Sunday, 21 May 2017

A History of Eärwa Part 7: The Great Ordeal

Part 1 can be found here.


Drusas Achamian, former sorcerer of the Mandate and now the only Wizard of the Three Seas.

At one time Drusas Achamian was an agent of the Mandate, a sorcerer haunted by dreams of Seswatha, hero of the First Apocalypse, and by fears that the Second was coming. During the chaotic swirl of the Holy War he found a man whom he believed could save humanity and lead it to victory over the ancient foe, the Unholy Consult. Anasûrimbor Kellhus led the Holy War to victory, but in doing so he stole away Achamian’s love, Esmenet, and subverted the religious fervour, faith and love of millions to build himself an empire.

Faced with the choice of kneeling to the Aspect-Emperor or repudiating him, Achamian chose the latter. Unimpeded, at the Aspect-Emperor’s express command, Achamian fled into the wilds of Galeoth, erecting a tower to live in solitude and meditate on one question: “Who is the Aspect-Emperor?”

Achamian knew only a few facts and hints, gained from the all-too-brief revelations of Cnaiür urs Skiötha in the dying hours of the war. He knew that Kellhus was Dûnyain, the member of an almost unknown sect that had survived the Apocalypse and the two thousand years since in utter solitude. He had teased out the name Ishuäl from Seswatha’s dreams, the secret redoubt of the House Anasûrimbor ere the fall of Kûniüri, but did not know where it could be found. In desperation, he plunged further into the dreams, ploughing into them night after night, writing down every nuance and every detail for signs of clues to the Dûnyain’s origins, which he now believed lay in the catastrophes of those times. Over time he teased some new revelations from the dreams, such as the fact that Seswatha had seduced his friend Anasûrimbor Celmomas II’s wife, and that the famed hero Nau-Cayûti may have been born from Seswatha’s line rather than the house of Anasûrimbor. But, although historically scandalous, Achamian could not tease meaning from such revelations.

In the early spring of 4132 Year-of-the-Tusk, nigh on twenty years since the Fall of Shimeh, Drusas Achamian received a surprising visitor: Anasûrimbor Mimara, the oldest child and first daughter of Esmenet of Sumna. Born long before the Holy War, when famine stalked the city and her mother was forced to give her away to save her life, Mimara’s life had been hard and cruel. Not long after Esmenet was installed in Momemn as Empress, she sent agents to scour the Three Seas to find Mimara and eventually they succeeded. But in the cold hallways of the Andiamine Heights, Mimara did not found the home she sought. Her half-brothers and half-sisters, the children of Kellhus, were not quite human and she found forging a bond with the mother who had abandoned her difficult. Mimara eventually learned that she was of the Few, but sorcery was denied to her, even membership of the newly-crafted School of Witches, the Swayal Compact. Frustrated, she abandoned Momemn and sought out Achamian, the sorcerer-without-a-school, a wizard.

Mimara tried to convince Achamian to teach her the Gnosis, but Achamian resisted, even after she seduced him. Instead they swapped stories, Achamian revealing his quest to find Kellhus’s birthplace and Mimara revealing her own harsh upbringing. In the midst of the conversation, Mimara revealed something Achamian was not expecting:

The Great Ordeal marches, old man.

The Great Ordeal arrives at Sakarpus, the City of the Plains and home to the famed Chorae Hoard.

From across the Three Seas assembled an armed host dwarfing any in history. A third of a million men, clad in the finest armour and carrying the stoutest blades. A thousand or more sorcerers, assembled from all of the Schools. Tens of thousands of horses, millions of arrows. An army ten years in the planning. It gathered near the Kathol Pass, assembling under the watchful eyes of the Believer-Kings and the great heroes of the Holy War, chief amongst them Coithus Saubon and Nersei Proyas, the Exalt-Generals.

