Plot Summary: Dark Sun, Bright Moon.

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Spoiler alert:

This text does indeed tell you the plot. Do not proceed if you would rather get that from the book. It does, however, leave out almost all of the characters, all characterisation, most of the major ideas and an enormous number of important events.

Plot synopsis

We are in the Andes of a thousand years ago. The mountains are sandwiched between a coastal desert and the Amazonian jungle, with desert cutting off the South and malarial swamp and jungle the North. There has been no outside contact for ten thousand years. The local civilizations lack the wheel, writing or the use of iron.

A quick guide to Andean metaphysics

Dark Sun, Bright Moon is developed around the Andean way of thinking about the universe. These people saw reality as being divided into five parts, stacked one on top of the other. Humans live in just one of these domains, located right in the centre of the stack. The top of the stack is an unchanging, infinite domain of timeless, perfect order. At the bottom of the stack lies its antithesis, a place of utter disorder in which no measure can be made. These two would instantly annihilate each other if they came into contact, but they are separated by three other layers. A massive tide runs through these as order strives to become disorder, ands this animates the entire structure.

Our universe – everything we observe, people, stars and galaxies - lies in the very centre of this stack. It is, however, the very least of the layers, and it is the space through which the tide flows most slowly. In that sense, our very existence stops the universe from disappearing in an instant. Like a river driving a mill, however, this tide creates time, space and everything that we know. Our universe is re-created, instant by instant, by one of our neighbouring layers. It is a layer that contains an infinite range of possibilities, all insubstantial, evanescent, quivering creativity.

We exist, therefore, pressed against a domain of fecund creation, intensely populated by sentience and vastly much bigger than our visible universe. Imagine a space without suns or any other familiar furniture, but packed, stuffed with a kind of life that is based on probabilities, flickering in and out of existence, mutating and splitting endlessly into new chains of existence, all the while constantly engaged in making our reality. What keeps our universe constant, however, what guides this creation is the influence of the third domain, which is of a quite different nature.

Our universe generates a monstrous, constant flow of something close to what we call ‘information’. This is recorded by this third domain, in which geological strata, oceans and lakes of it have built up over the aeons.

Most of this information is incremental, showing marginal changes on what has gone before. The basic rules that govern movement, the nature of the particles of matter so described and so on are ancient, perfectly established and universal, and they do not need to be described again at each step. They are established laws of nature.

However, that does not apply to anything that is far from equilibrium, which can fly off in a hundred directions. That kind of information does need to be recorded anew, and recorded in minute detail. At the time that Dark Sun, Bright Moon covers, all such situations were almost always connected with human communities. Each human settlement is, therefore, the source of vast torrents of different qualities of this information.

One such quality relates to harmony, to long-term consistency and stability within the dynamic, unstable system that is a human community. A word, a glance, a fractional lateness at a queue may give rise to enormous consequences. This quality of harmony strongly effects the fidelity with which a community get re-created. Poor harmony equates to patchy fidelity, generating disease and general chaos. As this generally leads to further disharmony, bad quickly descends to worse. Local communities, recognizing this, regard a lack of harmony and the potential for social conflict with horror, as disharmony has dreadful consequences that are rooted in the very being of the universe.

Apus and other beings

The domain of information lies on the "other side" of the world that we inhabit. It, too, is inhabited, but sparsely and with much more predictable entities than is the creative domain. These subsist on the various flows and tensions that the information flows generates.

Two important classes of entity that play a major role in Dark Sun, Bright Moon. These are the saqras and the apus. (Sak-rah and Ah-poo). Usco, the constant protector of our heroine Q’Q'ilyasisa is a saqra. Many of the characters in the book are apus: for example, Alcavicca and Sara Sara.

Saqras can be thought of simply as independent awarenesses of very variable intelligences that occasionally dip into our world. Apus, however, are altogether more formidable entities. As we have seen, every human community is a fountain of new information. This, for an apu, is its food and the source of its structure. It manages the minds and values of its community in order to maximize the flow of the quality of information that it needs, specifically the quality of harmony and reciprocity. In effect, it farms them as much as they farm their herds of alpacas and llamas.

