Crossroads of Twilight

Crossroads of Twilight


Crossroads of Twilight is book ten in the Wheel of Time series and was published in 2003. Thirteen years after the first book. I was lucky to jump into this series after the final book was written and I have been flying through them. It has been less than eight months since I began the series and I just finished book ten. I took a short break between book nine and ten to read another book, that I had received and advanced copy of, and the prequel to this series New Spring.

I am unsure, but I think that short break threw off my rhythm of the series. I was really into things and reading the advanced copy book and then the prequel was like taking a step back. That being said, I still read this book fairly quickly, but I did come to it at a slightly different angle. Like returning to television series after waiting for the next season.

Anyway, I am writing my thoughts about this installment. There will be spoilers so read at your own risk if you have not read the series or are not yet to this book in the series.

First, let’s talk about that prologue. Another long one at almost 12% of the actual book (RJ likes his prologues). Several things happen in the prologue. There is no mention of Black Ajah outside of the Sisters in the White Tower searching for them. Nor is there mention of the Forsaken. However, we do get a new character I am assuming will come into play later on. Rodel Ituralde, known as The Wolf, is uniting forces in Arad Doman to defend the country against the Seanchan. We also get a glimpse of Logain who goes out to recruit more Asha’man. And lastly, we get my boy Loial showing up in Cairhein. I have missed this Ogier. Dobraine is almost killed and Logain shows up in Cairhein at the end of the prologue.

We then open with Mat. He is hiding out in Luca’s menagerie just outside of Ebou Dar. He learns that Tylin was killed the night they escaped and only he really knows it was the gholam that killed her. He feels immense guilt because he tied her up and left her. Tuon is in fact the main successor of the Seanchan throne, so I am led to believe she will inevitably inherit that throne. Furyk, a Seanchan Deathwatch guard sets off to find Tuon early on in this book and we don’t hear from him again so I guess we may see him in book eleven. Mat gets Luca to start traveling toward Tar Valon. Mat does make headway with his relationship with Tuon during their travels. I think he is only courting her because he was told she would be his wife the day he was hanged in Rhuidean way back in book four(?). The last thing we get that’s interesting in Mat’s storyline is that he seemingly sees ghosts of people that no one else sees when he takes Tuon on a shopping trip. This seems like a foreshadowing since we get mentions of ghosts in Perrin’s storyline.

So speaking of Perrin, let’s jump to him. He is still one of my favorites. This entire post is going to contradict my next statement, but I felt like not a lot happened in this particular installment. Perrin is still chasing after the Shaido to recover Faile. She was captured at the end of book eight I believe. We get a quick glimpse of Faile in the Shaido camp/city. There are 70,000 Aiel in the camp/city. I think this number includes the gai’shain. Anyway, Faile is planning her own escape because she knows if Perrin attempts a rescue, he will be slaughtered.

Perrin does catch up to the Shaido though and he is scoping out the best way to get Faile back. Outside of his camp though, he finds tracks of Darkhounds (which for some reason I pictured as the gargoyle dogs from Ghostbusters in this book). The last time we saw Darkhounds were outside of Illian and then in Rhuidean. Both times they had to be killed with balefire. Both times they had belonged to Sammael, who was supposedly killed in Shadar Logoth in book seven. Perrin, and Elyas, review the tracks and determine the Darkhounds are searching for something/someone else or else they would have attacked them a while back. Perrin enters So Habor to get supplies for his camp. This town is not doing well and supposedly the people are seeing ghosts, like Mat did, and they are living much more poorly than they actually are. Perrin buys grain but has the townsfolk clean the grain for weevils before sending it to his camp. The weevil issue shows up in Egwene’s camp as well despite it being unusual for winter and the fact that her containers were preserved using the One Power so it should have been impossible for weevils to manifest. More on Egwene later.

Perrin returns from So Habor to find his scouts had captured five Shaido. He finds them being tortured by Masema’s men. Aram is with Masema at this time. Aram seems to be losing it a bit. He kind of turned fanatical after he picked up the sword initially, but he was following Perrin and things were going well. He has been slipping though since Faile was captured. I hope he doesn’t go crazy. Perrin cuts off the hand of one of the Shaido with his ax. Doing so convinces the other prisoners to tell all they know, which isn’t much. Afterwards, Perrin goes off and chucks the ax into a tree and leaves it there. I don’t think he is really abandoning the ax, but we will see.

Masema has been a bit of a background character since he joined up with Perrin in book nine. I’m sure something will happen soon with him since he is literally insane.

Not much happens with Elayne in this book. She is in Caemlyn working to secure the throne while everyone is worrying over her being pregnant with twins. There is a lot going on technically, but it is mostly political and I didn’t really care about the “lords” opposing her. At least right now. What did kind of catch my interest was that there is small mention of the Forsaken having plans afoot in Caemlyn and the throne, but again we have to wait to see what happens.

Book nine ended with Rand and Nynaeve cleansing saidin of the Dark One’s taint. We find out that this event takes place during the events of this book and we get a better glimpse of what the aftermath looks like. After they finished wielding an enormous amount of the One Power (supposedly it was mainly saidin with the comparison being that the amount of saidar used was like a foothill next to a mountain), all that was left of the former city known as Shadar Logoth was a giant hole roughly three miles in diameter and a mile in depth. I can’t help but wonder how this will impact Padan Fain. Will he be weaker? His source or origin of evil was from that place. Will the city being eradicated make him easier to defeat? Again, we have to wait and see, but he has been in the series since book one so I’m sure there will be a big fight or event that will mean the end of him.

Anyone who can wield the One Power is able to feel what Rand and Nynaeve did. It seemingly was like a beacon and everyone knew where it was taking place and how much power was being wielded, but no one knows what it was or what it was used for after it finally dissipates. This leads to several interesting developments we will get to in a minute.

First, let’s cover Rand short storyline in this book. He is hiding out somewhere in Tear recovering. He still gets dizzy when embracing saidin but it isn’t as bad. Lews Therin is still in his head. Loial, Bashere, and Logain arrive at the estate he is at and Min sees her viewings that Logain is still destined for glory, but she also sees something ominous about Bashere. That he may betray Rand or do something similarly dark or against Rand. I like Bashere, but of course now I am wary of him as well. Rand sends these three to strike a truce with the Seanchan. They return stating the Seanchan are amenable to a truce, but Rand must meet with Tuon personally. This will be interesting since the Seanchan don’t know where Tuon is right now.

