Tanaros walked down the hallway, black marble echoing under his bootheels.

It was like an unlit mirror, that floor, polished to a high gleam. The archways were vast, not built to a human scale. All along the walls the marrow-fire burned, delicate veins of blue-white against all that shining blackness. In it his reflection was blurred and distorted. There was Tanaros; there, and there and there.

A pale brow, furrowed. A lock of dark hair falling, so.

Capable hands.

And a stern mouth, its soft words of love long since betrayed.

It had been a long time, a very long time, since Tanaros had thought of such matters, of the sum total the pieced-together fragments of his being made; nor did he think of them now, for his Lord’s summons burned like a beacon in his mind. And beneath his attire, beneath the enameled armor that sheltered him, his branding burned like marrow-fire on his flesh, white-hot and cold as ice, throbbing as his heart beat and piercing.

So it was, for the Three.

“Guardsman,” he said in greeting.

“General Tanaros, sir.” The Havenguard Fjeltroll on duty grinned, showing his eyetusks. His weapons hung about him like boulders on the verge of avalanche; he hoisted one, a sharp-pointed mace, in salute as he stood aside. Beyond him, the entrance to the tower stair yawned like an open mouth. “His Lordship awaits you in the observatory.”

“Krognar,” Tanaros said, remembering his name. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure, Lord General.” The Fjeltroll saluted again.

It was a long way-a long way-to the observatory, to the very top of the utmost tower of Darkhaven. Tanaros climbed it step by step, feeling his heartbeat increasing as he labored. A mortal heart, circumscribed by the silvered scar of his branding. When all was said and done, he was a Man, nothing more. It was his Lordship who had made him one of the Three, and deathless. He heard his breath labor, in and out. Mortal lungs, circulating blood. How long had they been at that task? It had been a thousand years and more since Tanaros had answered his Lord’s first summons, his hands red with the lifeblood of one he had once loved, his heart filled with rage and anguish.

It felt longer.

He wondered, briefly, how Vorax made the long climb.

Darkness, spiraling on darkness. Broad steps, wrought by Fjeltroll, made to endure their broad, horny feet. Tanaros reached out, touching the spiraling wall of the tower, fingers trailing. It should have burned, the marrow-fire; it did burn, but faintly. Here the veins branched and branched again, growing ever thinner and fainter as the tower thrust upward into the darkness.

It was always dark, here.

Tanaros paused in the entrance to the observatory, letting his eyes adjust. Dark. It was always dark. Even the windows opened onto darkness, and the night sky. There, the stars, that never shone in cloud-blotted daylight.

“My Lord.” He bowed, crisp and correct, as he had bowed for centuries on end.

“Tanaros.” The voice rumbled, deep as mountains; it soothed, easing his joints, loosening the stiffness of centuries, of honor betrayed and never forgotten. It always had. In the darkness, the Shaper was silhouetted in the windows of night, vast shoulders occluding the stars. A pair of eyes glinted like crimson embers. “You have come.”

Tanaros took a breath, feeling his lungs loosen. “Always, my Lord Satoris.”

“It is well.”

In a carven chair in the corner sat Vorax, his thick legs akimbo, fanning himself and breathing hard. Long ago, he had been a lord of the race of Men, dwelling in the cool clime of Staccia, far to the north. Gluttony, greed and a ruthless pragmatism had moved him to answer the Shaper’s summons, becoming one of the immortal Three. He grinned at Tanaros from where he sprawled, his beard fanning over his massive chest. “Grave doings, cousin! Is it not so?”

“If you say so, cousin.” Tanaros did not sit in his Lord’s presence. Long ago, he had stood vigilant in the presence of his King as he stood now, in the presence of one far greater. Loyalties changed; protocol did not. He inclined his head in deference. “We await the Dreamspinner, my Lord?”

“Yes.” His Lord turned to the westernmost window, gazing out at the night. “Tell me, Tanaros. What do you see, thence?”

He made his way to his Lord’s side. It was like standing beside a stoked forge, the might of the Shaper beating against his skin in waves. In the air a scent, coppery and sweet, like fresh-spilled blood, only stronger. “Where, my Lord?”

“There.” Satoris pointed to the west, the line of his arm unerring.

It could not be otherwise, of course, for westward lay Torath and the Souma, the Eye in the Brow of Uru-Alat-and Lord Satoris was a Shaper. Though his brethren had cast him out, though their allies reviled him and called him Sunderer, Banewreaker and Prince of Lies, he was a Shaper. Day or night, above the earth or below it, he knew where the Souma lay.

Beyond the Sundering Sea.

Tanaros gripped the edge of the casement and looked west into the night. The low mountains surrounding Darkhaven rose in ridges, silvered by a waning moon. Far, far beyond, he could see the faintest shimmer of surging darkness on the distant horizon where the sea began. Below, it was quiet, only an occasional clatter to be heard in the barracks of the Fjeltroll, a voice raised to break the silence.

Above there was the night sky, thin clouds scudding, scattered with pinpricks of stars and the waning moon. As it was since time had begun, since Arahila the Fair had Shaped them into being that the children of Men might not fear the darkness.


