The bloodsoaked conclusion to Kameron Hurley’s epic fantasy masterpiece – the Worldbreaker Saga – is unleashed.
The Dhai nation has broken apart under the onslaught of the Tai Kao, invaders from a parallel world. With the Dhai in retreat, Kirana, leader of the Tai Kao, establishes a base in Oma’s temple and instructs her astrologers to discover how they can use the ancient holy place to close the way between worlds. With all the connected worlds ravaged by war and Oma failing, only one world can survive. Who will be sacrificed, and what will the desperate people of these worlds do to protect themselves?
File Under: Fantasy [ Parallel Lives | Ruined Mothers | Zodiac War | Ultimate Sacrifice ]
About the Author
Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author, advertising copywriter and online scribe. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J Bounds Award for Best Newcomer; she has also been a finalist for the Arthur C Clarke Award, Nebula Award, Locus Award, BFS Award, the David Gemmell Morningstar Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her non-fiction has been featured in The Atlantic, Locus, and the game-changing collection The Geek Feminist Revolution.
Author hometown: Dayton, Ohio, USA
Read an Excerpt
Taigan was already bored with the end of the world.
It had been a year since Oma had risen, its shining bloody face purported to herald some apocalyptic ending for this world and those closest to it. But people marched on, as they were wont to do, scrabbling and squabbling and annoying him. The world kept spinning. He kept living. The promised apocalypse was a maddeningly slow one.
Taigan found it a relief, then, when the naked man fell from the sky.
The body landed with a wet thump a few feet from where Taigan stood at the aft of a great, living Aaldian cargo ship. The body kept its shape ... all but one testicle. A single gonad popped free, like a shiny white egg. Taigan had a moment to wonder at the absurdity of that: not just a naked man falling from the sky but that the body had excreted its gonad on impact, like some dim bird shitting an egg.
A jagged tear rent the blue-violet sky directly overhead, revealing the amber-tinged atmosphere of some other world beyond. Dark shapes moved in the wavering rent in reality. The seam rippled, then closed, sealing Taigan's world from the other just as swiftly as it had appeared.
"Poor choice," Taigan muttered, though he couldn't imagine what had compelled this man to shoot himself through a rent in the sky. Certainly, that other world was dying, just as the Tai Mora's had some months before, forcing the few still stuck there to flee to yet another nearby dying world, or perish. Yet, staring at the lonely gonad, Taigan imagined the man might have had a more dignified death if he had stayed on his own world.
The crew shoved the body off the deck, muttering darkly about dire portents and desperate worlds. Birds circled and dived in the water behind them, enjoying the free meal. Taigan had not seen what happened to the gonad, but he suspected it had been a delicious treat for some sea bird.
Taigan lifted his nose to the salty air. Beneath the brine he detected a more familiar scent: the taste of ruin. It was a heady mix of acrid kelp and charred flesh that filled his nostrils even in his dreams. It smelled like home. A home that no longer existed. Perhaps that's why he had been drawn back to this doomed place.
The ship rounded a rocky spur, revealing the source of the smell: the harbor once called Asona, gateway to what had once been the kingdom of Dhai.
Taigan had been present for the harbor's destruction, and remembered it as a smoking heap of wreckage. It was early spring, and the world the Tai Mora invaders had built for themselves on the broken backs of the defeated Dhai was quickly unfurling across the continent, despite the increasing number of interlopers able to hurl themselves from one world to the next under Oma's watchful eye.
The Tai Mora in the harbor lifted great stones using belts of Tira's breath, training vines to set the stones in place. The way they worked reminded Taigan of insects: industrious, poisonous little things with many hands. They may have been the strongest force in the world at present, but Oma's rise had signaled the assault of other worlds. They would need to fight for their supremacy against a great many more enemies in the coming years, if they did not find a way to close the seams between this world and the others.
If that was even possible anymore.