The army marched north and west, through the mountains and into the edges of civilisation. They closed around Sakarpus, the mighty city-of-the-plains which had survived even the No-God itself during the First Apocalypse and whose mighty Chorae Hoard struck fear into the hearts of sorcerers. But not the Aspect-Emperor. Kellhus moved to take the city and King Horweel chose resistance, but also knew that his resistance was doomed. He commanded that his son, Sorweel, be kept safe, even as his own death drew near. After the city’s surrender, Kellhus came before Sorweel and told him that he was now King of Sakarpus and that his father would forgive him for surviving where his father had not. Sorweel was inducted into the ranks of the Great Ordeal, riding in the Scions, a horse company made up of princely hostages from across Eärwa. Sorweel’s new friends and allies included Zsoronga ut Nganka’kull, the Successor Prince of Zeüm, and Eskeles, a Mandate sorcerer who taught the young king Sheyic, the common tongue of the Three Seas. Sorweel also learned of the Aspect-Emperor’s rise to power and why so many regarded him as a prophet, but in his own heart was only hate and a desire for vengeance.

Also assigned to Sorweel was a slave, Porsparian. However, Porsparian was also an initiate of the Cult of Yatwer, the fertility goddess. He moulded the face of Yatwer out of the dirt and took mud from her lips to paste over Sorweel’s face. Afterwards, Sorweel found himself able to lie to the face of the Aspect-Emperor and not be discovered. Yatwer’s blessing rendered Sorweel immune to the Aspect-Emperor’s supposedly holy sight, which could discern almost instantly the presence of Consult skin-spies and read the untruths from the lips of practiced liars. Instead, Kellhus believed that Sorweel had become a true follower and named him a Believer-King, one of the most exalted rulers in all Eärwa…and a dagger positioned close to the Aspect-Emperor’s heart.

The Great Ordeal (4132 Year-of-the-Tusk) was the largest undertaking in history. Almost four and a half times the size of the First Ordeal of the Apocalypse, comprising over three hundred thousand soldiers and well over a thousand sorcerers-of-rank, it was ten years in the planning and preparation. Its goal was nothing less than the utter destruction of foul Golgotterath, the casting down of the Golden Horns and the annihilation of the Unholy Consult.

Mimara’s news panicked Drusas Achamian, who believed that momentous events were passing, maybe even the events that would trigger the Second Apocalypse rather than forestall it. Indeed, from his dreams he recalled the great First Ordeal of Celmomas, an army fashioned at the urging of Seswatha to destroy Golgotterath ere the rise of the No-God but which had ultimately failed. Leaving Mimara behind, Achamian travelled to Marrow and there commissioned the services of the Skin Eaters, a party of “scalpers”, mercenaries who travelled the far side of the Osthwai Mountains in search of Sranc bounty.

Achamian told them of fabled Sauglish, the greatest seat of learning in Eärwa. It had fallen to the No-God during the Apocalypse, but its Great Library had not been completely destroyed. There, Achamian hoped to find the secret location of Ishuäl. However, he also claimed the fabled Coffers, the Library’s great treasury, likely still endured and would reward the mercenaries with great riches. The mercenaries were dubious, since the mission would involve crossing many hundreds of miles of dangerous territory, but their greed and the urging of their mysterious Nonman ally, Incariol or “Cleric”, convinced them to take the commission. Soon after setting out they were joined by Mimara, who had tracked Achamian from his home. Fearing for her safety amongst such dangerous men, Achamian claimed her as his daughter. Mimara disclosed to Achamian a secret that she had been hiding her whole life: she bore a “secret eye”, one which can see the absolute good and evil in all people. Achamian recognised this as the Judging Eye, an exceedingly rare and potent ability. Troubled, he would not reveal more.

The Skin Eaters make their way through the ancient Nonman ruins of Cil-Aujas.

Soon after setting out, the party discovered that the passes through the mountains had been closed by spring blizzards. They instead chanced the ancient Nonman Mansion of Cil-Aujas. The Mansion had survived the ancient Cûno-Inchoroi Wars, the wars against the invading hordes of men and even the No-God, but had been betrayed and sacked by the armies of men allied to it, an act of treachery renowned in history. The scalpers passed through the mountain only to find it infested with Sranc. A dangerous running battle through the mountain eventually ended in an even greater horror: the shade of Gin’yursis, the Nonman King of Cil-Aujas, possessed Cleric and attacked the rest of the party. The rest of the group was outmatched, but Mimara used her Judging Eye on one of their Chorae, transforming it into a shining white Tear of God. This caused Gin’yursis’s shade to dissipate, and a troubled Cleric to return to normal. Shaken, the party emerged on the far side of the Osthwai Mountains and began the gruelling march – the slog-of-slogs – through the forested wilderness.

