Chapter 27: Into Dusk

“The existence of death is the first lie we are taught. There is little difference between a corpse and a man, save the journey of the soul. They who learn to slip this noose find the threshold of apotheosis, for in the denial of passing they have taken themselves beyond the yoke of fate.”
– Translation of the Kabbalis Book of Darkness, widely attributed to the young Dead King

I’d almost expected an army to be waiting on the other side when I opened the gate into Arcadia, but it seemed my bag of unwelcome complications was full at the moment. And to think, it’d only taken war with half the continent and every hero the Heavens could put together before we’d reached that point! Sadly, I was not unaware that the moment I started believing we’d reached the bottom of the barrel some Choir would pop in, yell surprise in a monotone and reveal there was a false bottom below leading into another barrel entirely.

“What’s the word they have in the Free Cities, for the snake that eats its own tail?”  I asked Hakram.

“Ouroboros,” he replied, hairless brow cocking.

There it was. In summary, my life was a veritable ouroboros of bad decisions feeding into increasingly horrible messes. I had to own up to at least that much, headed as we were towards what might just be the worst decision yet.

“You’re brooding,” Adjutant said.

“I don’t brood,” I replied without missing a beat.

He rolled his eyes.

“You are looking thoughtfully into the distance, a melancholy air on your face,” he said.

“I’m a complicated woman, Hakram,” I said. “You can’t begin to grasp the depths of my ponderings.”

Archer snorted ahead of us. Unkindly so, I decided.

“Like you can talk, Indrani,” I sneered. “You’re about as complex as a rock.”

“Geology is a broad and complicated field of study, actually,” Masego said.

Archer preened.

“See?” she said. “Even Zeze agrees I’m a woman of many facets. Unlike some others that won’t be mentioned.”

She turned to grin at me.

“Oh, things are going badly,” she mocked in a high-pitched voice.  “Better stab my way out of it. But stabbing is bad, for some inexplicable reason. What a difficult dilemma.”

I flipped her off.

“Don’t expect silver at the end of the trip, wench,” I said. “Mouthy guides don’t get handouts.”

“That’d be very inconsiderate of you, Catherine,” Vivienne mused. “She’s been such a peach so far. I’ll hold onto the coin for her, if you’d like.”

“You’ve already robbed the treasury once, Thief,” I replied flatly. “Try something fresh, for Below’s sake.”

It was pretty inevitable that a journey this, well, boring would see us turn to bickering to pass the time. Hierophant had been rather miffed that we’d kept the supplies to a bare minimum, since it meant he couldn’t spell himself atop a horse and crack open a book while we guided his mount. It’d taken three days before he stopped dropping hints this was all very uncivilized. The Woe’s only tagalong was my trusty Zombie the Third, and she at least wasn’t complaining about carrying most our supplies in her saddle-bags. It was a dark day indeed when the dead flying unicorn was the most trustworthy of my companions. I glanced up and sighed when I saw the sun was only beginning to reach afternoon height. We had hours left before making camp.

“We’ll reach the outskirts of Winter by nightfall,” Indrani suddenly said. “I know this place.”

I followed her gaze and found a mound of earth covered in dead grass, maybe half a mile away. We hadn’t seen any structures in days, not since we’d passed the demesne of the Count of False Blooming. Three weeks since we’d left Callow, and only now was the throb in the back of my mind that indicated the location of our path out beginning to feel measurably closer.

“I don’t think this is really Winter anymore,” I said quietly.

Hierophant, who’d been trailing behind and repeatedly weaving cooling spells around himself so he wouldn’t sweat for the exercise, put a spring to his step so he could catch up.

“You perceive our surroundings as different, even though they do not appear to be,” he said.

I chewed over that for a while before speaking.

“Before I could feel…” I grasped for the word. “Currents, in this place. Skade felt much different from the Summer territories we campaigned on. Archer says we’re supposed to be in Winter, but it doesn’t feel anything like that to me.”

“The wedding of the king and queen of Arcadia might have affected the very nature of this realm, then,” Masego murmured. “Interesting. If the effect is permanent, centuries of research on the fae might become useless.”

“The less anyone has to do with fae, the better,” I said, not unaware of the irony involved.

“Unfortunate that we do not have the time to study the phenomenon in depth,” Hierophant said. “Your word alone is not enough. You are ignorant and possibly under influence.”

Archer smothered a laugh and Hakram went suspiciously still, like he was trying not to smile. I looked at Masego for a long beat. It’d been said so mildly I knew it wasn’t actually an insult, but sometimes I did hope someone would eventually manage to badger some tact into him.

“That was insulting, Masego,” Vivienne called out from Zombie’s other side.

“Was it?” Hierophant said, glass eyes flicking to the side. “But it was all true.”

I patted his shoulder gently.

“We don’t call people ignorant, Masego,” I told him.

“But the overwhelming majority of them are,” he said, aghast.

“And I could spit in your morning tea, but I don’t,” I said. “Because refraining from doing that makes interacting more agreeable.”

He looked less than convinced.

“If they are never informed of their ignorance, how will they be made aware of the need to remedy it?” he pointed out, evidently believing this was reasonable.

“Remember our heroic battle cry, Zeze,” Indrani called out.

His expression cleared.

“Ah,” he mused. “Lies and violence. I understand.”

He turned to me and offered a beaming smile.

“You are well-read and conversant in magical theory, Catherine,” he said. “Well done.”

Hakram let out a sound that aimed to be a giggle but came out like a dozen angry cats being ground between millstones. I rubbed the bridge of my nose.

“Thank you, Masego,” I said, reaching for calm.

He nodded, pleased, and trotted ahead to speak with Archer.

“I am well-read,” I complained at Hakram in a low voice.

“Compared to him?” the orc chuckled. “There’s libraries that would feel inadequate.”