The Patron of Saiduan and his War Minister, Maralah, had believed they could rally enough omajistas to stop the incursion of other worlds, once Oma had risen. But with the Patron dead and Maralah fled, there were few of Taigan's people left to see that vision through. In truth, Taigan was not confident even the Tai Mora could achieve what his people could not. He had spent the last year roaming the decimated continent of Saiduan, killing and fucking indiscriminately. He never expected to be laid low by such increasing boredom. He needed a purpose, like the one Maralah had given him, and all the masters before her. For all his hatred of her, at least she had given him something useful to do.
Here during the end times, Taigan intended to murder as many Tai Mora as possible. Killing was something he was good at, something he understood. It's what he had wanted to do before Maralah sent him out on his mad mission to find gifted omajistas that they could train to become worldbreakers. What a farce.
When he had boarded this ship in Anjoliaa, he clothed himself in an easy illusion, tangling the breath of Oma into a web around him that bent the light and deceived the eye. A breath, a blink, and he appeared to be a shorter, darker man with longer limbs and finer features, the very image of an Aaldian he knew decades ago, when he had sought worldbreakers in that soft little country. For good measure, he wore an approximation of Aaldian clothing, the long robes and elaborate yellow vest of a scholar. He could have done up some glamor to make him look Tai Mora, he supposed, but Aaldian would garner fewer questions and expectations. Holding a glamor this many days when Oma was descendant would have been impossible. Today it was simple as breathing.
The great Aaldian ship slid into port, hugging the pier with its shiny organic skin. The fit little Aaldians sang as they worked, and the hull of the living ship pulsed in time to the rhythm of their tune.
"You see how it loves us," the Aaldian captain said, striding up next to Taigan, boots squelching on the membrane of the deck. There was but one pronoun in their language, though the captain used an honorific that indicated they had borne children. Taigan preferred just the one designation; the five genders in Dhai seemed entirely random in their application, and it confused him greatly.
Taigan said, in Aaldian, "It has been a ... relatively smooth trip. I did not anticipate that. The Tai Mora have been ruthless with other races, but not Aaldia."
"The Tai Mora are content to let Aaldians ferry goods," the captain said. "For now. I suspect that will change when the Tai Mora are no longer starving and gobbling up our excess, moldering goods. We came from another place, of course, during the last cycle of the sky, bringing our ships and keeping closely to ourselves. There's no race like ours on their world. We pose no hindrance to them coming over."
"What will you ... Will we do to turn them back?" Taigan asked.
The captain smirked. "I know you're not one of us," they said. "That glamor can mask your visage, but not your mannerisms, nor your accent. Are you Tai Mora?" Taigan gave a little shrug.
The captain gazed past him at the crew, busily wetting down the decks with a mix of honey and seawater to feed the ship before letting passengers disembark; the skin absorbed the heady brew in a few moments, and the whole craft shuddered and sighed.
"I had a mind to ask you what's next," the captain said, "if you were Tai Mora. What your intentions are with our people. But if you are not Tai Mora, then ... I suppose you know as much as anyone else."
"I couldn't say what the Tai Mora will do. But I can point to what they have done. Surely their past actions are a great predictor of what the ultimate fate of Aaldia will be."
"Indeed. I have told many this, but they insist it could be different with us. The Tai Mora have sent emissaries to the Five Monarchs promising peace."
"As they did with the Dhai, and the Saiduan before them. And here we are." Taigan gestured to the bustling Tai Mora in the harbor.
"Yes," the captain said. "But perhaps we should wait and see. Give them a chance."
Taigan barked a laugh at that. He could not help it. The optimism of the doomed was the same in every country.
The crew put out the rolling tongue of the gangplank, which slopped into place on the pier, and two Tai Mora customs agents squelched aboard the quivering ship.
Taigan pulled on his hat. "Luck to you, then, captain."
"And to you," the captain murmured, and went to greet the customs agents.
