Chapter 33: Keter

“And so Triumphant said: ‘Tremble, for I am not yet content.'”
– Extract from the Scroll of Dominion, twenty-fourth of the Secret Histories of Praes

My boots scuffed the stone and a poisonously warm breeze caressed my face. I strode forward, leaving room for the others to pass behind me, and resisted the urge to drop my hand to my sword. Gods, this place was a nightmare. Though it was in the royal hall we had crossed, we’d evidently emerged outside the bounds of Keter. More precisely, on one of the four stone ramps leading into the city across the gaping maws of a chasm. It was dark for miles, down there, before flickering flames cast a light deep in the depths. The sound of the wind against the man-made cliffs was eerily akin to a dirge. I turned my eyes ahead instead of peering into the madness, but found only more of the same. Indrani had warned me that the walls of the Crown of the Dead were absurdly tall, but even then I had not expected the likes of what I saw. Jutting out of the sharp drop at the edge of the cliffs, the ramparts must have been at least a thirty yards high at the lowest point. No part of the city behind could be seen from out here, save for the spire of dark stone stretching out into the sky – and the orb of hellfire that hovered atop it, an indistinct silhouette shifting within.

This was not a city made for the living.

“Godsdamn,” Archer said, letting out a whistle. “I know he’s just a pile of scheming Evil bones, but you’ve got to respect his style. That’s as doom-like as a fortress of doom gets.”

“Drawbridges would have been more tactically sound,” Adjutant said.

I glanced at him and found Hakram was unmoved by the sight of millennia of darkness and arrogance made into a city. In some undefinable way, it was so very much like him to take his first look at the Crown of the Dead and immediately start criticising its defensive layout. Any moment now he would mention that the artillery firing lanes could be improved by further overlap, or that the barbican was overly crenellated.

“I would wager that, to the likes of the Dead King, every bridge is a drawbridge if given sufficient attention,” Diabolist spoke amusedly.

Ugh, Akua. She was not supposed to actually be kind of funny.

“Are we not meant to be honoured guests?” Hierophant said. “Making us stand outside his gates is poor manners.”

Like he was one to talk about those. Still, as if magically summoned by Masego’s complaining, our ‘hosts’ came out of the woodworks. From beyond the gate chilling howls were heard, and then the flap of great wings. Dozens of… not dragons, but perhaps the bastard child of them, took flight. Wyverns, though made of bone and leather with radiant red eyes. Each one as large as a house.

“Thief,” I said. “The seal.”

Vivienne flourished her wrist, palm becoming filled with the obsidian circle that had come along the Dead King’s message. She tossed it at me, and though I snatched it out of the air without trouble I gave her a hard look. What if I hadn’t been paying attention, and it’d tumbled off the edge of the bridge? How fucked would we have been, this deep in the Kingdom of the Dead without our proof of invitation? Regardless, the wyverns passed over us without trouble as I raised the seal above my head. The flock parted in both directions, diving below the stone bridge and passing under. With perfect timing, they came back up and landed simultaneously on the edge of both sides. The leathery wings folded back, and ahead of us the tall gates of steel began to open.

“An honour guard,” Akua said. “How mannerly of him.”

A show of force as well, though I didn’t need for her to remind of that to be aware. Though I knew, objectively speaking, that the Dead King would not have invited us for the sole purpose of murdering strangers I could not quite manage indifference was we passed in front of the perfectly still wyverns. Their eyes, I felt, followed us wherever we went. It was a pittance compared to the welcome that awaited us beyond the gates. The closer we came, the greater the chill going up my spine. Indrani had told me everything Ranger had taught her about Keter, in particular the kinds of undead that dwelled within. There were, she’d said, three kinds. The Bones, the Binds and the Revenants. The Bones were undead as I knew them, raised corpses little more intelligent than dogs when left to their own purposes. Most were ancient enough they were nothing but skeletons wearing armour. The Dead King, Archer told me, could seize control of those at any time. The Binds were corpses with souls bound to them, as sapient as humans. They were the captains and servants of the Kingdom of the Dead. The third kind, the Revenants, were a breed apart. Named stolen from the grave, keeping a shadow of the power they’d once wielded while living.

The Dead King was a kind of his own, she’d added. Without equivalent or easy description.

What awaited us beyond the gates was an honour guard beyond the ability of mortals to assemble. The avenues of Keter were filled to the brim with silent dead, bearing arms and armour spanning centuries. Bronze helms in the ancient Baalite style, iron breastplates as were long borne by the Lycaonese and more than a few longswords of the distinctive Vale make of Callow. Banners from half the continent were stirred by the warm breeze, though none stood as tall as that of the Kingdom of the Dead: ten silver stars, set in a perfect circle around a pale crown. By the regal crown you will know him, the old verse went. His horse is the death of men, his voice the fall of night and he strives doom unto all the world. Villains drew epithets, myself among them, but none quite as many as the Dead King. We advanced, six of us surrounded by silence and blasphemy. The very instant was passed the threshold, thousands of dead kneeled in unison. I shivered. There had been a single mind at work behind it. In the avenue ahead of us, the dead parted to allow a pale man followed by six palanquins to pass through. I could hear his heartbeat and my eyes lingered on his approaching silhouette before my fingers clenched at the sight of the first palanquin.

Four dead carried it, but it was the drapery falling down the side that drew my attention. Black silk, embroidered with heraldry. A set of silver scales, balancing a crown and a sword. The sword weighed heavier. The words embroidered beneath I did not need to read. He is not blind, I thought. He was never blind. Whether the Dead King had imprisoners himself into his personal hell or not, he knew of the affairs of Calernia outside it. And in much greater depth than my worst predictions had anticipated. The pale-skinned man was the only living soul in sight, and memorable for reasons more than that. Raven tresses went down his back, his body perfectly proportioned as if he were more sculpture than man. He had, I thought as he came closer, warm and kind eyes. Given the surroundings, that only added to the horror of it. The stranger came before us and slowly knelt.

“In the name of the Crown, I greet you,” he said in flawless Lower Miezan. “Black Queen, Tyrant of Callow, the King of Death extends his hospitality to your august presence and that of our attendants.”

There was a slight accent to his voice, but not one I recognized.

“We accept this hospitality with the gratitude it is due,” I replied. “Rise.”

“I cannot, for my purpose is not yet discharged,” the man said, pressing his head to the stone. “As gift of welcoming, the Crown bestows my existence upon you.”

My lips thinned. Had I just been handed a slave? No, now was not the time to make a mess. If the Dead King knew enough of Calernian affairs to know the motto on my banner, he had to know how repulsive a Callowan would find slavery. Was this a test?

“The gift is accepted in the spirit it was given,” I said. “Rise, now.”

The man did so, gracefully.

“My face name is Athal, Great Majesty,” he said. “I have been instructed to serve as your host for the duration of your stay.”

“We have a guest-gift to offer the Dead King,” I said calmly. “Though that can wait until audience is granted. Until then, we would see our quarters. It has been a long journey.”

“The Silent Palace has been prepared for your pleasure,” Athal said, bowing low. “If you would deign to enter the palanquins, honoured ones?”

“Very civilized, not making us walk,” Masego noted approvingly. “We should see about obtaining those in Laure.”

I deigned, or at least began to. I paused when I finally took a closer look at the dead bearing my litter. No mere skeletons in armour, these. Their flesh was dead but well-preserved, their faces still human and their finery fit for royalty. Which they very well might be: crowns had been nailed to each of their heads.

“If it please you, Great Majesty,” Athal said, coming at my side. “As a sign of respect, the Crown had put worthy souls to your service. You look upon-”

“Princes,” I interrupted quietly, “Princes and princesses of Procer.”

“That is so,” the man agreed. “Prince Mateo Osuna of Aequitan and his twin sister Princess Nicoleda. Princess Clemente Milenan of Iserre. Prince Friedrich Hasenbach of Rhenia. Their tongues have been sown as penance, and crowns put to their brow as a reminder of the follies of arrogance.”

They all came from principalities that had been pivotal in the war against Callow one way or another. At a guess Rozala Malanza’s own bloodline was too young to the throne of Aequitan to have a representative, so they’d drawn from the one that ruled before it. Merciless Gods. The statement here was more alarming than the show of force surrounding us, in some ways. That Neshamah had hordes of dead was well known, but this was both a reminder that he’d broken more than a few princes in his time and that he knew exactly who my opponents were. The Dead King was making a point. I got on the palanquin in silence, and allowed dead royalty to carry me to the Silent Palace.