Yeah, fair enough. It wasn’t like there weren’t gaps in Masego’s knowledge, but it was hard to beat personal tutoring by an incubus that preceded the Empire and a sorcerer that cut open Creation to find out how it worked.

“I find it interesting, though,” Hakram murmured. “What you said, about it feeling different.”

I glanced at him, silently inviting the orc to elaborate.

“Have you noticed?” Adjutant said. “The further we stray from ‘Winter’ territory, the less… alive the landscape become.”

“Winter’s never exactly been a field of flowers,” I pointed out.

He conceded that with an inclination of the head, but did not further agree.

“The mound Indrani used as a marker,” he said. “There was dead grass upon it.”


“Does it look to you like it was killed by snow?” he said.

Frowning, I took a closer look. When snows in Callow melted, the grass below came out yellow or green. From what little I’d seen anyway, I didn’t usually campaign in winter and I’d been raised in the city until nearly seventeen. The grass above the mound, though was… grey. I did not feel dead of natural causes. My fingers drummed against my side absent-mindedly.

“Warlock once told Malicia that Arcadia has a degree of symmetry with Creation,” I said.

“So you’ve told me,” Adjutant agreed.

“That doesn’t make any sense, Hakram,” I said quietly. “I mean, fitting journeys through Arcadia with a bird’s eye view of Calernia is pretty much impossible but we shouldn’t be anywhere close to the Kingdom of the Dead. Maybe halfway through the Proceran leg of the trip.”

“There is much we do not understand about the Dead King,” the orc said. “It is known he ruled a great kingdom, once but there is hardly any mention of it in the histories.”

“Because it was ancient,” I said sceptically. “And it’s not that unusual. No one knows what Ater’s original name was, or even the name of the kingdom centred around it. That’s what happens when people fuck around with demons.”

I’d been taught at the orphanage the reason for the existence of the ‘Nameless Kingdom’ was likely a demon of Absence, or that the Miezans had used a Censure after facing entrenched resistance. The latter theory wasn’t all that popular, since they were known to have use that only a handful of times across the entire lifespan of their empire.

“There are Callowan and Praesi oral histories contemporary to what would have been the Dead King’s predecessors,” Hakram said. “Yet no mention of a great power in the north.”

Which didn’t mean all that much, since back in those days most current nations didn’t even exist and those that had were pretty much unrecognizable when compared to what they now were. But he did have a point, kind of.

“So you think that he, what?” I said. “Shunted off parts of the kingdom into Arcadia?”

“The elves have done the same with the Golden Bloom twice now,” Adjutant said. “It is not impossible. A sorcerer capable of conquering a hell would certainly be capable of achieving as much.”

“If he was active outside his kingdom and his hell, someone would have heard of it by now,” I said. “I doubt he could gain a foothold in Arcadia without going to war with the courts, anyway. And that would have made waves.”

“It would now, certainly,” Hakram said. “Sorcery has been refined for centuries, states capable of sparing attention outside their borders and immediate threats have emerged. When most the continent wielded stone axes, however? A different story.”

Shit. That might actually be true. If it had all turned into myth millennia ago, whatever stories would have existed about it might have grown so different and twisted they were useless as a cornerstone.

“Lots of ifs,” I finally said.

“We will find out soon enough,” Hakram said. “But there are few entities in existence we should be warier of underestimating than the Hidden Horror.”

And on that cheerful note, we joined the others.

“So,” I said. “Anyone else have a bad feeling about this?”
“Yes,” Hakram bluntly said.

“Haven’t had a good one in years,” Vivienne admitted.

The other two minions ignored me. Indrani’s eyes were bright and excited, her stance coiled like she could barely keep herself from running forward. Masego, on the other hand, had gone eerily still aside from his hands and eyes. Which all moved from rune to rune traced in the air, as he let out little noises of surprise or delight whenever one of the colours or shapes changed.

I decided to leave him at it a little longer, eyes turning back to the eerie sight displayed before me. It was a kingdom. Or, at least, the shattered remnants of one. I had not chosen that word lightly: it was not a whole but a collection broken shards left wherever they fell, dropped by the hand of some unknowable god. Some shards seemed like they fit together – for half a mile a lake’s shoreline could be seen, with fishermen dragging their boats out under the noon sun – but others were almost painfully disparate. I saw a city street lead into a dark forest, a river flow out of a crowded fair and those were the least of it. In the distance I glimpsed warriors fighting in the pitch black darkness of a plain, next to the almost idyllic view of the sun rising over a peaceful farm.

“Indrani?” I said.

“No fucking idea, Catherine,” she said with relish. “I don’t even think the Lady has seen this before. She would have mentioned it for sure.”

Less than reassuring. Either this place was hidden a lot better than it seemed, or even the likes of Ranger preferred to avoid it.

“I’ll get the obvious out first,” I said. “This looks like the Kingdom of the Dead. Before, well, the last part of that.”

“It could be ancient Procer,” Hakram noted. “It too has large lakes. So does Callow, for that matter.”

“No it isn’t,” Vivienne quietly said. “Look as far as out as you can see, slightly to the left of the centre.”

I squinted before seeing what she was speaking of. It was city. Much too small to be Ater, but it begged for the comparison anyway because at the heart of it jutted a tall spire of dark stone. Atop it was a smaller globe, hovering in the air, and I’d seen that illustration before in books.

“Keter,” I said. “Crown of the Dead.”

“Inaccurate,” Hierophant said. “This is, for lack of a better term, an echo.”

His lips were twitching into a delighted smile, as if he couldn’t believe his luck.

“And what does that mean exactly?” I asked.

“Reverberation,” he said, sounding awed. “An event touched Creation that was so great and momentous it forced reflection within Arcadia. This has fascinating implications, Catherine. There have been few rituals so powerful in Calernian history, but the Diabolist’s working at Second Liesse could be considered in the same league. There might very well be an echo of that battle somewhere in this realm.”

