Tuesday 28 June 2016

GAME OF THRONES producers confirm fewer than 15 episodes left

Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss have confirmed that there are, at best, 15 episodes of the series left, and possibly as few as 13.

It's unclear if future seasons will see Jon Snow continue to make tactically unwise decisions which turn out okay at the last minute thanks to the intervention of other factors and is then inexplicably rewarded afterwards.

Benioff and Weiss have been talking for a while now about ending the series with two shortened seasons, with a clear preference for a seventh season next year of seven episodes and then a final season in 2018 with six episodes. This would allow them to focus and concentrate more resources, finances and filming time on the events of these episodes, which are expected to be huge in scale and scope. HBO's preference appears to be for at least two full 10-episode seasons and clearly discussions have been going on for some time over a solution. Last month HBO renewed Game of Thrones for a seventh season, but not an eighth, leading to speculation that perhaps they were even discussing a larger-than-normal seventh season, perhaps airing later in the year to conclude the series in one go. However, this seemed unlikely as HBO would prefer two event seasons in two subsequent financial years, especially as they don't have a new series on the drawing board likely to replace Game of Thrones in the zeitgeist.

HBO has yet to officially comment on how many episodes will be in the seventh season. With that writing of the scripts for the seventh season already complete and filming due to start in a couple of weeks, this will have been finalised some time ago, so it's just a question of when they want to confirm it.

Conventions, Brexit and Fandom

Last Thursday the United Kingdom voted, by a very narrow margin, to leave the European Union. Discussions of the socio-economic and political consequences of that will go on for many years. Although it will not have been at the forefront of many voters' minds, the departure also has a bearing on the European SFF fandom scene. It was only two years ago that huge numbers of fans from across the continent descended on London for Worldcon, and next year will likewise descend on Helsinkin and then on Dublin in 2019. Irish SFF author Peadar O Guilin has a few words to say about the event:

Like all Europeans, Peadar carefully challenges each banana he eats on its curvature to ensure compliance with European Union guidelines. This one is suspect. He ate it anyway.

"Brilliant!" I thought -- this was three and a half years ago, you understand. These days I'm more likely to use the word "awesome". But I digress...

I had received an invite to a Science Fiction convention in Luxembourg. I was expecting a relaxing weekend, sitting in an empty room. You see, everybody knows Luxembourg is tiny, and since they never had a convention before this, the organisers were doomed to struggle for numbers. They might get twenty people, I thought. Thirty tops...

I've never been so wrong in my life. The place was swarming with people. In fact, it was the largest Con I had ever attended outside North America. But where the hell did they all come from?
Europe, of course.

My mistake was to think of Luxembourg as a country. Well, it is, but that's not what's important here. What's important, is that it no longer possesses any borders. People arrived from Paris and Brussels by trains that never even slowed down when they passed from one state to another. They drove by car from Germany and only realised they had crossed over from their own country when they started spotting road signs in French.

Then, they reached the Con -- thousands of them, overwhelmingly young, buying wonderful Belgian frites with the same currency they already had in their pockets.

I sat in the sunshine speaking to people, sometimes in French, but mostly in an English that many of them had honed by spending time studying or working in the UK. I admired their incredibly creative costumes, and more than one person sported a t-shirt with a Union Jack on it, because in the heart of our continent, among the youth, Britain was seen as cool; as forward looking; as open.

This was Europe as it was always meant to be. Friendly, vibrant, thriving. Made possible, not in spite of, but because of decades of regulations and the harmonisation of national laws. It's what the young see when they travel. It's their country now, the one they would "want back" if ever they were to lose it.

I get to experience a little of that here in Ireland too.

I remember the bad old days, growing up in Donegal, and having to pass over the border. I remember soldiers scarcely older than myself, armed with big guns, passing down the aisle of the bus while everybody stared at the back of the seat in front of them.

Yet now, when I attend my favourite convention -- TitanCon in Belfast -- I just hop into my car, and keep driving until I reach the hotel. Nobody says "boo" to me. I don't have to wait in a line of traffic while every fourth car is searched for contraband or terrorists. It's all so... frictionless. Sure, the road signs are in miles, rather than kilometres, but that's actually charming. The only thing I miss, really, is the Euro.

I'm heart-broken over the UK's vote to leave us. I'm terrified that the lovely European dream I experienced in Luxembourg might soon be at an end and I'm working hard to stave off bitterness and resentment. I want the future to be "brilliant" again, the way I thought it was, or at least, the way it might have been.

- Peadar O Guilin (reprinted with permission)

Both Peadar and myself will be in attendance at TitanCon 2016, which will be held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 30 September to 2 October 2016. It's an excellent convention which I strongly urge people to attend. Peadar's new novel The Call is out on 30 August. I strongly suggest you buy it, as it will melt your face off. Not literally.

Niall Alexander has a good post at Tor.com which samples opinions on Brexit from across the UK publishing scene, good and bad.

Monday 27 June 2016

Game of Thrones: Season 6

Westeros remains engulfed by banditry and political turmoil. In King's Landing the Faith of the Seven has gained tremendous power and inflicted moral shame even on Cersei Lannister, the Queen Regent. A new age of religious dominance seems nigh in Westeros. Far across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen has disappeared from the city of Meereen, leaving Tyrion Lannister in reluctant control of the situation. For Daenerys, she once again finds herself a guest of the Dothraki and having to navigate their customs for her own advantage. But in Westeros itself the true threat comes from beyond the Wall, as the Night's King and his White Walkers march...and the only person willing to stand against them has been betrayed and murdered by his own followers.

Missing: Brad Pitt in a battle skirt.

The fifth season of Game of Thrones was its worst, saved from mediocrity by the penultimate episode Hardhome which completely raised the bar for the show in terms of dramatic power, visual effects and small-screen myth-making. For a show which, for four previous seasons, had always been an effective and satisfying slice of drama (if still running a distant second to the novels in terms of characterisation and satisfying political drama), the fifth was a major let-down, reportedly the result of the producers not knowing how many episodes they had left to tell the story and the confusion caused by adapting elements from George R.R. Martin's novels whilst also outpacing them.

The sixth season is, thankfully, vastly superior to the fifth. It is has a sense of purpose and relentlessness which has been missing for a while, as well as a willingness to seed major moments amongst almost all of the episodes rather than holding back the best for last. This isn't to say that it's all plain sailing. Arya spends too long getting beaten up on the streets of Braavos before finally doing something about it. Bran's crucial, fan theory-confirming visions are doled out excruciatingly slowly (and in a contrived manner) over the course of the whole season. Sam and Gilly have so little to do that it may have been better to have pulled a Bran and rested them for a year. For the second season in a row we're set up a very promising Brienne storyline that then goes nowhere fast. And, as thrilling as seeing Daenerys humble the Dothraki is, it's also a redundant repeat of what she already did five years ago.

The biggest and most continuous problem through the season, and one I suspect we will see going forwards, is the absence of George R.R. Martin's dialogue. Benioff and Weiss are - when on their game - effective plotters and sometimes quite clever in how they reframe the source material to work in 60-minute chunks with far fewer characters and locations to call upon, but their original dialogue is frequently clunky. With no novels left to adapt, the opportunity to use Martin's dialogue in-situ is largely gone and they have to fall back on their own material, which is much more variable. There's also major issues with portraying the passage of time (most notably Gilly's still-too-young baby, who should be a three or four-year-old by now) and characters teleporting around the map with no thought for plausibility.

But elsewhere the show does better. Extending pain and misery across eight seasons without surcease would have been rather depressing, so after the mostly dark and defeat-shrouded fifth season the sixth gives us a huge number of victories. Major storylines are closed down, most of the major villains are defeated and the "good guys" (or, in some cases, maybe "least-worst bad guys") are on the rise. Particularly interesting, especially after the claims of misogyny laid against the show in prior season, is how the sixth year sees women rising to power right across the board: Cersei, Daenerys, Yara Greyjoy, the Sand Snakes of Dorne, Sansa, Arya, Lady Mormont (this year's break-out character bar none) and more.

