False Azure in the Windowpane - Tulak_Hord (2024)

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Shadow of a Waxwing Slain Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 2: Live on, Fly on, in a Reflected Sky Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 3: Uncurtaining the Night Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 4: Dead is the mandible; yet alive the song Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 5: A Preterist: One who collects cold nests Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 6: Upon that snow, out in that Crystal Land Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 7: That which in a Distant Valley has been Staged Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 8: We are most Artistically Caged Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 9: Feigned Remoteness in the Windowpane Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 10: He was my Darling: Difficult, Morose- but still my Darling Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 11: The Famous Face flowed in, Fair and Inane Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 12: An Open Mouth in Mindsong was struck out Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 13: There was a time in my Demented Youth Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 14: The Wonder lingers and the Shame remains Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 15: Life is a message scribbled in the Dark Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 16: And what does Sempiternal mean? Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 17: After He'd gone, the Three Young People stood Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 18: Well, shall we try the preview of Remorse? Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 19: There was the Day when I began to Doubt Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 20: As Night unites the Viewer and the View Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 21: Words such as "Bad Heart" always to him refer Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 22: Time means sucession, and succession, change Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: An Explanation (I hope) My own views on the matter Chapter 23: To speak to our dear Dead Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 24: L'if, Lifeless Tree! Your 'Great Maybe': a Grand Potato. Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 25: We saw a Snowy Form, so far, so fair Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 26: The awful sense that they're not quite the same Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 27: Growth means nothing in Elysian life Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 28: Fondling a changeless child, the flax-haired wife Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 29: A wrench, a rift- that's all one can foresee Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 30: Under the stage direction of some goon Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 31: A grave in Reason's early spring Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 32: She'd pounce upon it as upon a fond affinity Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 33: A sacramental bond, uniting him and me Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 34: Author's Note- the Road onward (and a Tale of Two Dragons) Summary: Notes: Chapter Text Notes: Chapter 35: Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense Summary: Notes: Chapter Text References

Chapter 1: The Shadow of a Waxwing Slain


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Lucidity as felt in battle was of a decidedly odd kind, insofar as lucidity itself could be categorised. It would drive one to the most maddening things; such things as they would never consider under any normal circ*mstances, while adhering to any conventional definition of lucidity.

Claiming that she was not lucid under the present circ*mstances would, however, be a lie- and lies were a matter Malenia had sworn her life against. It had always been her philosophy to try her best to see matters precisely as they were, and she could not, therefore, deny the present as an illusion brought on by the Rot, or otherwise simple madness.

She had given in. She had stopped fighting it, that horrid plunge into the depths, and had taken it to where it would lead in hopes that her curse would grant her strength enough to slay her uninvited guest. She had not lost control, as against Radahn. It was a lucid, willing act, made in hopes of killing the Tarnished warrior.

She had not struggled to rein it in, as she had in Aeonia. She had not made any attempt to wrest it under her control, and had in fact purposely let it flow freely. She had bloomed, and had done so willingly.

How odd that she’d look upon the circ*mstances with such regret, such self-loathing now, where in the battle it had never mattered. Every stroke of her sword that followed the bloom had been fuelled by the very same deadly intent- all her own- as every stroke that preceded it. Perhaps, some cynical part of her reasoned, she would not even have looked upon her giving in to the rot as an evil, if only she’d won.

Perhaps she’d rationalise it to herself a ‘noble sacrifice’. An act of martyrdom, for the sake of Miquella and his legacy, so long as her adversary had died.

He was cruel for not doing so, and leaving her with the present inconvenience. Cruel, wondrous and, quite frankly, irritating. Nearly all through that battle, she had been expecting victory.

“Your strength… extraordinary.” she offered praise, downed. “The mark… of a true lord.”

Malenia wasn’t yet on her last breaths, as she had not been dealt a mortal wound. Simply put, her prosthetic arm had been struck off with a sort of clinical precision- humiliating in the way that it did not take any of her flesh with it. She was utterly sure she’d been the Tarnished’s superior in skill, and yet…

“If you insist on… ah… a kind of coup de grâce, it will have to wait, I’m afraid. I daresay I deserve some consideration after you butchered me to quite this extent. The utter mockery this family makes of the concept of hospitality astounds me.”

The words made absolutely no sense. Such a ridiculous man- and how humiliating to be defeated by this fool, of all possible fools.

She’d cut his flesh to ribbons with her Waterfowl dance, thrown him into the air and struck him through. She’d heard him coughing and spitting blood just as surely as he did now. The many lesions that now lined his flesh were her work, and the fact that he was dripping painted in his own blood even more so.

Yet, the fool had kept fighting, drinking a certain thing that smelled of the Erdtree, from a certain flask or chalice. She’d even struck the flask out of his hand at some point, taking a finger or two with it- but it was of no account. The blade in usage changed, as she had figured out by feeling it with her blade in deflecting a subsequent strike, but the Tarnished fought with as much proficiency one-handed as he had done with two. She’d not heard a single cry of pain or harsh exclamation throughout the battle, only a surprisingly soft ‘dear me’ and a few sighing ‘ah’s- as though her opponent were politely surprised.

She was a better swordsman than he; her speed superior, her edge alignment more proficient, her instincts far more honed and her strength making a laughingstock of his. There was too much circular, strafing footwork in that fool’s method of battle, too much deliberation. It did not quite flow.

And yet, there had clearly been some form of artistry behind his bladework. She hadn’t felt the telltale flash of heat, or her hair standing on its end, so it was clear he’d been no sorcerer- but there had clearly been some kind of subtle enchantment at work, or she’d simply not have lost.

Either way, that artistry had been of an unexpected kind. She’d always considered defensive swordsmen like this Tarnished the easiest opponents, and had therefore been flummoxed.

Those strokes must have been masterworks in precision, or they would not all have attacked and defended at the same time. It had taken a work of genius to prompt her to bloom, and then another to overcome her subsequent guise as the Goddess of Rot.

“Miquella. Dearest Miquella, my brother… I’m sorry. I finally met my match.” she opined softly, placing every last vestige of her grief into those words. Her brother’s memory was an appropriate last thought to have before she departed the world, and she hoped he could forgive her, even though she would not deserve it.

“Ah, please. Spare me the clichés; I’ve never had a need for them and never will. All this ‘cold steel to the neck’ business began to get on my nerves a long time ago, and I’d be a hypocrite if I paid any heed to it, especially now. That, and I… rather suspect the last thing this arm needs at the moment is hefting an executioner’s stroke to your neck.”

She forced her mind to work and parse the meaning of those words. Her opponent sounded exhausted and almost wheezed- though there were faint undertones of both irritation and a kind of amusem*nt that she detected. ‘Spare me the clichés’, what by Hoarah Loux could that mean? Could it be… ah.

“You… are not going to kill me?” she asked, almost plaintively. “You would rather humiliate me.” she said without awaiting an answer, her voice firmer.

“Goodness, make that sound a little less like you would want me to kill you, if you will. I’ve gotten tired of that sort of thing. And dispense with that ‘letting me live would be a humiliation’ nonsense, please. It would not and I don’t want to hear any more of it, because it’s stupid.”

A thousand things whirred in her mind. “Why, O Tarnished? You have seen what I did to Radahn. You have been witness to what I would have done to you. You are aware of my curse. Why not?”

“Unlike some”, the Tarnished sniffed, and something told her that he’d upturned his nose- “I’ve been raised to follow a few principles of basic decency. A bit of a pity that most of my enemies do rather better at getting themselves killed than I do at giving them chances to live, but I got lucky today. Good thing, too.”

Lucky? He had been maimed, lacerated, assailed in every way- lucky? She could not possibly understand how, despite clearly supporting himself on his sword- an arm hanging loose and slowly limping towards her- how he could continue to make such profound and overly eloquent understatements.

The idiot.

“If you would wish to keep me alive- for whatever frenzy-wrought reason- it is of no account. The Rot writhes within me, and I would rather die than become its vessel. Your choice leaves me naught but doom, and an eternity of pain. Rest well, in the knowledge that-“ she gritted out, but was interrupted.

“Ah, dear, dear, a thousand apologies! Really, who am I to accuse you of being inconsiderate, where I have made such a woeful fool of myself…” said the Tarnished, tones changing instantly. It was completely and utterly incongruous how he had somehow managed to infuse so much genuine concern into those tones. She had heard concern before; she knew how to recognise it from the timbre and the breath. It wasn’t feigned, as she had heard similar tones from Miquella.


The thought brought new pain. It was a mistake to think of him, she realised distantly- as she wallowed in negative emotion, the Rot grew in strength and in its power over her. A stabbing flash of pain permeated her, and she felt as though she were being stabbed by serrated knives, twisting in her flesh.

Against this unimaginable torment, she was forced to release a single, stiff grunt. Almost imperceptible.

The Tarnished spurred into action as though struck by a lightning bolt.

“Severed tendon, my arm will be useless- I’ve been ever so clumsy- I’m afraid a bit of sorcery will need to go into this. In my present state, I can’t carry you alone.” he muttered. He had taken something out, something small from his robes. She’d lost her sight long ago, and could not see what it was.

“Argh- just when it didn’t need to, the Rot got to this as well. Bloody Rot. It must have been terrible to live with it like this- how stupid of me to come barging in, forgive me.” he rambled. Something must have gotten infected, she reasoned.

“You… let go… get away… leave me…” Malenia croaked, the pain growing worse. She lay still as it would have been undignified to writhe, and she’d not let her curse have that victory.

Against the rot, which dulled all things save pain and the eternal decay, Malenia felt a blazing fire come into life before her. She’d never forget fire, after having faced the Flame of the Redmanes in battle. So this was his intent- to torture her. She might as well have expected it.

Something was inserted into her bosom decisively, and she could not restrain her shout of pain, as it had been unexpected. Flame. That fire she had felt burned within her now. She imagined her body as a battleground, flame against rot, and herself in the middle, being eaten up- but what was this?

The rot… receded. Unexpectedly, it receded. It was still painful and horrible, but- flame she could bear. Flame burned her, hurt her, but it did not bend her will. It was not part of her. If flame tamed her rot, then her will could tame what pain it might bring.

She bit her tongue, recalling her strength. Her remaining flesh hand clawed in the dirt. She felt for the object at her breast, and her hand caressed the unmistakable surface of unalloyed gold.

“Miquella” she spoke aloud, reminded again of her brother, and the memory did not herald pain, as she’d expected. This was one of Miquella’s needles.

As she touched it, though, the needle itself began to change. The few cracks and flaws on its side vanished, and it became the most flawless thing.

It had gone from being one of Miquella’s needles to the needle. The finest one, the one he’d made in especial for her.

She was no mage, and had no means of understanding the transformation. She was not prepared to believe it, yet clear evidence stood before her. The rot had halted- while still present, it no longer writhed.

She heard a sigh of relief from somewhere ahead of her.

“Well, thankfully that wasn’t a complete disaster.” the Tarnished said brightly. “Forgive me if this stings, but I’m afraid it’s… necessary…” came the halting words, before he limped over to her. She felt more fire, and heard the sound of a rune arc being crushed.

She felt suddenly healthier than she had in years. The constant decay did not drag at her mind. The pain remained, of course it did, but the strain on her will to combat it reduced. Even the terrible burning sensation of the sorcerous fire within her lessened.

It took some time, after which her panting lessened, to realise what the thing was- and she found herself filled with new rage as she knew exactly what the Tarnished had bestowed to her.

The great rune of that bastard, Radahn. That bastard who had proved entirely too difficult to kill. She’d fought a calamitous war over it and failed to get it for Miquella, and now this… this utter moron…

Malenia forced rationality upon herself before the Rot took hold again. It was not cruelty or humiliation, or she’d have detected the lies in his voice. Her skill at pattern recognition was unrivalled. He did not actively attempt to make a fool of her, but somehow did so nonetheless.

If only the pompous-sounding idiot knew what this casual gift of Radahn’s great rune meant. She wanted to scream in agony. For him to so simply grant it- hand it over, and when she was vulnerable, too- how utterly stupid. It made her feel completely worthless.

Perhaps it was true, after all. Perhaps her life had no meaning. She certainly wasn’t acquitting herself very well, with her nigh-childish reactions to somebody who seemed to be trying to do her a genuine kindness. It was best, in such cases, to sigh and focus on other things before the Rot took advantage of her mental state.

She found that she could stand, and tried raising herself to her feet. Even her prosthetics trembled with the effort, and she cursed herself inwardly. In some small, cruel way, she was glad for the debilitating injuries she had inflicted on her obviously limping and heaving foe, as at least both of them looked pathetic instead of her alone- but that was arrogance speaking, and she dismissed it. Besides, the Tarnished had maintained a kind of eloquence through it all, which she was decidedly failing at, and had shown grace to a downed opponent.

“Ah, ah, ah, it appears I have wholly forgotten something. Please, give me a moment.” came his voice, and she decided to comply.

Her rotted flesh felt a faint breeze, and then a powerful wind, which had brought something that flapped along with it.

“I really have nothing else, so I’m afraid my cloak will have to do, for the time.” he said ruefully, almost apologetically.

Cloak? For what? She had no need of- ah.

She’d somehow completely forgotten herself. Feeling a sudden, inexplicable urge to annoy the Tarnished, she ignored the proffered garment, and tried wobbling forwards.

“Oh, please, you know one mustn’t…” he huffed, before limping ahead of her and stubbornly trying to wrap the cloak around her waist. He was quite clearly blushing all through it; she’d discerned it by his words and how he tried his utmost not to touch her skin. Eventually, he gave up trying to do the task with his eyes closed, and she felt a faint breeze surround herself again, followed by an answering wind that secured it around her with an odd sort of convenience.

He wielded control over winds, of some measure. She mused, a question to ponder later.

She reached down for her prosthetic hand, feeling the gentle caress of a soft flower beside it. She paused a while, stroking it with her flesh hand, as if to ask it what in the world was going on.

“If I am to abide in your company, I would have your name.” she demanded simply, calculating where to go from there. Calling him ‘Tarnished’ within her thoughts had begun to get irritating, and she wished to assess whether or not he’d lie.

“I suppose you might as well. Alagos of the west winds, at your service... agh. Sorry.” She deduced that he had attempted a complicated kind of bow, and had strained some muscle, injured as he was. She still found it odd how he- how Alagos- insisted on tending to her before himself.

She did not recognise the name. It must have come from lands across the fog, or it might have entered into etymology only after her sleep began. She still did not know how long it had been since Aeonia, having lost all sense of time.

“I would suggest you tend to yourself, Lord Alagos.” she suggested stiffly. “You do not seem much better off than I am.”

She tried not to sound very petty about it and failed utterly. Thankfully, Alagos pretended not to care- or perhaps it was that he truly did not.

“Well, I would blame a rather ill-advised little altercation for that, but it is true, after a fashion. I must congratulate you on the stroke to the fingers; nothing short of pure genius.” he said with a certain amount of admiration, which continued to flummox her. Instead of pondering what manner of creature would congratulate an enemy who tried to maim them, she focused on affixing her prosthetic to her shoulder.

It ignited little sparks of pain, as always. The Rot within her always resisted the touch of unalloyed gold. She tried to walk forward, testing herself, but the phantom pains and the shock of the matter still left her wobbling. In time, she touched the wall and kept herself from falling.

She heard some limping beside her, and felt the kind of warmth she would associate with her father’s golden light. She had felt this spell many, many times before- the Law of Regression. Radagon had been ever so fond of it, and ever so desperate to teach it to Miquella.

A sigh escaped her, and she continued feeling along the walls, gripping them for support. There was some manner of fussing going on behind her, so she assumed Alagos was pottering about- likely in search of that flask she’d felled.

“Come now, there’s no need for that. Let me assist you.” he muttered, and she felt the pressure of a hand at her side. Part of her was tempted to refuse him, but he had offered nothing but kindness thus far, against all odds and for apparently no reason. Besides, if there was truly an ulterior motive behind this kindness, it would be better if she ingratiated herself to him and found out.

She swallowed her pride, and allowed herself to lean on him. There was a bit of a jerk, as the wounded Tarnished tried his best not to stumble with the weight of a demigod against him. He truly was very small, Malenia found- eventually dismissing this incongruous estimate and measuring his height with respect to what she would expect of other humans, such as her Lordsworn.

He was in fact tall, compared to the rest of his ilk. She tried very subtly to gauge his appearance by leaning somewhat more harshly on his shoulder- to a small grunt, but no complaint- and found that he was not, in fact, very well-built as she’d been expecting. Tall, and thin- woefully thin. There must have been some kind of wiry strength to his limbs.

She grasped at something, and felt a hand. The other, supporting the small of her back, was for whatever reason attempting to be as gentle as possible about propping her up and keeping her balance. Both appeared to have five fingers.

“You… mended your hands?” she blurted out, too tired to restrain her surprise.

“Rather a complex spell, but one that is worth the price, as I have found. A component less of healing and more of time- if added subtly in to the Law of Regression, it might allow one to simply… remove wounds as though they had never been inflicted.” he chuckled. “Sadly, the broken ribs, the stabbed abdomen, and the various other injuries you’ve dealt me are rather beyond my capacity to wish away. I don’t think I’ll enjoy the recovery very much.” he said, shaking his head, and it surprised Malenia that there was no hint of blame in the words.

They had walked out of the door by now, and she allowed herself to be lead outside into the corridor. Step by step, she was recovering her balance, regaining her mastery over the Rot that plagued her. Another breeze blew her way, and she felt a curtain of something on her chest.

Hair. It was soft.

Incongruous, in some way, with a face that was surely scarred- she’d seen to that very thoroughly herself- and palms that felt rough to the point that there may have been more scar tissue on them than actual skin.

“I must ask again, Lord Alagos- what prompted you to come here? We owe each other naught but enmity, yet what you have done has been at odds with the simple matter that we were fighting to the death.”

“Not Lord, just Alagos. And no, you haven’t asked me once.” he huffed in a kind of self-satisfied way. “Perhaps that would have been more prudent instead of spewing haughty words and trying to slaughter me- but what’s done is done. Goodness knows I’ve been guilty of recklessness myself, at times.” he chuckled, wryly. This tarnished must have been very fond of chuckles, wry or otherwise.

“Well?” she prompted, as he stopped, and tried to get her to sit down with a superfluous amount of care.

“It is not a question of what as much as it is one of whom.” Alagos stated, with something that might have been a frown. “As for whom, it was- a… friend, of sorts. A good friend.” he said, already rather soft voice descending into a near-whisper.

‘Friend’, that was a lie. Whoever this was had surely been more than friend. More than that, she detected the sorrow in the words- and it had been difficult, as he’d masked it well for a mortal’s standards.

“It must be a very great friend, for whom you would come so far and risk death.” she said solemnly, a simple statement of fact.

“Ah? Yes, indeed, she was ‘very great’, though I suppose tragedy befell us in that she could have been greater still. She gave to me something I had… shall we say something I had never asked for nor expected. She had given it freely. It had been my desire to watch her grow, to teach her, to see her flourish and eventually surpass myself.” he said, almost fondly.

Malenia’s heart caught in her throat.

The words bore an eerie similarity to what she had overheard her old master say about her to Miquella. He had truly loved her as his own, that legendary saint of blades- that blind swordsman, who had given her wings. In some ways, she had been more his daughter than Radagon’s.

“Yet I am to assume that was not to be?” she asked, and found that her own voice was soft. She did not know why she was letting herself be manipulated by her emotions, but it was nonetheless a struggle to not choke on the words. “This journey of yours… it’s a death-oath.”

Alagos sighed, and there was so much fondness hidden there, along with some kind of wistfulness. “I should not like to think of it quite that way, for I know she would not.” he said, in firmer tones than Malenia had expected. “She would have seen it as a completion, I think, of what she set out to do. She was on this quest, you see- a quest to meet you, and to restore to you a ‘dignity’, a ‘sense of self’. Alas, she could not make it all the way, and I failed to protect her or teach her enough in time.”

“What would this friend of yours owe me? I… cannot think of anyone who would care, save perhaps my brother, Miquella.”

“I do not know, and have never known.” Alagos said, but the tones were not defeatist. “What I do know was that it was her last will before she… left…us, and for the sake of what she means to me, I will see it done.”


“Is it in any way your intent to… find a method of, of…” she could not even say it. It had been a part of her so very long. Without the Rot, she feared, there might be no Malenia.

“Forgive me, for we’re somewhat pressed for time. A moment, if you would please.” he said, with his habitual courtesy, and she felt the warmth of golden light.

Don’t tell me- argh.

Of course he’d vanished. It had been just like Radagon to pull this trick when confronted with questions he did not wish to answer. The bastard.

She cursed him a few times to her heart’s content, before mulling over the day’s events. She had lost her first duel. She’d had her world shattered.

There was also this stupid, incongruous, impossible little feeling that things might be getting better soon. It felt oddly like hope. She grit her teeth and tried to forget about it.


Yes, Alagos is a tea connoisseur. He probably writes stodgy poetry, plays the harp and has a collection of cloaks, too. Rather a decent, if sometimes insufferable fellow.

Chapter 2: Live on, Fly on, in a Reflected Sky


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Miquella. Dearest Miquella, my brother. I wish I knew where you were. You must return, I know it. When we were little more than bairns, I remember how you could hear my voice wherever I might be- the pain, the sorrow when you were away, the joy when you were with me.”

Malenia mused as such, getting lost in remembrance. Such reveries were, in her experience, the most efficient method to avoid dealing with a crisis at hand.

“If you can hear me still, please- know that if you cannot return, then I will come to you. Nothing will keep me from serving at your side again. And yet- it will be time, my brother.”

She knew Miquella would not laugh at her ludicrous predicament. Her brother had always tried his utmost to be understanding and compassionate about any frustrations or grievances she’d ever had. He would need to find a veritable ocean of reserve, however, as Malenia wished for the earth to swallow her up.

Defeated, and forced to rely on the mercy of a fool.

And what a fool. It felt doubly humiliating to be defeated by him. This- pathetically soft-hearted, contemptibly gentle, naïve to the point that she hated him-

“You would be fond of him, brother mine. He would make for an interesting study.”

It was the thought of Miquella that kept her hopes up, she told herself. Fool though Alagos may be, he could be a useful fool. The manner in which he had disappeared- a method of travel, she had surmised, much like Radagon’s- could serve to be instrumental in her subsequent plans, which were to find Miquella.

After Miquella was found, and the situation taken stock of, the matter of Alagos could be dealt with. He would either bend the knee to the Lord of the Unalloyed, or be disposed of personally.

Abruptly, she felt the air begin to warm, and wobbled to her feet, prosthetic hand gripping the hilt of her katana. It was a subtler warmth than that of fire- something that reminded her of Marika’s golden grace.

The volume of air in front of her shifted bit by bit, and she deduced that it was Alagos, slowly materialising. Ah, so the Tarnished had once again failed to make the correct choice, which would have been to leave her to rot and reflect on his mistake.

She wasn’t going to complain, so long as it worked in her favour.

“Forgive me; that took rather longer than I had expected. I do arrange my armoury like a scatterbrain on occasion. Worry not, I’ve had it all enlarged. With what I have, I think I’m not wrong in believing that this works best.” he said brightly, depositing a large sack of some sort at her feet- the clink oddly gentle, once again, much like all that characterised the Tarnished aside from his blade.

Malenia ran her hands along the chestplate and found it oddly familiar. Her prosthetic thrummed, ever so slightly.

“Unalloyed gold.” she stated, recognising it. “This is Cleanrot armour. I hadn’t known you would keep a set.”

Her first instinct would be to demand, immediately, which brave lad or lass he had slaughtered. They were noble to the last, and the moment they had pledged themselves to Miquella, Malenia had sworn an oath of her own: to cherish, protect, and if necessary, avenge each and every one.

She reminded herself that it would be useless now. There was no way Alagos could know whom he had slain, and she did not wish to admit that she no longer remembered most of their names. Memory was one of the many things the Rot stole from her.

Alagos sighed. “I’m afraid some things cannot be avoided, Malenia. As much as I should like to have sprung up from the rocks in my present age, armed with all the knowledge I have, that never was the case. I was once quite the bloodthirsty young hound, spewing vortices of flame everywhere, and only long experience as well as a slew of errors have taught me to be better.”


‘Stop reading my mind!’ Malenia thought vehemently, trying not to speak it aloud. She shook her head and tried to dissect the words in her usual manner.

What struck her as interesting was that Alagos had not laid a single word of blame at her Knights’ feet. He had said those words as if it was all his error, and she did not know whether he had attacked first.

A part of her, an annoying, niggling part of her, insisted on telling her that no matter how he might have once been, Alagos was not the one to have attacked first.

“Rest easy. I do not blame you.” Malenia lied, trying to sound nonchalant. She did still blame him, but at least she knew it was irrational. It was useless to dwell on thoughts, though, and she unfurled Alagos’ cloak from around herself and threw it at him.

The soft flump of the fabric told her that it had landed on the ground and not on Alagos’ face- as she had intended- which meant the Tarnished must have turned tail and fled. He’d been exceptionally quiet about it, too. She wondered why, as she dressed. He could simply have turned away if he were so obsessed with quaint little things such as propriety and-what was that word- etiquette.

“Do you remember where exactly you got this set?” she asked rather loudly, to no answer. He couldn’t have gone that far away.

There was a surprisingly soft tunic, as well as leggings. Simple, with no embroidery, but of course with materials of the best grade, of the kind that he must have sourced through his travels. They had a certain newness to them; a crispness that told her he’d had them made specifically for her.

“Is there any particular reason why you refuse to answer?” she hollered again, donning the clothes and armour, hearing a few faint “Er.. umm…” noises in the distance.

“The armour is a restored set, actually.” came his reply, in a suspiciously small voice that she had to do her best to discern. “I originally found it on a Cleannrot Knight in Caelid, near a Church I can’t be bothered to remember the name of. Master Hewg truly outdid himself with the repairs. The state it had once been in…”

He shut up, abruptly, as though he’d said too much.

“What of the Knight who had once donned it?” asked Malenia.

“Well… perhaps that is a rather…”

“Speak plainly!” she ordered.

Alagos grew completely silent. Wholly, eerily so, to the point that not even she, with her heightened senses, could feel his breaths.

A faint breeze played at her hair, one that spoke of the calm before a storm. A foreign thought came to her mind, of how easily that breeze could be whipped up into a hurricane, particularly with the will of this Tarnished behind it.

She gripped her katana again, somewhat tightly. What she felt was not fear, exactly- not of the kind that she had felt in front of old Maliketh- but it was a strange anticipation, of sorts. It was doubtless that she had provoked him, and he had defeated her once before. Though she had recovered more quickly than he- as illustrated by how he still limped- it was not a sensation she would much miss the feeling of.

The ominous breeze stopped, and the heaviness in the air receded.

“I am not”, Alagos pronounced, “your servant to be ordered about at will. I am not an instrument for you to play. Any services I render to you are given freely and of my own will, but I will not have my sincerity be questioned at every turn, and neither do I wish to be antagonised whenever it suits your whims.”

She could not believe that he had read through everything. Cutting through every resentment, every doubt. Perhaps Alagos was not as much a fool as she had thought.

Under normal circ*mstances, she might attack him for challenging her. However, it was not a challenge. The words weren’t meant to threaten or intimidate as much as they were a simple statement of fact. There certainly was a strength behind those words, but it was quiet. In that moment, she saw him for something else- a thing of unassuming dignity.

“You misunderstand me.” she said, not apologising as that was never in question. “As stated previously, I do not blame you. I would, however, like to know what the matter was, if you are willing to tell me.”

Alagos sighed- he was very fond of sighs- and shook his head. “I did not wish to tell you as the knowledge would only dismay you. The Knight I found was nothing more than an amorphous heap of flesh riddled with lesions, vomiting poison and slowly reduced to something less than human. However much an idiot I may have been in those days, I maintain that it was a mercy to dispatch them. At least they may have some peace.”

She tried to say something and found her voice choked. So that- that had been the price.

It was the worst price anyone could ever pay. A fate worse than death. She was a walking wasteland, doomed to be so forever. Even those she had sworn to protect were slain by her- it was all her fault- and what had she done?

What had she been useful for? She had tried to protect Miquella, but proven inadequate for even that- perhaps it would just be better if she let it all-

“Blame the Rot!” came Miquella’s voice, from some ancient time. “The Rot, and not yourself.”

She realised the wisdom of it. Even with the needle in her flesh and the Tarnished having done nearly everything possible to hold it back, the Rot still writhed within her, awaiting an opportunity. Even now, it could overcome her if she would let it.

She focused her hatred, aiming it at the Rot and not herself. She allowed it to renew her will, to fight back the pain, to force it all back to a dark place within herself. She knew she was shaking, showing weakness before this Tarnished-

She felt a palm on her forehead, something that sounded wise and soothing being muttered. A soft light had enveloped her, and the Rot had receded, if only for a moment.

“There, there. Your strength is matchless, but you needn't wield it alone. I’m here, and here I will remain.”

She had not realised that she’d curled into a ball until Alagos gently supported her back into a sitting position, his incalculably rough, scarred and possibly rather grotesque hand softly patting her rhythmically. She allowed herself to breathe.


It seemed he realised something.

“Oh, dear. I’m ever so sorry- I cannot believe what could have possibly overcome me- seeing things in my age- please, forgive-“

He made to move away as if scalded, but as she could not make much sense of the situation and would rather not let go of an obvious source of comfort, she held him there with her remaining hand.

“Malenia, I- I’ve- habit compelled me to mistake you for Millicent. She was just as- please-“

She placed her forehead against his, and rocked back and forth for a while until the pain disappeared entirely. Her flesh arm had found his hair- shoulder-length, straight, somewhat thin and wispy- and stayed there, because it was soft.

Malenia.” Alagos whispered, pleading. “Millicent was like a daughter to me. It isn’t the same. You are far older, barely know me, and cannot possibly be the same way. I cannot provide you the same comfort as I offered her-“

“You offer comfort nevertheless.” she muttered, muffled. Indeed, it was true, whatever her other thoughts about the fool. Every time the Rot had struck, Alagos had been a saviour, of sorts.

He had tamed it after their duel, and was doing all he could, lending that impossibly warm strength of his to hold it back again. He had simply made a gift of Radahn’s great rune to her so that she could feel some relief. Even the duel itself had been a saving grace, in some ways- as he had struck her down when the Rot had run rampant through her.

“Please. Stay awhile.” she said, not caring how stupid it must have sounded, rocking him back and forth and guiding one of his hands to her hair just as hers was on his.

It wasn’t an embrace quite like Miquella’s. He had been far more wholehearted, as a brother would be. Alagos was cautious, hesitant, stiff, barely even holding her- as befit a stranger- but he offered the same kind of hope, that things would be better, even if in his case it appeared far fainter and far more uncertain than Miquella’s resolute surety.

She stroked his hair gently, trying to feel for the strands. It was frailer than one would expect- grey or white, perhaps- remarkably straight and not exactly fluffy, like Miquella’s. She tried to prompt him to stroke hers in turn, but his hand turned firm.

“That simply isn’t done.” he said with a frown. “We are barely acquaintances, and here you are, stroking my hair as though we’re married-“

“Helps the memories come back.” she said, by way of explanation, still rocking the rather stupefied man back and forth. “Memories of happiness keep the Rot away.”

“Ah. I suppose this is why Millicent would always insist that I brush her hair for her, even though I had long since taught her how to do it.”

And so, very slowly and hesitantly- as if putting his hand into a wolf’s maw- he began to stroke, as though he were brushing. He got lost in it soon enough, and Malenia deduced that the thought of brushing was how he kept at it. Alagos appeared to enjoy fussing over things.

She did not know when it happened, but between rocking back and forth and the rest, she was eventually lulled to sleep. She could not even feel the aftereffects of her wounds, and they might as well have been gone.

She woke to some amount of bustling. Coming to her senses, she realised it was far too quiet and graceful to be truly called that.

It appeared Alagos had warped away again, with all that golden light, and returned with rather a large number of things with which he’d set up shop within Elphael. How he carried all of those things with him while warping to and fro was anyone’s guess.

Perhaps Miquella would be interested in the magical theory of it, but in Malenia’s view, such things were almost always deliberately self-contradictory and it wasn’t worth getting one’s head spinning over the matter.

The Tarnished still did not seem fully recovered, limping subtly as he went and fetched a jar of something, bringing it over to a pot he had set up over a fire, which he had also set up. It meant he had neglected himself somewhat to look after her, Malenia realised with a pang, but he seemed jovial and merry enough as he went about his work, so she dismissed her concerns.

One of Alagos’ winds- she was learning to recognise them, and differentiate them from natural ones (by virtue of their tremendous force)- bore something to her arm. She felt it and found the fabric at first somewhat coarse, but on turning it over, it felt soft enough.

“A towel.” she wondered aloud. It was rather a large one.

“Correct. I’ve taken the liberty of doing some research off what books I have and some old travel journals of mine. One of the prevalent things that opposes the scarlet rot is flowing water.”

“Like my master’s.” Malenia blurted out before she meant to.

From the slight shift in pressure, Alagos’ brow seemed to furrow.

“I’m not quite familiar with techniques from the Land of Reeds- or with the ‘Sword-Saint’, who sealed the Rot and apparently taught you- but from what manuscripts we have, it does appear he based his technique on natural phenomena. Fluidity was interpreted as adaptability, for instance, and the water’s weathering of a rock as ‘death by a thousand cuts’, and so on…”

“Incorrect. The idea of fluidity gives rise to movement and footwork, as well as following through on a stroke to deny the opponent a double.” Malenia said, unable to help herself. It was nice to correct a know-it-all. “The way a river flows into an ocean gave rise to the idea of using probes and feints through initiative to bait an error. Once the error has been made, an ‘ocean’ of possible follow-ups opens itself to the practitioner.”

“Hmm.” Alagos was fascinated, though clearly trying his best not to show it. Malenia nearly grinned, thinking of the flummoxed expression on Radahn’s face after his first ever defeat in sparring.

“Finally, the ‘weathering’ of a rock illustrates the idea of attacking with no risk to oneself, to best preserve oneself. Even an attacker must be patient with their onslaught, or they fail eventually through recklessness. My master taught me to be proactive, as that is what truly gives one wings.”

“Well, regardless, it isn’t the pedantry of swordsmanship that is pertinent here.” Alagos sniffed, and she allowed herself a secret smile at how he’d only said that after she had finished her explanation.

She was… swiftly growing fond of this Tarnished and his idiosyncracies, which may have been a problem. It was interesting that she did not perceive it as such, and felt it almost easy to talk to him.

“What is pertinent is the fact that flowing water is the opposing natural principle to stagnant rot, and is what the God of Rot is said to fear the most. Am I correct?”

Malenia pursed her lips. “Master told me that the inspiration for his discipline of martial art was dynamism, and it was the thought of healing that drove his blade. He fought not to take lives, but to spare them- so after a fashion, you are correct.”

“Well, then, this proves my conjecture that you’re in dire need of a bath.”

She tried not to be incredulous. Wasn’t that somewhat… rude?

“And I suppose you’ve brought the water, found an adequate receptacle or somehow conjured up a waterfall- and here, of all places?” she challenged.

“Oh, yes, all that’s done.” he said, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, and she fought an imminent huff. “You’ll find a nice wooden tub I carved quite a while ago in the chamber you were until recently within. I’ve laid an enchantment upon the water so that it appears to flow constantly, though I’m afraid it has to be necessarily cold. Now chop chop, while I get to work.”

She somewhat dubiously followed his instructions, trying to be very slow as she found herself rather interested in what Alagos was doing. He appeared to be adjusting the fire very carefully with magic- he very rarely used any apparent magic, but appeared tremendously skilled with subtle, little enchantments that might make a world of difference without anybody knowing it. Perhaps that was how he had defeated her, she wondered.

There was a faint fragrance wafting through the air. She was having difficulty in detecting it, which must have meant that the Rot was actively trying to prevent her from doing so.

It lead to the conclusion that he was concocting something truly wondrous. She could not quite remember the scent- a potion, of some kind? It felt oddly refreshing, and brought a kind of clarity.

