ANYWAY. Floriography. Azeroth plants. LET'S DO IT
Edit: 10/10/10 -- making this sticky so I can find it. Also adding a link to the thread I had going on wyrmrestaccord.net so I can find said thread and update this from the contents of that.
2/10/17 -- really making this sticky, updating the above link to the wyrmrestaccord.org archive, and adding the archive link for the LoF site that I usually use for Earth plants: In the Garden.
* Pull over full list from archived WrA.net thread
* Add flowers in thread replies there not originally included in the top-level list
* Add herbalism plants for Cataclysm – Legion
* Add quest & food plants
* Get meanings(!!!)
* Create table to index meanings for multiple races/groups
( Includes not only all the harvestable herbs, but also random quest plants that I remember. hurr hurr! )
So post a comment with an herb/plant and its proposed meaning. WE CAN BE SUPERDORKS
Two months after the disastrous assault on the Broken Shore, Deathlord Larkspur Plagueheart watched a swarm of geists mount one of Acherus' crenellations like a line of creeping ants, carrying with them pieces of saronite plating to be welded into place over scars left by the latest felbat assault. Supervising the creatures wasn't--strictly--the kind of task his knights were comfortable with leaving to their supreme commander, but Lark maintained he was a disciple of the Unholy before anything else and had a rapport with the geists besides. They were more attentive when he was there to direct them, he averred, even if he never seemed to exert much direct control over what they were doing. Rather, just the fact they were being watched kept the skittish undead on their task, even when there was much to distract them in the citadel's upper reaches--or so Lark would explain to anyone who mustered up the courage to pry.
No one had.
In reality, he needed an escape from the crushing demands of his job, and this was one of the few the Lich King afforded him. His fictional pretext for watching the geists was an all-too-real reason to be visible in Acherus, attending even to mundanities of the Ebon Blade's day-to-day functioning--reminding those under his command that he had their once-king's imprimatur to lead, and that same worthy's keen awareness of their doings besides. Nothing escaped the Deathlord's unblinking gaze, and unlike mortals, the Knights of the Ebon Blade seemed to take grim comfort in that fact. The scaffolding the Scourge had left in all their souls expected to be watched and measured, making clear where each of them stood in the inevitable hierarchy of their order. And if Lark could sometimes fulfill that expectation by as mindless a pursuit as watching the geists patch holes in the walls, he'd take it as the small mercy it was.
So when the Lich King's will settled on his mind like a frigid hand, winding icy tendrils around his ragged soul, Lark's dead heart clenched at the unwelcome interruption and he set his jaw, expecting the worst. Yes, my king? he asked of the Presence, unfailingly polite (knowing that even if he wasn't, he'd be made to be--as he'd be made to do whatever else was asked of him, whether he willed it or no).
<<We have left a matter unfinished on the Broken Shore, my Deathlord.>> As ever, some sick, traitor part of Lark thrilled to be addressed that way. He belonged. He mattered. <<Gather your knights and descend upon the gates of the Black City as the instrument of my wrath. You will receive further instructions when you have slaughtered the demons there. Do not fail me in this.>>
Much to his surprise, the Presence withdrew, leaving the words ringing between his ears--and with them, explicit instructions on which of his knights he was to take. None of his own choosing, of course, as he was rarely allowed that much latitude--and all of them individuals he dimly recognized as former soldiers of the Alliance. Humans, dwarves, gnomes, a Gilnean or two (not an elf among them, which was a mercy in its own way as his kaldorei knights to a man couldn't entirely choke down their distaste for him), graven indelibly into his inconstant memory as names and faces and half-digested mindprints from the Scourge. Whether or not he'd known them at all before he knew them now, all their dead hopes and living fears, and loved them with his unforgivably soft heart--and hated that he'd likely lose them all on what amounted to a suicide mission.
The Lich King knew he wouldn't fail, but had no qualms about engineering his success with the broken bodies of his knights. No one had returned to the Broken Shore since Gul'dan's forces had beheaded the Alliance and the Horde in the same deathstroke; no one had dared, holding the lives of their soldiers too precious to feed into that meat grinder.
But the dead would do what the living could not, even if it cost them as much or more to do it. And if Lark would not march with them willingly, he'd do it unwillingly, and with no hope of changing the inevitable grisly outcome. Better not to protest, so he had the chance of picking a smaller, more winnable battle later, budging his king's obdurate will just enough to save something worthwhile.
Rational or not, the thought still left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Well, he thought to himself, no time like the present. Turning his back on the industrious geists, he went to collect his knights.
They descended through purple twilight and light fog, their whole company of fifty knights and a hundred assorted undead with necromancers attending split across two of the great frostwyrms. A flight of gargoyles flew a wide perimeter, emerald eyes flashing through the gloom as they kept watch for circling felbats. There was obvious danger in putting so many of their eggs into so few baskets; but there was no other practical way to transport so many geists and ghouls, and the fewer bodies they had airborne, the less likely their insertion was to be noticed.
As it happened, they landed entirely without incident. The cliff above the Black Gates was only lightly patrolled, and the first of the frostwyrms to land crushed the life out of the felguard that spotted it before he could shout for reinforcements. Its riders debarked with all the mechanical efficiency of the undead and it launched itself skyward again in short order, clearing space for its sister wyrm to land and disgorge its own cargo. Everything went as perfectly as if they had drilled it. Even the ghouls were quiet, refraining from their usual jostling and bickering as the necromancers herded them away from the landing site.
Perfection made Lark uneasy; things were only perfect on their face when something deeper and more critical had gone wrong. They'd likely already committed themselves to the fatal ambush, or why else would the demons have left this place so lightly guarded? "Clear a perimeter and secure our flanks," he began, tone level with a calm he didn't of himself feel. Yet the Lich King's Presence was there with him, a beacon of inhuman godlike assurance that everything would turn out as planned, and he could not help but lean on it.
What next? he asked silently, scanning their surroundings for signs of inevitable attack. This was where the Horde's advance force had been shattered, their Warchief struck down and soldiers slaughtered. Spirit fragments shaped as orcs and trolls and his own sin'dorei kinsmen wandered the clifftop in a daze or acted out their last moments on endless repeat; beyond that sea of silent ghostly agony, felguards and blightstalkers roamed in erratic patrols. None of them had yet noticed the Ebon Blade incursion.
<<Descend to the plain below. Find the site of Varian Wrynn's last stand, and see what remains of his body and spirit. Destroy any that stand in your way.>>
The words chilled Lark as much for what wasn't said: There was only one reason the Lich King would order them to look for a body. Is Wrynn the next Horseman, then? he asked, not really expecting an answer. It would make a certain gruesome parity with the late General Nazgrim: a beloved hero of the Horde, a respected king of the Alliance. To raise that honored personage in the presence of death knights who'd once owed him fealty was of a piece with the Lich King's sadism besides, driving home that inevitable idea that the dead would--must--do anything to accomplish their goals.
And the tone of that denial near to cracked Lark's chilled heart in two, because it wasn't the Lich King speaking, and suddenly their errand took on a much different and more personal tenor.
Bolvar had sent him to find the body of his own dead king, and to do what with it-- He shied away from the thought and what it implied; this wasn't his grief to interrogate or mourn, only to carry out the duty he'd sworn in that black and lightless place that Bolvar Fordragon now resided. Whatever you need of me, I'll do, he'd pledged, and whether or not he'd taken that oath under extreme duress with a questionably clear mind, he'd meant it.
The whole exchange and realization took mere seconds, an ignorable hesitation before Lark continued with his orders: "Haiya, Gundermann, Ironfist, take a swarm of geists and find a way down these cliffs. Crush any resistance you encounter. Bloodcog and Lightsbane, with me; we'll do the same to the south. Thassarian, you're in command here; we'll be descending to the plain as soon as we have a usable path."
But for Thassarian--his strangely loyal backer since Lark had assumed the mantle of Deathlord--he'd scarcely worked with these knights in the past, hardly even known them as people mere hours before, and suspected most of them knew as little about each other. Yet they obeyed him without question or pause, their cooperation seamless and immediate as they split off to their tasks. The gnome and human women he'd commandeered as his own escort waited patiently for further orders, not at all curious why he hesitated for a long moment to watch his commands carried out.
At one time he'd prided himself on being the grit in that smooth-working machine, dragging on it with his own stubborn inertia until somebody beat him back into line. More recently he'd been a contented part of it, never really thinking just how different the Blade was from the Sunfury forces or questioning his place in it. And now that he had time to think and to question he had no volition to do anything about that awful efficiency, and it made him proud and sick at once to see it.
At last he shook his head and drew Apocalypse from off his back, wincing internally as the sword's warped perception of the webs of trust and loyalty around him settled over his own. They wouldn't need their own swarm of geists; here was power enough to summon all the restless dead around him to his service, if he chose. "Well, ladies," he quipped without feeling, "we're certainly the prettier search team; let's be the faster one as well."
Lightsbane smiled--maybe, fractionally--as she called her own ghoul to her side and followed after him, and Lark locked that glimpse of emotion in his heart as a fragment of hope against the dark.
As Lark had expected, there was an ambush waiting for them: the felbats descended in swarms as his death knights picked their way in pairs down a switchbacking path across the cliff face. The first of them plucked Lightsbane from her deathcharger like a hawk hitting a rabbit; she shouted defiance and stabbed the thing through the head, sending them both tumbling down the cliff to their mutual doom. She wasn't the only such casualty of that first attack, but one of only a very few once the strike force was alerted to their danger. Gargoyles boiled up out of the mist at Lark's furious silent command; laggard as they'd been in their overwatch they were quick enough into the fray once they could smell living demon meat, and felblood and ichor alike soon rained down on the assembled company.
