All page numbers from the mass market paperback first edition published by Tor (January 2005)
“Heed the lesson there, son.”
“Every decision you make can change the world. The best life is the one the gods don’t notice. You want to live free, boy, live quietly.”
“I want to be a soldier. A hero.”
“You’ll grow out of it.”
Prologue (p. 5)
“Since when is speaking the truth presumptuous?”
“You are young, aren’t you?”
Chapter 1 (p. 25)
As for presumption, I honestly couldn’t care less. Truth can’t be danced around, not out here, not now, not ever again.
Chapter 1 (p. 25)
Do I want you to talk to me, old friend? Do I need your reminders, your wry confirmation that faith is for fools?
Chapter 2 (p. 82)
“The Empress expects obedience of her servants, and demands loyalty.”
“Any reasonable ruler would have the expectation and the demand the other way round.”
Chapter 3 (p. 90)
I look at you and I see a man because that’s what men are capable of—I don’t hunt for excuses because I don’t like to think that that’s how nasty we can get. We look at Sorry and we see reflections of ourselves. Hood take it, if we don’t like what we see.
Chapter 4 (p. 124)
The only death I fear is dying ignorant.
Chapter 4 (p. 125)
Hunger for vengeance poisoned the soul.
Chapter 4 (p. 153)
Your guest is mundane, a restless personage whose thoughts are thick with greed and treachery. A demon crouches on his shoulder, named Ambition.
Chapter 6 (p. 187)
Play on, mortal. Every god falls at a mortal’s hands. Such is the only end to immortality.
Chapter 7 (p. 208)
“An item,” he said softly, his eyes on the disc, “that passes without provenance, pursued by many who thirst for its cold kiss, on which life and all that lay within life is often gambled. Alone, a beggar’s crown. In great numbers, a king’s folly. Weighted with ruin, yet blood washes from it beneath the lightest rain, and to the next no hint of its cost. It is as it is, says Kruppe, worthless but for those who insist otherwise.”
Chapter 7 (pp. 233-234)
“A god intervened, Captain Paran. Returned the life to you. You might think it was on your behalf, but I’m afraid there wasn’t any altruism involved. Are you following me?”
“I’m being used,” Paran stated flatly.
She raised an eyebrow. “That doesn’t bother you?”
Paran shrugged and turned away. “It’s nothing new,” he muttered.
Chapter 9 (p. 263)
Should you ever outrun the guilt within your past, Sorceress, you will have outrun your soul. When it finds you again it will kill you.
Chapter 9 (p. 292)
Kallor said: “I walked this land when the T’lan Imass were but children. I have commanded armies a hundred thousand strong. I have spread the fire of my wrath across entire continents, and sat alone upon tall thrones. Do you grasp the meaning of this?”
“Yes,” said Caladan Brood, “you never learn.”
Chapter 10 (p. 302)
“What do you mean by a tyrant?”
“One whose blood was poisoned by the ambition to rule over others.”
Chapter 10 (p. 309)
Lorn stared at Tool. “Was that an attempt at humor?” she asked.
The T’lan Imass adjusted his helmet. “That depends on your mood, Adjunct.”
Chapter 10 (p. 325)
“Tell me, Tool, what dominates your thoughts?”
The Imass shrugged before replying. “I think of futility, Adjunct.”
“Do all Imass think about futility?”
“No. Few think at all.”
“Why is that?”
The Imass leaned his head to one side and regarded her. “Because, Adjunct, it is futile.”
Chapter 10 (p. 325)
“The dead never interrupt,” said the mason, “they but arrive.”
Chapter 11 (p. 329)
He had nowhere to look for answers, and he was tired of asking questions.
Chapter 11 (p. 341)
In the empty eyes of this child, he’d seen the withering of his own soul. The reflection had been unblemished, with no imperfections to challenge the truth of what he saw.
Chapter 11 (p. 341)
“The mewling, petty acts,” he’d say, “of a short-lived and short-sighted species, Crokus, can do nothing to mar the Great Cycles of Life.”
Chapter 11 (p. 344)
Celebrating Gedderone’s Rite of Spring shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid the pressures of reality. It wasn’t just a harmless escape: it was a means of delaying the probable and making it inevitable.
Chapter 11 (p. 344)
Nor would he recognize hope if it came to him. Too much a stranger, too long a ghost.
Chapter 13 (p. 399)
Paran shook his head, his only surprise the realization that nothing surprised him anymore.