We do get a few insights into Cadsuane’s angreal that she wears as ornaments in her hair. One lets her know if a man is channeling nearby, and she doesn’t even know what some of the other ones do, which makes me wonder why she has them and how she came about acquiring them as she starting collecting them only in relatively recent years.

Last thing about Rand’s story is Elza. She is an Aes Sedai sworn to Rand, but she is still Black Ajah. She has grown unusually protective of Rand recently. She apparently wants to ensure Rand gets to the Last Battle only so the Dark One can defeat him. Her Warder is also a darkfriend and likes killing.

The rest of the events of this book center around Aes Sedai. Mainly Egwene and those in the White Tower. The last time we saw Egwene in earnest was at the end of book eight when she Travels to lay siege to Tar Valon. She is outside Tar Valon in this book and has only been there for about one week. The Hall with Egwene comes to a decision that they must form an alliance with the Black Tower. This stems from the fact that many Aes Sedai have forgotten. That circles are not limited to thirteen users when a man wielding saidin is included. They all believe they must form an alliance so they can form circles large enough to combat whatever it was that destroyed Shadar Logoth. They all think it was the Forsaken using a weapon. We know it was Rand cleansing saidin, but no one else really does. Not even the Asha’man. All they know is that the taint is no longer there when they embrace the One Power. However, none of the Aes Sedai know that saidin is cleansed accept those who have bonded with them, which means only those in Rand’s party.

We get an interesting dynamic here. The Hall in the White Tower came to the same conclusion as well about an alliance with the Black Tower, and for the same reason. One main difference being that Tarna, who recently replaced Alviarin as Keeper to Elaida (we will talk about that soon), suggests that the Red Ajah must be the ones to make the Asha’man their Warders since they have the experience of handling men who can channel. She suggests they make all the Asha’man Warders of the Red Ajah. A crazy concept considering the Red Ajah’s reputation of having no Warders and the realization they would all have to bond several Warders each in order to get all the Asha’man. I don’t think this will happen, but I do think that the Black Tower and White Tower will form an alliance no matter who is in the White Tower after Egwene and Elaida battle it out. I think the alliance will be mutual with Aes Sedai bonding Asha’man and vice versa since Logain already has bonded a few Aes Sedai. Perhaps it will be a new type of bond that is mutually exclusive.

During the Hall’s meeting with Egwene present, Sheriam basically breaks down. She seems to be losing it. She was a strong character when she was the Mistress of Novices in the White Tower, but she has lost that strength and I think it is partially because she is being manipulated/tortured by a darkfriend, possibly Halima, because we saw her get attacked in a previous book while in the camp. Two Aes Sedai are killed in the camp as well and they learn that they died by saidin. We know Halima is a former male Forsaken reborn as a woman and can wield saidin, but no one else does so a hunt begins to find this murderer.

Egwene is last seen attempting to cut the enormous chain that is blocking one harbor into Tar Valon. She is attacked and wakes up, presumably, by an Aes Sedai of the White Tower. So she has been captured. I think this may accelerate the actual attack on Tar Valon when Gareth Bryne finds out. Her being captured also hints that she was betrayed in some fashion because they knew there would be an attempt to cut the chain.

Elaida is open to meeting with Egwene’s group for negotiations but she states that her edicts, those stating the Blue Ajah no longer exists and all rebels in Egwene’s group would face punishments from Elaida herself before being allowed back into the Tower, must remain. Egwene let’s negotiations take place only to buy time. Her only requirement was that Elaida be removed as Amyrlin. Obviously the negotiations do not progress much at all, but they do take place.

Alviarin returns to the White Tower after a month of running errands for Mesaana. She returns from a visit to Tremalking. She also admits to having a quick glance at what happened at Shadar Logoth. She comes back to find Elaida has replaced her since she was nowhere to be found when the rebel group showed up outside of the city. Alviarin reports to Mesaana that she thinks Elaida knows of the Black Ajah and may be close to obtaining evidence. We learn that the Black Ajah has apparently been within the White Tower since its founding three thousand years ago. We also learn that Alviarin is the only one who knows every member of the Black Ajah. If Pevara, the one Elaida asked to hunt the Black Ajah, gets a hold of Alviarin, then they could get the whole lot of them.

During Alviarin’s report to Mesaana, Shaidar Haran arrives and binds Mesaana for not coming when called. He goes on to torture her after he marks Alviarin as one of his servants. Alviarin believes that Shadar Haran is the Dark Lord using a unique Myrddraal as a vessel.

That pretty much wraps up book ten. I’m on to book eleven, Knife of Dreams, which has another lengthy prologue. I’ve only just started but the opening scene is great. I’ll hopefully finish this next installment soon.

New Spring

New Spring


New Spring is the prequel to the Wheel of Time series. I’ve looked online to what other readers think is the best time to read the prequel. The general consensus is to read the books in chronological order of publication, which would put New Spring in the reading order just after book ten. I read this prequel after book nine. I’m just getting into book ten and I am glad I read the prequel since the prologue of book ten references some characters from the prequel. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, I think it is safe to read the prequel between books eight and eleven. I may edit that statement once I finish the series, since I did play around with the idea of waiting until after book fourteen to read the prequel.

It’s hard to give a spoiler warning with a prequel since you already know a lot of what the story is about if you’ve read book one of the series. I’m not going to discuss the detailed events of the story in this post, but I am going to talk about what type of information we get from this book, so I’ll give a spoiler warning now if you prefer to wait and read it all yourself first.

