Authors: Ian Irvine
Tales of the Three Worlds
THE SONG OF THE TEARS TRILOGY
Book 1 – The Fate of the Fallen
THE SONG OF THE TEARS TRILOGY
Book 1 – The Fate of the Fallen
(published in Australia as Torments of the Traitor)
Copyright 2006, 2014 Ian Irvine
(First published by Penguin Books Australia, 2006)
I would like to thank my editor, Nan McNab, for all her
hard work and insights. Thanks also to my agent, Selwa Anthony, for guidance
and counsel in all sorts of ways. And to Cathy Larsen for the lovely design, to
Janet Raunjak for patiently answering all my queries, and to my publishers
Laura Harris at Penguin Books and Tim Holman at Orbit Books for support over
many years and millions of words. I would also like to thank everyone at
Penguin Books and Orbit Books for working so hard on all my books and doing so
well with them. Not least, thanks to my family for putting up with me while I
write these bloated epics.
After checking that the loop-listener in the corridor
was facing the other way, Nish gouged another line into the damp wall of his
cell. ‘Three thousand, nine hundred and fifty-nine days.’ Tomorrow would make
it ten years, and his sentence in Santhenar’s grimmest dungeon would be over.
Tomorrow meant the beginning of a worse nightmare.
Ten years in prison leaves scars on the toughest of men, but
Mazurhize wasn’t just any prison. It had been designed to break the most
treacherous and irredeemable criminals of all: those who dared to oppose the
Almighty, the Most Exalted One, the God-Emperor himself – Jal-Nish Hlar.
Nor was Nish just any prisoner, for Jal-Nish, his father,
had sentenced Nish to Mazurhize as the first act of his vicious and tyrannical
reign. Nish’s only way out, once his time was up, was to swear absolute
obedience – to become his father’s lieutenant and enforce his every cruel
whim on a world exhausted from a hundred and fifty years of war, then
shattered, at the moment of an unexpected victory, by the loss of the Secret
With callused fingers Nish crushed out his glowing rushlight
before the snoop-sniffer down the corridor detected it, and lay back on the
reeking straw to run through his feeble plan again. The mould got up his nose
but he suppressed a sneeze. Down here, sudden noises provoked violent
Tomorrow was his doomsday and he wasn’t sure he would pass
the test. Be strong, Nish told himself. Father will taunt and belittle you, as
he’s done all your life. You’ve got to stand up to him.
If only it were that easy. During the war Nish had overcome
terrors few people had ever faced. He’d been a leader of men in several
hopeless struggles, yet through sheer determination had triumphed. He’d stood
up to the most powerful people in the land, for what he believed in. But those
successes were long ago and the loss of everything he’d fought for, and
everyone he’d cared about, had brought him low. The stifling tedium and
mindless brutality of prison had completed his fall and, though Nish had spent
years strengthening his will and building up his courage for tomorrow, he
feared it wouldn’t be enough. He’d also need all the luck in the world, though
luck had been running against him for a long time now.
His plan was simple. If he could keep his cool under the
most extreme provocation, he might get a chance to snatch the two sorcerous
quicksilver tears which were the mainstay of Jal-Nish’s power. But he’d have to
remain focussed. Jal-Nish had never been a great mancer, but with the power of
the tears he didn’t need to be, while Nish had only the smallest talent for the
And what he did possess – a certainly clarity of
sight, an ability to see through surface deceptions to what lay at the heart
– had slowly developed from the alchymical compulsion his father had cast
on him when he’d thrust his son’s hands into the tears long ago, in a previous
attempt to bend Nish to his will.
Nish had spent years honing his tiny gift, using everything
he’d picked up about the Art from the great mancers he’d known, and he
he’d found a way to use the
tears against his father. Evil men never believed themselves to be evil; they
invariably thought that they were doing the world a service. If Nish could
forge his clearsight into a weapon and reflect it into Jal-Nish’s innermost
soul, surely even he must see what a monster he’d become. There had to be some
good left in his father, surely.
If it worked, the realisation might paralyse Jal-Nish long
enough for Nish to snatch the tears, if he had the strength. Starvation,
beatings and solitary confinement had left him a shadow of the man he’d once
been. And though his rage burned as strong as ever, Nish was terrified that
he’d break, as he’d broken in the past.
The self-doubt was crippling, the consequences of his
probable failure unbearable. Jal-Nish would send him back to this stinking cell
for another decade and Nish didn’t think his sanity could survive it. His
iron-hard determination began to waver. Nothing could change the past, so why not
agree to his father’s demands? Why not become his lieutenant and eventual heir
to all Jal-Nish had created? Nish ached for what his father had offered, yet he
couldn’t bear the thought of giving in to the monster, of becoming like
Jal-Nish in any way.
His eyes adjusted to the dark. His cell was a cube four
paces by four and four high, the walls solid granite blocks, the roof a single
slab of slate with water seeping from dozens of brown-stained cracks. Without
thinking, he positioned himself to avoid the drips, for this was the lowest
level in an inverted pyramid of dungeons, and the seepage was stained by piss
and blood from the cells above.