The accommodations lived up to the name. We’d gone through the streets of Keter, passing a multitude of dead of all stripes, until we neared the infamous Hall of the Dead. I’d seen this district before, in the echoes. It had been where the powerful of Sephirah once lived in their copper-roofed mansions. Those were long gone, replaced instead by a circle of sprawling palaces surrounding the demon-tipped central tower. The Silent Palace was a strange wonder of architecture, six interlocked rings of different heights in marble black and white. Zombie had followed us with our affairs, though our personal packs had been taken by unsmiling dead, and the moment we entered the first hall white-robed servants knelt gracefully before seeing to all our bags. Every single one of them was alive, and no older than twenty. Athal followed me like a shadow, as I as watched the servants divest Zombie of her saddlebags I half-turned towards him.

“I did not think there would be so many living in Keter,” I said.

The man had been both talkative and helpful, so far, and apparently genuinely believed I owned him now. Though the thought was repellent and there was trap written all over this ‘gif’t, I could at least hit him up for some low understanding of this place.

“We are none of us from Keter, Great Majesty,” Athal said, bowing low. “All of us chose to become Hosts upon our coming of age, learning the trade of that choice. It is a rare thing for our service to be called upon, and a great honour.”

My eyes narrowed.

“You were born in Hell,” I said.

“A strange thing to call the Serenity, honoured one,” the man murmured. “It is the world beyond our guardians that is most deserving of that ugly term.”

“You’ve been outside the Kingdom of the Dead?” I asked, surprised.

“I have not. Yet we are not ignorant of the nightmare called Calernia, Great Majesty,” Athal gently said. “The Journeymen return with the tales of their time in your brutish world every season, sacrificing their first life so that we may learn through them. It is a most noble duty. If not for my facility with languages, I may very well have chosen to serve as one of their number.”

Hosts. Journeymen. The Dead King is breeding people in his Hell for chosen tasks, I realized with fresh horror. There’d always been rumours that he had human farms to swell his numbers with fresh dead somewhere in his hellscape, but I’d assumed it would be through regular reapings. No, I thought. He has taught them it is an honour. Everything they know passes through his hands – by the time he’s raised them up to the age of culling, they must actually volunteer. I should have known better. The kind of man who’d plot the death of a kingdom and a half to obtain immortality with the Bard after his hide the whole time would not have made so elementary a mistake. He didn’t treat his cattle like they were that. No, he’d tend to them lovingly and reap the benefits of that kindness again and again over the span of centuries. He must have shaped all their customs from the cradle, I thought. An entire realm turned to the sole purpose of strengthening him without forging heroes in the process.

“And these Journeymen,” I said slowly. “They’ve told you of how the rest of the continent sees the Kingdom of the Dead?”

Athal seemed amused.

“Are we to put faith in the words of those that slaughter each other for sport?” he asked. “There is no war in the Serenity, Great Majesty. No murder or sickness or any of the brutalities outsiders inflict on each other. We are born and raised to the loving embrace of the Crown, and repay that kindness when our first lives have passed. It is the least of that which is due.”

“And the devils?” I asked.

“Beasts of burden,” Athal said, sounding surprised. “Save for those of the Writhing Palace, were none trespass.”

That, I decided, did not sound like a place I ever wanted to visit.

“You’re aware the Kingdom of the Dead has attacked other nations before,” I tried.

“The Procerans,” the dark-haired man agreed. “A warlike folk that have attempted to destroy the Serenity many a time, assembling coalitions of blind hatred. Are you not yourself come to Keter to seek help against their depredations, Great Majesty?”

Well, he had me there. I was also fully intending to throw the Dead King under the cart at the first opportunity, after carefully ensuring his leash was loosened but not loose, but that was best kept quiet. Assuming Neshama had not already deduced as much, which was looking increasingly likely. And still he had invited me. Why? I needed to figure out his game before meeting him, or I might just come out of that conversation having birthed an atrocity greater than Akua’s Folly.

“So why is this place called the Silent Palace, anyway?” I said, changing the subject with all my usual elegance.

“It is so named for it had remained closed and untouched since its last and only guest,” Athal explained. “You would know her as the Dread Empress Triumphant.”

No ‘may she never return’, huh? I supposed this particular crowd had different ideas about the kind of person she’d been. I was a little unsettled at the very real possibility that the last person to sleep in the bed I’d end up in tonight was the worst monster to ever come out of Praes. Hopefully they’d changed the sheets since, because I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand the possibility she’d gotten demon all over them during her stay.

“Any notion of when we’ll be granted audience?” I asked him.

“If it please you, it has been said that tomorrow’s dusk would be auspicious time,” Athal replied.

“It pleases me,” I said, a tad drily.

I regretted it immediately. It was unkind, to mock a man so obviously twisted even if the manner of it was fairly gentle. It sometimes occurred to me that I wouldn’t like myself very much, if I met me as a stranger. That I’d ended up stabbing one of the doppelgangers in my soul seemed less and less a coincidence as I grew older.

“Then it shall be so, Great Majesty,” the man bowed.

Zombie had been divested of her saddlebags and I allowed her to be guided away by a white-robed servant without protest. Odds were there was a stable in here somewhere, and it wasn’t like I’d ever have a hard time finding her. The rest of the Woe had been led to their own chambers, save for Akua who’d denied her servant. She made her way towards me instead and my brow rose. I supposed she didn’t really need rooms of her own, now that I thought about it, but she was in for a hard awakening if she thought she could haunt my own. Athal flinched when she approached and knelt at her feet.

“There’s no need for that,” I said slowly, crouching to help him back up.

“I mean no slight, Great Majesty,” he said, still looking down. “It is simply that I have never hosted one of the Splendid before. I was not taught the proper manners.”

“Splendid, am I?” Akua drawled. “Well, I’ve often thought so myself.”

That might have amused me, if the man wasn’t so obviously frightened.

“She’s just an attendant,” I reassured him. “No need to worry about her.”

Diabolist’s scarlet eyes flicked to the man and her face softened.

“You gave no offence, Host,” she said. “And your manners, though not lacking, offered honours underserved. Treat me as any of the others and you will find your actions faultless.”

Customary annotation: she was, of course, likely faking this. It was good to remind myself of that, lest my impression of her improve. Praesi highborn were not usually kind to servants, whenever they remembered their existence, and Akua Sahelia had sent people dearer to her than a stranger to their deaths without batting an eye.

“I heed your words, honoured one,” Athal murmured.

“You needed something?” I asked flatly.

She folded her hand into her sleeves.

“Mere assurance over minor matters,” she said, smiling at Athal. “I was told that our movements within Keter would not be restricted, save for the Hall of the Dead. Did the servant err in telling me this?”

“It is not so, Splendid,” the dark-haired man said.

I eyed Akua curiously.

“The Lord Hierophant has expressed interest in sightseeing such a glorious city,” she said.

Ah. Well, it wasn’t like I’d brought Masego with the expectation that he’d be useful in the negotiations. He was here to ease our way through Arcadia, and as one of my larger cudgels in case things went south.

“Have Archer go with him,” I ordered Akua. “And tell them to be back before nightfall.”

I should not have to impose a curfew on a grown man and woman, but I most definitely did have to when it came to that pair. Indrani wasn’t someone I’d usually consider or employ as a restraining influence, but she knew the dangers of the Keter better than any of us. She’d pull him away if his nose led him somewhere they shouldn’t go. If wandering around kept them occupied while I prepared for tomorrow with the others, I’d count it a victory.

It was all about the standards, really.

“By your will, Black Queen,” Diabolist smiled, bowing.

Lower than what Praesi court etiquette dictated, even if she considered me a ruling Dread Empress. She was being careful about maintaining the illusion of her change of appearance, which I couldn’t help but approve of.

“All right, Athal,” I sighed as she walked away. “Take me to my rooms.”

“By your will, Great Majesty,” he said, bowing as well.

I detected a hint of amusement in his voice. I could grow fond of that one, I decided. I allowed him to lead me deeper into the palace before clearing my throat.

“So, about those sheets,” I began.

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143 thoughts on “Chapter 33: Keter

  1. Aeon

    Everything I just read is awesome. I know Cat doesn’t plan for this to last, but I’d love it if she was forced to keep this alliance. This whole empire seems fascinating, and I can’t wait to see more.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Amoonymous

      Agreed. Maybe my opinion will change in the future, but Neshamah doesn’t seem like TOO bad of a guy (currently, that is – what he did in the past was pretty damn bad).

      Now though, if his living citizens are basically living in a paradise (yet again, from what we know – it might turn out that what they think is paradise is pretty terrible), it would make sense that they’d willingly sign up for an unlife after life.

      Seems like a good deal for his people and himself. They live perfectly safe and satisfying lives, he gets stronger with time.

      Also, it does seem like Procer was the first to attack them, so it makes the Crusades and Dead Raids seem more like extremely extended warfare than anything else.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. sheer_falacy

        For one thing, he’s more powerful than her, incredibly dangerous, and she knows basically nothing about him or his motives.

        For another, this is a bad story for her no matter what. Either it’s a story about allying with a monster or it’s a story about trying to betray a monster by setting it free, and neither of those ends well.