Taigan waited his turn for interrogation by the agents, joining the little queue of other passengers. During his year of self-imposed exile, Taigan had found there were many more things he could accomplish with Oma in the sky – wonderful and terrible things. The Tai Mora probably had, too. That made this trip interesting.
And, above all else, he craved something interesting.
When he reached the head of the line, he gave the agents his passbook, which he had lifted from some poor Aaldian back in Anjoliaa.
"What is your purpose in Tai Mora?" the older agent asked.
Taigan said, in Tai Mora, "Visiting a man about a dog."
The agent's eyes narrowed. Taigan poked at her with a thread of Oma's breath to ensure she was not some gifted omajista who could see through his illusion. Omajistas were still very rare, even among the Tai Mora, but caution cost him nothing.
He felt no resistance from the agent; she was ungifted. If she thought him suspicious, it had only to do with his attitude, not his glamor.
Taigan descended onto the battered pier, picking his way across algae-smeared bonsa wood planking quivering with small sea worms. It was high tide, the only time when ships as large as the Aaldian one could dock in the harbor. The three moons as well as the satellites – Oma, Tira, and Sina's shining violet pearl – tugged hard at the oceans. The tides would be worse still when the final satellite, Para, rose. When that would be, Taigan had no answer, though the chatter among the Tai Mora back in Anjoliaa indicated that their stargazers felt its rise was imminent. All of the stories and legends and texts from the breaking of the world – even the mosaic at the top of the Dhai's Temple of Oma – showed a brief period in which all the satellites would enter the sky. That was the time of the worldbreaking. And here he was, wandering about without a worldbreaker. He had expected far more dramatic things to happen during this momentous time, but without a proper worldbreaker to direct the satellites' power through one of the great transference engines spoken of in the ancient texts, it was just more of the same: war, famine, disease, genocide, drinking, fucking.
Dull as old boots.
The bustling harbor had but one public tavern – a holdover from the days of the Dhai when the country was underpopulated. Taigan's desire for a bath outweighed his desire to avoid the press of people. His new sex organs had only lately appeared, and he had changed the way he thought of himself, once again. He could not say he preferred one set of genitals over another, or a full beard over downy fuzz, or the various rages and flushes that came with the surge of new chemicals in his body. It was all set dressing, to him, just his body, ever in flux. But the new organs were tender, and could use a soak.
Taigan pushed into the common room and sized up its clientele in a glance. The Tai Mora were fanatical dealers in flesh; Taigan found that oddly comforting. He knew the rules of flesh. A mix of mostly Dorinah, but some Dhai, had been marked and put into service to their Tai Mora masters. Two such slaves served drinks at the battered length of the bar. They wore red collars, which bore misty tails of Oma's breath; some warded piece of chattel management, likely. How odd, Taigan thought, that the Tai Mora Kai, the Empress, had chosen to keep some of the Dhai in service instead of murdering them. Perhaps murdering the last few Dhai didn't matter anymore, as the Tai Mora's world had already disintegrated behind them. What a kindness, then, if Taigan chose to burn down the tavern after he left it. Do them all a favor.
As he finished paying for a room and a bath, two raised voices caught his attention. A stooped Dhai boy exchanged a few words with an older, elegantly dressed man, who was likely Tai Mora. The boy was most certainly a slave, though he wore no collar, and should have known better than to raise his voice in mixed company. The older man hit him. The boy cringed, apologized, and limped out the door as the elder yelled about obedience. It reminded Taigan of his own youth. His frustrated mentor. Like that boy, Taigan had to adjust to a different fate than the one he had desired. At least, over the last few hundred years, that fate had kept him busy.
The young man's gait reminded Taigan of someone. Taigan had lived so long that faces often blurred into one another; it didn't help that all the Dhai looked alike to him. Even the old man was familiar.
Taigan settled into his room – he had requested a single, and paid exorbitantly for it – then enjoyed his bath in the bathing house at the rear of the tavern while the little Dhai slaves laundered his clothes.