Chapter 15 (p. 446)
Have any of these thoughts been my own? Look at me—my every move seems a desperate search for someone to blame, always someone else. I’ve made being a tool of a god an excuse, a justification for not thinking, for simply reacting. And others have died for it.
Chapter 15 (p. 446)
Through the gamut of life we struggled for control, for a means to fashion the world around us, an eternal, hopeless hunt for the privilege of being able to predict the shape of our lives.
Chapter 16 (p. 457)
Prediction had become a privilege now lost to her. Never mind the outside world, she could not even guess her own actions, or the course of her thoughts.
Was this the true nature of emotion? she wondered. The great defier of logic, of control—the whims of being human. What lay ahead?
Chapter 16 (p. 457)
He who would dominate must learn early that those resisting his command should be destroyed.
Chapter 20 (p. 554)
The power he commanded insisted upon subjects. Strength was ever relative, and he could not dominate without the company of the dominated.
Chapter 20 (p. 555)
A title as meaningless as the woman bearing it. The Empress—just another face she’d seen somewhere before, a mask behind which someone hid from mortality.
“No use hiding,” she whispered, frowning down at the dead leaves and branches around her. “No use.”
Chapter 21 (pp. 562-563)
As with most unwitting servants of the gods, once the game was done so was the servant’s life.
Chapter 21 (p. 563)
Death cannot be struggled against, brother. It ever arrives, defiant of every hiding place, of every frantic attempt to escape. Death is every mortal's shadow, his true shadow, and time is its servant, spinning that shadow slowly round, until what stretched before one now stretched before him.
'They've had a long time to think,' Paran murmured. 'Sometimes, that's all there's needed. The heart of wisdom is tolerance. I think.'
Children were meant to be gifts. The physical manifestation of love between a man and a woman. And for that love all manner of sacrifice could be borne.
Memories belong in the soil, in stone, in wind. They are the land's unseen meaning, such that touches the soul of all who would look — truly look — upon it. Touches, in faintest whisper, old, almost shapeless echoes — to which a mortal life adds its own.
To grieve is the gift of the living — a gift so many of our kin have long lost
Wise words are like arrows flung at your forehead. What do you do? Why, you duck of course.
"There's little value in seeking to find reasons for why people do what they do, or feel the way they feel. Hatred is a most pernicious thing, finding root in any kind of soil. It feeds on itself."
From the sun-drenched south slopes of Gris, where grow the finest grapes this world has seen. Is mine an informed opinion, you are wondering? Most assuredly so, lass, since I hold a majority interest in said vineyards —
With ever greater frequency they annihilate themselves, for success breeds contempt for those very qualities that purchased it.
An army that waits is soon an army at war with itself.
The future can ever promise but one thing and one thing only: surprises.
But now Apsalar was trying to tell him that competence was not justification. That necessity demanded its own path and there was no virtue to be found at its heart.
Not that freedom ensured happiness. Indeed, to be free was to live in absence. Of responsibilities, of loyalties, of the pressures that expectation imposed.
Do not seek to find hope among your leaders. They are the repositories of poison. Their interest in you extends only so far as their ability to control you.
Death cannot be struggled against, brother. It ever arrives, defiant of every hiding place, of every frantic attempt to escape. Death is every mortal's shadow, his true shadow, and time is its servant, spinning that shadow slowly round, until what stretched behind one now stretches before him.
"You leave me without hope," Brys said.
"I am sorry for that. Do not seek to find hope among your leaders. They are the repositories of poison. Their interest in you extends only so far as their ability to control you. For you, they seek duty and obedience, and they will ply you with the language of stirring faith. They seek followers, and woe to those who question, or voice challenge."
Civilization after civilization, it is the same. The world falls to tyranny with a whisper. The frightened are ever keen to bow to a perceived necessity, in the belief that necessity forces conformity, and conformity a certain stability. In a world shaped into conformity, dissidents stand out, are easily branded and dealt with. There is no multitude of perspectives, no dialogue. The victim assumes the face of the tyrant, self-righteous and intransigent, and wars breed like vermin. And people die.
Destiny is a lie. Destiny is justification for atrocity. It is the means by which murderers armour themselves against reprimand. It is a word intended to stand in place of ethics, denying all moral context.
Chaos needs no allies, for it dwells like a poison in every one of us.
If one could always choose the right question, then every answer could be as obvious.
"What war is this?"
"A pointless one."
"They are all pointless Denier. Subjugation and defeat breed resentment and hatred, and such things cannot be bribed away."