Lyanna Mormont, indisputably the breakout character of Season 6. At this point I think she's more popular than the Red Viper.

The question of whether the sixth season would spoil the final two books has also been answered by the TV show going off in a completely different direction in numerous storylines. The only areas where the show does spoil the books is by confirming fairly blatantly obvious theories (about both Jon's birth and his fate) that even GRRM doesn't strenuously deny any more. Those things that are spoiled seem to be fairly minor - such as the origin of Hodor's name - but I suspect the true spoilers will come in the next two seasons.

Although the sixth season paces major plot movements and developments over its whole length, it does spin some wheels in the latter part of the season and the season premiere is probably the weakest they've ever delivered. But other episodes are extremely strong, such as Oathbreaker, The Door and, especially, the finale.

Perhaps the most disappointing episode of the season is the penultimate one. We were promised a jaw-dropping, amazing field battle sequence and didn't entirely get what was promised. The battlefield tactics were a horrendous mess that didn't make sense, Jon Snow's military acumen is non-existent (the handy strategist who held the Wall against Mance Rayder has gone AWOL) and Sansa witholds vitally important tactical information on reinforcements for absolutely no discernible reason. Yes, seeing the end of Ramsay Bolton is highly satisfying, but the way it was reached was contrived to the point of incoherence.

Vastly superior is the season finale, easily the best they have ever done and a strong contender for best episode of the entire series. Some plot developments were predictable, but seeing Cersei sweep the board clean of her enemies in one swift movement and be established as the show's final human villain of consequence (Euron, I suspect, will remain a side-player) is immensely satisfying, especially as it is set to Ramin Djawadi's finest musical work since the first season. Bringing in new bad guys can be fun, but returning to the very first one and seeing them gain an immense amount of new power and prestige is even more satisfying. It was a delicious moment, if undermined by the fact that Cersei's enemies outnumber and outflank her on such a scale that her defeat is inevitable. But that's for next season to worry about.

Not many TV shows can boast a scene that some people have been literally waiting to see for twenty years.

More impressive is the shot of Daenerys setting sail for Westeros. As someone who picked up A Storm of Swords on release day in 2000 hoping that's how that novel would end, it's brilliant to finally see that realised on screen. The staging of the shot also made me wonder if the CG guys were tipping the hat at David Benioff, as a similar shot of the Greek fleet can be found early in the running of his 2004 movie Troy.

But of course the killer moment of the finale was the revelation that one of the longest-held fan theories about the books, one that was discussed on nascent internet message boards as early as 1996, was true. By now it was all but certain it was true, but the final confirmation still delivers a powerful emotional kick. Special kudos to Robert Aramayo who played the young Eddard Stark so convincingly in flashbacks. Although a "Robet's Rebellion" prequel series has been ruled out by George R.R. Martin (who has the rights to it and is not minded to sell them), if HBO ever do talk him around it'd be great to perhaps see Aramayo in the role again.

Overall, the sixth season of Game of Thrones executes some much-needed damage control after the problems of the fifth season to deliver a much more interesting set of stories. There are still weaknesses in worldbuilding, dialogue, characterisation and how it handles military matters, but the show has developed a renewed sense of purpose and focus as the final end of the show comes into view.

601: The Red Woman (***)
602: Home (***½)
603: Oathbreaker (****½)
604: Book of the Stranger (****½)
605: The Door (****½)
606: Blood of My Blood (***½)
607: The Broken Man (****)
608: No One (***½)
609: Battle of the Bastards (***½)
610: The Winds of Winter (*****)

Sunday 26 June 2016

A History of Eärwa Part 4: The Modern Age

The Apocalypse destroyed the civilisation of the Ancient North. Two great cities, Atrithau and Sakarpus, had survived but otherwise all of the glories of the Norsirai had been lost and the surviving remnants of that once-great people pushed south into the Three Seas. Attempts to found new cities and settlements foundered under vast numbers of Sranc. Leaderless and without direction, they continued breeding, raiding and rampaging. With a truly vast amount of terrain to free range across, almost the entire northern half of the continent, their numbers could not be controlled and within a few centuries their numbers blanketed the earth. Fortunately, they showed no appetite for a concerted push into the Three Seas.

The borders of the Ceneian Empire after each major conquest: Gielgath (2349), Cepalor (by the 2390s), Shigek (2397), Xerash and Amoteu (2414), Nilnemesh (2483), Cingulat (2484), Amarah (2485), Cironj (2508), Nron (2511), Ainon (2518), Cengemis (2519) and Annand (2525). The latter conquests were carried out by Triamis I, the Great, the first Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas (2456-2577).

The fall of the No-God at the battlefield of Mengedda spelt the end of the Consult's plan to destroy the world, but not the Consult themselves. They retreated - according to some, taking the No-God's Carapace with them - and sought refuge in Golgotterath. With initially thousands and later millions of Sranc infesting all the lands between the Three Seas and the Yimaleti Mountains, the victorious armies of Kyraneas and their sorcerous allies were unable to pursue. The ravages of the Indigo Plague of 2157 soon exhausted what was left of Ketyai strength, already pushed to breaking point by decades of warfare and accompanied by the death of Anaxophus V shortly after the end of the war, led to the collapse of Kyraneas.

Seswatha survived the Apocalypse, in fact living until 2168 when he died at the age of 79. Shortly after the end of the Apocalypse, with the School of Sehonc effectively destroyed, he founded the Gnostic School of Mandate, based in the fortress of Atyersus on the island of Nron. A year later he founded Attrempus on the mainland to the north-east. Fearing that his successors would forget the lessons of the Apocalypse, Seswatha underwent a sorcerous ritual upon his death. His heart was extracted from his body and placed in a chamber in Atyersus. Every Mandate schoolman, upon joining the organisation, would undergo a ritual known as the Grasping. This ritual would transfer Seswatha's memories to him. Every night he would dream the details of Seswatha's life, the great battles, the descent into Golgotterath, the preparations for the Apocalypse and the final battle with the No-God. In this way the knowledge and fear of the Consult would live on. The Mandate scoured the Three Seas searching for Consult agents, occasionally exposing and destroying them. But for the most part the Consult seemed willing to remain in hiding in far Golgotterath.

Although the Ancient North and the northern Three Seas had been ravaged by the No-God, the southern nations remained untouched by the war. Amoteu, Shigek and Nilnamesh soon proved resurgent and the refounded city-states of the Kyranae Plains fell into internecine warfare, beginning the Age of Warring Cities (lasting approximately from 2158 to 2477 Year-of-the-Tusk). This period may well have seen a relapse into barbarism had not humanity found a new saviour.

Inri Sejenus, known to history as the Latter Prophet, was born in 2159. At a young age he claimed to be the pure incarnation of the Absolute Spirit ("the very proportion of the God") and to have been sent to amend the teachings of the Tusk. He argued for a fairer world and a willingness to embrace God in His singular aspect as well as that of the Hundred. The extant Kiünnat sects at first dismissed Sejenus as a fringe philosopher, but as he got older he attracted vast followings. His teachings were widely disseminated and his popularity boomed. In 2198 Sejenus was arrested and sentenced to death by King Shikol of Xerash. In 2202 the execution was carried out and Sejenus was put to death outside the city of Shimeh, in what had been Amoteu (at that point a subservient nation to Xerash). However, Shikol himself then died and it was said by the faithful the Sejenus returned to life and ascended to the Nail of Heaven.