An emaciated rat warily poked its head up at the other end
of his straw. Normally Nish would have slain it with a lump of rock and eaten
it raw, to keep the hunger pangs at bay for another day, but hunger would help
strengthen his nerve for the morrow. Besides, he felt a kinship with the rat,
which was as skinny as he was. It would find nothing to eat in Mazurhize unless
it got to a dead prisoner before the guards discovered him.
He tried to banish the self-doubt. Be strong. Stay focussed
and keep to the plan. You’ll only get one chance. Don’t waste it. You’re his
son and that counts for something, even with Father. The future of Santhenar
depends on you.
But his own frailties undermined him every time.
‘Judgement day,’ wheezed the asthmatic guard, turning a huge
brass key in the lock. ‘Get up!’
Nish, startled awake, rolled over in the damp straw and
swore under his breath. He’d planned to rise early to prepare himself, but the
scarlet-clad Imperial Guard were already standing in two rows of three outside
He stood up, too suddenly, for his head spun and he had to
bend over, pretending to brush straw off his rags, until it steadied. Nish
cursed his frail flesh. Today he must put on the act of his life. Jal-Nish
despised weakness in any form, but most especially in his youngest son.
At the door Nish looked left towards the base of the stairs
where the prison’s most effective sentry stood, a master wisp-watcher. From its
broad stone bowl, threads and tendrils wisped up to form the iris of a
rotating, all-seeing eye that never slept, never blinked, could see even in
this dim light, and reported all it surveyed to the tears. As Nish passed
beneath its lifeless gaze, feeling like a man with a target painted on his
back, he heard a faint, eerie buzz. It was
telling the tears that he was on his way.
He shivered as the snoop-sniffer drifted above him, along the
ceiling, trailing its glistening brown sensing cords like a decaying jellyfish.
It had been created specifically for the ninth and lowest level of Mazurhize,
and its movements were constrained so it could never leave. Only this
snoop-sniffer, inured by constant exposure to the unbearably putrescent reek,
could pick out other faint aromas that might be evidence of treachery. And
Jal-Nish, despite holding all the power in the world, was always on the lookout
for treachery. It was the thing he feared most, apart from public ridicule. And
The snoop-sniffer’s cords boiled out towards Nish,
recognised the smell of the Imperial Guard, then plopped down again. Nish
looked right towards his father’s other sleepless spy. Dangling from the
dripping ceiling, an ethereal bile-green cord ended in a noose the diameter of
a human neck, twisting back and forth in the draught like a corpse dangling
from a gibbet – a loop-listener. Within the loop, light reflected off
thousands of drifting black specks which danced to the faintest sound, as
sensitive as the ears of a bat.
They climbed stair after stair and tramped corridor after
corridor until his knees were wobbling. There was no need for it –
Jal-Nish could have fetched Nish to his palace through the sheer power of his
Art, but that would be too easy and wouldn’t give the right impression. It
wouldn’t display Nish to the staring world. Nor would it prove Jal-Nish’s power
and majesty, and he never missed an opportunity for that.
Finally they reached the surface, emerging from a stone
stair onto a vast and featureless expanse of paving with gigantic,
tower-mounted wisp-watchers at its four corners. Mazurhize Prison lay entirely
underground, to heighten the contrast with Jal-Nish’s Palace of Morrelune, half
a league away across the paved plain and framed by the rearing mountains
immediately behind it.
Morrelune had the form of a pyramid, though an airy,
delicate one. Nish had never known his father to display good taste or an
appreciation of beauty, but Morrelune was stunningly beautiful. It too
consisted of nine levels, tapering upwards. Each had the form of an open temple
supported on many columns arranged in interlinked circles. There were no walls
in Morrelune, not even in the topmost level, roofed over with a spire that
pierced the heavens, where Jal-Nish held court. The God-Emperor, at the height
of his power, kept even the weather at bay there.
The bright sunlight made Nish’s eyes water and, as they
tramped across the warm paving stones, he began to feel faint. It was a mild
day in late autumn but there had been no seasons in his cell at the nadir of
Mazurhize, just an eternal dank and foetid chill, and the sun felt as if it
were frying his brains. His knee trembled but Nish willed it to hold out, for
there was still a long way to go. Ten years you’ve prepared for this day. Keep
to the plan! Endure!
The stairs of Morrelune proved a greater challenge, for they
were not just steep, but the risers were twice the height of normal steps and
even his tall guards strained to climb them. For Nish, a small man, every step
was a mini-battle against his father. Surely the design was deliberate;
Jal-Nish didn’t need to use the stairs.
Though his muscles were screaming, Nish did his best to
maintain a confident, careless air until the final flight, but halfway up it
his legs gave out and he collapsed, gasping. The guards sneered, then hastily
checked over their shoulders. Nish was the son of the God-Emperor, after all.
Fight on! Damn them one and all. He scrambled up the final
steps on hands and knees, all dignity lost. The guards thrust him forwards and
turned back smartly. His father must intend this to be a private confrontation.
The topmost level was entirely open, its golden stone
glowing like sun-warmed honey, though parts were concealed by the intersecting
circles of columns. The polished floor shone, the columns were waxy smooth, and
there were one or two rugs on the floor, but little furniture and no artworks
save for a single plain tapestry suspended from the ceiling. Jal-Nish did not
require ostentation in his personal quarters. There were no wisp-watchers here
either. This close to the tears, none were needed.