A greedy apu can push this too far, and such farming can become parasitism. As Dark Sun, Bright Moon opens, one such apu has become a deadly parasite, and has begun begun to infest all of its peers across the Andes. It is being held off by powers to the South, a consortium of three powerful, ancient apus and two humans. These humans are extremely unusual, in that they have the ability to enter the two neighbouring domains. Such people are termed yachaq’, a word that means simply "those who know" in Quechua..

Part One: The defence of the South

The network of parasitism that had been taking over much of the central Andes now attempted to penetrate into the South. There followed a major confrontation in which it was beaten off, but the defenders of the South had been much changed by these events. One apu had been entirely obliterated. One was propelled into a higher state, becoming an unprecedented being called Alcavicca, previously the apu of Coropuna volcano. A third apu, Sara Sara, was very grievously wounded.

Of the humans, one - Apurimac - survived he event broadly unscathed. He will become a major character in what follows. However, his master Otoronco was sheared into three parts, each corresponding to one level of reality. Yachaq' develop over many lifetimes and the yachaq' Otoronco was the outcome of hundreds of generations of incremental improvement. One lost part of him was destined to link itself to someone in his bloodline, thus continuing this developmental process. This turned out to be his grand-daughter, Q'ilyasisa, our main character. The physical part of Otoronco died, but before doing so he tasked Apurimac with the supervision of Q'ilyasisa's education. The third element of Otoronco had been rammed into the dying apu, Sara Sara, thus transforming them both into a composite entity that was no longer an apu. We will meet this entity years later, when its hold on existence is at its limits.

Part Two: Q’ilyasisa

We first encounter Q'ilyasisa as a teenager, living in poverty in the marginal hill village of Jimbe. The first five chapters are taken up with her social dislocation from village life, her growing skills as a self-taught yachaq' and her bad relations with her father.

This man was the village priest, a quite separate calling from a yachaq' and one in often deadly rivalry with it. It emerges that he was once a pupil at a religious school in which Otoronco’s son taught, and that he became involved with him in shady, yacha'-tainted experiments. A colleague in this was a cold figure called Atocatuc. At that time, Otoronco’s son had a wife called Taruka and an infant daughter, of course called Q’ilyasisa. Atocatuc is the brother of Taruka, and it was this relationship which had brought the experimental group together.

The experiments were dangerous, and Otoronco’s son was killed in an explosion. Atocatuc disappeared, money disappears and the estate was left bankrupt. Under local law, Q’ilyasisa and her mother Taruka were assets of the bankrupt estate and as a result they were sold into slavery. Q'ilyasisa's nominal Father had been in undeclared and covetous love with Taruka for some years, and he takes the opportunity to buy them both with stolen gold.

There was, however, an enquiry about the explosion and the deaths, and the priest - with his unexplained gold and his deep involvement in the experiments - was exiled to the marginal hill village of Jimbe. On their their arrival at the pagan, largely indifferent village, it seemed safer to him to treat the two as his wife and daughter rather than as his slaves. Q'ilyasisa was raised to see him as her Father, and he treated her with pompous distance.

The three of them therefore drifted into genteel poverty, and the priest into alcoholism. Shamed in front of the village when family frustrations came to a head, he physically assaulted Q’ilyasisa and left her for dead. Apurimac, who had been living quietly in Jimbe as a yachaq’, rescued Q'ilyasisa from where she had fled into the hills and explained to her her true family history. Meanwhile, Taruka left the priest following the attack on her daughter, and Apurimac took both of them to live with him. The village was, of course, hugely disturbed by the disharmony which all of this raised.

Q’ilyasisa had made some progress in exploring her yachaq’ talents on her own, but Apurimac now took her training in hand. In addition, Apurimac had, it seemed, been a suitor of Taruka from long before she had married, and now that they were free to marry they did so, mixing honey in a little pot and throwing it over a cliff so that it can never be unmixed. For a short while, Q'ilyasisa found herself in a loving and stable family with a clear career path ahead of her. This bliss was not to last for long.

The apu-infecting plague continued to creep into the village, rendering the people increasingly strange and inhuman. A further incident and a death due to Q'ilyasisa raised community hostilities to incandescence. Q’ilyasisa and Apurimac were attacked while training, and Q'ilyasisa loses a part of herself - indeed, where her grandfather's legacy had begun to attach itself. This bonds temporarily to Apurimac's assistant, an unstable orphan called Titu.