My fists clenched. So there was a repeat of one of the darkest failures to my name to be found somewhere around? Charming.

“Can it hurt us?” I asked.

“I cannot speak with certainty,” Hierophant said.

“Guess,” I flatly ordered him.

He looked irritated.

“I can theorize,” he stressed pointedly, “that we are in such misalignment with the echo we cannot physically interact with it. With the proper spells perhaps sound could be obtained, but touch or smell are much more difficult. It would take weeks of rituals.”

“Which we won’t be doing,” I said.

Cat,” Archer complained. “Think about it. There’s bound to be heroes and villains there. We could fight people that had been dead for millennia!”

“Maybe on the way back,” I lied.

She pouted.

“Masego, how is this possible at all?” Hakram asked. “I was under the impression that Arcadia spanned the whole of Creation as a mirror of sorts. Was the Dead King so powerful all the world shook from his transgression?”

Hierophant clicked his tongue.

“That is a misunderstanding,” he said. “Consider Arcadia as a single object being looked upon by an infinity of perspectives. To every one, it is a different realm. Across the Tyrian Sea, it likely has completely different name and seems inhabited by completely different entities. Even the marriage of Winter and Summer is contained within the span of our gaze only, unlikely to have tremors beyond. It is so with this echo as well. Something that was momentous on our understanding of the world is not necessarily so elsewhere.”

“And so Triumphant wept, for she ruled but a fraction of the world and knew it to be vast beyond her reckoning,” Vivienne quoted softly. “We are not so important as we like to believe.”

“We can debate the philosophical implications of this later,” I said. “I’m fairly certain our gate out is in not-Keter. Masego, you’re sure that if we walk through a battlefield we won’t get stabbed?”

“From our perspective, all of this is akin to light painting smoke,” Hierophant said. “We will pass through as if they were ghosts.”

He paused.

“Some ghosts,” he clarified. “There is actually a very board spectrum of-“

“And forward we go,” I interrupted cheerfully. “I’m not sure I trust my ice to get us through the water parts, so we’re talking the long way around through-“

I paused, glancing to the right.

“A town burning plague victims,” I finished with a sigh. “Charming. Let’s get a move on, I’m not spending any more nights in this place than I have to.”

That didn’t turn out to be a problem, as it happened. Arcadia had a night and day, though sometimes they weren’t matches everywhere, but this place obeyed different rules entirely. Every shard seemed to have a lifespan before it returned to the beginning, and most that took place during day or night remained so. There seemed to be no rule or reason to the few shards that lasted longer. We marched through an entirely empty green field for three days and nights as if it were entirely natural, then pushed through a similarly empty mountain pass where the same bird began to swoop down in the same manner every quarter hour. Hierophant found a way to allow us earshot after half a week, though the sounds came muted. Unsurprisingly, Indrani pushed for us to pass through as many battlefields as possible. We took a break to the side of a pitched battle between a few hundred soldiers decked in iron screaming as they charged down a hill and half as many soldiers wearing obsidian and copper breastplates. The howlers were winning even though the opposition had a handful of mages. Those to be seen were a joke compared to even Legion mages: it took clusters of four or five chanting for a while to toss around the kind of lightning bolts my senior mage officers sent down without breaking a sweat. I sat down and watched the killing as the other ate.

“I recognize some of what they’re saying,” Hakram told me, standing by my side with the remains of his jerky in hand.

“The obsidian guys?” I said.

He shook his head.

“The iron men,” he replied. “Some of what they’re screaming has common roots with Reitz.”

The Lycaonese tongue, spoken only in the mountainous northwestern stretch of Procer.

“That’s four times we run into them fighting the others,” I noted. “And they win more often than not.”

“An invasion?” Adjutant said.

“Maybe,” I frowned. “We haven’t seen them hit anything larger than a village yet, so raids are more likely.”

We ran into our first real city shard two days later. Masego had been getting progressively more irritated by his inability to explain why we could pass through buildings and people but not mountains or hills, but we stumbled unto something that perked him up. Inside a towering house of bricks we found a circle of twelve men and women standing by a wide basin of granite and spilling blood inside from their arms. The oldest among them, a withered old crone, chanted incantations in a language none of us knew that were repeated by the rest. I allowed a half hour break, if only to get him in a better mood. Hierophant in a mood was pleasant for no one.

“Early scrying,” he told us, kneeling by the ghostly ritual. “It is Trismegistan in nature, that much can be known by the cadence, but they use no runic stabilizers at all. It is primitive, I’ll grant you, but the sheer skill involved… Even Father could not use so complicated a formula purely by voice.”

We moved on before long. We were all getting restless, the eerie scenes beginning to take a toll, but none more so than Archer. The longer it went on, the more often she started taking walks after we set camp. It was a bad idea, in my eyes. We knew too little about the dangers of this place to wander aimlessly. But more than any of us Indrani had the wanderlust, and I could see how remaining within the dotted lines was getting her temper closer to the surface. I extracted a promise for her not to leave for too long, and left it at that. I’d expected that if any trouble found us it would be through her, but I ended up choking on my words. It was Masego that wandered away without a word, face pale. It surprised me, considering the shard we were travelling through was a battle. One with precious little sorcery involved. The iron men were fighting the soldiers of obsidian again, by far the largest engagement we’d seen. At least two thousand on each side, and the obsidian soldiers were taking a beating. In large part, I saw, because of the empty circle at the heart of the field. Two silhouettes were duelling there. A middle-aged woman with a crown of iron, wielding a heavy mace of stone. Against her fought a man in a tunic of shimmering copper, wearing a circlet of gold-linked rubies. His iron sword was broken in a parry, and then the iron-crowned queen pulped his skull on the grass.