        We’ll see how things go but frankly going to Keter in the first place seems like a terrible idea.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. He may be a monster, but technically, so is Cat (monster in battle, necromancy, dark magic, glamour, mind altering speech, fae…). We, and she, don’t know why he’s done all this, exactly. Or, how well it’s working in subverting the Gods’ program.

          Until we do know more, I’m suspending judgement.

          Besides which: he may not view the living as actual cattle in the way Cat supposes him to. Don’t forget, she’s thinking of him using Callow as her filter. This, however, is not Callow. Nor is it Praes, nor is it Procer.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Euodiachloris:

            He murdered everyone in Keter to ascend to godhood.

            When you use your entire city as a blood sacrifice for your own exaltation, you view people as cattle.

            Like

            1. He quite obviously didn’t, though. Inside his own skull, as he discussed with the Bard, he was helping his nation break from the stuck-record cycle in a way most wouldn’t choose beforehand due to lack of education, using an “illness” that just so happened to be necromantic in nature.

              Before all necromancy was a thing deemed totally E-evil (and, it got that way primarily after what he did).

              From a certain point of view, organ donation and defibrillators are necromancy and, therefore, evil. Some people truly believe that any modern medical intervention, particularly surgical intervention, is BAD and morally questionable.

              I’d argue that the evil ones are those who refuse to e.g. give kids the shots, cleft palate surgery, antibiotics, artificial limbs, cochlear implants or antipsychotic medication that they actually need. But, those who fight to withhold things like this (and abortion) are convinced they are doing good, sound, moral work. Just as those who believe wholeheartedly in cryogenic preservation of their remains think they’re not being conned.

              So, yeah. Imma gonna wait and see where this is going. 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Dylan Tullos

                Euodiachloris:

                The Dead King killed everyone in his kingdom. Then he brought them back as undead controlled by his will, forced to obey his every command and unable to do anything he didn’t want them to do.

                I’m not opposed to necromancy because it’s icky. I’m against it because it involves murdering people then turning them into meat puppets.

                It’s a crime to perform a medical procedure without a patient’s consent. Why would it be less unethical to kill someone and bring them back as a slave who has to obey the necromancer’s orders?

                Like

                1. I’m not saying that everything he’s done is highly moral. But, it’s no more nor less moral than attacking a sovereign nation that’s done nothing to you for decades/ centuries on the grounds that “the Heavens told me to do it” or “he might invade us” or “he’s damned scary and undead”. Or, brainwashing an entire population at once (rather than the brainwashing in increments that seems to happen to heroic Names on an individual level) to attack said nation (all kamikaze-style, to boot) for that matter. :/

                  They’re on a par. When both sides are using equally hideous measures, neither has the moral high ground. So, you get people trying to buck the system. This “undead population = fuck you, inherently unfair program” is one way to try, however selfish part of the means. Not necessarily the best way, mind.

                  Cat, too, has a body count of innocents under her belt trying to gain power enough to fix things. And, has a soul enslaved for her use. She’s got ethics, though, which she tries not to break. That I can applaud, at least — mainly because I know more of her motives.

                  I suspect the Dead King to have ethics, too. Even if I would find issue with the morals behind them. However, reasoned ethics can prove moral in ways that are not immediately apparent, which is why I always pause before condemning them. I just don’t have enough data to draw conclusions about his motives. Yes, he slaughtered a lot of people to get ahead. So has Cordelia. So has every head of government, save one very reluctant one (and he’s condemning people through inaction).

                  I’m not sure the Heavens have reasoned ethics. Unless “always act as if mortal opinions or wills are bugs to be patched or deleted” is an ethical standard worth applauding. 😛

                  And, I really don’t have a clue what the Hells are up to. <_<

                  Like

        2. stevenneiman

          Yeah, I’m seeing this as a variant of the classic “summon and bind the god of evil” plot. He might not technically be a god even with the lower case “g”, but he definitely serves the purpose and I wouldn’t put divinity past him considering that he has a whole minor civilization that basically worships him. The idea is that a villain believes that they can trick a mighty being into accepting a summons to the outside world in a situation where the villain believes that they can force their will on that being.
          And to my knowledge, that always ends one of two ways. Either the heroes manage to kill the villains before they complete the summoning, or the summoned being turns on the villain because their control wasn’t as strong as they thought, and then the heroes have to clean up the mess of the now free and rampaging god or whatever.

          Like

          1. Metrux

            There are several reasons why this could be a bad idea, but this story isn’t one of them. For starters, he isn’t being summoned, but freed, and there is distinction in those stories (when Heroes summon Evil, they end up having to kill them, but when they free Evil most of the time the enemy ends up an ally, for example). What breaks it even more is that she doesn’t treat him as a monster, god, or called being. She treats him as a ruler to ally, and then betray. Sure, not the best of stories, but not one inherently Evil in the books, and sometimes it even works. There is also the thing that she, herself, can be considered a god with minor g, and we all know that stories are diferent for those in that scale.

            Like

            1. stevenneiman

              She is very definitely not a god. She is a beloved ruler and the last noble of Winter. The Dead King might be a god but if he is it’s basically secondary. And even if she’s not quite magically binding him like the classic version, she’s totally thinking that she can bring a horror with power beyond comprehension into the world and then control it well enough to benefit from its actions.
              Of course, it’s made even worse because she’s just realized that he’s way more knowledgeable about her than she realized.

              Like

        3. Myatt

          On the outside he may seem to be a monster but he seems to have an entire people that view him as savior and protector loyal citizens who don’t see him as a monster at all I think that his country of the living isn’t just for breeding soldiers but for some manipulation of stories if a crusade would have made it to his personal hell they are no longer fighting the armies of the dead but the savior of the people seems like it would derail a lot of attempts to get to him

          Like

      2. Dylan Tullos

        Big Brother:

        The Dead King knows all about Cat, while she knows almost nothing about him. He’s almost certainly aware that she plans to backstab him, and he’s happy to negotiate with her anyway.

        Imagine playing cards against someone who can see your entire hand, while you have no idea what they’re holding. That’s Catherine’s position right now.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Big Brother

          That’s been Cat’s position since before she became the Squire. Black’s networks had a full dossier on her as a potential Hero recommending her death.
          Akua was always more prepared and knowledgeable about what she could and couldn’t get away with until Akua’s Folly.
          In matters of statecraft, Malicia has ALWAYS been more well informed, and used that knowledge to apply pressure so Cat couldn’t leave Praes alone.
          The Dead King is only the latest in the chain, and so doesn’t really stand out to me as a risk from your point of view.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. WuseMajor

            The main difference is that everyone you just listed are pieces in the chess game being played between the Dead King and the Bard. From everything we’ve seen, he’s really the only one old enough to actually have a shot at challenging her.

            Like

            1. Metrux

              That statement is wrong in several magnitudes… Yes, he’s greater than they all, but he didn’t influence any of those “pieces”, and the bard only started to influence after Cat was the sole Squire, starting slow and only doing more later on. Yes, calernia is a strange game of chess, and they are all pieces, but for the gods, not for the bard and the dead king. The Bard influenced alot, but not everything.

              Like

        2. d0m1n1c

          “That’s Catherine’s position right now.”

          That’s the position she believes herself in; we don’t know that the Dead King isn’t genuinely looking for an alliance. From what we know, it appears that both he and Triumphant benefited from their alliance; diplomacy doesn’t need to be a zero sum game.

          Like

          1. I think whether an alliance with the Dead King can be genuine will come down to what the Dead King wants. If it’s something Catherine can live with him having, then there’s no need to stab him in the back. If he wants to do something that’s a threat to everyone like conquering all of Procer or something, that’s a big problem.

            Like

      3. Ca$hMoney

        What’s wrong with Reverse Redlining? By golly, where do I sign?!

        In this example the lender is Keter, low income neighbourhood being target is Callow, and the arbitrarily higher interest rates are “Do what I tell you to do or I will let Procer righteously murder you”.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dylan Tullos

          Ca$hMoney:

          Being righteously murdered by Procer is sounding better and better all the time.

          Most of Callow will survive, which is not a likely outcome if the Dead King does manage to slip his leash and overrun Calernia.

          Like

          1. Cicero

            I reminds me of the old joke about why Mormons side with the evangelicals who hate them and would probably murder them if they could. (This is a historical fact, in the American South Mormons were often hunted and murdered by the KKK).

            When asked why he sides with the evangelicals the Mormon answered:

            “Well, on one side I got people who would like to murder me and all my family. On the other side I got people who want to teach my children to love sin more than God and thereby damn their souls to Hell for all eternity.

            “On the one hand: death, on other: eternal damnation for my children. It’s not a hard choice, I guess I’m gonna team up with the people who want to murder me.”

            Like

          2. RanVor

            Except there’s no such thing as righteous murder. There is only murder.

