Beyond the Wall of Time


HUSK STRUGGLES TO REMEMBER what it is like to think with clarity. Seven decades of unrelenting pain have created a permanent cloud in his mind, as though looking through smeared glass. He constantly has to fight off a desire to go to sleep and never wake up, has to keep resisting the creeping lassitude that threatens to engulf him. Cannot remember what it used to be like living as a normal human being, agony not the most important part of his life. Even now, despite his link to the unlimited power from the void beyond the world, and the freedom from pain it brings, he finds it difficult to focus on the important things happening in a remote valley a few hundred leagues away.

Part of Husk’s trouble is he does not know the location of the House of the Gods. Normally this would not matter. His magical contact with his three spikes does not depend on his knowing where they are. But designing a strategy does. The place on which his attention is focused, the place where his hosts now contend with the gods, is to be found at perhaps a half-dozen locations in the world at once, and yet fully in none of them: a paradox of the kind of which the gods are distressingly fond. He has spent a deal of time trying, in mounting desperation, to comprehend how the Godhouse works, but he is still no nearer a useful understanding.

So he preoccupies himself with questions. Will the travellers—his spikes and his enemies—emerge into Patina Padouk, the land from which they entered this version of the House of the Gods? Or, as happened in Nomansland, will they appear somewhere else? Husk cannot lay his plans until he knows. Trouble is, with all the fog in his head he fears he may have missed some essential clue.

Husk hates not knowing things.

He needs to know where everyone is because he must decide whether to confront his enemies here, in the Undying Man’s fortress of Andratan, or there, wherever there might be. He wishes to destroy his enemies in a way that pays them back for his years of suffering, while, of course, risking himself as little as possible. Best of all would be a public triumph here at Andratan. Himself in the Tower of Farsight, at the head of a vast crowd of people, all watching the Destroyer and his cursed consort writhing out their agony in ways that reduce the memories of his own pain to pleasant inconsequentiality. It is no longer enough for him merely to remain alive. Not even enough to be immortal, the rich prize now almost in his grasp. To truly live he must destroy them both. No; more accurately, they must be destroyed again and again. He must be able to return whenever the mood takes him to watch them suffer. A public gallery in which the continual destruction of Stella and Kannwar is the main installation, that is what he needs.

He wonders just how many centuries it will take to cancel out his own hurt. If his hurting will ever end.

Events in the House of the Gods are seriously limiting his supply of power from beyond the wall around the world. The three gods are all drawing deeply from the hole in the world—that blessed opening first made when the Son and Daughter drove their Father out—and their combined power is squeezing his tiny, unnoticed conduit until it is almost shut off. Nevertheless, his small link continues to restore him. Husk has grown new limbs to replace those seared away by the Destroyer’s magic, but their fragility means he cannot yet walk on them. He now breathes air unmixed with his own blood. But his great plans, his plans for his transformation to godhood, the elimination of all who might possibly hurt him and the subjugation of everyone else, await a respite in the hostilities between the gods.

He is patient. He can wait.

In the meantime, Lenares is the great danger. She seeks to close the hole in the world, despite having taken advantage of it. Ironic, this. She had managed to ensnare the Daughter by tying something—Husk is not exactly sure what it is she tied—to someone beyond the wall. Husk does not know who, though Lenares herself is convinced it is her dead foster mother. Her use of mathematics was flawed, but it worked nonetheless. Lenares has tapped into her own source of power, drawing on it unwittingly to help her to capture