It was there I found Masego. He wasn’t looking at the fighting, at the circle of screaming soldiers from both sides surrounding the duel. No, he stood slightly beyond that. His form dispersing a soldier. He was looking at pale-skinned man in furs, chest mostly bare and his neck covered with necklaces of iron and silver. The stranger Hierophant was staring at was beautiful, I decided. One of the most striking men I’d ever seen. It was like someone had ripped out the fantasy of a warrior consort and given it flesh.

“Masego?” I called out.

He did not answer. I hurried to his side, laying my hand on his shoulder.

“Are you in danger?” I asked.

Mutely Hierophant shook his head. After a long moment he spoke.

“That,” he said, pointing at the man, “is my father.”


86 thoughts on “Chapter 27: Into Dusk


    Go support Erratica on Patreon if you can! He does so much amazing work for us and he absolutely deserves to make *at least* a living wage off of his work on this story.

    Seriously, if you’d pay $20 for one of Erratica’s books, then you can chip in at least two bucks a month. He gives a book a year already, that’s a fine exchange. (Holy crap you give us a book of this a year how the fuck do you manage that?)

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Aston W

      I’m not sure how more isn’t being donated considering the quality of this story.

      The Inn makes 3700 a month through Patreon.

      But the ranking is not the same.

      Hope this story gets more donations.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LM

        He doesn’t market as successfully as he could. There are several promotional strategies left on the table. I would also take a few days and put together a swag shop with stickers and tshirts. Oh and find a niche printer that would craft well made, physical copies of the books. Hard covers preferably.

        But if he just wants to focus on his writing, well, I’m not going to complain!

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Aston W

          As long as it’s financially viable and the story continues.

          The Inn doesn’t sell except for 1 chapter ahead preview.

          You pay to see a chapter in advance.

          I’ll look at Practical Guides Patreon again.


  2. Interesting. I was hoping we would learn some of the lost histories of the Keter.
    We already have the Tyrant of Helike to fill the classic villain niche.
    The Dead King had to fill a more complicated role than that. I’m guessing he was a much more sympathetic villain than official Proceran histories preach.
    Which isn’t to say hes not a monster.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      He could also be another sort of classical villain. Akua was also one, and there was so very little overlap between her and Kairos.
      From what we’ve seen of him, he seems to be the mastermind type, whereas the Tyrant just likes to make messes.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. nerferf

      He may not have been a villain at all back then,

      Lots of stories of a ruler of a losing side making a deal to save their kingdom from invaders but they either didnt read the fine print or were tricked about what end form there kingdom would be

      usually its a warning about deals with certain things with the kingdom completely gone with some scholar talking about the history, instead the king and their kingdom didnt stay inactive/gone and kept active as a major player to current times

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nerferf

        Which now that i think about it has big implications for the current situation and exactly why the dead king may have survived to this day

        If he was forced to do his ritual because there nation was losing to the forebears of the Lycaonese in that era, he may have been able to keep going as the manifestation of his people vengeance at what was done to them by the Lycaonese, and it was noted that procer had gained a tendency to make there own enemies very easy

        And also cat is now being thinking of making a deal because her people are underseige and face destruction

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Rook

          Along those lines, the Arcadian projection of old Keter might be the key to it all.

          Since Keter currently exists in both creation and Arcadia as a mirror of creation, I wouldn’t be surprised if a caster of his caliber was able to reverse the normal effect and project himself into creation through Arcadia instead. Something that a very (comparatively) weak character like Cat definitely would be able to help with, considering her rather deep roots in both planes.


    3. Why exactly can’t he be a pure big E Evil like Sauron? God knows, for a story working on the power of narrative, there is a distinct lack of clear cut characters.


      1. nerferf

        Cause the world wasn’t even close to being organized or developed enough for him to be a world wide big bad back then

        His story would be limited to just his local area back in those days and unlike sauron he wasn’t a god who was part of the creation of the world, he was just another tribal ruler

        Liked by 8 people

        1. I meant the unsympathetic Evil monster, who does Evil just because it’s his nature. Though yes, I’m aware that Sauron has a tragic backstory. But I am little annoyed with the whole obsessment over making sympathetic Villains. Now whom do I hate? Whom do I root for? It’s so complex. My brain hurts.


          1. nerferf

            Cause there boring and only good for a couple of seasons and we already had aku for that,

            In a story about manipulating tropes and the nature of narrative no character can just be clearcut as it wrecks the whole point about a story about narratives and there meaning

            I mean the dead king is the first time we get to really glimpse at how much the narrative, stories and nations have changed from when the dead king first emerged to the present day and not using that story hook would be a waste

            Liked by 9 people

        2. nerferf

          Which makes him even more amazing as he something survived all this time and still be actually relevant even while all the stories around him kept on changing

          Staying relevant as a unchanging character while all the stories around keep changing as nations change and disappear calls into question if he was actually a unchanging char to begin with and how many roles he taken on over the thousands of years

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Metrux

            Well, we already know his power, or at least knkowledge, is growing, because Ranger saw for the first time undeads with Named power. So it isn’t a stretch to think he is actually changing and growing through each generation…


    4. SHARKS

      I’m betting he’s another anti-narative villian. He specifically responded to cat and the woe’s rise. The only thing really different about them is that they don’t act like traditional villians at all, and masego and cat in particular have a vested interest in breaking free of the “cage” of narratives. Triumphant was the other one that caught his notice, and her thing was rule-breaking demons.

      The dead King, despite all his power fought some other villians in hell (which doesn’t trigger the same kind of storylines that invading a good nation would do) warded off a few crusades and has laid low for millennia. I’m guessing he has a plan here, and it’s a lot more than just wanting some fae gates for a zombie attack.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Greywalker

        I doubt he is much of an anti-narrative villain. He only reached out to Cat and the Woe AFTER the Bard got the Hierarch off his butt. The gem in the Dead Kings possession activated/lit up signifying something, and an old demon roused. He may only reaching out because something is in play that will benefit him. One of the more enduring narratives here is that everyone, Good or Evil, are doing things either for themselves, or what they feel is “right” or “necessary”. Except the Tyrant, who is doing everything for gits and shiggles and just having fun being Evil.