Sejenus's movement, Inrithism, slowly spread throughout the Three Seas. It was fought against by the Kiünnat cults, but soon become irresistible. A framework was set up that disseminated the teachings of Sejenus, The Tractate, through sub-temples worshipping the Hundred. This became the Thousand Temples, with a single leader, the Shriah, at its head. Although Shimeh was the holiest city in Inrithism for the martyrdom of Sejenus, the presence of the Tusk led to the religion basing itself in Sumna (to where the Tusk had been returned following the No-God's defeat), which capitulated in 2469. In 2505 the religion gained official recognition as the state religion of the Ceneian Empire, which by that point had become the pre-eminent power of Eärwa.

Cenei had been founded over a thousand years earlier, but had spent most of its existence as a modest river town on the Phayus, the greatest river of the Kyranae Plains. The destruction of Mehtsonc during the Apocalypse had been carried out with such thoroughness that the ruins were deemed uninhabitable, and over successive generations downriver Cenei instead absorbed a lot of the returning refugees. The city grew in size and power, and when the Age of Warring Cities began it was well-placed to fight both defensively and offensively. In 2349 it captured Gielgath, at the mouth of the Shaul, effectively giving it control over the intervening southern Kyranae Plains. Xercallas II completed the reconquest of Kyraneas and his successors conquered Cepalor in the north (inhabited by the descendants of Norsirai refugees) and then Shigek in the south by 2397.

The root of Ceneian success was the Imperial Army, which was thoroughly well-trained and formidably equipped. The organisation of the army, its ability to absorb recruits from newly-conquered provinces and its willingness to change tactics resulted in a military force arguably unmatched before or since in Eärwa. The Imperial Navy was likewise impressively-organised. Between 2397 and 2414 the two institutions would combine to outflank the Carathay Desert and deliver a series of raids and then conquests in Enathpaneah, Xerash and Amoteu, capturing the Holy City of Shimeh along the way. General Naxentas, who delivered this stunning victory, declared himself the first Emperor of Cenei. He would be assassinated within the year, but his successors built on his achievements.

Triamis I became Emperor in 2478, beginning the Ceneian Golden Age. In 2483 he conquered Nilnamesh, defeating King Sarnagiri V. The following year he invaded Cingulat, on the far north-western coast of the continent of Kutnarmu. Triamis turned west, leading his armies to the borders of Zeüm, the great Satyothi power of far western Eärwa which had succeeded ancient Angka. He defeated a mighty host at the Battle of Amarah and would have invaded but his homesick troops mutinied. He returned to Cenei and consolidated his gains.

Returning home, he found the empire caught in a religious conflict between the Kiünnat cults and Inrithism, which was threatening to spill over into outright war. Triamis spoke to leaders on both sides, but found that Ekyannus III, Shriah of the Thousand Temples, was both more reasonable and convincing as a religious leader. In 2502 Ekyannus instituted the "Emperor Cult" of the Thousand Temples and dubbed Triamis the Aspect-Emperor of the Three Seas. In 2505 Triamis himself converted to Inrithism, naming it the state religion of the Ceneian Empire. He then spent ten years putting down religious rebellions whilst also concluding the conquests of the island nations of Cironj (2508) and Nron (2511). Shortly afterwards he invaded the eastern Three Seas, conquering the successor-nations of the old Shiradi Empire: Ainon (2518), Cengemis (2519) and Annand (2525). For his achievements in conquering almost the entire Three Seas, Triamis was dubbed "The Great".

Eärwa circa 3000 Year-of-the-Tusk, at the height of the Ceneian Empire. Cenei was the Imperial Capital, with Sumna as its spiritual heart. The Empire dominated the continent for eight hundred years prior to its collapse in the 34th Century. It was the largest and most powerful nation-state in history, unrivalled until the rise of the New Empire of Anasûrimbor Kellhus a thousand years later.

The following Aspect-Emperors would maintain the borders of the empire, keeping the Ceneian Empire as the centre of political, military and religious power in Eärwa for eight centuries. The weakness of the Ceneian Empire was not in its military strength, but in its political succession, with brief but bloody civil wars often being the mechanism for a transference of power. The constant instability eventually resulted in the Empire growing lax and overconfident. In 3351 Cenei was sacked by the Scylvendi under Horiötha King-of-Tribes, triggering the collapse of the empire. The destruction of Cenei was brutal, with the city burned to the ground and all of its treasures, including the Heron Spear, lost or stolen. The great fortress of Batathent was destroyed shortly afterwards.

The final collapse is generally dated to 3372, when General Maurelta surrendered his legions to Sarothesser I. Sarothesser had led the south-eastern part of the empire in breaking away from Cenei. In this year he ascended the Assurkamp Throne in Carythusal as the King of High Ainon. Cengemis and Nilnamesh also broke away, spelling the end of the Ceneian Age. In 3374 Aöknyssus became the capital of a new nation, Conriya.

By 3411 the port city of Momemn at the mouth of the Phaysus, had supplanted lost Cenei as the pre-eminent city of the Kyranae Plains. Under the Trimus Dynasty Momemn became the capital of Nansur, first a small kingdom and then a mighty empire, proclaiming itself the heir to both Kyraneas and Cenei. By 3619 the Nansur Empire had conquered Shigek and Amoteu, but failed to expand those conquests into the eastern Three Seas, where the power of High Ainon was unassailable. Later in the century Nansur and High Ainon formed a brief military pact, perhaps planning to carve up the Three Seas between them, but ultimately this idea foundered and the pact dissolved. In 3643 Norsirai tribesmen living north-east of Nansur consolidated into the kingdom of Galeoth, followed in 3742 by the founding of Ce Tydonn, which supplanted and replaced Cengemis. In 3787 the Thunyeri, a robust warrior-people descended from the ancient Meöri Empire, were displaced by growing numbers of Sranc from the lands south of the Sea of Cerish, moving down the Wernma River and becoming raiders and pirates which would trouble the Three Seas for two centuries before they consolidated as the kingdom of Thunyerus in 3987.

The ambitions of Nansur to once again seize control of the Three Seas were thwarted by a series of events along the fringes of the Great Carathy Desert. Fane, an Inrithi priest living in Eumarna, was found guilty of heresy by the Thousand Temples in 3703 and cast into the Carathay Desert to die. Fane went blind in the desert, but also experienced a series of religious insights and revelations. He emerged from the southern sands wielding a power known as the Water of Indara, a form of sorcery both unknown and alien to the Schools of the Three Seas. The Kianene, the raiders and tribesfolk of the Great Salt, welcomed him amongst their ranks and listened to his teachings. Fan'oukarji I, Fane's son, took those teachings and translated them into a holy mission to destroy Inrithism, with the ultimate goal of casting down the Tusk (the "Cursed Thorn" in their tradition).

A Cishaurim sorcerer wielding the Water of Indara. Although still vulnerable to Chorae, Cishaurim are not damned as other sorcerers are and their powers cannot be detected by others of the Few. The reasons for this remain unknown to the sorcerous schools of the Three Seas. The Water of Indara is believed to be more powerful than most of the anagogic sorcery of the Three Seas, checked only by the Gnosis of the Mandate.

The Kianene swept out of the desert in the so-called White Jihad (3743-71). The Kianene armies were supported by followers of Fane who had also cast out their eyes and gained the powers of the Water. They became known as the Cishaurim. As proof of their righteousness, the Cishaurim showed that, unlike followers of the sorcerous schools like the Mandate and the Scarlet Spires, their mark was not cursed. They were not damned to an eternity of torment as other sorcerers were. Their presence could also not be felt by other sorcerers, but Chorae were still anathema to them.

