acknowledge and venerate a survivor of the First Holy War was no small offence.
“How did you find us?” the man asked in his native tongue. From the cadence of his voice, it was obvious that he despised speaking, that he was as jealous of his voice as he was of his women or his blood.
The traveller did not care. Men prized what they would.
“We find everyone.”
A barely perceptible nod. “What do you want?”
“You, Scalper. We want you.”
The Ainoni glanced back toward his cowled companion. No words were exchanged, only an inscrutable look.
Late Autumn, 19 New Imperial Year (4131 Year-of-the-Tusk), Momemn
Ever do Men seek to hide what is base and mean in their natures. This is why they talked of wolves or lions or even dragons when they likened themselves to animals. But it was the lowly beetle, the young boy decided, whom they most resembled. Belly to the ground. Back hunched against the world. Eyes blind to everything save the small circle before them.
His Whelming complete, Anasûrimbor Kelmomas crouched in the granite shadows, leaning between his knees to better watch the insect scuttle across the ancient floor. One of the great iron candle-wheels hung soundless between the pillars above, but its light was little more than a dull gleam across the beetle’s wagging back. Holding his knees, Kelmomas shuffled forward, absorbed by the insect’s tiny te...
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