Eventually, she made her way into the chamber, and found that there was indeed a rather large carved tub, with rippling water within it. He’d put a few flowers and a lemon there, and she placed her hand within the water.

It did indeed seem to flow, and not in a forced manner. She could have sworn every individual droplet was replaced by a new one, and that the water kept renewing itself as any stream would. He had taken care of far too many things, truly, but the positioning was somewhat inconvenient as she could no longer tell what he was doing.

The moment she began dragging the tub to somewhere more suitable, however, she heard the first truly polite shout of her life.

If you’re going to travel with me, please, I beg of you, try to have some respect for social norms! If you so much as make an attempt to drag that tub here, then I assure you I will gladly flee, never to return!”

When she emerged, hair still wet as she’d simply not bothered to dry it, he told her to sit down and handed her a cup of something warm.

“Don’t be suspicious. It’s just tea.”

‘Just?’ After the almost ritualistic much-ado that had gone into making it? She had felt the precise measurements, heard the dainty little sniffs of the leaves, and only now perceived the delicate, refined flow of the drink into the cup he had handed her.

The same kind of precision and dedication had gone into this as would go into one of Miquella’s experiments.

She took a long, slow sip, and tried to separate every single feeling that arose from it.

The Rot had long since taken any sense of taste she might have felt. Food seemed to turn into ash within her mouth, and any form of liquid tasted like sweat, or on occasion, tears.

This one, however, elicited a unique reaction. There was a great pounding within her heart, as if the Rot itself protested at the ingestion of this substance. She was robbed of the taste, of course, but there was a kind of peculiar warmth to it.

Not physical warmth; it remained with her long after she had swallowed that first, pensive sip. It made her feel light and airy, and cleared her head save for that odd screaming from the Rot. And though she could not taste traditional flavours, there were tastes hidden from most of mortality and even divinity that she could perceive.

The taste of effort, for instance. This ‘tea’ was an artwork, and one of the most masterful craftsmanship. It was ‘fresh’ in the same way as icy water that flowed down from a mountaintop, and comforting like one of Radagon’s bedtime stories.

‘How did you make this?!’ was the first question that came to Malenia’s mind, and she felt thankful for restraining it because she’d have felt stupid.

“Some amount of… love had gone into making this.” she stated, and it was fact. How could one ever invest that kind of emotion into… such a trifle?

“Why, that is the secret ingredient, of course.” came the reply, and she felt his lips form into a mock-conspiratorial smile.

“Love… for whom?” she asked, puzzled.

“Well… of many different kinds, one could say. There is a certain love for the craft itself, as good tea is its own reward. There is love for the world and for nature, which are unrivalled in their beauty. There is love for people- a multitude of people.” he said, between dainty sips.

“Love for Millicent?” she asked, to a nod.

“It is a way of showing tribute, yes. She will never truly depart, so long as she lives in memory- and tea such as this is my attempt of doing her memory justice. After all, my tea would not have improved to this standard had she not been there to share it with me.”

“I see.” said Malenia simply, before drinking it all in a gulp, savouring the metaphysical taste in bliss. It was truly lovely.

She descended from that heaven to find her companion slightly fuming. Alagos was incensed.

“Malenia, that is no way to-“

She took advantage of his distraction to pinch his cup from him.


Alagos: Yes, yes, Malenia is still a threat and is probably thinking about murdering me when my apparent obligation to her is complete

Also Alagos: Does everything possible to heal her wounds, gives hugs on demand, turns Elphael into a livable home, makes tea for her and is generally (=w=) with regards to her

Chapter 3: Uncurtaining the Night


I said at the beginning that there would be a lot of musings on lies and the nature of cynicism. It all somewhat comes to a head here.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Perhaps she should not have stolen his tea.

So Malenia thought, lurching on unsteady feet, forced to lean on Alagos for support. The Tarnished appeared oddly smug, which meant it had all been planned, though he was no less gentle than he habitually remained while supporting her as she got used to steady ground.

That settled it. When it came to the matter of tea, Alagos was not necessarily always his considerate self. Had she not stolen it, he would undoubtedly have warned her about what would ensue when he had grace bear them both away to this distant place.

Alagos himself didn’t appear nearly as unsettled as her. When she had insisted that they leave immediately to search for Miquella after tea, he had simply offered his hand to her, with no indication of what might become of taking it. She had felt a great lurch, and her thoughts were sent spinning as she devoted all her efforts to restraining the croak that was nearly loosed as she was borne away.

“Would it have been too much to ask for you to warn me?” she asked nevertheless, interested in how he would talk around the matter.

“To let oneself be borne away by grace is a different experience for all, Malenia. It was terrifying for me when first I attempted it, but perhaps that initial fear was necessary if I was to gather the resolve to conquer it. Had I warned you, you might perhaps not experienced that feeling, which is of the utmost necessity to defeating the sensation.” he lied- or partly lied. It was a good argument, and indeed wise, she supposed, but she knew the true reason well enough.

She shook her head, somewhat lightheartedly, and lowered her flesh hand into the soil. She could typically tell precisely where on the continent they were by the feeling of the air, but for whatever reason, it felt unfamiliar, foreign.

There was a heaviness to it, a dampness, a stagnant and stolid quality she would typically associate with the Rot, of all things.

This was not the Lake of Rot, she knew, as she had been told stories of it by her master, and understood what she would feel. She would be surrounded by voices, whispers- all endless and insidious- whereas the place they were currently in was marked by absolute silence.

She picked up a clod, and it seemed equally unfamiliar. It was cold and- dead. She could not help but feel some amount of sadness, at some distant memory. Her senses, beyond those of all mortals as well as her kind, could not place it.

Turning it over, she found it oddly brittle, and a cloying smell wafted to her. A Rot infestation, certainly, but not a localised one. The Rot had seeped into every constituent grain of this soil in trace amounts, becoming part of it and shaping it.

She put two and two together, and the illusion broke, as a great shame fell on her.

They were at the monument to her greatest failure. She would have turned on Alagos for his cruelty, but she knew it not to be cruelty; he had been nothing but kind to her, and resolute in the matter of defeating the Rot. Even so, she would consider herself a fool to not suspect ulterior motives- and in a way, it was worse that he had not thought to wound when bringing her here.

“Caelid. Have you brought me here to remind me of my errors, all for some godforsaken idea of ‘redemption’? I came here with the intent to slay Radahn, and if he stood in my way now, I would do it again, and gladly!”

“Ah, dear. No. Not at all.” Alagos said, shaking his head. It sounded as if he had expected this, and stood in wait of it. He was getting to know her all too well, Malenia realised, and though she would resolve herself to be more guarded from thereon, she knew it to be hopeless. Around this Tarnished, his kindness and his wisdom, she could not help herself.

“Why, then?” she sought some measure of antagonism, if only for a perpetual combative instinct. “I am a kinslayer, Alagos. Though I have never beheld a creature quite so strange as you, I am sure you hold to certain standards. All who bear dignity- truthfully or falsely- claim to do.”

“Could you please stop these rather feeble attempts at pinning me down to certain stereotypes, and let me explain myself?” he asked quietly, with infinite patience.

“You would be a hypocrite if you did not blame me in some way.” she replied, trying her utmost to part the layers that withheld what must surely be some resentment.

Alagos sighed wearily, though his tones remained soft and in no way condemnatory. “It is true that I do blame you, Malenia, in some ways. A few of them irrational, and others deserved. Perhaps it is also true that I assist you and am willing to overlook your errors for selfish reasons.”

At least he was self-aware. There was no way he would have done as much for her as he did if he was truly altruistic.

“However, I shall not let such considerations cloud my better judgment. You know that I do believe in redemption, but I believe in letting the lost find their own road instead of forcing them onto one. A kinslayer you may be, but I simply am not aware of the circ*mstances that surrounded your family. I do not have any inference of Radahn’s character aside from a purported battlefield honour, and I do not know how your parents might have raised you. A certain distance might have even been encouraged, if I am not wrong?”

“You are not.” Malenia replied, brow furrowing. She had been convinced that any such rationalisations would have to be half-blind, but Alagos did not appear to be grasping at straws.

“I do, however, have a certain inference about your character. I know that you lived a good count of years, afflicted as you were. I know from the anecdote of a certain… old enemy of mine- that you despised the rot. I see plainly that you spend every moment fighting it, actively holding it back, and I see that nobody has quite thanked you for it. You may not have been in your senses when you attacked Radahn…”

“I assure you, I was. I fought that battle to kill him.” she interrupted coldly. She did not know why he was defending her from herself, but was curious of what his motives were. He had not denied that his attempt to do justice to Millicent’s memory was selfish, and surely, some part of him would chafe at having to work with her-

“Yet you have not told me why you sought to kill him. From what I can infer, you were the aggressor in that battle. It may be that I am not a good judge of character, and that I am making a terrible mistake, but why, truly, did you engage Radahn?”

He was getting to the heart of the matter. She could not allow that. She could not confront her failure- not now, after it had happened, in front of this Tarnished who had no right to her tale.

“I told you, it was to obtain his great rune and cast him out of the running for Elden Lordship so Miquella had a clear path to ascension- just as any other one of us might want to claim more than one great rune!”

She had struck a nerve. Silence. Once again, that eerie silence.

She had been awaiting this response, knowing it to be the only truth. The kindness of Alagos may have been genuine and was certainly no veneer, but it veiled a being of immense and grand power all the same, as she had come to know.

What surprised her was that the winds did not play their peculiar symphony of rising and falling whenever she touched a nerve; the previous incident must have been a mere warning. Only now had she truly managed to kindle some store of his wrath.

“You have no need to lie to me, Malenia.” he whispered, something hidden in those tones. “In the short time I have spent with you, I have not lied to you.” he said, simply enough, though the voice lacked its usual softness and care.

“So you say.” she replied, feeling suddenly thankful that she no longer had eyes. It would take some doing to not look at his.

“I daresay you would have been able to tell if I had lied- but it is of no account. I care not whether you are willing to grant me your trust. I do not care a whit for what you think of me, and it would suit me perfectly well if we simply never spoke. If you are, however, to travel with me, I ask that you not lie to me, in recompense for the simple courtesy I have granted you.”

Of course he had seen through it. The damnable bastard. In a way, she was glad for the change in tones. The sanguine clarity and near-coldness with which he spoke the words hammered in the idea that he tended to observe much more than he ever let on with more conviction than his typically gentle demeanour ever would.

She did not deny it.

“Surprise does not suit you.” Alagos observed, to her continuing silence. “It should have been apparent from the very beginning. Attacking Radahn in his stronghold purely to defeat him would, by all accounts, be a phenomenally ill-considered military decision. You would take no targets of strategic value, and would weaken your forces against what was likely the strongest possible target. You charged him simply and plainly, despite his ranged superiority. You, who have been renowned all your life for a mastery of the battlefield not solely as a warrior, but as a general- utterly blundered that last battle as if in a frightful rush. You did not attempt parley, which is remarkable if one considers the compassion and attachment you felt to your soldiers and how you would attempt to protect their lives. You let go of the Rot which you despise, which meant you must have been truly desperate to accomplish whatever objective you came for. You fell unconscious, as I have learned, trying to restrain it, while still in battle. From what I know of you, it seems wholly incongruous that you would make such errors.”

Erdtree’s sake, he’d read his books. A chilling, perfect analysis. She wanted to curl in on herself again, every inch of that one failure dragging down on herself. If not for the needle and Alagos’ cleansing flame, bolstered by Radahn’s rune, she’d have been long gone.

“And so I ask again, Blade of Miquella- why did you come here?”

“How foolish of you, and arrogant indeed” Malenia seethed, “to think that I should be beholden to you and your judgment. More of that treeforsaken ‘wisdom’, pah! Save it! Save your ‘understanding’, save your pathetic mercy; I want no part of it or you!”

She didn’t realise she had gripped her katana tightly, and made as if to strike him. She did, however, see that he did not respond in kind, and remained immovable.

The coldness vanished at her display of emotion, anger somehow drawing out the man’s compassion. What a strange creature. She had never seen nor heard of his ilk.

“It is perhaps not my right to demand an explanation.” he said, and the illusion of frosty chill had dissipated. “You must understand that I do not ask it to condemn you, or to force you along a so-called ‘redemption’. As I told you, I simply do not know enough about the circ*mstances to condemn you. I only ask because it may be information that assists us in finding Miquella.”

She had been correct in her inference that he was wise, but the wisdom was the problem. She hated him for it, truly hated him.

“It is indeed not your right. I shall take it to the grave.” she resolved.

Alagos sighed, and walked over to her. She immediately made to move away, but he simply sat, and looked at her with what might have been a sad, knowing gaze.

“If you are unwilling to share a secret, perhaps it would be better if I shared one of mine. One rather close to my heart.” he said softly, awaiting a response. It was not ‘hopeful’, in a sense, and she guessed that he would have rather kept the knowledge under wraps.

She considered refusing, but that would be petulant. Chances were this was something of a misunderstanding, and she would regret it later, so she reluctantly sat herself, facing him.

“As you have perhaps deduced for us Tarnished, we are dead who yet live. I was revived for the same purpose as all my forgotten warrior brethren: to undertake a quest for Elden Lordship. The race was a close thing, but there was power, fonts after fonts of power to be gained from it. We draw strength from death; that is our blessing and curse. Such is the nature of the ashes of war. Eventually, however, I grew too enamoured of power.”

It seemed almost a ridiculous thought, that the overly gregarious old (old?) man in front of her ever was afraid of losing his power. To her perception, Alagos might as well have treated such prospects as yet another adventure.

“I grew convinced that I could not be slain; that those who walked alongside me could not be harmed. Though I was struck down many a time, I rose again, ever stronger. My foes fell in torrents of flame, the breath sucked out of their bodies. I was in error, however, as my foes were not the only beings fated to burn.”

She recognised the parallel he was approaching, and guarded herself against it. Every Knight she trained, every Knight she fought for, would eventually fall as a result of her actions- occasionally dying directly to the Rot they suffered from staying close to her.

“You lost someone. Millicent, to the Rot, I presume.”

For the first time, Alagos looked down, and his voice had the slightest, most hidden hint of a tremor.

“It is true that I lost her, but she enters the tale long after. In truth, perhaps it is fitting to say I lost nearly everyone. Every person I had attempted to aid, to rescue, they all died in front of my very eyes- quite often as a result of my own actions. I lost another friend, who burnt willingly for the sake of my quest- but that is a tale for another time. The matter is, I found myself lacking the will to go on. To be Elden Lord would mean nothing if I was to sit upon a throne of ash.”

Malenia’s heart naturally leapt to sympathy for him despite her better judgment, and she had to remind herself that it could all be manipulation. She had scrutinised his words as much as she could, detecting every hint of pitch and timbre, searching for a lie. The grief had, however, been wholly genuine, and in some odd way reminiscent of her own.

“Do you still hold such ambitions?” she asked, not caring that it was unkind beyond measure. Alagos had strength; even grieving, he should remain unbowed. He was not- he had proven himself strong, unlike her.

“It is somewhat sad” began Alagos, “that the first question you would think to ask me is that- sad, but not unexpected. Of course, you may mistrust me, but I still hold no ambitions of becoming Elden Lord. All I wish for now is to salvage what little goodness I can find in the world, to protect it for as long as I can, and to nurture it so it may defend itself. This is what has given me new life.”

She should not have been caught off-guard by the fact that he had expected it. She should not. By all rights, she should not care what he thought of her, but for an inexplicable reason, she did. This tarnished she had never known, who should never have mattered save in the capacity of an opponent- she cared what he thought of her, even if he professed not to care for what she thought of him.

“New life? Why would you require-“

“Ah, ah, now that is the fact of the matter. There was nothing left for me to look forward to, until I met Millicent. My dear, little Millicent. She did me proud in every way, and even if she had not, I would still love her. She breathed life into a walking corpse, and gave me something to fight for.”

She wished to interject, in this obvious ploy. She could not, as something within her crumpled.

“She was what drove me onward- but what drove her, one might wonder. Why, it was you, Malenia.”

“Now this is preposterous.” she scoffed. “Simply because she had the scarlet rot, she lived because of my example? I did not succeed in containing it. And even if I had, for the sake of argument, at best she would have looked up to me as a symbol, not a person. Neither of you know anything of me, and you should never have presumed as such.”

She felt Alagos shaking his head, as if in great sadness.

“Forgive me, Malenia, but Millicent was closer to you than you know. She was your offspring, conceived of the strength of thought and the Rot. A more compassionate being I have never seen. Do not contest me, as she told me herself- as did that old enemy I spoke of, a damnable, rotting sage whom I killed as soon as his intentions became clear- in my only moment of true hatred after I met her.”

The breath was robbed from her lungs.

“I- I have- my daughter?” she asked, slightly breathless. It had been a dream, all a dream- four flowers, bloomed from a great flower, on that fateful day in Aeonia. She had seen it in her sleep, and had never once questioned that it must be a falsity.

Had she tear ducts left, she would have cried.

Something she had said had roused an unknown feeling within Alagos, as the winds hurriedly picked up speed. His soft voice became at once firmer.

“You may have brought her into this world, Malenia, but Millicent was my daughter. If this is the last claim I have upon this world, then let it be so. I do not say this out of selfishness, as I never sought to possess her- she deserved far more than that. I say this as consequence of what was simple fact, and for the sake of what I strove to be for her.”

She would rip him apart, for daring to claim her daughter as his- but she had never known her daughter. The kind of quiet fury in Alagos’ voice was unmistakable, as she recognised it as her own. Her own tones, where Miquella was concerned. Millicent had been his daughter; there was no doubt.

She was surveyed for a long while, but she said nothing. It must have meant she passed a kind of test, as the winds dissipated, and Alagos went on.

“In the time that we had together, Millicent told me that what inspired her was your tale, your achievement. If you could hold off the Rot for as long as you did, and largely thankless, then she could make something of her life, with me by her side. You saved her life, and in doing so, saved mine. The only reason I could evade your Waterfowl’s dance was because I was familiar with it, having seen Millicent put it to use before. The only reason I continued to live, to fight, but as a better and wiser person, was because Millicent inspired me through your tale to do so.”

It was a good thing she sat, or her knees would have trembled, prosthetic or not. She nearly reached out a hand, but thought better of it.

“You… told me you cared not a whit what I thought about you. How can this be, if you have been sincere in what you have said?” she asked, and cursed herself inwardly. Even now, she sought to antagonise him, because she could not help herself. It was the Rot speaking, the Rot and long years of attrition against it.

“Not caring what others think of me is something of a necessity in this world, Malenia. I would have been a poor mentor for Millicent if I did not teach her likewise. That said, perhaps I am indeed guilty of seeing you as a symbol and not a person- but you inspire me nonetheless. I know you might not care for it, but here is what I have always thought of you- a selfless being, and noble. Without advice, trying the best she can. Loyal, devoted, capable of the highest form of sacrificial love known to this mind, at least. It is possible that you are not these things, but you still inspired her, and me. I am not without my fears and you give me courage. I doubt anybody but your brother ever thanked you for holding off the Rot as long as you did- for simply being yourself- and I think I would like to take this opportunity to do so.”

She’d almost hoped it was a lie. If it was, she wouldn’t have fallen forward, as if a marionette with its strings cut.

“Dear, oh dear.” she heard from what seemed to be a great distance, and something had caught her. The initially firm grip turned gentle, and a hand made for her back as if to have her lie down, but she threw her arms around whatever pillar had stopped her and embraced it tightly.

“Agh… that’s… somewhat suffocating…” came a wheeze, but Alagos adjusted, though still not returning the embrace.

“I’ve been such a fool.” Malenia blabbed somewhere into his wispy, frail hair, “such a fool. Would you believe it if I told you that I seem to care for what you do think of me? It is obvious now, and I cannot deny it.”

There was a long pause, before his hand finally came to rest at the small of her back, even gently rubbing a small circle onto it. Alagos seemed entirely unaware of this as he whispered “Without doubt” distantly, as if lost in his own world.

“Ill-considered, would you not say? That I care for and am affected by the thoughts of one who just now professed not to care for mine?”

It was the saddened rambling of some wounded lunatic, she realised, but Alagos once again found it within him to rescue the situation. He had some talent for that, perhaps- she wondered if it was innate, or learned through long and unenviable toil.

“Well- that is not untrue. I would say, however, that while I did mean it, I thought at the time that I have not been given a reason to care. I- it appears I am beginning to care, and have been somewhat blinding myself to it out of experience. You would not have been so affected by my words if you did not in some way embody those virtues, and I find myself… unable… to not feel a certain admiration for those who carry within them such dignity. So far, you have proved the only one.”

It was not an apology, not an attempt at reconciliation, which meant it was sincere.

“While it would perhaps serve me well enough if we never spoke, allow me to mention that I rather infinitely prefer what we presently have. That you chose to speak to me- even if it was to interrogate and accuse- it means something to me that I do not know, and was not aware of. I should certainly like to continue this acquaintance- so long as you are willing- until the day I can finally call you a friend, and be proud to do so. For I will undoubtedly be proud to do so.”

He was a manipulator beyond compare, if this was all a lie. The way the voice cracked ever so slightly while typically firm, the way understatements were strategically used where he wished to avoid the associated feelings, all told her that he meant every word.

She buried her face in the crook of his neck and simply held on, for a few moments, breathing in the stability, holding on to a support she had never had. To his credit, he allowed it, saying nothing, gently swaying like an old oak with her every time she shuddered and shook.

She would not apologise for her accusations, as she was simply incapable of it- but he seemed to understand. In turn, a silent hand upon her shoulder asked for her forgiveness, and she swayed him gently as there was none to give.

“You said you did not condemn me because you did not know enough about the circ*mstances that surrounded us. Would you condemn me now if you did? If I told you?” she asked him, when she was finished rocking him to and fro.

“Even if you did, I am afraid I only now became terribly biased.” Alagos said with a small smile, some hint of humour returning. “But even from an objective standpoint, I would not condemn you. You have virtues that outshine whatever possible faults, and most importantly, you are alive, and with hope. I said I would help you, for Millicent’s sake, but I see now that I was wrong to say so. Let me propose another offer- that I aid you in whatever way I can, but for your own sake- and for mine.”

She knocked the breath out of him, with how tightly he was held again, and she stopped only at a small wince of pain that Alagos had tried his best to hide.

“My greatest failure, sweet Alagos, was that I failed to protect Miquella. He was stolen right under my very nose- while in the Haligtree. He came to me in dreams, told me to come to Caelid. I made haste as soon as I could to rescue him, but Radahn stood in my way. In that time of war- pride held his sway, and desperation held mine. He would not lay down arms, so we fought. We- I…”

Wordlessly, he pressed his forehead to hers. It was a touching gesture, as she had not known Alagos to ever initiate any kind of contact if it were not to hold her up or support her in some way.

“It was not your fault, Malenia. The Stars willing, we will find him still. You know that he is not dead.”

She decided not to focus on the idea that Miquella might have suffered a fate worse than death, and continued her brief and terribly butchered history.

“I do not know who took him, but I had failed to protect him or return him. In my squalor, I had dared delude myself into thinking he would return to me. An idiot’s wishful thinking to cope with a catastrophe of their own making.”

“If it’s any comfort, I’ve done that myself quite often. Certainly far more than you.”

“No.” she said firmly, “No. You have given me new sight, and a new chance. In Caelid, we can at least attempt to retrace his- wait-“

The feeling of warmth, of kindness, had somewhat dulled the typical dampness inflicted on her by the rot. For a moment, she had been lucid, and could feel the world clearly.

She had isolated every individual source of comfort, and while there was Alagos’ steady, careful breeze, there was also another kind of warmth- a bright, powerful warmth fighting against an encroaching darkness. And he had helped her find it. Perhaps coming to Caelid was not a waste, after all.

“He rests here! Somewhere underground, but here!” she shouted, not caring if it had been into Alagos’ ear. Recovering all her poise and will, she stood up and set off with all the speed she could muster in the direction of that second, dimming warmth.

“Goodness me, there she goes. Damned legs will never catch up.” Alagos muttered, out of earshot. “At least this entire excursion and my subsequent… ah, leakage was worth something. Now that you know the tale, never be anything but kind to her again, Alagos, never! Yet again, I nearly ruin something with that old, frightful chill.” he berated himself. As much as he wished to remain objective, he found himself steadily growing fonder of her, to the point he wouldn’t hear a word said against her.

It was a dangerous state of mind to inhabit, perhaps, but more than that, it evoked a familiar kind of protectiveness that he had felt for Millicent- never mind that Malenia was probably far stronger than him and he’d won only by fluke, yes. It had been a fluke.

Whistling twice, he summoned Torrent, having no hope of catching up to her otherwise. It was in Aeonia’s direction that she sprinted, he realised, as they galloped off.


More hugs for Malenia, though somebody should really tell her that one should not a)Suspect the worst b)Try to pick fights to distract oneself from one's problems c)Be rather mean d)Immediately do a heel-face turn and start hugging the living daylights out of the person you were just a moment ago trying to be mean to.

Alagos wasn't always the gentleman he is now- quite far from it, in fact. Though he is wiser now, one must wonder if he is more than a little... biased.

Chapter 4: Dead is the mandible; yet alive the song


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Malenia. Dearest Malenia, you rescued me. I knew you would, and never had any doubt.”

It was a figment of her imagination, of course. These were the words she wanted to hear most of all, but at the moment, they were merely a thought.

Would that Miquella were awake, and could in fact call to her- for she would have been by his side in a heartbeat. As it stood, she was more than perplexed. Her feet trod on familiar soil, and she recognised every bump and grit, every crater left by a giant’s footfalls and every little indent left by her own Cleanrot Knights. The shape of the ground beneath her and every mote of dust to be found had been ingrained within her memory, as though the carven stone of a monument to her greatest error.

Aeonia. She might have fallen into another spiral of loathing- against Radahn, against the world, against herself- if not for the simple fact that she chose to focus on finding Miquella, and the idea that wallowing in self-pity would not be conducive to her objective.

The memories threatened to tear at her, no doubt spurred on by the Rot- attempting everything in what seemed an ever-growing desperation to reclaim control over her senses, now that she had- for the first time in years- subdued it.

She scoffed. The Rot was rather pathetic, really, in its singular obsession. There was no use in blaming herself, as Alagos had forgiven her and had not condemned her. For whatever reason, that seemed relevant, and at the very thought of the Tarnished’s name, she felt less threatened by her curse.

Perhaps it might have been because Alagos was the first being she had seen truly prevail against the Rot in some capacity since her old master, the Sword-Saint- or it might have been due to the simple assurance of having an ally.

And here he was, approaching swiftly on a- horse? Why would he need that? She’d only run a little while- keeping at a distance in his usual, unobtrusive manner. Sweet Alagos. With that thought came a few considerations of possible other reasons for her comfort in his quiet presence, but she dismissed them for the moment, the matter of finding Miquella holding paramountcy.

She could not reach him, but in some way could still feel him. He had a certain presence beyond the mundane, as did all Empyreans- of a soft manner of gold, a gentle, curious light. So very unlike Marika’s harshness, or for that matter her own. She knew him better than all, as a twin. Once, she had been able to tell with certainty the thoughts that brewed in his mind, so long as they were not scientific and related to his research.

“He is here. I know it, as I can feel him. There is a certain light to him, a certain curiosity, and I feel it dwindling. I feel warm, as I would in his presence, though he isn’t- isn’t anywhere in sight-“ she said with conviction, instinctually grasping for Alagos’ hand for whatever reason before realising her error.

“With that sort of vivid description, I’d think it rather wise to believe you.” he said, in a reassuring tone, silently dismounting his steed, which- vanished.

She couldn’t assign any other outcome to the matter. The airflow around where the horse had been resumed as normal, and the steed simply took up no space anymore. It cannot have run, or she would have heard it. She’d ask him about it later, most likely. For now, she decided against relinquishing her grip on his hand and began dragging him to the centre of the swamp, as if he’d be able to solve her current puzzle.

“He’s below here, and that is beyond doubt. I know it. It cannot be a magical echo, as the warmth would not rise and fall as a heartbeat would. Do you not feel it? A wonderment, stemming from a joy in all natural phenomena, just as you derive joy from tea and leaves on a breeze? There used to be a mirth, as gentle as your winds. A determination, and hope of surer footing than your own. While what I feel in your presence is a thing of beauty, it is vague- more ill-defined than his. He would offer such hope to all who dwelt in the Haligtree, once.”

“I… you can… ahem.” he coughed. Something she had said must have caught him off-guard, as he took some time to collect himself before speaking, while refusing to look at her for whatever reason.

“I do not have senses as keen as yours, Malenia. Forgive me if ever I’ve offered that impression, as I never could discern a being’s very presence as you might. All sight beyond that of my eyes that I might possess is a result of paying a little more attention to the world after long years, and I still sorely lack some of your faculties. For instance, I myself was quite unaware I apparently radiate ‘hope’, or that my simple existence brought some measure of comfort, but these are matters I shall keep in mind.”

‘How could you have been unaware of that? It is beyond obvious!’ she would have protested, but restrained herself. He had been more than accommodating in her case, and she might as well do him the same courtesy.

In all fairness, Alagos had spoken with a kind of insight and wisdom that had suggested senses akin to her own- and the thought had helped her stomach the idea that he had won their duel rather better. The revelation that his faculties were not far beyond others of his ilk was- in some way- humbling, but fascinating in equal measure. To have known as much as he did, limited as he was, while not actively seeking power- even now, it seemed incongruous with what she had always expected.

“Do you have some way of telling whether or not he is underground? I knew Miquella to search for hidden caves with a technique of his own invention, so it must be possible.” she told him, somewhat pointedly. Alagos tried and failed to suppress a chuckle.

“My dear Malenia, I cannot solve everything, and neither can I present a profound insight about every matter that has to do with every mystery.” he said, trying to suppress a smile. She scowled. Another incongruity.

“For this matter, however, I do have a hunch, though I shall need the aid of your senses. I cannot promise whether this will be fruitful, and the method might, ah, disagree with you, but you must give me your word to devote your utmost calm to the process. I doubt we could ever prove anything otherwise.

“You have my word.” she said at once. If it meant a chance at returning Miquella to the Haligtree, she would have allowed even a gruesome ritual- though the fact that it was Alagos suggested that it would be nothing of the sort. There was an odd kind of trust associated she with him, Malenia realised, and she permitted herself to feel optimistic that her trust would pay its dividends.

As it turned out, her trust was sorely challenged. Alagos had indeed been very sly about asking for her word beforehand, as she felt tempted to seethe with rage.

He had vanished for a few hours, letting grace bear him away yet again, during which time she fought a sciamachy against shadows in the air with her blade. The thought came unbidden that she should ask him for a spar at some point and take some well-warranted vengeance, though she supposed it would be exploiting Alagos’ kindness in a way. He would not realistically have a choice, as there was no doubt he would not refuse out of the same kindness- and it would feel unsatisfying because the Tarnished would most likely hold back, if she gauged his character correctly.

It meant she’d have to infuriate him someday to have a chance at a proper spar, she realised, and if so, it would have to wait. For the present moment, locating her brother was most important.

As it turned out, he was in the process of infuriating her, as he had somehow produced what seemed to be the greatswords of the Starscourge.

They were quite a bit smaller than she remembered, and had surely been reforged- but they were the same weapons. She had been scarred by Radahn’s terrible blades and she knew their bite. She had felt every inch of their wicked curve, and recognised the shattering power they held within them.

“I don’t ever use them.” Alagos said quickly, once again divining her thoughts. “Frankly, I’ve forgotten why I ever had them made. Perhaps they were vanity pieces, as suited my sensibilities or lack thereof at the time- but it’s fortunate that I have them now.” he clarified, and she took a deep breath.

Anger would not serve her here. “Get on with it. There’s no need to ask after me.” she said, somewhat rudely, and hoped he forgave her curtness.

Understanding as always, he nodded. “I need you to feel the tremors, and remember them. Commit them as closely to memory as you possibly can. The differences are quite likely to be minute, and beyond my ability to detect.” he said, walking to the centre of the swamp with the greatswords in either hand.

She knew what he was about to do. She had felt the quake of the Starcaller’s cry, and nearly had her back broken for it. That day, catharsis was achieved by recompensing every shattered bone with a bloody wound which tore out flesh, but there could be nothing of the kind now.

Wait.” she said, running up to him. She was no coward, to tremble at the remembrance of the past, but it would likely take a considerable amount of focus to grit her teeth and not instinctively brace for cover at the impact, which might get in the way of committing the tremor utterly to memory.

“Would you give me… something… of yours…” she muttered hesitantly, almost sheepishly. She was thankful for her blindness, for once, as she would otherwise never have been able to meet his gaze.

“Ah.” said Alagos, tone betraying a slight hint of surprise. “Of course. Pick off whatever you wish, I suppose.” he said nonetheless, with not a string attached. The living, breathing oddity.

In the end, she spent an embarrassing amount of time staring at him before she decided to make off with his cloak. Though it had been tempting to ask for a fistful of hair, she took pity on the wispy, somewhat frail strands (soft as they may have been) and let him keep what he had left of it.

“May I?” he asked, raising the swords aloft, and she could not help but think the words were said in such a way as though he were asking for her hand in a dance. It was just his natural tone, she reminded herself, wrapping the cloak around herself as a rudimentary scarf, taking comfort in its scent of a leafy breeze and that subtle hint of smoke.

“You may.” she told him, and he pointed the blades to the sky.

Alagos raised his voice in a decisive shout- clear, cold and in a way that carried through the winds. It was as far removed as possible from Radahn’s deafening bellow, to the point that he may as well have been physically incapable of bellowing.

Malenia expected memories to rise up unbidden, but there was no hint of them, with the cloak’s metaphysical warmth seeping through her armour. She might as well have been sitting in a little cottage of her own, with Alagos invited to visit for very convenient tea-brewing purposes.

The swords hit the ground, and she memorised everything about the tremor flawlessly. The frequency of vibration; the sound, the time- every single aspect.

“Come here, if you’d please.” the Tarnished beckoned, and she would normally have refused for that same, old fear, but previous success had given her confidence. He would not hurt her.

She approached, and he- why was he handing her the swords?!

Quick, think like Miquella, she told herself. These swords may have stood against her and may have once had a part in destroying what she had stood for. They had wounded her and crushed many of her beloved Knights.

Here, however, they were being used to her aid. It was an odd kind of redemption, after a fashion. Poetic justice, perhaps- and Alagos for one seemed very fond of poetry.

“As you can probably perceive, there are chunks of rock stuck to them. Try to deduce how they might have come to attach themselves and what forms of rock they might be- if, of course, that is within your ability.”

She followed his instructions to the letter. Thoughts unbidden came to her of Miquella in his study, laughing as he answered her endless questions about what comprised the earth they stood on. She had been curious too, in that time, and he had delighted in satisfying her curiosity in what ways he could. She felt thankful that the Rot had not taken these memories- quite possibly thinking them irrelevant- and found it simple enough to tell all the forms of rock apart.

“Would you like me to write all that down?” Alagos asked, and she shook her head.

“Why would you need to? I have memorised everything, just as you asked.”

“Well- that’s-I thought you would at least need to-“ he sighed, and just gave up. “I suppose that’s an end to the first part. Shall we?”

“Lead on.” she said, even able to offer a smile.

He took her to another part of Caelid on horseback, and she took the time to get a feel for that horse. It was undoubtedly spectral, as it did not appear to tire and bore her smoothly despite her stature.

“You have found yourself a fine steed. What do you call him?” she asked, able to distinguish the gender by way of analysing a short grunt.

“Torrent, and you’re quite correct in that he’s lovely.” he replied, and she stroked Torrent’s flank before returning her hand to his waist. Perhaps she was holding on to him rather more tightly than necessary for how smoothly they rode, but she was sure he didn’t mind.

They rode on to a patch of land that Alagos had explained he knew not to house a cave, karst or other underground system beneath its soil- apparently the tale of how he had come to know that was a long-winded one and therefore for another time- and proceeded to repeat the experiment.

