From Chapter 2:

“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten that you numbered yourself among the skeptics. What is it you say? That we pursue ghosts.” He held the word in his mouth, as though it were a morsel of questionable food. “I guess, then, you would say that a possibility, that we’re witnessing the first signs of the No-God’s return, is outweighed by an actuality, the life of a defector — that rolling the dice of apocalypse is worth the pulse of a fool.”

This is a conversation between three individuals that has a lot of subtlety and actual depth.

For the reader the story has a starting point. It’s the beginning of a book, of course it means there’s a meaningful segment of a story to be told. But for these characters this is just one moment. They are all waiting for something to happen, but they don’t know when. They aren’t even sure it will happen. Even if they have the dreams that are an effective tool that prevents memory to fade, they are still caught in the inertia of daily life (as one of the following excerpts will also confirm).

It’s all kind of suspended in uncertainty, and even skepticism. They have a burden, something more that lets them see the world, and yet they are caught within, transported away same as everyone else…

Nautzera studied his face. “Skeptics,” he snorted. “You all make the same error. You confuse us with the other Schools. But do we vie for power? Do we scurry around palaces, placing Wards and sniffing sorceries like dogs? Do we whine into the ears of Emperors or Kings? In the absence of the Consult, you confuse our actions with those who act for no purpose save that of power and its childish gratifications. You confuse us with the whores.”

Could it be? No. He’d thought it through many times. Unlike the others, those like Nautzera, he could distinguish his age from the one he dreamt night after night. He could see the difference. The Mandate was not merely poised between epochs—it was poised between dreams and waking life. When the skeptics, those who thought the Consult had abandoned the Three Seas, looked at the Mandate, they saw not a School compromised by worldly ambition but the opposite: a School not in this world at all. The “mandate,” which was the mandate of history after all, was not to wage a dead war, or to sanctify a long-dead sorcerer driven mad by that war’s horrors, but to learn — to live from the past, not in it.

Nautzera here seems rhetorical, but he only introduces the powerful idea that is then reinforced in the following paragraph.

This isn’t pride, Achamian voices it just a moment later: The Mandate was a curse! Dispossessed of the God. Dispossessed even of the present. Only the clawing, choking fear that the future might resemble the past.

This is just pure description. There isn’t even choice. The idea of the curse is something received passively, and at best endured. Mandate Schoolmen are condemned to see the world as it is.

“A school not in this world.” Because their “curse” dislodged them permanently from the normalcy. They only get to decide what to do about it. They have a “mandate”, but they also don’t know everything. They live chasing a dream that they know to be true, but they don’t know when, or even if. There’s a deep uncertainty part of it all, enough for Achamian to be accused as a skeptic.

And yet Simas watched him so strangely, his eyes curious with their own indecision.

The reader knows, but they don’t. They know the importance of the moment, but they do not know this is the moment. This obviously echoes back.

These are the times I live in. All this happens now.

It seemed possible.

They know what happened in the past, and their mission is about the present. But they don’t know when it will happen. They are stuck in this perpetual state of preparedness, “chasing ghosts”. But being also themselves caught in the present, they are carried away just like everyone else.

The Schoolmen of the Mandate could never forget what had happened — the violence of Seswatha’s Dreams ensured that much. But if anything, the civilization of the Three Seas was insistent.

The more crowded the concerns of the present, the more difficult it became to see the ways in which the past portended the future.

Civilization is insistent. They are out of this world, yet trapped in it. No matter how strong the dreams are and their renewal, they also get washed away every time. There is this double layer of myth and reality, but where myth is stronger than reality.

Mandate Schoolmen have this double layer as part of their vision. Every moment they have to decide which one makes their own present reality. They cannot fully deny one of the two, and so they live as if suspended: “poised between dreams and waking life“.

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