By 3771 the Kianene had conquered Mongilea and large portions of Eumarna, founding a new capital at Nenciphon on the River Sweki, and converted the Girgashi people of the desert to Fanimry. Kian had emerged as a powerful new player on the shores of the Three Seas, although not one yet taken seriously by the Nansur Empire or the Thousand Temples. In 3798 the Shriah, Ekyannus XIV, ordered the extermination of the sorcerous schoolmen, declaring them to be unclear abominations. The Scholastic Wars raged for the next eighteen years and saw several lesser schools destroyed. However, it also provided the impetus for the Scarlet Spires to seize control of High Ainon, bringing the might of one of the great powers of the Three Seas under their control. The Mandate survived, although it curtailed its mainland activities, and the Mysunsai "mercenary" school came into existence. By 3818 the pogrom had been called off, but many sorcerers throughout the northern Three Seas had lost their lives.

This, of course, reduced the ability of the Thousand Temples and the Nansur Empire to resist the onslaught of the Kian and their Cishaurim. The rest of Eumarna fell in 3801, followed by Enathpaneah in 3842 and Xerash and Amoteu by 3845. The Sack of Shimeh outraged both the Thousand Temples and all followers of Inrthism as a whole, but there was no appetite for a counter-assault. The Kianene maintained the initiative. In 3933 the Dagger Jihad of Fan'oukarji III saw both Shigek and Gedea fall to the Kianene, bringing the borders of Kian to the very doorstep of Nansur. In the resulting turmoil, the Surmante Dynasty was destroyed and replaced by the Ikurei family. The Ikurei then reorganised the Nansur army and were able to defeat no less than three Kianene invasions of the empire over the next several decades.

Eärwa circa 4100 Year-of-the-Tusk, on the eve of the Holy War.

Meanwhile, the Mandate were facing mixed fortunes. Early in the 3900s they lost track of the last Consult agents in the Three Seas. For three centuries they scoured the lands for any sign of the enemy, only to find that they had completely disappeared. This disconcerting event was accompanied by a more positive one: House Nersei of Conriya forged a strong alliance with the Mandate, accepting their schoolmen as tutors and advisors. The Nersei dynasty used this advice to shore up their political support and eventually take the throne of the kingdom. The Mandate also gifted their secondary fortress of Attrempus to the Nersei family, giving them a strong bulwark to use against possible attack.

Towards the end of the 41st Century the Three Seas were posed on a knife's edge. Nansur had checked the advance of the Kianene Empire, but was unable to mount an effective counter-offensive. The nations of the eastern Three Seas schemed as usual and the sorcerous schools intrigued. The Mandate kept a watchful eye for the Consult, but could find no trace of them anywhere.

The beginnings of the road that led to the Holy War and the new Great Ordeal were modest. In 4079 the Scylvendi leader of the Utemot tribe, Skiötha urs Hannut, died. He was succeeded by his son, Cnaiür urs Skiötha, a warrior of tremendous repute for savagery and intelligence. Cnaiür was advised by a strange man from the Ancient North, from the lands beyond Atrithau which were believed to be completely lost to Sranc. This man convinced Cnaiür to kill his father, having seduced his mother. Afterwards he vanished into the southern deserts, to Cnaiür's fury and declarations of vengeance.

This man was named Anasûrimbor Moënghus.


The artwork for this article was created by Jason Deem, known as Spiral Horizon, and used with his permission. You can find more of his spectacular work here. The maps are from Scott's website, adjusted by myself.
The Prince of Nothing Wiki was helpful in providing spelling checks and putting the timeline of events in better order.
Unlike the first part, I didn't request any new information for this third installment, so any errors or confusion are on my part.
Scott Bakker wrote the Second Apocalypse novels, for which this history is merely the backdrop and the scene-setting that comes before. Those novels are:
The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
The Thousandfold Thought (2005)
The Aspect-Emperor
The Judging Eye (2008)
The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
The Great Ordeal (2016)
The Unholy Consult (2017)

Saturday 25 June 2016

Star Trek at 50: Returning to the Final Frontier

In January 2017, CBS will air the first new television episode of Star Trek in twelve years. It will be just over twenty-nine years since Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted, and just over fifty since the franchise started in the first place.

A new Star Trek TV show has been on the cards since Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, but development was delayed by the divorce between CBS and Paramount that saw the Star Trek rights split between the two companies. When Paramount began releasing its new Star Trek movies under the oversight of J.J. Abrams, CBS was also uncertain how to respond. It did not have the rights to make a TV show set in the Abramsverse and relations between the two companies were cool enough to make it unlikely they could get them.

A few things changed CBS's minds. One was the re-release of the original series and then The Next Generation in high definition. Although neither was the smash success they were hoping (and the prospects of a remastering of DS9 and Voyager now seem unlikely), both did reasonably well in international sales and performances on platforms such as Netflix. CBS were planning to set up their own platform, CBS All Access, and saw Star Trek as a potential vehicle to help get it off the ground.

In November 2015 CBS announced that it had commissioned a new Star Trek TV series, to debut on CBS proper with an event premiere in January 2017 but then to be followed by new episodes released exclusively through CBS All Access. International sales would be through more traditional channels.

Star Trek fans were initially disheartened by the news, feeling that locking Star Trek away behind a paywall for a minority service (the chances of CBSAA effectively challenging Netflix and Amazon are non-existent) in its fiftieth year was massively disrespectful to the legacy of the franchise. The news at Alex Kurtzman, who had worked on Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness, was the prime mover behind the series was also greeted with scepticism, although he is generally better working in television (such as on the excellent Fringe) than on film (such as the less-excellent Transformers movies).

However, in the months since then there has been a steady stream of good news. CBS announced that the showrunner for the new project would be Bryan Fuller. Fuller cut his teeth with several Deep Space Nine scripts before becoming a writer-producer on Voyager. He then worked on original, critically-acclaimed (if not massively popular) shows like Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me before working on the first season of Heroes, where he wrote several of the most popular episodes. His departure before Season 2 was cited as a key reason why the show's quality dramatically declined. His later work was highly acclaimed, particularly Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. Whilst developing Star Trek he was also working on the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods for Starz, which is now shooting. Fuller brings a tremendous depth of experience in creating quality television with a deep knowledge and love of the Star Trek franchise.

Even more impressively, if that was possible, CBS announced that they had recruited Nicholas Meyer to provide support, advice and scripts. Meyer is the director of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, as well as co-writing both movies and Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home. Those are the three most critically-acclaimed films in the history of the movie franchise. Meyer was also clever enough to take breaks between the films and only come back to work on the franchise when he was inspired by new ideas. Bringing Meyer on board was a very canny move, designed to appeal to old-skool Star Trek fans. Rod Roddenberry, the son of the late Gene Roddenberry, was also involved in the series as an advisor.

The premise of the new series is not known, although it is generally believed that the new series will not be set in the "Abramsverse" of the new movies, as CBS do not have the rights to it and there has been no formal announcement of a deal between CBS and Paramount to allow it. Based on comments from Fuller and alleged leaks from CBS, the new series may be set in the 71-year-gap between the opening scenes of Star Trek: Generations and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but with a new ship and crew (not the Enterprise-B and C which were active during that period). The new series will apparently consist of 13 episodes telling one long, serialised story. There is also a strong rumour that the new series may adopt an anthology format, with future seasons able to move between time periods of Star Trek history and allow it to tell all-new stories or involve characters from prior series where appropriate.

Update: Bryan Fuller has shot down some of these rumours, denying both the pre-TNG timeframe and the anthology format. However, he has confirmed that the series will look to revisit previous Star Trek characters further down the line. It sounds extremely likely that the new show will still be set in the original timeline and probably post-TNG, post-DS9 and post-Voyager. Official confirmation of that has still not arrived, however.

We do know that the new series will shoot in Toronto between September and the start of 2017, and that the series will debut in January 2017. Casting should be announced in the next few weeks. 