When the Starscourge Greatswords descended upon the barren earth, Malenia felt nothing of darkened memory. She laid her hand upon the cloak-turned-scarf and imagined herself drinking another of his cups of tea, with them exchanging stories (hers would of course be the more riveting tale, but she’d be nonetheless interested in what he’d have to say).

He called her over and presented her the greatswords again, with her studying the rock encrusted upon them as before.

“Right, then- let’s begin with the tremor, shall we? What was different, if anything?”

She listed every single, little difference and variation. There was a different sound, a different frequency of vibration, an alteration in the general feeling of resistance to the shockwave, and a multitude of other matters that she narrated seamlessly. To her, it was a simple enough task.

Next came her observation of the rocks, and she proceeded to do much the same, even adding little hypotheses on how those rocks might have come to be as Miquella used to. She perceived that Alagos had drawn a heavy, leather-bound journal- seemingly out of nowhere- and wrote everything down fervently. It took quite a while, though he did not once ask her to repeat herself.

“Hmm. We therefore come to the conclusion that the impact in either case was demonstrably different. As the elevation and the regional properties of the soil are roughly the same, I should think it a rather safe deduction that there is indeed an underground system below Aeonia.”

All this- for a hunch?

In a way, she was glad for it. It meant it was not manufactured, this feeling. She could still find him, perceive him. Miquella was not lost to her, and she nearly gave a shaky smile.

A smile that was wiped out on remembering just why he had made her recite every minute little difference while writing them all down in that journal of his, never once having the courtesy to tell her that yes, the collisions were different.

“Why by the Erdtree did you note down every single difference if that simple inference was all you were trying to get at?” she asked, fuming ever so slightly.

“Well, one has one’s hobbies…” he responded jovially, the journal disappearing as it was borne away by grace (really, how dramatic! How much of a bother would it simply have been to hold on to it awhile).

“Miquella used to be like this.” she said, with a weary sigh. “The two of you would get along like a house afire.”

“It sounds as if I’d find him a true kindred spirit.” Alagos replied, and she shook her head.

“I think I’m beginning to dread rescuing him a little, perhaps, for fear of both of you immediately hanging up cloaks on the same stand and ganging up on me.” she said, with a slight smile, at which Alagos laughed. Truly laughed.

It wasn’t quite one of his chuckles, which tended more often than not to be wry or otherwise self-deprecating. It was a real laugh, just as gentle as everything else about him. She’d not call it melodic, as the sound bore the weight of a few too many winters and told of a kind of released weariness, but she could not deny that it stirred something that could not be put into words within her regardless.

There should be more of that, she decided. More of that, just as there should be more of his tea and more belongings for her to possibly steal.

“You still haven’t told me how we’re going to get to the bottom of the swamp.” Malenia insisted, as Alagos slowed Torrent to a trot.

“Patience; I’m not Radahn. It isn’t quite within my ability to call down something of the stuff of the stars to gouge a crater in the earth, and even if I could, I wouldn’t for fear of injuring your brother. I’d like him very much healthy if we’re to gang up on you.”

She was being unfair, she supposed, but neither had Alagos revealed much in the past day. They had warped to the top of a Liurnian plateau (After Alagos had slept, disappearing off somewhere- which for whatever reason she did not approve of). All he had done during the subsequent journey was ask her about when Miquella had been taken during the War, and whether she could remember anything unusual before the abduction.

“I was campaigning in Liurnia at the time, and I don’t remember feeling anything untoward, or I would never have let this happen” she had replied, before considering her words awhile. “In fact, I can remember the Rot within me raring itself, writhing more actively for a time, but surely the Rot of all things would never attempt to warn me of possible misfortune.”

She didn’t know why she even mentioned it, but Alagos appeared to appreciate collecting every little bit of knowledge he could, and she did so for the sake of that habit. It proved to be more important than she suspected, as her Tarnished latched onto it immediately.

“I’m terribly sorry if I’m asking you to dredge up a dark memory, but could you tell me whether you felt an intent, of some sort? A… feeling that you would never have ordinarily felt, but would seem to come undeniably from your own thoughts at the time.”

The description was rather specific and trenchant, so she combed her memory.

“You must be a clairvoyant, because I do remember something of the kind. I felt… expectant, as if greeting and awaiting a rival, but if I recall correctly, there were no particularly noteworthy obstacles in that campaign.”

“A rival. Ah.Alagos had said, and she had been perplexed. It had taken an endless afternoon of patience to wheedle what he suspected out of him, when he had eventually revealed that an Outer God might have had something to do with Miquella’s kidnapping.

That alarming knowledge was what had given rise to her current anxiety and impatience, though Alagos had tried his best to set her nerves at ease. Last she recalled, Miquella’s presence hadn’t felt particularly pained, or otherwise squeamish- his light merely seemed somehow catatonic.

'We have time', she’d keep telling herself, 'we have time'. It was important to save him as soon as possible regardless, and Alagos seemed to agree.

She had been worrying so much about finding her brother that she had completely forgotten to ask where Alagos was taking her.

“We’re coming to see an old friend of mine. I’m not exactly a wizard- well, perhaps I once was, but certainly no more- and I’ll need his help in the matter of spells of detection, locomotion and so on.” Alagos said, and his voice sounded fond. There was another emotion, one that could not be put into words- no words within the comprehension of mortal kind, anyway- that spoke of this ‘old friend’ being reserved a special place in his considerations. Sympathyfamiliarityreverence- there was no point in making the attempt.

They came to the ruins of an old church, but there was a garden and a decent enough shrubbery that appeared cared-for. The walls had quite clearly been scrubbed of dirt.

Abruptly, Malenia felt something rumble, and it appeared something quite large had gotten up. Her first thought was of those damnable crustaceans that populated these lands, and she almost reached for her katana, but the ponderous, slightly wobbly steps informed her otherwise.


To her knowledge, there was one being in the entirety of Liurnia who- who-

“Ah, Alagos, you wandering rascal. Your record at visiting remains exceedingly poor, as ever. I never did get to thank you for those draughts; they’re doing wonders for these old legs. I might even be persuaded to forgive the amount of worry you’ve caused me if you’d be so kind as to brew some of that tea of yours.”

“No need to thank me, old friend. As you well know, those potions were our collective work. Perhaps I myself might have need of them someday, as my schedule continues to be rather unmerciful upon my limbs. For now, though, I’ve brought a… friend, and we’re in rather dire need of your help.”

She could not believe it.

Uncle Miriel.

It was Radagon who had introduced her to him, and they hadn’t met many times, but she could never forget how the old pastor had allowed her to rest on his back despite her Rot as he gently swayed her to sleep.

She got off Torrent, and grasped at his face, feeling his neck to prove that he wasn’t an illusion.

“Mah!” Miriel grumbled. “Have you learned nothing in all these years? It does not behoove a proper, dignified princess to grasp at old gentlemen’s throats in this most ungainly fashion.”

“Quite.” said Alagos, nodding sagely.

Of course these two would be in cahoots, and naturally the oldest of friends. It might as well have been an axiom of how the world worked. She didn’t even find it within herself to get angry at being called a princess.

“Now, I’m sure there are stories. Please, do make yourself comfortable. Ah, and Alagos, old chap- I’ve tended to the hearth. Some tea would be appreciated.”

“Yes.” said Malenia, as that would undoubtedly be the only rational course of action. “I think you should make some tea.”

“Has the word ‘please’ never occurred to you?” Alagos said, shaking his head, almost fondly. She couldn’t determine whom it had been said to, so she assumed it wasn’t her and sat with an expectant look.

Yes, this was a good spot. She could now make it all out perfectly, as he set to work. Now she would come to know exactly what sorcery was employed in the brewing of this ‘tea’.


Malenia: *Is mean to Alagos*

Alagos: I will be perfectly understanding and gentle about this while being completely unfazed.

Alagos' brain: ++wisdom.exe and eloquence.exe have been uploaded++

Malenia: *Says nice things to Alagos*

Alagos: No, what is this, please stop, that can't be the case, what am I to do?

Alagos' brain: ++wisdom.exe and eloquence.exe have stopped working. surprise.exe and stuttering.exe have been downloaded++

Meanwhile, your aromantic author trying everything possible to write even the most faintly romantic thing: Nrrrrrrrrreerrrerrrrrrreerrrrgh!

All jokes aside, they seem to be doing a better job of accidentally endearing themselves to each other than they would have if they were actively trying. This probably isn't going to remain completely platonic, if I'm being honest, but themes of higher compassion and sacrificial love will always come before romantic love as far as this story is concerned.

Don't assail me with pitchforks for the cave discovery thing; I know gravimetry is used to discover caves sometimes and I know this isn't it. It's more sonometry than anything. I'm no geologist and so I can't be bothered to be more explicit or 'reasonable' about the method of discovery.

Chapter 5: A Preterist: One who collects cold nests


Should I be writing this while in the middle of a research paper? Probably not. Will I do it to procrastinate on that front? Undoubtedly.

A lot of introspection goes into this one, as well as an idea that shall come up as a constant theme: to cherish the past, but to not get lost within it. It is often tempting to mourn, and there is nothing wrong with it, but true courage is learning to accept that the living have greater need of one's compassion than the departed.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Sweet Miquella, if only you knew. If only you were awake, and with us now- as this is beyond my skill. I wish I could avail of your aid, for by Elphael if this isn’t complicated!”

It was a novelty that the thoughts did not let loose another deluge of wistfulness and sadness at the past, and instead merely a simple, fond yearning uncoloured by sorrow or the bitterness of her own failures. She had hope, and faith- particularly assisted by yet another waft of that vivifying fragrance of tea.

Her efforts at spying had so far yielded absolutely nothing. She had been as diligent and committed as possible, keeping record of every last, minute detail, but it had been all for naught.

Sorcery was clearly involved, and though she would not put it past herself to learn- if Miquella would begin teaching her after they found him- Alagos had somehow managed to twist the simplest incantation of flame into a thing of variegated complexities.

Two fires had been set up, neither fed by any kindling whatsoever- yet under perfect control. Some element of Alagos’ breezes appeared to be adjusting their warmth consistently, while the intensity of the flame itself was also independently regulated.

“Have you had better luck on the stores, Miriel?” Alagos had asked, and her uncle, who had scuttled somewhat closer to the fire, seeming fond of the warmth, had answered with an appreciative hum.

“Indeed, o resident mage-lord. Your modifications on our incantation of stasis were simple enough once I understood them- the prior failures were just age and clumsiness poking their dour noses into my business as ever.”

“Perhaps you should thank your teacher, apprentice.” Alagos had chuckled, waving off an annoyed ‘Bah!’, and going over to a cupboard that Malenia had never remembered to exist in the Church of Vows.

“Someday, old friend, I shall rebuild this place.” Alagos promised, opening the pantry, which Malenia deduced to have been of his own craftsmanship. “Though I've so far proved unsuccessful in the pursuit of textbooks about architecture, I do look to acquire the knowledge eventually.”

There it was again, that odd thirst for knowledge. She had seen I before, known it in all its forms. Her rival and half-sister Ranni had possessed a similar drive, hunting down all forms of knowledge she could find and growing in power and skill- as had Miquella, to some extent, with his ceaseless experimentation.

Alagos, however, differed in that appeared to exclusively collect odd bits and pieces of knowledge that would not necessarily assist him in a quest for power. Medicine, tea-making, history, philosophy- let alone that odd tendency of his to read minds, but there was no name she could think of to associate with the field- it all seemed rather eclectic.

“I find you very curious, sweet Alagos.” Malenia said, trying to suppress a smile and the fondness that came with it. “You seem a voracious reader and are… hauntingly skilled at getting people to divulge information of their own will, but all the knowledge you collect never seems aimed at a concrete goal. How many bits and pieces flow around in your mind, I wonder? It seems to me that were your memory an attic and were I to forage in it, I would be equally likely to find the most trivial mundanity as I would a terrible truth of the cosmos.”

“Dear, oh dear. It wouldn’t do to tell you all my secrets, now, would it? If you are somehow so well-acquainted with my certifiably eccentric mind after this rather small association, I wonder how I’m ever going to keep up with you unless I keep you guessing.” he said, having brought leaves of a kind from a container within the pantry, as well as what seemed to be two rather large kettles. The leaves seemed as fresh as the day they had been plucked.

“Is the incantation of stasis for the leaves, uncle?” she asked Miriel, and the Pastor smiled.

“You remain far too astute for your own good, my dear little niece.” he said, with infinite fondness, and it took all her will to not climb atop his shell again as her instincts told her to for whatever inexplicable reason.

“How have you kept?” she asked him, thinking of the long years as Alagos set to work. She had given up on her spying efforts, as ingredients were being sniffed and measured and poured at incredibly precise angles. She would need Miquella for this, if she was to surprise her Tarnished friend with tea of her own. That might coax a story of his mysterious younger days, perhaps- or it might fetch her another item of his to claim and guard jealously.

“As well as an old fellow such as myself can keep in these circ*mstances, which is to say not much. I did not expect life to grow quite as much a bore as it did after the war came here and the Church was broken, and yet it did. A pastor such as myself ought to be thankful for the serenity and utter silence to follow- on some misguided attempt to find inner peace and enlightenment, perhaps- but I’ve been torn with worry for you all. Alagos has been my only visitor, and I make my fondness for him rather blatant- imagine what tremors you have caused, young lady. Yes, that is the question. What have you been up to, if I might ask?”

It was a stone thrown onto stained glass, shattering a perfect idyll. She wondered whether to lie to him, but reasoned it would be futile. Alagos had undoubtedly told him, and her uncle did not deserve a lie by way of omission from her. Radahn had been his favourite after all, had he not? The only true scion within whom the blood of two conjoined houses ran? Proud standard-bearer of the Golden Order, as well as mighty sorcerer-lord of the Carian line?

“I- forgive me, uncle. No- that would be wrong- I-… agh.” She sighed. “I know I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, but there was no way to-“

Miriel immediately gasped, as if shocked by some memory, and scuttled towards her as fast as his old legs would carry him. “Ah. No, no, no. There’s no need for that. Perhaps there is some blame to be laid at your feet, but you have suffered enough. What’s done is done.” he said soothingly, nuzzling his large head into her flesh arm.

She would have turned away, if not for Alagos. Her sweet Tarnished, who had given her warmth and gone a long way into convincing her to accept it when it was given. She felt for him, expecting him to appear at her side again, but he seemed far too engrossed in his concoctions at the moment.

It was undoubtedly a pretence, but he had set it for a reason. She chose to trust him and her own self, giving in to her instincts and pressing her own forehead to Miriel’s.

“I tried all I could to avoid conflict, but Miquella-“

“He was taken. I know. Somewhere in Caelid, I assume, and Radahn would not let you in.” Miriel responded, seeming astonishingly calm for a being who had only put two and two together an instant ago. It was for her sake, she realised, and found the offering of warmth just as strange as she always did.

“I was desperate, uncle. The Rot was gnawing at me, and I now realise I could perhaps have attempted more- and yet Radahn had made clear his ambitions for Elden Lordship. There was naught else I could do. Hindsight reveals its perfection yet again. I never meant to rob you of your favourite nephew.”

“Favourite?” Miriel asked, inclining his head at a puzzled angle to hers, before sighing gravely. “Ah, so this is what it was about. I found it ever so odd that you of all people would apologise, but it is of no account.”

What? She was almost tempted to scowl. She merely saw things as they were, did she not? There had been no jealousy at all between herself and Radahn- she had respected him to an extent and recognised his flaws. Her and Miquella were content with each other, and if anything, it was Radahn who must have been jealous of her-

“I know not what you mean to say.” she said flatly, looking at him with a questioning glance.

“Consider this, my little butterfly”- there was such a depth of care hidden behind that that she was tempted to immediately forgive his transgressions and return to embracing her uncle- “What difference would it make, if you were to cut off my forelegs or hind-legs? What difference would there be between piercing my left eye or my right? That is the amount of pain I felt at every wound my nieces and nephews suffered in the shattering, and I would much rather keep the ones I have close to me than seek to admonish them and risk them turning away. Perhaps it is not objective, but I am allowed to be fallible, having seen as much as I have. It is my right to love, having preached of it for so long. And as I have such few loved ones left, I would rather keep the ones that remain close to my heart and cherish them than estrange them in favour of mourning those I have lost.”

Damned be these old gentlemen, ever proficient at forcing tears where she could not even shed them. Alagos and her uncle were truly two of a kind- and as with Alagos, Malenia could not stop herself from blurting out that which she would have rather kept restrained.

“And what if it is the foreleg that stabs the hind-leg? What if one eye takes the sight of the other?” she asked, and it would later occur to her that she was grasping at straws to find something to throw at herself in blame. At the time, she could not help herself. Pain was all she had known for as long as she could remember. With Miquella not at her side, feelings of warmth felt unusual to the point that she distrusted them.

Alagos still pottered around with tea in the background, not intervening as Miriel gave thought to his answer. He made a conscious effort to not eavesdrop, that she knew, and she could still find no reason for it.

“Even if that is so, the limbs or eyes I have left are vital to my happiness all the same. That said- let me put your mind at rest. Perhaps I was fonder of Radahn than I was of cold little Ranni who rejected all my teachings as a rule, or of Rykard who weighed my every word on a scale of scepticism. I may have then been fonder of him than even Miquella, whose words I needed to parse to understand his true meaning. I do not however remember Radahn seeking rides on my back; he had his Leonard for that. I do not remember him making me a garland of flowers despite me never asking, and indeed if he ever even called me Uncle, it is beyond my recollection. He never quite asked for stories of you and Miquella, as a certain someone might have asked for stories of him when he was but a bairn.”

Malenia shook her head. That should not have brought her any satisfaction. She should not, by any means, have cared whom her uncle held in his highest graces, because he was her uncle all the same- and yet, some part of her could not help but bound in glee. Have at thee, Starscourge!

“It seems an odd miracle of my awakening. Out of the entire world which wishes my head, the two people I first come across are the only two who appear incredibly biased for me for increasingly ridiculous reasons.” she said, and hugged him again. It went without saying that with the Rot somewhat tamed, she had rekindled her fondness for the gesture and was going to take every opportunity she was offered for one.

“Perhaps you should consider the idea that you inspire such biases, little butterfly.” Miriel laughed, “If anything, you would be right. I took pride in treating you all equally, but the day a resplendent master of the sword slaughtered the brigands who had laid ruin to this Church and proceeded to apologise profusely for arriving a tad late might have been the day I began to play favourites.”

She had… saved this place? It had left her memory- yet another of the things the Rot had taken. She did not allow herself to turn morose. Just as she had reclaimed this remembrance, so too would she reclaim as many as possible- all the while making new ones.

“If you’re quite finished…” Alagos hailed them, “So too am I. And if you wish to learn my craft, Malenia, have you simply considered asking? You don’t make for the subtlest spy, I’m afraid. I happened to feel quite hounded.”

She allowed herself a little laugh. With Miquella here, this little gathering would be complete. It simply wouldn’t do to ask Alagos, though. He needed to be surprised with better tea than his own, and while she doubted the plausible existence of such a thing, herself and Miquella could accomplish anything between themselves.

It turned out Miriel had a large trough all to his own, carved perfectly to accommodate his neck, and Alagos poured a very generous amount of tea for the Pastor. He seemed to have put saffron in it, this time.

“I never thought you could appreciate tea, uncle.” Malenia remarked, finally drawing attention the fact that he happened to be a turtle.

“Though it is an acquired taste for my kind, it hasn’t proved beyond my acquisition.” Miriel applied with good humour, taking long, slow sips. “Alagos used to be rather an unpleasant fellow, you see- at first, tea was his peace offering, when I had grumbled at him one too many times to cut down on the arrogance.” If her Tarnished was embarrassed, he didn’t show it.

That settled it. At some point, she would wheedle out every story about young Alagos from her uncle. Though he could hardly have lived as interesting a life as herself and Miquella, of course, there was no doubt she would find it intriguing.

“Well?” she prompted, waiting for her own cup, at which Alagos unexpectedly sighed.

“I was going to hand you this golden goblet I had once acquired, it being too large to see any use from me- but from what I’ve seen of you, I doubt you would approve of pretentiousness in any form. It would not suit you, and- from the amount you drank the last time, Millicent’s cup is far too small for you.”

“Why would you consider that, if I might ask?” Miriel enquired between sips. “Even if you had set that dear girl to wander on her own- which would take some considerable persuasion given how she would insist on sticking to your shadow- I had thought you would wish to preserve her cup. Your sense of propriety was very towering, the last I saw of it.”

“Ah.” said Alagos, freezing still in place. A curtain fell again on the grand illusion of familial warmth, with the harsh cruelties of the world seeping in.

“Come to think of it, where is the dear girl? You were always loath to go anywhere without her, and by your own admission, there was much left to teach. That the two of you would go your separate ways seemed unfathomable to me-“

“She passed, uncle. Alagos lost her to the Rot. I- I’m afraid to say it was what prompted him to find me, and save me.” Malenia told him, stepping in, saving the poor Tarnished the pain.

Alagos looked to be preparing some self-accusatory litany at not having done enough, so she said a few things further.

“Though he insists that all he did was injure me enough to get my mind off battle, if it were not for the simple offer of aid he gave, I would be fully claimed by the Rot now. I am ashamed to tell of it, but I did indeed fall and became for a brief instant the Goddess of Rot- through no fault of his, if I might add-“ she said strongly, sensing he was about to interject, “and he stopped me, and healed me. Now, he searches for a way to halt my curse permanently, and restore Miquella to his place at the Haligtree. He has been remarkably strong, beyond what I had suspected any mortal had any right to be. There is so much more he stands on the cusp of doing, and it grates at me that I already cannot thank him enough.”

“I see.” said Miriel, letting a solitary tear run the way down his cheek. Malenia wondered if her daughter climbed on his back or woven him a garland too. “I truly was fond of that girl. My grand-niece, heh- yet another of the sorrows the world must inflict upon me. Even in your return, there is poignancy- but at least you have returned, little Malenia.”

“Millicent’s last wish was to restore her dignity and sense of self.” Alagos said, in a low voice- gazing at the ground as if wishing to bore into its bowels. “Having otherwise failed my dear, little girl, I could not possibly live with myself until I see it done.”

“And from my judgment, you have been more than successful.” Miriel said, with a certain hint of pride for the man. As for Malenia, she chose to scoop him up and cradle him a little, just as he had supported her, finding once again that he truly was thinner and somewhat frailer than a warrior of his repute ought to be. She suspected he would turn stiff and hesitant as was his wont at any form of touch, and the fact that he didn’t spoke to a certain depth of lingering grief.

“I shall, of course, perform the highest funerary rites of which I am capable-“

“No, old friend. There is no need. Millicent never truly left us, for as I swore, she shall live eternally on in my memory. Every act of mine upon this good earth that is done to foster kindness is in some way a gift to her memory. If she is somewhere, watching us now- and I am certain she is- she would not wish me to look forever to the past.” Alagos said, words firm, nearly fierce. It was apparent that every ounce of the man’s considerable eloquence had gone into the pronouncement, which must even then have taken courage to make.

What else could Malenia do, for a mother who had never known her own? What else other than to hold the foster-father who had undoubtedly loved and cared for her to her heart and promise hope?

“Agh- perhaps you ought to consider incorporating more grappling into your martial discipline…” he opined in a rare complaint, which made her stop squeezing with something of an apologetic look.

“You looked like you needed that.” she said simply, and he rubbed his back with a slightly wounded expression, but did not say anything further, which meant she had been correct.

“Well- I had thought to give you Millicent’s cup, but it would not do to live in the past. Her presence was a great light in my life, but yours is by no means a replacement for it. It is something of its own, and I would be unjust in not acknowledging it as such. Allow me, therefore to- ah- offer you my own cup.” he said, drawing an immaculately-maintained round vessel.

She knew she should not take it. It seemed to belong in his hands, in the way that a pendant would on a necklace, and she wondered if the vestigial warmth she had felt within him was in some way preserved in his cup’s porcelain. No, on second thought, the cup appeared rather tempting. It was rather larger than the average cup, too, which would mean more tea.

Her nonchalant “Very well” somewhat negated by the speed at which she relieved him of another possession, she found him holding Millicent’s cup instead. Small gesture though it was, it must have meant something momentous to him to drink from it, as she had never known his hands to tremble as they did now.

Gathering himself, Alagos poured them all tea, and they drank in silence. There was something of a melancholic beauty to it, this idea of shedding sorrow and guilt while indulging in fond remembrance, the very pleasant tea serving as the catalyst.

“So it would be a sorcery or incantation to locate a presence that you wish, my lad?” Miriel asked, after some time had passed. The tea had remained warm, through Alagos’ mastery of fire, and Malenia was proud of herself for having let it last for the time that it had. She went over to pour herself some more, shaking her head. Reading minds with perfect accuracy had been turned into something of a casual pastime by these two, and she could not wait to present them with Miquella. They deserved a taste of their own medicine.

“We know the location and the altitude, more or less. We need in particular something to trace magic. I fear this is some Outer God’s operation, and following the traces of latent unnatural activity might lead us there.” Alagos replied between his careful sips. He seemed to be giving Miriel his full attention, which allowed Malenia to get away with drinking a substantial amount of tea and pouring herself a little more.

“Hmm. I seem to recall you phrasing this as an ‘abduction’. Trace the abductor’s steps and you should find some analogue of how they reached Miquella to begin with. What with how my niece tends to overdo things such as the matter of protection, I would bet a fair dragon’s hoard that they found a method of teleportation.” Miriel said, exercising all of a certain ancient shrewdness.

“The abductor cannot have used grace. It is derivative of the Greater Will, and Miquella would have known it and been warned. He took to Golden Order fundamentalism once, in efforts to cure my Rot. Though unsuccessful, it made him well-acquainted with that kind of power. To that end, I’d say it cannot have been the Rot or the Frenzied Flame either. He was intimately familiar with their wiles- whoever took him must have surprised him.” Malenia theorised.

A clear thread of logic, following through from prior experience and reasoning. It had served her well on the battlefield, and was not a trait the Rot could rob. Of course, with Alagos and Miriel looking at her with nearly-identical expressions of pride, embarrassment followed and it was a struggle to hide it.

“An excellent point.” mused Alagos, the breeze picking up. “A spell of instantaneous teleportation is costly to craft, and such attempts can be halted by a sorcerer of prodigious strength- as the world has already seen with the Raya Lucarian wars, in which Queen Rennala prevented Radagon from outmanoeuvring her. Miquella would have been doubly advantaged, with the Haligtree being consecrated and warded against alien influence. To hoodwink him must require something he would not suspect.”

“I scoured every bit of our lands. Only the Grand Lift of Rold could be used to gain entry and depart, aside from Miquella’s own spellcraft. I am certain he kept watch, and some mechanism or- or doorway to leave would never have gone unnoticed-“

“Seems a bit foolish, don’t you think?” Alagos asked, co*cking his head. To her chagrin, it caught her off guard again.


“I have never known the idea of an enclave with a single gate to ever result well in history. You would, in effect, build a cul-de-sac. The Grand Lift could fail, for instance, or could be sabotaged. It would be unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible. If departure and entry into Miquella’s lands was dependent on a single point, perhaps it would be a wise idea for a siege, but there would be no possibility for relief. He would have been exceedingly unwise to not put in place a second doorway.”

“I…” she looked down, and swallowed. She had asked herself the same question, once, and chastised herself for doing so. It wasn’t her place to question her brother, she had reasoned.

Doubtless Miquella had thought of the same thing, too, and if only she had talked about it with him instead of dismissing the matter-

“It is not at all your fault, my niece.” Miriel said kindly, before turning to Alagos with deadly seriousness.

“A sending gate, I should think, or at least something very much like it somewhere in Miquella’s lands. It would need to be somewhere obscure and not too close to his Kingdom, for the sake of secrecy. Someone must have gotten wind of this and used it.”

“The path to the Haligtree or the consecrated snowfield, then.” Alagos said, nodding, having told Miriel of those places over a deluge of stories.

“If so, it appears we are in luck. I happen to be quite familiar with the kind of sorcery that is typically involved with the construction of a sending gate. Between the both of us, I have no doubt we could construct an incantation which satisfies both conditions- to locate a rift in spacetime and to spot any form of leakage caused by the work of an Outer God. It should not take very long, if we’ve not collectively lost all our touch.” said the Pastor, with all the assured expectation of a scientist.

“It has been very long since I saw this.” Malenia muttered, sitting down. “Very few ever had the power to work hope into reality, into something tangible. Miquella could, once- and now, thanks to you both, he shall be able to resume in this vein again. At this rate, my debt shall rise so high as to-”

“My dear Malenia, I think you’re forgetting something, and I simply will not have that. Without your input- and without, quite simply, the courage you kindle in either of us- this would not have been possible. You are very much a part of all this. I do what I can for you of my own free will, and as of now, I do so because I hope that you shall continue to be a part of- whatever this is.”

She could not tell if the words were once again an example of gentleness, or if they were truly meant. Perhaps he did truly mean them, and she only found him hard to believe. That he believed in her was good enough, however. For the oddest reasons, this strange Tarnished’s faith was good enough.

“I doubt you will be able to get rid of me, after Miquella is saved. You cared for my daughter as your own, gave me the means to hold back the Scarlet Rot, and brought me to the uncle I have dearly missed. For the first time in years beyond count, I have felt hope as I once did with my brother at my side. Even as it stands now, I feel as though I could practically kiss you.”

She would curse herself later for not having rephrased that. At the moment, she was treated to the most thorough display of awkward stumbling in recent memory.

Three successive coughs, with precisely the same time interval between them. “Er… ah… that would be unwise… reconsiderations are in order- yes, ah, yes! Ingredients, I’ve got to fetch them, how terribly tardy of me…”

Cloak billowing behind him, he strode over to the nearest site of grace, walking like a possessed fundamentalist in a pretence of officiousness, and promptly warped away.

She couldn’t bear her uncle’s gaze, as something told her it would be suspicious. Hitting her head against the wall did not seem a bad idea, but she wouldn’t trust the Rot to not get at her in the process, so she refrained.


I'll be coming back to this in about two weeks or so, but if the desire to procrastinate again is too strong- ah, well.

Alagos probably used to be some arrogant fire-sorcerer marching around in a black cloak, going from kingdom to kingdom lighting fires until he met Millicent and decided to dad.

His over-reaction to the idea of what was probably part jest may or may not have puzzled Malenia a little. She's most likely wondering why he seems to treat the idea as a threat.

Chapter 6: Upon that snow, out in that Crystal Land


There's finally a bit of action in this chapter, and Malenia gets to shine in battle at last.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Goodness’ sake, was it absolutely necessary to drag that here?”

“Dinner!” Malenia answered, proud of her handiwork. Miriel grumbled again, swivelling around, having summarily decided that if the Giant Crab did not need to be in his vision, it would not be.

She could not nearly remember him having grumbled quite as much as he did nowadays. It must have been a consequence of the shattering, and perhaps association with Alagos had prompted him to this constant uffishness. Agreeing rather aggressively about their dissatisfaction with the sad state of the world over copious amounts of tea seemed exactly like what the two of them would get up to.

As for her, she needed to keep herself busy while Miriel worked on the new incantation and Alagos warped around, and the massive crustaceans she remembered that populated these parts presented an adequate pastime. The one she had found, a particularly large specimen, had proved a finer distraction than chasing her own shadows in a constant duel against the air.

“How goes the… er… witchcraft, uncle? Will it take much longer?”

“Witchcraft, I say.” he muttered under his breath, before regaining his composure. “As for your question, not at all. I have finished reacquainting myself with the locomotive sorcery associated with a sending gate, and we have a sufficient idea of what activity should qualify as otherworldly enough to be associated with an Outer God. The problem is combining these elements into a stable spell, for which we shall need a number of spellbooks and journals which Alagos should fetch at any moment. We can talk if you would like; the scroll can write itself.”

To illustrate his words, he muttered a small incantation and indeed, the quill began collecting ink and flitting across the large parchment in front of him seemingly of its own will. Malenia remembered Miquella being capable of much the same- in his case, she would always find three such quills going about their business at once.

“Tell me about our friend, then. I have seen what he wishes to show me, and some more that he attempted to keep hidden. He has been betrayed at least once, as far as I can tell, and is somewhat fearful of it- though he gives freely of his compassion, where he might not have done so before. It is evident that we shall travel together a while, and I wish to picture him.”

“Alagos was once a Tarnished warrior of Lord Godfrey’s troupe, though he insists he remembers nothing of his former life. In this one, I saw him first when he was on a quest for Elden Lordship. As you have evidently noticed, the burning Erdtree in the distance indicates he got rather close a decade or so ago before he decided to abandon that aim, and be a mentor and guardian to Millicent instead.”

The words caught in her throat.

The Erdtree- that invulnerable, impenetrable thing- how? She could not see, but she would have at least paid heed to the ash upon the winds, or the burning embers falling like soot from the skies. There would be a certain unbearable heat, and the weight of its cold gaze upon the world would be lessened. Despite all these things, she had never noticed.

“I… was unaware of that, uncle. The Rot must truly have advanced beyond what I knew it to, if I could not notice it. It is either this, or the fact that I have been able to think about nothing but our venture to save my brother- but it is remarkable, is it not, that a man should cast aside an opportunity for such power after being on the very cusp? Alagos is kind and humble, but both of you say he was not always so.”

“Not so remarkable.” Miriel sighed. “Alagos lost someone very dear to him; his finger-maiden, as it were. He regarded her almost as a little sister, as she was the source of his strength. Though he would eventually learn to draw strength from runes himself, he has always hated the practice. Drawing strength from death like other Tarnished is something he despises on principle.”

“A finger-maiden?” she asked, receiving a nod in reply. “I think I recall what they stood for, aye. I do not think she and Millicent were the only losses he had, however- I searched his words for duplicity when he told me he harboured no ambitions for Lordship, and there was none. Does he have any other friends left in the world?”

“Well, there are those of the roundtable hold. Quite a few of them have met me- Roderika the spirit-tuner, Boc the Seamster. Ah, poor Boc- I can never imagine being content spending a life rapidly sewing and replacing a copious number of cloaks for a Tarnished who insists on never going without one and always manages to lose or otherwise destroy them, but he seems to wish nothing else for himself. They reside in Stormveil Castle now, after Alagos assisted one Lady Nepheli to come to power, with Godrick slain by his flames long ago.”

Malenia shook her head. “Pitiful fool. I assume he did not see the error of his ways after I spared him? It feels somewhat a waste- perhaps both he and I would have been better served had I put him out of his misery.”

“No, my dear niece. It matters that you chose to spare him because you gave him a choice. What he did with it is not your responsibility, but the fact that you saved him is a matter of import. Just as your master, you fight to spare lives, not to take them. Never forget that.” Miriel said, nudging her arm a little.

“I suppose that is true.” she conceded, after some thinking. “Aside from these… roundtable denizens, who else? He let slip that he was a sorcerer some time ago, but is a duellist with mastery enough to hold me to a standstill. Is he truly self-taught? His skill would be nothing short of miraculous, what with everything else.”

“Tarnished can learn and grow rapidly upon being blessed with grace, as they have nothing to fear from death. It is true, however, that Alagos dislikes the ashes of war, and the concept of drawing strength from death- and while he is mostly self-taught, he does claim to have a teacher in swordsmanship who taught him, in his words, ‘lessons without which he could not possibly do’. It was a clergyman by the name of Gurranq.”

She could not say the name was familiar.

“Have you met this clergyman, apparently so proficient with a blade?”

“Sadly not, and Alagos won’t let me write to him. Gurranq’s name is all I know of this mysterious friend, as well as the fact that they have had long association with each other. I would not recommend broaching the topic, as he tends to grow very defensive. All I can infer is that this Gurranq must have been hurt very gravely and that Alagos wishes to protect him, or that there is more to their friendship than meets the eye. I do know that I can trust Alagos, however, and whatever he feels on the matter of Gurranq must be for the best.”

