|“||Until now, not even I understood the strength of the spirit walker. Think what I can do with such power! I can learn the darkest secrets. I can bend all, all to my will! This is the will of the World Spirit! This is why it sent such a gift to me! With the spirit walker and the fire-opal I shall rule! All creatures, all demons will fear me and obey! Great power is bought with suffering, I know. But now you understand. You belong to me. Say it. Say that you belong to me!||„|
|~ Seshru gloating to Torak when she believes she has him under her thumb.|
|“||A snake can still bite when you cut off its head. But what intrigues me is that you never confided in your wolf boy. You're good at secrets. You get that from me. (Renn: I get nothing from you!) Daughter, why fool yourself? You can run all the way to the Edge of the World, it'll never be far enough! You can't run from what's in your marrow.||„|
|~ Seshru's dream version mocking Renn's resolve to be unlike her.|
Seshru is a major antagonist in Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series (which takes place 6,000 years ago in stone-age Europe). She is a Soul Eater who calls herself the Viper Mage. She first appears in Soul Eater and serves as the main antagonist of Outcast and the posthumous overarching antagonist of Viper's Daughter. She is the mother and archenemy of the deuteragonist Renn, and her other children include Hord from Wolf Brother and Naiginn, the main antagonist of Viper's Daughter.
Before Soul Eater
The majority of the life of the woman who would be known as Seshru is unknown. What is known is that she was the mate of the brother of Fin-Kedinn, the Raven Clan chieftain. She bore him a son named Hord, but when the Healers were founded, she left her mate and son to join them, changing her name and clan. Everyone except her mate believed her to be dead. It is unknown if she ever truly was a member of the Viper Clan, for when asked in Outcast, several members of said clan deny ever having a mage who became a Soul Eater.
At some point before or after the Great Fire, Seshru returned to her mate in secret. She required a child to create her own tokoroth, but the six-year-old Hord was too old for that purpose. Seshru was impregnated by her mate, but she thanked him by leaving him again, breaking his heart. She gave birth to their daughter in secret. Before she could conjure an elemental (the strongest type of demons) and bind it in her newborn's body with the Fire Opal, Saeunn the Raven Mage sought her out and saved the child. Seshru disappeared again while Saeunn told the Raven Clan that the child's mother was a now deceased woman from the Deep Forest. The girl was named Renn and raised by her father, and after his death by her uncle Fin-Kedinn. Renn learned her mother's identity at the age of seven from Fin-Kedinn after her father died. Unable to forget Seshru, he was searching for her and ended up being killed by a snowfall on the ice river beyond Lake Axehead. Though Renn had a gift in Magecraft, she refused to practice it because of her mother's memory. Seshru herself did not keep tabs on her daughter, so when they first meet in Soul Eater, she does not know about their kinship. She finds it out only during Outcast.
After the Great Fire, Seshru fled to the Far North in search of a refuge. She gained it by seducing Marupai, the mage of the Narwal Clan. When he was on fells, she walked towards him with sunlight behind her. Introducing herself as Ankanau, she said she came from the sun. Marupai believed her every word and soon shared a secret with her: he was the only Narwal who had found the Island at the Edge of the World where the Otherworld is close in the volcanic terrain. Seshru fooled him into taking her there, and there she birthed a son named Naiginn who was one year younger than Renn. She manipulated Marupai to believe the son to be his, when the father was actually her fellow Soul Eater Tenris.
Seshru took Naiginn to the Island's ice mountain, telling Marupai that she needed to cast on the "child of the sun" a spell to hide his blazing spirit so that it cannot burn mortals. In a cave under the ice mountain, she snared a powerful ice demon and trapped it in her infant, finally gaining her own tokoroth. In order to hide Naiginn's demonic nature from everyone, she cast on him a spell that also prevented him from feeding on the souls of the living. She eventually left Naiginn in the care of Marupai who would spend the rest of his life longing for her and even blinded himself by staring at the sun for too long. When Naiginn was seven years old, Seshru came to visit him and told him what he really was. Before leaving again, she promised to return when he grew up and unleash him upon the world. This was the last time Naiginn saw her.