Fan reaction to the rumours and to the news of Meyer and Fuller's involvement was overwhelmingly positive, but soured a bit when CBS (and Paramount) took legal action against several Star Trek fan series that were in production. The Star Trek fan community had been producing films and even web series for more than a decade, such as Phase II, New Voyages and Of Gods and Men. Remarkably, these had become popular enough to allow them to include veteran Star Trek actors such as Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols and George Takei.

In 2015 a fan film called Axanar crossed a red line when it sought to raise funds from crowdfunding sites and use the money to pay professional editors, writers and actors. CBS and Paramount initiated legal action. Axanar won support from many fans and Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin, as well as J.J. Abrams. However, an attempt by Lin and Abrams to get the motion dismissed backfired, with CBS and Paramount instead issuing guidelines that effectively made any fan films of feature length impossible. Some fans had regarded the Axanar project with scepticism and were unhappy with the allegedly profiteering nature of the project, but others decried what they saw as an attack on the fan community that had kept Star Trek alive in the long years between series.

Star Trek returns to television screens in 2017 and it remains to be seen in precisely what format and how well it does. But it does show that there remains an appetite for the venerable SF franchise fifty years on from its origins, and there is still interest in exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and civilisations.

Scott Lynch unveils THORN OF EMBERLAIN map

Scott Lynch has unveiled his sketch map for the forthcoming Thorn of Emberlain. This map shows the Kingdom of the Seven Marrows where the book will take place, with Emberlain itself in the north-east.

Karthain (the setting of The Republic of Thieves) and the Sea of Brass in the south-east show where this map connects to the one from Red Seas Under Red Skies:

Camorr, the setting for The Lies of Locke Lamora, is located a considerable distance to the east of Tal Verrar.

The Thorn of Emberlain, the fourth volume of The Gentleman Bastard, will be released on 22 September.

Star Trek at 50: Rebirth

In 2005 Star Trek looked dead, or as close to dead as it had ever been. Enterprise had been cancelled, Paramount was not interested in any further Trek projects and Rick Berman's plans for a new film dealing with the Romulan Wars (set after Enterprise but still before the original series) were politely rebuffed.

The cast of the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise: Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty, Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, John Cho as Sulu and Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Not pictured: Zachary Quinto as Spock.

Legal shenanigans also played a role. CBS, which was part of Paramount under the Viacom banner, broke away to become independent, taking the Star Trek TV rights with it. From now on, any TV and film projects would proceed independently from one another. In addition, the two companies did not part on the best of terms and were less than cooperative in supporting one another. The 40th anniversary of Star Trek in 2006 passed almost completely unremarked. But already there were moves behind the scenes to bring back the property.

Paramount were keen to make Star Trek a mega success on the big screen, and for it to join the ranks of the $1 billion blockbuster franchises like Batman and Star Wars. They felt that the TV and film series had become too entwined and that later films had suffered from not having the iconic original characters on board. They decided that a reboot was the best way to proceed and opened discussions with J.J. Abrams.

Abrams was the co-creator of TV shows such as Alias and Lost, the director of Mission: Impossible III and the head of Bad Robot Productions. He was seen as an increasingly influential and powerful figure in Hollywood, a potential heir to Spielberg and Lucas, and he was one of the few people in Hollywood whose name had almost become a brand in itself. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman were up-and-coming writers whose material so far - The Island and The Legend of Zorro - had been effective if not outstanding. The three teamed up for Mission: Impossible III, realised they had a good working relationship and began developing ideas for a new Star Trek movie. Abrams admitted he was only loosely familiar with the franchise, having been much more of a Star Wars fan growing up, and found Star Trek "too philosophical". Kurtzman and Orci - especially Kurtzman - were much more familiar with the franchise and bigger fans of it, and were excited about the idea of using the classic characters again.

The new Enterprise drew inspiration from both the Motion Picture refit version of the ship and Apple products.

During development Kurtzman and Orci decided to pay lip service to the original Star Trek universe by confirming that it still existed and the new film (and any sequels) would explore a splintered-off, side-universe. This was to allow the continued sale of novels set in the original timeline as well as not to adversely affect the development of Star Trek Online, a multiplayer video game set in the original timeline. They won a casting coup when Leonard Nimoy agreed to appear in the new film to "hand over" to a new generation of actors.

Development of the film continued through 2007, during which time the Abrams-Kurtzman-Orci troika also created the television series Fringe and brought in Lost producer Damon Lindelof to assist in script development on the Star Trek movie. Casting announcements were made throughout 2007 and there was widespread approval of choices such as Zachary Quinto as Spock and Anton Yelchin as Chekov, along with John Cho as Sulu and Zoe Saldana as Uhura. Famous SFF fan Simon Pegg's casting as Scotty raised some eyebrows due to his terrible Scottish accent, although fans also noted this was a continuation of the tradition from James Doohan, who was Canadian and whose Scottish accent was "variable" in quality.

Filming took place from November 2007 to March 2008, and the movie was finally released on 8 May 2009. Fans were split over the first trailer, which featured oddities such as the rebooted Enterprise being built on Earth rather than in space and sequences which seemed to emphasise explosions and a rock and roll soundtrack (Kirk being a fan of the Beastie Boys was thought to be incongruous). However, there was praise for the way the movie was tied into existing continuity. The actual release of the film saw a more mixed reception emerge: an acknowledgement of the excellence of the cast (including the returning Nimoy) and some of the aesthetic choices, but also condemnation of, even by Star Trek standards, massive plot holes, forced humour and completely nonsensical sequences such as Vulcan's destruction being visible from a planet millions of miles away. Film critics were likewise split, many praising the effects and casting but bemoaning the story and the lack of intelligence in the script.

Benedict Cumberbatch turned in a reasonable performance in itself in Star Trek Into Darkness, but he was not a good fit for Khan.

The film's budget was $150 million, a record for the franchise but relatively modest by 2009 standards for a big-budget, effects-led action film. The film took $385 million worldwide, also a record for the franchise, but this was judged to be moderately disappointing by Paramount, who had been hoping for a much bigger, breakout success.

Talk began on a sequel, with initial reports that the movie would have a similar budget. However, J.J. Abrams convinced Paramount that they should go all-in on a film that would echo The Wrath of Khan with massive action sequences, a hugely charismatic villain (who would actually turn out to be Khan himself) and a darker storyline. Abrams himself declined to direct, choosing to produce with Kurtzman, Lindelof and Orci returning to script. However, Paramount would only move forward with the larger budget if Abrams returned to helm the movie. Abrams agonised over the decision for many months before finally agreeing. This resulted in a four-year delay for the film, which Paramount later cited as a contributing factor to its disappointing performance.

Star Trek Into Darkness was released on 23 April 2013. It took $467 million worldwide, setting a new record for the franchise, but the film had been made for a budget of $185 million. Factoring in marketing costs, the movie broke even and made a very modest profit, but it still significantly underperformed compared to Paramount's expectations, especially considering that they were judging the film's success compared to things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which had just had its first $1 billion success and was soon to have more). Reviews were also largely negative, focusing on yet another nonsensical plot and the unoriginal decision to remake Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - even down to shooting some scenes in a very similar way - but without any of the wit, soul or charm of the original film. There was also criticism of casting the very white, very British Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonian Singh, a warlord from the Indian subcontinent of Sikh decent (albeit played by a Mexican actor originally).

Star Trek Beyond features the final appearance of Anton Yelchin as Chekov, as the actor sadly passed away in June 2016 in a car accident.