There… there. Low on the horizon, a star.

A red star.

It was faint, but it was there. Its light throbbed, faint and fickle, red.

Leather and steel creaked as Vorax levered his bulk to his feet, his breathing audible in the tower chamber; louder, as he saw the star and sucked his breath between his teeth with a hiss. “Red star,” he said. “That wasn’t there before.”

Tanaros, who had not known fear for many years, knew it now. He let go the edge of the casement and flexed his hands, tasting fear and wishing for his black sword. “What is it, my Lord?”

The Shaper watched the red star flicker low in the distance. “A warning.”

“Of what, my Lord?” The taste of fear in his mouth. “From whom?”

“My elder sister.” The voice was as soft as a Shaper’s could be, touched with ages of sorrow. “Oh, Arahila!”

Tanaros closed his eyes. “How can that be, my Lord? With the Souma shattered and Urulat sundered… how can it be that Arahila would Shape such a thing?”

“Dergail,” said Vorax. “Dergail’s Soumanië.”

A chip of the Souma, long since shattered; a chip, Shaped by Haomane First-Born, Chief of Shapers, into a gem, one of three. It had been lost even before Tanaros was born, when Haomane sent his three Wise Counselors to make war upon his Lordship. The Counselor Dergail, who had borne the Arrow of Fire, had known defeat and flung himself into the sea rather than allow the gem or the weapon to fall into enemy hands. For over a thousand years, both had been lost.

“Yes,” said Satoris, watching. “Dergail’s Soumanië.”

Tanaros’ mouth had gone dry. “What does it mean, my Lord?”

Satoris Third-Born watched the red star, and the faint light of the waning moon silvered his dark visage. Calm, so calm! Unmoving, he stood and watched, while ichor seeped like blood from the unhealing wound he bore, laying a glistening trail down the inside of his thigh, never ceasing.

“War,” he said. “It means war.”

Footsteps sounded on the tower stair, quick and light, announcing Ushahin’s arrival. The half-breed entered the chamber, bowing. “My Lord Satoris.”

“Dreamspinner,” the Shaper acknowledged him. “You have news?”

In the dim light, there was beauty in the ruined face, the mismatched features. The half-breed’s smile was like the edge of a knife, deadly and bitter. “I have passed across the plains of Curonan like the wind, my Lord, and been walked in the dreams of Men while they slept. I have news. Cerelinde of the Ellylon, granddaughter of Elterrion, has agreed to wed Aracus Altorus of the children of Men.”

When a daughter of Elterrion weds a son of Altorus…

It was one of the conditions of Haomane’s Prophecy, those deeds by which the Lord-of-Thought vowed Satoris would be overthrown and defeated, and Urulat reclaimed by the Six Shapers who remained.

Vorax cursed with a Staccian’s fluency.

Tanaros was silent, remembering.

Aracus Altorus.

There had been another of that House, once; there had been many others, and Altorus Farseer first among them, in the First Age of the Sundered World. For Tanaros, born in the years of dwindling glory, there was only one: Roscus Altorus, whom he had called ‘King,’ and ‘my lord.’ Roscus, dearer to him than any brother. Red-gold hair, a ready smile, a strong hand extended to clasp in friendship.

Or in love, as his hand had clasped that of Tanaros’ wife. Claiming her, possessing her. Leading her to his bed, where he got her with child.

Tanaros trembled with hatred.

“Steady, cousin.” Vorax’s hand was heavy on his shoulder, and there was sympathy in the Staccian’s voice. They knew each other well, the Three, after so long. “This concerns us all.”

Ushahin Dreamspinner said nothing, but his eyes gleamed in the dark chamber. Near-black, the one, its pupil fixed wide; the other waxed and waned like the moon, set in a pale, crazed iris. So it had been, since the day he was beaten and left for dead, and Men said it was madness to meet his eyes. What the Ellylon thought, no one knew.

“My Lord Satoris.” Tanaros found his voice. “What would you have of us?”

“Readiness.” Calm, still calm, though it seemed the ichor bled faster from his wound, the broad trail glistening wider. “Tanaros, command of the armies is yours. Those who are on leave must be recalled, and each squadron rendered a full complement. There must be new recruits. Vorax, see to our lines of supply, and those allies who might be bribed or bought. Ushahin…” The Shaper smiled. “Do as you do.”

They bowed, each of the Three, pressing clenched fists to their hearts.

“We will not fail you, my Lord,” Tanaros said for them all.

“My brave lieutenants.” Satoris’ words hung in the air, gentle. “My brother Haomane seeks my life, to end the long quarrel between us. This you know. But all the weapons and all the prophecies in the Sundered World avail him not, so long as the dagger Godslayer remains safe in our charge, and where it lies, no hands but mine may touch it. This I promise you: for so long as the marrow-fire burns, I shall reign in Darkhaven, and you Three with me. It is the pact of your branding, and I shall not fail it. Now go, and see that we are in readiness.”

They went.

On the horizon, the red star of war flickered.