"Unless the spirit of the defeated is crushed," Trull said.
"Indeed Bugg. is it because, do you think, at the human core, we are naught but liars and cheats?"
"With no hope of ever overcoming our instinctive nastiness?"
"Hard to say. How have we done so far?"
You cannot fight unreason, and as these dead multitudes will tell you — are telling you right now — certitude is the enemy.
"Keep a watch out, fools! There are things out there and you know what happens when things arrive!"
"I mean the only thing us dead soldiers got in common is that none of us was good enough or lucky enough to survive the fight. We're a host of failures."
"Oh," the figure settled back down, "those reasons. Well, yes. Clever, even. But still profoundly stupid."
The world, Ahlrada Ahn knew, was indifferent to the necessity of preservation. Of histories, of stories layered with meaning and import. It cared nothing for what was forgotten, for memory and knowledge had never been able to halt the endless repetition of wilful stupidity that so bound peoples and civilizations.
We are contrary creatures, us humans, but that isn't something we need be afraid of, or even much troubled by. And if you make a list of those people who worship consistency, you'll find they're one and all tyrants or would-be tyrants. Ruling over thousands, or over a husband or a wife, or some cowering child. Never fear contradiction, Cutter, it is the very heart of diversity.
Compassion existed when and only when one could step outside oneself, to suddenly see the bars from inside the cage.
So much had changed inside him. He was no believer in causes, not any more. Certainty was an illusion, a lie. Fanaticism was poison in the soul, and the first victim in its inexorable, ever-growing list was compassion. Who could speak of freedom, when one's soul was bound in chains?
Mappo Trell, I believe motivations prove, ultimately, irrelevant. Upon either side of the battlefield the face grins with blunt stupidity, even as smoke fills the sky from horizon to horizon, even as crops whither and die, even as sweet land turns to salt. Inequity ends, Trell, when no-one and no thing is left standing.
A civilization at war chooses only the most obvious enemy, and often also the one perceived, at first, to be the most easily defeatable. But that enemy is not the true enemy, nor is it the gravest threat to that civilisation. Thus a civilization at war often chooses the wrong enemy.
Discipline is as much facing the enemy within as the enemy before you; for without critical judgement, the weapon you wield delivers — and let us not be coy here — naught but murder. And its first victim is the moral probity of your cause.
'For Hood's sake,' the foreigner muttered. 'What's wrong with words?'
'With words,' said Redmask, turning away, 'meaningschange.'
'Well,' Anaster Toc said, following as Redmask made his way back to his army's camp, 'that is precisely the point. That's their value — their ability to adapt -'
'Grow corrupt, you mean. The Letheri are masters at corrupting words, their meanings. They call warpeace, they call tyrannyliberty. On which side of the shadow you stand decides a word's meaning. Words are the weapons used by those who see others with contempt. A contempt which only deepens when they see how those others are deceived and made into fools because they choose to believe. Because in their naivety they thought the meaning of a word was fixed, immune to abuse.'
Sometimes, mortals did indeed forget. Sometimes, mortals needed ... reminding.
Do mortal fools still measure the increments leading to their deaths, wagering pleasures against costs, persisting in the delusion that deeds have value, that the world and all the gods sit in judgment over every decision made or not made?
History meant nothing, because the only continuity was human stupidity. Oh, there were moments of greatness, of bright deeds, but how long did the light of such glory last? From one breath to the next, aye, and no more than that. No more than that. As for the rest, kick through the bones and wreckage for they are what remain, what lasts until all turn to dust.
Killers among your kind, among my kind, are just that — the savagery of beasts mated with intelligence, or what passes for intelligence. They dwell in a murky world, sir, confuse and fearful, stained dark with envy and malice. And in the end, they die as they lived. Frightened and alone, with every memory of power revealed as illusion, as farce.
The righteous will claim sole domain on judgment. The righteous are the first to make hands into fists, the first to shout down dissenters, the first to bully others into compliance.
Can you live without answers? All of you, ask that of yourself. Can you live without answers? Because if you cannot, then most assuredly you will invent your own answers and they will comfort you. And all those who do not share your view will by their very existence strike fear and hatred into your heart. What god blesses this?
When undeniable crime had been committed, justification was the act of a coward. And it was cowardice that permitted such crimes in the first place. No tyrant could thrive where every subject said no. The tyrant thrives when the first fucking fool salutes.