In Momemn, capital of the New Empire, the Empress Esmenet struggled to hold the Empire together in her husband’s absence. Her most capable children and stepson – Kayûtas, Serwa and Moënghus – had joined the Great Ordeal. Her daughter Theliopa remained as an advisor, but she was scarcely human, possessing uncanny insights and wisdom that had cracked her sanity. Inrilatas was locked away atop the Andiamine Heights for his own safety and the safety of those around him. Only the twins Kelmomas and Samarmas give her any joy, but she was unaware that Kelmomas was a cunning, conniving little creature, possessing both the analytical power of the Dûnyain and a callous disregard for the consequences of his actions. Kelmomas engineered the death of his idiot twin, determined to make his mother love him all the more.

But a new threat grew from within the Empire. Psatma Nannaferi, the outlawed Mother-Supreme of the Cult of Yatwer, declared her goddess’s war against the House of Anasûrimbor. A holy assassin, the White-Luck Warrior (so-called because how he could bend circumstance and fortune to his will), revealed himself and revealed his mission to lay waste to the House Imperial. Yatwer, as the god most fervently and widely-worshipped by the slaves and caste-menials of the Three Seas, commanded enormous respect and power and soon unrest began to spread throughout the entire Empire.

Distracted by Samarmas’s death, Esmenet employed the aid of her brother-in-law Maithanet, Shriah of the Thousand Temples, to overcome this new threat. Maithanet reminded her that the gods could not see, perceive or even comprehend the Consult, the Inchoroi or the No-God and were utterly blind to the coming threat of the Second Apocalypse (as they were to the First, seeing it instead as inexplicable carnage wrought by man against himself). Maithanet advised turning the Yatwerians against themselves by convincing their official Matriarch, Sharacinth, to condemn Nannaferi. This plan was successful, albeit only when Kellhus translocated from the Ordeal to the palace to cower the woman, but sabotaged when Kelmomas, seeking to further isolate his mother from her other concerns, murdered Sharacinth and her retinue. This further turned the poor of the Empire against the imperial family.

The Skin Eaters fled from Cil-Aujas into the Mop, the vast, untamed forests covered the lands north and east from the Osthwai Mountains to the Sea of Cerish. Their course would take them through the ruins of the Apocalypse, skirting the edges of the fallen Meörn Empire. The road was long and beset by challenges: Sranc in ever-increasing numbers, and rival scalpers eager to kill them and loot their bodies. There was also a threat from within. Using her Judging Eye, Mimara discovered that one of their number, Soma, was a skin-spy. Achamian attempted to parley with the creature, but it chose to flee. It shadowed the party, intervening during a Sranc raid to kill one of the creatures before it could harm Mimara, to her bemusement. It informed her that she was pregnant with Achamian’s child. Soma was working on the orders of the Inchoroi, communicating with them by Synthese. Their order was that Mimara must be protected all the way to Golgotterath if necessary. All of the prophecies must be respected, "the false as much as the true".

The Great Ordeal entered the heart of the vast Istyuli Plains, a colossal tableland extending across thousands of miles. Concerned with supply, the Aspect-Emperor ordered that the Ordeal should split into four armies and march separately to improve their chances of foraging. Believer-King Sorweel earned respect for his scouting (using both his native knowledge of the plains and also information gained from his divine connection to Yatwer), which uncovered evidence of Sranc having been in the region recently but having now fallen back before the Ordeal. Such signs grew until they become indisputable: a vast Sranc Horde was gathering ahead of the Ordeal, falling back before it and accumulating all the tribes of the plains. The numbers lying beyond the northern horizon defied all rationality, and the Scions raced back to the Ordeal to give them warning.

The Culling. Hundreds of sorcerers scour the edges of the Sranc Horde, forcing them back whilst outriders of the Great Ordeal slaughter the stragglers. This would continue for day after day for months as the Ordeal crossed the Istyuli Plains, and yet the Sranc could still summon numbers that would blanket the horizon.