Despite the criticisms, the film still made a small amount of money and, bereft of any alternative big franchises, Paramount decided to make a third film. They were left a little surprised when J.J. Abrams then abandoned ship to direct the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. They slashed the budget ruthlessly back down to Star Trek (2009)'s level and hired a new director, Justin Lin, of The Fast and the Furious fame. Orci and Kurtzman began developing stories but they were swiftly jettisoned in favour of a new script written by Simon Pegg with input from Lin, a massive Star Trek fan. Kurtzman would later join the TV revival project at CBS instead. Fan anticipation for the third movie remained cool, but increased a little after Pegg and Lin confirmed that they wanted a film with less plot holes than the previous two and various incongruous elements introduced to the new canon (such as transporters able to beam people instantly across light-years of space) were simply ignored.

Star Trek Beyond is scheduled to open on 22 July 2016, but Paramount has been heavily criticised for a lacklustre promotional campaign, with a terrible first trailer and almost no mention of the film's heritage despite it being the franchise's 50th anniversary year. Later trailers raised more interest. Sadly, the film lost one of its actors a month before release when Anton Yelchin passed away in a vehicle accident outside his LA home, making Star Trek Beyond one of his last appearances.

The future of Star Trek on film hangs in the balance. If Beyond does well, more films are anticipated. Indeed, Paramount has already earmarked 2019 for the release of a possible fourth film. If it does badly, it's likely that Paramount will again retire the franchise and consider new directions. But to an enormous number of people, Star Trek on film has always been a bit of a bonus. The franchise's true home is, always has been and always will be on television, and that is also where its destiny lies.

Sunday 19 June 2016

A History of Eärwa Part 3: The Apocalypse

The man known to history as Seswatha and to the Sranc as "Chigra", "Slaying Light", was born in Year-of-the-Tusk 2089 in Trysë, the son of a caste-menial bronzesmith. Whilst still a child, he was identified as one of the Few, those that carry the mark of sorcery. He was taken to Sauglish to study with the Gnostic School of Sohonc, at the time the largest and most powerful of the sorcerous schools. Seswatha was a prodigy, his grasp of the Gnosis subtle and strong. Circa 2104, at the age of fifteen, Seswatha would be proclaimed a sorcerer-of-rank, the youngest in the School's history.

Eärwa in Year of the Tusk 2089, the birth year of Seswatha. The Three Seas were home to great powers, the mightiest of which was Kyraneas which dominated the lesser nations of Shigek and Amoteu. The Shiradi Empire controlled the eastern Three Seas. But the true powers were in the Ancient North, dominated by great Kûniüri.

During this period Seswatha befriended Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the heir to the imperial throne of Kûniüri who was studying with the Sohonc. The same age as Seswatha and both intrigued by history, they became fast friends and allies. As Seswatha grew in power and authority through the ranks of the Sohonc, so Celmomas became famed as a warrior, general and scholar. Their great friendship was tested, however, when Celmomas's most beloved wife Suriala ("Suiyela", according to Mandate sources) gave birth to their son Nau-Cayûti. Celmomas knew that Seswatha and Suriala shared a mutual affection and became concerned that Nau-Cayûti was not of his blood. But such was his love for his friend - and his inability to conclusively prove the truth of the matter - that he did not have him rebuked, merely withdrawing his friendship for a time.

Seswatha was a master sorcerer but also a keen politician. He befriended Anaxophus, a young prince of Kyraneas, and treated with Nil'giccas, the Nonman King of Ishterebinth (the "Exalted Stronghold"), as Ishoriöl was now more frequently called. Seswatha's insights were keen, his mind sharp, his sorcery formidable and his manner one of ease, all formidable attributes that saw him rise to become Grandmaster of the Sohonc in his early thirties.

What happened next remains a matter of great debate. According to legend and The Sagas, Seswatha received a delegation of Nonmen in Sauglish. History refers to them as Siqû, indicating they were there as teachers and advisors, not just as emissaries. Although the Nonmen Tutelage was not reinstated, Seswatha had nevertheless forged closer ties with Ishterebinth than had been seen since those times. According to some accounts, Nil'giccas rewarded Seswatha's friendship with intelligence which was not so much disquieting as downright alarming.

It had been long known that the School of Mangaecca had fled Sauglish to seek refuge in Golgotterath. Its dark leader, Shaeönanra, survived thanks to Inchoroi knowledge and his own sorcerous research. By the 14th Century, he had even been given a new name: Shauriatas, "Cheater of Gods". The Mangaecca had not been seen since, but their hand, and that of their Inchoroi overlords, was suspected in the Great Sranc Wars, a series of strikes by hordes of Sranc out of Agongorea against Aörsi to the east which had sorely tested that nation and led to the construction of a major stronghold, Dagliash, on the Urokkas (in fact, atop the very ruins of ancient Viri). But in those days Sranc were not a numerous, constant threat blanketing the North. They were mostly confined to Agongorea and the Yimaleti Mountains, and although their numbers were concerning, they were not as inexhaustible as in later centuries. Or so it was supposed.

The Siqû warning was stark: the Mangaecca yet lived within the golden halls of the Ark and they had formed a forsaken alliance - an Unholy Consult - with the surviving Inchoroi princes, Aurax and Aurang. Worse still, their delvings and explorations of the Ark had uncovered ancient secrets and disturbing ways of using the Tekne, the ancient art of science and engineering that the Inchoroi had once employed to create weapons such as their staffs of light and creatures such as the Wracu and Sranc, but had seemed to lose more and more knowledge of with every passing year.

The Siqû warning convinced Seswatha that a threat was building in the pits of Golgotterath and that, left unchecked, it would eventually destroy the world. This threat was given a name by the Nonmen, one that Seswatha held close and only told those closest to him: No-God.

Seswatha took this knowledge to his old friend, who know ruled as Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, High King of Kûniüri, the greatest nation in all Eärwa, and lay the facts before him. Celmomas may have been inclined to distrust his old friend for the alleged betrayal with his wife, but he also respected his judgement. In the end, Celmomas was convinced that Golgotterath remained a threat to the world and that threat needed to be destroyed before it could unleash a horror that would bring about the end of everything.

The opening battles of the Apocalypse: 1. Sursa (2125). 2. The Great Investiture (2125-32). 3. Dagliash (2133). 4. The Burning of the White Ships, in Aesorea (2134). 5. Shiarau (2136).

In Year-of-the-Tusk 2123, Anasûrimbor Celmomas II called for the Great Ordeal, the assembling of a vast host of armed and sorcerous might to be cast at Golgotterath, to bring down and end the threat of the Consult and the Inchoroi once and for all. Aörsi, which lay in the shadow of the Golden Ark, rallied to the call almost immediately. King Anasûrimbor Nimeric contributed many tens of thousands of warriors already hardened in battle against Sranc and Bashrags and the use of his fleet for transport and resupply across the Neleöst. Nil'giccas sent Qûya mages and Ishroi warriors from Ishterebinth, and Kyraneas sent a detachment of troops, reflecting Seswatha's friendship with Prince Anaxophus (the prince himself was still only fourteen, and it is unclear if he took part in the Ordeal at such an early age or had returned to Kyraneas).

In 2124 the Great Ordeal crossed onto the plains of Agongorea but was engaged by a host of Sranc and Bashrags. The resulting battle was indecisive and the Ordeal withdrew across the Sursa to winter in Dagliash. Celmomas renewed the offensive in the early spring, fording the Sursa before the Consult could prepare a defence. They were forced to retreat to Golgotterath and allow the Ordeal to encircle it. The Great Investiture lasted for six years but failed to starve the Consult into surrender.

This period was marked by squabbling and petty jealousies erupting between the commanders of the Ordeal, along with military disagreements on how to proceed. The Investiture was complete, but the Consult seemed able to resupply. The Ark was too well-defended for any conventional assault to succeed, and the Consult mages were capable of resisting even the combined might of the Qûya and Sohonc. Several raids on the Ark ended in disaster. In 2131 a more serious dispute erupted between Celmomas and Nimeric, resulting in Celmomas withdrawing the Kûniüri contingent of the Ordeal, to the disbelief of Seswatha.