      2. Gerionar

        I agree. My guess: The Dead Kingdom is something ancient Procer created by backing their victims into a corner. The same thing they are doing with Cat now.
        There is also the point that Mesago doesn’t get tired to remind people that necromancy isn’t per se Evil.


  3. Dainpdf

    So I guess the Incubus might shed some light on the Dead King’s history. One wonders why he has not. Fear of the consequences, perhaps. The man did conquer a Hell.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Or, if the Incubus was fighting here because he was bound by the (pre)Dead King, that could imply the Dead King still has some level of control over him. That would be a pretty good reason to freak out.

      Liked by 8 people

    2. grzecho2222

      From Red Skies
      “I was first called into being when the witch-queen of what you would now call the northern Principate became dissatisfied with her husbands. I was no longer young when the Miezans first came upon the shores of this continent, blown by a storm.”

      Liked by 11 people

      1. nerferf

        Ah so incubus was part of the army attacking the dead king’s people then, so that brings to questions just what side the gods above/below were on in this conflict back then

        Liked by 5 people

            1. Death Knight

              He weilds the ultimate power “plot armor”. He can only be beaten by THE hero, not a Hero since he is THE Villain, the Hidden Horror, Progenitor of Praes Sorcery, Everlasting Monarch of the Dead yadda yadda.

              Hest become imminently more mortal once Cat entered the Story though.


  4. grzecho2222

    So if Dead King seems to be shaping more and more like Cat (with doing Evil to protect his people) does this mean that May-She-Never-Return will also turn out to be someone who fought for their people? Both are painted as the worst of the worst, both are scowling all the time and we know who also does that

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thea

      It wouldn’t be the first time.

      Even the weather-stealer had legitimate concerns. As did a number of other considered-mad emperors and empresses.

      But it isn’t necessarily the case as obviously there are villains like Akua as well. We’ll just have to sit back, wait and enjoy where this is going, instead of clamoring “worst idea ever” or “best idea ever” before knowing… any details really.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. grzecho2222

        I ment it in “What if it doesn’t have to be powerful villain to summon Dead King, but someone who is similar to him enough in story sense” way more than that

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Death Knight

          Given how the most powerful magical workings we’ve been shown require symmetry between its components (Warlock summoning a hell wrought with storms only when the storm the Witch of the Wilds conjured up in Creation reached its apex) that is an entirely reasonable hypothesis.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. danh3107

    Oh holy shit, we’re probably seeing the Witch Queen that Tikoloshe (hope I spelled that right) mentioned who first summoned him. That’s super interesting

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Metrux

      Actually he never said he was summoned by her, but in the time when she grew dissatisfied with her husbands, so… He could be on wither side, or even outside of the conflict… Though, he appears here as a soldier on the side against her.


  6. edrey

    so, the incubus (and probably all the ancient devils) could be a spy for the death king to the evil side
    the death king being the ancient version of cat has low chance of being true.
    there are a lot of holes, in the extra chapter there was an ancient legionary, how he end there?, before triumphant procer were just a bunch of petty kingdoms, how could not be unite against that great danger, and the other borders are not that great, rats, people inside mountains and the golden bloom. a intervention of the gods below doing nothing? demons cant be the answer to that right?
    well, on the other hand, there is not need to worry if liese is destroyed, you can go there and copy the ritual.
    those mirages are probably the story how the death king ended like that. if cat do something similar, the ilusion would start with black and the knife


    1. Metrux

      You’re taking this too literally, people are saying he is like her in the sense that he does “villainy” for good reasons, though I don’t agree with the theory, it has it’s merits, and you shouldn’t simply disregard it. Think clearly, what are the many holes you see? The story is pretty complicated, but for all we know he was a betrayed ruler who resorted to dying and coming back, studying all this tiem to bring true life back to his undeads, so he can “revive” his kingdom. Yes, it’s not likely, but for all we know it’s possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Snowfire1224

    Just something interesting that I thought I’d mention now that Tikoloshe is being mentioned again, but apparently a Tikoloshe is a water sprite in Zulu mythology. They can become invisible by drinking water and are called on by people to cause trouble for others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stormcaller

      Can become invisible?
      Causes trouble for others?
      around forever?

      out there idea then: is there any chance Tikoloshe is the pre-Name of WB?


    2. Death Knight

      As a native South African I can back up this legend. Though Tokoloshes here are viewed more akin to michievious goblins as opposed to “spirits”.


    3. Um. Yes-no. Tockoloshes (as in the water entities) are from the Cape and predate Bantu incursions, much like Mantis tales do. And, for the same reason: Khoekoe/ Griqua. Tok-tok, qwagga, gogga, eina and tokoloshe — older than you think, but all repurposed.

      Tokoloshes have changed over time, though. But… trickery, shackles, water and their abiding love of children (in their own way) has always been their bag, whatever else about their tales change. 🙂

      Tokoloshes (as in made things/ forbidden things/ artificial things/ dire secrets/ Frankenstein monsters) — that’s more Xhosa-bleeding-into-Zulu-and-beyond.

      I’m from the Eastern Cape. I grew up with tokoloshe tales of all stripes and tragedies.


      1. Death Knight

        Hahaha awe my bru, greetings from the Northern Cape. I can see you’ve done your research on this so I’ll concede the points. I only know of them from tales told to me by my parents and grand parents and since cultures have differing spins on the same stories differences are bound to come up with the same entities. So yeah


        1. Tso, ja. I don’t ever knock the Northern Cape — mainly because you guys know how to fight dirty with frozen Bar Ones and can argue Free State into the ground. XD

          And, you have your own repurposed Nama and trek tales busy getting horribly warped in cities all across the region.

