The one thing war stories always forgot was the dust. Khârn learned that early, and the lesson stayed with him through the years. Even two men kicking up sand in the gladiator pits was a distraction. Two armies of a few thousand souls on an open plain would turn the air thick enough to choke on. Scale it up again, and a few hundred thousand warriors locked in conflict would darken the sun for a day after the battle was done.
But the realities of pitched warfare rarely made it into the sagas. In all the stories he’d heard, especially those woeful diatribes from the remembrancers, battle was reduced to a handful of heroes going blade-to-blade in the sunlight, while their nameless lessers looked on in stupefied awe.
It took a great deal to make Khârn cringe, but war poetry never failed.
…Visibility was a myth. It simply didn’t exist.
In ages past, when bronze swords had formed the pinnacle of humanity’s capacity to wage war against itself, mounted scouts tore through a battlefield’s dust clouds to relay information and orders between officers whose regiments were blinded in the thick of it. That was another truth that rarely survived to make into the archives.
— Betrayer, Chapter 3
The great procession of the triumph passed under the Spatian Gate, and I marched with it, into the atrocity. That ceremonial arch, so splendid and massive, forms a threshold in the course of my life. I stepped across it and was remade, transmuted from one form into another.
Some have said that I was crippled beyond the measure of a man. I do not see it that way.
I believe I was liberated.
— Gideon Ravenor, preface to The Mirror of Smoke
— Ravenor, preface
“Gideon Ravenor…suffered crippling injuries during an [atrocity] on Thracian Primaris, and was confined to a suspensor chair for the remainder of his life. His confinement only boosted his already formidable psyker abilities….”
To remain restrained, to remember law, to limit immersion in the path.
Yesugei had always preached that, even in the midst of the worst and bloodiest combat. To lose yourself—that was the danger. Any village-witch could drive themselves mad by supping too deeply from the wells of power. Such practices might yield a moment’s glory, but the price would always have to be paid further down the line.
— Warhawk, Chapter 20
“You see,” [Ravenor] remarked, “why I prefer to use my mind with restraint. Here in Queen Mab…indeed everywhere…any manipulation of the warp causes ripples. The more you use such powers, the greater the force of them, then the greater the reaction. I am a weapon against the dark, Beta, but I am also a beacon that summons it. We must keep ourselves guarded and hidden….”
— Penitent, Chapter 19
I entered the underworld, and did so with unease.
I had read books, perhaps too many, and could easily recount the many myths of travellers who ventured into underworld realms. It was said even Orphaeus himself, whose name ran through the very fabric of the world, had made a pilgrimage into darkness. Such journeys were fraught. In not one single myth did the traveller undertake a crossing without paying a toll or making some sacrifice. There was always a price for admission, and another price for exit.
— Penitent, Chapter 8
He swung his fist at my head.
It seemed the wild thrash of a desperate man, but it was not impulsive. I had fought, and been schooled in fighting, enough to read the blow, and the fact that it was not telegraphed. There was no micro expression of warning, of prior tension or bracing. It just came, expert and fluid. Just as fast, I dipped down to avoid it. But even as I did so, I was puzzled, for it was not a blow that anyone would strike with the hand, especially not a man who was clearly proficient. The move was more a sword-stroke, aimed at the side of my neck. Why strike so, with a fist?
All this I relate now in a hundred, perhaps a thousand, times the instant it took for the blow to come. It was fast, and I barely avoided it.
And in avoiding it, I found my answer.
A sword’s blade missed my head and buried itself in the side of the old clavier. It buried itself deep. The impact shook the instrument, and knocked over the glasses of amasec standing along its top.
There had not been a sword in his hand a half-second before. There had not been a place for him to conceal a sword. It had just appeared in his grip….
…His sword, which had come from nowhere as if by magic, was a blinkblade. I had never seen one, but I had read of them…. They were blades held in scabbards of what I now know is called extimate space. Bidden by their masters, they appear in corporeal reality, conjured from pocket-space….
— Penitent, Chapter 16
Axe-fighting was a complex and demanding dance. It looked much more brutal and simplistic than sword-work, but in some respects it was vastly more subtle than the ballet of the swordsman. The killing edge of an axe was in a position to harm an opponent for a much smaller percentage of engagement time than the killing surfaces of a sword. Axe fighting was about swinging and circling, moving and evading, choosing the moment to land the blow. It was about seeing that opening coming three or four steps ahead, like a good [chess] player, and then taking advantage of it without telegraphing the stroke. It was about predicting the interface between swing and moving target. Misjudge that, and you’d lose the fight.
— Prospero Burns, chapter 12