            No matter their intentions, Procer attacked another country without provocation, and by doing so, opened the door to the horrors of war. It was a conscious decision of Cordelia Hasenbach, and all the blood is at least partially on her hands. There won’t be a single atrocity inflicted on Procer they haven’t brought on themselves.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Jane

      Does she really have a choice? The Dead King really didn’t leave her any openings. If she refused to come, it was pretty much certain that Callow would be crushed. Now that she has come, the Dead King can squish her like a bug if she tries to back out – or just leave Callow to die, it’s not as though her circumstances are changed.

      Her only choices at this point are “give up”, which fundamentally goes against the nature of Named, or to shake the hand of an unfathomably dangerous creature who really, really, seems to want to make her his friend.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Big Brother

    Hm. The Dead King actually runs a Necromantic Empire in a similar manner to how I’d described making one to my friends. I’m not sure if that speaks well or ill of my mind.

    Liked by 12 people

        1. Brian Heward

          How is binding a willing soul to their own body evil? You are giving them a choice, extending their effective life, and not hurting anyone. The only difference is they get an after-life that’s the same as their normal life instead of moving on to wherever souls go in this universe. (For some people that would be preferable, but it’s hard to judge without knowing for sure what the alternative is.)

          Do we know what happens to normal people who die on Calrnia?

          Like

        2. JJR

          We still don’t know enough about how things in the Dead Kingdom work at this point, For all we know Binds who wish to stop existing can petition the Dead King to unbind their souls, leaving their bodies as simple Bones.

          The Revenants seem a bit more Evil in this regard. The Souls of Dead Heros forced to serve against their will, but they were trying to destroy the Dead King so it does seem less bad.

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  3. Soronel Haetir

    It must be nice to have centuries or millennia to learn how to slap a nice coat of paint over the horrors. The Dread Emperors simply have never had enough time to discover that truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WuseMajor

      This is a Kingdom that has traded freedom for the security of a despot. And, in the process, not ended up with several of the usual problems that come with that, because their despot is immortal, ferociously intelligent, and, apparently, not cruel.

      Granted, based on what he’s done before, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he murdered every living member of his kingdom if he decided to open another hell gate, but I don’t think he’d do something capriciously.

      There’s also the question of whether you definitely get to have a second “life” as a Bind or if that’s only for high ranking people. There’s also the quality of that “life.”

      One assumes he arranges aptitude tests and things, so that people are placed where they are best suited because that’s efficient and another way to control his populace. I really get the impression that this guy has read the evil overlord list. In some ways, he sounds like he could be what Black or Malicia would become, given another few hundred years to work. Which is scary on several levels.

      Like

  4. Someguy

    There are no openings. Every move he makes ensures that there are no openings aganst him by Bard. But his existance and sovereignty as a backdrop, Bard can use that. This is more dangerous for Callow than I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      Actually against Fate, not Bard itself. The thing with Bard is that she can’t do anything herself, all she does is manipulate, lie and tell truths, so that other people do what must be done. Yes, she is scary because of her experience and the span of what she has influenced, and you should be wary of her… But she isn’t the main enemy, and never will be. It’s not in her Fate, because Fate is the main enemy. It’s no mistake that we say he didn’t leave openings, because she can’t appear where she wants and do what she wants, thus if there isn’t already a story forming, she can’t do a thing. Also, like Cat mentioned, there is no fear of Heroes appearing in his kingdom, and that by itself makes it much easier, since even without the Bard having Heroes born could topple him.

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      1. Dylan Tullos

        Evgeny Permyakov:

        The people he didn’t murder are OK with him. Keep in mind that the Dead King used his own city as ritual fodder for his ascension.

        Like

          1. Unorginal

            Well, the current First Prince truly believes in a United People of Procer, an end to the internal strife and the advancement of good across the entire continent with a grand alliance. So very, very different in methods and drives. The Dead King just wants to de-seat true immortals and gods/join them and everything else feeds into that.

            Like

            1. grzecho2222

              Well there was a guy who believed in United People of his nation and wanted to end their troubles with grand alliance and he hated other nations and attacked east and wanted to get rid of a few nations and conquer others and talked about greater good and…

              Liked by 1 person

      2. PotatoMan

        The single person whom we have met whose job is literally to represent the country is ok with the Dead King. Hanno has access to memories of heroes from the Kingdom of the Dead, meaning that there has definitely been dissent inside in The Kingdom at some point. Taking our view of the Kingdom from an appointed interpreter is like taking our view of North Korea, a similarly ruled and isolated Kingdom, from it’s own appointed interpreters.

        The Dead King is also historically a master at crushing dissent and enslaving his own people, as well as tricking them into killing themselves. Literally everything he has done has been in an effort to increase his personal power, at any cost. I don’t think giving the Dead King more power will lead to other Calernian nations being “successfully ruled” as it were.

        All this means is that I am worried for Cat, for we have literally no idea why either The Bard or the Dead King want her there.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Evgeny Permyakov

          >Hanno has access to memories of heroes from the Kingdom of the Dead, meaning that there has definitely been dissent inside in The Kingdom at some point.

          A small amount of dissent is an inevitable consequence of free will.

          >The single person whom we have met whose job is literally to represent the country is ok with the Dead King.

          True, we have to get more. But it is a pretty strong initial indication.

          >The Dead King is also historically a master at crushing dissent and enslaving his own people, as well as tricking them into killing themselves.

          Just like what Hasenbah is attempting to emulate. And pretty every competent ruler wants to have.

          =======

          All in all, I see DK as a competent ruler and as such a person I would like to have on Cat’s side. Of course, the only way to achieve it is a mutual co-dependence and this in turn might turn pretty ugly, so the consequences should be weighted carefully.

          I also consider plot to betray DK a very dangerous thing as it might force Cat into Evil vs Evil plot, which would inevitably benefit Procer.

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  5. Anon

    Why, oh why, oh why, would you leave Akua out of the box.

    Giving her more credence as a story piece, when you have zero idea of what the dead king will be able to twist the story into, has next to zero positive benefits when compared to the risks at this point in time.

    Hell, Cat’s already admitted that the Dead King is on another level even compared to Black when it comes to setting up foolproof stories (save for having the Dead Kingdom be locked away until it’s time for him to come out and rampage).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Anon:

      Akua is an expert in necromantic rituals and Hellgates. She can provide unique insight into the Dead King’s magical accomplishments, and she’s extraordinarily experienced in Villainous backstabbing.

      Adjutant doesn’t have much experience in diplomacy, Thief isn’t particularly good at intrigue, Hierophant would get distracted by the Dead King’s magical accomplishments, and Archer is, well, Archer. The only person who can possibly help Cat is Akua.

      The sad fact is that Cat is very good at stabbing and terrible at negotiation. She needs help, and Akua is the only person with the knowledge and mindset to provide useful guidance.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Metrux

        I think you’re not reading the same story as me. Adjutant is almost a master diplomat, if only in mortal levels, and thief is the one responsible for all the intrigue in Cat’s reign. Yes, Hierophant and Archer are useless to the negotiations, unless magic is involved, but Akua is not nearly the only person who can help her here.

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        1. Dylan Tullos

          Metrux:

          As you point out, Adjutant is used to working with mortal powers, not the powers of Hell. Diabolist is the expert on entities that exist outside of Creation. Thief is a capable schemer by Callowan standards, but Praesi are universally acknowledged as the leading experts in backstabbing and generally sneakiness, and Akua is nothing if not a paragon of Praesi Classic Evil.

          Cat is dealing with an ancient sorcerer who specializes in necromancy and devil summoning. Akua is probably the greatest living expert in those two fields.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Argentorum

      The only good answer to Akua was to crush her phylactery and shred her soul immediately after her death. Anything else plays into her role in the story. Either she’s changed up in the cloak as “the monster” which is dangerous for it’s own reasons (and doubly so because she tried to make Cat *her* chained monster), or she’s out and equally dangerous as a member of the woe.

      So really, there’s no stopping it, and Cat’s backed into a corner so she can’t even try to discard her out of hand. Really, it all comes down to how genuine Akua’s feels about Cat (that we saw when she puppeted Cat’s body vs the heroes) are. Because when Akua thought she had won, said that she was going to make Cat love her, so there’s a chance, however small, that the same fate gets imposed upon Akua by reflection, and she becomes the devilish if subservient follower that she is pretending to be.

      Or she breaks loose and kills all of their guys, but that’s what Commander Shepard is for, I guess.

      Like

  6. I wonder – is reincarnation a thing in the Guideverse?
    If so, might Cat be the reincarnation of Triumphant?

    So many questions.

    Also, Cat, it’s been long enough that the sheets from Triumphant’s day would have disintegrated, probably.
    Besides, it’s a palace. No way they’re going to reuse old sheets. For that matter, they might actually only use sheets once (at least for the dignitaries).

    Like

    1. Agent J

      And given how often they’re graced by dignitaries – all of twice in untold millenia – even a niggardly king could stomach splurging on new sheets.