She cut up and cleaned the crab while thinking. It had already been washed by way of a nearby stream, and all that was left was to carve up the edible meat, which was simple enough with a knife. She’d have Alagos light some fire to cook it all later.

Her tarnished was affable and certainly admirable, but there was certainly something he kept hidden. From what she had seen of his character so far, she chose to trust his judgment, while completing the mental picture she had of him. There was one thing missing, however.

“What does he look like?” She asked. “Is he truly old in the way of mortal-kind? I know his hands are heavily scarred, but what is their complexion? His strength seems almost incongruous as he is anything but well-built.”

“Erdtree’s sake, why don’t you ask him all these questions?” Miriel asked, though he was not annoyed. There was genuine curiosity in the question, and she looked down, somewhat embarrassed.

“Ah- you see- these questions are inane. They are not elegant problems to ponder. I don't necessarily need the information I would gain from having them answered, and it is unlikely I could draw any great insights from them. If I ask him something, I- should like it to be worth his time answering. I have been enough of a burden as is, and if we do travel together, I would like to give the impression that my company is at least an enlightening-“

“Oh, sweet Caria. Poor, dear Alagos.” Miriel interrupted with a rueful chuckle, swaying his head from side to side. Malenia scowled.

“What is it now? I have said nothing incorrect. In fact- perhaps you wish to know why I bother to ask these questions at all, do you not? In truth, I know not why! What should he think of me if I conduct myself as a pestering annoyance-“

“Dear niece, if this is a question of impressions, then for Alagos’ own sake, don’t! By the ancient dragons, he’s suffered through enough of that. If you try to provide overly involved mental stimulation at every step, he will grow tired of you. Insightful as he may seem, he is not one to inquest as to where questions come from. Ask him anything and he shall be happy to answer. And if you do care that much about what he thinks of you, there shall be many an opportunity to leave him astounded with your innumerable talents ahead. He is less self-assured than he appears, and hides his vulnerabilities from the world just as you do. If your vulnerabilities were made plain to him in the little time you have known him, then my experience with things of this nature tells me that his might soon be laid before you. Though you owe him no debt by his own words, if you assist him when the time comes, I think you will find him and his constant influx of copious wisdom and overprotectiveness very difficult to be rid of.”

The pastor had been rather emphatic saying all this, and she was somewhat taken aback. How could it be that even after all this, he would not consider her a burden? She had taken his assurances to be kind lies spoken for her comfort, and thought that she had known the truth of the matter, but Miriel evidently knew her tarnished well. Perhaps there had been another friendship he had once had, which he ‘grew tired of’, if Miriel could say that with such confidence- it would be ferreted out later.

“Could you please just… tell me?” she asked again, deciding that even if Alagos would think nothing of it, her embarrassment would not be worth it.

“Very well.” Miriel said with a great sigh. “I shall humour you. He approaches your chest, which is considered tall for his kind, and I do not know his age. I suspect he is not quite as old as he may seem, as he suffers from a peculiar ailment. Signs of age show themselves prematurely, and lines of care make themselves more apparent with each passing day. It is a certain weariness, the same thing that has softened his voice and kindles his abhorrence of drawing strength from death- but I shall have you know he stands tall and proud in its despite.”

An ailment? She would have to take it up later. Perhaps this was another matter Miquella could help him on, once they found him. She paused a moment, and found that she enjoyed feeling hope at possible adversity instead of falling to the most pessimistic conclusion, as she would during the shattering.

“What does his face look like? Is anything left of his skin besides scars and furrows, and if so, what is its complexion? What of his hair? I had felt it once, and it seemed soft, though the strands were a little frail.”

“He has what I think you would call a ‘long’ face, with high cheekbones like your father’s. A jaw that might once have been chiselled, but has been broken too many times in the past to know with any certainty. It is true that his hands appear mottled and veined and are very scarred, but I do not know of his other wounds as I have only ever seen him in full armour or robes. His origin is as a truth-seeker, and I fancy he might once have had fair skin, though it is now mostly browned and earthen- whether by rays of a distant light or by the very flame he wields I cannot tell. When first I saw him, his hair was black, if greying. Over the years, it became wholly grey, and it is now a curtain of silver that shines in the moon.”

“That is… quite the flowery description. I’ve never known you to embellish details in this fashion, uncle- what of his eyes?”

“A serene grey- and I think you will find that I can’t be blamed for certain embellishments if you do ask him the same questions. For somebody so fond of poetry, you would be surprised and disappointed.”

She allowed herself to picture him a moment- without doubt, he would have seemed wise and well-travelled at first glance. Perhaps he even made a concerted effort to appear so, and it would have fit the perfect image of a gentleman scholar if not for the calloused, furrowed and somewhat grotesque palms as well as the marred face. The wounds told of a hard-earned wisdom that appeared more genuine than the bookish kind. Odd that the lack of classical handsomeness would lend itself to a certain distance, and would make him seem yet more unattainable and untouchable- but that was immaterial. What mattered was his apparent age, and how it seemed to differ from how old he truly was.

“Ah! Triumph at last! This was penned by Rennala herself, and has all the necessary concentrations and corresponding yields, as well as her own notes on methods to craft a complex spell from two distinct, simpler ones.” said a voice, and she quickly banished her contemplations. Speak of the devil.

“Splendid, splendid. Bring it here and we shall be done in short order. Oh, no- there’s no need; I’m perfectly capable of seeing to the rest myself- and I do believe you have other things to see to. Dinner, for instance.” said Miriel, unable to hide the slight veneer of sardonic malice at the mention of the meal.

“Dinner?” Alagos looked faintly puzzled, before apparently deciding that all puzzlement began and ended with Malenia, and putting two and two together after the bloody knife and expertly-dissected crustacean caught his eye.

“That.” he said at length, and Malenia hadn’t known it could be possible to inject such a wealth of scepticism and disbelief into a monosyllable.

“Yes.” she replied confidently, unabashedly proud of the ‘catch’. “If you don’t mind, I feel quite hungry.”

Baffled as he may have felt, it did not prevent him from conjuring a fire and slow-cooking it as finely and meticulously as he possibly could. He was cooking for royalty, after all. It was clear he was unfamiliar with the fare at hand, but he tried his best and that was what mattered. She could not taste anyway, but she could feel the amount of care and heart that had gone into cooking it.

What with how voraciously she ate her first good meal in years, and how she and Miriel relentlessly badgered Alagos into eating slightly less frugally than he was wont to, the proportions turned out more or less appropriate.

The sorcery prepared, they had warped to the Apostate Derelict in the consecrated snowfield. Though Malenia was long since used to the cold and was utterly unaffected by it, she still appreciated her new scarf.

It had of course been Alagos’ old cloak, which that seamster friend of his- Boc- had been asked to repurpose sometime while the Tarnished had been away. She would recommend the name to Miquella if he needed tabards made, as he seemed to work very quickly and yet finely.

From thereon they walked amidst the cloud-hued snows, her Tarnished pausing intermittently to cast pulses of glowing light into the air, awaiting something out of the ordinary. She took Miriel’s advice and interrogated him while he did so, and it indeed turned out that Alagos apparently had a very different idea of himself.

“I’ve been meaning to picture you for quite a while. Perhaps you could assist me to see a world of colour? What of your eyes, sweet companion, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Dull.” he said simply, and she had a faint inkling of the gist of the answers to come. “As for your other question, I doubt I’m the best person to ask. They aren’t much use at distances, and of late it has been a worsening problem.”

It continued as such. Hair? “A ragged, dusty mop that grows more threadbare with each passing day.” General appearance? “A thorough lesson in what not to do.” She found herself swiftly growing frustrated.

“If all that were true, you’d be a finger reader.” she insisted, “Or otherwise a beggar- even one of those spell-mad geriatrics from Raya Lucaria I’ve heard tell of. Decrepitude of this order is impossible, particularly for one who has shown such strength as you.”

“Suit yourself with what you should like to believe, my dear Malenia.” he said, rather more kindly and ruefully than necessary, once again shooting light into the air.

“By the Haligtree, you must be making a conscious effort to make yourself seem as haggard as possible. It’s not as if I care much about appearance at all, as I’m hardly in a vaunted position myself-“

“That is untrue.” he responded, and it seemed to be on reflex, because he went curiously silent afterwards.

Oh?” she latched on, hiding a predatory smile. “Untrue, you say? How do you see me, praytell? What is this ‘truth’, in your eyes?”

He seemed to find it very difficult to respond at first. “I meant to say that you may have a rather warped perception of yourself, Malenia. Though I feel much the same as you when it comes to the superfluousness of matters of appearance, your every movement is infused with a certain elegance and grace that I have seen nowhere else.” he said, carefully sieving everything that might have carried a trace of feeling away from the words.

‘Warped perception? You’re one to talk’ she thought to herself, turning away momentarily so that he would not see the large grin she had failed to restrain at the rest of the words. Ah, this odd little Tarnished… she would have mercy on him for the moment, but only this moment.

The next skyward flash seemed to have a different result, with a second pulse being emitted after the first. She felt some of her hair stand on end, and swiftly asked him.

“Two flashes- that would be the fulfilment of a single condition. Either we are near a sending gate, or there is something bearing the power of an Outer God-“ Alagos clarified, before tensing.

“Curse the gods, a twat!” he shouted suddenly, and leapt off Torrent in a rush. Though Malenia had herself never heard the term, she did the same, with considerably more grace than him.

“A twat?” she asked, making clear her puzzlement, before she felt the distant beat of wings. Some Avian creature had come upon them, though she had never seen anything about ‘twats’ in any bestiary.

Alagos spared her a single glance, and he looked nothing like she had ever seen him. Rage was a thing she had thought him to have completely risen above, but he seemed to be seething and utterly incandescent at the moment. His lips twisted in a snarl, as if restraining some particularly foul oath, which would no doubt have seemed utterly incongruous coming from him.

“A twat.” he replied grimly. Taloned feet landed on the snow, and a roar was heard. “I fought a cousin of this one on the Mountaintops of the Giants. It was responsible for my last death.”

This was all the clarification he would offer, and the snow around them began to melt. The skies seemed to burn and the winds picked up, all cold banished. Alagos seemed to command a sorcerous fervour she had never seen him to before, and she could feel a certain cold rage from him. It was rising steadily, almost calmly.

“No. Cease at once.” she commanded firmly, before he could summon an entire firestorm. To her mild surprise, he in fact complied and quelled the growing flames, though he gazed at her with surprise and not a little annoyance.

“Allow me.” she stated simply, before running off in the Twat’s direction. It raised its wings to fly at her her, and once again she felt the light of battle. Some would call this kind of joy perverse, but she found it perfectly natural that she would be most at home facing an enemy. Her entire life had been a battle of sorts, and if it had been so, she might as well enjoy it- particularly when she fought to preserve those she cared for.

“No, you damned reckless goddess, the bloody ghostflame-!” she heard somewhere in the distance, and the warning was a welcome one, as the creature struck the ground with some kind of rod and released a trail of fire that did not at all seem affected by the ice.

“Continue the search, and leave this to me!” she shouted back, before tuning out all other sound save the battle before her.

She had never faced a beast of this kind before, and it seemed to strike with a kind of malign intelligence. The so-called ‘bloody ghostflame’ it wielded appeared to have a will of its own, and kept following her footsteps. She allowed herself a smile, and flew.

The iron poker came down upon her, but she sidestepped and threw a slicing cut to the thing’s wrist. It connected, but the monster did not scream, seeming indeed unaffected by the blow.

It rained down another stroke from above, and she felt a curious desire to laugh at its ignorance of this most basic tenet of swordsmanship, to never strike from the same angle twice in succession. She met its poker with her blade, this time, and grunted a little at its strength, which was nothing short of tyrannous.

The attempted mutative sequence was turned into a deflectional parry when it seemed apparent the thing might overpower her one-handed hold, and she brought her blade snapping around from the other side, scoring a clean cut across the face.

Once again, not an indication of being affected. A worthy challenge- good. She appreciated the exercise. Muscles tensed, and she calculated that the thing was about to fly, which was perfect.

Taking the opportunity, she leapt into the waterfowl dance. With its movement, it no longer remained in a suitable position to strike at her while she leapt, and she aimed each precise cut with careful thought at what openings she could sense.

Her master had trained her relentlessly until she grew faster than even he had been- faster than any mortal. She hoped she did him proud with how precisely and artistically she cut the beast’s wing to ribbons.

These were the moments she lived for, blood pumping in her veins and no longer stagnant with Rot. This ‘twat’ was offering rather an enjoyable spectacle, and she felt almost glad for its presence.

Finally it screamed, and she guessed it had been preparing some sorcery it was unable to bring to bear. It flailed about wildly, which she dodged with ease, and then everything happened at once.

Snow was thrown at her, which she angled herself to the side to avoid. The odd poker it wielded came down in a diagonal cut, which she riposted with a counter-cut that struck its forehead at the same time. That ‘bloody ghostflame’ (she increasingly suspected 'bloody' meant the expletive, not the adjective) erupted from the ground, and she jumped back easily to avoid it.

Foul power tainted with death coruscated in the air, and instead of being afraid, she welcomed it. The poker was drawn back, as if preparing some great, final effort, and she smiled. Never pull back for a thrust.

Before it could come, before the poker could erupt with flame and scald her, she brought her katana’s false edge down on it with a snap. Moving her foot to the tip, she counter-thrust into what might have been the creature’s ribcage, if it indeed had one, before thinking better of it and snapping it up through its own body. It staggered and stilled momentarily, which was enough for her to pull her blade out decisively and sever its neck.

“Did you see some of that?” she could not help but ask as she returned to her Tarnished, wiping any detritus off her blade into the snow.

She knew for a fact that he had indeed watched, waiting for her, ready to step in should she falter, even though she had commanded him to move on. She also knew that his jaw had fallen open on one occasion, before he clamped it shut almost instantly.

“I did, in fact.” he responded, trying to sound nonchalant and not entirely failing. He possessed an altogether too annoying ability to recover his composure at a thought, she realised.

“Any possible critiques?” she asked sweetly. The fact that he had been around to see what had been undoubtedly one of her more dominant displays brought her some amount of pleasure, for an inexplicable reason.

“Well, I’ve been, ah, reliably informed that my taste in poetry is rather pathetic, so I shall refrain from that particular compliment.” he said, before going back to Torrent as if nothing had happened.

Poetry in motion?’ she translated, unable to resist teasing him. “And I thought you decisively against clichés, dearest companion.”

“No, that is not what I meant.” Alagos said, seeming oddly resigned to something. “I meant to say that you often seem a living poem, if you must really know- a living, breathing poem. One that tells a story of wastelands and adversity, though it is ultimately about shining moments of hope. And though rare, when they do shine forth, they are unrivalled in their beauty.” His teeth were grit, and it all came off in a deceptively flat tone.

Her breath caught, and she realised he must have done a very good job of silencing her, if that was his aim. The usual sincerity behind his words seemed almost vindictive as she flushed.

“Now if you would care to momentarily tame your insistence on ferreting out my useless ramblings, let us onward.” he said, setting aside the matter with a remarkable promptness, and she nodded guility as she jumped back on Torrent.

A while later, she felt three flashes, and they came upon a sending gate marked with crimson blood.


I really know I should be working on my paper, but the procrastination is strong with this one.

If there's anything Alagos would ever have a phobia of, it's those deathbirds. And Malenia just proceeds to do a no hit-run on the hardest one. Our poor tarnished has no chance, does he?

Three guesses as to what relationship Alagos got tired of due to being intellectually confounded at every turn.

I wonder how Malenia would react if she knew who Gurranq really was. Of course Alagos would go into his sanctum, see his maddened cravings for deathroot and immense knowledge in incantations and go "Yes, that looks cuddly."

He probably didn't bank on being taught how to wield a sword effectively by way of grunts, aggressive soliloquy and general malfeasance, and should on second thought probably have been far more suspicious.

As a final note, Mohg isn't going to be too happy.

Chapter 7: That which in a Distant Valley has been Staged


The first of the Mohg chapters. I have really sought to do him justice here, so there's quite a bit of psychological horror and grand delusions on display as well as a certain general creepiness. Fair warning for that.

If anybody can use this chapter's title to guess the title of the next one, they are certifiably glorious and the inheritor of a lot of virtual hugs and cookies.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Ah, such wonder, such bliss in a word of flesh and thought. Adrift in a sea of warmth, each droplet of its waters sweet, each caress of its waves gentler than anything the world had brought upon me. Its currents weave a forest from which there could be no escape and its air conspires to be so heady and ambrosial that I would never desire one.”

Such were his thoughts, the first time he had rumbled within his lover’s veins, abiding as blood and filling his consort’s every arterial sluice with himself. He fancied himself something of a playwright if he had time to spare; certainly, he was a patron of the arts, and with the things he had seen, felt and brought to life, what could possibly stand in his way to becoming an artist himself?

Morgott would frown on such so-called ‘frivolities’, of course, but poor, dear Morgott was no longer around, was he? Drowned in his own folly and stubbornness in service to a deity that knew nothing of love- well, one couldn’t say his brother hadn’t tried.

Would that Morgott could have been by his side in the new world, having kept it safe for the new Elden Lord, but Mohg was prepared to accept that one couldn’t have everything. He had been luckier than most, in that regard- he had his Miquella, eternally bound to his love. He had his mother, who loved him and embraced him with arms crafted of the great beyond.

He was loved, cherished, and he loved and cherished in turn. His ever-changing, shifting form flowed near Miquella’s slumbering heart on a whim, and he extended a few blood vessels as distended fingers to stroke its walls.

‘Mine.’ he claimed, to yet no answer- yet Miquella would come around, in time. It was only natural. He would ascend, soon, and Mother would tell him how Mohg had cared for him, cherished him. Mother would teach him love, and Mohg’s every effort would be rewarded.

He had been exceedingly careful. The bloody fingers warred against those Tarnished who would dare claim power in his place, cutting them down piece by piece. The fools, they knew nothing of love and would never have it.

That fiend who had felled his brother- a terrible sorcerer of flame, if he recalled- was apparently no longer of consequence. His many flies had told him as much, abuzz in his ears. Perhaps the great influx of invaders had killed him- and if not, he would be hunted down in good time by the Mohgwyn dynasty.

After this death- the corpse made an example of- the magnanimous Elden Lord would spare all else who would prove capable of redemption. He would teach the value of affection, and gifts would be given to those who showed wisdom and abased themselves to his new order.

“They shall be given love, if they love in return.” the Luminary thought, and for a time was content, until a great quake beset him. Cells withered and died in response to an influx of tidal might, and it became apparent to him that he was being called.

In his physical form, this quake would be manifest as a ceaseless screeching, a thousand voices wailing as one within his ear. Each of those voices spoke a form of truth, beckoned out of love for him, and Mohg had learned to parse them and learn from them, in time. Through that experience, he knew now that Mother was calling for him.

With a bit of a metaphysical sigh- he could not say no to Mother, after all, no matter how much he craved to embrace his love a little more- he left through a carefully-opened gash in Miquella’s long fingers, and was once again a vision of dignified, lordly glory within his palatial sanctum.

“Mater! Da mihi oculos!” he chanted, raising his sacred spear. In answer, his Mother craved a wound, and he, the grateful, good child, obliged her. Her form was everywhere and nowhere, and her flesh permeated the air. He stabbed through it with the sacred spear, driving it forwards to tear formless, fathomless flesh, with burning blood dripping all around him.

Reaching the end she beckoned him to, he ceased the spell and drove his trident out the other end, gazing through the bleeding spatial rift thus created.

A fountain of red hair greeted his sight, crowned with a winged helm of unalloyed gold—NO. NOT HER!

The Luminary stumbled back in abject shock and fear. He almost prayed to his Mother to deliver him from the present time, but recalled his lordly dignity as a dynast and prospective lord. Mother did not use her own strength, for it would weaken her children in the end. She rather granted her children strength, so that they may resolve their own difficulties and emerge stronger for it.

He imagined Morgott was cackling vindictively now, wherever he was. His brother, ever the pessimist, would have told him this day would come. Though he was many things, Mohg was not arrogant- no, certainly not.

After all, all the time he had spent in the noble pursuit of knowledge and the craft of the entire school of sorcery under his name, Malenia had spent in studying the crude and inelegant art of the blade. While he was undoubtedly the more illustrious and successful of the two, it meant, as an unfortunate side-effect of his greatness and her lowliness, that she would defeat him if they crossed weapons.

Now that she was here, it was inevitable that she would reach the sanctum, and industrious would-be-King as he was, he let himself think. The Mother of Truth would seldom warn against such incursions, for it was her children’s prerogative to be proactive and responsible- why, then, would she respond to an incursion now?

It must be the Rot, Mohg reasoned. His blood flared within him, a wrath that was not entirely his own raring its head, as if in greeting to a rival. He had never been assailed in such fashion before- and yet, look who had.

Dear Morgott. He laughed once, and blessed his brother’s name. Yes, Morgott had had all the world arrayed against him once before- and now would be a perfect time to draw a leaf from his dear, departed brother’s tome.

“Come, my faithful! To your king!” the Lord of Blood commanded, and was answered in short order by a troupe of Sanguine Nobles. His voice had become a closely-strummed bass within their ears, thrumming insistently until they answered. The moment they entered the room, he snarled a spell and stunned them.

‘It is better that they sleep, for I have never wished to inflict pain’, he mused, as he carefully drew a long nail across the first one’s throat, slicing it open cleanly to no response. The Bloodboon Ritual would typically involve the spilling of his own blood, but against that damnable plague-rat, he could risk no such thing. He hated to do this, he truly did, but it was the only way. The souls of his faithful would understand, for in life they had loved him.


The moment they emerged, Malenia knew they had stepped foot onto evil ground. The air was dank and heavy upon them, and though it seemed as if skies covered them- if the frosty chill was any indication- they were no doubt to have been the product of artifice.

It was a falsity of a land, and felt even worse for having been tainted by the power of an Outer God. She allowed herself a wry smile- not that they were any different.

Nokron.” Alagos announced, coming up beside her. “I had thought I saw an odd collection of lights during my travels in Nokstella. At the time, they were unreachable.”

“The Eternal City?” Malenia asked despite herself, before shaking her head. Fabled as such places were, and changed though this world was, they did not presently have time enough to discuss Alagos’ past travels. “It is of no account. This place appears tainted with the power of an Outer God. The Rot within, which was silent thus far, has begun writhing again.”

“The same as it was in Liurnia, when Miquella was first taken?” Alagos asked, and she perceived that he squinted a little at the sight ahead. Perhaps it was due to his failing eyes, which he had said were less use at distances, but she would rather bet it was a reaction to distaste his long experience had still not quite overcome.

“I cannot say with certainty, but I do feel a certain anticipation that is not entirely mine. It might be obscuring my senses, and so I must warn you that the Rot feels stronger, by some means. It appears to be gathering power for something it- awaits, I believe.”

“Stronger? Wait a moment.” said her Tarnished, eating something round, which smelled of overgrown moss. The very next moment, he laid a flaming palm upon her breast, and Malenia resisted the urge to snarl in response to the sudden pain that appeared to consume her. Radahn’s rune burnt ever more brightly within her, and the Needle itself flared with power. Alagos withdrew his hand and gestured again and she felt warmth and the wash of golden light, with the Law of Regression warding her senses and cooling her mind.

At once, she felt what the otherworldly had attempted to keep hidden. That abundance and virtue, gold clad in leaf and vine, promising hope with certainty.

“Miquella!” she said with a shout, and none could restrain her. Not the entreaty of caution that Alagos spoke, snapping his head around to her as she ran, nor the masked foes that appeared in ambush to block her path. She could feel her brother- wounded, slumbering and with his warmth ebbing faintly.

She charged in his general direction, leaping into the waterfowl dance at once, wielding every ounce of calculated fury she had within her. Two of her masked assailants had their heads scythed off, the other two left a tangled mess of severed limbs, bleeding out.

Malenia-“ Alagos appeared to say something from the distance behind, but she ignored him for the moment. A number of kneeling wretches, bloodied and shambling- some with spilling entrails- blocked her path, but made no move to attack. It was almost as if they could not, and she cut them in half in their droves.

There were creatures of foul blood- things that seemed strangely evocative of the Rot-things of Aeonia- that burbled and writhed in her way, and she jumped lightly over them, not caring to strike at their cursed hide. Moments later, a blast of powerful wind swept them from her path, and she smiled. Even if her dear companion could not follow along, she knew she could trust in his support.

If she had eyes, a great madness of rage would have lit them. If Miquella had inherited Marika’s desire for preservation, then Malenia had inherited her wrath.

A beat of hooves somewhere in the distance, and she guessed that Alagos had summoned Torrent, unable to keep up with her on foot. It was a risky to ride him here with the ledges, despite his spectral nature, but she did not allow concern to give her pause.

They came upon a flank in the cliffside, and she felt soft tremors in the ground beneath her. It seemed as though something was rolling into her way, and from past experience, she surmised these to be Albinaurics.

Miquella had promised these creatures protection, once, and it had been her duty to foster them. At the moment, they stood in her way, and she granted them no such mercy. Her mastery was absolute, her precision terrible, as the point of her blade pierced eyes and cut throats. She brought all her immense strength to bear, cutting the creatures’ legs beneath them and advancing on.

She heard a shout somewhere in the distance, from a familiar voice- a monosyllable, perhaps ‘no’. Moments later, gales began to rain down on the Albinaurics, sweeping them out of her path, but also sparing them the touch of her blade. Either way, attacking them had somewhat slowed her, and given enough time for Alagos to catch up.

“You will calm yourself at once!” her companion shouted coldly, throwing a wall of sweeping winds in her way, and she turned around, wrath barely restrained. He meant well, that she knew, but he had not felt what it was like to lose part of his very soul before-

“I did not lose Millicent to see you charge recklessly into the depths of hell for your brother, and be consumed by that ancient wrath I have spent my life in battle against!” he said, incisively. It was defiant, yet somehow pleading, and brought her pause.

Out of regard for him, she did calm herself, and worked to restrain her ire. She had thought he would be charging just as she was, at her side, making all haste to rescue her brother. If he truly wished for her friendship as he appeared to- if he wished to cement the love for him that grew leaps and bounds by the day for all time- he would have done just that.

And yet, she sensed a hint of concern in his voice. That he had lost Millicent was a powerful reminder- perhaps he did know that feeling, to have spirit parted from flesh.

“You are worried. What is it?” she asked, wishing to be done with the conversation as soon as possible.

“Ah- forgive me. I forgot you couldn’t possibly notice.” he said with a sigh, and she inwardly wished him to get on with it. His incessant apologies were not time well spent. “There’s a red ring around you, and it seems ominous. When I look at you, I feel unsettled- as if the air in front of me is somehow warped, and changed against its will, if it has a will. Somebody, I should think, has brought the touch of an Outer God upon you, and-“

“Can you cure it?” she interrupted at once, making it clear that she would not tolerate a winding answer.

“I’ve already laid my foremost enchantments of cleansing and protection on you.” he said, with a hint of frustration in his voice. “If I am to attempt any more, it shall require a ritual, which could take an hour at the least if we find a secluded spot.”

“Then we have no time.” she said decisively. He looked as though he was about to protest, when she warned him, “If this is an act of direct malice, Miquella may not have long left. On the chance that some dark power is aware of our presence here, I will not risk his life at its mercy.”

He looked conflicted for a moment, but her use of logic even in the throes of rage appeared to have convinced him.

“Very well. Then we must trust to hope that we reach this dark power before you are struck by something of sinister nature. For all I know, it could be the Rot itself. I shall hinder you no more.”

With a nod, she sprinted off, and he galloped. They were coming out of a system of caves and aisles, and onto an open plain; there were less Albinaurics to be seen here, and more of those nameless, white-masked invaders, along with armoured superiors who seemed to be directing them.

They beckoned forwards at her as she raced towards them, and a strange buzzing filled her ears. Flies.

The thought was beyond ominous, as there was only so much of her blood that was left untainted by the Rot. If they drew blood from her and her strength waned, its hold upon her could worsen. No feat of will could guide her if there was no strength in her limbs.

She grit her teeth, and called upon the same rage, running the risk of granting the Rot a hold on her mind. It whispered at her to glide forwards, to take the heads of those who would threaten her, and this was a dangerous thing as she agreed with it.

The buzzing grew nearer, and she found that there was a veritable storm of flies. She could not dodge them, as a swarm of such multitudes could not possibly be the result of anything but a coordinated malice. So be it. She would accept their bite, and sacrifice what she must to slay them and near her brother-

As she felt the first few stings, a tornadic squall of heated winds surrounded her and drove them off, the currents coruscating with flaming light. What flies were not reduced to motes of ash by the intermittent sparks were banished, unable to abide the spell around her, and made almost to return to their masters, desperate to drain any blood they could find.

The moment was a blessing against the ingress of the Rot, as she allowed herself to separate her own intent from the one that was forced on her. If there was one saving grace in this field of blood and death, it was to fight alongside her Tarnished. The amount of care for her that had gone into the spell was apparent, as none of the sparks touched her or licked at her. It brought something unknown to her heart, to be looked after in this fashion, even in the heat of desperate battle.

She had only seen Alagos exert all his skill once before, and it was against her. Now, put to a different purpose, she could appreciate it in full. It was as if the breath of the world, the breath of life itself fought behind her. The wind that drove the sails of merchant-boats and aided in the flight of migratory birds had been given form and pushed her purpose to its conclusion, just as it did for them.

A lake, and hideous monsters of an avian form waited ahead. She felt their beaks, as they clicked, and perceived the lesions that lined their flesh as they oozed blood. Leaping lithely to the side, she avoided one as it charged, shearing into its skull from behind.

The other would soon discover that wind was not the only weapon Alagos wielded, as it was consumed wholly and utterly in a gout of concentrated flame. She had never seen him to use his mastery of fire save in a subtle capacity, and the blatant destruction convinced her that he treated the matter with the same urgency as she did.

It was heartening, in some way. As she hewed her enemies in a tide of bloodshed, she spared the thought to ask him for a kiss after Miquella was safe at their side. It was only natural, after all. The battle in front of her was used expertly to dismiss any thoughts of anxiety at the possibility of refusal.

He still could not imagine it.

The Luminary, in all his wisdom, had warned them that this day might come. He had spoken of a warrior of red locks and a winged helm, wielding a blade with strength unmatched save by the Luminary’s own.

He had told them that they were to attempt all in defence of the divinity, and he had implored them to make her bleed. It was the only way to defeat her, he had said- and what could be more fitting? To spill blood was to worship their mother, and show their love.

She had felled swathes of their standing army. Albinaurics were cut into amorphous messes, and his fellow white masks were in pieces. He could not deny that the Waterfowl’s dance had been a thing of majesty, of elegance and lethality exceeded only by Mohg himself.

And yet, they had a plan. She would not, could not have emerged unscathed, with every sorcerer and Sanguine Noble of the Mohgwyn dynasty hurling scarlet flies at her to rob her of lifeblood. It was expected that she would be halted somewhat at the very least, and her advance made sluggish until Mohg could come in all his glory and strike her down with his valiant spear.

What Varré had never expected was that this fearsome warrior- the red Valkyrie, as she had come to be known in their fireside stories- would bring his very own lambkin with her.

And what a warrior he remained. Varré almost felt a twisted sense of pride in him, dating back from older days. The same Tarnished he had encouraged to slay Godrick, who did so with fire and ruin and emerged the glorious victor? Varré had had such high hopes for him, and they had not left him even now.

He could have been the Lord Commander of the Mohgwyn dynasty, with Varré at his side, the doting physician. Alagos seemed changed, from those days- nearly unrecognisable. That topknot of shining black hair had faded into a curtain of silver. Those hands were now withered beyond reason, and wielded a flamberge where they had once never needed to. The lines on his face robbed it of all the cold, haughty beauty it might once have had.

Part of him insisted there was still hope. Perhaps Luminary Mohg or the divinity could reverse his age, in some way. That faded silver hair shone all the same. Though he had been reduced to wielding a sword, he did so in a masterly fashion- there were parts of him that could be still be salvaged, if only he had joined them.

Now, though, his highest duty was to the dynasty, not an old friend who never once professed any affection for him despite Varré’s open admiration. The White Mask had held to the belief that he might come around in time, but there was no time to remain.

Attacking them would be certain death, but he was prepared to give his life for the lord who had shown him love. Perhaps there was some residual regard for him left in his lambkin, and it would be enough to give him pause- enough for Varré to cut his throat.

They were nearing the palace, and the last Sanguine Nobles stood in guard, giving their lord time. The red-haired demoness fell upon them, making a mockery of their much-vaunted skill that pained him to behold, and his lambkin stood behind her at every step.

Winds siphoned away their bloodflame, protecting her from all harm, and Varré wondered what caused Alagos the Living Storm to care so much for this vile, cold-hearted murderess. What would it have been like, to hold such affection? How warm would those winds have felt, if only they were at his side?

No matter. He would do his duty. His lambkin drew his blade, parrying a bloody finger who attacked him with a curious, blood-spewing katana with a crooked stroke and following through to stab their midsection.

It was enough time to fall upon him with his bouquet and drive those thorns into his neck. It would have been enough, if that damned ogress had not been watching, and pulled him out of the way, his sword still stuck in the dying recusant from the Land of Reeds.

His jaw nearly fell open in shock, just as Alagos’ did. That- this could not have been. It could not possibly have been, unless that care Alagos had shown for her was in some way reciprocated by the Valkyrie. A moment later, he found himself without his weapon- without an arm, in fact, and a Katana longer than he was tall levelled at his throat.

“Varré?” Alagos asked, in a moment of recognition. He sounded- he sounded truly sad, in a way.

“Oh, how you disappoint me, lambkin…” the White Mask sobbed, all hope lost. “That you were to live such a life, only to end it in the thrall of such a terrible evil. I had thought you would be different- but just as the paragon always fell in the old fables, so to have you fallen. You have torn my heart, my precious lambkin.”

“Lambkin?” Two voices spoke, one in confusion that turned to dawning recognition, the other in barely-restrained wrath, now unleashed.

“I was never-“

“How dare you lay such claim to him! How dare you!” roared the Valkyrie. Swifter than he could bring himself to think, a single hand was brought to his throat, and he was thrown into the air by the scruff of his neck in an abominable display of strength.

Part of him knew what would happen before it did, suspended in that endless moment in the air. It was what the tragic poets would write, after all, and it was what had already happened. Impaled with an immensity of prejudice, in a clean strike that smote through his heart.

“There was no need for him to die, Malenia! He was one of the very few who had been kind to me at the beginning of my travels!”

“There was nothing between you, was there?” she seethed, feeling as if she had not drawn enough blood. She would butcher the corpse further, but that would be undignified for Alagos to witness.

“Not a thing.” Alagos replied firmly after collecting himself, seeming surprised at the urgency of the question.

“Then I was correct in my judgment to protect you. If you wish to contest it, you can wait until after Miquella.” she said in a tone that brooked no argument.

“I wonder if ‘protecting’ me was all you were doing there…” he replied in sardonic tones, at which she rounded on him.

“You are a poor judge of liabilities to your own self. I have not missed how you would employ all your skill to see me unscathed, and yet seem woeful in comparison when your own self is at risk. Do not think we will not have words on this later.” she warned him, and for once, she appeared to have caught him off-guard with her deadly intent.

“Very well.” he said, with a sigh. “For now, we seem to be at the palace gates. There is a second ring around you, and I would advise caution. If you see anything, point and I shall strike it with giantsflame.”

She nodded curtly, once, and advanced within. The strength of Miquella’s soul was great indeed here, defiant against an unknown darkness, thrashing within and yet kept catatonic.

Her failure could now be undone, and they could return to the Haligtree. Alagos could be welcomed into the family, and all would be well. For now, she called upon her rage one last time, as it would serve to drive her blade against the devil that had taken Miquella.

There was a shapeless malice that she could feel, something that seemed to coil as a viper would, in gleeful anticipation- yet resolve and her Tarnished at her side, she would strike down whatever it was.

With hope.


