Into the A’sh
“To move a man, find out what he wants.”
Anonymous - Tower of the Arkein
The annalist paced across a richly decorated waiting room. It was
opulence at its most arrogant. Gold leaf filled intricately carved
moldings upon the tall marble pillars lining the walls. Scenes from the
Book of Khein graced the arched ceiling. They depicted Salvare’s
guiding hand during Creation.
The artwork was cracked and fading. The lightning that flared from
Salvare’s angry eyes looked tired and worn as if the very act of
Creation had sapped the life from the painting. The broken earth lay
shattered before God’s bare feet, a testament to the folly of the
The annalist couldn’t help but remember the torn ruins of S’Vothe,
the jagged mountain village, where his search for answers had truly
begun. They were the windswept lands that cradled a young boy and marked
him for impossible feats of greatness and villainy. It was the
birthplace of a legend now inexplicably vanished from the known corners
He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Images of molten stone
surrounding a great gold and silver-leafed chest flashed through his
mind. Had it only been six months?
The silent echo of pain resounded in his ears. It bore through his mind
like a hot spear, slicing through the soft gray memories he had so
diligently collected. It was, however, nothing more than the residual
effects of the arkein.
The annalist reluctantly opened his eyes. The harsh desert light glared
off the white stones of the monastery floor. It washed the scene in a
bath of luminescence. The once subtle hints of obscurity lurking behind
quiet shadows, now stood stark and naked before his penetrating gaze.
As his head cleared, he noticed the lack of servants in the halls, the
dust gathering in the corners, and the frayed tapestries. They all spoke
of the gradual decline of the Church of Salvare.
Approaching footsteps reverberated off the walls and ceiling in an odd
counterpoint to the previous silence.
“The deacon will see you now,” a short monk said, adjusting his
The monk was diminutive in stature as if someone had taken a saw to his
legs. He had likely been sold to the Church at an early age to avoid any
embarrassment such a child would bring to a family of wealth.
“Of course,” the annalist said, following the smaller man into the
The next room was simpler in its décor. A set of three wide steps
formed a simple dais on which rested a chair. Throne may have been a
more apt description. At the end of a beautiful, bejeweled leash was a
shadow cat. Its black fur shimmered as it restlessly flicked its long
tail. Its dark eyes tracked the annalist as he entered the room.
“Deacon,” the annalist began.
“You needn’t waste time on formalities with me,” Deacon Neri said,
waving a hand for the smaller monk to leave. “What brings you here?”
“I seek information,” the annalist replied.
“Of course you do,” Neri said sharply, “I know who you are.”
“Then you know who sends me,” the annalist continued smoothly.
“And you know the king of Bodig holds little sway here,” Neri paused
and took in a breath, glancing about the room, “I also know who
you’re searching for.”
The words echoed in the annalist’s mind. Each heartbeat filling a void
marked with anticipation, while silence hung thickly between them like a
wet rag. Deacon Neri continued to hold the annalist’s unflinching
gaze. It was uncommon for a man to show so little respect for someone of
the Second Circle. Ignorance had a way of drowning out fear and
“You think you know him,” Neri said at last.
“Who?” The annalist questioned.
“You came here to play games?” Neri said in a stern voice,
“You’ve the wrong monk if you seek games.”
“No deacon,” the annalist replied.
The annalist took in a calming breath. He had to remind himself why he
was here, prostrating himself before a lowly deacon of the failing
Church of Salvare. He wasn’t here solely for the King of Bodig and
Emperor of Heorte. He wasn’t even here to avenge the death of his
family. No, he was here for all of Verold. So that others wouldn’t
lose their families. He was here to learn enough to stop the Scourge of
Bodig and Bane of Verold.
“You’ve never met him,” Neri said.
“Oh, but I have deacon,” the annalist’s eyes narrowed and a shadow
of anger rolled over them.
Neri’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second. It was enough to
betray his surprise. He attempted to mask it by reaching down and
stroking the midnight fur of the shadow cat purring at his side.
“Many of the stories they tell are untrue.”
“Then educate me,” the annalist offered bowing his head ever so
“Before I do, you must make me a promise,” Neri said carefully.
The annalist was taken aback. It was rare someone of lower stature
wished to tie him down with promises.
“Go ahead,” the annalist said, with a hint of curiosity touching his
Neri took in a breath before he began, “Don’t judge him until
you’ve understood his heart.”