They halted at last, swamped by the enemy and protected from death only by Eskeles’ sorcerous wards. At Sorweel’s urging, Eskeles found a way of alerting the Ordeal by illuminating the sky above him with a Bar of Heaven. They were rescued by witches led by Anasûrimbor Serwa and returned to the Ordeal. Sorweel was praised for his actions, which had saved the Ordeal from a costly ambush. In the aftermath of the action, the Ordeal deployed its sorcerers to begin the Culling, with hundreds of sorcerers using vast amounts of power to burn Sranc in their thousands and tens of thousands from above. The slaughter was immense, but the losses were made good – and more – by freshly-arriving Sranc clans from the High Istyuli.

Sorweel confessed his relationship with Yatwer to his friend Zsoaronga, who realised that Sorweel had been positioned as a Narindari, a divine assassin sent to murder Kellhus. This seemed confirmed when Kellhus sent the order to execute all slaves and unnecessary non-combatants to help preserve food supplies, Porsparian amongst them. Before his death, Porsparian summoned a visage of Yatwer. Yatwer gave Sorweel a mighty gift: a single Chorae. The image disappeared and Porsparian killed himself. Sorweel was now close enough to kill the Aspect-Emperor, but feared that Yatwer’s protection would not be enough. He sought out Serwa to thank her for saving him, and discovered that she could not divine either his hidden Chorae nor his deception.

Soonafter, surprising news came: Ishterebinth, last of the Nonmen Mansions, had rallied to Kellhus’s cause. A Nonmen emissary of King Nil’giccas offered to support the Ordeal if, in return, three hostages were sent to the Mansion and the Ordeal could prove its worth by retaking Dagliash, the ancient fortress of men built atop the fallen Mansion of Viri. For his hostages Kellhus chose his stepson Moënghus, his daughter Serwa…and Sorweel. Using metagnostic cants of translocation, Serwa took her brother and Sorweel to Ishterebinth at great speed. On this journey Sorweel learned that Serwa and her stepbrother were involved in an ill-advised, passionate relationship.

The Great Ordeal approached the shores of Neleöst, the Misty Sea, but also fell into a trap. The Army of the South fortified the ruined stronghold of Irsûlor on the western flank of the Ordeal, unaware that the Sranc Horde had swung to the west in an attempt to catch them by surprise. The Mandate and the Vokalati schools joined forces to burn the Sranc, but the creatures suddenly surged through the curtain of magic to swamp the fortress. The Consult had also hidden a legion of Bashrag within the ruins. At a key moment, they emerged to shatter the human lines. In the slaughter that followed the Army of the South was utterly destroyed, many sorcerers dying with them.

In the wake of the catastrophe, with near a quarter of the Ordeal lost, the three remaining armies of the Ordeal reunited and heard the command of the Aspect-Emperor on the holy heights of the great hill Swaranûl, overlooking the sea. The Ordeal had exhausted its supplies and would now have to eat the bodies of the fallen Sranc.

The Skin Eaters pressed on across the Istyuli Plains, crossing the line of march of the Ordeal. With rations low, Cleric had taken to dispensing Qirri, a form of Nonman sustenance, to the company. It fortified them, allowing them to march longer and harder than would otherwise be possible. Mimara eventually learned the truth: Qirri was the powdered remains of ancient Nonmen heroes, and the pouch Cleric carried contained none of than the remains of Cû'jara-Cinmoi himself. Horrified, Achamian attempted to refuse the Qirri. He was bound and gagged by the other scalpers. Captain Kosoter then revealed that he was an agent of Anasûrimbor Kellhus, begging Mimara to help save him from damnation. Mimara used the Judging Eye on Kosoter and discovered that his soul was blackened from the atrocities he had carried out at the Aspect-Emperor’s command, and he was utterly beyond redemption.

The party reached the ruins of Sauglish, but Mimara had discovered another truth: Cleric was none other than Nil’giccas himself, the High King of Ishterebinth and the great hero of the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars. She disclosed this to Achamian, who was released. Kosoter ordered Cleric and Achamian into the ruins to find the Library and the Coffers, whilst he kept Mimara as surety. However, Kosoter’s men, traumatised by the horrors of their journey, turned and murdered him. Mimara would have been killed had not the skin-spy Soma returned and saved her for reasons still unclear.

Cleric, a Nonman Erratic working with the Skin Eaters.