      Like

    2. Argentorum

      Even without Reincarnation, Cat’s an orphan. Her being a bastard descendant of Triumphant how ever many generations down the line? Just impossible enough to be completely possible.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. grzecho2222

        Whole situation with Cats family is weird. We know that both Brandon and Kegan tried to look up her family and both came up with nothing which kinda creeped out Kegan somehow. We also know that there are magics that allow to check people family which were kinda established out of blue and never used again. And given how strong are Long Lost Family and Lost Legacy and Lost Heir as tropes that come hand in hand with Orphan Out of Nowhere it would be weird if hadn’t become relevant at some point.

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      2. Yotz

        ‘Bastard’ as in ‘out of wedlock’?
        So, what if the dreaded Writhing Palace is just a temple, where Triumphant and Dead King exchanged their vows, and nine months later a child was born. Or several centuries later – time in Serenity wiggles around a bit. The Prodigal Child, true successor of both monarchies, who was deliberately lost in the mist of time to ward off the inevitable Intercession…
        Come to think of it, Dread King Robber has a nice ring to it, n’est-ce pas? The One Ring, that is…

        Like

    1. Yotz

      It may just going to happen exactly as planned.
      As planned by the Dead King, that is.

      “Your sudden but inevitable betrayal folds nicely into the final stages of my master-plan. Your chaotic incursions aimed to disrupt my planning finally allowed me to push most stubborn of the gamepieces on their designated places, and all the players have now accepted their roles and dance to my tune. Thank you for rebelling against the system in exactly a way I have foreseen.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Is there a material difference between Akua being a loyal, useful and devoted minion for the rest of her time in Creation; and Akua always and everywhere acting exactly the same as she thinks a loyal, useful and devoted minion would act?

    Because I just reread the Sixth Ranger entry in TV Tropes.

    Like

    1. Jane

      Slightly, mostly applying to things like what she’s capable of doing under mind control and what is revealed by truth spells.

      Practically, though… Kind of. If she’s faking, she won’t be insulted by how everyone else distrusts her, and they’ll feel justified in doing so. If it’s genuine, that would actually be hurtful, and make the rest of the Woe almost jerks (only almost, though, since they’re perfectly entitled to dislike her after all she’s done). It could affect the nature of any narratives unfolding around them.

      Outside of that, though, personally, I don’t think her reasons matter much so long as the “always and everywhere” part holds true. Which it will, if she’s smart, as we know she is. But if some really, truly tempting bait were dangled in front of her… Then yeah, her reasons suddenly become very important.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Darkening

          They could maybe stuff her into a zombie body, but remember, Resurrection is only for Heroes. Villains just get to cheat death, and Akua is happily doing that right now. Cat stealing an angel’s power is the kind of thing that was supposed to be impossible, and was heavily dependent on both the scenario and her coming into her aspect of Take. Just like heroes pulling tricks out of the box with a new aspect at the perfect time, that first dramatic use of an aspect has benefits for villains, too. That would be incredibly difficult to reproduce, not least because they don’t have access to an angel feather.

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  8. burdi

    it really looks like when Black offering her to became his apprentice, awe and surprise of how much he know about her.
    then come the explanation that very logic and convincing just like what Black did back then
    and the offer that impossible to reject because sound so good.
    The Dead King is truly beyond The Black Knight league, so it is impossible that he will threatening catherine because its stupid, useless and do disservice to alliance that he proposed
    whatever proposal that he cooked it will be very good that cat will have no reason to not accept it

    Like

    1. Metrux

      She is already backed in a situation where she accepts him or defeat, and he seems like the smart kind who leaves no openings whatsoever, so… This will probably not only be good for her, but something she desperately needs, or that he thinks she needs, anyway.

      Like

  9. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    The creatures that are wreathed in doom and despair, that gnaw on the bones of the dead and alive alike, and reap the souls of man, must now carry my luggage.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Decius

    The Dead King is dissatisfied with his title; wishes to upgrade to Dead Emperor, ruling over the Black King of Praes and the Black Queen of Callow, and in unsteady trading neutrality with the Dread Empress. Also, he is willing to give Callow and Praes all of the autonomy they want.

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  11. Wow. So, I’m a little confused, does he grant seco d life to everyone, or only to volunteers? Or they should deserve such a privilege?

    Honestly, I don’t see him as Villain. For all I care, granting immortality, even in exchange for some mere centuries of service is a great deal. He gives protection, peace, stability and an immortal life. It’s like an utopic dictatorship (and yes, I am aware of irony here). Clearly, the Hells and demons, and undead abominations take some getting used to, but isn’t the same with orcs, and goblins, and we already know they are not that bad, some occasional cases of cannibalism and backstabbing aside. He might as well genuinely believe that undeath is better than death, and benevolently trying to save mortals from their nature and Gods cruel designs.

    And his “invasions”? He demanded some thousands of newborns a year, back in time, but wasn’t that a mercy? An attempt to save them from live full of sorrow, and false promises, and untimely end? He was a Good guy all along!

    Back in time I remember my own concept of semiutopic undead country, in which all citizens are undead, while retaining their conciousness. Because undeath is such a superior state of being. You are immortal, presumably can even survive a destruction of your body (as a ghost, after which you can occupy another body, which, with a little reshaping, illusions, and maybe plastic surgery would be just like your old one), or if you don’t like your looks (or even your body’s gender), you can switch onto another! And if you’re feeling experimental, you can haunt a body of an animale or an object, if you are into that kind of stuff.

    You don’t need to breath, eat, drink, pee, poop, or sleep, which gives you so much needed free time, and frees you from spending so many resources on ultimately doomed task – keeping your body alive. All the while, with a little bit of magic tinkering, you can retain a sence of smell and taste, a pleasure from sexcual intercourse, or even aquire a brand new set of completely original sences. If you always wanted to have echolocation – wait no more.

    The only downside of being differently alive is unability for child birth – but nobody pushing you! You can become immortal by the age of sixty, really, like a very good pension plan, that actually does not hope that you will die before getting it! And by that point you can’t carry a child either way. But if you are male – some innovative cooperation with a Black Queen allowed us to freeze your sperm, so that you can still impregnate your living concubine, while being in your six hundrends!

    I actually really want Dead King to turn up being genuinelly enamoured with the concept of undeath, and just wishing that he, and his citizens (who are at least still concious), to be recognized as legitimate nation, and not monsters, and peacefully promote the metod of eternal life to each and everyone wanting. And once everyone become aware of just how much fun is being undead, there will be no shortage of volunteers! Honestly, I’m a little disappointed that I’ve yet to see a necromancer spreading the undeath by promoting it as an universal cure and an elixir of immortality, which it is! Put a positive spin on things, and people would beg you to turn them into alternatively alive.

    So why wait to become your true self – your undead self? Join our swelling ranks today, for an eternity of happiness! Furthermore, if you will contact your nearby official branch of Guild of Necromancy in the next twelve hours, you can get a standart pact of undeath plus a bonus for ten first conscripted for a whopping 1.99 ducats! Be undead today, or be dead tomorrow, with a help of Abominable Sorceries Ltd.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. burdi

      it will not look so promised when you realised that being undead mean giving complete control of you to whoever make you the undead. whenever they want to take control over you

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh yeah, fair point, and you are also very weak to all that is holy. On the other hand, you can’t be stabbed, feel pain, get illness, and with a little soul tinkering you can be controlled even while being alive by a good mage and to top it off you probably still going to die!

        An alive human is a slave to so many things, death, illnesses, nobles, money, public opinion. Your actions are not really your own. Yes, you may be enslaved as an undead. But you can also be enslaved while being alive! The risk is certanly there, but a risk of temporary enslavement (a couple of centuries, not much) is outpaced by a virtual certainty of encountering almost uninterrupted chain of astonishing suffering, which you usually call life. And yes, you can ignore all unpleasant things and live in willful ignorance, as most do, but you can do the same as an undead, and you still will be better off!

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      2. You are sying that somehow you trade your freedom for the undeath, as if you have said freedom. But you do not! Undeath is what sets you free, from so many shakles placed upon you by a cruel twists of fate, from pain, from suffering, from death, indeed.

        I’m not saying you should trade your life for an unlife right away. Give it time. Get old. Suffer from pain, weakness, start to lose parts of who you are to a merciless grip of time, get to the point where you’ll wish for deaths sweet release. And if then presented at the option of abandoning pain, crippelness, you would not balk at it. Or, in the prime of life, get hit by a cart, or your arms and legs chopped of at the battlefield to which you got herded like a cattle, because some silkpants princeling payed big men with swords to make you go. Suffer a mortal illness, md then, when presented with this option, you will not hesitate.