I went hard on the Latin just because. 'Da mihi oculos', of course, means 'grant me eyes!'

Magnetohydrodynamics is complete trash. Don't go into it. I will probably come around after this stupid paper is done with and call it interesting again, but for the record, it's trash.

Poor Varre. I felt a little sad for him.

Chapter 8: We are most Artistically Caged


Fair Warning for this chapter: This is about the most evil chapter, and as such, probably my favourite so far. Pretty much everything goes wrong. There's also a bit more graphic violence than what is typical for me, though I assure you it isn't in too much grisly detail. I think I have a certain way of going about such things and the imagery ought to be mostly metaphorical, if anything.

The long-awaited Alagos pov lies within, too. Once again, I tried to do everyone present here some amount of justice, so it's quite long. And nasty.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


It was odd, in so many ways, to witness. They had come to the pinnacle of the Palace, a ruined spire of crumbling stone that housed a sanctum within, walls parting on all sides to reveal a false azure.

His every instinct told him that there was a hungry, ravenous power lurking within, and it reeked with all too much familiarity of previous encounters of this kind. Even the smithing stone of the Ancient Dragons he had found below spoke of a terrible foe.

And yet- nothing. Perhaps his enemy lurked in the shadows, as they were so often wont to. He doubted quite anything could touch them, at this point, what with the mightiest of the demigods at his side- but the place was still tainted by an Outer God, and he would rather have his wits about him at the prospect of their terrible power.

Malenia seemed familiar with delicate matters of this kind, and he had advised caution. An ancient flame burned within him, at his very fingertips, awaiting his command to consume anything that may harry her. It was of the essence to remain careful-

“Miquella!” Malenia shouted suddenly, and she ran ahead, laying waste to his carefully-laid plan.

“Malenia!” he called for her, to no avail. “Malenia, there could be-“ his words died in his throat, as he beheld a grotesque hand, dangling through a crack in an egg-shaped cocoon. Memories came unbidden of Queen Rennala and her amber egg, and he cast them aside as soon as they did. With thoughts of Rennala came thoughts of Ranni, and his walks down memory lane for that catastrophe would rob him of all presence of mind when he needed it.

For a moment, the hand was visible, before his friend covered it in a sea of red hair. It was long, in a fashion that seemed unnatural with the cocoon’s proportions. Scarred, lined, grotesque. He resisted the temptation to look at his own hands- gloves, sadly, tended to get in the way of calling forth fire. Either way, the state of his own hands had been a product of battle, and the scars on that hand seemed more- unnatural. It was far thinner and more emaciated than a hand ought to be.

The scars that cut across it were almost too delicate, too contrived. Either somebody had carved the skin with the utmost care with a knife as one would lay a brush to a painting, or they simply were not scars. It felt almost as if flesh had been thinned, stretched and draped over too much bone.

He sighed, and began to search around the place himself. A rising wave of sadness threatened him, that his companion, perhaps possessed of the doughtiest and most indomitable will of all the Lands Between, would be reduced to this. Malenia looked as if she truly did not know what to do.

The hand bore a ring, of a gem that looked like a ruby and yet possessed none of its fire. Malenia had clasped it within her own flesh hand, and had knelt down, with a half-pained, half-uncertain expression. Perhaps the rot had robbed her of the ability to weep, or perhaps she truly did not know how.

He lacked the ability to gauge and feel for emotions purely by existing, as Malenia appeared to, but he did see the arms that trembled ever so slightly, and the upper lip that quivered. For her, this must have been tantamount to a depth of overflowing grief.

“Miquella, who has done this to you?” she asked. In that voice, there were tears, and rage. Wrath was a thing as natural to her as empathy, he had come to realise, and it had been painful. In that, the two of them were alike.

“Malenia, I- I am sorry, but I must ask you to-“

Who has done this to you?” she asked again, ignoring him, and there was less of a plea in her melodic voice. It was filled with an inconceivable extent of hatred, now, that he felt suddenly wary of the Rot.

His scope of the area forgotten, he inhaled a deep breath. Cold practicality was something that came upon him before battle by instinct, but he did suppose he was being unfair. It was likely she could not help herself. How close had they been, in that forgotten age? What would he have done, had he been accursed by Rot and had only a brother or sister for support?

He had failed to account for this possibility. However hardened she might have been, one could not possibly prepare for such things. The thought recalled his first sight of the interior of Elphael, swiftly forgotten as he raced to a rotting, red lake, making all haste to defend his daughter with wind and blade- until he found it to be unnecessary.

She had defeated all four of them, through her strength alone, and sat awaiting him and her death with her sword sheathed and in tranquil placidity. If only he had known the danger to her came not from her sisters, but her own self.

Pride had warred with grief, then, and he had shouted at her, wept at her, showered sweet kindness and spat incredulous bile. His daughter had met all his outbursts with a soft smile, filled with an impossible depth of regard for him, and had told him so kindly, so cruelly that she would not be dissuaded from her course.

Was it fair of him to expect Malenia to not be afflicted by grief now, when he had been similarly stricken not so long ago? Grief did the most terrible things to a mind. It warped, twisted, tore-


Voice! He cursed himself for having fallen into a reverie again, his sweep of the surroundings forgotten. Racing to the sides of the spire, he drew winds to him, gauging where it was that an enemy breathed- and there was nothing.

Whomever the dark voice had belonged to drew no breath.


The world stopped, and the face of his daughter flashed before his eyes. For a moment, he suspected he had been struck by some form of terrible blow- curse his reminiscences- until he heard an all-too-familiar gasp of pain.

He looked to Malenia, who had been forced to let go of Miquella’s hand, with her own flopping to her side as if robbed of strength.


She gasped, and found that she had choked on her own blood. Her katana clattered from her fingertips and she fell upon the egg in desperation, scrabbling at something, anything to touch and hold on to. Blood flowed from her mouth, from her nostril, from perhaps every orifice- blood that she had little left off, and could ill-afford to lose.

Her visage betrayed an expression of open shock he had thought her incapable of. The lesions and scars of Rot on her cheeks appeared to turn more virulent, and far more pronounced.

For him, time had stopped, and something deep within him slipped, his own shock and concern giving way to terrible, deadly calm. He may have cast aside the mantle of the Slayer of Kings or the Living Storm, but when Alagos gazed at the direction of the voice’s cadence, murder in his eyes, woe betide any who would think to restrain him.

He did not wholly understand how it had been roused so quickly, having slept for the better part of a decade. His wrath was not a swift thing to be wakened, and never came in short bursts. No ordinary spark could kindle ash to fire, but that which did must herald a flame that burned eternally.


All happened at once. The blood-curse took its final toll, and its downed victim released a pained grunt at last, muffled still beyond what should have been possible for an unimaginable torture.

Alagos hurled a bolt of his wrath made manifest.

Wings of shadow burst, cloaked in greater shadow, the owner letting loose in a cry that he might even have thought heroic, and it was silenced immediately as he was forced to put them to use.

Had he not flown away at that precise moment, he would surely have perished, as a searing blast of giantsflame blew the wall behind which he lurked into utter ruin.

Even then, the dark figure was not safe, as walls of wind and fire closed around him. “For you, Morgott!” the crow-like demon shouted, as if in challenge, flying around the engulfing flames, raising a bloody trident on occasion to swat them away, but it had never been anything more than a delaying tactic.

“Drink, and do not cease until it has an effect! Drink it all, if you must!” Alagos commanded, urgency in his voice, yet still carrying a hint of tranquillity that came from an element of cold calculation. He threw both his flasks of crimson tears and healing physick to Malenia, who caught them more out of reflex than anything, still in shock from the Outer God’s fell curse.

She did not protest, perhaps recognising an inarguable command from having issued so many of her own over the years. It was the instinct of war, to recognise an order that would be stood by until death, which in this case would be best to follow for the sake of victory.

Their assailant was flying in to strike them, having weaved through his fires and outright quenched some with his own power. No matter, he thought, as he held the winds in his palm and stilled them, robbing them from under those dark wings, bringing their foe crashing down.

He used the reprieve to lower his hand to her heaving and retching chest, granting her as much strength through his own flame as possible without debilitating himself. Perhaps there may have been diminishing returns, with a great part of the healing influence of the flasks as well as his flame-brought might devoured within the void that was the Rot, but her safety mattered most of all.

His enemy had righted himself, and appeared unmistakably to be an omen. Goatlike horns curved from his head, one piercing his very eye, for which he seemed utterly unshaken. A demigod without doubt, for few other beings could leverage such power.

“Ah, honoured guest. I would welcome you to witness the birth of our dynasty, but I fear you have brought a rodent to infest this joyous hour…” he said, and the voice may have carried malice or genuine belief in the invective it spewed. He did not know, and did not bother to consider.

“Regrettably, such plagues must be dealt with before we can have civil conversation, as I’m sure you will understand in time!”

He found himself ignored completely, as their enemy attempted to bring his great trident crashing down on Malenia’s head. Every iota of ancient strength was called to wearied limbs, swinging the flamberge to meet and barely deflect the blow.

Burning droplets of blood descended from the trident’s tip, some corroding through his armour, but most seeming to fly to Malenia, as if under the influence of a higher malice.

He thought it all doomed, for a moment, and readied himself to claw his foe’s eyes out with his bare hands- yet there she was, having leapt to the side.

There she was, displaying such phenomenal powers of recovery that would be inconceivable in any other being. Wounded, bleeding, in shock, grieving for her brother and under assault by both the Rot and this Outer God that dealt in blood, she still stood unbowed. Some droplets of blood had hit her and singed part of her flesh, but the stroke had been nowhere near the death-knell it would otherwise have been. Her face, still grimacing from boundless torment, righted itself and contorted in a familiar rage.

Something roared within him at the sight, and as the Omen snarled in irritation and struck at him at last, he sidestepped perfectly and brought his blade to slice through a wrist. The Blood-flinging sorcerer howled in pain, levelling a wounded, almost sad look at him.

He would have noticed the genuine confusion in that blood-red eye as that of a scientist with a failed experiment, or of a toddler whose play-battle had not quite gone the expected way, had he not used the initiative to cast a sphere of eternal darkness, using the last of his strength.

A kind of battleborne madness had seized him, without doubt, as he had not been a sorcerer for a decade. By all rights, he should have forgotten the spell with his ageing memory, but it had come to him, in this hour of need.

He would consider it all worrying, but that was for a later time. For the moment, he had discerned that his enemy would do everything to get at Malenia first, which he could not allow; the reasons all irrelevant.

There was a familiar exhaustion that steeped over him as he glided out of the way of a sweeping stroke, taking care to avoid the pool of burning blood it spewed. He could call no more spells into being, and had only his sword. Gauging his options and deciding that an unrelenting offence would be best to draw the Blood-sorcerer’s attention from Malenia, Alagos charged.


She had never felt this weak. She hated herself for not seeing it, for not seeing him. She despised herself, and it must have been the right thing to do, as those whispers told.

Curse her weakness, at seeing Miquella’s form! She should have been strong for him, as she had always been! She should have told herself it would be fine, and not ceased her vigilance-

Black steel interrupted her thoughts, and she leapt aside. The Lord of Blood- as the whispers called him- had flown into the air and leapt at her, in an attempt to finish her off.

The Warm-one followed soon after, levelling his blade at the Blood Lord’s skull, chopping into a wing which was raised in reflex to block it. A snarl, and a tide of blood kept Warm-one away, with a palpable cloud of power descending on the rent in the wing, presumably to mend it.

She knew this Warm-one, even if she did not quite recognise him. Though the helpful whispers went curiously silent at the thought of him, he seemed vaguely familiar.

He wielded flame- she hated flame- and yet, it was wielded for her sake. She knew battle well enough, and recognised that he was not fighting against her, as he raised his blade in onslaught against their mutual enemy.

‘The Lord of Blood wields flame too’, the whispers reminded her. Yes, she must kill them both.

She felt the earth for a weight, to reach where her katana had fallen. All her other feelings were numb, torn and distant from her, save the pain. And such pain.

A serrated dagger had ripped into her heart, and a shotel had lodged itself within her skull. The foul and cruel weaponry of the fabled godskins must have been lodged in her spine. She asked the whispers why she felt such pain in full, when all else was numbed. She had learned to isolate and ignore pain, to focus on other sensations, and it could not be that the pain blotted all else out.

“You must feel pain, as pain is what makes you stronger. Pain is what grants you strength, and drives your blade. Pain is your soul, my daughter!” clicked the scorpion within.

It was correct, as always. Pain was what fuelled her rage and gave her power. She let it do so, calling upon it, letting it give her the hateful clarity necessary to see the torrent of blood hurled in her direction.

It was directed in a line, and she swept to the side, just as a barnacle must slither up the side of a ship to avoid rime-filled waters.

She focused utterly, just as the scorpion would before a kill. Her will was unshakable and everlasting as a lichen, yet adaptable like mould. There was something on the ground in front of the egg, and asking the scorpion for luck, she jumped over the burning fire and drew it up in her prosthetic hand.

The scorpion must have listened, as it was indeed her blade- her hand.

Warm-one looked her way with an inscrutable expression, and she did not return his gaze, for it must have been irrelevant. He could only be of use to her so long as he lasted, and slowly, irrevocably, his strength would fail.

He had spent a lot of it on sorcery, and he was not in his element on the offence. There should be something at his hip, if she recalled correctly- something that would restore his strength- but it was missing, and she could not remember how that had come to be. The whispers told her not to think too much about it.

She readied herself to strike, but found that she lacked the strength. While her will was great, enough blood did not flow in her sagging arms, and some things were rendered impossible.

“Forget false blood! Let your true lifeblood flow!” came the whispers of the scorpion, ever-helpful.

She assessed the duel before her with care. Though the Warm-one had not been hit by that trident, droplets of blood and foul sorcery singed at him from time to time. That sword had lost its flame, with the wielder perhaps needing to conserve the last of his strength.

Conversely, many wounds had been carved into the Lord of Blood, yet he still fought majestically, powerfully, utterly sure of himself. The stately manner in which he moved spoke of a nobleman and dynast, secure in his fortunes. He seemed to be feeding off an unholy power, a shadowy presence that rivalled the might of the scorpion itself, granted yet more strength by what he had stolen from her than he would normally have any right to.

The Lord of Blood could not be allowed to take Miquella’s rightful throne. The Scorpion would, of course, help depose him.

If she could not level a killing stroke with her blade, she could with her true power. He would die, consumed by Rot Life, then the matter of Warm-one could be dealt with.

“The one who plays friend to you holds you back. Remove the restraints he has so wrongfully laid on you, and strike him down for his transgressions!”

Ah, yes. She had been correct, after all, to be suspicious of Warm-one. The whispers told her of a disconcerting influence at her breast, and she felt for the needle, which held Rot Lifeblood back. She could picture what must happen, as it would flow through her veins again. A scarlet flower, of beauty everlasting, bearing the Blood Lord’s death within its petals.

“NO!” came an indignant shout, and something burned within her. She almost gasped in pain, before recalling that pain was supposed to grant her strength- and Warm-one glided towards her with the speed of a wraith, the Lord of Blood hot in pursuit.

“Remember Miquella! Would you let him die, after all we have done? Do not let him be consumed!”

The scorpion shrieked and cried and died, and the world returned. Had he used any other plea, it would have been over. Had he appealed to her own sense of self, he would have failed.

Malenia cared not a whit for herself, but for her bond with Miquella, she would do anything. Logic came flooding to her mind, knowing that her brother would not be able to survive a bloom- not in this emaciated state.

Sound rushed into her ear and breath into her nostrils. She tasted the acute iron of her own blood, which had been drawn from her in a ritual, and felt in full the rage that sustained her instead of it being a dull thrum in the back of her mind.

Something rushed at her, levelled its arms and cloaked her in golden light. Her father, perhaps, casting the Law of Regression yet again- though this one seemed different to Radagon’s incantation, in some way.

A warmth neared her, and strayed away momentarily, forced to evade the trident that would have rendered it ashen-cold. A flamberge cut through the air to thrust at their dark foe’s foot, catching it ever so slightly before it was withdrawn- the Lord was learning.

She felt that there should be flame and wind, but all the flame that coated the battlefield was that of the Lord of Blood, and all wind was what blew under the beat of his wings. And yet- underneath all that, there was a singular feeling of hope.

Vague, foolish and stupid, most likely. It was that Tarnished, Alagos- her Alagos. Perhaps the thought of Miquella had simply been the most part and not quite all of what had brought her from the brink.

She moved at once to be at his side, dodging through a thrust by the shadowy Omen, but he drew back, to something of shock from her. His palm was lit with flame.

Had he betrayed her? Why?

The treacherous thought was dismissed in an instant, when he levelled the palm at her breast. The dislodged needle was inserted with ever more decisiveness, and far from a prick, she felt some measure of relief.

Did he truly possess an infinite fount of strength from which to gift her? He had fought this duel while casting sorcery to heal and protect her, and yet in her case, he kept giving. She almost wished he would stop.

The unspoken query was answered, as it had apparently been his last strength. The Lord of Blood came up on the side and thrust at a leg. Though it did not pierce through his armour, a sickening crunch of bone was heard, followed by a cry of pain.

It wasn’t Alagos who had cried out. He had simply fallen to the floor as he must, at such a mighty blow, producing another soft ‘ah’, as he had just when she had dealt him similar wounds.

The shriek had come from her own mouth, though she had not been hurt. Perhaps Miquella could later tell her why. The Lord of Blood loomed over the downed Tarnished, laughing at last.

“You blind fool- what an honour, all the same!” he cackled, bringing down the butt of his trident to break a shoulder. His palm curled almost lovingly with bloodflame, unfurling as if to say a final goodbye.

A moment later, Mohg found that his killing stroke had been averted by the simple means of depriving him of that palm.

It had been a clean, perfect cut, of the sort that seemed to throb with a duller pain than a splinter would produce, felt only after the shock of the blow.

He staggered back, looking to the skies as if calling for a mother to pick up her hurt child. No answer came.

Alagos had fought masterfully against him, avoiding his lethal strokes and carving wound after wound in his flesh, drawing blood in a manner that would have made even him proud, but not one of those strokes could compare in precision and sheer beauty to what followed from Malenia.

Fitting, perhaps, that the last thing his eye saw should be a thing of such beauty, with a rising diagonal stroke blotting out the world forevermore. Once again, he appeared more in shock than in pain, and Malenia wondered coldly if his Outer God prevented him from feeling the wound. It wold certainly explain the other eye.

“I… I…” He was disarmed, and weaponless. He looked the part of an actor in a play, who had expected to defeat the villain as prearranged in the script, when suddenly his counterpart forgot the story and began to fight him in earnest.

She struck off a horn and then two, to a mournful howl of pain, which she proceeded to silence by cutting his throat. Not satisfied, she let go of her sword and grabbed at the gash with metallic fingertips, unleashing all of her strength and hate.

His head was ripped, in such horrible fashion, off his neck. She had always known herself capable of such-beauty, and horror in equal part. That was what she had always been.

It was still not enough. She fell upon the corpse, tearing at it with her bare hands, taking a burning vengeance for what he had done to Miquella. It was tempting, so very tempting.

Cold filled her mind as robes ripped. She would disembowel him, and perhaps let a lovely flower bloom where his heart used to be-

Warmth coruscated around her, and the winds picked up to a gale. The Lord of Blood’s fires were drawn up in them, and agitated to a swirling storm. It was enough to force to her to rise, and take up her blade again.

Was it some final retaliation by the Outer God he served? No, the winds were far too warm, far too familiar. They stripped the bloody taint from the fires they drew up until only flame remained.


She recognised, all too late, where she would have been tempted. The Rot was an equal danger, in both wrath and tranquillity. If these flames were meant for her, to strike her down at last, she would not blame him.

How did he muster the strength, even now, downed and leaning his back upon a pillar, raising his one unbroken hand in a fierce gesture? It did not matter, and she would laud him for it. The fingers swept down, and she waited to be consumed. Miquella would likely be safer with Alagos, with the threat of Rot looming over her.

The fire coruscated around her and instead devoured the Lord of Blood’s mangled corpse.

“If you cannot… stay your blade… do not let yourself be tempted. You must… return with Miquella… if you are to find happiness.” said a voice that should not have been so strained, so weak.

It was always soft, yet carried a certain firmness to it. That it now wholly lacked that quiet strength seemed somehow wrong.

“Spend your strength… on me, if you must. Quench your battle-lust. Your brother does not deserve this. You… do not deserve this.” Alagos croaked, before being forced into silence by the need to breathe.

“You’re not wrong.” she said, when she found her voice, letting herself fall to the floor at his side, winged helm clanging against the ground.

“I do not deserve you. I never have and most likely never will.”

She hung her head, looking at the floor. Perhaps she should be overjoyed, at having a failure undone- but she had not proved strong enough. The Rot had nearly claimed her.

Without Alagos, who knew what might have happened? Would she have killed both her brother and his captor, and been consumed by the Rot? Most likely, and it was yet another grand monument of sin.

“I’m sorry. I- can ask nothing more of you. I shall trouble you no more with my presence. It has been one of the- the greatest joys of my life to know you, as briefly as I have. I know you cannot forgive me, but please- accept my thanks instead. I will be eternally grateful to you, for saving Miquella, and- and me.” she said, words refusing her call.

Had she been paying more attention, she might have understood that Alagos had- in his injured state- somehow managed to frown.

“Idiot.” came the decidedly odd utterance, and she startled.

Hadn’t that been what she liked to call him, on occasion?


Well, so Mohg attacked. The Rot God decided that this was prime real estate. And yet, with the proper support, Malenia still managed to summon enough strength to see the day through. She can be a little annoying like that, as the Redmane Knights would say.

Poor Alagos is finally toppled from the position of invulnerability he has occupied in this tale thus far, though he is to be lauded. He did pretty well, for being forced to get rid of all his healing and cast protection spells against the Rot.

I think he deserves a vacation (he isn't getting one).

Chapter 9: Feigned Remoteness in the Windowpane


So my laptop tried to pull quite the fast one. Its malignant efforts have been tamed for now, but some of the damage has been done in the lateness of this chapter.

WARNING: Some suicidal ideation is in this chapter- though it can be interpreted as a general disregard for one's wellbeing- and not from the character you might think. Quite a few more than melancholic musings as well.

There is some fluff to compensate for it at the end.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Miquella. I’ve come to you at last, after an age. I may have failed to protect you and failed as your blade, but at least I can be by your side again, in whatever capacity you shall wish of me. Together… together, we shall be the architects of a new dawn.”

Malenia sighed, gathering herself up, ignoring her exhaustion for the time. It had been one of her master’s first lessons- the ability to set aside weariness by fiat of will, as there was often no rest for the weary. She set aside a glance for the downed Tarnished, seeing Alagos presently focusing all his efforts on recovering his strength. Some had not been so fortunate in their teachers.

“A new dawn, for the sake of those who linger in the dusk.”

What was it she felt for this strange Tarnished? Love, most certainly, but of what form? She had entertained thoughts of courting him, perhaps, when her brother was safely returned, but it would of course be an insult at present, what with how she had nearly brought him to demise. Though she fancied she read him well, there was still much she did not in the least understand- why he had just called her an idiot, for instance.

Either way, it was a hint that he might yet stay with them, despite her having no right to ask for more of his time. If it meant that he wished to remain, and an opportunity to unravel the many-layered being that was Alagos, she would not question the insult. Nobody had ever accused her of being wholly unselfish.

She looked at Miquella’s comatose form, his spirit seeming serene. That was an incongruity; the brother she knew was fearsome, always projecting confidence, authority and power. It was a commonality between brother and sister that both of them loved to fight, only that Miquella happened to hide the tendency far better than she did.

Her own limbs were wearied, and exhaustion strained at them. It might have been Aeonia again- except that they stood, finally, at success. Even if she had nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, there was some vestige of dignity to be reclaimed. Though her senses were assailed by the same eternity of torment, and though she could still taste her own blood on her tongue, she stood upright at the very least, with the Rot tamed for the time.

She felt for the cocoon that wrapped her brother with her flesh hand, skimming over the surface and its irregularities. There was that sense of inherent wrongness and unfamiliarity, which told her of a contrast between his present shell and the cocoons of the Haligtree.

“Nothing for it,” she decided, and raised her blade to slice the cocoon perfectly open. It had been a gamble to take, as his captor might have grafted it on to the body in some abominable fashion, but the risk of continuing corruption through contact with the Outer God that infested this place was far worse.

Thankfully, the odd spree of good luck which had held sway since her awakening continued, and the cocoon fell open with Miquella unscathed. She pried the cracks with metallic fingers and cut away the swathes that enshrouded him with her blade, until he was finally free.

What she could feel of the flesh told her that his new guise was monstrous, and she cursed again at that Lord of Blood. If not for the Rot, she would have dragged out his death- perhaps she should have nonetheless. Shaking off her distaste, as it was still Miquella, she undid her cloak and gently wrapped what she could of him within it.

“Bloody legs won’t move. Dear me.”

She turned to her companion, tending to him next. It was something of a surprise to even hear him mention his state. She had dealt him wounds that were perhaps worse, and he had taken considerable time to recover- more than she did- before they set out. He had likely not fully recovered from their duel even now, and yet-

He had always seemed so invincible to her, in a way. Not in a conventional sense, as he could still be wounded, but never beyond a point he couldn’t help himself out of. It had almost seemed as if he had a way with the world, making nature itself bow before his commanding authority, working on problems until they resolved themselves.

To find that strength to be finite, and that fortress of will and focus to not be everlasting under siege was somewhat jarring. There was certainly weariness, but she had always understood that it could simply be pushed aside. Her misconceptions were perhaps not entirely her fault, as her Tarnished had somewhat conformed to them. Nothing had ever suggested Alagos could be rendered vulnerable. He might have been at one point of time, but he seemed to have risen above the world and what it could inflict on him.

Apparently not, and it brought new shame to realise that this state was brought on by having to protect her.

“Agh… more than one way of getting to a site of grace, I suppose…” he muttered, and Malenia was drawn out of her thoughts by the violent shock of realisation at what he was about to do. She did not realise where he had drawn the dagger from, but an age of war had trained her to forget her thoughts and spur herself into action when necessary, and she did.

“No! No, no, no!” she shouted somewhere into his hair, wrestling the miséricorde out of his grip.

“Oh, please, it would be far more convenient than waiting for me to recover. It’s been a long bleeding time coming, anyway. Fifteen years or perhaps a score since my last… heh, the very thought ages me. I could ensure that the both of you are safe as soon as I emerg-eh. Well.”

The Empyrean realised all too late. What he had been saying was, of course, utterly unacceptable, and in the heat of the moment, she had focused all her attention on having him shut his trap, by whatever means.

She could feel his shallow breaths on her lips, rotted as they were. Their noses were dangerously close.

I haven’t asked.

A stroke of luck, that disaster had been averted just in time. It was certain and obvious that she had no right to him, and that nobody of wisdom such as Alagos’ would choose to take herself- the failure that she was- and the Rot along with her- for their own.

Yet she let herself be heartened. The Rot could be defeated, with Miquella restored to his home. There was time to better herself, and correct her vices. She had at least this confidence in herself that if it were possible to attain any form of worthiness, any deed of right to anything whatsoever in the world by feat of will, then there was nothing in the world that could stop her from attaining that light at the end of all tunnels.

“My sweet, sweet Alagos.” she said, throwing away all lingering distress and manufacturing calm. “I know it would be wrong of me to force my presence on you. I have no wish for you to remain further shackled to me than what you would by your own will. And yet- I must ask you, never to think of that again. For all that I am worth, you shall never contemplate as such- not for my sake, not for your own, and not for anybody’s.”

There was a blooming flame in the words, warm as hope and inalienable as crimson blood. A depth of dignity and strength held in reserve that stoked the pronouncement to a white, glittering blaze, brighter and darker both than all the fires the renowned Tarnished could conjure.

Alagos seemed confused, and then- for the very first time- afraid. There was not a hint of vulnerability within her words, and they were inescapable. A binding vow, written into the laws of nature.

“If you cannot walk, I shall carry you. All I ask is that you let me- just this once, if you must. I shall speak nothing of it. If you wish to see nothing of me after you are healed, then I shall trouble you never again. If you wish- and justifiably so- to never have to endure my presence, and the plague that I am, it might… sadden me…” here her voice broke and the invincibility departed, “but through my respect for all that you are, I shall honour that wish.”

Her lip might have quivered a bit, before she clamped it firmly in place. Instead of the customary sigh, however, she heard an unfamiliar low growl.

“Agh… idiot. Marika’s stony arse, you confounded idiot.”

And again! Insults that made no sense, in the face of what had undoubtedly been a logical statement. She examined him again, to make sense of it all. His eyes were drooping, perhaps in a conscious to look at anywhere but at her, yet there was some way in which his speech flowed that made his tongue seem looser.

He rasped, as he never normally did, and she could no longer find a certain profundity of thought that preceded the pronouncement of everything he typically said.

“Who in all that is bloody ever taught you to think that somebody ready to lay down their life for you would ever not wish to keep you close? Who? I feel the… sudden urge to strangle that somebody, if only you’d tell me whom.”

She said nothing, looking at him with disbelief. It was still difficult to believe that he thought enough of her to contemplate self-sacrifice, and she did not know if she liked the idea. To give herself some time, she began the process of lifting him up, gently pressing him to lie on his back.

She undid his cloak and greaves, placing one hand below his knees. Though they were still covered in layers of armour and cloth, the keenness of her touch told her that there were deep furrows in the flesh beneath. Her second hand went below his back- and yet again despite the plate, she found that something within the spine was not quite correct, not quite there. He could still stand straight- and how majestically at that- but it must have cost him, in some way, all the while.

“If not, then why? Why do that to yourself, when there is no need?” she asked, finally, walking over to what she had memorised as the nearest sight of grace. Nothing truly ever escaped her notice, even when rampant through a tide of bloodshed.

“My dignity.” he whispered at once, as if that explained everything. He looked at her pleadingly, as a scholar would to a student unable to grasp at the simplest of concepts, and she shook her head.

“It- won’t do- no, it simply won’t do. If I- no, I must have strength enough.” At this point, he seemed to recognise his own words for what they were- senseless rambling- and took a deep breath.

“If I cannot trust in my own strength, then how can I trust myself to lend it to you? If I cannot resolve small matters such as injuries by my own agency, then how am I to support you? In whom can you place trust, if I cannot trust myself?”

She almost dropped him in shock. Sheer anger gave her the strength to keep him clasped to her chest. She seethed, and wished for all the world to shout in that damned old man’s ear, but his recovery sadly had to come first. She reminded herself that she lacked the strength to launch into a tirade about what a moron her companion had been, and the utter hypocrite he was behind that vast veneer of wisdom.

They came upon the little golden mote, and she lowered him gently, handing him back his flasks. He looked at her with something unreadable, making no move, and she left with a huff to see to her brother, unable to tolerate his presence for the moment.

“Dearest Miquella, perhaps you would be amused. If you have not heard me opine as such before- and I have, aplenty- we have found surely the oddest creature to walk these lands.”

He did not answer, ritually scarred and deformed lips sealed shut, as she gently lifted him in the same manner as Alagos- only that she cradled him somewhat closer to her chest. He was familiar, and she knew that to be carried as such was what he would prefer. There was small encouragement, however, in the weak flare she felt at the back of her mind. Perhaps he truly was listening, and she did not know.

“I would have found it hard to believe. My Alagos has the wisest soul I have ever known save my master’s, and the most discerning mind save yours, and yet he insists on being such a- such an utter fool, at times. You would set him straight, would you not?”

Miquella had always had a way of making others around him see sense. His grandiloquence defied altitudes, and if she wielded her blade with half the skill with which he wielded his tongue, she would consider it one of her finest days in the field.

“I had thought myself cold, to assume him immune to any harm- only to find that he had been deliberately feeding into that assumption. I was hoodwinked not for any manipulative nature, but for his genuine belief that he- that he ought to be. For my sake. That old goblin. And he would lay down his life for me, when I haven’t even given him anything. Drat.”

She wondered why she was speaking of Alagos, instead of herself- why his person, instead of their trials. She recalled that it was for an ancient memory, that Miquella would always crave information of the unknown, to make it known. When the unknown became familiar, it would lose its power over them, and her brother would gain power over it.

Another memory came to her, of Miquella speaking about groundnuts, of all things. She could not tell whether it was a natural reminiscence, or whether her present recollection was by some means induced.

“The shell may appear hard, and if a fool should taste of it, bitter. It is the prerogative of the truly wise to seek what lies within. As one cracks the shell, there shall one find the true meat of the matter. There shall one find oil, slippery as the shell is inflexible, and the nut, which could not be further removed from the taste of the shell. And so, just as mother may have made a life of breaking open such shells, must we break open the shells that encase all things in life. People, objects, words, philosophy. Of course, we shall go further in that we will not halt there. We will not cease our pursuit until we reach the meat, that soft fruit which lies within.”

“You might tell me that I am mistaken, however.” Malenia muttered, forgetting out of an old habit that she had come the realisation herself. “His utter refusal to rely on another may have nothing to do with me- or indeed, with his own character. There might be some deep-seated fear within him. He seems, for all else, utterly fearless- but I might not have stared deeply enough.”

By Radagon and his unhealthy fondness for swinging that hammer around, it would explain everything.

The fear, when she had spoken about protecting him. The way he would never sleep or rest in her presence. How he insisted on tending to her before himself, and how he responded adversely when she attempted to protect him.

She was all for self-reliance, but like any seasoned tactician- let alone one of the most highly exalted, as she was- she knew the value of support. This was fear of a kind she had never before seen, and felt suddenly out of her depth, her anger at the Tarnished forgotten.

“He does not seek power, yet fears losing it. He preaches trust in loved ones, but cannot bring himself to place his trust in those who care for him. He counsels me to move past my guilt, but refuses to let go of his own. He would rather die than let me nurse him to health.”

Hypocrisy was a flaw, as was taking classical virtues to an irrational extent.

The pedestal needed to crumble. She had known he was not perfect, but had been content to assume that what flaws he had were all things of the past. Part of her did not wish to believe he could feel any fear or pain, even now. It had been a pillar which she knew would never break.

Selfishness convinced her of the truth, in the end. That he had flaws- and merely hid them well- made him appear less like unattainable fruit. The thought that she could give something meaningful to him and help him grow- just as he had assisted her- somewhat lessened her guilt and made it feel less inappropriate for her to ask for his hand.

And if she held it close, for years to come, she could not be blamed, as he did not truly walk on higher ground than her, as he had led her to assume.

“Am I rotten for feeling as I do, brother?” she whispered. She truly did not know.

“Ah, there you are.” said Alagos, something a wheeze still in his voice. He was standing upright now, and she ought to have expected it. A firmness had returned to his voice, and he projected the same calm self-assurance as he typically did.

“I take it you have healed your wounds?” she asked, more gently than he deserved.

“Most of them.” her Tarnished said wearily, and she found that he was back to limping again, just as he was after their duel. “Took far too many flasks. I could swear I’m developing a resistance to the stuff, but no matter. I see your brother is safe.”

“Not yet.” the would-be Goddess replied, shooting a furtive glance to emphasise the hell they remained in. “If only you had recovered your strength, I would ask you to-“

“Think nothing of it, my dear Malenia. I happen to be rather used to such matters.” he cracked a smile- a gentle and far too confident smile- offering his hand. She took it in her flesh hand, her brother supported against her chest with her prosthetic, with golden light beginning to coalesce around them.

My dear Malenia. There was something in the intonation of those words, in the timbre of the tone, which informed her they laid more emphasis on what he had called her as a linguistic formalism than as a possessive. My dear, not my dear. She could not understand why she felt a little displeased.

She held her breath for the inevitable lurch, her set of long, rough fingers grasping tightly at his own. They were similar in so many ways, save that the scars on her palm were inflicted more by the Rot than by the passing of a foreign blade. He had likely not taken to the long journey to mastery with as much aplomb as she did- or perhaps he had lacked for a diligent teacher who would never hurt him, where she had her master.