In the ruins of Sauglish Achamian attempted to reason with Cleric by awakening his memories of Nil’giccas, but this backfired, awakening instead the Nonman’s desire for pain and suffering, for only those things made impressions in his multi-millennial memory. Their burgeoning discord was interrupted by the discovery within Sauglish of Wutteät, the Father-of-Dragons, a dread Wracu of the Ark who had once borne the obscene King Sil on his back. Achamian attempted to reason with the creature in exchange for the map to Ishuäl, learning that he had travelled on the Ark with the Inchoroi from other worlds. The goal of the Inchoroi was to reduce the number of souls on any given world to just 144,000, in pursuit of their cause of sealing the world against the Outside and avoiding damnation.

Battle erupted and the Mandate schoolman and Qûya sorcerer combined their power to drive the creature from the skies, as in the days of old. But Nil’giccas turned on Achamian and would have killed him, had Achamian not noticed that Nil’giccas had raised no sorcerous wards of his own, inviting his own destruction. Achamian, sorrowfully, complied. Afterwards he burned the great Nonman's remains, taking the ashes as Qirri. In the ruins of the library, using Seswatha’s memories, he found the map showing where House Anasûrimbor had secretly built Ishuäl, high in the Demua Mountains.

Returning to the camp, Achamian found Mimara safe but the skin-spy, Kosoter and most of his men dead and the rest fled. They now set out north and west for the mountains.

Second Negotiant Malowebi, a Mbimayu Schoolman of Zeüm, was sent to the camp of Fanayal to assess his strength and see if the Fanim and Zeüm could strike up an alliance to oppose the Aspect-Emperor. Malowebi was unimpressed with Fanayal, whose twenty years of exile in the desert had taken a toll, but was more heartened by the continued survival of Meppa, the Last Cishaurim. The Fanim marched on the Sempis River Valley, Malowebi accompanying them as an observer on behalf of the Great Satakhan.

In Momemn, the Empress learned of the advancing Fanim armies. Disturbed, and aware how militarily weak the New Empire was in Kellhus’s absence, she showed Kelmomas a secret network of tunnels riddling the Andiamine Heights. Suspicious of Maithanet’s role in events, the Empress asked her children for help. Theliopa suggested that she use Inrilatas to sound out Maithanet’s goals. Although mad, Inrilatas had also inherited more of his father’s gifts than any of his siblings. Esmenet complied, convincing Maithanet to visit Inrilatas. The only other person present was Kelmomas. Maithanet admitted he had doubts about Kellhus’s plans, but only because Kellhus has allowed his love for his children and wife to cloud the Thousandfold Thought (to the surprise of Kelmomas, who believed his father incapable of such an emotion). Inrilatas exposed Kelmomas’s crimes, shocking even Maithanet, before attempting to murder him. He failed and Maithanet killed Inrilatas in self-defence. Kelmomas denounced his uncle as an assassin and murderer, throwing the city into an uproar. Esmenet contracted an assassin to kill her brother-in-law, unaware that the man she found for the job was the White-Luck Warrior himself.

The Fanim armies took Iothiah, the capital of Old Shigek, impressing even the sceptical Malowebi. After the conquest Fanayal was confronted by Psatma Nannaferi who, speaking for the Cult of Yatwer (and Yatwer herself), cultivated an alliance with the Fanim to bring down the demon-emperor Kellhus. Malowebi reported on these events to his Satakhan, but cautioned that Kellhus emptying the Three Seas of armies suggested that he genuinely believed in the threat of the Consult and the No-God. The Satakhan nevertheless sensed an opportunity. He told Malowebi to offer Fanayal an alliance: High Holy Zeüm would support the Fanim if they could take Momemn itself.

Esmenet met with her assassin in secret in the city, only to find that Maithanet’s troops had captured the palace in her absence. Taken into hiding by her captain of the guards, Esmenet fretted over the fate of her children, especially Kelmomas. However, Kelmomas made use of the secret passages she had shown him to hide from guards, occasionally emerging to steal food (and, horrifically, to kill guards and use them for sustenance).