        A notion of abandoning your freedom is absurd, if you care to look past you prejudices and think.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Metrux

          Freedom is not the part that gets me, here, it is the why and how. No one, NO ONE, would give immortality to everyone without side benefits for him, especially because there are many scenarios in which his ending is bad, more so in a world like that of the Guide, where Fate itself molds stories. There is the uprising, the coming of a new master, the religious conquering, the lying despot, the descending of divinity… Really, there is simply no way for this undeath to exist for more than a couple generations as a utopia. Which is why the Dead King didn’t create a Utopia.

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          1. Yotz

            Given that Hells give while not a infinite but still very large space for expansion, the immortality may be granted to very large chunk of the currently living population – that, and if it is seen as a blessing, than only most devoted, loyal, and gently bred people get to be fully sentient after the Second Birth – it’s a privilege, not a right. All other will be used as spare parts and sustenance – just like we do with hospitals for the former, and graveyards for the latter. Yes, we prefer to beautify the process, but the bare bones of it remains the same – a nutrient cycle is a nutrient cycle, however you cut it. With the y’m-bhi caste freeing the living from the manual labor, the Dead guarding them from the outside threats, and the living solely devoting their lives to science and culture, it as close to Utopia as it can get. Or, rather, to the City of Sun, with patriotism engineering and mandatory eugenic program dressed as a religious practices and all. Not that it would be bad, necessary. Au contraire, this will create a very stable, healthy, and blooming society, functionaly indistinguishable from proverbial Malkuth haShamayim. Which is the main benefit for the King, of course, for in this case he’ll remain to be the King for the very long time indeed. Probably to the Age of Iron Stars, and mayhaps longer – to the point of entering The New Loom as an in-built Adversary, or even pulling a Nagash and creating a new world by himself (with a little help from the Triumphant, the Black Queen, the Intercessor, and some others).

            Being constrained by the nature of World’s Story is another thing, though, I’ll grant you that. This may be the reason for them to stay in K’n-yanSerenity, outside of Creation main Loom, only showing their hand when the Story allows them to without drastic repercussions. As in – the Great Patriotic War against foreign vandals from Procer, uniting all the people under the Kind, and affirming their unbreakable bonds once again.

            Like

          2. TeK

            When it comes to the subject of motivation – pride is a thing. Building an Utopia is an enourmous achievement in and on itself, and some prideful beings will be inclined to pursue a subject (and someone THAT blashemous have to be prideful). I long waited to segue into recommending Overlord as a stark example of “basically Dead King” building an utopia, just cause he wants to.

            As for a failsafe measures – some backdoors will have to be established. And Names come from cultural background. Orks had been broken, and so, don’t produce Named anymore (well, not technically anymore), it’s plausible to create a society that does not create Named, because it does not need Named (there are no stories and conflinct, given the existence of Deus Ex Machina).

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            1. Yotz

              Overlord…

              Well, Momon certainly wants to build an Utopia, but the semblance is superficial at best, imo. For one, Dead King has no need to keep his underlings in “killing humans is wasteful” mindset, while titular Overlord acts as mere puppet of circumstances. He often is forced to sacrifice innocent people not to further the cause of building an Utopia – of which goal Momon has no idea until he was forced into it by the Jaldabaoth – but because he fears the possibility of his minions going haywire otherwise. Dungeon Keeper Ami have actually worked with that premise in far more deep and thoughtful way despite being a step away from crack-fiction, imo. Also, I’m inclined to say that DKA done it first, but both DKA and Overlord have started sometime during 2010, afaik, and I can’t place the dates exactly – add to that that there probably was much more works in that stead written long before both of them, so…

              Secondly, Neshamah portrayed as a ruthless genius strategist, while Momon is forced to play pretend one because even in Yggdrasil he was a lame no-skill scrub. He literally bought his way into successes – and same can be said about all former members of Ainz Ooal Gown. His only saving grace is that miserable microscopic bit of compassion he has, which regularly gets overruled by his fear. Speaking of which – so far I’m getting the vibes of “I’m the one things that scare things-that-go-bump-in-the-night are terrified of” from the ruler of Keter.

              And last, but by far not least – main reason that denies me even a possibility of drawing parallels between Overlord and anything at all, is Overlord being of brainless marysuetopian harem lit-RPG breed. And buck that shite, smite it with Hammer That Smashes Suns, and banish it to Tartarus for Eternity and beyond! Where is the Shadow Of The Black Horse gads about when you need him?!

              In conclusion, Overlord is overrated, and I deeply despise that detestable heap of degenerocity.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Cicero

                Overlord is blatant wish fulfillment fantasy. For wish fulfillment fantasy its actually pretty good, but it’s still blatant wish fulfillment fantasy, which tends to mean it’s not very good when compared to more general fiction.

                As for the more general “hero forced to pretend to be a villain” trope like in DKA, I’m sure there are earlier examples, but of the top of my head Snape is the only one that comes to mind. I’m sure there must be older than dirt examples though… does Hamlet count?

                Like

                1. RanVor

                  The wish fulfilment aspect is inherent to the isekai genre and, to some extent, to fantasy in general. I’m not really sure how does that invalidate anything.

                  Like

                  1. Cicero

                    Actually, wish fulfillment is not inherent to the isekai genre, which is actually a much much older genre (referred to as “Voyage and Return” in the list of 7 basic plots). Alice in Wonderland is essentially an isekai genre, yet it is not wish fulfillment in the way Overlord, or many of the modern Japanese isekai stories are. (There are also some stories in the modern Japanese isekai genre that are not wish fulfillment – such as Re:Zero).

                    Nor is fantasy in general wish fulfillment – I mean, is Lord of the Rings wish fulfillment?

                    No, Overlord is wish fulfillment because it’s protagonist is so very very powerful that there is no real external conflict worth writing about. He’s powerful, able to do whatever cool thing he wants to do. Additionally, he’s a villain protagonist, and not in the tormented pragmatically trying to save her people way like Cat is. He slaughters thousands of people and turns them into an undead army. Instead of being punished for his evil actions he instead is rewarded. He is a horror and terrifying to any right thinking human.

                    The reason it’s well written compared to most wish fulfilment is that at least there is quite a bit of internal conflict in Overlord, as he tries to decide what to do and how to do it. Still, the fact that he ends up taking the easier route of mass slaughter instead of peaceful co-existence is ultimately disappointing, and makes the story pure wish fulfillment.

                    Like

                    1. Yup. Prime example: The Odyssey. There’s wish-fulfilment going on in that whole epic travelogue with fantastical elements, but also a massive helping of “be careful what you wish for”. As well as “don’t piss gods off”.

                      Heck, go back a bit further: Gilgamesh. Includes the classic trip to the underworld, being offered the love of the cosmos’ most attractive female denizen who can and will grant the mortal man who loves her great power (beware that, by the way) and everything Campbell holds dear.

                      Isekai has its place in the world, but me… I go Ancient School. Give me the shaggy dog, the subverted, the bittersweet, the downright “that’ll learn ya” yarn. You know… One Punch Man. 😉

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                    2. RanVor

                      On the contrary, the wish fulfilment is the truest core of fantasy, which itself is nothing else than a manifestation of humanity’s longing for things that are not true. Everything else is just an icing on the cake. In this light, yes, the Lord of the Rings, Re:Zero and a Practical Guide to Evil are all built around wish fulfilment. I could expand this reasoning to all fiction, but it’s too much of a bother.

                      I do not regard Overlord as a pinnacle of good writing, but in my opinion, it is written well enough for its primary purpose, which is to entertain.

                      Like

              2. grzecho2222

                Heroes of Might and Magic 4 from 2002 had Gauldoth Half-Dead as necromancer that tries to create good nercomantic nation and whole thing is genius.

                Like

    2. Cat was undead for a while, back before she stole her resurrection. It sucked. She couldn’t feel a thing, she felt her mind ossify, and there wasn’t anything that made (un)life worth (un)living anymore. Mortality is exactly what makes life worth it imho.

      Like

      1. To be fair, she had her undeath crafted by, while a skilled mage, not an expert necromancer. When skillfull plumber fucked up fixing a roof, who’s to blame? Plus, her undeath was a haphazard solution, and the possibility of giving her sences and feelings was not on the table, since the plan from the start was to resurrect her, not make her undeath comfortable. Plus, many of mages efforts were directed at others, more pressing matters, such as containings an army of devils and a Demon.

        So yeah, not really an argument. She didn’t gave an undeath a fair try. But you can! Sign up today. Our necromancers are top-notch and we provide a reason to exist free of charge!

        Like

        1. Metrux

          This is a logical fallacy, but I can’t be bothered to remember which one. Just see for this: mortality is not the end, death is the end, mortality is a state, thus your logic is flawed.

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          1. TeK

            Nope, my choice of words was incorrect. I meant “the possibility of getting into a carcrash”. Now, you may argue that possibility is not a state, but at this point I just ran into the limit of my English speaking abilities. So if you still don’t get what I’m getting onto, feel free to say so.