That was it? That was the promise the deacon requested? The annalist
could certainly abide by such simple terms. He did seek the truth after
all. It was the cornerstone of his forgotten profession.
There was a moment of silence as Neri gathered his thoughts. The shadow
cat’s green eyes became lazy once more, falling half-closed into
“Get comfortable, this is not a short story,” Neri said as he
regarded the annalist coolly, his voice shattering the silence like the
crack of a small hammer, “Although, it’s likely one of the most
interesting stories you’ve come across,” Neri shook his head subtly,
“I will tell you of Aeden’s exodus from the A’sh as he related it
“Hatred is a seed that once planted becomes near impossible to
uproot.” Herlewin’s Letters of Apology
Aeden hated Yazid Nur Komal. He was rude, arrogant, and condescending.
The man spoke of piety and service to god, but would excuse himself from
prayers. He would speak of the sanctity of life and then would beat the
whores he paid to sleep with. Yazid was without morals. If he understood
them, he blatantly spit in the face of the gods. Most importantly, Yazid
was the man who had killed Odilo. For this, Aeden had vowed to kill him.
The only thing that stayed his hand were his adopted brothers, Neri and
Adel. Timing was everything. Killing Yazid would be too obvious to the
discerning eye of Jal Isa Sha’ril. The Jal was intelligent, scheming,
and ever aware of the motivations of those around him. His ability to
discern thoughts before they became action was eerie.
Aeden would stay awake late into the night dreaming of ways to rid the
world of Yazid. The more violent Yazid’s imagined death, the better
Aeden slept. It was an odd amalgam of emotion that threatened to strip
him of his humanity. His thoughts painted his life in angry, vengeful
strokes. He needed balance.
The Jal knew this and only just accommodated him. Despite being forced
to work with Yazid; eating together, training together, and sleeping in
the same room, Aeden was granted relief.
This relief came in two shapes. The first, was in the form of a quiet
and unwavering man, Kardal Jabir Sha’ril. Where Yazid spoke too much,
Kardal rarely spoke. In fact, Aeden couldn’t remember hearing Kardal
utter more than a dozen words in the last two weeks.
The second form of relief came from the Jal himself. Practice of logic
and rhetoric was what the Jal called them. Aeden later referred to them
as forced debates.
It was then no surprise that the Jal invited Aeden into his chamber. It
was early afternoon in mid Lenton. The day was hot but bearable. It bore
the subtle hint of change in its wake, the way Hearvest spoke of falling
leaves to the north.
“Sit,” the Jal said with an extended hand.
Aeden looked about the room briefly. He saw two guards at the far
doorway. He had passed two when he had entered. The room, however, was
empty save for the Jal.
“You seek to escape? Perhaps kill me first I presume,” Jal Isa
Sha’ril said, his hooded eyes narrowing.
Aeden would have been lying if he said the thought hadn’t crossed his
“In spite of all I have given you, all I have offered?” he
continued, attempting to sound hurt. “You think you would have fared
better under a different master?”
“No,” Aeden finally replied.
The word master, echoed resoundingly in his head. Aeden had no master,
nor did he crave one. In his heart, he was free. He wove his own fate.
“Good, I would hate to have wasted my time,” the Jal paused for a
moment and took a sip of sweet wine before continuing, “of course this
isn’t why I called you here.”
Aeden remained silent. He knew the Jal enjoyed hearing himself speak. If
Aeden were to ascribe him a weakness, it would have been pride. For all
the Jal’s ambition, intelligence, and knowledge of historical events,
he was proud. The Jal needed others to know what it was he had
accomplished. Perhaps today was another sermon on his self-made station.
“No, we have more pressing matters of greater urgency. Would you care
to guess what matters lay at hand?”
The Jal seemed to enjoy testing him, probing the hidden corners of his
mind for weakness, strength, for the Sight.
Aeden struggled to think straight. His mind seemed to swim in a
perpetual pool of grey and red. He hadn’t slept well the night before.
Rarely, in fact, did he sleep well. Not until Adel and Neri were free
would he sleep well.
“I assume it’s because of what Yazid had said about you,” Aeden
The Jal raised a carefully trimmed eyebrow. He took a moment to study
Aeden the way one would study a painting.
“Clever, but you paused too long to concoct that lie,” the Jal sat
back in his chair, “I will give you one more chance, do not bore me,
or insult my time.”