          I will always be biased, though: give me any tokoloshe tale of horror, comedy, wits, a little questionable love, revenge and bundles of tragedy over a mawkishly shallow homesick/ lovesick/ ghost song concerned with travelling yesterday-today-tomorrow in the Platteland. 😉


  8. grzecho2222

    So Dead King took over Hell to hide his people in it from this female Conan? Also how old was he when he done that, could it be that Creepy Child Act is not an act?


    1. superkeaton

      The Dead King can most likely “wear” corpses. Remember, he’s been on the field before for lesser engagements without truly entering creation, so he can probably work through or possess the dead he commands.

      He probably just wanted to be a dead child to be a creepy asshole.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Death Knight

        Ranger confirmed the “body hopping” ability in the chapter Regard. She specifically stated that the Dead King can easily assume direct command of the rank and file undead so that is likely the case.


        1. grzecho2222

          That doesn’t mean that Kid isn’t his true body, I have a feeling that this may be some plot twist, like “If you kill him, you get stuck as the New Dead King, while he is free to do something or is finally free from his kinda sad life”


          1. He’s probably a classic lich.
            As the greatest necromancer to exist, he simply has such a mastery of souls that bodies mean very little to him. Even Akua tried to set up a second chance with a newborn body and bound her soul to an object.
            Probably a reason he can’t leave the hell’s easily is that he bound his soul to something there, maybe this “Crown of the Dead”.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. grzecho2222

              Or he could be like Kościej (who is older than classic lich) given that Sorcerous is evil version of Twardowski and it would fit with Wizard of the West being Merlin.


  9. spencer

    I’m confused by who the copper people are. This seems like a strong victory for the Lycaonese witch-queen over the copper king, which would suggest he is not the dead king. Maybe an Alamanian king, to fit with Cat’s sense of how far they’ve come? However, this doesn’t fit with the glimpse of Keter in the distance and the supposition that the echos should be related to the greater breach that made the Kingdom of the Dead. Wouldn’t we expect the echos to be limited to the battle where the breach was made?


    1. nerferf

      Probably the dead kings father, and these are the event that led to the dead king doing what he did

      The making of the breach would not be the start of the dead kings story it would be the highpoint in it, that means cat is watching the prologue and is seeing how the story of the dead king began from the start

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Metrux

        I disagree, this could very well be the Dead King. There is a reason he is not called Undying King instead, he died before. He conquered a hell FROM THE INSIDE. Maybe he died in this battle, that is how his story trully began.


        1. lennymaster

          He did not conquer a Hell from the INSIDE. It was repetadly stated that he INVADED it.
          The theory of the Copper King being the then not yet Dead Kings father seems pretty substantial to me.
          He could have inherinted the throne from his in battle slain father and saw no other way to protect his people by conquering a new home, comiting atrocities to make it possible.
          Much like Cat is willing to negotiate with him to protect Callow.


  10. Actually, what about Dead King being said Witch Queen? I mean, what if Dead King is just a front, not a Name, like the Black Queen is not a Name as well?


    1. Yotz

      He also might have reanimated himself through sheer power of hatred once he was slain by her – hence the “dead” part; or – as an option – it’s the analogue of the “First Prince” title situation, where female-gendered form of “King” simply had not existed yet at the time, therefore it literally was not possible to properly name the wearer of Iron Crown.

      Although, as a speculation most curious – what if the Dead King is actually dead, and was preserved as a reliquiae in the Mausoleum of Keter, from which he is risen in the moments of need by the Central Committee of the Sorcerous Party of the Nameless Kingdom? It surely explains why he is not seen beyond the certain radius – apparatchiks are not very keen on leaving safety and comfort of Keter’s Shadow behind…


      1. grzecho2222

        Pharaohs and Kings of Poland were also sometimes women, but I don’t that this is the case since he seem to be too much of depressed overlord who is lonly


  11. Gunslinger

    Damn they haven’t reached the gates of Keter yet but the look into Arcadia and the ghost of Keter past is fascinating.
    We also finally get the answer to the question of how Arcadia looks in other continents


      1. Yotz

        Why, one can imagine Arbuda and Raurava quite clearly, I think. Or Dikte, or Svartalfheim, or Iriy – though half of thouse technically are hells and heavens, but. So are the Courts of Fair Folk, from a certain point of view. And after all, who knows what lies beyond the edge of dromos…


  12. Raved Thrad

    Wait, what?

    Did Catherine just take all of The Woe with her into Arcadia on a trip with no definite duration, leaving the Pilgrim in the middle of her camp / army with no Named to oppose him?

    This strikes me as just a little irresponsible.

    Based on her conversation with him in the last chapter, it’s clear that the Pilgrim is trying to subvert the Black Queen. He also states clearly that thousands dying unfairly and unjustly is not a consideration for anything because, y’know, he’s okay with that. After all, he’s going to suffer for something at some unknown future time, so whatever suffering he causes between now and then, whether by action or inaction, is perfectly fine.

    So why does she suddenly think he’s going to keep his word? It’s been demonstrated time and again that those on the side of Good do what is expedient, not what is necessarily right.

    What’s to prevent someone named The Peregrine from swooping to attack the way a hawk of that name would? What better way to subvert the Black Queen than to destroy her army?

    This cannot possibly end well, above and beyond whatever else happens in Keter.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Metrux

      Time shenanigans, my friend. They could very well have went only fifteen minutes inside, especially since it is known that the gates go through when most dramatic, if the Heroes decide to destroy her whole army she will probably come back at the exact right time to counter them.


  13. ______

    This seems like a good time to address a question that has been bothering me for a while: how deliberate was the chain of events that led to the rise of the Dead King? See, Akua mentions in interlude Chiaroscuro that he opened his Greater Breach to spread undeath across what had been his kingdom, but even she implies that Keter turning into what it did was not a planned occurence. What if the whole “undead” business was more of an improvisation than previously assumed?