"Move!" Lark bellowed at them, spurring his own borrowed beast to an unsafe gallop. There wasn't room for any of them to fight on the path without crushing each other or risking a fall; their air support would have to carry the day until they made it to the plain. The ghouls and geists suffered the worst for the disorderly charge, muscled off the path by the heavier deathchargers or trampled beneath the pitiless hooves.
Still and all, theirs was a small expected loss, one that barely registered as the knights achieved the plain and dismounted to pull the remaining felbats from the sky. Killing the winged demons won them only a little space before a massive wave of blightstalkers burst upon them, seeking to crush them against the cliff face. With eerie wordless efficiency they formed into a wedge to meet it, disciples of Blood to the front to distract and detain the howling hounds while their Frost and Unholy brethren cut the beasts down.
After the blightstalkers, felguards in their ranks. They needed their lost ghouls keenly now, to slow up their much larger opponents and make the contest more even. "Rise!" Lark roared, calling the Alliance dead crushed into the soil up from their graves. Once more his knights fought among an army of their peers, ghouls and geists and skeletons garbed as Stormwinders or sons of Ironforge and Gnomeregan, that fought as the extension of one will. Bolstered by that risen army, they pressed forward through the demons' ranks, barely requiring their Deathlord's urging to head for the flat land that yawned before the Black Gates, where the Alliance had so lately met bitter defeat.
And then--suddenly--silence, as the last of the felguards toppled backward without a head and the last felhound collapsed in a wheezing spray of blood. They had fought their way to the center of the plain and found no more demons there, the Legion's forces set back on their heels by the murderous fury of the Blade. In that moment they were more alive than any other, faces shining with victory and smeared with blood, badged with rictus grins of triumph. Even Lark felt it--that bloodthirsty delight, the temporary satiety of the Hunger, made all the more seductive and perilous by his king's grim satisfaction at the havoc they'd wrought on the enemies of the Scourge. It insulated him as he looked over the remains of his command, counting out all they'd lost in the running battle and sealing up their names for entry into the Blade's book of the dead.
It dulled the pain, made it distant, manageable, let him focus on the rest of their mission. "Fan out," he rasped. "King Wrynn fell here. If the Legion's left anything of his body or spirit, we're to find it. Any evidence--anything. Bring it to me."
Dull shock rippled through the massed knights at that; they exchanged unhappy lichfire glances, the first evidence he'd seen all that day of disobedience. A part of him--tiny, stupid, hopeful part--was glad to see it, glad to see them questioning an order for once. Or...not questioning, as the case might be, for not a one of them said a word, only settled their looks on Thassarian--the most senior left among them, who had the Deathlord's ear--after several long moments of unease. Left to ask the question on every mind, the human knight cut straight to the point: "Is he the next of the Horsemen, sir?"
"No. Oh, Light, no." What was a prayer in any other company was blasphemy in this one, and their discomfort only deepened at this reminder of just how strange a choice Lark was for Deathlord. He knew better now than to act abashed for what he'd said, simply swallowed his discomfort and bore on: "He isn't to be one of the Horseman. We will not disturb his rest, should he be resting here. Simply verify he's not in the Legion's grasp."
That seemed to smooth over their unease, stupid worthless Deathlord or not, and they turned away in pairs and trios to carry out their grim search. Thassarian remained, studying Lark intently, something almost like concern on his tattooed face. He wasn't the most perceptive of fellows by a long shot, was Thassarian, but he'd been friends--lovers--something with Deathweaver for ages, and Lark supposed he'd learned at least a little about reading an elf's ears in that time. If anyone in this whole company would know what it meant that Lark had his backed and pinned, it was Thassarian.
And Lark didn't want to talk about it; it edged too close to those things he couldn't put a voice to, lest he lose what tiny illusion of freedom remained to him--and all his hope for the Blade with it. "Quit gawping," he snapped, "and help me."
"With what, Deathlord?"
He gestured grandly at the massed demon corpses around them. "These. Take their heads. Pile them up. We're making a cairn."
"No sign to the west, Deathlord." "No body, no spirit to the east, Deathlord." "We didn't find anything, Deathlord."
In trios and pairs his knights returned, bringing only empty-handed disappointment. They made their reports standing by the cairn he and Thassarian had fashioned, sparing it only the occasional incurious glance before moving off to congregate in a weary disheartened huddle. Lark hadn't really expected the demons to have left much behind of any of their conquests, but he'd hoped beyond hope there would be something to--bury, to burn, he wasn't sure what. He hadn't thought so far ahead as to think of what he was supposed to do. Maybe it would be enough to simply confirm Wrynn dead and not taken, and leave a bloody memorial to the Blade's audacity here before the demon city. At least this way he didn't have to come up with anything to say, to try and offer some kind of funerary rite for a human he'd scarcely known.
He counted heads, ticked off names, ready to call the frostwyrms--one frostwyrm, he amended, they were few enough one would do--back to return them to Acherus. Coming up two short, he breathed out through his teeth in a hissing sigh. Ironfist and Haiya. What did he want to bet they'd stopped on their way back to take a hit off Ironfist's ubiquitous flask, as stupid an exercise as that was in the middle of enemy territory? Well, they had five more minutes to finish up their revelry before they were getting left behind to find their own way home--though he'd send a gargoyle to inform them as much, since it wasn't in him to simply leave his men behind--
"Oi! Deathlord! Sair! We found summat of the king!" Even if Lark hadn't been an elf, he would've heard Ironfist's yelling a mile off--as, he was sure, did every demon in the vicinity. Nothing to be done for it except hope the bastards had been sufficiently cowed by Ebon Blade brutality that they wouldn't regroup for another attack. He stepped away from the cairn, lifting a hand and clearing his throat to call the dwarf's attention as he barreled through the crowd.
"Thank you, Ironfist, I hear you and so does every demon listening. What did you find?" The king's spirit, maybe, was the best they could hope for. It presented Lark with an awful problem of how to lay such a fiercely angry individual to rest, but would confirm that the eternal part of Varian Wrynn was at least free of the Legion's torture.
The dwarf came to a halt, hauling up with a sharp salute with his free hand. The other hand... "Aye, pardon, sir. His swords, sir; I've got the one and Haiya t'other." ...held a sword, a curious thing of kaldorei make that Lark recognized without ever having seen it before in his undeath. Shalla'tor or Ellemayne, he didn't know which was which, but he'd heard their story. Shadow Render and Reaver, blades with a lineage extending back to the War of the Ancients.
And here they'd done their final wielder no good, for all they'd been mighty against the demons in times past. He held out his hand to take the blade from Ironfist as his knight proffered it hilt-first, hefting it and testing its balance on numb reflex. Too small for him, but beautiful to hold all the same. "Thank you," he repeated, and, "you're dismissed." Without really thinking, he bent and laid the sword at the foot of the cairn.
Straightened, to find Haiya standing silently before him with the other blade held out. He nodded once to the mute knight, accepting the second blade and finding it as lovely as the other. If he'd at all been inclined to fighting with paired blades, he'd be tempted to keep them, he knew.
But that was a level of disrespect even he couldn't sink to, not any longer, no matter what might be demanded of him. He reached out to that ever-present Presence in the back of his mind.
Now what? He's dead and there's nothing else left of him. Are you satisfied?
<<Not until you have laid this last vestige of him to rest.>>
Horror flooded Lark. I can't! This isn't mine! I barely knew him! he cried out within himself, looking down at the sword in his hands, knowing it to have died with its wielder. Shalla'tor and Ellemayne had been living weapons as all elven blades were; there was no magic in this blade or its twin now. His death knights, sensing distress like sharks do blood, looked up from their desultory conversations and toward their Deathlord, drawing in close.
<<If you would have leave to do honor to your dead, Deathlord, you will honor mine as well.>>
So. And so. This loss wasn't his, but Lark had promised--had begged, pleaded at the foot of the shapeless looming thing in its blackened hall, that the Ebon Blade could be more than an instrument of slaughter. The dead need us, he had said, and, Who better to ease their suffering than we who share it? Who better to do them proper honor, to intercede for them with the living?
He raised his eyes then to his remaining knights where they stood around him, faces turned toward their Deathlord--expectant, hollow, waiting for some pronouncement from him. He knew in that moment who these were, and why Fordragon had singled them out for this mission--not because they could be spared for a suicide mission, for none of the Blade truly could be, no matter they could replace their numbers without end and pretended that was enough. Not for their skill or experience that would give them a better chance of survival, nor that they held any special claim for revenge against the demons, any more than anyone else did.
It was these knights who had still done their high king honor in their hearts even as they served an order that made itself blind to the division between Alliance and Horde. These were they who'd gone back to Stormwind when given the chance, back to the man who'd extended his trust to them that they could be more than monsters, whatever the Scourge had made of them.
It was these knights who still loved Varian Wrynn in that crippled way that was all that was left to the undead.
As had Bolvar.
As had Arthas.
He wished he'd thought to tell them--all of them he'd amassed for this mission--what they had come here to accomplish, so those who had died could have gone into the darkness knowing for whom they perished. He wished he'd known the whole of it himself.
Then if you would have me honor him, you cannot hold this grief to yourself, my king, he replied, soft and chiding. I would know the man you mourn, though we would have been enemies in life.
It wasn't something he asked for lightly, knowing how cruel and thorough the Lich King's gifts of knowledge could be. This one was no less than usual, for all it was one given out of something like love, hard and sharp and bright. In an instant he knew Varian Wrynn, flawed and fallible man that he was, given to great sorrow and great rage alike. He knew the human king in his brooding youth and furious manhood, halved by dragon magic and made whole again by forces inexplicable.
He knew how Wrynn had mourned Bolvar Fordragon's death at Angrathar, something Fordragon had not learned of until years after.
He knew this was Fordragon's way of returning that brotherly service, tasking his death knights to mourn instead where the Lich King could not weep openly.