Fourteen years after the Great Fire, Seshru joins forces with Eostra, Nef and Thiazzi to take over the Forest in wintertime. With one of the three Fire Opal pieces in their possession, they locate the Eye of the Viper, a mountain in the Far North. The mountain contains the Door, an underground place where the layer between the mortal realm and the Otherworld is thinnest. The Soul Eaters intend to find the Door and open it to release demons from the Otherworld. They would then bind the demons to their will with the Fire Opal and use them to force all the clans to submit to them.
In order to cast charms to protect themselves from demons, the Soul Eaters require nine predators as sacrifices. Seshru travels with Nef and Thiazzi to the Forest to hunt. After capturing Wolf, they start journeying back to the Far North and capture more predators along the way, unaware that Torak and Renn are pursuing them. In the Far North, Seshru uses a sleeping potion to sedate a polar bear, making it easier to capture. She also somehow steals from the Walker the claw-like stone he took from a cave that holds another doorway to the Otherworld. It is never revealed whatever or not Seshru recognizes the old mad outcast from the Otter Clan as the former Soul Eater Narrander.
Before dying during the plot of Spirit Walker, Tenris had sent for Seshru a message that said "The Wolf lives". Unsure of its meaning, the Soul Eaters keep Wolf separated from the other sacrifices. At one point, Seshru smears Wolf's pelt with elk blood while he is still defiant. She is revealed to have put something sedative in the blood after Wolf licks it and becomes drowsy. She also finds it amusing when he weakens enough to accept the meat Nef offers him.
When Torak and Renn track the Soul Eaters down to the Eye of the Viper, they encounter a boy from the White Fox Clan whom Nef has brought in to serve as an apprentice and one of the sacrifices. Torak takes his place, managing to fool the Soul Eaters who have hardly seen the White Fox boy's face. Seshru acts condescendingly towards Torak while she and the others reveal some of the Soul Eaters' plans. By using the Walker's stone claw, she locates the Door in a ritual that ends with her falling unconscious. She and Nef later find Torak unconscious in the chamber where the predators are contained. Seshru senses souls in the air without realizing that they belong to Torak who is spirit walking. Nef checks on the animals to see if one of them is dead, almost discovering Renn who is hiding among them. Impatient to get some rest before the Opening of the Door, Seshru tells Nef to leave the animals and Torak be before they leave.
While Torak and Renn find and free Wolf, the Soul Eaters slaughter the polar bear and a lynx as they are about to open the Door. During the rite, Seshru wears the lynx's skinned pelt while she and Thiazzi keep away the slaughtered predators' vengeful souls. After Nef realizes that Torak has released all the contained animals and raises the alarm, a fight ensues between the Soul Eaters and Torak, Renn and Wolf. While Nef and Thiazzi confront the heroes, Seshru rushes to the Door and opens it, releasing a flock of demons. This only lasts for a short while before Renn throws a torch in Seshru's back, causing her to close the Door. After Torak makes Eostra drop the Fire Opal, Renn takes it and flees with Torak and Wolf. Without the Fire Opal, the Soul Eaters cannot control the demons they have released.
Seshru, Nef and Thiazzi (along with Eostra's eagle owl) pursue the three heroes in order to reclaim the Fire Opal. They catch Torak after he has been separated from Wolf and Renn. When Nef finds and recognizes the ceremonial knife Torak's father passed down to his son, the boy's identity finally dawns on the Soul Eaters. Seshru considers it to be a disappointment that Tenris' message about the wolf living meant that they have the adolescent son of the turncoat Soul Eater against them. The three Soul Eaters then force Torak to lead them to Renn who has the Fire Opal, though not before Seshru forcefully tattoos the Soul Eaters' symbol on the boy's chest.