Okay. The events of this book take place roughly twenty years prior to The Eye of the World. The two main characters we follow are Moraine and Lan with the main focus being on Moraine. She and Siuan are both Accepted at the beginning of the book and are with the then Amyrlin Seat, Tamra, when the then Keeper has a Foretelling of the Dragon Reborn. The Keeper promptly dies after her Foretelling so the Amyrlin Seat, Moraine, and Siuan are the only ones who heard it. Moraine and Siuan are sworn to secrecy regarding the content of the Foretelling, which was that the Dragon was born again on the slopes of Dragonmount. Tamra orders all Accepted to go out into the camps around the city to collect the names and information of all children born within a ten day period. The camps around Tar Valon are the armies that were defending the city during the Aiel War, which was ending as the Aiel turned back toward the the Spine of the World the day of the Foretelling. This endeavor is how Siuan and Moraine gain a list of all children born around that time which they use to search for the Dragon Reborn.

There are a lot of names we recognize in this book and some newer characters. One fun thing about reading the prequel was knowing characters and events that were still to come. Many of the Aes Sedai we see in the series are Accepted at this time and we see them in a different light. We get glimpses into what they were like before they became full Aes Sedai, and we get little insights into their lives that somewhat foreshadow why they make decisions later on in the series. Siuan and Moraine are thick as thieves and love pulling pranks on others. Myrelle is a close friend of theirs. Elaida was recently raised to Aes Sedai at this point and she is hard on Moraine and Siuan during their training to become Aes Sedai. Hard to a point where it seems like torture but Moraine is later told that Elaida nearly “helped them cheat” for the test to gain the shawl. After Elaida is told not to help them train, aka torture them during their training, she grows distant from both Moraine and Siuan. A little animosity remains between Siuan and Elaida, but not enough to warrant what Elaida does to Siuan later on. The relationship was strange in that Elaida was both a kind of mentor and tormentor to the young women.

We do learn what the test is like for an Accepted to become Aes Sedai. We already know what the test from Novice to Accepted when Nynaeve took the test, and again when Egwene does, but this is the first time we see the test to become full Aes Sedai. We see it through Moraine’s test. Siuan takes it moments after her and they both gain the shawl at the same time. They both choose Blue of course. Siuan is taken in right away to work with the then eyes and ears of the Blue Ajah.

The Aiel War ends when Moraine’s uncle, Laman, is killed. Moraine begins to think the Tower intends to have her sit on the Sun Throne, so she leaves Tar Valon even though it is against the new Amyrlin’s orders. I say new Amyrlin because Tamra is believed to have died in her sleep a few weeks prior. Moraine leaves and begins her search for the Dragon Reborn. Her search takes her to up north to Kandor. Siuan later catches up with her there to tell her the five Aes Sedai Tamra had designated as searchers for the Dragon Reborn had been killed. This leads Moraine and Siuan to believe the Black Ajah are real and they only trust each other from then on. They are possibly the only two who know about the Foretelling at this point.

Moraine disguises the fact she is Aes Sedai so she doesn’t get found out by other Aes Sedai and dragged back to Tar Valon for disobeying the Amyrlin. She is found out of course by a few Aes Sedai. Mainly Merean, who just vacated the position of Mistress of Novices when the new Amyrlin was chosen. Merean is with Cadsuane. Moraine believes Cadsuane is Black Ajah. We do later learn, via a scrap with actual Black Ajah, that the Black Sisters know about the Dragon Reborn, but they don’t know when he was born. Since they don’t know when, they are killing any boys who may possibly channel. This gives Siuan and Moraine an advantage in their search because they know when the child was born and thus the age to look for.

I did mention Lan is one of the main characters of this book. We only get a few chapters from his point of view, but it was great getting some more insight into his character. We do learn quite a bit about Malkieri custom and a little about the dead kingdom itself. We get to see how he and Moraine meet and how they build a relationship up to the point he becomes her Warder. We learn, via Moraine to Lan, that the White Tower did send Aes Sedai to help Malkier during the attack, but they did not make it in time and the White Tower kept this “failure” secret. Her confession, of this and her search for the Dragon Reborn, is what leads Lan to accept her proposal to become her Warder. Lan was very wary of Aes Sedai at the beginning of the book. He was actually outside of Tar Valon fighting the Aiel at the beginning, but Moraine and him don’t meet until they are in Kandor. Since much of the story takes place in Kandor, we do get to learn a little more about the borderlands as nearly the whole series (at least through book nine) takes place in the southern lands. The only exception is at the end of book one and the beginning of book two when they are briefly in Shienar.

At the end of this book, Siuan returns to the White Tower to continue being the eyes and ears of the Blue Ajah so she can get information that might help them find the Dragon Reborn while Moraine sets out with Lan to continue the search using the list of names she has in her book. I assume she gets through that list and has to use other methods during her search, but we all know where that search leads her.

Absolution (Version 2 of “Reverse Reflection”)

Clara gazed at the pictures along the wall while she waited. When Greg came down the stairs, he saw her staring at the one of a young man with dirty blond hair and a swimmer’s body. He knew she would assume it was a picture of him.

“I’d tell you it’s not me in that picture. You may think me a liar, but more than likely you would ask…” He paused so she could.

“Then who is it? If not you?”

“My twin brother, John.”

“You don’t have a twin brother.”

“I did. He…died. In a car accident.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I was driving,” he said, surprising himself. He’d never told the story even to his friends. “We had gone to a bar for a friend’s birthday and he had too much to drink so I took the keys from him. I was being responsible, but someone else that night wasn’t. We were hit head on. John died before the ambulance showed up.”


John woke to the calling of his name. He sat up and stretched then climbed out of bed. He came down the stairs and saw a young woman looking at pictures in the hallway. He’d never seen her before, or anyone in this place, but somehow, he felt like he knew her.

“I’d tell you that’s not actually me in that picture. You may think me a liar, but more than likely you would ask…” He paused, letting her.

“Then who is it? If not you?”

“It’s actually my twin brother, Greg.”

“You don’t have a twin brother.”

“I did. He’s still alive.”

“That’s…. good?”

He smiled. “Yeah. It’s good. When the paramedics showed up, they went to him first. I guess we were both on the same time limit, but he got to stay behind.”

“Do you miss him?”

“Of course.”

“Do you ever wish he were here?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” John said, “It’s too late now, but he’ll find his own way.”


“We were pretty close,” Greg said, “Practically best friends. We did everything together.”

“Do you miss him?”

“All the time.” He fell silent. Thoughts rushed through his head. Of John, of what happened. Of his parents. He began wondering where his parents were and then wondered how Clara got in the house. He began to realize he had never met her before but the feeling vanished when she spoke again.