Lark closed his eyes for a moment, fingers tightening on the hilt of the sword in his hand as he ran through the words in his head, picking carefully what he would say. The Presence, always a subtle pressure, didn't interfere, blessedly--frustratingly--leaving it all on him to prove the worth of his oath. At last, he opened his eyes, fixing them on the gruesome memorial they'd raised to the Alliance's dead king.
"Knights of the Ebon Blade," he began, then: "Soldiers of the Alliance. We do honor here to High King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind, who fell in this place defying the Legion to his last breath. Called the Wolf by friend and enemy alike, he was not a man untroubled, known for his wrath as well as his generosity. Yet he strove always to be deserving of the crown he bore, and proved his unflagging courage to the very end.
"We do honor here to Varian Wrynn, who died as he lived, defending the people he loved. May his spirit rest in the Shadowlands, knowing he is remembered by those he brought forth from the shadows, when all others would have rightfully spurned you.
"May you strive every day of your undeath to be worthy of this man's trust and esteem, and go to your second death with valor to rival the Wolf's."
Silence followed his words. He looked up from the cairn, searching the faces of his men, too weary to fear what he'd find there--that he'd so completely misjudged them and the moment, that all of this was lost on them, that he'd spent lives for nothing. For worse than nothing, for the grim knowledge that they really were nothing more than hollowed-out monsters, incapable--or undesiring--of the least mortal sentiment.
He'd never been so glad in his undeath to find himself wrong than he was in that moment.
The dead did not weep, but had ways of showing sorrow all the same. Delvar Ironfist was the first to step up to the cairn, lower lip trembling as he drew a battered Stormwind valor medal from his belt pouch and laid it beside the sword on the ground. "For t'King," he pronounced. "The Light may've had done with us, aye, but let it keep him." One by one the rest of the knights followed, each of them producing some token of significance--for many, no more than a lock of hair--to add to the burgeoning makeshift shrine. It wasn't Lark's place to join them, but when they had done, he stepped forward to drive the remaining sword into the top of the cairn, burying it in demon skulls to its hilt.
"He will be avenged," he pronounced, voice quiet but carrying still.
"He will be avenged," his knights replied. And: "The dead do what the living cannot."
And for once, the words raised no echo of dread in Lark's breast.
Not all of the Lich King's requests were so onerous to be borne, but they were heavy all the same.
[v2, 3/5/2017: editing pass.]
Azeroth is a world under siege. What began as small-scale invasions, precision dagger-strikes aimed at the hearts of Horde and Alliance territory, has erupted into a globe-spanning storm of demonic fury. There's nowhere safe from the demons, nowhere anyone could hope to hide and ride it out.
Lark doesn't wonder anymore at the wasteful short-sightedness of Legion tactics: they don't need to be better than they are. The demons are ultimate masters of the war of attrition, grinding down whatever stands in their way with an infinite immortal army. Whispers have it that only boredom and bloodlust are keeping the Legion from their deathstroke--that they're toying with Azeroth's defenders, like a cat with its helpless prey. The very thought of that makes Lark furious, even as the sadistic part of him has to admire its sheer cruelty.
Certainly there's every reason to give in to despair in the face of the odds against them. Even the Ebon Blade, near-immortal themselves, face a daily litany of permanent losses that the necromancers can't quite make up. (Acherus is daily growing stranger to Lark's senses, full of new voices and new scents as the battlefield dead are raised to replace the lost.)
It's rage that keeps Lark going--rage, and a leavening of irrational hope. It's rage that's kept him out here in the Barrens since sunrise on the longest day of his undeath, tireless in defense of the Crossroads and Ratchet and all the little outlying farms.
It's rage that's kept him out here trailing a wounded shivarra from the Crossroads nearly to the Wailing Caverns. The six-armed demoness had vanished from her attackers' sight when the odds against her grew overwhelming, intending to slip away and lick her wounds before rejoining the fray. The Caverns seemed like an ideal place to hole up and disappear, but her blood trail can't be so easily hidden from Lark's unnaturally keen nose. He hadn't been in the original group to attack her--she shed those quite handily--but came quite fortuitously across her fresh spoor, and yelled for anyone who'd help him take the demon bitch down.
That landed him in the van of an irregular, mixed-faction group of soldiers, all of them hungry for revenge. It's only grown in size as they traveled and the trail become fresher and easier to track.
The oasis is swarming with felstalkers and imps when the ragged troop arrives. Most of them splinter off to deal with the immediate threat, wary lest the lesser demons rally and come at them from behind in force--but Lark stays on his quarry's trail, intent as a dog with a bone. It leads straight into the upper parts of the cave system, and that should spark caution in his heart, the fear of an ambush once he's out of shouting distance of anyone who could help. But--he simply doesn't care. The shivarra's down there and she's injured, and he's going to find her and he's going to dismember her and he's going to enjoy every moment of it, because the Legion deserve no better for what they've done.
08 September 2016: Started.
09 September 2016: Minor text fixes.
11 September 2016: More minor text fixes, finished appearance section.
19 September 2016: Finished Speech and Mental & emotional sections. Started Relationships.
20 September 2016: Started Daily life.
22 November 2016: Minor edits, continued Relationships.
08 March 2017: More edits, continued Relationships.
09 May 2017: More work on relationships.
19 May 2017: Mostly finished!
( The New, Improved Character Survey of Doom )
LARKSPUR'S DUMB HUMBLEBRAG GUIDE TO
I don't know if people are trying to solo this on 10H post-ability prune, or if I'm one of the few dumb enough to try it, but I just managed it on an ilvl 717 UH DK.
Relevant talents: Epidemic, Asphyxiate, Corpse Shield, Dark Arbiter
Gear: Thorasus, Purified Shard of the Third Moon
Macro: /tar Pinning Arrow
Addon: Any raid timer.
The trick of the fight is surviving Qiang and Subetai to get to Zian and Meng, who are dessert.
To start the fight: Stand by Subetai. Prepull preparation is to generate as much RP as possible--drop D&D, spam off your charges of Epidemic, then summon your ghouls. Pull Qiang. Pop the Purified Shard, Dark Transformation, your ring, and Dark Arbiter, and proceed to unload for the next fifteen seconds (weave in a DS or two in place of DC so you get some benefit back from being hit by Massive Attack). If you get the timing right, Subetai will spawn as your ring wears off and eat the damage, which kills Qiang.
Subetai is all about avoiding Sleight of Hand and Pillage. On Sleight, stun him with Asphyxiate as soon as he's finished casting and continue DPS. His CD for it is slightly shorter than the Asphyxiate CD, so keep that in mind. When you see his timer for Pillage coming up, pop Wraith Walk and move away from him--he'll charge you but you'll easily outdistance him before Pillage hits. (If Pillage actually hits you despite that, use Corpse Shield and DS to survive.) When you get pinned down, either spam your macro to get your pet to clear the arrow (which will also give you Dark Succor), or use IBF if you need to immediately avoid Volley or Flanking Attack. Continue using Wraith Walk to outdistance Pillage once he's down.
For Zian, you can eat the Shield of Darkness charges with AMS/Corpse Shield/Purified Shard up, and you'll have your ring back to burst him down with. Outbreak onto the little adds gets rid of them handily.
Then Meng is trivially easy.
Worth noting that on one attempt I made, Zian never spawned--it proceeded right to Meng, bugging out the fight and eventually killing me with Maddening Shout.
The Gift of the Moon and Sun, as told to Yarrow White-Eyes by the dragon Half-and-Again
On nights of the full moon, though the Blighted were tireless and dragons seldom slept, Half-and-Again insisted they stop their work on the eggs and take time out for stories. Sometimes she pestered Yarrow for them, and haltingly, in language plain and graceless, he told her: half-remembered stories from his own childhood or the childhoods of a hundred-hundred other Blighted, or memories of better times worn so soft and frayed around the edges that they might as well have happened to someone else.
More often the dragon herself held forth, producing stories like a merchant would pluck pearls from a velvet pouch and hold them up for her audience's inspection. At first Yarrow simply thought she was such a creature as loved to hear the sound of her own voice, until one of her many husbands had come visiting and she kept them up all the night listening to his stories, and she chortled over the fine additions to her collection when he was gone. It was the getting of stories that pleased Half-and-Again the most, though she took great delight in having a house-guest to display them to; it was simply she was a consummate hostess, and did not wish to discomfit her guest overmuch, shy and halt of speech as he was.
So it was on this night Half-and-Again led Yarrow to the garden outside her lair, and plumped herself down like a great cat with mane and ruff on end against the early autumn chill. She arranged her solari guest against one huge flank, solicitous as ever of his comfort (he could scarcely feel the wind and told her as much, but she insisted on making of her tail a windbreak anyway), before settling comfortably in on herself and beginning her story.
"Tonight," she said, "I am hopeful in our work, so it is auspicious to speak of beginnings. You are a Child of the Sun, and the Moon is full-gravid; thus I will speak of how your gods came to live in them.
"As you know, the Moon and the Sun were not always the homes of your Mother and Father." This Yarrow did not in fact know, but he knew better than try and stop Half-and-Again in the middle of a story; he more easily might have redirected a river in full spate with his bare hands. If she wished to wax eloquent on nonsense, when everyone knew the Sun and the Moon had watched over Urd from the beginning--well, it wasn't any stranger than her other stories. He made a noncommittal noise, closing his eyes and leaning back to bury himself in her fur.