Every time her master scarred her with a teaching blow, it was a faded thing of white- and when she had attained true mastery, she had never left an opening to her hands. The deep cuts and furrows, veins and mottles were all too unfamiliar. She wondered how often they had handled a teacup, and whether this was more often his instrument than a sword.

Breath left her, as it tended to with this dastardly method of travel. Her hold grew tight, but her companion’s strength had returned. A dormant fire seemed to burn again beneath that marred flesh. Curious, she wondered- with Miquella saved, it might have been that quite a different fire flickered beneath her own.

Elphael spun into view, as they materialised again, and she wobbled forwards, Miquella in her secure grasp. They were home at last. Alagos might have said something, but it could wait.

“I have found you. At last, I have found you, and I have you.” she whispered against the half-cadaver’s ear, slicing open one of the Haligtree’s cocoons with her katana, after which she lowered him into it, with all the superfluous care she was capable of.

Alagos, ever reliable, made a gesture in their general direction, and the tear in the cocoon sealed shut, as if time itself flowed backwards and entropy reduced in spite of itself.

“What is that?” she asked, feeling the ornate rod in his hands before he banished it into a flutter of grace.

“The, ah, Carian Royal Staff, if you must know. As you might have guessed, there follows a very long story."

She happened to be a little too tired to be shocked and awed at the moment, so she shook her head, and lumbered past him.

“Good. I love long stories, and I hope that you shall tell me a number of them in time. For now, a little rest… would be rational. If you have the strength, please cast whatever protective enchantments you know on Miquella. If you need time, take as much as necessary, but don’t think to cast anything but the best.”

The strength she was granted by her resolve fading, she found herself limping just as he did. She did not feel pain, but her legs dragged behind her as she walked. Her head felt so very heavy, at that sudden moment.

“As for me, I think I’ll take a little nap. Just a… little one. I can trust you to wake me, can I?”

That spot of wall right in front of her looked comfortable enough.

“Can… I?” she muttered, the rotted skin that was once her eyes twitching once in a facsimile of a blink. Quarts of her blood had been drawn, her mind had been attacked by the Rot, and she could only claw through so much fatigue.

What an irony. She had contemplated chastising that fool for simply ignoring his vices, but it was sheer will that had kept her awake until now. The inimitable strength she had felt dissipated as soon as there remained no need for it.

They were oddly similar, in that way. Unlike her fool, however, she knew- as any good general must- when it was time to rest. Just a small one should suffice.

She woke in her chair, somebody having placed her there in a perfect posture of repose. Her hand had been laid on the Haligtree’s bark, and she curled it, feeling half-dead holy wood.

Her first instinct was to rise, to check on Miquella, and she found this easier than she had suspected she would.

There were surprisingly few aches and pains, for what she had gone through. Her Rot seemed utterly tame, despite the recent flare, and she did not feel lightheaded. It was as if she hadn’t lost any blood at all.

She raised her flesh hand, examining herself. There was a slight tingling beneath her skin. A warmth that felt both comfortable, as it let her better acclimatise to the burning rune within her, and uncomfortable as it was simply a foreign thing. A circular cut near the vein on her wrist caught her attention.

It was clean, and wrought with a surgical precision. The cut had been mostly healed, the slightest traces perhaps remaining as a matter of necessity. The remnants of a golden thread of magic were fading in the air.

She had a horrible inkling of what might have happened, and swivelled around immediately. There he was, lurking behind the tree’s bark, hidden in the leaves.


It was an effort to force herself to tame her anger, the effort aided slightly by the fact that his familiar form seemed, for the first time, unconscious. She glided to him and pounced almost like a tiger, swiftly dragging his wrist into the light.

An identical cut. The treedamned bastard.

His face was tranquil, with a perfectly placid expression. She felt a sudden urge to kick it and wake him that way, but a far-too-shallow breath stopped the instinct.

She instead laid a soft palm on his cheek, to see if he would wake.

He did, pupils dilating for what seemed to be an inkling of fear, which she recognised as fear at the unfamiliar.

There was a certain grim satisfaction in being proved correct. Alagos did not often wake to a face staring down at him, and likely made it a point not to. The sudden fear was quashed almost immediately, his face resuming an easy familiarity. To her, the effect was almost eerie.

“Ah. That seems to have gone rather better than a certain first, disastrous attempt.” he said, the epitome of nonchalance, and she scrabbled at the ground so that she wouldn’t drag his shoulders and shake him.

Millicent, of course. She wondered if her daughter had even known at whatever time he had attempted this stupidity. Likely not, if Millicent had been anything like her. Her fool of a foster father would have been thoroughly disabused of such idiotic notions if that were the case.

“It seems our recent enemy was not the only dabbler in sorceries of blood.” she said, laying her deep voice thick with disappointment. “What have you to say for yourself?”

“Nothing.” he replied simply, habitual warmth gone from his voice. “Nothing, except that I could not stand to see you thrown into slumber again. I could not risk you being drawn into the depths of sleep, and for the Rot to advance. You have a life to live, Malenia- one that is bright and wonderful and full of promise. If I can grant you that at the meagre cost of a little of my lifeblood and some of my apparent moral character- why, for me, the choice practically makes itself.”

‘At the meagre cost’. “I should kill you.” she informed him pleasantly.

He drew a long breath, drinking of it as though it were wine. The exhale tickled her cheek.

“If you… should prefer it that I depart, then fret not, I can leave at- mmph-“


Three guesses as to what Malenia did to shut him up.

I wonder who's being the bigger fool here, and who deserves more credit for being patient with the other. Take your pick.

It's always very difficult to see someone you believed absolutely invincible be struck down by a problem, or someone who seemed utterly confident to have a vice. In such cases- if you happen to care for that person- it's important to stay at their side and help them through it. I think that has been managed here, in more ways than one.


I've been asked twice about resurrection and remaking in this story so I'll copy-paste a reply to a commenter as a note:

In the context of this story, it is limited. I interpret resurrection as being Marika's influence; the last part of the godly power she can wield while a prisoner. This is, as far the story goes, the last part of Marika's plot to overthrow the greater will: send the Tarnished out into distant lands to grow stronger, then throw them at the problems of the Lands Between and eventually, the Elden Beast.

Only Tarnished that show promise in such fashion are revived. Bloody Fingers, servants of Rykard and so on are not. That, and they can revive very few times as there isn't much of Marika's strength left. Alagos still fits the bill, as he is extremely powerful and has died very, very few times.

He's also slain demigods aplenty, and Marika has no way of knowing what his true intentions are. To her, he's still on the Path of the Lord, just taking a detour.

The ability is also especially limited where it comes to Alagos himself. Malenia notes that he is prematurely aged- which is a result of dying and resurrecting (though he's been careful not to tell her that). His mind and soul can't take it very well. The more he ressurects, the frailer he grows, which is why he's afraid of transferring to a youthful body with Rennala's help as that might just kill him forever from the sheer contradiction. He grows aged and jaded and weary in spirit, capable of taking elss punishment as time goes on- and as it happens, the ability to resurrect may not remain with him much longer, with Marika's favoured champion (Godfrey) set to make a return.

Chapter 10: He was my Darling: Difficult, Morose- but still my Darling


Sorry for the delay, folks. If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll no doubt have heard that the JWST is now fully operational and that its images are being released. So, yes, that's heralded quite a bit of excitement. And work. Both of which I don't like very much, though it's all very pretty.

Anyways, on to the chapter. What, you expected any degree of normal flirting? Well, sadly, the author happens to be yours truly, so have a bunch of cold feet, existential crises, difficult and unanswerable questions and dollops of avoidance tendencies instead...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

In all his various long lives, as a wandering swordsman who followed the very winds he wielded, as a fearsome sorcerer of flame and night in Ranni’s servitude, a tarnished warrior sworn to Lord Godfrey in a forgotten age and even the exceedingly dubious past before he came to the Lands Between (filled with vaguely-remembered songs of power and a conflict between long-wyrms and time itself), he had never felt quite as blind.

He had felt lost, certainly, but the world never did seem to plummet and spin before his eyes (slowly failing as they were) until now. There had been times he could not reach for a certain course of action, and could not perceive any road ahead, but he had always trusted himself to reach an end eventually, even if he did trust himself very little as a rule.

For the time, he could not truthfully say that. He had been prepared to leave- and it would perhaps have been simpler if he had done so- had she not insisted on throwing him irreclaimably into a quagmire.

Alagos of the western winds had always known there were circ*mstances he could not explain ever since he began as a truthseeker, but had striven always to collect what knowledge he could in locality and find familiarity with that knowledge, so that what had already been observed could at least be understood.

The present situation was utterly disastrous in the way that it should have been familiar- he knew Malenia, he knew this place and he knew what they ought to be to each other- and remained so no longer. The laws of nature worked in a certain way and were perceived in a certain way by the human mind once it understood them, but either those laws had been changed or his mind was at risk.

Rather horrid experiences at the hands of a variety of individuals, particularly the late King of Leyndell and his peculiarly obsessive vendetta against him, had helped rekindle some instincts Alagos had gathered in the conflict of his old homeland. For one who had felt death and hated it utterly, risk became something of which they remained intimately aware as those who had never felt death’s cold touch never could.

He needed to breathe. Almost mechanically, every ounce of his very considerable strength was drawn to his forearms, which clasped the towering, dangerous demigod who had been drowning him in the unfathomable depths of her- affection- and separated them to what he deemed a safe distance.

At first, he thought he had failed, as there remained clearly something he could feel on his thin, dry lips. A burning, lasting something that he fancied he could not reproduce even with his mastery of flame, but a kind of growl from his- he didn’t know what she was, really- that managed to be both exasperated and fond at once made its way to his ears and told him that he had succeeded.

Was the feeling an illusion, perhaps? He could not tell. At the very least, he was thankful for his sense of timing, as a strange sound that he was wholly unfamiliar with threatened to rumble from his throat, and could surely not have been restrained with another moment of… that.

He let his grey eyes survey his companion’s form. A soft, gold light had emerged from somewhere, and that sea of scarlet had never been more resplendent. The thunderstorm that had lodged itself within him for all these days continued to be an annoyance, and he shook his head irritably. The only distraction sufficient to ignore its effects was the aforementioned quagmire at hand.

“I see that- this- happened. After so short a time.” he said curtly, keeping his voice steady with an age of self-mastery.

It was her turn to sigh, where the gesture was usually his to make.

“I suppose you mean to ask in very vague and nonsensical terms whether I fell in love with you. For your information, yes, it did happen. And how could it not, after all this?” she challenged, turning her head to the side, as if it were painfully obvious.

“If so,” he reasoned, working through the problem like a mathematician, “why? Why did you not ask?”

The question was left incomplete, as they both knew he was referring to that plummeting incident which might have been a kiss.

She scoffed. “Well, you certainly never would have made a move, and we would have danced around this for who knew how long it might have pleased you before I would have gotten fed to my teeth with your obstinacy. I simply spared both of us the trouble.”

‘You assume I would have wanted you to kiss me.’ he almost replied sharply, before realising with a dawning horror that it would have been an insult to her intelligence.

The Malenia he had come to know would never pressure somebody into such a thing unless she perceived that they wished it. She had a certain arrogance, but not of this form. The Rot had taken far too much and dangled her along too many strings for her to not respect the idea of freewill. It was the reason, or so he had read, that she gave up her own will to her brother, so that he could restore freewill to the world.

He remembered the despondent words in that ghastly palace of blood all too well. “I do not deserve you, and likely never will.” He had sought to correct that mistaken notion, and felt that he had- but in doing so, he had taken it all a step further. Curse his weakness.

For her to make such a move must mean he had let something slip somewhere, and that she had noticed how he, the old coot, the murderer of her kindred and Tarnished past his prime, had fallen for her where he had no right to.

“You… knew?” he asked, jaw trembling. Age, age. It was a slow decay, eroding his faculties. Age, and certainly nothing to do with emotion. “Then I have been a fool. I have seen you notice every miniscule little detail that set two quakes apart, and somehow thought I could elude that sight and keep those accursed feelings hidden. I should have known I would be an open book for you to read.”

She chose to be compassionate, for reasons unknown to him. She had every right to thunder at his failure, at his loss of wisdom.

“An open book? My sweet consort-to-be, you were the most horrifically dense, the most impossibly opaque scripture, and it is a wonder I have been able to see through you at all. And yet, I persevered. Good thing, too. What would you have done had I not? Fled the scene with a convenient excuse to never let your own feelings see the light of day?”

He was sorely tempted to let the truth slip- ‘Why, that was precisely the plan. How could you have known?’ Of course, he didn’t, and forced out a wry smile.

“Indulge me, if you would. What was it that gave me away? Was it how I struggled against my own self to not return an embrace of yours? Did I gaze at you in a certain manner I was myself unaware of?”

“I am being very patient with you and your questions.” she saw fit to inform him, and it was nearly a subtle threat. “I have known you held a certain interest ever since we fought that, er… twat, in the snowfield.”

“Bloody twats, always being portents of doom.”

“It was only after the defeat of my brother’s captor that I came to realise you had grown to- want me, in a similar way to how I have come to want you. When I disparaged myself, you reacted with a certain anger, one that mirrored how I felt when I saw you not paying particular attention to your own safety, but I could still not be sure. When I kissed you, it might have been because I felt self-indulgent, but it was also to gauge whether I had been correct.”

“I… don’t think I kissed you back.” Alagos responded. He should not have been this puzzled.

She threw her hands up. “How could you have such a gift for reading others’ thoughts, yet be so utterly blind when it comes to yourself? I had thought you could keep up, just as you did before. Surely you know that lips move in a certain, involuntary way when one is pleased. That was the case for an infinitesimal instant before you forced yourself to not kiss me back as I deserved.”

Curse his past self for ever entertaining the delusion that he could, in fact, keep up with her, and for ever presenting that façade. Such were the dangers of associating with terrifying people whose senses far outstripped his. At least she didn’t seem to think of him as a saint anymore.

“Of course.” He replied. “Forgive me-“

“For being a stubborn arse? I don’t think I ever will. For falling in love with me? That is no crime- and if it is, I should very much like you to commit more crimes of that kind.” she interrupted. He tried to parse the words, found that they made him dizzy and gave up on them attempt.

“My dear Malenia-“

“You never say that correctly.” she interrupted again.

“C-correctly?” he asked, looking at her as though she were half-mad – or perhaps he was.

He hated the word as soon as it left his mouth. Without the stutter, it would have seemed amused, almost indulgent, to promote the image of calm he sought to project to hide his abject confusion. With it, he seemed oddly defensive. Perhaps she did have a point about him and incorrect elocution, after all.

Malenia smiled, and not even Morgott’s most perfidious schemes of assassination or Ranni at her inscrutable best had ever forced such effort from him as he strained to ignore how the grass felt greener, the flowers whiter, and the world more youthful and full of life.

“I should like to be your Malenia, just as you are my Alagos.” she informed him in the least subtle fashion possible.

Your Alagos? How is it that I am already-“

“Then again, you are not entirely to blame.” she interrupted smoothly for the third time. It seemed she had developed a talent for interrupting him, he mused sardonically. “I said that my affection for you is similar to yours for me- similar, but not the same. For one, your feelings for me are far too chaste. From what I have seen, they are unselfish. You only ever want the best for me, in much the same way as you did for Millicent, and do not seem to believe that you satisfy that condition. You are of course incorrect, as you shall learn in time.”

“I ought to be questioning why you sound almost disappointed.” he grunted, at which she didn’t react whatsoever. “For now, I must ask, am I not more qualified to know and understand my own feelings than you, or any other person for that matter?”

“No.” she replied flatly, and he marvelled at how she seemed to believe in that as objective truth. “As for me, my love for you can never be unselfish. I might as well admit to that, before complications arise. I do not wish the world for you, because I wish to have you for my own. I… I cannot offer myself to you in turn, because my unselfish love is given to Miquella, as is my service. It is he to whom I would offer the world. Even then, despite this hypocrisy, I wish to drown you within my soul, and to keep you forevermore as my treasure. If Miquella is my life, then you shall be my happiness. If you wish to love me and to have my love in turn, that is something you will need to accept.”

He could assure himself of one thing- that everything she had said now was the truth. There was no double-meaning anywhere. Nobody could ever have been more succinct.

Miquella, Miquella first. He had always known that, and always accepted it. It was part of the reason why it was mistake to allow his affection for her to burgeon. And yet, when he should have felt afraid of her at what must surely be an eerie proclamation, he did not know why he felt loved nonetheless.

“I would never want you to have to choose between myself and your brother, Malenia.” he said, in place of the chastisem*nt he should have issued. “I cannot… wish to love you, as I do already and against my best efforts. As for your love, if that is a complication, I do not need-“

“You may not need.” she cut across him, “but you might still want. I know you might never want me in the manner that I wish to have you. You must understand that I can never think of you in the virtuosic, chaste manner that you do of me- not after you did so much for me and refuse to look at yourself. It might be your nature, but it is not mine. It might almost be right to say that what you do need is for somebody to be rude and selfish on your behalf, as you are incapable of it. I am willing to offer this love- imperfect as it may be- to you, and so I must ask; do you want me?”

He could lie, perhaps, but even if she insisted it wouldn’t wound her, he was certain it would. He was seconds away from collapsing against the Haligtree’s roots, a palm on his forehead. Had she somehow acquired a mastery over the winds greater than his own? All the air seemed to have been knocked out of him, at the moment, and he could do nothing to coax it back.

“And what if my own feelings turn… dark and possessive? What if I should come to consider you my own, just as you consider me yours?” The only way to delay the inevitable was to try and dissuade her.

She smiled again, and the juxtaposition of beauty and terror made itself known to his experienced eyes.

“It would be a lie to tell you I wouldn’t enjoy that.” she whispered, almost amusedly. “Even so, I know you well enough to understand that the aforementioned fantasy will never occur.”

“You think too highly of me, especially as you don’t know the half of my tale.”

“Well, I know the present, and I know that what you are will not change in the future. You have the will of stars, and though these might fade over countless years, they do not cease in their function unless wholly destroyed. And if we have Miquella’s blessing when he awakens- I will be able to offer myself to you in turn, for you to have and to keep, just as you shall be mine. In that way, if you ever consume yourself as a star might, we will still be content as ever. Let Miquella take care of the world.”

It was a fantasy, nothing more. ‘Let Miquella take care of the world.’, that was what a rational Alagos would focus on, and find unacceptable. Instead, his mind lingered on ‘you have the will of stars’, and ‘for you to have and to keep’.

He did collapse, with a hand on his forehead. It must have been the recent blood transfusion he had performed for Malenia. No doubt that was the reason for his present weakness, and the quaking in his knees. That, and absolutely nothing else.

“Do you want me and my selfish, flawed love, Alagos of the west winds?” she asked, with that unnecessarily, irritatingly melodic voice. It was deep to the point that he could certainly imagine drowning in its depths.

“Very dearly.” he replied, shaking his head and admitting defeat. A tear made its way from his dull eye, following a line on his wearied face. “And that is why I fail, as ever.”

He had tried everything to bring the lie to his tongue, that he did not, that it would be wrong, but it was just that- a lie. She had clearly done something to him, used some dastardly spell of her own make. The ability to lie convincingly was one of the greatest assets a person could wield in any interaction, and he had been robbed of it.

She had been correct in that he did want the best for her. She was incorrect in that his love for her was not wholly unselfish. If her happiness came at the world’s expense, then he- the old fool- found himself only too glad to grant it. If she perceived something as the best future for herself, then he would be willing to bring it about even if the best future might objectively be something different than what she desired. Millicent was duty to him, and he saw now that Malenia was passion.

And so, he allowed what should never have been. The tear was kissed off his cheek.

“Don’t ever say that.” she whispered, tenderly. “You have done more for me than anybody save my brother, and I would do just as much for you, if only you would let me.”

He met this with utter silence. He hadn’t the heart to tell her how he had come to this place in a mad rush, slaughtering Cleanrot Knights aplenty, hurling fabled Loretta who guarded the entrance off the balcony with a small hurricane, torching the upper branches and the lower halls with fire, all in a desperate effort to find Millicent.

And he had found her, placid and serene, each of her sisters already slain and her own decision taken. Too late, as ever.

“You are contemplating your own vices, things you have hidden from me.” Malenia deduced, with a soft smile. He could only nod wearily, blast her perceptiveness. “Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to marry me at once. Miriel will terrorise both of us if we do it without him. All I ask is for you to stay, so that I might court you- if that is the term- for as long as it takes us to know each other fully.”

Her flesh hand was laid on his chest, a request- an order- for him to shed his armour, which he did at some length. That impossibly light, impossibly powerful hand traced over the black and silver robes underneath, coming to halt at a point near his throat and tensing.

“What is that?” came the question, less curious than apprehensive.

“Ah.” he noticed the point of interest, and frowned. “A lesion. Damned rot must have seeped in at some point, aided by recent blood loss.” Strange that he hadn’t noticed it at all.

‘AND WHOSE FAULT WAS THAT?!’ Malenia shrieked internally. It was a pain to maintain the calm façade she projected outwardly, as her Alagos did not need anger at the moment. She wondered bizarrely if this was how Alagos had felt while travelling with her, hiding sincere affections behind endless veils of words.

Even so, that complete idiot had somehow forgotten to notice a rotten lesion. She would question if it was wise to ask him to remain at the Haligtree, but she knew for a fact that she could control the Rot with more certainty in times of happiness.

There was also the fact that she didn’t trust him on his own, anymore. He could do something exceedingly unwise, if left to his own devices, just as all those unwed heroes in Radagon’s old tales did when they felt that their purpose was complete.

“If you would let me leave for a moment, I can cleanse it.” her betrothed insisted, and she shook her head.

“Why would you need to leave? So that you can burn it off and not worry about the side-effects?”

A vein in his forehead was twitching, which meant there was another reason he wished to leave, but he calmed himself and said, placating, “Flame is as natural to me as my own blood, Malenia. It will not hurt. One would barely notice a thing.”

That may have been true, but it was no reason to leave her presence. She wondered if she would be flattering herself if it had something to do with focus. Miquella had said that incantations required precise concentration, and she couldn’t deny it would be pleasing to know that the granite fortress that was Alagos’ mind simply couldn’t hold itself together in her company.

“Save it. The reason you’d like to leave for now is that you need a bath.” she supplied.

“A bath? Ah- why, yes, you’d be right.” Alagos said immediately, seizing the excuse gratefully, even if it might not have been the most dignified one.

“Cleanse yourself with the law of regression before trying flame. That is what you would do if you were thinking straight. Remember to add the time-component you modified to remove the scar and ensure there is no lasting wound.” she said firmly.

The legendary Tarnished complied with some reluctance, grumbling something about ‘Bloody knows everything about me already’ under his breath.

She let a fond smile show. A great presence was awakening at the back of her mind, a mighty lord who awoke, unfurling with the wrath of kings. An old hope was grazing the Haligtree’s roots, speaking of renewal and abundance.

She was the only one to know her brother’s true self, and not the kindly veneer the rest of the world saw. No doubt Alagos would come to know him just as she did, in time, and love him all the more for it.

He would visit in a dream, she knew. It would be much like the elder days, in that way.

For the moment, she set about straightening the bed of flowers at her feet, blowing away unruly dirt, asking the great will around her that had watered the tree with its blood to harden the earth with its rising strength.

She had noticed, of course, how she had not encountered any of her old servants within Elphael. It simply seemed an indelicate question to ask. Whatever Alagos might have done to them, he would not have slaughtered them irrationally.

It had been imperative to endear herself to him, at first, when she was in need of his aid to find Miquella. It now became equally essential to have him stay. When she had that promise, the matter of the Knights of the Haligtree and their sudden disappearance could be dealt with, and gently.

Even then, some servants would have proved handy, as she might then have been able to offer him a proper bed. One sows as one reaps, she supposed.

A palm on Miquella’s new cocoon revealed that there was something rising there. She could feel no physical stimulus, but her palm came away rather warmer than it had been before. Much like a curved blade was far better suited for horseback than a straight sword, a certain rightness permeated the feeling.

Ah, Alagos, that strange storm. She chuckled fondly, like a woman in love, though not quite- never quite. An Empyrean could never truly know equal companionship, but if it brought fulfilment to treat and be treated as an equal, then she was glad for the pretence.

Alagos’ arrival was greeted with the strange sight of a flowerbed looking far neater and more arranged than the surrounding area, and Malenia staring fixedly at him though she tried to appear languid, leaning against the tree-trunk.

“I hadn’t known you for a gardener.” he said cursorily, easily dismissing the initial unease at being subjected to an intense scrutiny. She hummed in a satisfied manner, which told him that she was checking for lingering fire.

He had done as she had asked, of course, and used the Law of Regression. He’d lost too many arguments with his daughter and a certain other Empyrean to not know what was good for himself in such situations.

“You need sleep.” the Empyrean said flatly, and he nodded, not bothering with any deception.

“Drooping eyes and lax fingers, I take it?” he asked, to receive another encouraging, mentally exhausting smile and a happy “See? You’re catching up, just as I knew you would!”

She patted the flowerbed, and walked over to lead him there, at which he restrained another of those strange sounds he could not quite put his finger on.

“I am perfectly capable of finding my own accommodations-“

“You might be, but you won’t need to.” she said, still smilingly, with a gentle hand on his forehead. It was amusing and jarring at once, to see a hand capable of such slaughter be so tender in that gesture.

He sighed, and released himself from her grip, to a sudden influx of worry and not a little disappointment.

“It is not that. I- I am touched, truly, by your gesture, but I am afraid I cannot sleep. Ah, no, that would be incorrect- well, it is perhaps more pertinent to say I cannot sleep like this.”

“Do I unsettle you so?” she asked, and he would be damned if she didn’t know how to pierce his armour with lancing words and get at the heart of the matter despite his best efforts.

He had never been the best at admitting his own weaknesses, as dear old Gurranq would say.

“Not you.” he replied, with a shake of the head. “I… do not abide well to being watched. It feels as though I am in a captor’s thrall.”

“There’s a story behind that.” she deduced with a frown. “If you wish, I’ll turn away. I won’t look at you, won’t even think of you if you so desire. I shall sit in the farthest corner of the room, if that comforts you. I must, however, implore you not to- not to send me away. Let me take care of you, as you have done for me.”

He would make sure to throw himself off a battlement for this. Against all his better judgment, he let himself lie down on the white flowers, which for that moment felt softer than any bed. He was sure the scarlet waves of a boundless ocean that was rocking him to sleep were imagined, but he could not bring himself to dismiss the illusion.

“I do not abide well to being watched,” he repeated, unable to make the invitation or indeed say anything else.

“So be it.” said a pleased, burning star from somewhere vastly distant, and he found, in the next moment, that something quite heavy was sprawled on top of him.


To be clear, first and foremost, Miquella is NOT going to be an antagonist in this story. He'll be a protagonist, though I think there are some extremely sketchy and manipulative implications from him which I should like to explore in full.

I refuse to dance around the issue of Malenia owing her foremost loyalty and duty to Miquella. I also refuse to ignore the problems Malenia has in her general idea of how to love someone. This of course a pity for poor Alagos, whom I don't think I'm being very kind to at all.

Genuine question, would you hug Malenia? I wouldn't really recommend it, but there are some who might not mind getting absolutely crushed. Would you hug Alagos, though?

Chapter 11: The Famous Face flowed in, Fair and Inane


We finally meet our exceptionally dangerous tritagonist. He's been very eager to meet you.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The light of day never did filter into Elphael, the Brace of the Haligtree, as the citadel was burrowed deep within the roots of Miquella’s great creation. The only light that infiltrated its inner chambers was either an illusion, or found its origin within the lord of the Unalloyed himself, and this light remained forever constant.

It was untouchable and immutable, much like that fearsome Empyrean, and did not flit about between day and night. If the Erdtree’s light was a fickle maiden, the light of Elphael was a solemn statue, ever-present, from which no corner or nook could be hidden.

When Alagos woke at the crack of dawn, he therefore could not blame it on the light that permeated the chamber, as it remained the same as it had been when he had fallen asleep. Sheer force of habit must have roused the renowned Tarnished, as he mused wryly. It was an irony of the world that good habits felt perpetually unpleasant.

As it stood, he found his eyes curiously groggy, where they would typically snap open at a thought and resume their full function. He wondered if the rather heavy weight he had somehow fallen asleep underneath was to blame for that.

Of course, such thoughts naturally brought with them awareness of the weight itself. Had he been too tired or too deluded? There was no way he could yield to her every time, and yet it kept happening, beyond his control. The fact that he felt warm and comfortable was utterly immaterial, and banished out of thought by an effort of will.

The early morning hours had always been his favourite ones, and he would normally be seized by a fit of industriousness when he woke. Though he felt nothing of the sort that day (a first), it was convenient enough to pretend that he did, to aid in his endeavours of rising to his feet.

Sadly for him, he found soon enough that getting up was impossible. It seemed his friend- ah, fiancée- had very cleverly managed to entwine his legs and the hem of his robes in her thighs, and, of course, perfectly placed her own head in the crook of his neck. He was willing to bet it hadn’t even been intentional, much like the very impenetrable enchantment she had somehow placed on him by merely existing.


No response, though she had doubtless heard, given the sharpness of her senses. Alagos grit his teeth. Nobody he had been particularly fond of ever made things any easier for him, which probably didn’t reflect very well on his sensibilities.

“Malenia, it is time. A new day awaits, and I must rise.”


What was this, a treedamned application, to be summarily rejected? The sleepy voice clearly was an affectation, and that ridiculous war goddess was enjoying herself unnecessarily. He tried moving to sit up, which she smoothly made even more difficult by sliding down and placing her head on his chest.

“And now this!” he said, indignant. “By no possible definition do I make for a halfway decent pillow, and yet you insist on the idea!

Mm. Fluffy...” was the eloquent and dignified counter-argument.

He halted himself midway to sputtering something about how he most certainly wasn’t (with references to overly manipulative wyrms and how she was no better), realising a certain hypocrisy.

The body above him was all hardened muscle, a weapon crafted in the heat of war, to bring a close to the metaphorical forge that had shaped it. Part of it was cold metal, and the rest might as well have been metal, though warmer. It had no right to feel quite as soft as it did.

In point of fact, it wasn’t soft. It was sharp and steely and it should have felt as such. The palm that had enveloped his own was rough, scarred and marred with the shadows of rot, and was by no means the lily’s caress he perceived it to be.

An illusion of the mind stood in the way of what he felt and the objective truth, and who was he to blame her if she suffered from the same ailment?

One option left, it seemed- to kill with kindness. He remembered the odd way she had been eager for him to stroke her hair. Perhaps that would be good enough to snag her attention, and appease her enough to let him wake.

“You’re learning, I see.” came the overly pleased utterance at the first few gentle brushes. The Tarnished grumbled irritably and continued softly carding a withered hand through that crimson fire, to the effect of a few sounds he didn’t know quite what to call.

Eventually, he found that the effort had defied its purpose and had the opposite effect, as he had managed to put Malenia back to sleep. A fine start to the day. It likely portended that this wouldn’t be the only thing to fall flat on his face during his stay in Miquella’s lands.

Speaking of things falling flat, creeping tendrils of darkness appeared to have invaded his vision, dragging the edges of his field of view into a tranquil black. The resolve to wake appeared to evaporate into an unknown abyss, and it all felt strange.

Fine; he could afford a small nap for a matter of minutes. Just a few minutes.

That maddened, bleating goat.

At first, he had thought there might be some use for the Omen. An Empyrean of his stature had no business remaining dismayed at a minor setback such as a kidnapping; his main concern had never been for himself, and remained with Malenia.

It would doubtless affect her most terribly, and with that oafish, unmalleable Radahn in her way, the disaster of Caelid had occurred. As always, he did not blame her. The fault lay solely with the scorpion that befouled her.

Of course, the Starscourge had refused to simply die as would have been optimal and allow his rescue, which meant part of the blame naturally fell on him, as it did with the Lord of Blood.

The Outer God, however, was the true complication. The Formless Mother. If Mohg was to be believed, she- it- had always held a foothold within his being ever since his soul had been birthed. He would curse and rage, perhaps, but the activity seemed unproductive.

A child’s form had its uses. His rage was reserved for the injustices done to Malenia, who had never deserved such pain. His little sister, who should have been the purest and most glorious of all.

His every half-waking moment had been spent in constant battle against the whispers of that accursed fiend, Mohg, and his patron eldritch horror. He had restrained every involuntary shudder as his very being and blood was invaded and violated, by adhering to the simple principle that it would be energy spent for an irrational, emotional purpose, while it had better uses elsewhere.

He had made sure to project a silent hope and an unassailable dignity, trusting to the other half of his soul that she would find him. Unfair of him, some would say, to have such expectations, but if he could not place all his faith in her, whom else could he trust?

If only she knew that it was his faith in her that fuelled his incantations in those last few years of the war, as he had cut ties to the Golden Order long ago and felt nothing but a thinly-veiled pity at his father’s naïveté. He imagined she might blush, mumble a little, and then return to him with a solemn vow to move mountains in service to his will (as if she didn’t already).

As it stood, Mohg’s sorcery of blood had given the thing that fuelled him some measure of control over his mortal coil. If he were to perform an objective analysis, he could almost say the Lord of Blood’s efforts had been admirable and his inventions ingenious. Control of that measure and mastery of one’s flesh by way of a simple infection was a powerful and effective tool to wield.

It had always been a good idea to look past his hatred and remain cold and objective in analysis. Lucidity was a deadly weapon in his arsenal- and enemies could be learnt from just as well as allies.

He had remained safe and kept his mind his own through remaining locked in a dream. Within dreams, he was invincible; unconquerable in the realm of the mind just as his sister had been on the battlefield.

There had been attempts to change it from without, but he had led the Lord of Blood in a maze, rejecting him always yet remaining sure to grant him a glimmer of hope that he might one day come around and become his consort, so that he might persist in his futile efforts. It was of the essence that he be rescued, however, as with an Outer God involved, pretence often veered into reality, and it was becoming difficult to separate façade from face.

And he had been rescued. Malenia was alive, and not consumed by Rot. It even seemed to have retreated, to a certain extent, and her mind was healing. Good. If something had happened to her, not even he with his gift for foresight could predict what might burn by his vengeful hand.

Not all about this situation was perfect, however, as she had brought along a certain Tarnished, which meant a variable in an otherwise straightforward equation. If anything, this ‘Alagos’ had seemed nothing like most Tarnished.

There were two likelihoods. He was either truly divorced from the ambition that fuelled the dead who yet lived, or was otherwise a deceiver beyond compare (the second possibility could not be discounted). Either way, this would be immaterial in the face of the main problem- that Malenia had grown fond of this Tarnished.

Oh, he was sure she had been cordial with him deliberately, seeking to endear herself to him in some way to secure his aid in the rescue, but she would not have gone this far. If the Tarnished was not truly as masterfully adept in the ways of deceit as to lie quite that convincingly when both hale and wounded, then it meant he had grown enamoured of her in ways she would never have consciously prompted.

It was all unintentional, then. His sister tended to have that effect on most people not prejudiced against her, and he somewhat begrudged her for it in moments of sibling jealousy. On his part, he needed to at least expend some effort to accomplish such a thing.

This would normally be an advantage. If the Tarnished felt some form of affection for Malenia, chances were he could be put to greater use for the good of the Haligtree. The problematic aspect was that Malenia had demonstrated equal affection for him.

It could never compare to the bond she had with Miquella himself, of course. She had told the man as much (an unwise move, Miquella thought, as the less information he had, the better), but the Tarnished seemed to have known already. Again- it could have been an act- but the strange Alagos had not seemed bothered at all, as though he had always known and expected nothing else.

This Tarnished was an elegant problem- one that would require more than a little of his wit to solve. Simply casting him into a mould he found suitable would be met with some resistance, and Miquella did not wish to hurt Malenia’s feelings in any way. He smiled- a challenge had never gone unappreciated, in keeping with Marika’s first kind, harsh lesson to him.

