Brian Ruckley


What Has Gone Before

For years, an uneasy peace has held between the True Bloods and the followers of the Black Road, whose uncompromising creed of predestination long ago led to their exile into the north. The Lannis and Kilkry Bloods remain wary of the threat posed by the Black Road, but elsewhere in the domains of Gryvan oc Haig, the High Thane of the True Bloods, thoughts have turned to commerce and conquest in the far-distant south.

On the night of the annual festival of Winterbirth, sudden disaster engulfs the Lannis Blood. Their frontier stronghold of Tanwrye is besieged by one Black Road army; a second, impossibly, emerges from the vast forests of Anlane to assault their capital at Anduran. And Castle Kolglas, home to the Lannis Thane’s nephew Orisian, is overrun by Inkallim, the dreaded elite warriors of the Black Road. Orisian sees his father slain, and his sister Anyara carried off into captivity along with his friend and mentor, the na’kyrim Inurian. Orisian himself barely escapes, fleeing into the wilderness with his bodyguard Rothe.

The Black Road invaders, led by Kanin and Wain nan Horin-Gyre, have forged an improbable and fragile alliance with the White Owl Kyrinin, mediated by a bitter na’kyrim named Aeglyss. With surprise on their side, and the fierce fatalism of their creed driving them on, they seize Anduran and slaughter the Lannis Thane and his family. Amidst the ruin, Inurian increasingly comes to fear that still greater danger lurks unrecognised, for he senses in Aeglyss both disfiguring anger and immense, as yet untapped, power.

Orisian receives unexpected aid from the Fox Kyrinin, and is soon reunited with Anyara and Inurian, who have made good their escape. But it is a joyless reunion: the enemy are in close pursuit and Inurian has been gravely wounded. As his strength fades, Inurian compels Orisian and the others to leave him behind.

Aeglyss confronts the dying Inurian, pleading for his aid and guidance, offering the chance of survival in exchange. Inurian refuses, and is slain by an enraged Aeglyss. Increasingly unstable, Aeglyss then finds himself rejected by the leaders of the Black Road as well. The alliance he built for them with the White Owls is repudiated by Kanin nan Horin-Gyre and Aeglyss is seized by the Kyrinin, required to answer for the failure of the promises he made.

Orisian and his companions find brief refuge in the mountainous Car Criagar with Yvane, another na’kyrim, but continuing pursuit drives them on and they make for Koldihrve, a remote town where they hope to find a ship to carry them south. In the course of their journey Orisian’s interest in Ess’yr, the Kyrinin woman acting as both guide and guardian to him, grows. He comes to realise that she was Inurian’s lover, but is nevertheless increasingly, though hesitantly, attracted to her himself.

Events are moving rapidly elsewhere, as the world slips towards chaos. The forces of the Black Road, led by Wain nan Horin-Gyre and by the implacable Inkallim Shraeve, continue their remorseless destruction of the Lannis Blood. In the far north, the secretive leaders of the Inkallim compete with the High Thane of Gyre himself for influence over this invasion that has achieved successes far beyond anyone’s expectations; in the south, Gryvan oc Haig reluctantly and sluggishly assembles an army to march in support of Lannis, relying always upon the assurances of his infamous Chancellor, Mordyn Jerain, that events can be easily controlled.

Orisian and his companions escape on a ship even as Black Road warriors, with Kanin himself at their head, descend upon Koldihrve. They are carried to safety in Kolkyre, the capital of the Kilkry Blood. Meanwhile, the White Owl Kyrinin have made a fateful decision. Considering themselves betrayed, they crucify Aeglyss upon their ancient Breaking Stone. His agonies, though, lead not to death but to transformation. And in the moment of that transformation, na’kyrim everywhere — whether Yvane in Kolkyre’s Tower of Thrones, or those hiding away in the fortress sanctuary of Highfast — sense the burgeoning of his terrible power; power that could have dire consequences for everyone in the Godless World.



I will set the tale down here much as I had it from an old woman in Hoke, as she had it from her grandmother, and she from her grandmother before. I doubt there is anyone who has not heard it in one form or another. It is a good tale, but the wise will not take it as the truth, whole and entire. However flawed our understanding of the Anain may be, we can assume that they would not trouble to be so clear in the expression of their desire as this tale would have us believe. Nor does it seem likely that they would display even such brief patience as the story suggests. We lesser races, after all, must seem to them as slow and stilted and inconsequential as the mute and dull beasts of the field seem to us.

Tane, the Shining City, had fallen. The Kyrinin were undone, their lords and captains slain, their armies scattered to the winds. The streets were strewn with bodies and the drains overflowing with blood. The triumphant Huanin armies, marching under the argent stag-banner of the Alsire King, had broken down the walls and claimed the city as their own.

The conquering King stared out from the highest room of the Rose Citadel, in Tane’s gilded heart, and he looked upon his work and was glad, for though he saw ruin and fire, still the city was the greatest in all the world and in it he would be the greatest King.

Now a tall tree grew in the courtyard outside that noble tower. The tree stretched a branch in through the window, and the branch twisted and cracked as it came. In the sound of its wooden bones breaking was a voice that spoke to the King.

“This city has run with blood, and the mind of the world is riven with pain and grief and fury. It is enough. Now we claim this place and will cleanse it and make it ours. You must take your armies away.”

“I will not,” the King replied, “for my warriors have given their lives to win this great city for me and it is to be the home and heart of my people.”

At these words, the branch withdrew and the great tree was once more a tree, silent and still. The King summoned his servants and said to them, “Take your axes and cut down the tree in the courtyard, for I mislike its countenance. And when you have cut it down, burn the wood so that not a twig remains.”

On the evening of the following day the King was again in that high chamber. Leaves blew in through the open window and spun upon the breeze and filled the room, and in the sighing of their dance was a voice that spoke to the King.

“This war of yours fouls the mind of the world. This city is filled with the cries of the dead and it is no place for the living. We will see an end to this war; we will take this city and still its torment. Yours is the heart that will be broken if you do not depart from here with all your host, for this is a city of the dead and so it will remain.”

But again the King shook his head. “If I leave as you request, all that has gone before — all the strife and the struggle that cast their dark pall over the land these last years — all this will be for nothing. I will not go, for all the lives that have been taken and all the loss that has been suffered were for the purpose of bringing me here.”

And at these words of the King, the leaves that were in the room fell to the floor and spoke no more to him. The King summoned his servants and said to them, “Clear out these leaves and make a fire of them in the courtyard. When they are burned away to nothing, return and close this window up with shutters, and nail it fast. I dislike the breeze.”

Now the King had a daughter, who was as bright in his eyes as the morning. On the third night the father and the daughter ate together in that highest chamber of the Rose Citadel, and made one another great promises for a glorious future.

But the Citadel shook in its stone bones, and the walls trembled. The shutters that had been fixed across the window were torn apart. Vines that grew without the Citadel came in like a thousand writhing snakes and they

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