She took no notice. "When Island was first formed out of the mud and the dust in the Vast Black Deep, our Celestial Parent kneaded it with His claws and breathed the sweet breath of His nostrils upon it, and at last when it was round and beautiful as a pearl, He folded Himself about it to brood it until life burst forth. The bright polished scale of His belly became the firmament in the day; His right great-eye roamed it as the Sun, while his lesser eyes were the stars that spangled the darkness of his midnight fur, and He rolled His left great-eye among them as the Moon. 'Why,' you might ask, 'would He let His eyes wander about so? Had He not so much control over His members as the least child?' Of course He did! But there was much to watch in those first days, as the first and smallest lives kindled in the seas and beneath the stones, creeping ever forth to bud and bloom and grow. He would not miss a moment of it, and so the light of His eyes shined ceaselessly, night and day, as He looked down upon what He had engendered.
"Life fought with life in that greatest, most sacred, most auspicious of battles, and the greatest and strongest of lives survived to glorify our Parent's handiwork. Soon the first child in His image walked the face of Island, then another, and another, until our five first parents--Mother and Mother, Father and Father and cherished Begetter--beheld each other and embraced at last. With them began the great work of Becoming, and their second-children multiplied and coupled and refined themselves until here we are today. We have made much of ourselves, but still have much yet to Become.
"But the great work is more suitable talk for spring, when our eggs are all safely gathered in and our second-children secured from the plague that dogs their heels. Tonight, we speak of your Moon and Sun and how they came to Island.
"It was long after our own first parents had embarked upon Becoming, and the numbers of their second-children waxed great to fill its great roundness, so that the light of our Parent's eyes did not cease to behold the progeny He had shaped, and it was good to Him. And yet, though He had much to watch on Island in those days, He kept his lesser eyes upon the Vast Black Deep--for the howls of the Hunters echoed through it even then, and He would not have them steal Island from Him, nor mar its face. One day, He saw afar off a brightness in the Deep that was at once both familiar and strange, like the spoor of distant kin long ago parted from the same first-child. The brightness wavered and struggled and drew nearer, and at last became two brightnesses in the shapes of a half-sexed Man of your people and his Wife. Though they were like no creature of Island, our Parent recognized them as distant siblings enjoined in the same Work that He was, and He welcomed them and wept to see them wounded. They had with them children of their own Begetting, and these our Parent marveled to see, for they were formed so differently from us--small, half-sexed, unchanging in their essence but wonderfully arrayed across all the forms and types life can take.
"'Welcome, Sister and Brother, nephews, nieces,' He said to them. 'Though a sad welcome it must be, for you have been driven far from your Begetting and your own Island. What has happened?'
"The Man, bright as our Parent's Eye and as golden, spoke: 'It is the wolves, dear brother, come out of the Deep in vaster numbers than any We have known. They overran Our world in the space of a breath; We gathered all that We could and brought them safely hence, and now I will return to do battle against them though I know Myself surely doomed.' And at this, his Wife, fair and silver as a mirror, wept; for even then she knew she would be witness to the death of her beloved in the defense of all they had made.
"Though He had been made singly, being a perfect union of all things within Himself, still our Celestial Parent knew the love of mate for mate and parent for child, and He wept to see this woman weep. 'Do not weep, o Woman,' He said to her, and to him: 'Do not go yet, o Man. Your children will have a place upon my Island, and they need Your guidance. When the Hunters come in their numbers, We three and all that We have Begotten may stand together against them, and will not die.' And so saying He plucked His great-eyes from His head, and made of them homes for the Man and Wife; and together, the Three reshaped a part of Island so their children might live safely, though you were a sort of life so different from our own.
"So moved were the Man and Wife by this great gift, that they promised their own children would ever be friends to our Parent's, and should the Hunters come with their gifts of plague and fear and poison, the Man would stand to our defense as he did to the defense of his children. And when the Hunters did come out of the Vast Black Deep, the Man laid down his life as he said he would to stop them, and they were stopped, and so the gift of the Moon and Sun were repaid a thousandfold."
Yarrow felt Half-and-Again tilt her head to regard him as she pronounced the last word of the story, and he imagined her great-eyes catching the light of the Moon and shining back as silver as her god's. The Blighted could not weep, but it was still some time before he could force words around the lump in his throat: "Is it true?"
The dragon laughed her high, tinkling woman's laugh, a sound too delicate for the house-sized creature it came from. "Of course it's true, dear guest. All of my stories are true; I tell you so every time." She ruffled out her wings, the folded feathers hissing over each other with a sound of distant waves. "Do you mean, is it fact? For I tell you it is not your Moon and Sun that stood always in our skies, and you, Sun-child, are not of a sort of life that could thrive here on its own. I do think that you and your gods came across the Deep, and that much of the story really did happen as told.
"But," she continued gently, as Yarrow swallowed hard and pressed the heels of his hands against his sightless eyes, "I do not know so. There are some who say you are our Creator's joke upon us, because we ask too many questions of life instead of getting on with the great work, and there are others who do not believe in Him or any gods at all and make up their own stories about stones in the sky carrying life across the Deep to land on Island's shores. I wonder what they will say when you tell them of the miracle you were part of." Half-and-Again seemed to relish the thought; she loved contentions as much as she loved stories. Her avarice for it wrung a weak, involuntary laugh from Yarrow, though his own feelings on the matter of the miracle were yet tender.
"But--," he began again, then found himself without words. The dragon waited politely while he sifted through his thoughts for them, struggling around his own emotions to form them into something coherent. "It isn't how we were told it. I didn't know--not everyone knows, the priests and the skalds say that this world was ours to begin with, and the ulven ruined all but the smallest part of it. That's why there's hardly anywhere to live outside the forests, and the vampir and the rusalka and the d..." The lump was back, and he couldn't complete the thought.
"And the dragons, should they exist at all, wish you naught but harm?" Half-and-Again's voice was gentle still, with no shade of offense. "Because we were not children of your gods, but beasts twisted by the plagues of the Hunters, when all the world fell beneath them?"
Yarrow nodded, mutely. Though it did not beat, his heart had never felt so leaden in his chest as now.
The dragon was silent for a long time, though he could hear and feel as she moved her wings and claws by tiny increments. 'Hunting down the prey of thought,' she had told him in the past; she was thinking deeply. At last, she said, "If it is not grossly rude, dear guest, I will venture to speak your thoughts: If your version of the story is not the truth," and she paused to be polite, should Yarrow wish to voice the thought himself.
"Then there's no offense before God to love a dragon as a sister," he completed, though the words hurt to speak. "I k, knew you couldn't be varulf yourself if ulven would hunt you, too, but I have been so wrong before--and we were pledged to be your friends..." He stammered into silence and put his hands over his face again.
Half-and-Again thought over this, too, then gave a great gusty huff of a breath and rearranged her wings noisily to cover the sounds her guest was making. At length, she announced, "The horizon is halfway to the Moon, and there was another story I wanted to tell, before we might retire to speak more about truth and fact. For when your Sun saw that our Parent had put out His own eyes to make them welcome, he spoke a prophecy of one of his own children-to-come, who would be blind by his own hand..."
Prologue: The World Beyond the World
There is a world beyond the world that is seen, a dark and bodiless world where souls reside. Some call it the World of the Dead, but it is as much the World of the Unborn, where those who have yet to be on their way to be born pass those who have been on their way to the Mother’s arms. It is a quiet world without matter or strife, where the dead may rest until their hearts are at peace, where the sinners and the troubled may shed the stains of the world and reconcile themselves to the gods.
Most do, and pass stately into that repose that lies beyond the darkness. Some hesitate in fear or pain, and stay a long time in the dark. Others rage against the injustice of their own deaths, unable to return until time sees the fire in their hearts turned to ash.
A very few refuse to be reconciled at all, and remain forever in a cold hell of their own making.
Koschei—called the Deathless—hung in the blackness beyond the world with the light at his back. He would not look at it. Had not, in all the ages he had been suspended here, glanced at it once. The light had made him promises in life, and broken them. The light had forsaken his people, and did not deserve them, nor so much as an acknowledgement from him. One day he would depart its presence permanently, bursting through the surface of the world from death back into life, never to die again. One day, he would redeem his people from this place and make them eternal, supplanting the gods who had betrayed them.
Memory was his only companion in the dark. The ghosts around him existed as targets for his rage and little more; they were scarcely aware that they had died, let alone that there were others with them in the dark. Sometimes the newly dead were a source of information, wearing memory and emotion like dust on their skins. He was still táltos enough to peer dimly up through the surface of the world at the realm of the living, watching the events that played out distant and muted overhead as if through deep water; but he could touch those who had just come from life and be them for an instant, seeing all they had seen.
Any fresh influx of spirits was a chance to reconstruct the means of their dying from vivid memories, to live and die again vicariously. If his own losses had not been enough to harden his heart against the gods forever, those stolen moments would have done it: He lived out every injustice, every massacre, every horrific death from war or disease or murder. Those who had passed peacefully were of no interest to him; their presence in the dark was fleeting as they went willingly back to the Mother’s embrace.
Koschei despised them in their weakness. They loved the architect of all that was awful in the world and wanted nothing more than to be reunited with Her. He fed on that despite as he fed on the pain and horror of those who died badly, and he grew strange and tortured and mad.
He had come close to escaping many times in the past, called forth out of the dark by desperate magic or the impassioned plea of a distant descendant. He had walked the realm of the living as a ghost, or hovered in the back of a willing mind and breathed knowledge into it. But without a body of his own the world soon became as insubstantial to him as he was to it, and he slipped back into the darkness.
He could not simply take another body as his own. Though the weak-willed heard his whispering as their own thoughts, no force of will would let him displace their spirits outright. It took power he didn’t have to break a living soul in half and unseat the spirit from its flesh; whatever Her other failures, the Mother had made her children well in that regard.
The bond between spirit and body could be broken, he knew; it was severed on death, and the force as it snapped threw the dead far into the darkness. If he caught a soul in the instant of its dying, he might take the power of that death and reforge his own tie to the world. He had ridden the unfortunates who called on him down into oblivion and wrested magic from their deaths to take their flesh for his own; each time, the stolen body had turned to corruption around him without the living spirit for which it had been made. Each failure stoked his rage and drove him to new tactics.