“Come on, I’d like to show you something,” she said and walked out the front door. He followed her outside and into his car. The fact that she was driving never occurred to him.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“It’s a surprise.”

He didn’t argue. He looked out the window at the row of old oak trees that lined the road. The newly formed leaves were still wet with the morning drizzle. They drove in silence. Greg turned and looked at Clara. Taking her in for what seemed the first time. She had jet-black hair tied back in a pony-tail. Her bangs hid her forehead and stopped right above her blue eyes which shone brightly against her fair skin.

She noticed him staring and smiled.

“What?” she asked.

“Have we met before?”

“Here it is.” She slowed the car suddenly and turned onto a narrow road into the countryside. A short distance brought them to a small house with a red roof. It was his grandparent’s cottage.

“Here we are,” she said.

“And why are we here?”

“It’s a surprise, silly.”


“So where are we going today?” John asked as if they had been spending the past several months together.

“There is a place I would like you to see.”

“And where would that be? I can’t be bothered going out to the city again.”

“It’s actually in the other direction.”

“You said we weren’t supposed to go out there.” He paused. Their previous conversation floated through his head while his memory doubted every word.

“It’ll be okay,” she smiled.

He followed her outside and they walked along the dusted landscape away from the abandoned city. He was thankful for the change. He wondered why he never explored outside the city before. He was surprised that he felt nervous.

“Are we able to die here?” he asked.

“Why wouldn’t you be able to?”

“Well,” he paused, “because I’m already dead.”

“You look alright to me.”

“But you know I died.” Another conversation echoed in his mind.

“That’s the only way to leave that other place,” she said matter-of-factly. “Come on.” She waved him to continue and he followed obediently. He was curious.

“Are there ways to leave this place?”

She stopped at this and smiled, “This isn’t the last stop, silly. Let’s go.”

They walked along remnants of the road away from the city.


“Why are we here?” Greg repeated

“It’s an intermediary of sorts.”

“An intermediary for what?”

“Today? For you.”

He gave her a quizzical look, but she ignored him and skipped out onto deep green grass of the field south of the little cottage.

“Aren’t we going inside?”

“That’s not where it is.”

“Where what is?” he called after her.

“The intermediary. Don’t you listen?”

He sighed, trying to calm his nerves before they fired up. She was becoming extremely trying, but he followed her out onto the grass and into the sun. He instantly felt its heat beat down on him. He suddenly felt obligated to see whatever this was through. He briefly looked back at the small cottage where he and John spent every holiday. Then he looked at his car. He couldn’t just go home. She had the keys. He turned just in time to see Clara disappear into a small grove of trees. He couldn’t remember the trees being there before.

“Come on,” Clara’s voice yelled.


They had been walking for hours. John didn’t know who to thank for the clouds blocking the sun so he thanked the clouds themselves.

“Are we almost there?” he called.

“Yes, yes. So impatient,” she called from in front of him.

He looked at her then as if for the first time. She had jet-black hair that fell straight to her waist which swayed side to side when she walked. He began to wonder where they first met when she abruptly turned and stared at him with her bright, blue eyes. A smile flashed across her lips.

“Here we are,” she said.

John looked around at the dirt covered road and vacant landscape. “This is it?”

“No. This is just our turn.” She stepped off the road, onto the dead grass, and walked off in a straight line. “Come on lazy bones,” she yelled back without looking at him, “Unless you have somewhere else to be.”

He tried to think of where else he would like to be, or could go, but nothing came to mind. He still wasn’t exactly sure where he was. He sighed heavily and stepped off the broken road and followed her.


“This is it,” Clara said, popping her head out from behind a tree as Greg entered a small clearing in the trees. In the center was a stone well.

“A well?”

“No, it’s the intermediary.”

“The well is the intermediary?”

“Of course. Take a look,” she pulled him to the edge of the stone circle. He looked down and saw nothing.

“It’s empty.”

She looked inside then checked the watch on her wrist.

“Hmm, we must be a bit early. I guess we’ll just have to wait,” she said and sat down on the grass. She pulled up a few blades and began braiding them together.

“What are we doing here?” Greg asked.

“Waiting now. You’ll see. Just be patient. It will happen in a few minutes.”

He could feel his shoulders tighten as she said the words. He knew he wouldn’t like the answer but he asked it anyway. “And what are we waiting for?”

“For the intermediary, silly.”

He sighed.


“Here we are.”

John caught up to her and looked at the stone circle. “This is it?”

She hit him. “Don’t be silly. It’s inside.”

He looked down into the well and saw nothing.

“There’s nothing in there.”

She looked at her watch. “Hmm. Keep looking. It should be happening soon.”

“What’s going to happen? We haven’t done anything but walk all day and now we are standing at a dry well in the middle of nowhere.” He looked around at the brown fields that surrounded them. “I know there isn’t much going on in this place, but I’m sure there are better things to do than be out here.”

“Oh hush. Just keep an eye on what’s down there.”

He sighed and returned his attention to the well. He glanced at her when she sat down on the dead grass and began ripping blades up. She tossed them into the air but there was no wind to catch them.

“Keep looking.”

“I am,” he said, and turned his attention back to the depths of the well.


Greg kept looking down in the well as she instructed. Nothing happened for a while and he was growing more and more irritated. Then he saw something move. Something was coming toward him. It took a moment before he realized it was water quickly rising. The well was filling up.

“Somethings happening,” he said.

For a moment he thought it might not be water because it was as clear as the air it replaced. It rose to the brim and stopped. He looked down through the water and into the darkness behind it. His reflection soon came into view.

“Now,” Clara said, popping up off the ground, “we are finally here, and with only a minute to spare.”

“For what?”

“Your choice.”

“What choice?”

“You can bring your brother back. If you want to.”

“What?” He looked up from the well and his throat caught.

“At the cost of your own life of course.” She said matter-of-factly.

He stared at her in disbelief. “But…”


“All you have to do is jump in,” she told John.

“Who would ever do that? I mean, yeah it’d be nice to be alive again, but not at that cost.” He stopped looking in the well and focused on her. “No one would make that choice.”