By the time Renn is found, she plans to jump in a chasm with the Fire Opal in order to destroy its power before the Soul Eaters threaten her with arrows. Lured by the scent of Torak's blood, a polar bear appears, and Torak spirit walks in it. When this happens, the enraged Seshru realizes that Torak is a spirit walker before the boy uses the bear's strength to send her flying through the air, knocking her unconscious. As Torak fights Thiazzi, Wolf drives the released demons there with the help of an arctic wolf pack. Nef takes the Fire Opal from Renn and sacrifices herself to repay her debt to Torak's father. The demons follow her down the chasm and end up being trapped under ice while the Fire Opal's power becomes undone. Seshru and Thiazzi flee to fight another day.
Manipulating from the shadows
When it is two months since the ending of Soul Eater, Seshru sets in motion her own plans to gain power. After Aki , the son of the Boar Clan's chieftain, finds some red deer antlers and marks them as his claim, Seshru rubs the mark off. Torak finds the antlers and takes them, leading to Aki accusing him of stealing them. As Aki attempts to fight Torak, he accidentally exposes the latter's Soul Eater tattoo. This leads to Torak being branded as an outcast who must be killed on sight and cannot be helped by anyone under the threat of being cast out as well.
For the next two months, Seshru spies on Torak from a distance. Having stolen from the Otter Clan's healing spring their sacred green clay, she uses it to conceal herself. This makes Wolf unable to recognize her from her scent, and he refers to her as "Other" or "the Otherness" because of this. When Torak cuts off his Soul Eater tattoo in a rite, Seshru tampers with his special herb drink. As the result, he spirit walks in an elk and attacks Renn while he sleeps. He later sneaks into a clan meet and takes back something he made for Renn in Spirit Walker: a pebble on which he daubed his so-called clan tattoo in perfect detail. He ends up leaving it in a tree's cleft, allowing Seshru to claim it. She uses the pebble and Torak's cut Soul Eater tattoo to torment him through his dreams and make him suffer from soul-sickness that leads to him driving Wolf away from him while they are at Lake Axehead.
By stealing the sacred green clay from the Otter Clan's healing spring, Seshru makes Lake Axehead sick. The lake offers only deformed fish, making it hard to feed the Otter Clan. The lake's water level lowers as the eastern ice river does not provide meltwater for it as it normally does. Seshru takes credit for all of this, attempting to scare the lake's inhabitants to submit to her.
Renn and Bale arrive at Lake Axehead to help Torak. Renn is eventually forced to use her gift in Magecraft and send help for the sick Torak. Seshru attempts to prevent this from a distance, but Renn succeeds by sending two young ravens — Rip and Rek — for Torak to take care of. This sets in motion his healing process, allowing him to reconcile with Wolf and spend time with a wolf pack that limits Seshru's movements.
The final confrontation
Seshru contacts Torak in his dream, posing as Renn. She advises him to go to the healing spring and bathe it in order to heal his festering wound that was left from the removal of the Soul Eater tattoo. Torak climbs to the cliff where the spring is located and bathes his chest. He also eats crowberries without realizing that Seshru has poisoned them and falls asleep.
Upon waking up, Torak finds himself paralyzed and Seshru preparing her spells next to him. She heals his festering wound, having decided that she no longer needs the boy's cut Soul Eater tattoo to draw him to her. She shows Torak his name-pebble which she has adorned with a green clay snake. She says that it allows her to control him so that she has no need to take his spirit walker power for herself. When she finds out from his thoughts that he had made the pebble for Fin-Kedinn's niece, she finally realizes that Renn is her daughter, though she does not tell this to Torak. The Viper Mage then reveals that she wants to find one of the two remaining Fire Opal pieces. She forces Torak to spirit walk in a viper and orders him to kill Renn. Before the snake can bite Renn, Rip and Rek chase it away. Torak returns to his body and tells Seshru that he bit Renn. Seshru is too ecstatic about her apparent control over Torak to realize Renn is still alive.