In the attack, their house was burned down and they knew tha they must flee the village. Titu was already affected by the parasite and could go only down to the coast, where neither apus not their plagues exist. Taruka was to go with him, hoping to find her lost brother Atocatuc. The coastal Chimu civilisation was based on slavery and it had a deadly sacrificial priesthood that was used to enforce orthodoxy. This made it a very dangerous haven. By contrast, Q’ilyasisa had to travel inland, to the yachaq' centre of Chavin, seeking repair and training. Apurimac, a former pupil at Chavin, was to go with her.

After arduous training at Chavin. Q'ilyasisa was much strengthened. She was not, however, healed. For that to occur, she would need to get together with both Titu and Apurimac. As a result - and lacking practical alternatives - she and Apurimac traveled to Chimu in order to seek out the rest of the family. On arrival, they learned that Titu and Taruka are probably on Atocatuc’s estates, located some way into the mountains. Apurimac set off to locate them.

Q'ilyasisa's powers had been used heavily during the trip to Chimu, and this had come to the attention of various powers. One of them was the agent of Alcavicca, who had long since developed from being the mere the apu of Corapuna to a semi-secular king of the entire Southern region, including the Lake Titicaca. She was kidnapped by Alcavicca's agent and taken South.

The trip was not a smooth one, and she was diverted inland. This occurred at the instigation of the entity that was the remnants of both her grandfather and the dying Sara Sara apu. This being worked on her mind, installing talents and explaining that Alcavicca was a force that could not be opposed, but which had to be subverted. Later, she met Alcavicca on the top of Corapuna volcano. He brusquely disassembled her mind once again, installed yet more capabilities and threw her back together again. He placed unbreakable commands on her. First, to repair herself by finding Titu and recovering her lost heritage from him; and second, she was single-handedly to defeat the Huari plague. As a first step towards this, she was to investigate a Chimu experiment that was intended to create an artificial apu.

The Chimu nobility were facing the first trembling of revolution against their bloody rule. Coastal populations did not have apus to manage them, and as a consequence they were volatile and hard to keep docile. Atocatuc, having approached yachaq’ disciplines as a near-scientific manner, made the nobility the offer that he would create for them a family of artificial apus, one of which would perch on each of the Chimu city pyramids and so control the minds of their restive populations.

Please recall that the flows that sustain apus come from human communities, but that these flows have different qualities. One natural quality, dominant in the highlands, is that of cooperation and harmony. However, another flow that is capable of sustaining a very different kind of apu is the opposite of this, the product of anguish and despair.

As Atocatuc noted, this flow can be coerced, whilst cooperation cannot. He proposed to sacrifice several hundred humans in order to create such an apu, one that would feed of the products of despair and disharmony. The council of nobles approved this – human sacrifice was a commonplace in the culture – but also decided that for its potential political implications, any such early experiments had best be done away from Chimu. They would therefore hire a dilapidated pyramid from neighbouring Moche. The Moche culture was in decline, but had been even bloodier than the Chimu. Vile goings-on on top of pyramids were easily tolerated.

Q’ilyasisa had been sent to investigate this experiment. She needed a cover story in order to achieve this. Alcavicca ordered that she should arrive in Chimu as a well-funded emissary of Corapuna, as a trained individual who was seeking to recover a long-lost and important relic that just happens to be embedded in that very same pyramid in Moche. She was dispatched with three ships, a heap of gold and a suitably gaudy entourage.

The embassy arrived in Chimu. Gold did its work and she was admitted to the project, smuggled into Moche as a boy. Wading through rotting corpses to the pyramid, she met Atocatuc and managed to drug him. She found that the pyramid was capped with a vile intelligence, contained within an ingenious device. Floating naked within this enclosure was the missing Titu, the holder of her missing element. She saw immediately that she has nothing to learn from the experiment itself that could in any way help her to fulfill the second command that Alcavicca laid upon her. It could not be used to defeat the parasite. The command to heal herself therefore took precedence, demanding that she should rescue and resuscitate Titu. With Atocatuc still unconscious, she broke the containment around the artificial apu and allowed its foulness to drain away. She escaped into the Andean foothills, leading behind her a semi-conscious Titu propped up on a stolen llama.

sacrificial pyramid from Dark Sun, Bright Moon

The dilapidated old sacrificial pyramid in Moche.