“Some do. But that doesn’t matter. What matters right now is that you only have a handful of seconds to decide.”

“No,” he said, “That’s my decision. Consider it made.”

“Okay,” she said, “but I do have to warn you. Your brother was given the same choice.”

“What?”

“He has the same choice, but vice-versa. He can jump in the well and trade his life for yours. You may see him briefly depending on what he chooses.”

“That’s insane.” He ran back and looked inside. His reflection stared back, as if it had never left the water.


“So I jump in and he comes back?”

“Yes. You may even see him briefly.”

Greg looked at his reflection in the water. “He’ll come out of this well as if nothing happened to him?”

“All in one piece. Healed. Presto. Alive again. That’s the intermediary for you, but time’s running out. You have to choose soon.”

He stared down into the water. It was an obvious decision and his brother deserved it. He reached one hand in and watched it disappear into the blackness behind the surface. The water remained clear but his hand was gone beneath it.

A hand emerged a second later next to where his had entered. Its palm opened toward him. On it, written in ash, was the word Don’t. He stared at it. Then the hand rotated and the middle finger lifted from a clenched fist.

Greg smiled. “You’d hate me for it, wouldn’t you? Dick.”


“That should do it. Now, when will this be over?” John said.

Both of the girls named Clara said in unison, “It already is.”

John looked over to see girl had duplicated. He looked back at the well and found it empty again.

“Congratulations.” The girls said.

He shook his head. “Can you stop doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Talking at the same time.”

“Sure,” one Clara said. “It’s time for you to move on,” said the other.

“So it wasn’t real?”

“Of course it was real.” “Now it’s time to go.”

“Where are we going?”

“You are going on to the next place.” “And we are staying here.”

“What about Greg?”

“He will live his life.” “Until he moves on to his next place.”

“This place?”

“Whichever place is next for him.” “With your decision, he will likely skip this phase.”

John smirked. “Good. He wouldn’t last two days here.”


Greg jumped at the knock on the window. He looked up to see his grandfather waving to him. He was parked in front of his grandparent’s cottage. His grandma waved to him from the front door. He got out and stretched.

“What brings you by?” his grandfather asked.

He didn’t remember driving into the country and wasn’t sure why he had come out this way.

“Just thought I’d come say hi,” he answered, “Get out of the city for the afternoon.”

“Well you’re always welcome out here. Come inside. Your grandma just made some fresh scones.”

Greg let his grandfather guide him toward the cottage. He glanced over at the field south of them. The open ground was filled with nothing but rolling hills of grass. A memory of a cluster of trees flickered across his mind then faded into nothing. Something about him felt lighter. He turned and hugged his grandmother before going inside.

Children of Changyang Mountain (Version 2)

His pack was heavy. The sun was high in the sky, midday, and Haaru had been walking since dawn. The ache at the base of his back had begun and his feet were calling for a short break but he ignored them. He knew his body well after years of travel. Another hour wouldn’t change anything. The forest shaded the sun’s rays from the path and a gentle breeze provided relief from the growing heat. He left the thin, mountain air a few days ago and his lungs weren’t yet adjusted to the dense humidity of the forest. They screamed they were drowning, but Haaru kept on until a new ache began.

He crossed a small stream and stopped. He squatted, letting the earth take the weight of his pack, and slowly untangled himself from the straps. He opened a small side compartment and removed a cloth bag containing his lunch. Roasted fowl, two pears, and a handful of mushrooms. Then he removed his wooden sandals, stained dark with oil and years of use, and tied them to the pack. He sat on a large stone and dipped his feet in a small pool beside the stream. The cool water sent a chill through his bones and permeated the heat still swelling his muscles. He let out a groan of appreciation and enjoyed the feeling for a few moments before turning to his lunch.

Haaru ate slowly despite feeling ravenous. When he finished, he washed the cloth bag and set it beside him on the stone to dry. He pulled his feet from the pool and laid himself across the large stone as well. He felt the warmth of the stone against his back and the cool breeze kiss his sweat-damp clothes. He rested. Sleep threatened to relieve his consciousness several times and he was ready to surrender to it. Then he heard the sounds of children. A faint echo of laughter in the air. Haaru opened his eyes and stared at the canopy above, watching the sky dance with the leaves, until he heard it again.

His muscles were stiff but no longer ached. He wondered if he had rested too long, but threw the matter away as unimportant. He grabbed the cloth bag and returned it to his pack. The laughter rang out again as he strapped his worn sandals to his feet, fitted himself back into the hulking pack and, with a grunt, relieved the earth of its weight. The laughter echoed again. A smile crept across his features. The laughter reminded his thick, cork-like muscles of his own childhood. When he would run endlessly, climb trees, swim for hours. More laughter and this time he managed to grasp its direction. It was away from the path, but he had packed food for several days before returning to the village, and he had a feeling this may be the reason he was here.

The trees were thin, no larger round than Haaru’s thin frame, and the roots protruded from the ground leaving little room to move unhindered. The laughter grew louder and soon danced around him. He couldn’t see anyone, but he knew they were near.

“Hello,” he called out. Silence. “Hello,” he called again.

“Hello,” a muffled voice responded.

It came from a few paces to his right. He froze, slowly turned his head toward the voice, and saw an ancient set of armor leaning against a tree. Moss had covered its entire surface so it appeared as part of the forest itself save for the shape. The voice came from inside it.

“Who are you?” the muffled voice asked.

“I am Haaru,” he said, “and what is your name?”

“Shigeru.”

“Are you here alone, Shigeru?”

“No.”

“Why don’t you come out of there?”

No muffled answer came. A few seconds passed and the breastplate opened. The leather straps, now mostly moss, threatened to disintegrate at the slight movement. The boy emerged and the armor returned to its resting state. Haaru guessed he was nearly five years old. He had raven-black hair and looked half starved. Big brown eyes looked up at him.

“Hello Shigeru.”

The boy smiled politely. Haaru looked around but saw no one else. He looked up into the trees hoping to spot someone. The laughter had disappeared.

“Where are your friends?”