He tried letting the spirits keep their bodies, but pushed them down below the level of conscious thought—still they fought him off, for he could set no hooks in a soul that did not invite him willingly. So he lied to them and entreated them to invite him in, and found he could not inhabit the bodies of those not of his own blood; the sympathetic magic between spirit and flesh would not permit a stranger to use it. Spirits who did not hate as strongly as he hated, who were not filled in the instant of their deaths with the same rage that burned in him, slipped from his grasp before he could make use of them.
The path back into life was hedged by so many difficulties that a lesser man would have quailed at the impossibility. Koschei did not. He overcame each obstacle methodically, watching for the next confluence of events that would deliver to him a soul he could use.
Years crept by as he hung in the blackness and watched. Decades and centuries and ages of suffering, disaster, and death sent spirits reeling into the dark, and he took memories from all of them. Despite it all, mankind multiplied and spread across the world. He watched them reclaim the cities they had been driven from, settling to the business of being nations once more.
Some of these fledgling nations died early, crushed between avaricious neighbors or destroyed by a hostile environment. Some settled in once place only to be driven to another by outside depredations. One kingdom in particular was uprooted several times, driven relentlessly north until they were in lands no other people would possibly desire: the edges of the Godfall Wastes. They settled beside those very icefields, and there struggled to make an existence from the plague-raddled hinterlands. The ruling family of this starveling kingdom claimed direct lineage to Koschei through his son, and so he watched them closely.
The kingdom was doomed, he knew. The ulven, those enemies of life who had made the Wastes, delighted in suffering and would not miss a chance to wipe a people out of existence as a man would crush an ant. A people who would not even suspect their danger, for they were a special breed of fools who worshipped the Mother and believed She would protect them.
He could warn them, but he wanted to see them fail, just as he had--and he saw that the kingdom’s rulers loved their people fiercely. When those people began to die, how quickly that love would turn to fury at anything that harmed them.
Death, blood, and rage: the pieces were in place, and it was only a matter of time before this kingdom provided a soul to be Koschei’s path out of death.
( Version one )
It did not mollify the people of the ash tree, but they loved Moroz well and would not gainsay his word. Nevertheless they kept the freakish child at arm’s length, and Koschei grew to manhood in relative solitude. He was never for want of companionship, for even as a child ghosts walked with him; never for want of a teacher, for he had learned all he must know in his mother’s womb, though that knowledge rested lightly on him as a child. He learned to listen more than he spoke, to endure without complaint, and became hard and strong.
Though he knew much more of the world than any other man of the Yasen, he did not lord his knowledge over others; nor would he use it to take what he did not earn by the sweat of his brow. Though ghosts attended him, he asked nothing of them and always listened to what they had to say. So he proved himself worthy as his father’s successor, and became the war-leader of the Yasen by right of heredity.
In those times man fought against man, and man against solari, and man against the beasts of the wild. The war-leader was a man of courage but also of cunning, for no tribe existed that could field an army, and every man lost in battle was a hunter and husband lost as well. But Koschei was wise, and the ghosts of war-leaders past flocked around him, and he led the Yasen to victory time and again. Slave raids were turned back, their stolen people reclaimed; wives and horses and prized hunting grounds fell into the Yasen’s hands. They grew prosperous, spreading their influence far beyond the forests around the Wastes. Other tribes clamored to ally with them--but a position of strength breeds envy as often as it does loyalty and there were those of this world and beyond who took note of the Yasen and began to scheme.
The fertile lands of the Juhász bordered on those of the Yasen. Though they bore their neighbors little in the way of real ill-will, it was not uncommon for each tribe to raid the other for wives. It was on such a raid that Koschei met--and stole--his own wife-to-be. Women did not often truly fear to be taken in the wife-raids--for they often grew tired of the men of their own tribe--but it was their way to act as if they were terrified of their captors. Erzsébet showed no fear from the moment she laid eyes upon Koschei, for the Juhász had legends of men and women born with extra fingers, and knew them for the Mother’s messengers--the táltos, who warred for all mankind in heaven.
That he should be such a thing came as a shock to Koschei--as did his wife-to-be in declaring they must be married, for the Mother had told her she would marry a táltos and teach him those secrets he did not yet know. He resisted the thought at first, for the Yasen worshipped the ash tree and the moist growing earth, and knew the Mother only as a distant presence; he did not like the thought of a foreign god interfering in his life. But Erzsébet appealed to him, both with the Mother’s wisdom and her own wisdom of the ways between men and women, and soon they were married. He would not yet accept her god as his own, but he had grown to love her and would not be parted from her.
Their marriage feast was a thing of legend, for at the height of the feast, as Koschei raised his cup to pour out a blessing upon the earth, the ghosts came to him. Many at the feasting board did not see them; some did; but all saw as their war-leader’s eyes rolled back in his head, as he shook like a man palsied, and all heard as he proclaimed the Mother in a voice that shook them to their cores. He spoke of wonders that could not be repeated, and of his own purpose in being placed among the Yasen at that time: He was to go into the Godfall Wastes and heal them, and raise the Winter Sun Khors from His long death.
That night the Yasen learned for good and all that the Mother had sent a táltos among them, and he would be their war-leader in heaven as on earth. None who had seen it would deny the miracle of the wedding feast, and if any still harbored resentment or suspicion of Koschei it was gone in that instant.
They were ready to make him their patriarch--but he would not, for love of his father. Moroz, for love of his people, knew that his own time of strength was long past, and so urged his son to lead the Yasen in life as well as he had in war. Reluctant and overwhelmed with the sudden sense of his destiny, Koschei accepted--though Moroz was to stand as his voice for years more, as Koschei turned to Erzsébet to learn what a táltos must do. He sent gifts and entreaties to the Juhász--and the Lakatos and the Varga, and any other tribe who had táltos among them--inviting them to join the Yasen as brothers. His war, he realized, had grown far beyond the mere clash of tribes; the forces arrayed against the Mother, the ulven and their foul varulf, grew fat on the strife between man and man, and laughed to see them die fighting each other.
That strife must end, he knew, and so he made allies of all who would be his allies, and summoned those older and wiser than he to teach him to be a táltos.
And Erzsébet taught him as well, and he loved her, and in time she gave him a son--a six-fingered son, whom Koschei named Dalibor for the far-off war the táltos would fight in heaven.
The brotherhood of tribes grew, and grew prosperous. No longer bound to war against one another, they settled to farm and herd and raise children, and prepare themselves for the greater struggle to come. Many children were born, and Koschei and Erzsébet added many of their own to the increase of the Yasen and the Juhász. Koschei grew wiser still, in war and leadership and fatherhood, in the knowledge of the ghosts and the ways of the táltos. For a time, under his guidance, there was peace and true prosperity, enough even that some began to consider retaking the cities.
Few things attract a wolf like an abundance of prey. The solari, their hearts long-darkened by the ulven, grew aware of the thriving nation of men on their borders. Some among them saw it as a threat, and counseled caution or war by turns. Others still remembered mankind as their cousins, and pled with their brothers to do no harm to those they had already badly hurt. But most saw it as an opportunity, for here there were slaves to be taken, young and beautiful and malleable. Long had they left the human tribes in peace--not out of desire or recognition of cousinhood but because they had been too difficult to easily overcome--but the presence of so many in one place was too much to bear. The solari gathered in their strength and drew upon their magic, and marched forth from the Sun-wood to take slaves once more.
The Yasen, and the Juhász, and the Varga and Lakatos and all their allies, knew nothing of what stood arrayed against them. Secure in their strength and alliances with their neighbors, they had grown lax in the habit of watching their borders--and so the solari came upon them unprepared, as a wolf on an unprotected flock. Many were slain who fought, and many more--lovely daughters and strong, stalwart sons--were carried off captive to the solari lands. Among them were Koschei and Erzsébet’s own beloved daughters, and long did the mother weep over her stolen children.
Koschei’s heart became a black thing on that day. He raged against the solari, against their god, against the Mother for countenancing such an evil to live. He vowed to take his daughters back; he raised an army of every fighting man who remained to the brotherhood of tribes, but no way could be found through the killing wards of the Sun-wood. Frustrated, sick at heart, he turned then to his visions to divine what might be done. Time had dulled them--time and distance from the Mother, as he would not listen to Her in his grief--but he clung to them nevertheless.
One evening, as he meditated, a new vision came to Koschei: Should he fulfill his destiny to heal the Godfall Wastes, the solari’s magic would be broken in that same hour. Black joy welled in him at the thought; without their magic, the solari were too few to stand against all the brotherhood of the tribes. He would shatter their magic, redeem his daughters and all the stolen children, and wipe the solari from the face of the earth. He hastened to tell Erzsébet, certain the news would lift her from her mourning. But she did not rejoice to hear that their daughters might be returned, nor that the enemies who had stolen them might be destroyed. She did not believe such a vision would come from the Mother, nor that the Mother would countenance the destruction of the solari--for they, too, were Her children. Do not go, she told him; he had other children who needed a father, tribes that needed a leader, a world that needed healing if only he could become right in his own heart.
Koschei would not--could not--listen. If the Mother countenanced the taking of slaves and would not destroy the slavers Herself, then She did not deserve his obedience. He called all the táltos of all the tribes to him and told them of his vision--that the time had come to cleanse the Godfall Wastes, and once they had, a way would be opened for them to save all those the solari had stolen. He did not speak to them of his own designs on the fate of the solari, believing them blinded to the true course by their own worship of the Mother. In due time, he thought, he could reveal to them the course to see their people freed forever from the threat of slavery.
