Last time on the Mirror Empire reread, we met a number of important characters–the sanisis Maralah and Taigan, the Dhai Roh and Ahkio–and saw what became of Lilia, the girl who crossed over from the other world.
CHAPTER 4 (POV: Roh)
Roh is excited to meet the sanisi who arrived at the Temple of Oma, so much that he worms his way into bringing food up to Taigan’s room for a closer look.
The sanisi does not take it well, drawing his sword and slicing the tray of food that Roh is holding in half. They exchange some heated words, based on the outlandish Saiduan concept of privacy (Dhai don’t believe in locked doors and don’t knock, either) and Roh’s preconception of what a sanisi should look like. For one, they are supposed to have beards like they do in the books he read. Roh decides that Taigan is a woman and so uses the Dhai assertive female pronoun to refer to “her”–ignorant that Taigan prefers to be called by the masculine, at least at this time (as Maralah suggested in Chapter 1).
Roh draws on the power of Para, and Taigan scoffs at him. “You try to bowl me over with your little training exercises and you will know the power of the dark star.”
The Saiduan assassin is not impressed by what he’s seen of Dhai so far and Roh in particular. Nonetheless, Roh asks Taigan to train him to be a sanisi.
Taigan redirects the conversation towards Lilia–the only reason Roh interests him was that he saw the two of them together.
Roh presses Taigan to train him, but they’re disturbed by a knock on the door.
Roh’s mentor Dasai enters then apologizes for any disrespect the young people of the Temple may have offered Taigan.
Taigan is anxious to get on with his mission. Dasai assures him that the acting Kai (that would be Ahkio) is ready to receive him.
What comes out in Roh’s thoughts and words are his greatest fear and greatest desire: that once Para descends he’ll lack any power (in his own words, “an unlovable burden”), so he wants to become a sanisi.
Dasai is concerned that Roh is rising above his station. Roh says, “I’m meant for greater things. Anyone can see that.” Dasai is worried that the Saiduan might come back and finish conquering Dhai, so they must do all they can to avoid insulting Taigan.
Dasai sends Roh away to his bed, but before he can get there, he overhears Ora Almeysia again, talking with Yisaoh Alais Garika, the daughter of the leader of Clan Garika (who was a rival to Ahkio’s mother).
Almeysia tells him he should not be there on the stairs. He addresses Yisaoh, and she in turns stabs him in the stomach. As he lies there bleeding, Almeysia realizes Roh could see through “hazing wards”–magic that made people invisible, people like Yisaoh.
He sees himself in an orchard, holding a child’s hand, harking back perhaps to the prophesy that Roh would die an old man tending an orchard surrounded by spouses and children. “They’ve arrived,” the child says.
Chapter 5 (POV: Ahkio)
Nasaka and Ahkio arrive at the Temple of Oma on a train-like transport system called “the Line.” It involves a blue chrysalis (so some kind of Tira-powered bug magic?) and drops them off at the Temple. On the way, he reminiscences about the first time he saw the Temple of Oma, how inspiring it was. We know already that he grew up in Dorinah, not Dhai, in the slave camps, but not really why his family was there. Nasaka played a part in rescuing Kirana and Ahkio and bringing them back to Dhai.
The four Oras who greet them at the Temple are somber and mournful. He learns that his sister Kai Kirana is asking for him and that a sanisi (Taigan) has arrived. We learn that the title of the heir is Li Kai.
Kirana is in bed, dying, reduced to skin and bones and with the odor of rot about her. She dismisses the Oras, including Dasai, and tells Ahkio she had been calling him for weeks, but Ahkio just heard from Nasaka that Kirana wanted to see him. Ahkio suspects someone in the Temple wants his sister dead. She has been poisoned, but the tirajistas (who are the healers) have not been able to help her.
They exchange a few words, Kirana tries to warn Ahkio about Yisaoh (their mother Javia’s rival), but she dies before she can finish.