As he was getting out of the bath, the boy with the stooped gait entered, carrying fresh towels. The boy averted his gaze as he drew the water in a nearby tub – most likely for his master.
Taigan scrutinized him. The boy was pretty, though he certainly would have been prettier if he put on some weight and had a few days' rest. Dark circles pooled beneath his eyes, and his hair was lanky and unwashed. The boy noted Taigan staring, and peeked back at him. His eyes widened.
"I was right," the boy said. "It is you. I knew it. I told Dasai I'd run his bath early, and see if you were still here. To make sure it was you."
"I know your face," Taigan said. "Why is that?"
"Are you serious?" the boy whispered, switching to Saiduan. "How could you not remember me? I begged you to take me to Saiduan, to teach me how to fight. You took Lilia instead. And ... and you saved my life. You don't remember that?"
It came to Taigan, then, that face. "You're Rohinmey," Taigan said, "the novice from Oma's Temple. The one who can see through hazing wards." Taigan laughed at the memory of the boy scattering yams and rice all over the floor when they first met. "That was a strange year. I suppose I'll run into more of you as I head south. You Dhai have a strange way of surviving."
"You're warded? But I can see–"
Taigan shrugged. "A simple glamor. I suppose it's a type of hazing ward. I admit I was uncertain whether those with your gift could penetrate them. A good lesson. I will take precautions among very gifted parajistas like you. Or perhaps simply annoying ones."
"How are you alive?"
"I could ask the same of you."
"What happened to Lilia? Did you take her to Fasia's Point? Or Saiduan? Did you leave her in Saiduan?"
"To ... where?"
"She hoped to find her mother at Fasia's Point. It was in the Woodlands, along the sea ... The symbol? Oh, it doesn't matter. It was ... a long time ago. I was hoping maybe she got out, before ... all this. But the Tai Mora are there now. They've unearthed a great temple near Fasia's Point. Or, rather, pulled one up from the sea."
"Ah, yes. I remember a trek through the woodlands, to some cocooned forest that stank of the ocean. I caught up with her properly soon after, but she became more trouble than she was worth."
"Where is she now?"
"I have no idea."
"What did you do with her?"
"That's a very sordid tale. Don't you belong to someone? Surely you have more pressing concerns. Like your own survival. Or your death? I could kill you if you wish. I'm here to murder a great many people."
The boy's face darkened. Poor little Dhai. "No," Roh said. "I intend to live. I'm traveling to Oma's Temple. I told them I can work the transference engines, the ones that help close the way between the worlds."
Taigan started. "What's this? You think you're some worldbreaker? I can assure you that you aren't."
"I told you, we found out how to use the temples, in Saiduan."
Taigan rolled his eyes. "There's no worldbreaker. No guide to show us how to close the seams between things. We have only ourselves, now, and our choices."
"I told you, I found–"
"Good for you. And where is that find of yours, now?"
Roh's face flushed. He bent his head.
"That's what I thought." Taigan found the optimism of slaves wearying. "All lost or taken or destroyed. You know what I wanted to be when I aged? A conqueror. And you, what did you want to be? You wanted to change your fate, yes, I remember. You wanted to be a sanisi. We can't all get what we'd like. We must act with what we've been given. I failed. You failed. Everyone failed. Might as well enjoy ourselves."
"It's not too late. You think once the Tai Mora have access to the power of the transference engines inside the temples that all they can do is close the ways between the worlds? The power they could unleash is far worse than that. They could ... break the world. Sink continents."
"Maybe the world needs breaking," Taigan said.
The door opened, and the old Tai Mora man who'd been arguing with the boy entered. Roh turned his gaze to the floor, and Taigan reached for a towel. The old man gave them both a once-over, then barked at Roh to check the bath water, which was nearly overflowing.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Broken Heavens"
Copyright © 2019 Kameron Hurley.
Excerpted by permission of Watkins Media Ltd.
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