A Gnostic sorcerer battles a Wracu of Golgotterath.

A year later the Consult went on the offensive. Employing passages reaching under the Black Furnace Plain and into the Ring Mountains, the Consult launched devastating assaults into the Ordeal's rear and flanks. Much-reduced by the absence of the Kûniüri forces, the Ordeal's army almost collapsed. Qûya and Sohonc sorcery allowed at least a small part of the army to escape, but Nil'giccas was so enraged to learn of the deaths of at least two of his sons that he recalled the Cûnuroi contingent of the Ordeal altogether, leaving Aörsi to fight on alone.

In 2133 Dagliash was taken by the Consult, allowing their armies to cross the Sursa in force. Western Aörsi was overrun and Nimeric withdrew his forces to his capital, Shiarau. Celmomas realised his folly and rallied Kûniüri to rejoin the war in 2134, but it was too late. The Aörsi fleet fled across the Neleöst to seek shelter in the Kûniüri port of Aesorea, where it was promptly destroyed by enemy agents in the event known as the Burning of the White Ships.

In 2135 Nimeric took a mortal wound during the Battle of Hamuir, dying soon afterwards. In the spring of 2136 Shiarau fell, and with it Aörsi itself. Kûniüri stood alone.

The latter course of the Apoclaypse: 6. Ossirish (2137). 7. Shiarau (2137). 8. Dagliash (2139). 9. The Second Investiture, ending in the Coming of the No-God (2142-43). 10. The Fields of Eleneöt (2146). 11. Trysë (2147). 12. Sauglish (2147). 13. Eämnor (2148). 14. The Fords of Tywanrae (2149). 15. Kelmeöl (2150). 16. Inweära (2151). 17. Kathol Pass (2151). 18. The Betrayal of Cil-Aujas (2152). 19. Shir (2153). 20. Sumna (2154). 21. Mehtsonc (2154). 22. The Battle of Mengedda and the Fall of the No-God (2155).

The situation seemed bleak, but in 2137 Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti, Prince of Kûniüri, won a stunning victory over the Consult at the Battle of Ossirish. The armies of Kûniüri had been hard-pressed by a Consult offensive, but Nau-Cayûti rallied his men by facing and slaughtering the Wracu Tanhafut the Red in direct combat, a feat undreamt of since the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars. Nau-Cayûti then led the victorious army to rout the Consult at the ruins of Shiarau, driving the remnants back across the Sursa by the end of 2138. In 2139 he recaptured Dagliash before launching several major raids across Agongorea, designed not to reinvest Golgotterath but simply slaughter Sranc and Bashrags.

In 2140 the Consult abruptly switched tacks and kidnapped Aulisi, the beloved concubine of Nau-Cayûti, bearing her to Golgotterath. Infuriated, Nau-Cayûti may have decided on a rash assault (possibly the rationale for the act) but was talked down by Seswatha. Seswatha proposed something else instead: a raid on the Incû-Holoinas, such as that undertaken by some of the Nonman heroes of old. Many historians consider the story of the raid that followed as being apocryphal due to sheer unbelievability, but Seswatha's descendants in the School of Mandate have confirmed (thanks to their sorcerous ability to relive Seswatha's life) that it is true.

Nau-Cayûti and Seswatha entered the Golden Ark, descending through chambers and passageways that had been desolate and empty for well over two thousand years, since the Cûnuroi had sacked the vessel from top to bottom. But, deep in the vessel's cavernous hold, they did find a city of horrors, guarded by Sranc and Bashrags. They failed to find any trace of Aulisi but they did find something that abruptly changed the fortunes of the war: Suörgil, the Shining Death, the Heron Spear itself.

"I lied. Because I couldn't succeed, not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love. We search. We search for the Heron Spear." - Seswatha (The Thousandfold Thought)

They bore the weapon back to Sauglish in great triumph, but this turned sour when Nau-Cayûti died soon after, allegedly poisoned by his wife Iëva (some say out of jealousy over Nau-Cayûti's infatuation with Aulisi, and the fear the other woman would supplant her). Iëva insisted on Nau-Cayûti being buried rather than burned, as this had been his wish during life.

The Consult resumed the offensive in 2141, perhaps hoping for a loss of Kûniüri morale following Nau-Cayûti's death. This hope proved false. General En-Kaujalau soon destroyed a Sranc horde at the Battle of Skothera. In 2142 General Sag-Marmau inflicted a very serious and debilitating defeat on the Consult (according to some legends, Aurang himself took the field but was forced to withdraw) and again drove them back to the Ark. Anasûrimbor Celmomas II began the Second Investiture in the fall of that year.

The No-God's Carapace under construction in the depths of Golgotterath, before he became animate.

Then something happened, an event second only to the original Fall of the Ark in importance and dread.

To this day no-one knows exactly what transpired, save that in the pits of Golgotterath the Consult finally achieved what they had been attempting to do for some considerable time, sparking the very warnings that had led to the Ordeal in the first place. They completed the construction of the Carapace, a sarcophagus of Tekne origin, fused with eleven Chorae to render it immune to sorcery. Inside the Carapace they created - or unleashed - an entity of supreme and terrible power. This entity went by many names: Tsurumah ("Hated One" in Kyranean), Lokung ("Dead-God", by the Scylvendi), Mursiris ("Wicked North", by the Shiradi) and Cara-Sincurimoi ("Angel of Endless Hunger", by the Nonmen), as well as the Great Ruiner and World-Breaker. But his most famous title was the one first bestowed upon him: Mog-Pharau in Ancient Kûniüric, "No-God".

The No-God first drew breath in the spring of the Year-of-the-Tusk 2143. The instant he did so, every unborn child in the world was stillborn, and no woman fell pregnant afterwards (leading to the period known as the Years of the Crib). A feeling of dread fell across all humanity, drawing their eyes to the northern horizon. Sranc, Bashrag and Wracu, including some who had escaped taking part in the wars so far, were compelled to answer his call and descend on the Black Furnace Plain and Golgotterath.

The host of Sag-Marmau was destroyed utterly. But the Horde of the No-God did not march immediately, instead waiting as vast hosts of Sranc gathered and bred. This gave Kûniüri a very brief space in which to cry for aid. Eärwa answered, the armies of Ishterebinth marching under Nil'giccas and Kyraneas sending a significant army to lend support. Other nations began to muster but the distances were too great and time ran out.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas II led the so-called Second Ordeal into battle against the Horde of the No-God on the Fields of Eleneöt in 2146, the fields that in a previous age had been called Pir Pahal, where Cû'jara-Cinmoi had slain Sil and won the first great victory over the Inchoroi.

No such victory came this time. The Horde engulfed the Kûniüri army. Celmomas knew the only hope was to use the Heron Spear against the No-God. However, although the vast Whirlwind that symbolised the No-God's presence gathered on the far horizon, the entity itself refused to give battle, letting its vast army of minions do the work for it. Celmomas is said to have thrown himself into battle with a rare fury and slain dozens of enemies, only to be mortally wounded. Seswatha led a rallying force to retrieve the High King, who lived long enough to impart a prophecy: that an Anasûrimbor would return at the end of the world. Then he died.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, his heir Anasûrimbor Ganrelka outlived him, becoming the High King of Kûniüri. According to popular legend, Ganrelka also died on the Eleneöt Fields, but in reality he survived thanks to four brave Knights of Trysë. Ganrelka escaped home, gathered his household, and marched west into the Demua Mountains. In the remotest peaks, protected by both geography and utter secrecy, the Kûniüri High Kings had built a stronghold and a shelter, Ishuäl. Ganrelka took up residence there, but disease followed and wiped out most of the family...save for Ganrelka's bastard son, the last living blood of House Anasûrimbor. He and his line fell out of history for two thousand years.
The No-God, protected by the ever-present Whirlwind.