Ahkio sits alone with his dead sister until Nasaka comes into the bedchamber. He reflects on the life he has just left behind, the simple life that he wanted, entering into a group marriage with Meyna in Clan Osono’s lands. Raising children and teaching ethics.
The life he tried to get away from has caught up to him. Nasaka speaks to him of duty and her place–“I don’t pull the strings. I pull the people attached to them.” And that’s what Ahkio is worried about.
He swears vengeance against whoever killed his sister. He rises and follows Nasaka to meet the sanisi.
Chapter 6 (POV: Lilia/Ahkio)
Lilia sits in the Temple infirmary, under the care of Ora Matias. She is fighting an asthma attack. Between bouts of coughing, they discuss his ambition to be a typesetter (note his inkstained fingers). Lilia asks him why he became a physician. With a sigh, he says that talents must not be wasted.
Matias turns away to get her medicine, but then a body is carried in.
It’s Roh, bloody and limp.
The scene shifts to Ahkio’s point of view. There is a lot of pomp and formality as the Oras sit down to council. Ahkio takes the Li Kai’s place (intent on no one else knowing Kirana is dead), while Nasaka, everpine branch at her side, seems to be running the show. Ahkio is concerned about her as the undisputed force behind the Kai, whoever is occupying that seat.
The sanisi is tall, head and shoulders taller than Ahkio, but with a fluid grace.
Taigan lays out his Patron’s demands, for scholars to help decipher the ancient Dhai texts that might hold the key to defeating the invaders (from Chapter 1) who seem to be coming out of the sky.
Some of the Oras are wary of him, holding a grudge against Saiduan for the war two thousand years before. Every time Oma rises, some empire falls. Last time it was the Dhai, who ruled what is now Saiduan, the whole continent. Nasaka says he has no proof of Oma’s rising. Ahkio presses for a formal treaty, an alliance.
Taigan holds that there is no time.
The meeting is disrupted by news of a murder in the Temple.
We shift back to Lilia. Matias quickly loses hope that he can save Roh. Lilia gets flashbacks of that time long ago when she watched her mother treat the wounded. She takes charge, instructs those present to ease the loss of blood by cutting off the ruptured arteries. (Like Ahkio, a violent past is haunting her.)
And she laments wasting so much blood.
Taigan arrives with the Oras. Things look dire. Tira is not in ascendance. Healing magic won’t work.
In her frustration to save her friend, Lilia outs herself, her origins. Taigan says he could save Roh, but for a price. The Oras are horrified.
Lilia asks Taigan if he is a blood witch. Then realizes what she is saying, before these Dhai scholars.
Taigan offers to heal the boy in exchange for Lilia. Nasaka refuses.
But Lilia offers herself in trade for Roh’s life.
Taigan performs the ritual, pulling all the spilled blood in the room. Roh rises from the bed and cries out. Then he is healed, leaving no scars behind, nothing but ripped fabric and the smell of burnt flesh.
Then Taigan reveals that he knew Roh could see through wards (as he saw through Yisaoh’s) and that he has been able to draw on Oma since he was a child, each month getting stronger.
Taigan sees what Lilia is, knows that Roh has been able to see through her wards. He reveals what he is really in the Temple for: Lilia.
These three chapters are very important for setting up some of the major characters and the conflicts (internal and external) that they will face later. Roh wants to be a sanisi and fears being powerless and unwanted when Para descends. The Dhai seers foretell bad fates for most Dhai children, but not his. (Damned strong foreshadowing there but effective.)
Ahkio is struggling with his obligations to the Dhai people as Kirana’s heir and his own desires to live a simple life with Meyna. Returning to the Temple dredges up old memories, both good and bad.
Lilia has great promise that only the outsider, Taigan, can see. She is only a drudge to almost everyone in the Temple except for Roh, there to change their beds and cook their food but to remain unseen and unheard. But Oma is rising, and those who were powerless may find their fates suddenly shifting beneath their feet.