After traveling South, they were able eventually to rendezvous with Taruka and Apurimac. With Titu now present, they set out to heal her wound. What none of them had anticipated was the immense scale of her inheritance. It crunched into its setting with the weight of many mountains and the shock of this both killed Titu and seriously injured Apurimac. Q’ilyasisa was rendered superhuman, but remained dazed and unable to do much for herself. On scant material resources, Taruka supported the two of them through their recovery.

Gradually, as she became coherent, Alcavicca's command to defeat the parasite re-imposed itself on Q’ilyasisa. As both a test and a compromise with this command, she set out to throw the parasite from of the local market town. She succeeded in doing this.

This was a risky experiment to undertake. In case her attempt was to fail, she had arranged that Taruka and Apurimac would be packed and ready to leave in an instant. After her success and preoccupied by the future, Q’ilyasisa was hurrying to join them when, without warning, Atocatuc appeared with a column of soldiers. He was engaged in the search for Titu, the missing key to his artificial apu. On hearing he is dead and simultaneously recognising Q'ilyasisa as the person who had drugged him, he tried to kill her. Taruka struck him down and was herself killed. Q’ilyasisa turned her powers on the soldiers, who fled, leaving Atocatuc for dead in the gravel. Apurimac and Q’ilyasisa escaped into the country, bearing the body of Taruka.

The imperative on her remained unbreakable. She had to go to the centre of the parasite, the imperial capital of the Huari. The Huari empire was, however, highly militarised and utterly under the control of the parasite. It was impossible to travel across it. The only practical route followed the major jungle rivers on a huge loop through the Amazon jungle, to the little trading port that served the Huari capital, Sivia. Their trip took many months and exposed them to the rigors of life on the Amazon. Having made allies, they arrived at Sivia as credible traders and were permitted to ascend to the high, dry plateau where the Huari capital stood.

They arrived, faced a demented bureaucracy and were finally lodged under guard. All of Huari lived under constant scrutiny, organised in cell-like, identical structures to which access was closely guarded. In the course of the night the parasite sensed their falseness, and they are arrested. Atocatuc reappeared, now as the new high priest. He explained that in the absence of the artificial apu he was unable to return to Chimu, and so had thrown his lot in with the parasite. However, what he had learned in Moche had allowed him to convert the parasitic apu to use to his principle of betrayal and anguish as the grounds for its feeding. This, he crowed, would last for ever, as the parasite no longer needed to to dement and kill its victims, but could instead maintain them in constant misery and self-betrayal.

They, however, were to die. The travelers were stripped and prepared for sacrifice. Q'ilyasisa had spent the long voyage to Huari building tools with which to defeat the parasite. These would erase it from existence, but their functioning came with the unavoidable consequence that they would also reduce the whole Huari empire to barbarism. She had no choice in this, both because the parasite's greed had consumed the materials for a less rigorous attack and because Alcavicca's command forced her to act. As the parasite manifested itself for the sacrifice, therefore, she triggered her weapon. It worked. Atocatuc is reduced to the consistency of a boiled egg and the parasite was gone. So, too, was the Huari civilisation. A huge area across the Andes was now reduced to barbarism. Having fulfilled Alcavicca's commands, and not now knowing what to do, Q'ilyasisa waited for events on the central pyramid.

Part Three: Mama Q’ilya

She was extracted by a column of soldiers that had been sent by Alcavicca. Back in Coropuna, he raised her to a status close to his own, a living apu who was to reign with him, following the newly-invented religion of Inti and Q’ilya, the Sun and the Moon. Her name was changed from Q’ilyasisa (Moonflower) to Mama Q’ilya, Mother Moon. The new regime would manage all of Andean apus from a single centre, presided over by Alcavicca. People would live exactly-specified lives, their deeds managed by priests and their thoughts by their apus. A new race would be bred to Alcavicca’s specification, in order to administer this. Alcavicca manifested himself as a three metre-diametre gold sphere, which he ordained was to be moved to Lake Titicaca, the heart of this new empire.