    We know from the order of magnitude of the energy wasted in the course of opening the gate that Trismegistus opened it by himself and not through a group ritual, converting the biggest possible amount of power an individual can. The scrying ritual in this chapter implies that the early Trismegistian sorcery in general relied on skill of individual casters rather than on elements like runes/devils/enchanted items. Thing is, the witch-queen is on the side of Lycaonese here, fighting in close quarters with the other Named, they have the technological advantage and the other side uses rituals to throw lightning bolts. I get that the numbers and iron weapons are on the invaders’ side but is magic that ineffective in comparison? Most importantly, this is the fifth battle the Woe are coming by. How come we saw no combat diabolists yet?

    Diabolism is, judging by the tidbits we saw so far, the discipline that relies on the individual casters the most. They have practices that prevent mental bleedover from stronger devils, the binding is done by the mages themselves (even to the inanimate objects), and the bindings themselves are called contracts for a reason. We know the mages of Keter knew enough about lesser hells for Trismegistus to open a permanent portal there, and even with the cost, summoning some akalibsa through a temporary one could potentially have at least evened the numbers.

    Could they have afforded the cost, though? A sole mage has only so much power in him; even if they have some primitive rituals, the defenders of Keter would need to sacrifice something to call on the devils. The iron queen is evidently a diabolist herself, and her only summon is what, a young succubus? Even for a Named, the kind of power required to summon a devil is not something that just lies around. So where did Trismegistus get it? All battles so far are part of the same campaign, and while the lesser gods like the one in Greywood, the one that Sabah killed to become the Capitain and the cranes of Stygia don’t necessarily interact with mortals on regular basis, they wouldn’t have caused no effect whatsoever either.

    We didn’t see any equivalent of Watch or berserkers on either side of the conflict so far, and while the effects of Trismegistus being in the posession of a source of power massive enough to poke a hole in reality may yet show themselves, there are only three unlikely candidates for that role so far: the scrying, the lightning rituals and the plague. Skip the next part if you want, I’m making a lot of assumptions about magic there.

    I included the magical rituals here because, well, the only time we saw someone invent what looked like an actual spell was Masego imitating the sun of Summer:

    “Glint on glass, stolen yet earned,” he murmured. “Passing jewel, foe’s crown: dawn.”

    Now, the imitation of a miracle may be Masego’s thing (especially the “glint on glass” part), but we know for a fact that there are things like the crown of Tyrant of Helike or the Stairway ritual that are modeled after miracles, so it’s a legitimate way to model spells. With that in mind, let’s look at the lightning spell as used by Kilian during the melee in book one:

    “I am the root and the crown, the source and the flow, the storm and the calm,” she murmured. “Power is purpose, purpose is will. Gods of my mother, take this offering and grant me the wrath of Heaven.”

    It’s eerily similar to Masego’s spell in the sense of how there’s clearly some kind of context missing. Still, we can glean some information even from what we see. Both include a mention of usurpation of the power by the caster; the offering mentioned in the second is clearly the smudge of blood she made on her cheek, tough it’s not likely to be a sacrifice to the Gods Below: Kilian’s spell straight up calls the lightning “the wrath of Heaven”, but the “the storm and the calm” suggests that it may be an attribute of a storm-related lesser god, and lightning is”Divine Wrath 101″. Besides, it’s not like magic can be evil in and of itself: the incantation for creating fire snakes says that their origin comes from “nameless eidolons, thieves of Heaven’s grace”, but Hedge Wizard calls them a fancy knockout-punch used by mages in interlude Appellant, not some kind of diabolical construct.

    Similarly, visions and omens are another potential gift granted by a god, and even their use as a simple spell is associated with (potentially) divine beings: fae, especially the Wild Hunt, can use them to effectively teleport, and that’s before you take into the consideration those of them that are, essentially, lesser gods. Scrying easily could have originated as a prayer to a deity for a divination, and while its spell versions use workarounds such as air-based magical links and pebbles to ground them, a chant and an offering may well have been enough for the divine version.

    Finally, plague is another traditional way for a god to express their displeasure. This is less straightforward than the other options, since the plague was killing Trismegitus’ own subjects, but there are several possibilities here:

    The deity causing the plague was hostile and/or not native to the kingdom of Keter. Remember, if Trismegistus had indeed planned the ritual from the very start, sacrificing an entire god that was benevolent to him (or at least that he could control enough to sacrifice it in the first place) would be dumb. Given that all the shards so far show the same invasion, we can guess that it happened around the same time as the gate was opened, so we may well be looking at another Akua’s Folly, only the god in question wasn’t artificial and so had more will to actively struggle against its bindings.

    Another possibility (the one I was leading to all this time) is that the future Dead King had the god curse his own subjects. The man’s endgame was turning all his subject into undead, and zombie plagues are a thing, so it’s not outside the realm of the impossible. Besides, while Catherine didn’t mention any zombies in the shards she saw, she didn’t mention any details about the plagued city either. The deity could well have punished the invaders once they moved to occupy the city, though I’m going to explain why I don’t find this possibility to be likely either.

    Most of the magic- and god-related speculation ends here. Tl;dr: if there are any traces of the kind of entity that Trismegistus would have to sacrifice to open a Greater Breach, Catherine hasn’t encountered any traces of it so far. Now, back to the power issue.

    My theory is that the plague is no coincidence, but very much a means to an end. The ruler of Keter had to face an invasion of a numerically superior and better armed force with only an insufficient advantage in magic without power to achieve something truly great with it, so he leaned into that advantage as far as he could. This is my first guess: that the Dead King didn’t open a portal to hell to turn all his subjects into undead – he killed all his subjects to open the portal to hell.