Torak escapes while Seshru sleeps and finally reunites with Renn and Bale. However, when they discover that the wolf pack has left, Seshru confronts them at the abandoned den. She renders Bale and Torak reluctant to attack her by appealing to her apparent unarmedness. She then reveals in sadistic delight Renn's kinship with her. Shocked and feeling betrayed, Torak runs away with Bale pursuing him. Renn runs in another direction and steals the Viper Mage's boat. Seshru appears at the shore and trades words with her daughter. She reveals that she birthed Renn just to make her a tokoroth, shocking Renn who has only been told that Seshru intended to sacrifice her. Warning that Renn is powerless against her, Seshru disappears.
The ice river releases a flood to cleanse the area of Seshru's taint, and the clans that are present are saved when they take refuge on the Hogback ridge. Though they are warned of the danger by Torak, most of the clansmen still want to kill him. When he shows them the Fire Opal piece he has found hidden in the hilt of his father's knife, Seshru appears, adorned in the green clay. The men are too frightened to attack her as she closes on Torak, demanding the Fire Opal for herself. Pretending to relent, Torak places it on a boulder between them, and Seshru smiles triumphantly. To her horror, however, Torak takes a lump of granite to smash the Fire Opal. This prompts the Viper Mage to draw a knife and leap towards him. Bale takes Renn's bow and shoots an arrow in Seshru's chest as Torak shatters the Fire Opal at the same time. Renn places the shards in Seshru's palm and forcefully clenches the hand in a fist, allowing the Opal's power to die with the Viper Mage who can only swear with her dying breath that it is not over. Torak helps Renn to draw the Death Marks on her mother while Wolf drives the Viper Mage's souls away.
With Seshru dead, Torak is accepted back by the clans, and he reconciles with Renn. The Otter Clan takes Seshru's body to a remote bay of Lake Axehead for funeral rites. Rip and Rek find Torak's name-pebble and return it to him, and he lets it sink in the lake. The Fire Opal piece that Seshru unwillingly took with her to her grave leaves only one to be destroyed.
Seshru's spirit appears briefly in Ghost Hunter when Eostra summons her with the other deceased Soul Eaters. They are all under Eostra's control because the Eagle Owl Mage possesses their hair. When the spell is broken, they vanish.
In Viper's Daughter, three years after Seshru's death, her tokoroth son Naiginn has become at the age of sixteen the best hunter in the Far North, with no-one aware of his true nature. He longs to be free of his mother's masking charm so that he can feed on the souls of the living, but the charm can only be broken by a mage related to Seshru in the ice cave were it was cast. Unable to do Magecraft himself, he decides to take his half-sister Renn to the Island at the Edge of the World. He stages accidents that cause her to believe that she is subconsciously trying to hurt her mate Torak. Thinking her mother might be influencing her beyond the grave, she sets alone on a journey to the Far North in search of a solution.
Leaving Torak without telling him anything and adopting a fake identity on her journey makes Renn fear that she is turning out to be like her mother. Before meeting Naiginn, she has a dream in which Seshru gloats about their similarities and warns her that what Renn will be up against is worse than the Viper Mage was. It is implied that Seshru's spirit is contacting her daughter, for when Renn wakes up, she finds evidence of the charm she supposedly made in her dream to hurt Torak.
Naiginn manages to take Renn to the ice cave where he was created, but she outsmarts him by taking an example from their mother's deceptive skills. She afterwards defeats him with Torak's help, and he is apparently finished off by a mammoth's spirit. The adventure teaches Renn that even if she has similarities with her evil mother, she can use them for good purposes, so she starts doing Magecraft more. However, she has another dream of Seshru who questions if Naiginn is truly dead and repeats her last words in life that it is not over.