By the end of 2147 all of Kûniüri was overrun. The great river-cities of the Aumris Valley were obliterated. Trysë fell the hardest, the great Ur-Throne of the Kûniüri High Kings lost. Seswatha was captured by the Consult during this battle and borne to Dagliash, where he was pinned to the Wall of the Dead and tortured by Mekeritrig for knowledge of the location of the Heron Spear. But the Spear had vanished at Eleneöt and Seswatha did not know its resting place. He did take heart, however from the knowledge that the Consult had not found it. Seswatha soon escaped, but was not able to save the rest of the Aumris Valley cities, which fell one after the other. The destruction of Sauglish was particularly horrific, the Wracu Skafra leading a flight of dragons to drive the Sohonc sorcerers from the sky before the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags swept into the city and put the Great Library to the torch.

The Nonmen of Ishterebinth retreated over the Demua Mountains to their Mansion, but the No-God chose not to pursue. Instead, he turned south and destroyed Eämnor (although sparing its capital, Atrithau, due to the complications of attacking a city raised on anarcane ground and immune to sorcery) in 2148. Akksersia was destroyed in 2149 following the epic Battle of Tywanrae Fords, where Consult sorcrers burned hundreds of soldiers as they tried to cross the river. The Meöri Empire collapsed in 2150, despite a hardy defence, sending hordes of refugees both south (into what is now Thunyerus) and south-west (into what is now Galeoth). Inweära was cast down in 2151, although the Horde chose to spare Sakarpus to instead rush the Kathol Pass - the gateway to the entire Three Seas - before it could be fortified.

The Battle of Kathol Pass, fought in the autumn of 2151, was an unexpected victory for the forces of men. A retreating army of Meöri warriors led by the great hero Nostol ran into an advancing force of Nonmen out of Cil-Aujas, led by King Gin'yursis, a powerful wielder of the Gnosis. They made common cause and successfully repulsed several waves of attacks from the Horde on the pass, buying the Three Seas and the world another year of respite. Shockingly, the Meöri turned on and betrayed the Nonmen, slaughtering their army and then sacking Cil-Aujas. The reasons for this are unclear, but may be related to the rising levels of religious fervour amongst the Norsirai refugees (perhaps hoping that the Hundred Gods would intercede and destroy the No-God for them), including the commandment to destroy the False Men. It is also possible that the Meöri believed they could use Cil-Aujas as a refuge should the No-God advance further south. Gin'yursis's death saw him curse the Meöri for their betrayal, a curse sometimes used to explain the famous fractiousness of the men of Galeoth (founded by the Meöri descendants), although Gin'yursis's curse had in fact been reserved for all of mankind.

During this period the populous and packed cities of the south cried out for succor and divine intervention. They prayed to the Hundred Gods, but received no answer. The people begged their priests to explain why the Hundred had not interceded and the priests could not answer. Many years later, confused records of this time suggest that the priests had in fact petitioned for help and gotten only bizarre responses: the Gods could not see the No-God, only the destruction that followed in his wake, which they blamed solely on humanity itself. The Hundred could not intervene because they could not even perceive the problem in the first place (and it may be that that this nullification of divine perception is one of the reasons the No-God was named as such).

In 2153 the Horde of the No-God destroyed the Shiradi Empire and turned west to invade Kyraneas. Anaxophus, Seswatha's old friend now ruling as King Anaxophus V, led his nation with skill and cunning. The Scylvendi, the long-established pastoralists living beyond the mountains to the north-west, had unexpectedly declared for the No-God and invaded Kyraneas's flank, threatening to trap the kingdom in a vice at the Battle of Mehsarunath. Anaxophus evaded the trap and escaped to the south. He chose not to defend either the royal capital at Mehtsonc or the holy city of Sumna (from where the Tusk was evacuated by sea to Nilnamesh) instead choosing to fight a war of irritation and attrition, testing the flanks of the No-God's horde and withdrawing when the enemy attempted to respond.

Anaxophus V, the High King of Kyraneas, unleashes the power of the Heron Spear against the No-God at the Battle of Mengedda in 2155.

Kyraneas was effectively overrun and destroyed by the end of 2154. But Anaxophus V and his army, and Seswatha, survived. They withdrew through the mountains to the ruined, ancient city of Mengedda. The city had once been a trading post between Shigek and the cities of the Kyraneas Plains when the age of man was young, but innumerable battles had been fought there over the past two thousand years. The blasted landscape and ruins provided Anaxophus and his army with cover and defences. More importantly, the long, attritional warfare favoured by Anaxophus had helped reduce the size of the Horde to one where victory by sheer weight of numbers was no longer certain.

Anaxophus's gamble worked: to ensure victory and the destruction of the last enemy who may be any threat, the No-God took the field directly, the terrible Whirlwind moving towards the Kyranean lines and asking, as it had done all along, "WHAT DO YOU SEE?" This allowed Anaxophus to do what he had been planning ever since his knights had secretly seized the Heron Spear from the Fields of Eleneöt eleven years previously: he used the weapon directly against the No-God.

As the Apocalypse began in doubt and uncertainty, so it ended with a clear victory. The Whirlwind burst asunder, the No-God was destroyed and his armies were routed. According to some reports, the Carapace itself was destroyed and reduced to ashes, ashes which were carried by the winds to all the corners of the Three Seas where they caused the Indigo Plague. However, Mandate scholars insist that the No-God's body (if it could be called that) was saved by Consult sorcerers and borne back to Golgotterath.

The end of the war was draped in controversy, for the knowledge that Anaxophus had stolen the Heron Spear and kept it secret for a decade as the Ancient North and the Shiradi Empire (Kyraneas's great rival to the east) was overrun and destroyed did not endear him as the saviour of mankind, has perhaps should have been the case. However, Anaxophus claimed that the disaster of the Eleneöt Fields had happened because the Heron Spear had been deployed prematurely before the No-God had engaged, and that he had no choice but to wait - no matter the cost - for the No-God to show himself before he could risk using the weapon. This tactical claim has been supported - although not altogether wholeheartedly - by the Mandate.

The end of the war resulted in the infamous Indigo Plague, which caused great misery and suffering around the Three Seas, but also in a regrouping of civilisation. Seswatha gathered together the few surviving Gnostic sorcerers and founded the School of Mandate, based at the fortress of Atyersus on an island in the middle of the Three Seas. Seswatha knew that the No-God had been destroyed and the Consult defeated, but the Inchoroi Princes yet lived, the Consult sorcerers yet survived and the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags (and even a few surviving Wracu) only dispersed. But most damning of all was the prophecy given to Seswatha by his friend and ally Celmomas at the moment of his death:
"Did I ever tell you that my son once stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath? How I miss him, Seswatha! How I year to stand at his side once again. I see him so clearly. He's taken the sun as his charger, and he rides among us. I see him! Galloping through the hearts of my people, stirring them to wonder and fury! He says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha. An Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world!" - The last words and prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II (The Darkness That Comes Before)
The First Apocalypse was over. Now the Mandate had to prepare humanity for the Second.


All of the artwork for this article was created by Jason Deem, known as Spiral Horizon, and used with his permission. You can find more of his spectacular work here. The maps are from Scott's website, adjusted by myself.

The Prince of Nothing Wiki was helpful in providing spelling checks and putting the timeline of events in better order.

Unlike the first part, I didn't request any new information for this third installment, so any errors or confusion are on my part.

Scott Bakker wrote the Second Apocalypse novels, for which this history is merely the backdrop and the scene-setting that comes before. Those novels are:

The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
The Thousandfold Thought (2005)

The Aspect-Emperor
The Judging Eye (2008)
The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
The Great Ordeal (2016)
The Unholy Consult (2017)