    Remember, while he’s a skilled enough diabolist (enough to bind demons and to know that there are undeath-related lesser hells, at least), this chapter’s epigraph and quotes from his (only?) published book in general heavily hint that his speciality during his life was undeath, which led into his current Name. Despite that, we’ve seen no zombie troops deployed yet, even though that would lower the casualties of his own soldiers. There’s no way he would fight another practitioer Named and not rely on his speciality – the one that would later make him a legend – especially if no other weapon at his disposal could turn the tide.

    Regardless, if he indeed had to use some sort of improvised human sacrifice – be it an unleashed plague or simply all the people slain over the course of the war – to power his ritual, then my second guess is that the opening of the Greater Breach and the subsequent invasion of a hell are a measure of desperation, not his preferred outcome. Akua stated that it took him ten hours to open the portal, while the invasion would take months. Given that those would have to happen in short order, and are simply to massive twists of Fate to be unrelated, I’m assuming that the hellgate was opened at the conclusion of the campaign. Like, say, when he was finally out of army, the enemy was at the gates of Keter, and he had nothing to pit against the forces that were about to stomp all over his face.

    Granted, the result may have been entirely acceptable for him, but my point is that even if he planned the ending to this invasion to happen as it did, but my point is that this kind of escalation would be the only way for him to turn the tide, magically superior lich or not. The invasion of a hell also makes very little sense unless he botched its making in some way, since all the devils that would come into Creation would also be bound to his will, which leaves no functional difference between owning the gate (which he did as of moment he finished the ritual) and owning the hell (which cost him untold amounts of troops, resources, and crippled both his ability to come into Creation and his cognition).

    My third guess is that the whole “trapped in hell forever” deal isn’t an accident either, nor is it an acceptable consequence which he foresaw. Normally the kind of event that took place here would see a band of heroes rushing in to prevent it. Unless it was an entirely accidental “how do i into hell” by some bumbling comic relief, which Trismegistus wasn’t, the Heavens would send a champion at least to the final confrontation. Akua’s Folly is a notable exception, since a) while Fate had provided a conflict fitting an event such as an opening of a hellgate, it was entirely between villains (like here, because a diabolst that changes husbands like gloves doesn’t look particularly Good to me), and b) because it was a Bard’s plot all along, down to stopping the Good elves from preventing the whole thing.

    But here’s the rub – what if Gods Above, despite not stopping the Greater Breach from happening, got to intervene afterwards? Due to the nature of hells, a portal into one effectively means infinite armies for its owner – a disturbance in the balance like none before. Unless, of course, the villain in question is in a position that doesn’t allow for such usage of it. For example, if he himself, baited by a heroine, crossed the boundary and is now trapped inside at the cost of her life – and the Fate would help her, too! This is my theory on how Bard was created: she was reborn in her current form after tricking or banishing the Dead King, and serves as an opposite of his. She, too, cannot intervene directly by the nature of her Role, but has a form of immortality and an ability to change appearances between incarnations. That also would imply that the Dead King’s influence stretches further than seems at the first glance, but as to how I have no clue.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. grzecho2222

      We don’t a lot about Dead King motivations or plans, it is also possible that his plan was to find safe place for his people and “he got his wish granted, but not in a way he wanted” by rising all the people that died in the war as his army to Defend His Lands And People Forever and keeping Him And His People Safe From Enemies by locking them in some weak Hell (if there is endless number of them, some will be weak). We also know that he kidnaps people (children), but why? He has his own people in Hell, the safest place that we know of. It looks like he is slowly evacuating people from Creation to his Hell more that trying to conquer anything


        1. grzecho2222

          Some Hero (I think White Knight) mentioned that in past Dead King offered peace in exchange for some number of children yearly to some ruler of Procer


          1. Raved Thrad

            Here’s a thought: what if he needs to feed off the life-forces (or maybe even the actual souls) of children to sustain his existence? From the interlude with Ranger invading Keter for fun, it’s clear that he (or his servants / slaves / automatons — same thing) have the ability to cook wholesome, nutritious food. How far-fetched is it, then, that he might actually have living subjects who breed children for him to leech his lichdom off of?


            1. grzecho2222

              He has living people in hell already and as Villain he already is immortal, so why he needs so many children and why he has them living in villages instead of some prison camp?


    2. nick012000

      >Why haven’t we seen any combat diabolists yet?

      I think it might be because proto-Keter was on the side of Good, and was being invaded by an Evil Empire.


    3. Metrux

      I will admit this is the first comment in a long while I didn’t read fully. Though, for a fount of energy he could very well have used devils, since it’s been noted he created the Breach from inside the hell, he had plenty of tasty sacrifices to use…


      1. ______

        Where was it said that he opened the Breach from the inside? I always took Akua’s descriptions of the process as it needs to be done from Creation, sacrificing some (gigantic) amount of power that is already there, which the devils were not.


    4. lennymaster

      One, Masegos father stated that he was first summoned AT THE TIME the Witch Queen became dissatisfied with her husbands. He could have been the then not yet Dead King’s spy. There is no proof the Witch Queen was a Villian or a diabolist.
      Two, it was in the last battle so far that Cat and co witnessed in wich the obvious leader of the copper people died, most likely slain by the Witch Queen. My theory is that that was the yet to be Dead Kings father and predecessor.
      Three, I do agree that Wandering Bard might have originated there, I wanted to argue on the scale in wich she was involved, but the more I think about it the more likely it seems that she already played a major role.
      Four, the plagues existence might be coincidental, or it could have meaning, though I doubt that it spread the undead rather than beeing the sacrifice to power the invasion of the hell.


  14. grzecho2222

    Kingdom of the Dead and Deoraithe used to be next to each other and both of them are masters of necromancy? Or are they the same people? Because that could have hilarious implications, if there are living descendants of Dead King.


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