Seshru is a slender and attractive woman. She has a long black hair and slanting lynx eyes that are dark blue. Her beautiful mouth and small, pointed tongue are dyed black. It is for this reason that Wolf calls Seshru "Viper-Tongue". Like her daughter Renn, she has a pale skin and high-boned, regular features. She often smiles in a mocking sideways manner, and her soft voice reminds Wolf a little of Renn.
Seshru's supposed clan tattoo is situated on her high brow. It is a stark and vertical black line of arrowheads that resembles the markings of a snake. Like the other Soul Eaters, she has a three-pronged black fork tattooed over her heart. In Soul Eater, she wears a supple seal-pelt tunic. In Outcast, she wears a tunic made out of supple buckskin that is fringed with snakeskin that caresses her bare arms and calves.
While not necessarily a born member of the Viper Clan, Seshru is very much like her supposed totem and does everything sideways. She injects her venom into her victim and patiently allows it to slowly weaken them before she finishes the job, like she does with Torak in Outcast. When she changed her name (which is said to mean the same as death), she changed her old identity for another like a snake sheds its skin. When Eostra summons Seshru's spirit in Ghost Hunter, the Eagle Owl Mage calls her a seducer who is subtle as snake.
Seshru is ruthless and has no morals. She is not afraid to use her beauty to her own advantage. She broke the heart of Renn's father by leaving him when he was of no use to her anymore, and she did it again when she returned to him just to have a baby. She ruined Marupai's life by making him love her fervently and take care of a son that was not even his. She uses her beauty to try and make Torak fall under her charm. She also feigns being a helpless woman when she confronts Bale, using his reluctance to attack an unarmed woman against him.
Seshru is a skilled liar and willing to take credit for actions that are not her own, like with some of Lake Axehead's events. Like the other Soul Eaters, she claims that they alone know the will of the World Spirit and considers herself above the laws of the clans. She claims in Outcast that Torak was led into her clutches by the World Spirit's will and that they are not different due to being outcasts whom the clans fear because of their power. Making the masses obey her through fear — like with the title of a Soul Eater — ecstasies her, but she considers Tenris' Demon Bear, which was too powerful for him to control, to have been a piece of magnificent madness.
Seshru enjoys making others do her bidding. When she has a chance to eat Torak's heart and take his spirit walker power for herself while he sleeps, she chooses to take control of him and force him to use his power in her name instead. She also has two vipers under her command. They disappear after she dies, though, not giving the impression of being evil. While nightshade is favored by the Soul Eaters, Seshru likes using the toxic plant even more so.
Seshru is highly vain and considers herself to be superior to everyone else. She often taunts Torak and Wolf as well as sneers at Nef's consideration towards Torak and the sacrifices. When she tells Torak Renn's secret of being the Viper Mage's daughter, Seshru delights in driving a wedge between them. She is implied to have a friendship with Thiazzi, and she is shown to get along with him well. For all her bravado, however, she tends to overlook things in her arrogance and impatience.
Seshru does not seem to have any maternal instincts. She abandoned her son Hord to join the Soul Eaters and is never shown making any mention of him. She birthed Renn and later Naiginn only so that she could create a tokoroth, sparing Hord from such a fate only because he was too old for that. Her first act upon learning that Renn is her daughter is to force Torak to bite her in the body of a snake. She considers Renn to be weak for having her father's heart, but she does give some acknowledgement for Renn's skill in Magecraft, saying that perhaps she should be proud of her. She also loves to point out the similarities between them, something Renn hates to acknowledge. However, Renn admits that as much as she hates Seshru, the Viper Mage is determined like herself.
Powers and Abilities
Seshru's special ability as a Soul Eater is her extensive knowledge about herbs and potions. She can sense spirits around her, like when Torak spirit walks. She can communicate with others on a psychic level, like she does with Renn and Torak. She is also a master of illusions. While having Torak at her mercy in Outcast, she demonstrates the ability to get tips of information from his thoughts. She was also able to cast on Naiginn a charm that conceals his true nature as a tokoroth even from Wolf.