She walked alongside him, saying nothing. Thinking. At last, she sighed. 'It is said that only one's will can fight against chaos, that no other weapons are possible.'
'Necessity, now there's a word to feed every outrage on decency.'
‘I can see your reasons, my love. But won’t you get thirsty?’ — Inscription found beneath capstone of household well, Lakefront District, Darujhistan
It is enough that in the place he calls home, he is no stranger.
No, do not look at me that way, you of smooth and subtle thought, you give your sympathy too quickly and therein hide your belief in your own superiority. I do not deny your cleverness, but I question your compassion.
We are sickened by the unknown, but knowledge can prove poisonous.
'But we're different from hawks and wolves, Ville. We can actually figure out the consequences of what we do, and that makes us ... oh, I don't know the word ...'
'Culpable?' Rint suggested.
'Yes, that's the word all right.'
'... In elegant remoteness, she arrives like a work of high art, and you may well desire to edge ever closer, seeking flaws in the maker's hand, but the closer you get, the more she blurs before your eyes.'
'Wisdom did not belong to mortals, and those whom others called wise were only those who, through grim experience, had touched the very edges of unwelcome truths. For the wise, even joy was tinged with sorrow. No, the world made its demands upon mortals and they were immediate ones, pressingly, ferociously so, and even knowing a reasonable course was not enough to alter a mad plunge into disaster.'
'Words were no gift, said Haut. They were tangled nets snaring all who ventured into their midst, until an entire people could hang helpless, choking on their own arguments, even as dissolution closed in on all sides.
The Jaghut had rejected that path. Defying the eternal plea for communication among peoples, in the name of understanding, peace or whatever, they had stopped talking, even with each other. And their city was abandoned, home now to a single soul, the Lord of Hate, the one who had laid bare the brutal truth of the future awaiting them all.'
'Peace did not serve order; order served peace, and when order became godlike, sacrosant and inviolate, then the peace thus won became a prison, and those who sought their freedom became enemies to order, and in the elimination of such enemies, peace was lost.'
'What worth peace when it was maintained by threat?
It was only the fearful who knelt in worship before order, and Galar refused to leave in fear.'
'I think I understand. Before there can be disdain, there must be pride.
One day I will find something to be proud of, and then I will find this taste of disdain, and see if it suits me. Should I not think this, being my father's son?
And yet, I do not. Pride needs no claws, no scaled armour about itself. Not every virtue must be a weapon.
These thoughts are my own. I will not crush them.'
'This swirl of stars,' Draconus suddenly said, 'marks the plunge of light into darkness. These stars, they are distant suns, shihing their light down upon distant, unknown worlds. Worlds, perhaps, little different from this one. Or vastly different. It hardly matters. Each star swirls its path towards the centre, and at that centre is death - the death of light, the death of time itself.'
'Do not let the title of scholar, or poet, or lord, intimidate you overmuch. More importantly, do not delude yourself into imagining that such men and women are loftier, or somehow cleverer or purer of intgrity or ideal than you or the other commoner. We live in a world of facades, but the grins behind them are all wretched.'
'Then, does everyone lives in fear?'
The firelight barely reached the huge man standing beside Raskan, and the deep voice that came from that vague shape sounded loose, unguarded. 'I would say, most of the time, yes. Fear that our opinion might be chalanged. Fear that our way of seeing things might be called ignorant, self-serving, or indeed evil. Fear for our persons. Fear for our future, our fate. Our moment of death. Fear of failing in all that we set out to achieve. Fear of being forgotten.'
'Wealth,' they said, 'is a false measure. Honour cannot be hoarded. Integrity cannot adorn a room. There is no courage in gold. Only fools build a fortress of wealth. Only fools would live in it and imagine themselves safe.'
Art is the language of the tormented, but the world is blind to that, for ever blind.
T'riss sat down opposite the Warden, her expression thoughtful. 'Is civilisation nothing but an illusion, then?'
'That's all civilisation is, T'riss. A means by which we manage the proliferation of our kind. It increases in complexity the more of us there are. Laws keeps us muzzled and punishment delivers the necessary message when those laws are broken. Civilizations in decline are notable when certain of their members escape justice, and do so with impunity.'
'It is the legacy of most intelligent beings to revel in slaughter for a time,' Haut replied. 'In this we play at being gods. In this, we lie to ourselves with delusions of omnipotence. There is but one measure to the wisdom of a people, and that is the staying hand. Fail in restraint and murder thrives in your eyes, and all your claims to civilization ring hollow.'