Esmenet was eventually found and taken back to the palace. Maithanet demanded to know why she had tried to kill him, but she said this had not been her intent. Using his Dûnyain conditioning, Maithanet realised she spoke true. Maithanet released her and told her his suspicion: that Kellhus had created the New Empire purely as a machine to create the forces he needed to march on Golgotterath. That achieved, he no longer required the Empire and had abandoned it to its ruin. Esmenet was horrified. Maithanet announced the reconciliation of the Imperial Throne and the Thousand Temples, but was suddenly struck down by the White-Luck Warrior, acting on Esmenet’s orders. Esmenet declared Maithanet a traitor and heretic, the murderer of the Aspect-Emperor’s son. The city rallied to her cause, just the trumpets of the Fanim sounded out and Fanayal’s army arrived to besiege the city.

Achamian’s dreams had been changing for years, but now they had taken on a new level of detail, images from not just Seswatha but also his great friend Celmomas and his son Nau-Cayûti. On the Fields of Eleneöt, Achamian saw Celmomas’s death from the perspective of Celmomas himself. At the moment of his death he uttered his famous prophecy, that at the end of the world an Anasûrimbor would return. But when he uttered this prophecy it was because a vision of Gilgaöl, God of War, had come before him, holding an image of a man. And that man was Anasûrimbor Kellhus. This revelation shocked Achamian but he did not know what to make of it.

In Ishterebinth, the envoys Sorweel, Serwa and Moënghus were seized by the Nonmen and put to the question. Sorweel quickly discovered that Nil’giccas was missing, having fled in years past, and that the remaining Nonmen had formed an alliance with the Consult. The interrogation of Sorweel discovered his connection to Yatwer and his destiny was to kill the Aspect-Emperor. Upon the revelation of this news, he was released into the custody of Oinaral Lastborn, who could provide him aid in his quest. He was given the Amiolas, one of the greatest sorcerous artifacts in Nonman history, which bonded his soul to that of a slain malcontent, Immiriccas. This resulted in Sorweel learning the Nonman language but also learning the truth of the Unholy Consult: through Immiriccas’s memories he relieved some of the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars. Thus, the Consult’s gambit backfired: Sorweel became convinced of the righteousness of the Aspect-Emperor’s cause.

Anasûrimbor Serwa, daughter of the Aspect-Emperor, Grandmistress of the Swayal Compact, heroine of the Great Ordeal. Wielder of the Metagnosis, the most powerful sorcerer since Titirga himself, save only her father.

Oinaral had also become doubtful of the wisdom of allying with the great enemy, so took Sorweel into the deepest part of the mountain. They sought Oirûnas, Oinaral’s father, a great hero of the wars against the Inchoroi. Find him they did, but the hero had been driven utterly insane by the passage of the millennia. In a rage he slew his son, but Sorweel was able to guide him to the inhabited part of the mountain. There Oirûnas, Lord of the Watch, slew Nin’ciljiras, the Consult pretender to the throne of Ishterebinth and the last survivor of the line of Nin’janjin, the Traitor-King. During the resulting chaos Sorweel freed Moënghus, who had been near broken by his captivity, and Serwa, who had not. Serwa sang her metagnostic cants of destruction, laying waste to the Exalted Mansion and thus accomplishing what even the No-God had failed to do: the ruin of Ishterebinth.

The Great Ordeal marched north from the charnel fields of Irsûlor, crossing into the ancient, long-fallen kingdom of Aörsi. With their food gone, the Ordeal followed the command to consume Sranc. The Culling took on a new form, with Sranc corpses now collected for consumption. As the Ordeal marched, its character changed, becoming something more animal. The Exalt-General, Nersei Proyas, became concerned at this turn of events, believing it threatened both the spiritual and moral superiority of the cause. He turned to his Aspect-Emperor, hoping for reassurance, but instead Kellhus admitted the unthinkable: that he was just a man searching for answers and doing the best he could. He was no god, no prophet, just a man, with a man’s needs. He "seduced" an uncomprehending Proyas.

This act broke Proyas’s faith in the Aspect-Emperor. He sought advice and aid from his brother in rank and war, Coithus Saubon, but Saubon remained constant in his belief in the Aspect-Emperor’s plans.