They made preparations and in due time took their journey to the Wastes. Koschei’s vision of exactly what he must do to cleanse the land remained elusive, and he would not ask the Mother to guide him. The ghosts who had long walked at his side had abandoned him when he did not listen to their words of caution; nevertheless, he believed the knowledge of his task would come to him as they reached the Wastes.
But they did not reach the Wastes.
The ulven and their varulf servants had laid a trap for the táltos on the way. The road into the Wastes was long and hard, and the táltos were stretched to the exhaustion of their magic--and one night as they lay in exhausted slumber, the varulf came upon them in the dark, slitting throats and breathing plague into their lungs. One of the ulven itself appeared in their midst, striking terror into the hearts of those who saw it and sending them fleeing in every direction. Many were lost in the Wastes, never to return. The survivors--Koschei among them--returned home in terrible disarray, bringing with them unbeknownst the varulf plague. All among their tribes they touched sickened with it, and all who sickened with it, died in turn. Erzsébet died in Koschei’s arms, and their children followed soon after--all but Dalibor, whom the gods still planned for.
On the day he buried his wife, Koschei swore an oath against the gods, a black and terrible oath that he would oppose them as he opposed the ulven, for all his life that remained and into death. He swore against the Mother for Her faithlessness to the Yasen and the Juhász and all those who had trusted Her; against Khors the Winter Sun for loving the solari and giving them power over mankind; against the damp growing earth and the ash tree and all the others who had stood mute and refused to aid him in his time of need. He swore he would redeem his people from slavery and from death; he would make them eternal, and establish them in the place of the gods who had betrayed him.
And then he walked into the wilderness, and was not heard of by the Yasen again.
It is said he walked to the other side of death then, and learned its secrets. It is said he did not die, but passed alive into the world beneath the world, growing in power and wresting secrets from the ghosts. In the years that followed, many would attest to having seen him--a vengeful figure from out the dark, come to aid those forsaken by the gods with an army of ghosts at his back. Many still call on him in direst need, when dying of plague or overwhelmed by their enemies, and it is said that he answers still--but at a price.
And the price the dead demand for their aid is a terrible one indeed.
The Fall and Rise of Catelon
It was the last day of spring and the kingdom of Catelon lay dying.
Avenant Guillory stepped through the gates of his father’s palace with deliberate care, pausing once to steady himself against sudden vertigo. A carrion stench hung in the air: the royal guard, rather than abandon their king, had succumbed to the plague at their posts and lay in huddled heaps of armor and pikestaffs. I knew these men, Avenant thought, dizzily; and now they were so much rotting meat. There was no room left in him for grief over the deaths, only a species of distant annoyance that they had died and rotted here and so limited him to shallow sips of air as he tried to catch his breath.
Swallowing bile, he pushed himself away from the gate and stumbled on. The city’s cobbled streets were perilous in his condition; he moved with the halting gait of a man much older, catching his balance against anything that came to hand. Nothing else moved in the streets: Catelon’s citizens died quietly in their homes, the carters’ horses in their stalls, the feral dogs and alley cats in the gutter. No one was abroad to see their crown prince in disgrace, staggering down the street like a common drunk as he struggled toward the Sanctuary of the Crescent.
Some vague hope beat in Avenant’s breast that he would at last be able to rest once he reached the sanctuary. Surely the brothers with their chemia and their magic had discovered something that would fight off the plague, or barring that—he stopped, wobbling, at a corner; spat blood, wiped his knuckles across his mouth—the Mother’s blessing would check the contagion as it had in the past, and if only enough of his people could be moved inside the sanctuary’s boundaries, their symptoms would vanish… He did not truly believe this would be the case, of course. Apothecaries, alchemists, and priests alike had been baffled by the virulence of the disease, far worse than spring’s usual sendings; and that had been before the brightest of them began to succumb without making any substantial progress.
No, Avenant could not believe there was any hope for him at the sanctuary, but he had to believe, or else resign himself to wasting away in the palace alongside his family. He had to fight it somehow, and if that fight was all in dragging himself the mile to the sanctuary, then that was what he would do now that he had fixed on his course. No matter that every stumble threatened to send him to his knees, that he was dizzy with fever, that the coughing only got worse and wetter as he exerted himself: he would fight until he died of it.
It took twice the time it would have taken him, healthy, to stroll to the sanctuary as he might have on the Mother’s holy days. His vision had narrowed, so blackened with exertion he didn’t realize his destination until he sagged against the wall of it, the crescents set into the stone digging into his shoulder. In his daze, he had missed the front of the sanctuary—which was just as well, as he doubted he could have managed the broad steps to the Mother’s Gate, and here was a perfectly serviceable side door. He swallowed hard, rather than spit again so close to the holy presence, and began groping his way along the wall to the door. It was locked.
“Open up!” The words came out like the gurgle of a dying beast. Avenant coughed and swallowed again, then beat his fist against the door with what little force he could muster.
No response came. Despair gripped him, then flashed into rage; he punched the door so hard his knuckles split and bled freely. “Open the damn door!”
Another coughing fit shook him, so loud and racking he nearly missed the sound of someone approaching the door from the other side. He caught himself with a hand on the doorframe as it swung open suddenly, leaving him reeling so that he nearly bowled into the brother who stood behind it. A brother who had the hubris to look disgustingly well fed and healthy, or at least when compared to the rest of the dying population; Avenant eyed the man with sudden distaste. “So you did find a cure,” he croaked. “And you’re keeping it to yourselves.”
Clearly he wasn’t the first dying man to make that accusation at the door of the sanctuary, for the brother’s immediate response was a look of fury as he tried to slam the door shut in Avenant’s face. Not to be denied, the prince thrust an arm in the way and nearly fell over again; the door pinned his arm with bruising force that he scarcely noticed. “You—“ he began, at the same moment the brother recognized his error:
“Sire!” The door swung open again. Avenant fell to one knee, barely saving himself from sprawling on the floor as the brother stepped back in shock. “My sincerest apologies, I didn’t recognize you—“
“My father,” and here, Avenant levered himself to his feet again, swaying and struggling for breath, but upright, “—my father is not dead yet. You will refer to me as your prince, and explain just what in the frozen hells you’re doing locked up in here.” He had apparently found the door into the refectory, for the room before him was long and lined with trestle tables. A fire burned at the far end. The air was uncomfortably hot.
“M-my prince,” the brother said, and gulped, face paling. There were traces of blood at the corners of his mouth, Avenant noted; so perhaps he was not faring so well after all. “—Please, your highness, come out of the door and sit; I hadn’t meant to be so hasty—that is, I didn’t recognize you; there have been so many who’ve come to the sanctuary with violent intent, I’d thought you were a looter or a cutthroat…”
Fumbling, the brother dragged a chair over and thrust it in Avenant’s direction like an offer of peace. “I don’t care what you thought,” the prince said with ill grace, and sat himself in the chair. There was no concealing the relief that washed through him at no longer being upright, though he struggled not to loll back in it as the brother bustled past to close the door. And lock it again. “Have you found a cure yet? Has the Mother done--said anything?”
The brother’s expression crumpled so rapidly Avenant was afraid he’d start crying, and the very thought of that was exasperating. Either the prince’s annoyance at the thought showed on his face or the brother had a core of steel beneath his doughy flesh, because he recovered without bursting into tears. “No, your highness. Apothecary Preux had made some progress with aqua vitae and the skins of oranges but he died at his bench—his notes are covered in blood, and I didn’t dare move him. He was the furthest along of all of them. I—“
Avenant lifted a hand to forestall further babble. “Fine. No progress. Where are the rest of the brothers? The patriarch? Has he—“ He pressed his fist against his mouth and coughed into it. Something in his chest tore like rotting parchment and he felt suddenly light-headed.
“Dead. He’s dead. They’re all dead, except for me.” Now the brother did dissolve into tears, weeping freely. “I begged the Mother to take me instead of the Holy Father, but he said it was his time, that She was calling him and—and the wolves were nearly upon us, that I should run and take word to the rest of flock, if anyone still lived. But where would I go, your highness? Is anyone still alive out there?”
The wolves were nearly upon us. Is anyone still alive out there? A sudden chill settled in Avenant’s chest. The brother stared at him, anxious and tear-stained, and he felt a sudden pity for the fat, frantic little fellow: this was likely the only subject of his kingdom who would make it out alive. The wolves are nearly upon us. This plague wasn’t another spring accident brought in by a careless smuggler; it was a weapon thrust into Catelon’s heart by an old enemy. There wasn’t any hope left; they were all of them already dead, even those with the misfortune of still drawing breath.
All that remained was the disposal of the ruins. Avenant shook his head once, as if disbelieving, and cleared his throat. An idea had begun to form, but it would require the brother not panicking. He tried to soften his voice: “What’s your name, brother?”
“C—Cassius, your highness. Is there really nothing we can do?”
Weary annoyance swelled; Avenant fought to banish it as he tugged a signet ring—far too easily—off his finger. “There is something you can do,” he said, slowly, and offered the ring. “But you must leave now, and go as quickly as you can.”
Cassius took the ring, ginger and wide-eyed, and clutched it to his chest. “What, your highness?”
“Leave on the west road. Now. Take whatever you need from the garrison—show them the signet, if anyone’s still alive.” Avenant sunk back in the chair, fighting sudden weariness and disorientation. It was becoming increasingly hard to string his thoughts together in sensible order. “My father sent word to the solari. They’ll be coming. You need to meet them—tell them what happened. What the patriarch told you. The wolves—the ulven will come for them next.” Them and everything else living on the face of the world, but he didn’t have time—or breath—to explain the magnitude of the threat.
Incomprehension on Cassius’s face, then horror as understanding dawned. “The ulven did this? Y, your highness, I can’t—“
“You can. You will. Go.” Gathering the rags of his strength, Avenant heaved himself up out of the chair, overbalancing and catching himself on the neighboring trestle. “Go, Cassius. Take a torch with you.”