“Mishi is over there,” the boy pointed. Haaru followed the boy’s arm to a moss-covered helmet leaning against a tree. “And Koturo is there, and Jensai, and Mido, and Deku, and-”

Haaru placed a hand on the boy’s arm to stop him. The boy seemed eager to point out all of his friends, but all Haaru could see were sets of armor. Many were no more than broken pieces. All of them were consumed by the forest. Haaru guessed a battle took place here long ago. The bodies left unclaimed.

“How many of you are out here?” Haaru asked.

The boy shrugged as an answer.

“Where are your parents?”

The boy shrugged again.

“Where is home?” he tried again.

“Changyang.”

“Changyang,” Haaru repeated. He was filled with sadness and relief all at once upon hearing this answer. “How did you get here, Shigeru?”

“Orders…sir,” the boy said, uttering the second word as an afterthought.

“Who’s orders?”

Shigeru stood proudly and answered, “General Xing.”

“General Xing,” Haaru repeated the name. He had guessed correctly. These children were his reason for entering the forest.

“How long have you been here?”

“A long time,” a voice called from behind them. Haaru turned to see another boy sitting on a pair of grieves that more resembled tree roots than armor. It was one Shigeru called out earlier. Mido.

“How long is a long time?” Haaru asked softly.

Mido sighed and laid down across the remains of a breastplate.

“We’ve forgotten.”

Haaru looked to his left to find a young boy with autumn hair tied in the traditional top knot.

“I see,” Haaru muttered. Several boys had revealed themselves. Each sitting or standing on the remnants of a set of armor. Many of which were not included in Shigeru’s eager introductions.

“How many of you are there?” he asked again.

None answered. Haaru decided it was time. He bent his knees until the pack rested on the ground. He dug through stacks of parchment, each bound tightly between bamboo planks, until he found his brush, ink, and several blank pages. He sat on the forest floor and arranged the ink and parchment.

“Would you mind telling me your story?” he asked as he dipped his brush in the ink and held it before the parchment. He looked up to see they had all gone. Every child had disappeared without a sound. The breeze rustled the leaves and the sunlight danced on the forest floor.

“Shigeru?”

His only answer was the sound of the forest.

Haaru remained seated with his brush at the ready. As the light began to fade, he built a small fire and prepared for a long night. He pulled several lychee berries from his pack and ate them. Their floral aroma filled the air. He finished, cleaned his hands, and continued to wait as the forest grew dark. His eyes grew heavy but he fought the continuous pull of sleep. He held his brush ready, patiently waiting for the children to return.

He began to lose the battle against his body. His eyelids slowly rose and fell like the waves of the sea. His body twitched and he jerked himself alert upon realizing his lapse. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and found Shigeru standing before him. The other boys were there as well, and behind them perhaps a hundred more could be seen in the moonlight that snuck through the canopy.

“We will tell you our story,” Shigeru said. The boyish tone was no longer present.

Haaru gripped his brush and nodded for the boy to continue.

“Let me first answer your question. There are 147 of us. A relatively small company, to be sure, when speaking of the indomitable army led by General Xing for his eminence Emperor Jiangxi. I, Shigeru Matsushi, am the captain of this company.”

“The fiercest warriors of any battalion.”

“Quiet Mido,” Shigeru chided the boy behind him.

Mido crossed his arms and glared at Shigeru’s back but remained quiet.

“My lieutenant speaks out of turn, but he is correct. We were the highest skilled warriors within the Emperor’s army. Yes,” Shigeru saw the question in Haaru’s eyes, “we are well aware of our current situation. We were monsters of men when we entered battle though we were not quite men in the eyes of many. We have not been children since before we were taken, but we prefer this form.

“I lived on an island beyond where the Yangtze empties into the sea. The General’s men came and took me from my village along with several other boys. I later realized these men were expected as no one protested our abduction. Jensai is the only one here who also came from my village. We were all gathered in this fashion. Stolen from our homes. Most of us merely four or five years of age when we were taken.

“After weeks of hard travel, we were left at a fortification near the peak of Changyang. It was there in the bitter cold we trained. General Xing himself would lead our education when he was in the region, which was often, and it was during his training when we lost most of our brothers. He taught us how to be ruthless, how to end the life of even someone you called a friend, so we learned to live together without forming bonds beyond those found in battle. Our numbers shrank as our training progressed in the harsh conditions of the mountain. Two attempted escape, but there was nowhere to go and they were quickly hunted down. We quickly learned to accept our new lives or accept death. We grew as cold as the snow that never ceased.

“Every day mirrored the one before. We would all wake before sunrise, sweep the snow from the courtyard, spar with fists, then with wooden swords. Before lunch we held a tournament of iron swords. Single elimination. The first cut deciding the winner. The champion would be given an extra portion during lunch. We all desired this as the meager meals we were given served the purpose of providing heat more than it did sustenance. When General Xing visited, he would be the judge of these tournaments and would determine the victor of each fight. It would be many cuts before he made his decision.

“Our afternoons included training on horseback and ranged weapons. No tournament was held in the afternoons. The last hour of the day was reserved for strategy and held inside. We would all go to bed battered and bruised. Many of us with new scars forming. We never left the mountain except to train in different environments.

“Maybe ten years passed this way. Time was lost to us. Known only by the slow growth of our bodies. We became young men and skilled warriors. Then our first assignment was given. General Xing appointed our positions. Ten lieutenants were each given thirteen men. I was given full authority as captain and would fight alongside the remaining eight as an elite unit. We were sent as an advance party to capture a command post west of the Hongshui river. We attacked at night. It was a small fortress but held a garrison of three hundred men. We lost two men but had taken the fortress by sunrise. We spared three of our enemy, the customary number when gathering information, and tied them to wooden posts hammered into the courtyard.

“Two days passed before General Xing arrived. He quickly filled the garrison with his men and questioned the prisoners before issuing our next orders. He never provided more than our next assignment. We performed dutifully and never lost another soldier. Even when fighting outnumbered eight to one. Rumor of our company spread among the enemy as well as among the other soldiers under General Xing until even the emperor learned of our company. We did not know at the time, but this was something General Xing had gone to great lengths to prevent. We wish he would have succeeded.