It was time to pay his dearest sister a visit. For a moment, he contemplated whether to present himself as the great lord he knew he was destined to be. Tempting though the idea was, he dismissed it, as Malenia would mostly need familiarity. This accursed child’s form it was, then.

Delving into that mental deep, he found her in a forest clearing, somewhere on the outskirts of Leyndell. It pained him, sometimes, that she did not truly think of the Haligtree as a home as he did, and that its promise was less comforting to her than the training ground where she had been granted wings by that blind saint of blades.

Then again, Malenia had always admitted unabashedly that she felt most at home on a battlefield, and most herself against an adversary. He supposed it was to be expected that her fondest memories were of this clearing, carved away by the dancing strokes of the Sword-Saint to raise her to the same echelon of skill he formerly occupied alone.

The mindscape was not wholly as he remembered, however. It was still a safe sanctuary, free from the onslaught of the scarlet rot through her indomitable will, but the evergreen leaves of the surrounding forest seemed now autumnal, and blowing gently in a breeze.

He would expect to find her on a branch, practicing her footwork and reflexes, or in the crude little treehouse she had once built in the physical world for her ageing master’s rest, or otherwise amidst the shadows of the undergrowth, awaiting to spring a laughing ambush on her unsuspecting brother (who would pretend to be surprised, and hide the faintly smoking palm which cast the incantation to locate her).

Instead, she appeared tranquilly seated on a very fat-looking armchair, sipping a cup of- tea, of all things.

“So you visit at last, dear brother. I was wondering when you would. My pillow likely isn’t very happy that I forced a break in his daily routine, awaiting your arrival.”

A strange, cryptic statement, which he examined with care. The Tarnished offered a source of comfort which allowed her sleep without fear of the Rot’s nightmares, just as he had. He did not know whether to be glad or wary. For the moment, he smiled and spread out his hands.

She inclined her head a little, sipping more tea. Briefly, he wondered whether he had miscalculated, and whether this accursed Alagos had infected her in some way, before Malenia grinned widely and rushed forwards, sweeping him up in a crushing embrace. Lord’s divine fortification proved ever-useful.

“That’s new.” he commented, glancing subtly at the teacup and armchair.

“Well, they’re here to stay. You can’t have expected me to remain all the same, could you, my very wise brother?” Malenia shrugged, and offered him her seat. He refused it, perching himself instead on the chair’s arm.

“Doubtless the influence of the gentleman who has chosen to invade our home uninvited.” Miquella smiled. “How did you come by this Tarnished, if I might ask?”

Malenia chose to seat herself on the armchair’s other wooden arm, leaving the seat for her teacup. “In very unobtrusive fashion. You’re correct that he is a ‘gentleman’- too much of one, in my opinion. I was roused from my slumber by his presence in Elphael, and we proceeded to duel.”

“What prompted you to spare him?” he asked, genuinely curious. His sister had a tendency to spare defeated opponents in foreign lands, but would show no such mercy to an uninvited challenger- for that matter, neither would he.

She pursed her lips. “I… ah… I never quite got the opportunity to ‘spare’ him.”


Miquella had certainly asked a number of very strange questions as Malenia narrated the whole tale, which felt familiar. It was very much like her brother to seemingly grasp at an unattainable end and connect dots and parallels later, at which he would be lauded for his genius.

He had, of course, trembled with concern and seethed with anger at what she had gone through, when she admitted having turned for a moment into the Goddess of Rot, but in this way he acted as Miquella the brother.

When it became apparent that she was not pained or distressed and had indeed moved past the incident, however, it was met with Miquella the scientist- the object of scrutiny being Alagos.

His words were truly the only ones she could not immediately see the meaning behind, and his craft the only one of its like which left her mind in eternal wonder. When asked the inevitable questions about her betrothed’s character, she replied as objectively as she could, remarking on his skill as a swordsman, his ability as a sorcerer, his many strengths and his few- though crippling- weaknesses. She had no reason to hide anything from her brother, and if Alagos was to accept her, neither would he.

“You speak of him in most glowing terms.” said Miquella at last, with a subtle smile. A music with a gentle thrum would play in her ears at every sight of the gesture, and she had learned to cherish it. “If anything, I find him fascinating. A wielder of terrible might, if he could best you”- a slight hint of anger here- “and yet possessed of compassion and wit as well, if he could see your obvious virtue.”

“Oh, there is no doubt he is dangerous.” Malenia said, waving away the veiled concern. “But so am I, very dangerous, as are you. In fact, I don’t think I’d have fallen for him if he wasn’t capable of as much destruction as he is of mercy.”

“Mark my words, dear sister, I am glad. You deserve more love than any one being on this world is capable of giving- even if that love is infinite-“ (Damn you, Miquella) “but I find myself curious at the choice. I shall certainly meet him soon enough, and I fancy we shall enjoy each other’s company.”

“A little too much, it is likely.” she said fondly. It had been unfathomable to her that a person quite as fond of semantics and pedantry as her brother could exist, but here they were, in a strange, perfect world that resembled her own. Perhaps it always had been this bright and wonderful, and she had merely not known what to look for.

“You’re going to ask for my blessing in seeking to court him, of course.” Miquella said, walking off to the side and stroking the bark of a metaphysical tree that had once been evergreen, yet seemed now deciduous.

“I, ah…” she looked to the ground, wondering why she had ever considered he would not see through her immediately as he always did.

Miquella turned to her and glided- in that elegant fashion as he always did in favour of walking- up to her shoulders, placing a small hand on one of them as she knelt.

“You do not need my blessing to pursue your happiness, Malenia.” he whispered into her ear, in a strangely fierce tone. “If this Alagos brightens your day by even a candle-mote, you have my leave to pursue all you might want from what he has to offer. To preserve your smile is my goal in life, sister dear.” he said, and drew the back of one of those tiny, delicate palms through her hair.

It was familiar, knowing and indulgent, unlike Alagos who would be hesitant and almost mechanical at first, and oddly fond-but-irritable in the present day. She found she had eyes in this place, and cried.

“Of course, I’ll still have to meet the fiery old bastard. As you said, he is a strange creature, and you do know how I get around those.” he said with a wink, and her tears were interrupted with a little laugh.

“I, ah- brother, I…” she began, so that he wouldn’t depart. “The reason I hesitate is because I would not wish to choose between you and Alagos. I would choose you, of course- I would choose you every time- but if ever you and he come into conflict while I am bound to him in any way, I have no wish to do that to you.”

“Do what to me?” said Miquella, brow rising. “I know you will choose my side; of that I have no doubt, as you have proved it countless times.”

She swallowed. “I would serve you with all my will, if such a conflict of interests arises, but I do not trust myself to raise a hand against Alagos, even if it is for him to see reason. If I allow our love to grow any further, I do not think I can trust my happiness to… to you alone.” she muttered, somewhat sheepishly.

Miquella did not seem in the least bothered, as if he had expected something of the kind. “I fancy there might be some kind of good-natured argument between myself and Alagos- there always is, amongst those of a scientific temper.” he began, and she shook her head.

“If he does not agree with your methods- or with your thesis that some less savoury means are necessary for the greater good to be achieved, I wouldn’t know what to do with him. He can be- quite the fool in that way, pouring his heart for the one where it would better serve the interests of all.”

“Don’t you worry about a thing, dear Malenia.” Miquella said, reassuring as ever. “I grant you my promise that such circ*mstances will never arise. Your consort shall live in harmony in my new age, until the end.”

She frowned. “You misunderstand. I would not wish you to have to bend, or make matters difficult for yourself, when he must be the one made to see reason-“

“Ah, but I understand perfectly,” the lord of the Unalloyed cut across, “and I meant what I said. If you so desire it, Alagos shall become part of our family. There will be no conflict, and you will have a happy ending, just as in those fairy-tales we found during our heist on Queen Rennala’s library.”

“You say that as though you have methods to ensure such a thing.” Malenia said. It felt like there was something she had missed, somewhere, or some vital part to the present question she was not understanding or refused to grasp.

“Trust your brother, sister dear.” he replied, with a smile that might have qualified as mischievous. “The tea was exquisite, by the way. Apologies for the theft, and my compliments to your consort-to-be.” he replied, and vanished in a flutter of golden butterflies.

Malenia looked at her cup, now completely empty, and restrained a gargle that was the result of an annoyed huff and a startled laugh put together. How very much like him.

The meeting with her brother, after all this time, had felt much like an ecstasy; she had been floating amidst a sea of stars. She supposed Alagos was rather better at coming up with flowery cosmic metaphors anyway, but amused herself by coming up with five or so to describe something too vast and too intricate to be captured by words.

Words were truly inadequate vessels, weren’t they? How did an ellipse feel, when it was shaped into a circle? What did a square think of rectangles? What did a clear, blue stream ponder at the sight of its algae-infested green or muddy brown cousins?

It felt like being completed, in a way, and she was left with a golden light in her breast. Her footfalls felt lighter and her voice richer, and the powerful, steady hope she had felt at sensing Miquella’s presence appeared to have become permanent.

All there was left was for her to challenge Alagos to a spar and proceed to win, after which she could have him do something for her as a victor’s reward, quite likely involving kisses. They could make this a regular occurrence, despite his inevitable protestations.

Miquella would make everything perfect, just as he always did.


I think I might be one of the few people here evil enough to start off with what might seem a cute, fluffy chapter and then start adding all sorts of red herrings and suspicious little double-meanings to it. Of course, if there are others with such delightfully vile tendencies, I'd love to meet them. They'd be my kind of people and I shall serve them tea.

This will all come to a head eventually, of course. Come to think of it, Alagos does need somebody to help balance the odds with Miquella looking to interrogate him and Ranni eventually joining the fray, but Uncle Maliketh might not be the best candidate...

Chapter 12: An Open Mouth in Mindsong was struck out


The long-awaited spar between Malenia and Alagos, a few flying metaphors and philosophy playing the part of a cruise missile, as well as our second-to-last main character.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text


A radiant smile was met with a stern frown of the utmost chill. A blazing sun in all its power and might, raining down its brilliant rays on a silent, tranquil ocean which roused tides to meet its challenge.

It was ironic, Malenia thought, that she would turn into the poet here, but battle at long last against an equal- a true equal- was a joy she could feel no-where else. Strange that she should ascribe flame to herself and describe Alagos as water, when he was the sorcerer of flame and she had learnt at the hands of a master of subtlety- but it felt fitting, with her revelling in the duel at hand, and Alagos mustering an odd kind of tranquil ferocity to meet her ascendant challenge.

Perhaps the tendency to feel most at home in adversity was inherited from her master, or perhaps it had been part of her being all along- but she could not deny that she fought at her best when she truly enjoyed it.

She had formerly only been matched by Radahn and Radagon, and surpassed only by her master. Even so, the Sword-Saint was the only one against whom she could truly test her blade, against whom a duel felt truly like an intimate contest of will. She had eclipsed her brother and father in skill, and they would use sorcery to compensate- at which a victory felt hollow, and a loss undeserved.

In contrast to Radahn’s crushing gravitational wake or her Lord Father’s spears of lightning, Alagos’ own sorcery was wonderfully subtle, and something she felt she could appreciate- purely in the way that it made its influence known without ever having been blatantly perceived.

Unburdened by the pressing whispers of Rot and able to truly enjoy the contest, she could understand all the ways that her betrothed made for a truly horrifying opponent. Alagos at his very best never employed the gouts of flame or torrents of wind that she had beheld during their onslaught against the Mohgwyn dynasty.

Those grand displays of fire and air were likely what he considered theatrics- a gout of concentrated fire was perhaps a quick manner of swatting a fly, to him, and the many squalls and gales had been rather to ensure that no harm befell her, or otherwise for the sake of positioning.

Fully recovered and at the peak of his powers- unless one were intimately familiar with the ebb and flow of battle, and could trace the subtlest changes in the air- one could not tell he had employed any enchantment at all. There were certainly no gestures or overt indications. Possessed by a desire to kill as she had been when they had met, it became apparent to Malenia in all the little ways how Alagos had emerged victorious in their first contest.

That defensive nature she had considered weak in the beginning had an essential deceit worked in; that Alagos would make nearly no technical errors. The very moment an opponent slipped up- even the slightest- retribution would be utterly brutal.

It must have been unrealistic to expect such consistency on an offence, which is why his swordsmanship was reactionary, and relied ever so much on that strangely halting, gliding but non-fluid footwork. It reminded her of something which had once caused the kindling of a great fear- a method poking holes and exploiting weaknesses that she remembered shuddering at in the past. It might have been a memory the Rot stole from her.

Malenia’s own craft, on the other hand, was based more on instinct than any conscious thought, and relied on the perfection of her own bladework rather than deception or anticipation.

Her master had always trained her simply not to think in battle, as the time taken for thought would slow her blade from the blinding flash it must become. Her blade must become, in many ways, an extension of her arm- and she had taken his words to heart, calling her katana her hand.

She did not need to think about which strokes to select, as she knew implicitly. Every position, every guard, every bind to ever originate in the Land of Reeds had been worked into her very being and written into the song of her mind by that great Kensei, especially as a great number of those disciplines had been of his own invention.

In this she had an advantage, as to maintain his consistency, Alagos was required to think. His mind was that of a mortal’s and its thought did not gallop swiftly at the speed of an Empyrean’s imaginings, and there must therefore have been a necessary delay between thought and stroke.

It was why she had always felt she was the better duellist, and why she could not tell at the time why she had lost- as Alagos would use sorcery to shore up these weaknesses, while deceiving an opponent into believing that they remained. Flame would grant a terrible strength to those weathered arms, strength still inferior to hers but just enough to cancel any overt advantage through the essential structure of wielding two hands against one.

That flamberge could surely not have been swung at the necessary speed to match her Katana, but a the winds at his beck and call would aid his strokes and drag at hers. The heat from his hand would sting at her skin and disrupt her edge alignment. Most worryingly, a truly insidious spell of vacuum would deny a breath at a pivotal moment, forcing a pant or a gasp, resulting in a dropped initiative or guard and turning the tide irrevocably.

In all, it contrived to create an effect that was frustrating to the extreme, and to brew an anger that gnawed at an opponent’s focus. Her betrothed had had such success thus far as he was a horror to duel; the adversary being always thoroughly unsettled, uncomfortable, off-balance and blaming ill-fortune, when surely they considered themselves the better duellist.

“And one would never think to blame him for this sudden impotence, instead associating their sudden failures with a flaw of their own self.” Miquella observed from his place within her mind, after Malenia held up a prosthetic to weather a blast of wind when she retreated from an unfavourable bind, narrowly avoiding a deadly mutation which had nearly morphed into an overrunning strike to the collarbone.

There was that niggling vacuum spell just waiting to deny her a breath, as Alagos returned to a fool’s guard, his relaxed posture and gentle smile a well-crafted façade for the steely focus underneath, much in line with the philosophy of a fool’s guard itself. Her brother blasted the spell away for her, at which she restrained a shake of the head.

“It would have been fine, brother. I happen to be enjoying this- trust me!”

She had thought at first to wipe all thought from her mind and turn it into a blank slate, as Radagon had once tried to teach her; meeting Alagos’ steel-wrought focus with her own grim determination. It had resulted in a horribly decisive loss to a squinting strike which blocked her own cut and struck at her forehead (with a breeze happening to push up her nostrils at precisely the wrong time, of course).

Eventually, however, she had discovered a tactic that worked. Once again, her learnings from her master prevailed- though in a way he had never intended to teach.

Whenever she duelled the blind saint, it would be prefaced with a series of taunts and insults that made her blood boil, with a vociferous jeer to fly, fly into the forest of steel, little bird. In doing so, she had never missed the glint in her master’s unseeing eye, or how the corners of his lips would quirk up as he danced around her, defeating her again and again until at last came the day when she sliced a scar on his palm and followed it with a strike to his stomach.

He had been so very proud of her, that day, declaring her training at an end. She had never seen him again, as the saint had departed on yet another wandering- perhaps his last, and perhaps to home.

What would he have thought, if he knew he had transferred that joy to her? That vicious satisfaction at triumph, yet that unadulterated- almost sacred- happiness at being tested?

Against Radahn, she was in no state to feel the joy of battle, desperate and plagued with worry as she had been, and so the Starscourge had struck off her arm and clawed back a battle that should never have been in his favour through his defiant, alabaster strength. It was much the same against Alagos, whose deceits and stratagems she had been unable to recognise, blinded by grief and urgency.

And yet- now that she was able at last to let a smile shine through on her face- she felt invincible. Able to critique and observe herself objectively without fear of indulging in weakness, she found that she fought more finely than she had in untold years- more sharply than she had ever done in the throes of war, in that perfect pinnacle during the final duel against her master.

She lunged, probing the fool’s guard with a plunging thrust, which he deflected with a crown, unable to drive it away with a crooked cut as she disengaged too swiftly. Her follow-up cut was turned away with a parry and sidestep, Alagos switching to a key guard in the process. She denied him the turning thrust she knew would follow by dropping her blade, turning it and snapping up its curved edge to strike at the opening to his wrists, at which he was forced to break the guard.

Her next step would have been the thrust at the chest or throat, now that she had the initiative and he no guard, but a palm unfurled and a blast of flame forced her to retreat, blade still trained on her somewhat shaken fiancé.

It was the first time he had used a spell of a blatant kind, which signalled a break in that unshakable calm and a moment of desperation. It had been loosed on instinct, and she felt proud to have incited such a reaction. Her own weaknesses were mending.

The dignified set returned to his features in an instant, brow raised in that aristocratic manner. “That is how this shall proceed, shall it? Very well.” he said, as if deeply amused, while he calculated inwardly. She made sure to plaster an overly sweet smile on her face in response, one that she knew she’d consider insufferable.

Now in high guard, the flamberge was brought down in a descending cut, meeting her attempted cut to the neck. A subtle little twitch deflected the katana’s point off-measure, with Alagos about to lunge for a thrust at her throat.

A moment to be admired, under normal circ*mstances, had she not been expecting such devilry. She retreated, allowing her advantage of reach to take hold, deflecting the thrust with the strong of her blade and following up with a slicing cut at his wrist.

He disengaged, barely in time, the nearly-imperceptible difference in speed showing. She struck at the side of his forehead and was blocked by a crown. Alagos might have attempted a deflection from a hanging guard instead, but she was too swift, her strokes too perfect.

A feint and a lunge from her led to a strike to the knees, avoided skilfully by a leg-void. The famed Tarnished conjured a sudden wind and swept down his blade in a cut at her head even as he retreated, but she decided to take a risk and sidestepped out of its way, katana following in her wake.

He swivelled with her, attempting to follow up with a cut to the throat, only to find the tip of her own sword at his neck. A moment passed without a breath, Malenia at full stretch, one leg behind the other and head thrown back out of line of Alagos’ blade. It took that moment for him to realise that the angle of her blade prevented him from striking at her throat, and that if she had wished to truly kill him, she would have.

He said nothing, lowering his flamberge and clapping against its pommel. The very restrained and muted gesture of admiration was apparently responsible for some internal firework within the workings of her mind, and peals of laughter bubbled up to her throat, requiring an effort to restrain.

“Three-one.” she simply declared instead, not wanting Alagos to realise that he might have resolved to marry a lunatic.

It was so utterly simple, was it not? There might have been individuals who were capable of such heights of self-mastery or were so utterly emotionless that they could meet the defenestrating, imbalance-inducing tempest that was Alagos’ skill in battle and remain unruffled, but whether or not they succeeded, they would all be mistaken.

If he had built his craft as a tactic to shatter focus, then instead of meeting it with grim discipline, she found it far more efficient to simply deny the tactic and turn it on its head by enjoying the challenge, and letting loose her glee at being able to test herself.

Alagos had made himself into a storm that would uproot all but the sturdiest grass, but what if a bird managed to insert itself precisely into its eye, unaffected by the winds around it, enjoying the tranquillity within? Any and all mistakes would mean ruin against his defences, but what defence did he have against perfection?

For all that he had a vastness of wisdom that humbled her, a depth of power that fascinated her and a sharpness of wit that enchanted her, her fiancé did not truly occupy the echelon of skill that only she and her master could lay claim to. It was not for lack of knowledge, instinct, talent or ability, but for a simple matter- that he was too stern to truly enjoy such dances of death, while to her, they were an integral part of the soul.

Conventional standards might consider it wrong- even bloodthirsty- to feel such a sense of belonging in conflict, and yet, fighting for a life felt like paying the greatest homage she could to life itself. A juxtaposition of the sacred and the unholy in an innumerable count of ways, which was why she must always remember that she fought to spare lives, and not to take them.

Even so, she could not forget her true self. This juxtaposition of contradictory meanings was her, and it was not something she could simply deny- and as yet another in this endless list of graces Alagos bestowed upon her, he had let her true being shine through.

They squared off again, Malenia idly circling and seeming utterly unconcerned, Alagos already in a plough guard, circling in careful triangle-steps.

She tested his defences, falling sweep deflected by hanging guard, with him redirecting momentum in a cut at her which she caught easily.

That niggling vacuum spell tried to force a pant from her again, at which she simply took a deep breath in anticipation. That scorching heat attempted to induce a drop in the tautness of her arm, but she refused it, thinking instead of the perpetrator’s cooler breezes. Winds dragged at her and aided him, but were adjusted for. Leaves planted themselves in the wrong places and dust gathered precisely where it was not needed- and it was all irrelevant.

Nothing could shake her genuine love of the rite of battle, and indeed, her genuine love of the man trying everything in his power to incite her wrath. There was no error to be found, no weakness to exploit.

For all this, Alagos fought valiantly. He would attempt to catch her out in crooked strikes that threatened to ground her blade unless she disengaged, the winds about him setting his hair a-flutter in what she imagined might have been a silver halo.

Parries morphed into stately guards, cross-cuts at the head would be twisted into coming in from the other side, binds would be overrun and mutated, as the wanderer from western shores summoned all his strength to delay the inevitable. She nearly giggled inwardly at a particularly evil thought.

Majestic.” she breathed at their next impasse- and there- his guard dropped momentarily, just as she had hoped. The very next moment, the flamberge was out of measure, a hand was wrapped around his neck, and a very mortified Alagos was thrown into the air by his laughing wife-to-be.

“How dare you-!” he screamed, and it was the first scream she had ever heard from him, for which she caught him and delightedly twirled him around twice or thrice in midair. She felt an intense heat from his skin as she did, and for the first time, he was rendered furious. Incandescently furious.

As she set him down playfully, Malenia realised this was precisely what she had intended to accomplish. This contest had long since gone from being about victory, as though it felt close by a hair’s breadth, her victory now that she had been doing better than she had for an age seemed assured. For her, it had become paramount to draw as many interesting little reactions from Alagos as possible.

“Four. One.” the Tarnished forced out through gritted teeth, and the way he immediately assumed a wrath guard told her all she needed to know.

Irritation appeared to be of a different kind for him, as where it had sapped at her focus, it appeared to lend Alagos strength. All his deceptions ceased, and his palms burned with fire, a wake of flame following behind his blade, slightly off-timing with the swings so as to catch any attempted follow-ups.

Fissures opened up behind her, denying her retreat, and the furrowed earth of Elphael grew pitted about them. For once, their strength appeared evenly matched, as Alagos gave up every attempt to force an error from her and instead focused all his sorcerous prowess on himself, raising his skill to an exalted height.

Even then, it was not enough. Malenia was not pressed by urgency, and she could consciously choose to retreat and use her advantage of reach to the fullest, instead of trying her best to dodge to the side and press on. She could leap over fissures with the grace of a dancer, her footfalls so light that no pits could entrap her.

She knew that with patience, she would eventually win. If every stroke from hereon out was perfect, then Alagos’ strength would falter first, and if any errors were to be made, they would come from his side. When it came to Alagos, however, patience was a thing she sorely lacked.

The only important aspect was that he should grow convinced of her eventual victory- and she thought that a part of him must certainly have known. There was resignation hidden in that determination, desperation behind that suddenly ferocious bladework.

It was therefore unimportant to do what was correct, and more important to simply try what was interesting- and she knew just the thing.

After some careful manoeuvring, she managed to deflect a plunging cut and strike off a strand of his hair in retaliation, just to rekindle the fires that burned within him- then retreated, preparing to fly.

If she recalled, the waterfowl dance had been a mistake against him in their first duel. She wondered how he would respond to it now that he was incensed- and found herself almost looking forward to it.


Apparently his response was to not allow her to attempt it at all, as he seized the opportunity with terrifying skill. A battering gust struck her with furious speed and simply blew her off-course.

The flamberge connected with her prosthetic leg in what would have been an utterly brutal strike had she retained the natural limb. A moment later, she found herself on the ground, a sword-point at her throat, with Alagos looming over her like a shadow.

“Four-two.” he said, doing a far-too-flawless task of hiding his self-satisfaction, once again having recovered that dignified composure. She looked up at him with something that one might have erroneously thought defiance, but was in truth pride.

Do something, she thought, at which he disappointed her by simply kneeling down and offering his hand for her to rise.

This unnecessarily stiff and courtly act was justly compensated as she drove the flamberge out of his grasp, swept his legs out from under him and pinned his arms to the floor, a moment of shock colouring his face.

“Hesitation is defeat.” she informed him, and they stared at each other awhile, Alagos’ storm-grey pupils widening somewhat in understanding.

This was the order of things as they should be, was it not? The invincible, unattainable wanderer, now completely at her mercy. She sat a long moment, counting his breaths, measuring his pulse.

Somehow, he remained calm. There was no inkling of fear, which meant a trust she felt honoured to be the recipient of- and yet, no other indication of feeling. His breath did not hitch, and his heart did not beat any more erratically.

Another oddity of his, amongst so many others. Here she was, with him pinned to the floor and her atop him, and he remained in perfect control of his senses- yet she had flustered him in so many ways in the past, and for her it had almost become habit.

Words were his weakness, she realised. Words and metaphors, instead of touch and sight. The ephemeral sfumato of feeling and emotion affected him in ways the physical world never could. She had finally read the map, and unravelled the layers of the groundnut to touch at the meat within.

“Not that this is unpleasant, but is it truly your intent to continue to sit there, or are we to-“

She kissed him, letting slip that last bit of control, biting and tearing, destroying his every effort at keeping it a light, chaste thing.

“I- goodness me-“ he said, gasping, bleeding slightly- “Malenia, that is not at all what I meant-“

“You never do, so I must treat pretence as reality.” she informed him, and promptly continued- as Alagos would surely put it- depriving an old man of his hard-earned breath.

Somewhere within her mind, she might have felt the scratching of a shadowy quill on a metaphysical manuscript, a meticulous observer taking notes. In the heart of the moment, it did not matter.

A great grumbling issued from the sanctum in Caelid. His attendants- the noble fellows so wrongfully called the ‘Vulgar Militia’- hastened immediately to see to him, but Gurranq waved them away.

Much had been restored to the mind of the beast clergyman, all through the efforts of his Tarnished friend and the man’s little daughter. The rune within him was nearly whole, missing only that one last, critical piece.

He pondered whether his warnings against the witch had been heeded, and whether his attempts to convince the Tarnished to move against his former betrothed and seize that last piece would bear fruit.

Alagos was too kind for his own good and certainly too forgiving, but Marika’s shadow held the man close to his artificial heart despite his flaws. He had slain those ungrateful lambs of Marika’s to the last, and gathered their runes.

The Golden Order would be restored; Marika would be restored; and the Black Blade remained convinced that Alagos was the only prospective lord capable of this grand feat of salvation.

That daughter of his might be a problem, however. That Millicent. Gurranq considered himself fond of the girl, as she had been kind to him and eager to learn. She wished for the suffering of these lands to end, just as he himself did.

Of course, it could not be forgotten whose daughter she truly was. He was tempted to laugh. The lands around him were blasted, decaying- all due to the legacy of Millicent’s mother. Another Empyrean- a rival to Marika.

How treacherous, that a daughter should seek to overthrow her own mother. When he had been Maliketh, the death of the demigods, she would have answered to his blade- ah, but if only his blade hadn’t been shattered.

They were all shattered- he, his blade, his lands and his world. Only Alagos represented hope. He may have been cracked- even bent- but there was that fire within him, so similar to Godfrey’s battle fury and Marika’s cold light. It was a stronger fire than the flame of the fell god, which he had assisted his half-sister in quenching.

If Millicent bore some misplaced loyalty to her mother through lineage, of course, she would need to be dealt with- but Gurranq could be gentle. He had learnt that lesson from Alagos, of all people, Marika having found these teachings unnecessary.

He grunted, licked the fur around his lips, and continued reading. He had been out and about, encouraged by his friend to breathe in the fresh air. Alagos would appreciate that he had been collecting knowledge on the Rot.

After all, it was necessary. If Millicent could be cured of the canker that infested her soul, Alagos would be free of his obligation and could resume walking the path of the lord.

He briefly imagined them raising blades together, him wielding destined death after an age to open the path to the Erdtree, for Alagos to free his half-sister and mistress from her chains. The Golden Order might have failed, but it could be reforged anew.

Wishful thinking, of course, but he remained hopeful for a visit. For the time being, he continued his readings. It would be necessary for him to travel to Farum Azula at some point, to confirm the veracity of the tome’s claims about an Old Lord who had defied all disease.

If he performed this one service for Alagos, the Tarnished could return his half-sister and Queen the world, as she rightfully deserved.


I don't think Uncle Maliketh would at all be pleased on learning that his star pupil (well, his only pupil) has been losing to that nasty empyrean niece of his. I enjoy thinking about him shooting horrid little looks at the blind swordsman who would waltz in like he owned the place, with him just... not caring as he's blind.

Also Malenia and her master are both secret battle junkies. Just like a certain Sword-Saint I'm very fond of. No, I won't be taking questions.

In other news, I tried an Elden Ring randomiser and ran into Starscourge Radagon, which was great. It might have prompted a few musings about Radahn and Radagon in this chapter.

Chapter 13: There was a time in my Demented Youth


Miquella tries to fiddle with Alagos' mind and comes across a truly horrible story.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

It was a simple enough matter to break into the Tarnished’s mind after he went for an inevitable rest after that physically exhausting spar, and the very mentally exhausting task of staying afloat while his sister tried her best to drown him in that inexhaustible ocean she called her love.

She was stroking Alagos’ hair at the time, having placed him atop that bed of flowers, and he let threads of his golden power emerge from her fingers and her mind and envelop the man in that pivotal moment before he drifted off.

At first, he attempted to catch a dream, but found himself drawn into a maze; they were too well-guarded. He lauded his visitor’s ingenuity, as shields and barriers could be easily broken through.

A maze signalled the possibility of lucid dreaming, against which even his insurmountable power would have little effect. Even if he was to slowly chip away at that lucidity and take the ability from him, there was always the possibility that Alagos might just wake up.

He latched himself, instead, to a memory. Now memories were such useful things, weren't they? They could tell you all you needed to know about somenbody, even if that somebody did not know these things themselves.

Black Light.

The phrase would typically be little more than a literary metaphor to his honed, scientific mind, as black was the colour observed when an object completely absorbed white light.

If any source of light appeared ‘black’, therefore, chances were it truly wasn’t and was instead surrounded by an obfuscating fog of that colour, or that a certain lustre was leant instead by silver and grey at the edges. The ironclad understanding of the physical world in locality was what Miquella had built his knowledge upon, and he therefore found himself unsettled at the first time he saw the phrase, ‘Black Light’, represent a true paradox.

He allowed himself a smile of ghostly shadows, lacking for a physical raiment quite yet. As ever, the initial surprise was a passing thing, replaced now with relish at the prospect of a challenge.

There was a twisting, curving black that curled and curved and lived, and fought against a blank something, spreading and weakening in intensity as it covered more square area- much like light would, instead of remaining and subsuming like the absence of light- known otherwise as darkness.

The place’s wonder washed away slowly, black light seeming to remind itself that it ought not to exist, resolving eventually into the kaleidoscopic collage of potential places he could find himself in. The outlines of such, of course, could not be seen by any typical vision, and even to his divine senses remained fuzzy.

Ah, good. He had been allowed awareness- as he always was, for in the realm of sleep he was nigh-invincible- and with it came power. He pondered at his cloak of flesh for this little visit.

The figure of a great lord came to his mind- tall and straight; hair of shining gold, face fair and fearless and full of terrible, fey joy. The eyes would be bright and keen with secret fire, the voice musical, with wisdom on his brow and strength in his hand. He basked awhile in the glow of the fantasy, before deciding against it.

Too obtrusive, he thought to himself. Besides, he did not have nearly enough experience appearing in such guise, as he had spent far too long in that damnable child’s stunted form. The intricacies and nuances of truly meticulous coercion were different by leagues for either case, and he could only truly call himself masterful in the latter raiment. So be it; the child it was.

The moment he gave himself eyes was the moment he saw the true oddity of the place they were in, and he nearly complimented his guest’s imagination before realising that it was no imagined sight. It had far too much- what was the term- verisimilitude- despite the obvious physical and logical fallacies.

He laid a foot on land that felt somehow far too thin, and his mage-sight could not detect the faint rumble of quaking plates and magmatic pressure beneath him. The air was lighter than what he was used to, and the only clouds in sight were thin, wispy waifs of cirrus.

It was not quite a castle in the clouds, however, as it appeared instead to be an entire landform; complete with relief in the form of a domineering fence of mountains that seemed too perfect to be truly natural; as though erected to keep invaders out.

In front of him rose a tower, with spires reaching beyond what the eye could see- and here was the only fallacy that truly marked it as a dream, as those towers were truly insurmountable. Distant roars could be heard from what could only be a metaphysical distance to the top, leading him to surmise that this could only be the abode of a sky-faring people, crafted by their own hands and tailored for their own way of life.

It was not the most outlandish dreamscape he had ever seen, as imaginations tended to frolic wildly and this was no make-believe, but it was one of the most haunting in how matters that would be regarded simply as impossible in his world were quotidian facts of existence in this place- and his own mind, somehow, seemed to accept them as such.

He gathered power to himself, slightly alarmed. That Alagos fellow was clearly not unacquainted with the power of dreams.

“An honour, fellow truth-seeker, to attend your call!” said a horribly hoarse, rasping voice, which remained somehow smooth and flowing, and not halting or coughing in the least. At a guess, he would have thought the owner to be brought up in air of ash and dust, choking on smoke throughout his life, such that ash itself became part of the voice, with the speaker remaining unbothered and simply accepting it.

He turned around carefully- not abruptly, as that would portray fear- nor leisurely, which would betray his mastery- and surveyed the form before him, letting his pupils widen and his mouth almost whistle, as a child would when filled with wonder. It was wonder he needed to manufacture, of course, while he hid his surprise at the form of address.

Those words had been spoken almost as thought to an equal- not at all a child.

As he took his visitor- or his host- in fully, Miquella realised he did not need to manufacture any wonder. His host was a tall man, garbed entirely in a fiery scarlet, cloak fluttering in the perpetual wind that blew around this place, seeming somehow shadowy. The crimson cowl he wore was taken off and tipped to him in greeting, revealing gleaming black hair done in a topknot.

The features were not so much thin as gaunt- but they managed to be gaunt without being emaciated, as if chiselled very harshly from an ever-dwindling dolmen of stone, with an angular face, an angular jaw, a ruthless brow and a nearly-ridged forehead. There was nothing of classical handsomeness in the figure, but it might have been considered handsome nonetheless if not for the wholly unsettling effect he felt by looking at it.

“Ah, forgive the theatrics, pray- I can never help myself. Well met, my friend. Well met.”

Alagos- or what might have been Alagos- smiled, revealing too many teeth. No, that was the correct amount of teeth- but they were all pointed, in a way, without being truly fangs. It was as though every tooth had been replaced with a canine, and they were all white enough to gleam.

The gums, however- the gums had no such luck, and were black and charred. Miquella wondered if the voice was as such because fire had been forced down that throat and not simply ash, but the gums were strong enough to support that set of teeth with little to no discomfort, so he remained puzzled. The effects of dark sorcery, perhaps.