The brother looked between his prince and the door in an agony of confusion. “A torch, your highness?”
“Fire everything you find. We’re as good as dead anyway. Let the city be our pyre.” He felt the corners of his mouth turn up in a rictus grin; there was no humor in the situation but he had nothing left in him but the desire to laugh, or sob. “And pray the Mother accepts our souls. Go!”
Smoke hung like a pall over the city when Avenant finally dragged himself from the sanctuary’s refectory. He had done his own part to set the city to torch, scattering coals from refectory’s fireplace as far as his flagging strength would let him and begging the Mother’s forgiveness as he did so. He didn’t know how far the fires would spread, or if every corpse in the city would burn—but it would be a suitable warning to the solari if Cassius was unable to take word to them. Sick as he was, it was unlikely the fat little brother would make it far beyond the garrison before succumbing, but Avenant had done what he could.
There was little reason for the prince to return to the palace. He could have as easily lain down in the shadow of the sanctuary and let fever and fire take him, but whatever had made him fight this far wasn’t about to give up. Leaning, staggering from wall to wall, taking whatever he could for support, he stumbled through streets turned nightmarish with the onset of twilight. Faces peered at him from out the house windows he passed; corpse-white faces, eyes white and mouths slack with the shock of death. He didn’t know if they were real.
The pain in his chest had gotten worse, become a searing agony. He couldn’t get enough air, no matter how he gulped at it. Every gasping breath was wet and tasted of blood. He heard sobs and screams somewhere up ahead of him; the sounds retreated into the distance as he approached, as if whatever—whoever—despaired fled him. Shadows congregated in the alleys in a sick parody of the city’s missing life. Near the palace now, the faces in the windows seemed to follow him as reeled past, their eyes accusing pits. It was a king’s duty to protect his people; his father had surely succumbed now, and Avenant was Catelon’s king, unable to protect them at the last. I’m sorry, he found himself mouthing to each corpse he passed. I did all I could and still failed. I’m sorry.
A loose cobble caught at his foot, tripping him. He pitched forward, went down hard on one knee, then crumpled to a fetal curl as coughing wracked him. Tried to rise and couldn’t, rolled onto his side to gag and spit—more than blood, hot and fetid. This is it, then.
The moon had risen above the smoke and Avenant rolled on his back to see it. A sudden vast sense of injustice rose in him, bitter as bile, gagging as blood. “Do something,” he spat at the moon. Mother of Us All, do something. Don’t let it end like this.
And he died, the moon shining down into his unseeing eyes.
Death delivered Catelon’s crown prince to darkness. It was a darkness with weight, with taste, with scent, all-enfolding. Something—SomeOne—waited on the other side of it, bright as the moon, and he reached for Her unthinking. He had no body, no life, no name any longer, just a desire to go to that waiting Presence.
Prince Avenant, the darkness said, shocking him back to himself—and a recollection of his fury at dying. Prince Avenant, do you hear me?
“Yes,” he said without a voice—then shut his mouth, suddenly afraid the darkness would climb through it down his throat. Yes. The feeling of desire, of unstoppable motion toward the Presence ebbed; he hung unsupported in the black.
Good. I hear you. Cling to your fury. Don’t let go. I can help you, if you don’t let go. Your kingdom does not have to die.
The hope he’d lost burned bright of a sudden, bright as his rage. Who are you?
A friend. An ancestor. Your people are my people. Something else drew close to him, neither as bright nor as incomprehensible as the Presence. I would help you. Will you let me?
He hardly had to consider it. Yes!
The new presence seemed to laugh, and asked: Will you let me in?
Didn’t I already agree? Yes! The distinction a single word might have made was lost on him, in his desperation to do something, to save his people.
Very well. By your leave— And the new presence grew, and grew, engulfing Avenant before he had a chance to scream or struggle.
Light—the moon’s light—and pain returned together. Avenant had a moment to blink and draw a breath before the thing that had found him in death flooded into his body after him like a wave of black tar. It crowded into his mind with irresistible force, prying up his wavering grip on himself as if he were a child clinging desperately to a toy. He fought to cry out, to move an arm, raise a finger, and it shoved him into a corner of his own consciousness. Sensation vanished, and with it pain, leaving him with sight and sound strangely attenuated, filtered through the invader’s perceptions.
Mine, the thing crowed. Mine, at last! Avenant could feel as it took rapid stock of his mind, tearing through his thoughts with unkind hands and examining each of them in voyeuristic detail. Memories flashed past his mind’s eye—his childhood, his parents, his first horse, engagement to Elissa, Tancrede drilling him in the sword—as it held them up and then took them for itself. It—he—the thing left echoes of himself behind in his haste and Avenant snatched at them, dazed and adrift. Another childhood a thousand years ago; a different horse, ugly and ill-formed; a different beloved, a wife, a child, another name—A name out of myth.
Koschei. Koschei the Deathless. A ghost had found Avenant in death, dragged him back into life—a ghost and a myth. Koschei wasn’t real—he was a story to frighten children—he couldn’t be real—!
The presence—Koschei—turned his attention from his ransack of Avenant’s memories, his regard intent and ice-cold. And amused. So you recognize me. Your people remembered. I’m flattered.
Let me go! Avenant retorted, furious and sick. Get out of my head!
Let you go where? Back into death? You’re too useful for that. Besides, I did promise to save your kingdom.
Unwilled, Avenant’s body pushed itself upright in the street. It—Koschei—lifted one of his/their hands, giving it a cursory examination. Good bones. Sickness has made you frail. We’ll fix that. But first, my promise. Virulent amusement lurked behind the thought, and Avenant caught the barest shape of Koschei’s intention in it: he could bring more spirits back from death with him. He could raise the dead.
He would raise the dead.
Necromancer! Penned into a corner of his own mind, helpless to act, Avenant shrieked his outrage and fear. Don’t! Mother of Us All, don’t—!
“You’re in no position to tell me what to do,” Koschei said, and stretched Avenant’s face into a hideous smile. “This is what you asked for, besides.”
He rose smoothly, the body he wore like a suit of clothes giving no indication it had been dying of plague mere minutes before. He strode the last hundred yards to the palace gates, unhurried, examining the city with a critical eye. “Your people were foolish to return here, young prince,” he said, conversationally. “The Godfall Wastes have been the death of greater men, and you thought you could live beside them? Hubris.”
Avenant clawed ineffectually at Koschei’s presence, unable to get a hold or budge it. Anger welled at the ghost’s slights, and he threw that into his efforts—to no use. We survived, he spat. For centuries, where no one else would. We did.
“Until you grew significant enough for the ulven to notice, yes. But for their own hubris, they would have taken the devil-elves down with you—slavers deserve no less.” Koschei stopped before the gates, turning his attention to the corpses of the guards Avenant had so lately passed. Bending, he laid a hand on one’s head and—reached—into death, an effort Avenant felt like a stretching of muscles he hadn’t been aware of. The guard’s spirit lay close beneath the surface of the world, shackled to its body by the agony of death. And he will return more eagerly for it, Koschei purred. The dead are often desperate. We can use that. Even as he spoke, he hooked the spirit with his will, dragging it back—and the ravaged body beneath his hand shuddered and gasped and lived once more.
No, not lived. After that first desperate gasp the guard quit breathing, but still pulled himself to his feet, picking up his pike as he did so. The other guard responded similarly as Koschei raised him from death. “My prince—you live,” this one said, voice clotted, ragged with the cough that had killed him.
“Your king,” Koschei said gently, with Avenant’s voice, composing Avenant’s face in a mask of sorrow. “My father has died of his illness.” A frisson of shock ran through Avenant as he felt the truth of this; King Galien’s spirit had fled past Koschei into death not long before. Father, he grieved soundlessly, and felt Koschei’s black humor.
The guards murmured sympathy, pressing fists to their hearts. “What must we do now, sire?”
“Open the gates and remain at your posts. There are others I must see to. I will return soon.”
Koschei stepped through the gates as they were opened, nodding once to the reverent guards as he did. Avenant shook himself from his numbness as he realized the necromancer was headed to the palace itself, horror chilling him once more. You wouldn’t—you won’t, don’t you dare visit this abomination on my family!
Oh, have no fear, young prince. I quite like our being king. I have no intention of raising direct competition. Koschei smiled fit to split his face, appallingly pleased with himself. But for now, I think it’s time you slept off the nasty shock you’ve had. I’ll need you in good condition later.
The necromancer’s will, vast and cold, wrapped around Avenant again and thrust him down once more into darkness and nonbeing.
Now alone once more in his own—stolen—head, Koschei permitted his manic smile to lapse into a grimace of irritation. The boy was strong-willed—a useful trait, to be sure, but it would be annoyingly difficult to break him into something usable. If his hold on the prince’s body hadn’t required the host spirit to remain present, he would have simply evicted the boy into death—but there was little use in wishing for what wasn’t so. He had more important tasks at hand, the raising of an army among them.
Freed of distraction, he strolled through the palace gardens. A profusion of well-trimmed hedges and flowers exotic to these climes lined the paths; he sneered at them. The prince’s people had not only been fools, they’d been soft, spoiled in their security. A disgusting length for his descendants to have fallen; it mitigated any guilt he might have felt at using them. They would be fine soldiers as any in death, and lose interest in their pretensions beside.
A suitable clearing in the gardens presented itself, set with an ornately carved bench that Koschei disdained in favor of sitting on the ground. Letting his spirit be still, he reached deep beneath the surface of the world; the spirits of Catelon’s citizens milled there in death, confused and bereft. Few of them had escaped to Her clutches; it would take a very long time for any of them to achieve the peace required, which served Koschei well. If She wouldn’t save these people, as She hadn’t saved his, She didn’t deserve them.