“The end of the war drew near after three short years. We had conquered the last stronghold and had it prepared for the General’s arrival where he would command the final assault. He arrived behind Emperor Jiangxi whom we were not expecting. Many duties must be completed during the transition of command within a fortress, and we were not yet clean from our fighting when he called us for inspection. We delayed these duties and presented ourselves at full attention in the courtyard for the emperor. He examined every one of us without a word before disappearing into the high chamber with General Xing.

“The next day our orders came. This time we were to gather intelligence without attacking. A scouting mission. The change in tactics was strange, but we were advancing on the final stronghold so we thought nothing of it. It was not our place to question the general. Besides, it was a six-day journey and we were eager to leave the emperor’s gaze.” Shigeru paused and looked at the forest surrounding them. “We were ambushed here. Not by our enemy but by the emperor’s personal soldiers. Our rear guard had spotted them a day prior, but betrayal had not dared enter our minds. We were only concerned with our next assignment and were thus ill-prepared when they struck. But we were not fully caught off-guard. We fought for a full day and night. We slew five for every one we lost, but their numbers were great and eventually overcame our last man. We were left here. No rituals provided for our bodies. Not even those for fit a common peasant let alone those for a warrior of prestige. We were left to rot with the heat of each day, and we have remained in this forest since.”

Haaru finished writing Shigeru’s account. The night had begun to fade but the sun was still a few hours from rising. The fire was mostly embers. Haaru’s eyes had resorted to the filtered moonlight to guide his brush sometime in the night. He placed the brush beside the ink and laid the final sheet of parchment out to dry habitually placing the recently dried sheet onto the stack beside him.

“Tell me, traveler,” Shigeru said, “how long have we been here?”

Haaru considered their account unsure of how to answer. “It has been three hundred years since Emperor Jiangxi was alive.” A soft, collective gasp rustled through the forest like a soft breeze. A low murmur began to spread among them. Shigeru made a simple hand gesture and the forest was again silent. Haaru believed the boy must have been a great leader to evoke such discipline with a simple movement.

“Three hundred years is a long time. Yet you are the first to speak to us.”

Haaru sealed the ink and began cleaning his brush. “I have traveled many leagues and have seen many things. I have encountered several…incidents…that frighten most people, but I know there is a truth behind them that the common man would discolor with his imagination. Many times they do so unintentionally, because they are afraid or are unable to believe what their senses show them to be true. They believe reality is supposed to work within a set of rules. They do not realize there is more than one path that leads to truth.” He combed the wet brush and set it down to dry.

“And you walk several paths?” Mido asked reproachfully. This time Shigeru did not reprimand him.

“Possibly,” Haaru said. He examined the dead fire with a stick. Making patterns in the embers and ash.

“Why did you ask for our story?” Shigeru asked. A hint of command still in his voice.

“I want to share it. Spread it among those who will listen and let history know a truth that was buried by a powerful man.”

“You defy an emperor’s decision?”

“I face no retribution from the dead. However, it is not the emperor I am referring.”

Shigeru contemplated his words and asked in a low tone filled with warning, “You dare bring shame to our general?”

The other 146 children standing within the forest shifted their weight simultaneously. It was slight, and barely noticeable even when done in unison by so many, but Haaru’s skin prickled at the sudden hostility. He did not fear them and convinced himself he would not falter even if they had the means of harming him. Shigeru was the only one who did not change his stance. Haaru saw him at last for who he was. A true commander who possessed the loyalty of his men even beyond death. An allegiance he shared equally with every one of them.

“I only wish to tell a truth hidden to allow a favorable legacy. You are not aware of how history has treated your general. He is regarded as a great strategist. Able to predict his enemy’s intentions. He could capture a stronghold by simply willing it. Your account replaces the fertile soil where his legend has been left to grow wild. With your story told, the world would know the truth that he was just a man. Still a brilliant strategist, but ruthless. A man who built a reputation on the backs of kidnapped children.”

Haaru surveyed the sea of children as best he could without removing his eyes from Shigeru’s. They were still on guard. Ready to attack but waiting for the order.

“Do you not want your story to be told? Do you not want to be remembered?”

Shigeru made a swift movement through the air with his fist. The children relaxed. Haaru found himself unable to do the same. He sat, expectant, awaiting the answer.

“The only home we’ve ever known was Changyang. Our lives before our duty are merely distant memories mixed with dreams. We fought well and obeyed every command our leader gave us. We only served the emperor through our general. The world knows a figurehead does not win the battles they never see. Our legacy lives within General Xing’s.

“Tell us,” Shigeru continued, “since you claim to know of those from our time. What happened to our general?”

Haaru finally relaxed. Their reason was their love of their general.

“He lived a long life while serving his emperor.”

“How did he die?”

“Honorably.”

“In battle?”

Haaru sighed, “No. It was after his final defeat. They say the new emperor attempted to retain him as general of the new armies, but he refused. He chose a warrior’s death.”

The sea of children stirred but the forest remained silent. The sun was preparing to rise and the first birds began to chirp, but the sound did not sway the heavy sadness among them.

“Thank you, traveler,” Shigeru finally said, “you have done us a great service. We have been plagued with uncertainty about those we left behind. General Xing and his personal guard. We feared he too had been defeated by treachery. We are glad to hear he served and died well.”

“Is there more you wish to know?” Haaru asked.

“No. Three hundred years has undoubtedly changed the world we knew. I think it is time we finally departed for our next assignment. Before we are gone, I must ask again. What do you intend to do with our story?” Shigeru glanced at the pile of pages. Haaru placed the final page, having dried some time ago, onto the pile and straightened the stack.

“I have told you my intentions, but it is your choice to make.”

Shigeru gestured, sweeping his arm as if it were a command, and Haaru understood the meaning behind it. He slowly gathered the stack of parchment and hesitated, looking to Shigeru who offered a firm smile, then placed the pages on the dying embers. The parchment smoked slowly before igniting. The flames roared, emitting an intense heat before settling down to a steady smolder. The ink burned bright gold with faint shades of blue-green. Within minutes the parchment was nothing but ash and ember. Haaru could not help but feel a tinge of sorrow as he watched specks of ash lifted into the air only to fall back to the earth like snow.

“Thank you,” Shigeru said. His hand rose in the air and with a sweep he issued his final command.

