For Doctor John Vandenbrooks,
Arizona State University
? Summary Part One: The Recluse One Two Three Four Five Six Part Two: The Widow Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen Fourteen Fifteen Sixteen Seventeen Eighteen Nineteen Part Three: The Huntress Twenty Twenty-One Twenty-Two Twenty-Three Twenty-Four Twenty-Five Twenty-Six Twenty-Seven Twenty-Eight Twenty-Nine Thirty Thirty-One Thirty-Two Part Four: Broken Threads Thirty-Three Thirty-Four Thirty-Five
Thirty-Six Thirty-Seven Thirty-Eight Thirty-Nine Forty Forty-One Forty-Two Forty-Three Forty-Four Forty-Five Epilogue
The war against the Empire concluded in a troubled stalemate with the newly crowned EmpressSeda dealing with those rebel governors who refused to accept her claim to the throne. Now theEmpire has quelled its internal dissent and is rebuilding its power. Unknown to most, Sedaherself has lost her Aptitude and fallen victim to bloody and unnatural appetites.
In an attempt to come to terms with her own newly Inapt nature, Cheerwell Maker has travelledto the ancient city of Khanaphes and met with the immortal, subterranean Masters, who claim tobe the first lords of mankind and the first great magicians. Having spurred them to defend thecity above from the hordes of the Many of Nem (attacking with Imperial support), Che is nowheading north with Thalric, intending to stand between her fugitive foster-sister Tynisa andthe vengeful ghost of her father, the Mantis Weaponsmaster Tisamon.
The former First Soldier of Khanaphes, Amnon, has travelled to Collegium with his lover PraedaRakespear, a Master of the College, but news of an open Imperial invasion of the old city havesent them both hurrying back to help Amnon’s people.
Tynisa herself has been missing for some time, having fled Collegium shortly after the end ofthe war which claimed both her father, her close friend Salme Dien, and Cheerwell’s loverAchaeos, the latter of whom died from a wound that Tynisa inflicted.
She remembered how it felt to lose Salma, first to the wiles of the Butterfly-kinden girl, andthen to hear the news of his death, abandoned and alone in the midst of the enemy.
She remembered seeing her father hacked to death before her eyes.
But of her murder of Achaeos, of the bite of her blade into his unsuspecting flesh, the woundthat had sapped him and ruined him until he died, she remembered nothing, she felt nothing. Insuch a vacuum, how could she possibly atone?
The world was a wall.
The Barrier Ridge was what they called it. In Tynisa’s College lectures she had seen it markedon maps as delineating the northernmost edge of the comfortable, known territories referred toas the Lowlands. Those maps, set down by Apt cartographers, had been hard for her to follow,and the concept of the Ridge harder still. How could there be a cliff so great as the teachersclaimed, and no sea? How was it that the Lowlands just stopped, and everything north from therewas . . . elsewhere? The Highlands, by logical comparison: the mysterious Commonweal which had,for a fistful of centuries, rebuffed every attempt by the Lowlanders to make contact
knew that, just as everyone knew so many thingsdiplomatic, academic or mercantile. Everyone
which, when looked at closely enough, were never entirely true.
On those maps, the Ridge had been a pair of long shallow curves with regimented lines drawnbetween them, like a stylized mouth with straight and even teeth. The imagination had beengiven nothing otherwise to go on, and year after year of students had left the College with theinbuilt idea that the world, or such of it as was worth learning about, somehow came to itsnorthern limit by way of a cartographer’s convention. Now she looked up and up, seeing theheavens cut in two. To the south was a sky swirling with grey cloud. To the north, ridged andcorrugated, rose a great, rough rock face that had weathered the spite of a thousand years andthen a thousand more, that had cracked and split and had sloughed off whole fortress-weights ofits substance in places, but which remained the barrier keeping the Lowlands and the Commonwealapart. Only the greatest of climbers could have attempted scaling it. Only a strong andconfident flier would trust his Art to take him over it, penetrating the foul weather thattraditionally boiled and clawed over the land’s division.
To her back lay the northernmost extent of a tangled forest that housed two Mantis holds – andtoo many secrets. The airship that had brought her this far had sailed high to cross it, farhigher than weather or hostile natives might otherwise account for. Its pilot, JonsAllanbridge, had simply shrugged when queried.
‘I don’t like the place,’ was all he would say on the subject, while beneath them the darksea of trees remained almost lost in mist and distance. ‘Now Sarn’s behind us, I’ll not makelandfall before the Hitch.’ Seeing her expression, he had scowled. ‘Who owes who for this,girl? You’re in no position to ask any cursed more of me. Got that?’
Which was true enough, Tynisa had to concede. The knotted, clenched feeling inside her hadtwitched at being balked in such a way, but she held on to it, fought it down. Her hand stayedclear of her sword hilt, and it, in turn, stayed clear of her hand, in a tenuous pact of mutualnon-aggression.
It had been cold in the upper reaches of the air, but she had planned ahead for that,remembering their journey together to Tharn. She had packed cloaks and woollens, and still sheshivered, crouching close to the airship’s burner, while Allanbridge bustled about her. Thatvoyage to Tharn had been in his old ship, the Buoyant Maiden, and Allanbridge’s status as a
war veteran had proved currency enough to finance his trading the Maiden for this much grander
vessel. She had the impression that he was finding the craft difficult to run single-handed;not that she would have been able to help him even had he asked.
He called this new vessel the Windlass, which Tynisa thought reflected a lack of imagination onhis part, but then he was her benefactor, and she the one who had so unfairly imposed herself