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    3. Metrux

      Well, we already know he isn’t like that, from the past we’ve seen. But more than that, someone with those ideas would have to be delusional, and this kind of madness doesn’t survive for long when Heroes are around, so I can’t see him being anywhere near that.

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      1. TeK

        Now, I did not argue is like that, I said that I want him to be like that. And your turn of phrase “someone with those ideas would have to be delusional, and this kind of madness” is plainly insulting. I hope you will retain your good manners in the future, while conversing with anyone else. Clearly, I somehow managed to hit a painful subject.

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    4. werafdsaew

      In a world where heaven exists (because Angels exists), immortality isn’t as useful, especially if it comes with side effects.

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      1. TeK

        Nope. Afterlife is theorised, not established. I will quote EE himself on the matter:

        “As for the Heavens/Hells that’s a more complicated issue. Technically the Hells is where the devils are and the Heavens is where the angels are, in a physical sense. Good and Evil cultures believe that their souls go to their respective Gods after they die, unless angels/devils have a claim to them, but no one has ever passed on to the other side and remembered what was there so there’s still a degree of uncertainty. Faith would be a pretty meaningless concept if the afterlife was a physical certainty.”

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yotz

          Hear, hear!

          On the sidenote – even if Afterlife exists, there is no way be sure that you will become there, or describe it in mortal terms. What if Heaven’s endgame is just an endless ocean of Light which absorbs and dissolves everything that was you, while its counterpart is just weeping and gnashing of teeth in the lone endless darkness? Are you ready to accept one or another just because you are afraid to bend Fate to your liking?

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Yotz

        That’s a name you won’t hear often…
        Though I wouldn’t be so sure to declare the Dead King even Ambiguously Good. Comparison with Sandro seems far more apt in this case.

        Like

  12. Dakem

    Maybe the Dread King is one of the first practical evils in the world and build an undead utopia away from the meddling hands of above and below… Which the Bard counterd by 1000 years of bad PR to unseat him or at least isolate him from allies. This in turn would also explain why the Bard works so hard against Cat and Black. In that light, may she never return is a perfect branding to destroy your opponents reputation e.g. Trumps crooked Hilary campaign.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Dakem:

      The Dead King murdered his people to become a god. That’s the source of his “bad PR”.

      I don’t understand why people keep thinking that “evil” is somehow a good idea. The Dead King is practical, certainly, but he’s also willing to kill huge numbers of people so that he can be immortal. That’s not the action of someone who views other lives as valuable or important.

      Like

      1. TeK

        Funny, how killing for greater good is really only legitimate when the Good Guys do it. It’s not like killing few to save many is not a trope in and on itself… But, all pretence aside, it’s quite obvious that Dead King is not a secretly benevolent being. But it would be really cool if he was.

        Like

        1. Cicero

          Except the Dead King did not kill a few to save the many, he killed many to save himself, the one.

          I mean… dude, I know the “Good Guys” in this story are more morally grey than in most fiction, but it’s pretty clear to me that I’d much rather be buds with the Grey Pilgrim than the Dead King. Dead King is much, much more likely to be willing to kill me to serve his own greater purposes than the Grey Pilgrim, no matter how close of friends we are.

          Like

    1. Not infinite – it’s been stated several times that larger numbers place greater strain on her mind, especially if she tries to direct them to any significant extent.

      Like

          1. Agent J

            Not at all. It’s been stated rather definitively that the gnomes give zero fucks about what you do with magic. It’s scientific advancement that they’re genocidally serious about preventing.

            Like

            1. JJR

              No one really knows what the Gnomes are on about. We see this in the chapter where Warlock gets a look at Pickler’s repeating scorpions. He isn’t sure if they’ll draw attention and has very little idea as to what the criteria for drawing attention is.

              Also, Object Oriented Necromancy, if it’s anything like object oriented programming is probably too close to technology to let slide. A computer made out of undead is still a computer after all.

              Like

              1. Agent J

                I’d still be pressed to disagree. Praes has gotten two tickets. One for gunpowder and the other for fiddling with chemicals. They’re against the proliferation of scientific understanding.

                Warlock’s ponderings were about how much science was too much science. Pickler is a hypercompetent engineer. She’s at the frontier of siege machines, meaning there’s no precedent for her creations. Very dangerous territory to be in. If she crosses the undefined line, the next letter is the final one.

                As for whether a computer out of undead would a problem, we just have to look at Cat’s favourite tool to find precedent. Goblin fire is basically napalm made from devils. If they got a letter for gunpowder, one would assume napalm would also get them lettered. Not so, apparently, as long as it’s made through alchemical means rather than chemistry.

                I say that to say this; we do know what the gnomes are on about. We don’t know why or what the parameters are, but we do know what. The enforced limitation of scientific understanding.

                Like

        1. grzecho2222

          I think that pig-dragons mixed with Winter Necromancy have bigger chance of becoming relevant, because with how often they pop up it would be strange if they did not have some kind of conclusion

          Like

          1. Flying munitions…. When you need a kamikaze run with a side of guided missile/ drone. May include both dragon-, demon- and icefire along with ops. Might blow up before reaching target. Ask your nearest Monstrous Abomination™ for further details. Do not ask for refunds or compensation.

            Like

  13. Well…I think it is best for the Woe to assume the Dead King knows EVERYTHING before going to the audience.
    I would have said before the ‘invitation’ he was not aware how Cat is Winter but this was disproved. These ‘Journeymen’ must really be good, for neither Black nor Malicia and certainly not Cornelia noticed them. I know they aren’t looking like the agents of an undead abomination (since they’re alive) but it’s still an intelligence triumph.

    Now we see the fate of the Procerans who fell in the different Crusades against the Dead King. Enslaved for all eternity by their enemy, I believe they really wish they had not gone against him. And the Lone Swordsman may have not glorified the White Knight of the Seventh Crusade so much if he was made aware of the fate of all those commanders and Named who are unable to challenge the orders of the King of Death.

    The Dead King has style, I am forced to grant him that. Use the ancestor of Cordelia Hasenbach as a carrier for the palanquin, mute and with a crown on his head…no doubt he will wish to increase his ‘collection’ in the war to come.

    As said by Ranger in her interlude, you can’t enter Keter by Arcadia. This is really a bastion I see no easy way to conquer. The land is dead, the air is poisoned, the only accesses are the bridges and you will be under bombardment by the wyverns. There are probably more undead soldiers in this city than there are inhabitants of Callow. The walls are too tall, there will be undead heroes and as long as the King is intact and Hell not invaded, he can replenish his losses faster than you, because after all for his people he’s the Good Guy.

    And now Cat is offered the same Palace as Triumphant…this promises more epic chapters next week, for sure.

    Like

    1. Darkening

      I suppose the dwarves would be the best option for conquering the place if they were willing to give it a concerted effort and tunnel into the city rather than sealing it all off with molten iron. We know they’re pretty militarily powerful, though we don’t know how magically adept they are. They seem pretty self interested though, and they don’t really have a reason to see the dead king as a threat as long as procer keeps him contained and they have his region of the underdark sealed off.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        That made me wonder something that never came into questioning before: are the dwarves Good? And the Gnomes? The Elves we know are, both versions of them, but we never heard of the dwarves, especially since we know Praes is the only nation that doesn’t uses the dwarvish war machines, which means other Evil nations use them aswell.

        Like

        1. The Gnomes don’t sit down for Q&A sessions, so that’s an unknown. The dwarves, as the major power of the continent, ran into the same problem most large nations on other continents have – when you get a large enough kingdom, it’s inevitable that both villains and heroes are going to pop up regularly. Their long-standing difficulties in making that work are one of the major reasons they’re not very involved with surface affairs.

          Like

    2. Something to keep in mind: he may or at not have deliberately shaped his kingdom’s culture and views over millennia with carefully applied propaganda and tales.

      Also, the Bard may or may not have shaped the rest of the continent’s cultures and views against the Kingdom of the Dead (bet they don’t call themselves that) over millennia with carefully shaped propaganda and tales. Even in Praes.

      Like

    3. Cicero

      Actually I think the greater danger is assuming the Dead King knows things he does not, and thus inadvertently revealing them to him.

      He knows more than he ought to, be he’s not omniscient.

      Like

  14. Evgeny Permyakov

    >“It is so named for it had remained closed and untouched since its last and only guest,” Athal explained. “You would know her as the Dread Empress Triumphant.”

    Wait-wait-wait. For real? I mean, is Dead King actually trying to force Triumphant’s story upon Cat ? That… has potential. Both good and ugly.

    Like

    1. Cat is pretty damned scary, as well. Never forget: she turned herself into an undead-wielding construct with mega ice powers and telespam abilities who has a hefty body count of her own. And, she’s only recently started playing this game.