Now the Great Ordeal drew close to the River Sursa and the small mountain range known as the Urokkas, which lay above the fallen Nonman mansion of Viri. During the time of the First Ordeal and the Apocalypse, a great fortress called Dagliash had been built atop Antareg, the northern-most of the mountains. Kellhus now planned to use the geography of the region to go on the offensive.

The great Sranc Horde was forced to divide around the mountains and skirt the river, allowing the Ordeal to concentrate the bulk of its forces against a smaller fraction of the Horde and destroy it in detail. The sorcerers brought their full power to bear against the Horde and bloody slaughter was wrecked in a fashion never before seen. The Sranc were suddenly being annihilated at a speed they could not replace, and their destruction seemed imminent.

However, Kellhus perceived movement in the fallen mansion and realised that the Consult had seeded many Sranc and Bashrags in the ruins, preparing to catch the Ordeal unawares. Saubon led an assault on the mountain of Antareg and engaged the Bashrags instead, defeating the Consult’s plans.

Victory seemed near, so the Inchoroi Aurang took the field, challenging the sorcerers. Saccarees, the head of the Mandate, met the challenge but Aurang suddenly fled. Sensing this was a distraction, Kellhus returned to the peak of Antareg and emptied it, pulling the contents of the fallen fortress of Dagliash and the Nonman mansion below up into the sky and hurling them down onto the Horde. Amongst the artefacts pulled out of the ruins was a strange Tekne device, a cube with unknown figures on it, changing, counting down…

The Aspect-Emperor translocated from the field, leaving behind a command to the Great Ordeal to flee Dagliash, to abandon the mountain. The army complied but for those closest to the device there was no time. A tremendous light filled the sky, a roaring blast that consumed the mountain top, most of the Sranc Horde and an appreciable fraction of the Great Ordeal. Coithus Saubon and those closest to the device were killed instantly, vaporised by a fireball that rose into the sky and became a dark mushroom cloud filling the sky. This was a weapon that the Inchoroi had deployed before but rarely, only in the most desperate days of their wars with the Nonmen. A Scalding.

Drusas Achamian and Anasûrimbor Mimara arrived at Ishuäl, the stronghold of the Dûnyain. They sought answers but instead found ashes: the Thousand-Thousand Halls were a desolate ruin, the bones of men, Bashrags and Sranc and Nonmen everywhere. They also learned what had already been suspected, that the Dûnyain were not fully human. Through surgery and genetic manipulation, they had reduced their women to little more than breathing wombs for their sons, the so-called Whale-mothers. The Judging Eye confirmed what was now obvious: despite their claims to rationality and cold logic, the Dûnyain were absolute evil, beyond any question. The question now arose if Kellhus was also evil. Achamian told Mimara that their mission now had a new goal: to apprehend Kellhus with the Judging Eye.

They also found survivors, the son and grandson of Kellhus. They learned that the Consult had finally found Ishuäl and assaulted it in a fury. It had taken years of bitter fighting, but they finally destroyed the fortress, leaving behind just two survivors scrabbling for sustenance in the dark. The man and the boy were Dûnyain, quick to analyse and grasp Mimara and Achamian’s desires and motivations, but they were also stymied by both Achamian’s sorcery and by the Judging Eye, which rendered their attempts at deception moot. The father – the Survivor – whose sanity was already precarious after the fall of Ishuäl, was driven to madness by the revelations and by the Qirri he was given to consume. He threw himself to his death.

The three travellers descended the mountains north and eastwards. On the horizon they saw a storm, and using sorcery Achamian magnified the image to show the horror cloud rising above the far northern shore of the Misty Sea. Then they were captured, taken prisoner by the Scylvendi. To his surprise, Achamian found himself once again in the company of Cnaiür urs Skiötha. He learned that Cnaiür survived the aftermath of Shimeh and, helped by the Consult skin-spies, had seized control of the entire Scylvendi race. They now marched to Golgotterath, to the relief of the Unholy Consult. Cnaiür planned to kill Anasûrimbor Kellhus, his hatred undimmed by the passage of twenty years. Learning of Mimara’s ability and that they might be enemies of Kellhus themselves, Cnaiür chose to release them. The boy from Ishuäl fled in another direction, both the Scylvendi and Achamian content to let him go.