There was steel in his voice. Aeden cringed ever so slightly. As angry
as he was, he knew not to purposefully seek out the wrath of the Jal. He
had only once seen a new servant defy the purser. The servant now walked
with a permanent limp and was missing a hand. The high-pitched screams
as a screw was driven into the servant’s leg had echoed down the
corridor with resounding weight. The servant had never spoken up again.
The memory faded as Aeden focused on the Jal’s question, what matter
lay at hand? Aeden once again glanced about the room. A simple roll of
papyrus lay upon the table next to the purser’s decanter. It could
have been a message from any number of wealthy individuals. Only one,
however, would stir a sense of urgency from the Jal.
“The caliph wishes your attendance,” Aeden replied.
The Jal’s dark eyes simply stared at Aeden for a moment.
“Interesting,” the Jal took another sip of wine, “Yes, he seeks a
“Why?” Aeden asked before he realized his place.
The Jal raised an eyebrow, but didn’t seem to take offense.
“That I’m afraid is beyond my knowing,” a tiny smile touched the
corner of the Jal’s lips.
The Jal’s eyes then focused on Aeden. His hooked nose was partially
cast in shadow giving him the predatory look of a falcon.
“Why do you think the caliph wishes a meeting?” the Jal asked
Aeden remained silent for a moment. It was an impossible riddle. He had
spent so little time in the A’sh that its ways still remained hidden
to his eye. He had crammed years of history into his young mind over the
course of a couple months. It was a peddling amount in comparison to the
wealth of knowledge the Jal retained. Why ask Aeden?
His mind raced, knowing the Jal expected an answer. What did he know
about the caliph? Surprisingly little after he gave it a moment’s
thought. Did it have to do with Q’Bala to the north? Sha’ril and
Q’Bala had been at war for over two hundred years. Maybe it was a
simple matter of money. The Jal was the purser of the caliphate after
“I don’t know,” Aeden finally said.
“Of course you don’t,” the Jal replied, but this time with a hint
of reticence in his voice. “Send in Yazid.”
Aeden nodded and backed out of the room.
Aeden figured Yazid was sleeping. It was already late morning, which
meant the Jal’s guard was recovering from a night of excessive
drinking. Alcohol was a vice frowned upon by church doctrine,
particularly in Sha’ril. Yazid, however, paid as much attention to
church doctrine as he did personal hygiene.
Excessive drinking often left Yazid inebriated, angry, and a few times
incoherent. Aeden once had the opportunity to poison Yazid. The guard
was already drunk that night, like most nights. It would have been a
simple matter, but something stayed Aeden’s hand.
Was it mercy? No, it was more visceral than that. It was the lust of
confrontation. Aeden wanted the satisfaction of cutting Yazid’s
throat. Slicing it causally the way Yazid had cut Odilo’s throat. Only
then would Kegal, the god of destruction and death, be satiated.
Aeden rounded a corner and traveled across a small courtyard. A fountain
splashed serenely within. It was a symbol of great wealth to have a
fountain in a desert kingdom. Water was as precious as gold. It was
another subtle reminder of Aeden’s place within the Jal’s world.
He crossed the courtyard and carved a line to the barracks. Aeden could
already sense the presence of his new foe. It was like the taste of
rotten fruit, lingering irritably in the back of his throat.
Reaching out a hand, he swept back the green, silk curtain. The fabric
was soft to the touch, like the smooth skin of a woman’s stomach.
Aeden’s mind lingered briefly over the fragile image of the
Fantasy was ripped from his wandering imagination by the snoring grunt
There, on a bed before him, was the loathsome guard. He still wore the
same clothes he had the night before. The air was stale with the smell
of alcohol sweated through overused pores.
How easy would it be to kill him right there? Why didn’t he?
“Does the dog wish to hump my bed?” Yazid said, opening a blurry
Aeden was momentarily startled. He buried his thoughts and felt the
familiar flush of anger rise through him. It was like the heat of the
sun on burnt skin.
“The Jal asked me to fetch his ugliest guard.”
Yazid Nur Kamal sat up and rubbed his eyes with his palms. Aeden had
already walked out, not waiting for the man’s reply.
Excerpted from "Tower of the Arkein: Book 2: Kan Savasci Cycle (Volume 2)" by Chase Blackwood. Copyright © 0 by Chase Blackwood. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.