Haaru watched as a fog lifted through the forest floor and slowly filled the trees. The children did not move but were soon lost to his sight within the thick air. Then, just as quickly, the fog dissipated without even the warmth of the morning sun. They were gone. Haaru sat alone in the forest listening to the sounds of morning.

He rose despite the protest of his body. The lack of sleep made his blood beat thin, but his mind was too active for rest. He returned his brush and ink to his pack and put out the embers with a bowl of water from the stream. A long day’s journey was ahead of him. He would need rest before he made it to the village, but he once again shouldered the massive weight of his pack and began walking carefully through the forest.

Haaru woke on a straw mat. He had arrived late in the evening and was surprised to find he was expected. The village elder had decided to wait for him despite Haaru insisting he would be gone several days. The elder had waved his protest away claiming she was awake anyway and decided to pass the time by waiting. Haaru was too tired to argue and happily accepted the offered room. He had given himself a few hours’ sleep during the day but still had plenty to regain when he finally settled down.

He must have slept as a stone. The sunlight was strong. Children were playing outside. He left his pack in the room and went to find the elder. She was watching the children as the men and women of the village were busy with their tasks. Haaru sat beside the elder and waited for her to begin the conversation. The morning air was still cool but would soon be stifling. He could feel the humidity rising as the sun rose higher.

“I have already told everyone the forest is at rest,” she said.

“There was never any danger,” Haaru offered.

“I was not as troubled by the sounds as the others. I had grown used to them after all these years. I feared them as a child, but age often brings clarity, or faith, and I knew there was no malice lurking within the trees, but it was an unnatural matter. We are glad you happened upon us.”

They sat and watched the children chase each other around the well. Haaru tried imagining the old woman as one of them. This village was old and had known of the unrest in the forest. They knew spirits had gathered within the trees. They simply avoided venturing too far in and never without sunlight.

“I must thank you again,” the elder said, “I know our payment was insufficient for your trouble.”

“It was more than generous,” Haaru interjected. It was enough to keep him fed, which was all he ever needed, and it only cost him some sleep. “Thank you for your hospitality. I will be leaving before midday.”

“So soon?” The elder finally looked at him. “You must still be tired after traveling the forest.”

“I am plenty rested to begin again.” He feet still ached from the long days of walking and his body would benefit from a full day’s rest, but he feared the allure of comfort. He needed to keep moving. There was a legend told about a village near the southern border that caught his ear several weeks ago.

“Will you at least stay for some tea?” the elder asked.

“Tea would be delightful.”

He had tea with the elder and listened to the stories she offered. He listened attentively and answered what questions she had the confidence to ask. She never inquired about the children of the forest. He sensed her reservations and also her respect for him.

He was used to admiration or fear. His work often drew either suspicion or reverence. His results always earned him respect. He was aware of the stories that surrounded him, but he also knew that these were created by the very people who made demons from rabid foxes.

The elder was beyond believing him to be more than he was. Her company was refreshing and he enjoyed their time together. When the sun was overhead, he gathered his things and hoisted the pack from the floor. The full weight settled on him.

Haaru had mastered the art of farewell throughout his travels. He followed the sun as it crawled across the sky then turned south in the evening light. The legend turned over in his head. It involved a pair of sisters. He caught himself guessing at its true origin and turned his thoughts away so as not to cloud his expectations. He would wait until he heard their story.

On Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorTobias Wolff is one of my favorite writers. Specifically, he is one of my favorite short story writers. I consider him one of the greatest American short story writers of all time. I of course would be more than happy to hear who your favorite shorty story writers are since I love discovering new writers. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Tobias Wolff, then I hope you read some of his work and come to enjoy it as I do.

I first discovered Tobias Wolff in a college course. If I remember correctly, the first story I read of his was “Bullet in the Brain.” I recently discovered that this story was made into a short film, and there is a recording online of it being read by Tobias himself. This story remains one of my favorites and it is a great introduction to his work. It may also be the best known of his short stories because it is often used in classrooms alongside several others he has written such as “Powder,” “Say Yes,” or “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” There is something about Wolff’s stories that capture what I like to refer to as human moments. He is able to weave a story together that could seemingly be about nothing in particular, but then can also be read as a revelation about a core element of human nature. Enveloping an entire species and capturing it within a single moment. His stories often linger with you afterwards and prompt an introspection of our own lives. He often pinpoints moments that define, in a that single moment, the entirety of a character. It is this aspect that I admire to great degree, and I aspire to write stories that have similar moments the readers keep with them. I think any fellow writers can learn a lot about the craft from reading his work as well.

Wolff’s works include several collections of short stories, a novel (Old School), a novella (The Barracks Thief), and two memoirs. I’ve written book recommendations about several of these. His memoir, This Boy’s Life, reveals much about himself through the lens of his childhood. It was made into a movie not long after it was first published. His second memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, provides a description of his time in Vietnam during his military service. I found the man himself as interesting as his writing. I even built up enough courage to write to him. It was my first and only time (as of this writing) that I’ve written to a writer who I admire. This was about three years ago now. I wasn’t sure what to say, so all I ended up saying was a general thank you for his work and an offer to buy him a drink if was ever in my area. To my surprise, he responded with equally kind words.

There are several interviews with Wolff that you can find online. I recently found one by The Creative Process that I found really interesting. They have interviews with other artists as well. I learned a few things on this site as well, like Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders and was rewarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama.

I don’t have any fun stories about gong to see him or things that have happened to me while reading his works. I haven’t really found many people who have read his works or at least have talked to me about them. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but every so often I can convince someone to try one and I usually recommend one by Tobias Wolff. I do remember one occasion where I did have a coworker/friend read “Bullet in the Brain.” The story itself is quite short but has incredible impact. He loved it and agreed with my initial comments I used to try and “sell” the story to him. Those comments being that Wolff’s stories have an unclear but substantial human moment. It’s hard to describe but easy to understand once you’ve read the story. If you want ever want to pick up a collection of his, I definitely recommend Our Story Begins. It has 31 short stories including several I have mentioned above.

I would love for the chance to meet Tobias Wolff one day. But if that never comes around, I know I can always pick up a collection of his stories, flip to any title, and be reminded once again what any amazing, intricate, and simple thing it is to be human.