      By Bantu-tales standards, she’s a kind of Tokoloshe Queen of Darkness and Cold — who made herself that way. That ain’t good; being within spitting distance of the Demon Queen of Tokolshes is… a bit morally iffy (as in, ‘working to end the very nature of reality’ kinds of iffy).

      Like

      1. grzecho2222

        I would say that she shapes up to Morvena/Marzanna Queen/Goddess of Winter and Death since she is horrifying but neutral and won’t do anything to you as long as you don’t bother her and mostly sits and does nothing outside of bringing and taking away winter. That would also have intresting implications since Sorcerous and Dead King seem like Evil takes on Twardowski and Kosciej and would suggest that there might be Weles in some form in story.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cat and the Demon Queen have one big thing in common: wanting to stick two fingers up at the established hierarchy (the Gods Below and Above) and to break the existing world order. This is almost the African-style Order/Tradition/Law vs Chaos/Anarchy/Oblivion. Except, in this tale… Order may not be good, and Chaos may not necessarily mean complete oblivion with its changes. 🙂

          Like

          1. grzecho2222

            In slavic myths it even wierder since in them humans, dragons, shapeshifters and hybrids of them are the forces of Chaos since all of them are children/creations of god Weles who is kind of mix of Loki, Hades and Athena and kinda jerk and troll to the most of other gods, but is always on side of his children/creations. The Big Conflict is more of Orderly, Stagnant World Vs Endless Progress. Morvena is in this whole debacle neutral and mostly wants other gods to leave her and her people alone.

            Like

  15. Yeah, the more we learn about The Dead King, the more it become apparent everyone is greatly underestimating him despite being seen a the biggest threat of the continent. Except for The Wandering Bard, but she herself is the expert at being underestimated.

    It’s also interesting that according to the Host, there are no others guests. I was half expecting Malicia to have already sent a body double.

    Like

  16. Man, the Dead King runs a tight ship. YOu gotta admire the man’s diligence. Then again, he’s had, what, hundreds? thousands? of years to set it up, so there’s that.

    Hopefully he’s not interested in crushing Catherine under his heel, at least not immediately. I think it’s safe to say that’s a fight she couldn’t win right now.

    Like

  17. crescentsickle

    In b4 the Dead King is all like “Hey Cat. Kudos on breaking fate and all that. Breaking, re-forging, and then divesting a transitory Name was a nice touch. Bonus points for it being a neutral Name.

    “Now, I know you think you’re here because of Procer’s Crusade, and we’ll get to that, but I need you to break the entire system the Gods have going on, and I’m going to take care of some of your problems so you can focus on that.”

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      crescentsickle:

      The last people who accepted the Dead King’s “help” served as ritual fodder for his ascension to godhood.

      Like

      1. Last person he helped that we know of is actually Triumphant. As far as we know, there was no betrayal there.

        Also, I think the whole point of his philosophy is that he is not a classical villain at all. He didn’t betray his people, Didn’t start the war or aid the enemy. The only things he was guilty of during his rise to power were,not committing completely to his country’s defenses.

        If he’d turned traitor or tried to trick them, he would have been showing the kind of plot weakness that the Bard exists to exploit. All he did was offer just the amount of help that inevitably led to them growing desperate and dependent enough on him that they’d agree by to the Ritual.

        Like

        1. ______

          > He didn’t betray his people, Didn’t start the war or aid the enemy.

          Except, if I’m understanding the dialogue between him and Bard correctly, he started the plague in the first place to build up sacrificial weight, bait the people of the wolf into attacking and later control the course of the campaign by increasing the amount of victims in the invaded areas. Add to that the fact that the defensive nature of the campaign (i. e. walls being the only thing that could hold back the invaders) meant that the ashkarans’ performance depended heavily on the magical support (for which the rituals were provided by none other that Neshamah himself) and “not committing completely to his country’s defenses” becomes just one of the many strings that ensured he had full control over the situation – and that he bears the brunt of responsibility for it.

          Frankly, I’m not sure how exactly starting a magical plague for an elaborate mass-sacrifice left the Intercessor no openings that would allow to expose him. The anti-Bard measures we’ve seen so far include culturally enforced voluntary acceptance of undeath (which doesn’t exactly stop heroes from popping up now and then, as evidenced by Hanno having memories of the kingdom’s practices), making her misread the situation (which is what their whole dialogue was about, but that wouldn’t prevent her from taking any action at all) or playing out this part of the story between the characters other than the ones she’s currently attached to (but it’s not universal, since she still was able to hop around Marchford when Akua and Catherine had their struggle).

          Like

          1. SpeckofStardust

            due note that the bard only showed up after he did most of the heavy work, as she herself stated if she had gotten involved sooner she could have pull shit on him but all in all she didn’t have an opening by the time she got involved.

            Like

          2. Huh, forgot about the plague thing.
            I guess it a unpredictable Evil opening move followed by careful decade long management of the situation.
            Got to wonder why the Bard didn’t try to out him. Perhaps it just wouldn’t have made any difference. His people were dead without him at that point anyway.

            Like

          3. Helirous

            It has been noted that he always let someone else take the lead role until the end. I guess that limited the possible interventionpoints for the bard.

            Like

  18. Sol Invictus

    “Save for those of the Writhing Palace, were none trespass.”

    That, I decided, did not sound like a place I ever wanted to visit.

    ——–

    yup where definitely going to see the inside now

    Like

    1. Carving a home in Shawdowfell. Or… hello, Mists. Wouldn’t it be funny if he weren’t the Darklord, but everybody thinks for ages that he is (and most of the play goes ahead with that in mind)? However, a certain fallen Paladin (not a cut-mod-and-paste Elena Faith-hold, Darklord of Nidala, honest), who happens to aid the party on and off/ shoves them at fetch quests that look significant, is still convinced she is fighting the Good fight against the Undead Lich King… except, dude just wanted peace and quiet and is maintaining True Neutral like its going out of style (even juggling that setting’s messed-up karma meter with aplomb) , despite being stuck two doors over and across the block (plus change) from Castle Ravenloft… Heck, you have the option of adding some refugee Shadow Fae in the mix! Could make one hell of a game while the party tries to figure out what the bleeding heck is going on (and how to survive it) after being served plenty of the snark hunt with herring sauce special. 🙂

      Like

  19. Myatt

    About akua anyone else think that cat has basically bestowed a winter title on her in every way but giving her an actual title?

    Like

    1. It’s possible. Also, at this point Akua is probably closer to being one of the Fae than human – her physical body can be destroyed or maimed, but I’m pretty sure that Cat could just reform Akua’s body back to spec more or less whenever she (Cat) felt like it.

      It’s also worth noting that Winter titles/empowerment could potentially be used as an alternative to Above/Below granted Named/Blessed.
      If the only way to win is not to play … a third option for getting Named- level power could be very useful.

      Like

  20. Nada

    Ok really Catherine there is a time for joking around and a time to be serious. Why is she still acting like a dumb frat boy at a party? Her thoughts were so frivolous that I have to wonder if she’s being mentally effected by something? Is she going to be all like ‘bruh nice fortress, send out the laadddies and the doooods’’ when she meets the Dead King? I have to admit to being put off with her levity in this chapter.

    Like

  21. eatenbypie

    Honestly this is all kinda silly to debate, there have been more than enough hints given that his interest is Akua not Cat, and the recent focus on her development only supports that. His motives are fairly clear, the question is will Cat be able to accept Akua becoming his queen in exchange for support.

    Like

  22. Quin

    If it comes to a question between games of fate and games of dice there are two things in common. The task of knowing the odds are against you and are probably rigged… And trying to cheat back.

    For Cat the odds are set with a nation of ‘heroes’ out for her blood not for goodwill or righteous intention… But to treat her as English excuse for invasion. she can fight until enough bodies pull up where she bleeds both her nation and the others dry until some band of heroes from to kill the black queen who slaughtered so many innocents (because soldiers who died fighting against evil count as innocent)

    The tower is using her nation as a shield and may betray them if it suits them while the heroes are there to chop up her land and make them servants while sending the oldest as present levies to be slaughtered by higher threats.

    Oddly enough the undead king seems to be the nicest one around as he is also the only one not gunning for her head of her land. she knows the horrors that he can bring forth… But that’s just it in the end.

    At his worst he will slaughter thousands, kill millions, and leave a burning hope within the crusade… But he will not attack them because he NEEDS them. Slaughter well be horrible… But they will not be dead.

    Also anyone else find it funny that Cat is getting near five years? Five like the greatest threat that ruled them all because she fought for her nation and was considered abnormal by their own standard?

    The tower celebrates every villain and have loved every crime done by them, but not the one that actually won? How big was the big bad?

    Like

  23. Aston

    Three things.

    One: The Dead King is not actually Evil or Named. People just assume that.

    He’s beyond that.

    Two: Athal is actually the Dead King.

    Three: Thank you so much for not having any this world was made through science stuff.

    You’re a brilliant author.

    Liked by 1 person

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