In the wilds of Kûniüri, Achamian dreamed of the First Apocalypse, and the revelations shook him. Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti was poisoned by his wife Iëva, who was jealous of his love for Aulisi, the love that had compelled him to risk even the dread Ark. At her insistence, Nau-Cayûti was buried rather than burned, but he was not dead. The poison had merely given him the appearance of death. His still-breathing body was dug up by Aurang and borne to the Incû-Holoinas. There, he was tormented and tortured by the Consult, who demanded to know the location of the Heron Spear. He discovered that Shaeönanra still lived thanks to a hideous contrivance, a device which bound several still-living people together. Shaeönanra’s soul moved between the bodies as a way of constantly avoiding death and thus prolonging his life for millennia. Nau-Cayûti was subjected to every horror imaginable but did not break. He refused to disclose the location of the Heron Spear, enduring two years or more of interrogation. Finally, he was forced to join a line of prisoners, weighed down by chains. They were slowly drawn through the Ark and taken, one by one, inside a strange object: a sarcophagus with eleven Chorae embedded in it.

The Carapace of the No-God. Awakening, Achamian was horrified at the revelation, but could not yet grasp its full implications.

A representation of Ajokli, the Four-Horned God of Deceit.

In Momemn Esmenet had restored order and commanded the defence of the city, defying several attempts to attack the walls. Kelmomas was more intrigued by the White-Luck Warrior, seeing him stalk the halls and bring about the death of his sister Theliopa, who had been the greatest threat to him. Kelmomas has been driven mad, hearing the voice of his twin Sarmamas in his ear and believing that Ajokli, the evil Four-Horned God, was now his protector. In an unguarded moment, Kelmomas was caught celebrating his sister’s death by his horrified mother and fled.

A powerful earthquake struck Momemn, the gods again moving against the House of Anasûrimbor in its moment of weakness. The Fanim prepared to attack, only for Kellhus to translocate straight into their midst. He killed Fanayal and Nannaferi without hesitation, brought down Meppa in a sorcerous exchange and took Malowebi as a prisoner. Malowebi attempted to invoke the Blue Lotus Treaty between Zeüm and the Empire to ensure his safety, but the Aspect-Emperor was unimpressed. Using his sword, he decapitated Malowebi and replaced his head with that of one of the Decapitants, the demon-heads affixed to his hip. The possessing demon took on the form of Malowebi as he was ordered by Kellhus to return to Domyot and kill the Grand Satakhan. Malowebi's head, still conscious and aware, was tied to his hip instead.

Kellhus then returned to the palace, telling Esmenet he had returned to rescue her. The White-Luck Warrior struck, Kelmomas distracting his father at a crucial moment…

A fresh earthquake struck the city, the Andiamine Heights collapsing in on themselves and everyone inside.

Thousands of miles to the north, Nersei Proyas regrouped the Ordeal, finding that only a third of the force that had left the Empire now survived. With the Aspect-Emperor missing, he commanded them to muster, to take as much sustenance as they could and to cross the Sursa. The Golden Horns of Golgotterath were very close now.


The artwork in 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.

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)

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MrSquiggles said...

Thank you for clarifying what the hell was going on in the books. I am a big fan of the series but The Great Ordeal was sadly aptly named.

Anonymous said...

Was it confirmed Serwas song was sorcery? Is that from the Unholy Consult? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this excellent series of texts! Particularly for The Great Ordeal as my experience mirrored that of MrSquiggles.

MrSquiggles said...

[SPOILERS] Rereading this post, which has a metric tonne of detail, I am reminded of a bunch of frustrations with the second series. Kelhus' translocation back to Momemn (twice now) just in time to save Esmenet is rather deus ex machina, Kosoter's unceremonious disposal was inconsequential relative to the reputation he had built up (three guys jump him, basically), the whole disposal of Ishual is somewhat a let down but maybe suits a plot purpose (Dunyain too powerful en masse?), Oinural's unceremonious death (lets go all this [long, boring] way and then WHACK done with you), and the 'Tekne device', I mean, ok, its a nuke. Hell, even the Predator's self destruct had the decency to count down in an alien hieroglyphic.

The first trilogy is gold class, A-grade, super interesting and thought provoking material which I have literally bought for multiple friends (first book at least). But as they say in the game 'the second half is not living up to the first...'.