Enormous labour was deployed to move Alcavicca – wood had to be brought in huge quantities across the Andes, and then carried up to the snows of Coropuna. The litter was carried by several hundred men on land and by a vast raft when at sea. Eventually arriving at Titicaca, Alcavicca buried himself within Amantaní island, from where he would manage the breeding of the new race. Mama Q'ilya was set to work in order to create the new civilisation, a task which she performs at great cost, but in the process learning much about how human communities are to be ordered and ruled.

The Titicaca project ran smoothly for fifteen years. As the brusque presence of Alcavicca faded from a daily interaction, so it softened to become the Intisuyo, an altogether looser structure. Nevertheless, the cold, poor soils limited what can be done and Q'ilya organised a migration North, settling in the Qoshq'o (Cusco) valley. This settlement grew rapidly, absorbing neighbouring people and building a tight-knit social structure. Four hundred years in the future, the Inca would arise from its foundations.

The many watchers of Alcavicca became increasingly concerned about what he is doing in his island lair. This has risen out of the lake like a baking loaf, soaring hundreds of metres of crumpled soil and rock, red as an inflamed pimple. Q’ilya was contacted by the entity that used to be the Sara Sara apu. It revealed itself to be a leading figure in the opposition to Alcavicca's plans. This opposition was not concerned with his plans for humanity, but was rather focused on the harm that was being done by the immense structures which he had entwined through the most sensitive parts of the other layers of existence. Alcavicca had built a potential catastrophe, and the group were working to resolve this. Their plan was to entrap him in the greatest peril of the “creative” domain – that of solipsism, of creating virtual worlds into which to lose oneself.

This appeared to work. Nevertheless, Alcavicca continued to expand his physical being on the island of Amantaní, now ordering all people away from it, abandoning his priesthood and his breeding program, in general permitting the political structures that Q’ilya had so painstakingly assembled fall into ruin. Alcavicca was then detected in active spying upon Q’ilya in Qoshq’o. The opposition group captured the relevant device and dissected it. It contained impossible records - of teeming cities, of vast ports and huge, flat, intensively-farmed plains that were nowhere to be found in the world of the Andes. They found moving images; and then a record in which a village was stamped, fully formed, its entire history intact, onto a pristine landscape.

Please think for a moment about the cosmology with which we began. There are three domains: a creative space, our universe and a domain of records. The records shape the creative space to make our world, over and over again. A sufficiently enormous mind, they group argued, could create very similar, enormously detailed records. It would be possible to fool the creative space into bringing into existence what these records represent, bringing them to exist in our own world, replacing what was there before. The flows of enabling energy that would be required to bring this about would explain the destructive growths that Alcavicca had insinuated through the creative domain. The huge expansion in Titicaca would be explained by the construction of the necessary ‘mind’ from which these new records, this imposed template, could be derived.

They knew that Alcavicca was aware that they had captured his device, and that they would have interrogated it. They had to assume that he would have deduced their resulting thought processes. He had the power to erase them from existence as a failed experiment, and they had to believe that he would do precisely that, as and when he got around to it. The opposition group had been split between those who wanted to distract Alcavicca and those who wanted to extirpate him, at whatever cost. Now, though, Alcavicca was a clear existential threat and he had to go. Complex and messy warfare followed. Dying, he told Q'ilya that he had made teeming millions in the world beyond the Andes. They would come to her closed little world and they would obliterate everything that she had made. Then he was gone.

Searches were made for the "other people" but nothing could be found. They became a theoretical threat, and Q'ilya turned her talents to managing the aftermath of the crisis. Titicaca had fallen and there were refugees and trade routes to manage.

When she became old, she resigned to the son of two of her oldest friends, Manco. He was to the first Inca,a word simply meaning "boss". She was already the apu of Salkantay - one of Alcavicca's more useful presents - and she was carried there in procession from Qoshq'o, making her final journey in this world. She left her body, and our last glimpse of her was in ecstasy, sitting as the supreme court over the Andean apus .

Q'ilya's resting place, Salkantay from Dark Sun, Bright Moon

Salkantay, the resting place of Mama Q'ilya.