He touched the nearest spirits with his will, turning them back toward life and their bodies. The intangible chains binding them to Her will snapped, freeing the energy of their deaths anew; Koschei took it into himself, using it to reach further and bring more of them back into life. It worked exactly as he had imagined; raising the whole of the city was an effort of hours, but scarcely wearied him. The difficult part would be binding them all to his will, and that hardly a trial: they had died terribly, and were desperate for comfort and direction. None of them resisted when he reached into their souls and minds, setting his words there: I am your king. I am your king, and each of you owes me his soul.
Tell us what to do, o king, they clamored to him—and Koschei smiled. He had plans to make yet, but there was one task they might be set to while he laid them.
There is a man on the western road. He is varulf, dressed in the clothes of a brother of the sanctuary. He has stolen our royal signet and brought plague down on the kingdom. Find him and kill him.
He felt their acknowledgment, their eagerness for the hunt, and he let them go. Felt them surge away from him like a pack of hounds on the hunt, slavering for Cassius’ blood. It was only a pity that Avenant wasn’t conscious to see his plan to warn the devil-elves fail.
Koschei would be sure to tell him when he awoke.
Bob was the sort of fellow who made sounds for a living. His particular specialty was everyday, household sort of sounds; not a particularly high-paying job, but eminently satisfying. One could make a lot more money making sounds for explosions, but the trick to that was being on-hand when an explosion was about to happen and having the appropriate repertoire. “Boom!” and “Pow!” were all fine and good for the first few, but people expected a little more novelty in their sounds. Highly paid explosionagraphers had a range of pops and wooshes and incomprehensible gargling that Bob envied as beyond his ability to replicate.
Still, even if he wasn’t into the lucrative flash and “Bang!” of explosions, he made enough to live on and prided himself on his craft. It was the small things, really, and often the closest to home, that made the job: his wife’s relieved smile when he got the washing machine wub-wub-wubbing just right; the delighted shrieks of children when he whistled in the arrival of the ice cream truck. Outside his neighborhood, he worked part-time on the local university campus, voicing computer keyboards and the ding! of cash registers—or whatever else he might come across. He’d spent one entire afternoon covering for the guy who usually did footsteps; cheerfully intoning, “Flip, flop, flip, flop,” as he followed a man in sandals was the highlight of the day.
Another day was door slams and aeoliphone work outside the classrooms. “It’s a pun on their son’s name,” a woman said—then paused to smile appreciatively as Bob wooshed a gentle breeze behind her. “It was one of her conditions—she had, like, conditions, there were conditions for everything.”
“Click,” Bob replied with his own smile, as she pushed open a door to let her companion through. Then, “Thud,” as it closed behind them, and he pit-pit-pattered away to find someone else in need of his services.
It had been altogether one of his finer moments.
Who wants to roll a set of alts with me on an RP server?
we'll need a tauren, a troll, a blood elf or orc, and a goblin. or a draenei, a human, a worgen, and a dwarf or gnome. Class options are shadow priest, warlock, rogue, and death knight. the goblin or gnome/dwarf has to be an engineer. You have to use the darkest skin/hair/fur combinations available.
then we buy really nice hats and some candy.
we'll be <The Midnight Crew>.
We're also back to sort-of-open recruiting, since it's high time we bulldoze Guild Glory of the Cataclysm Raider while it's bulldozable. Anyone got an alt or two to spare?
PICKING UP OFF DIS THREAD: Lark and Arthas have a meaningful conversation.))
There's not a lot of Ebon Blade who even forgive themselves. It's not a real big virtue when you've decided that the Light's had done with you and nothing in life matters anymore and Death is your only mistress and-- [flaps hands to emphasize the silliness of this]
I can't speak for what the Blade would do if you came to them shorn of all your glory and were just Arthas. But I can say I'd be the first one to stand up and point out it's pretty fucking poor form to turn a blind eye to what all of us did, claiming it wasn't our choice, and then hold you accountable for everything Ner'zhul and that sword made you do. There's just as many of us who were terrible fucking people under the Scourge because we wanted to be and repented of it.
[sort-of "looks" down, ears drooping] And, uh. I think enough of us got shuffled through the Culling at Stratholme by now, thanks to the bronzes, that they'd know you weren't exactly in there for shits and giggles. Don't know that I'd've made a decision that would have saved anyone alive. Uther didn't.
AND THEN ARTHAS SAID:
Then why should I be expected to?!
[Pure whiny child there. He's going to wallow in this as long as he wants, fuckers.]
I'm going to be honest; if I were Varian, I'd have the lot of you executed. I have no idea why the Alliance re-accepted you. We shouldn't be forgiven. If we are, there's no such thing as justice. I spent my entire life seeing to it that the world was rid of monsters. I'm not going to stop now.
- the Bronzes did what now...?
AND THEN LARK REPLIED:
[exasperated:] Because they're a bunch of fucking idiots for doing it? [Come on, Arthas. You're not a fucking idiot, are you? :c] We did what we did and survived it. I won't say we're the lucky ones, but it's past now. Maybe you're right and somebody should have gotten rid of us when we put down our swords and turned ourselves over to the Horde and the Alliance for judgment, but let's face it: The people we killed are still dead. Putting us in the ground for the last time to make the living feel better about that won't bring them back, and it means we won't be there when the next fuck-ugly son of a bitch crawls out from under his Lightforsaken rock to threaten Azeroth again.
I might be blind and half-rotted and stupid but I can still hold my axe and stand between the people who matter and the things that want to kill them deader than me. If you want to hunt monsters there's plenty of them still out there that haven't pledged themselves to killing the bigger monsters than they are.
[...demure cough] Uh. Thought you might've heard about that. Infinites went and fucked with your timeline or something so they started sending people back to make sure you actually did Stratholme right. Didn't get killed halfway through or anything.
Okay, actually, I rolled two alts on Moangurd.
One is Ansawa, who will have all-Homestuck pets (plus Nemesis) and is chugging along happily making money and doing her thang, generally being a recreation of the first Ansawa because I missed her.
The other is Lord Manderly Crumplehat the balance druid, who is a tattery overweight worgen with asthma that RP-walks everywhere (because running leaves him out of breath) and is generally terrible at everything.
He has Adventures, because his father was a famous adventurer who left Gilneas before all the Troubles started, and his father sends him letters and presents and things all the time, except Crumples is really not much of an adventurer at all (he can't even swim), but he's trying.
( AND THEN THIS HAPPENED: )
I regret nothing.
I now feel obligated to use Savior of the Waking World to create a Tron music video called [S] TRON. RISE UP. (spoilers for Homestuck, yo).
because it will basically be ~amazing~.
That is all.
RIGHT NOW, book review/science tiems. I guess this is more about the science than the book review but I've been reading a lot lately and wanted to write about it all somewhere. Some of the science is questionable and I wanted to ramble about that as well, but some of it is just BOOKS, let's talk about books.
Tides, Scott MacKay
( THE TIIIIIIIIIIIIDES -- cut for NSFW descriptions of reptiles with giant hoohas )
Green, Trial of Flowers, Madness of Flowers, Jay Lake
Green is not actually a story of the City Imperishable as Trial and Madness are, but I got the feeling they either happened in the same world or two closely related worlds, since much of the language is the same, both continuities contain references to the Sunward Sea, and the theogony and role of gods are continuous in both stories. I also got the impression that the Factor from Green could have been an alternate reality version of Jason the Factor from Trial/Madness, if he'd escaped his fate in the City Imperishable and made his way to Copper Downs. They also touch on a number of the same themes, although Green is a lot more delicate about them than the CI duology is (and I like it better for that, in fact).
...Actually, while I have not ever finished anything in the Kushiel's Avatar series (which I may pick up again eventually), Green makes me think of it, redone with a lighter touch on the RAW THROBBING SEXUALITY. (Although it does get kind of gratuitous on the sex later in the book. Oh, we're stuck in a prison cell because I may have betrayed my priestly order? TIME FOR A LESBIAN MAKE-OUT
Trial and Madness are pretty raw and sexy all the way through, on the other hand, whether it's the graphic consequences of male-on-male rape (now with extra commentary from a doctor on the morning after surgical repairs!) to "it's not incest because you stopped being my brother when you died and came back". It is some crazy stuff. I think I prefer Madness to Trial, if only because Trial is pretty slow going and spends a lot of time wandering around site-seeing through the eyes of characters who are not particularly admirable until they mature much later in the story. Jason the Factor and Bijaz are much more enjoyable to read in their incarnations in Madness; Imago gets a lot better near the end of Trial and carries it on into Madness. All in all it's really hard to root for anyone in Trial of Flowers but Madness of Flowers is much easier to engage with.
Even if it is a total WHY IS EVERYONE I LOVE DYING D: near the end. And horrible. And If there's not a third book about the City Imperishable I think I will be very sad.
Infected and Contagious, Scott Sigler
This one is going to be more of a science review than a content review, because the content review boils down to GO READ IT. Biothrillers normally make me curl up sobbing like a little girl or throw them away in disgust because the characterization is dumb and the plot development is too slow, but Sigler. Is. Fantastic. Get these books and read them.
SO. My main quibbles with the science, in no particular order:
( Cut for spoilerssssssss )
Shades of Gray: The Road to High Saffron, Jasper Fforde
Another one that's going to be MOSTLY SCIENCE because again, go read this book it's awesome.
Although this time I can't really say as much on the science because Fforde was clearly not writing a science thriller (it is really more satirical/fantasy), but COULD SOMEONE PLEASE GET THESE PEOPLE A
Okay, I'm just going to leave this one alone because it's too crazy to deal with and I mean, it's a world with carnivorous trees and animals with barcodes and whatnot, so I should not concern myself with the science, but colorblindness just does not work that way.