“What hail and well met to you in turn… friend.” Miquella replied, pausing for just the right amount of time before ‘friend’ to indicate puzzlement and a healthy scepticism and not outright mistrust.

The ‘friend’ watched him closely, striding lightly towards him, and would have seemed to project an air of easy conviviality if those red eyes- grey eyes, but bloodshot enough to appear red- had not held his own in an utterly unblinking stare throughout.

Miquella lowered his own head in a fair imitation of respect, swaying back and forth in a childlike gesture that had been known to charm many with its purported innocence. The stare and smile remained equally fixed.

“Wouldst thou prefer to converse in an archaic dialect, mayhap? ‘Twould seem to suit thee, at a guess from thine appearance.”

He tried to present polite interest instead of voracious interest, and mild puzzlement instead of dawning comprehension. It was a useful question to ask, as one’s linguistic fluency could betray a lot about their character, and any underlying pomposity or pretensions to grandeur could always be exploited.

The smile widened. “Lay not that flattering unction upon a sheep unclad in sheep’s raiment. What of thee?”

Clever indeed. “I am fluent both ways.” the Empyrean said carefully, not wishing to provide any information about himself, or secretly offend if his host did indeed have a preference.

“Then I’ve never been one for pomposity. My very best friend in the world is a wyrm, for goodness’ sake, and I’ve had quite enough of where that comes from.”

Wyrm? An archaic term to use for serpents, but this – shade of Alagos – did not appear to much care for archaism. The only other time Miquella had heard the phrase used in any serious capacity was by Rykard, in the last days of the war from the shattering- the various birds and beasts that served as his spies relating tales of how the once-mighty sorcerer lord had fallen into a kind of quiet madness, delving into the depths of immortality and the idea of devouring gods.

He hid his puzzlement by introducing a twinkle to his eyes and a soft ‘o’ in his expression, as if to ask with hope, ‘Ooh! Can I see one?’. There was no laugh to follow.

“Forgive me, I’m being a terrible host. Would you care for some wine?” he asked, and Miquella restrained an internal curse. Wine would never be offered to a child. No matter how perfect his attempt, the charade was at an end.

“I would prefer tea, if possible.” the Lord of the Unalloyed replied, recovering himself. The tea he had tasted in Malenia’s thoughts had been nothing short of exquisite, and he had gotten the impression that Alagos liked serving it.

“Ah. Very well, just one moment.” said the phantom, and whirled around, cloak turning with him. A fissure opened beneath his feet, and he was gone in a puff of rising, scarlet fire.

Miquella took the opportunity to walk forward a little, and every footfall he took was eerily silent. The tiny vibrations felt on encountering any irregularity were absent, as there was no irregularity.

Before him stretched out an expanse of perfect geometry, beautiful to the eye- but only, perhaps, nominally so. He would call it beautiful in the way he would call the painfully-crafted stained glass of a cathedral beautiful. It was otherworldly and unique, but a little known secret of reality was that imperfections sometimes made a sight all the greater for their existence.

There stretched gardens and a field of fountains, but it did not seem as if they saw any use. Paths wound their way forward, impossibly wide for any normal stride, crafted of an unfathomably strong alabaster, smooth as if meant for claws.

Of the grand tower ahead, its battlements past the point of sight, he could see many a window- always an equal number on either side. They had a fractal pattern; some were smaller, conventional windows, thrown open for the use of human hands for the sake of air. Some were ornate french-windows that looked out on nothing, as there was no balcony, and some were wholly, unnaturally large.

He extended tendrils of his magic forward, casting the law of regression to reveal all secrets. The windows were guarded by barriers of magic, the sanctity of the tower absolute. The Law of Causality revealed sparks of malignant red in short order, giving weight to his suspicion of dragons.

“Quite the sight, is it not? The great realm and dragon-city of Farum Cinerea.” said Alagos’ shade. He was seated a table laid for two, which had simply not been there a moment ago. It was beyond doubt that the man- appearing less like a man with every moment- wielded some kind of power here, just as he did.

Miquella sat, taking in the sight with unconcealed and genuine awe. A cup of tea was waiting for him, though Alagos appeared to have nothing.

“Are we- floating? In the air?” he asked, feeling stupid for the simplicity of the question. He could not do without knowing.

“Most perceptive.” came the reply; he drank of his tea and found it good, but not quite the priceless engagement of the senses Malenia’s tea had been. It was brewed in a professional fashion, the preparation fastidious and the ingredients perfectly balanced, but there was something missing that he found he did not have a word for.

“Ahead is Cinerea's Grand Repository; home of the lords of lightning and the winds, where their timeless knowledge is stored in a library of music.” Alagos narrated as he drank, and he nearly restrained himself from spilling his tea. His academic curiosity was getting the better of himself.

“I beg your forgiveness for not introducing myself. I am Miquella, a scholar from the Lands Between- that would be an eastern continent, if you are unfamiliar with the name.”

“And would-be-deity trapped in the body of a child by the curse of an Outer God. Charmed.” replied Alagos instantly, with a bow to follow. The Empyrean found himself growing more uneasy by the moment as he bowed back. There was too much familiarity in how he had said that.

“You wonder how I knew that, do you not? There’s no need to hide it. I am perhaps more familiar with that kind of experience than is strictly healthy.” Alagos divined, flashing those dangerous teeth again.

He grew instantly more guarded, the picture growing clearer. Strange magic he could not foresee, that fire he could not recognise, those bloodshot eyes, the necessary might to wield a dream? This Alagos was certainly no stranger to bearing the curse of an Outer God- and he might even have done so willingly.

“It is an honour to meet you at last, Lord Alagos.” Miquella said, with a bow of his own and a smile. Only Marika had ever left him feeling quite as much out of his depth. He was supposed to be invincible here, unassailable!

It was not unlikely that this Tarnished would be entirely too difficult to mould into a good servant.

“Alagos? Is that the name I am known by in your lands? Are my exploits so bold that tales of them have stretched quite that far?”

“That is the name my sister ascribes to you.” he replied, simply. There was no need to surrender information. “What is the name you call yourself?”

“The name I… call myself? Now, that is an interesting concept, is it not? To have a name of your very own, which you belong to?”

This was all far worse than he had expected. He ought to tell Malenia to be very careful.

“My name was given to me by my mother. I may not have loved her, but I respected her for her will and wisdom, and I find it fitting. I am content to call myself Miquella, as such.” he said, prompting. It appeared to throw his host into a reverie.

“I’ve never quite associated that concept with a ‘name’.” he replied, finally. “To me, names are titles- and they are all that I have ever had. Titles, designations, ranks.”

“I- assume you are affiliated with the dragons, or whoever rules them?” the demigod pressed, at which Alagos raised his brow, impressed.

“Affiliated, no. I don’t think I ever had a choice in the matter. The dragons are merely visitors here, though it was they who erected Cinerea to honour their God; I was made just as so many other servants were, to exist and fill in for the populace.”

“Exist?” Miquella replied, detecting a queer inflection in the tone. “For that matter, why ‘merely visitors’? Whom does this city serve?”

“Exist. Not live.” Alagos replied quietly, with a sanguine clarity. “The true masters of this place are the elder children of that god of time, just as the dragons are the younger brood; the wyrms know them as ‘moths’ and ‘butterflies’. My – human – kindred think of them as the Great Lamps. They are mighty beings of light with great and white wings, who have mastered wind and time just as the Dragons rule flame and lightning. Their wrath is terrible to behold, as they judge all indiscriminately before their sight, raining down bolts of scalding golden light upon those found wanting.”

“Angels.” Miquella muttered, unable to help himself. It seemed those children’s stories had not been as much of a waste as he had thought. “Seraphim.”

“As you can see, I hate them. Damned things will curse you if they can’t shoot. It’s the reason I’m so fond of disappearing; I’d be a skewered mince if I wasn’t.”

As expected. “What were you to them? I found it curious that you would mention designations and ranks. Why do they require humans to begin with?”

“Time is endless. Memory is not.” Alagos replied, confirming a powerful suspicion he had had for an age. “With their mastery of time, the children of the beginning lose track of the world as it changes to their whims; this has doomed them ever to dwindle and fade into lesser forms. They grow detached, forgotten. Their mind falls into an eternal reverie, from which they never wake.”

“Which is why, despite their phenomenal power, the Ancient Dragons could be defeated in my land.” said Miquella, comprehension dawning. “They lose their ability the more often they use it.”

“Well, sadly for me, those bloody lamps discovered a workaround, which they shared in short order with their draconic brethren.” Alagos said wryly, and Miquella nodded along. “The key is being remembered. If there are parts of the world that feel alive, they remain in touch with it, and muster the will to manipulate it. Those parts, apparently, are people. I’m sure you are aware of my stance on eugenics at this point.”

“I think I am. The only reason, therefore, that you exist, is to remember them? To fulfil their whims, so that they may continue to stave off inevitable entropy?”

“Indeed. The dragons… they proved too proud for such a solution. They would wait in sanctuaries crafted by their lord, content to fade away in the mistaken hope that one day they might return, just as their lord might. The Lamps- well, they fostered a people without will or identity. Our sole purpose was to remember- and remember we did, but not ‘useless trivia’ such as things pertinent to one’s identity. Our memories served their purposes, never ours.”

“How did you break free?” the Empyrean continued. This trip might yet prove to be profitable, if he could divine something of Alagos’ worldview.

“Ah, there’s a long story to that.” Alagos said, almost fondly- though fond as one who went from rags to riches would be to tell stories of their hardships.

“You’re in luck. I enjoy them like nothing else.” Miquella pressed, not one to be outdone.

“I used to work here as a librarian, you see. We did not store information in books and maps, as these are media in which many meanings important to the culture of lords are lost. Dragons hoard their knowledge by means of dragonsong; great music and songs of power which can shape the very world around them. The lamps, on the other hand, are capable of worse; shaping and erasing with the mere might of thought. It is a dialect without words, conveying meaning through pitch, timbre and frequency, in ways that are beyond me.”

“If they are beyond you, how could you store them?”

“Words are inadequate vessels.” Alagos pivoted, seeming not to care for the question.

“I know that better than most.” Miquella said, eyes shining bright gold. Oh, how he did. He relied overmuch on words, and it was his most painful, most grating flaw.

“Unfortunately for us fools, words are all the vessels we have. We made words to hold meaning; crafted verses to capture in opaque vases the incomparable beauty of those songs of power. The Grand Repository was the most beautiful ocean of meanings and truths and metaphors unfettered; every tone flowing into another, ordered and harmonious- and yet, nothing compared to the true glory of dragonsong.” the former- eventual- Tarnished whispered, in a sad and wistful tone.

Miquella had wondered, often, how it would be to create instead of simply manipulate. To invent a law of nature, and not simply find one. Alagos had given voice to these thoughts, and for the very first time, he found himself afraid.

“I assume the joy of serving at such a rank, and in such a wondrous place, was somewhat blunted-“

“There was no joy.” Alagos replied, suddenly grim. “I knew no such thing as joy. We could never grasp the meanings. Never ask questions. We existed to serve our purpose and did not live. The only thing I ever knew was camaraderie between myself and the musicians who worked with me in the library. We were a troupe, with me as the master- and now, reborn in scarlet fire, they are my kin.”

“I ask again: How did you break free?” Miquella repeated, matching him for firmness.

“I do believe, my dear Miquella, you have figured it out.” Alagos said, and sadness was once again in those tones- though it was replaced immediately by a dark mirth. “Before you judge me, it was the thought of freedom that drove me into the arms of my second slavemaster.”

The Empyrean nodded, looking down. With no hope, the man had traded one Outer God for another- and if he was truly mighty enough to challenge dragons and these strange, equally fell angels while they still wielded hegemony over time, he had likely been turned into a thing just as Marika was.

“Were you yourself made into a god?” he asked, wondering whether this was the source of his ability to match Miquella within the memory- where Alagos would be further constrained than a dream.

“I don’t believe ‘god’ is quite the correct term here- I have never been that mighty - though there might be none in any language that must use words. How about ‘vessel’? ‘High priest’? These might be a tad closer, perhaps.”

“Have you come to challenge them? For that matter, do you think you can?”

Alagos shook his head, with a sigh. “That is for my friend, the Lord of Wyrms to attempt- him and his experimental black flame. Powerful old bastard. No, my purpose is simply to burn this place.”

He rose, and stood tall, six feet and six inches seeming for a moment nine and nine. Miquella thought he could see little scarlet will-o-the-wisps flickering in the distance.

“You asked me about names and titles.” the man- thing- in front of him said. His smile had returned, and it was ghoulish in a way it had not been before.

“Some would be appreciated.” Miquella thought more than replied, restraining himself by supreme effort of will to not summon all his power to him and test himself against this dark foe of the world, ending the foray into memory.

“I am best known as the King of Storms. The dragons call me the Ruinous Lord, and detest all things I touch; the lamps know me as the discordant composer, for I have disturbed their monotonous harmony. I preside over flame, and the aspect of it that implies rebirth; change is my domain and craft, and constraint my enemy. As for me? I see myself as a painter, but I can only paint blindfolded.”


Apologies for the delay. Flights and work and flights of work. A study on star formation being self-regulatory this time.

I played DS3 and hated the angels. I played Hollow Knight and hated the Radiance. At some point I might habve played Terraria and hated the Empress of Light. A bit of that might have seeped into this.

The funny thing about a different, vaguely-positioned continent, and things which can manipulate time, is that when all of this ultimately does get supplanted by actual lore, it hopefully won't interfere much with said lore.

Chapter 14: The Wonder lingers and the Shame remains


In which Loretta and the fates of the Haligtree's Cleanrot Knights are discussed, Malenia muses on how truly fearsome Millicent had become under Alagos' tutelage, Miquella is his usual sneakily subtle self and an excursion is planned.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“As you can see, it is, ah, only a solution by half-measure. With what little time – and wits, come to think of it – I had left to myself then, it was the best I could conceive.”

Twelve sets of Cleanrot Armour she recognised as identical to her own garb at the moment were stacked neatly together, seeming for all the world as if they had no occupants. The visors were up on each helm, and each Knight seemed in such utter repose that they might as well have been entombed in their armour and not merely clad in it.

There was something- a field, of some kind, as Miquella would put it- that twisted and somewhat obscured her sense of feeling, but the air was breezy and not stolid in the Haligtree’s prayer room, which led her to locate them all the same. One truth made itself apparent to her; that Alagos had been at the Haligtree for much longer than she had expected, and for at least a considerable length of time before she had been woken.

“I am… ahem.” Alagos coughed. He seemed and felt the guilty manner of melancholy that one would feel when deliberately confessing to a crime one could otherwise have gotten away with. “I was terribly mistaken in not informing you, or doing anything about it sooner.”

“And when might you have done that?” she challenged. “It is most likely I would not have done right by the matter or treated it with my undivided attention before we found Miquella. That is also what my Knights would have considered paramount. I think you might have their forgiveness in this case.”

For whatever opaque reason, her betrothed looked strangely uncomfortable with that conjecture, and coughed again. “Even so, I should have done something for them. I cannot know if I cast this perfectly, and if they have indeed not worsened in all this time.”

“He has. The best I can decipher is that this is a- highly complex- spell with a constant soporific and cleansing effect, using the residual grace in the room as its fuel. It seems reminiscent of some combination of the Law of Regression and Blessing’s Boon incantations alongside my own enchantments of sleep, but with the caveat that the latter applies in a cycle after the former two and is not cleansed by them. The effects would be nearly indistinguishable had he… twisted time.” Miquella whispered from within her mind.

She was more than a tad surprised as her brother suddenly took the strange tone he did- and had she not known him better, she would think he spoke of Alagos in much the same manner as he had spoken of someone like the Lunar Princess, who had worked her webs in the shadows. A figure to admired for their accomplishments, but above all else treated with wariness.

“Whatever it is, I ought not to have simply forgotten and required you to remind me-“

“For all your excellent qualities, my sweet Alagos, you can’t deny that you might be getting old.” she said with a smile. Alagos looked like he was about to choke. Doubtless he would have appreciated the excuse, had it not been- that one.

Finally, he shook his head, and looked to her with an expression that couldn’t decide between sternness and admittance. “I can only suppose I am. You see, I did warn you-“

“And we will correct that, as soon as we have the time and wherewithal to.” she reminded him gently, placing a hand on his jaw to have him look up. His eyes seemed to gain something by looking at her, and if she could see- another thing to set right, with time - she might have looked for a distant twinkle.

After staring for longer than strictly necessary, he turned and looked away, gesturing vaguely to the side. “I found not nearly as many Knights here as I had expected. It is likely I have my Millicent to thank for that. There are some more I imprisoned, like so, near the drainage channel. Two, unfortunately, elected to surprise me after an encounter with an Ulcerated Tree Spirit- nasty old thing, that - and I’m afraid to say I reacted instinctively with pillars of flame.”

She let herself mourn them internally, showing nothing of it. Her expression was strong and resolute as the mountains, for the sake of all involved.

In truth, she did not know what to think. From Alagos’ words, it would seem her own daughter had killed most of her dear Knights. Her very own.

She did not know how to apportion blame. She had never known Millicent, which made it a simple matter to cast aspersions upon an errant child- but Alagos had been her mentor. Her father. And Alagos would not have failed to teach her the value of compassion and sympathy, and most of all of wisdom, and putting thought before every action.

Why, then, had she killed them? Most likely she had thought them mere enemies, at the time- obstacles in her way before her goal. She did not have enough information to know, and as it seemed, neither did Alagos.

A particularly tragic possibility suggested itself to her; that Millicent might have somehow anticipated Alagos’ pursuit of her to the Haligtree, as the man’s dedication to looking after those he loved approached the point of insanity. And in doing so, she might have decided to kill Malenia’s Knights in a bid to protect the one she called father- or even to spare him from doing the deed himself.

Who would bear the blame, in this circ*mstance? The very nature of the world, perhaps- and anger aimed at the world was always unfocused, impotent; leaving Malenia feeling sick to her stomach with bitterness but with no outlet to focus a lance of her lingering rage towards.

Her betrothed looked at her now-stony face and- in a flash of insight she was no longer surprised by- employed that same uncanny thought-divining trick of his again.

“If you think Millicent did you any wrong, Malenia, I’ll have you know that it would be my wrong as well. Her errors were my errors. It was her achievements that you might call all her own.”

She shook her head. “For once, you weren’t correct, my love.” she lied, as it was the most convenient course to take. “I was wondering whether you had seen any on the canopy. The numbers you have given are far lower than what I estimated my force of Cleanrot Knights to account for before the Battle of Aeonia.”

Alagos appeared to retreat into thought. After some time, he began, “I’ll grant that my memory isn’t the best-“

“Oh, I’m sure you’ve forgotten more than most will ever know-“

A suddenly irate scowl, “-but I cannot seem to remember any. I may have been in a frightful rush at the time, but an encounter with a Cleanrot Knight is one I should recall whatever the circ*mstance. If anything, you can be proud that you trained a set of utter nightmares to come across.”

Malenia was torn between beaming and frowning. The Cleanrot Knights were more than protectors or enforcers; they were friends, confidants and companions loyal to the uttermost. She wondered if it was possible to be any prouder than she was, at praise pertaining to their prowess from her own Tarnished, of all people. On the other hand, though- had there truly been so few of them?

It may have been that Aeonia was a worse slaughter than she could ever have predicted, and Radahn’s Redmanes had dealt as well as they had suffered, which would be a mark of shame on her ability as a general. It might also have been that her Knights’ casualties were not that terrible and in fact closer to her own prospective estimates, only for them to have perished from the Rot afterwards. The third outcome was that a considerable number had survived both Aeonia and the Rot, only to meet their ends at her own daughter’s blade.

She did not know which of the three possibilities she hated the most, as they were all equally mournful in their own, horrible way. She eventually decided that she preferred to believe in the first, as that would only be a discredit to her alone. Death in battle was likely less agonising than the Rot’s slow decay, and she would never have liked to think her own daughter had killed that many.

Rage frothed within her veins again- hatred of the cruelties of the world, of the Rot, of herself- but she took a deep breath and looked within, for Miquella.

“I am always with you, sister dear.” came his calming voice, in that same endlessly soothing tone. A flutter of golden magic wove itself through her hair in that all-too-familiar gesture.

Alagos, perceptive as always, had turned a shade concerned for his part.

“You need not worry yourself, dear consort-to-be. Their passing leaves an ache that will never fade, as I loved each of them for their nobility of spirit and their mastery of the self- and more than that, they loved me in turn. They would have done anything for Miquella and I, despite neither of us ever asking that. And so I am resolved that if you did kill any, they would not wish me to blame you or my- our- daughter for their deaths, simply for the fact that you did not know better at the time and are in large part a contributor to my happiness now. What has been done is now a thing of the past, and so it shall remain.”

She had observed how weights had seemed to lift off her Tarnished’ shoulders, when they had spoken with Miriel at the Church of Vows. It was something mortals felt, she had told herself at the time- and yet how strange that she seemed to feel the same now.

She did not know if she entirely liked the- reverence Alagos’ concern seemed to turn into as she spoke those words, though. Part of her felt flattered, perhaps, and a part might well have expected nothing less- but it was Alagos. He tended to be inhumanly tight-lipped and illusive about anything he felt beyond a simple admiration of another’s skill.

“That might be of use, Malenia. I doubt he could withhold many straight answers from you now. It will spare us the need to investigate further.” Miquella reminded her, and she was struck by how she hadn’t considered it. And yet-

No, her brother was correct, as always.

“Now, my lovely companion, as I hope it has been somewhat vehemently hammered into your occasionally dense skull that I do not blame you, I trust you will grant me a full account of your time here?”

His eyes seemed to narrow instantly, as if growing more guarded, but she placed an arm on his shoulder and he relinquished the appearance of a taut wire, huffing wearily.

“Very well. I must warn you that you might find me significantly less pleasant-“

“That’s enough words from you. Go make some tea, and tell me everything as we drink.”

“You… hurled her off the platform?”

He sighed for what felt like the thousandth time. “I’m afraid so.”

“Loretta? Off the- platform?”

She ought to have sounded incensed- even enraged. She certainly felt so, deep within. Instead, her confusion was apparent once the words had been said.

“My best guess is a Storm Wall, but one more potent than I have ever seen reproduced, and somehow… propelled forwards…” Miquella mused unhelpfully.

“As yet again, I was desperate and felt hurried. My arms ached from hefting my flamberge for a day and a half without sleep through a veritable army of, well, Ants, Envoys, maddened Misbegotten, maddened and rather likely misbegotten sorcerers, so on and so forth. Knight Loretta had evidently let Millicent through, so I thought she might be reasoned with, but when I attempted to have words, I was met with silence.”

“And what then? Doubtless you prevailed, but was it truly necessary-

“She then attempted to have my head but was met with a small hurricane.” Alagos muttered, in a wry tone that might have suggested vindictiveness had she not known him better.

Malenia shook her head. “Perhaps you would care to explain what this ‘hurricane’ of yours is?”

“Ah.” Alagos whispered, looking down. “A… word I somehow remember, from a past I do not. You might consider it a storm, but larger than any I have ever seen cross the Lands Between save perhaps that strange one at Farum Azula. A ‘hurricane’ bears winds of a lower speed than a tornado – which you are familiar with- and has distinct ‘walls’ of differing pressure that are harder to discern within a tornado. At least, that is what my intuition tells me. I cannot say for certain."

Storm wall indeed, brother. I wonder how you do it.

“I assume you were able to replicate such a phenomenon on a minute scale through sorcery, as you would otherwise, no doubt, have mentioned the utter destruction of the upper reaches of the Haligtree.”

Alagos’ lips thinned, somewhat. “You assume correctly.” he answered flatly, with perhaps a hint of feeling that she was making correct 'assumptions' more often with each passing day.

“Hm. Expedient.” Malenia muttered with distaste, choosing to let some of her buried anger show.

Quite.” Alagos answered again, just as flatly. She thought she felt something within herself, as if Miquella agreed with the sentiment- but not nearly with as much distaste. Her brother seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be acting as if he were met with a personal failure he had already begun work at remedying.

They held each other’s gaze a few moments, her metaphysical one against Alagos’ very real one, either unflinching. It was a strange circ*mstance. Malenia felt as if she ought to blame him, but could not as she had promised not to. Perhaps she was simply disappointed at Alagos’ tone.

Was she wrong or otherwise cruel for expecting more sadness? More regret, instead of whatever this emotionless, wry tone was? She shook herself internally, as she would never wish more sadness on one who had done so much for her, but she could not deny it might have been easier that way. It would have been far simpler to forgive him- and proceed to console him- than simply acknowledge his past errors as part of a list.

“She would not have let him through, Malenia.” said Miquella, soothing. “She would never have stood aside unless commanded by either you or I. Loretta was always- staunch, in that way. She would not have let him past as long as she drew breath- and had she not, none of this might have happened.”

The Goddess grimaced and asked her brother to be silent. If there was one thing she disliked about Miquella- and it was only this one thing- it was his detachment, his sheer rationality. He always knew which course would lead to the most desirable outcome, and was nothing less than utterly secure in his decisions to take it.

It was a petty thing to dislike- and certainly, a mark on her brother’s greater wisdom as she had always told herself- and yet, she had proved unable to dismiss the feeling. She found that it might indeed be possible to admire a trait and wish that one had it, while simultaneously disliking it.

“I will have you know,” Malenia began with steel in her voice, placing her arms on the table, “that Loretta was far more than the- gate guard you appear to think she was. Her might in war and her skill in sorcery were great, as you have surely witnessed, but she was furthermore good and kind; and- always an example to the rest of us, no matter how high or low they might have been placed.”

Alagos said nothing, but those grey eyes had grown somewhat softer. He lowered his gaze, in a silent request to hear more.

“She was- more than a Knight, she was a teacher. She guided all my lordsworn through their first paces in the art of war. She could explain and demonstrate the simplest manoeuvre with just as much aplomb as the most complex. She could- break down the most difficult technique into a set of smaller, connected dances and- make them seem as simple as it must be for water to flow.”

Still nothing, which she had begun to realise might have been the correct response. Nothing save letting his hands wander over to hers.

“She was an innovator, unafraid to challenge boundaries and conventions. She was a seer, always staying true to her convictions. She left the service of the Carians not for any lure we laid, but as she had seen the kindness Miquella had shown to her people, the Albinaurics. She possessed the most powerful ability to discern right from wrong, and there was not one Knight who would not be glad to have her when they felt lost.”

“The only reason I do not mourn such an admirable soul, Malenia, is that I did not know her.” Alagos whispered at last, laying his palms on hers. She clutched them- tightly, if his sudden little hiss told of anything- but she was past the point of caring.

“She was more than an ally, or a servant. She was a friend, and for many, the best they had. She was a pillar to those who needed her strength and would never hesitate to let another stand on her shoulders; and yet- she always presented a willing ear to those frustrated. I mourn her, Alagos, as she was one of this world’s treasures.”

“And that would mean I took one of the world’s treasures from it without knowing.” Alagos said, solemnly. “I would have liked to know her. I would have liked to know all of them, if I could. It is a regret I have for many whom I have slain; many who deserved more life. It is why I sought to stop myself, when I… fell, irreclaimably, for you. And yet I find I do not regret it at all. If you were the only one for whom I could fulfil that wish and set right that regret, I am still content. And I cannot imagine anybody not being content and feeling fulfilled in my place.”

This was what she had been waiting for, she realised. That flat tone, which seemed to defy the profuse apologies that preceded the telling of the tale- it was perhaps the only way in which he could tell the tale. He might have adopted it because this had happened far too many times in his life for him to count, and he had at the end simply come to peace with the fact that he would always have regrets.

It could not be helped. She dragged him by the arms, nearly upending the table, into yet another embrace (those were becoming increasingly common, these days). This time, he was used to it enough to be able to pat her on the back, if a little awkwardly.

“I would like to know of all of them, if you could tell me. I will mourn all of them; all of whom you can remember. I will light flames for them and fan them through the night as I have done for… for Melina, for Blaidd and Iji, for Goldmask and Corhyn, for Thops, Darian, Fia, Devin, Rogier… even Sellen and… and Jerren.”

“And you will promise to do all you can to save the ones you could spare, with as much firmness as you promised to do all you can to defeat the Rot.”

She wondered whether she had any right to ask him that, but if he did indeed wish her hand in marriage-

“I give you my word, my… dearest.”

It was the first time he had used the endearment- or indeed, any endearment which might be considered beyond a simple linguistic formalism. He even mustered up the will to give her a kiss on the lips, albeit a feathery wisp of a kiss.

“Now.” he said, drawing up that impeccable composure once again when she had set him down, “My word would mean little if I have nothing to work on. I was hoping you – or indeed anyone - might have some ideas on how I could halt your Knights’ Rot. If you, er, could somehow communicate with your brother despite his state-“

“Don’t tell him.” Miquella said abruptly, and though she couldn’t imagine why, she would never question him.

“As it happens, I do have an idea.” she interrupted. It was something she was getting into the habit of doing. “The only way that I am certain will prove effective is to employ my brother’s needles. They can at least restrain my Knights’ Rot and still let them wake and… be themselves. The affliction might entirely be halted as soon as we contrive to rid me of mine.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t found any others, save the enchanted one which changed when I gave it to you.” Alagos said, somewhat ruefully. “It might be that I haven’t looked thoroughly enough-“

“No, no, it’s impossible for you to not have been thorough enough. This is, sadly, not unexpected.” she affirmed immediately, thinking a bit. “It seems our only recourse is to make some of our own.”

She rounded on him fully, at which he looked slightly embarrassed. Though she’d flustered him many a time before, it still surprised her to see this- this wise, masterly, adamant-willed tempest- look out of his depth.

“That might have been possible were I anything of a smith. Even if I could learn, I am sure craft of this subtlety is meant for no less than the hand of a master- and the one master smith I know is cursed only to forge weaponry.”

“I could… teach him.” said Miquella, suddenly. Malenia might even have whistled a little, before she told Alagos as much. The former Tarnished looked incredulous.

“First off, how in the world is your brother going to reach me? Is waking him not one of the… tasks we must attend to? Secondly, even if I could learn, would it not take too much time for us to avail of anything I could hypothetically-“

“Forging a needle requires patience, discipline and an absolute control over oneself. I need not remind you that these are all qualities you not only possess, but exemplify.” Too much so, in my opinion. “I am certain you will take to it like a- lobster to an unsuspecting target.”

Alagos grumbled. “I’d hate to disappoint you. Nevertheless, I am certain a task such as this will require nothing less than direct instruction.”

“And you will have it. My brother might appear asleep, but he is invincible within dreams. All you must do is open your mind to him and he shall appear to you, teaching you. It is how he taught our Knights their incantations, such that not an hour in their days was wasted and they could grow to be the greatest warriors these lands have to offer. More than that, I assure you that he will be the gentlest teacher you have ever had, as well as the most patient. Not that you would ever require it.”

Alagos’ expression had morphed into one of more than a little puzzlement at that last sentence. He looked down at a withered hand, as if studying its map of lacerations for the first time.

Finally, he said- “Forgive me, my… dearest, but I do not dream.”

“And why would that be?”

“Ah… complex sorcery. Rather awful if you think of it too deeply. At some point. Likely irreversible.” he said, in a broken avalanche of the curtest phrases she had ever heard.

Alagos, Alagos. It was a case of nightmares, no doubt, and her fool had simply chosen to be… expedient, again. She felt tempted to pick him up, then and there, lay his head on her lap and lull him to sleep.

“Thankfully,” she said with some exasperation, “Miquella happens to be of the foresighted sort. If he had imagined that somebody quite so strange as you would stumble upon the Haligtree one day I cannot tell; but he did prepare a… draught, of a kind, which would let him speak to one he could not approach otherwise. It is called the dreambrew.

“Dreambrew.” Alagos muttered, tasting the word on his tongue. “Dreambrew. It sounds vaguely familiar, though I cannot recall hearing anything of its ilk.”

“Then perhaps you are aware of the existence of slumber fog?” she asked instead. Miquella had rather enjoyed the existence of slumber fog as a fact of reality. It was one of those little things he knew all about that other scholars puzzled over for days and nights on end, and there were few things that delighted Miquella more than knowing things his objects of interest didn’t.

“Aware?” Alagos said, and there was a hint of anger to his voice. “Of course I’m… aware of the… rumours that have to do with it. Frankly, I thought it all a hoax. There is no evidence of such a thing, and I was surprised at the sheer number of wasted conjectures the Carians came up with about it.”

Ah, so Alagos, too, had been one of those ‘scholars’ for a time. How utterly precious.

“I can teach you how to collect it, if only you could take me somewhere it is found in abundance. We will, of course, have to take several necessary precautions to ensure that Miquella is safe- even if you already slew most of what might threaten him in the wider world.”

It was risky, leaving her brother like this, but Miquella’s strength was far from spent and grew steadily by the day. If they collapsed the sending-gate in the snowfield, and if she could persuade Alagos to draw the medallion from the Grand Lift of Rold as they left, the Haligtree would be closed off to any prospective assailants- and Miquella would not be taken by surprise again.

“If you are certain we can risk that…” Alagos said in the pensive, mathematician-like tone he employed when considering factors weighed on a balance, “It might be worthwhile visiting the few friends I have left. They reside in Stormveil Castle, which was my first, ah, conquest.”

“We might learn something that might aid us in our struggle against the Rot.” Malenia said. “Miquella will undoubtedly urge us to go, even if he does overestimate his own ability to ward off threats. And frankly, dearest,” she said, mimicking the endearment to a very satisfying little start from him- “I had been looking forward to another adventure together for some time.”


Somehow I still aten't ded. You can rest assured I won't definitively stop updating this until I write 'I is probly ded'. That said, I'm trying to get back into writing and have probably become horribly rusty. Please, do tell if that is the case. As always, I welcome all forms of commentary.

Don't worry, I didn't forget Finlay (I couldn't possibly) and she is certainly going to be addressed. The only reason she hasn't been thus far is because Finlay being addressed would lead to Ranni needing to be addressed and that bit is proving a nightmare to write. Ranni and Alagos' relationship is best described as an Escher painting.

I actually had this chapter done on Tuesday, then abruptly realised it was Valentine's Day and I absolutely refuse to do that. Once again, I can't promise anything, but I hope to return to at least bi-weekly and then weekly updates soon.

Chapter 15: Life is a message scribbled in the Dark


In which Miquella takes action and assists Malenia in remembering a few critical things, Alagos struggles between admiration and suspicion, and a beloved Cleanrot Knight who directly or indirectly might have saved all three of them is addressed at last.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The plot was working well thus far. Not everything had transpired according to design, but perhaps he preferred it this way. He would hardly find it fulfilling to build an empire if there were no obstacles to it.

Evidently, their fiery friend lacked the innate, ghastly spiritual strength he had once wielded, and was no longer of that form. He was as human as a Tarnished could be- and yet, he had made up for it in skill and fortitude. There remained still the utmost impetus to be wary of him. A little check there.

The standard methodology to secure his loyalties had proven futile (a little cross there). However curious Miquella found himself, it would not be wise to attempt to tear into his mind again. And though Malenia had certainly risen again to the point where she might defeat him fairly, she had no way to restrain him. Besides, the Lord of the Unalloyed would never pursue that option. He would never inflict that terrible choice on his little sister, whose rare smile was worth more than a thousand worlds and every memory in the multitudes of lifetimes within each.

More than that, he recognised that the only reason he could avail of those options was due to Alagos’ own efforts. A darkly poetic form of irony, that he should have assisted another to rise to a height perhaps greater than his own- but Miquella had never appreciated irony, not after the suffering he and his had endured at its hand. If Alagos of the west winds was to be bound to his will, it would be through Miquella’s merit alone.

And so he placed a little check on the last avenue; Alagos’ weakness for Malenia herself, and curious susceptibility to suggestion thereof. It was only fitting. As ever, he and his sister were two halves of the same whole, and if he attempted to truly achieve anything, he would require her aid along the way.

Stormveil Castle awaited, along with a window of insight into his strange guest’s life. Alagos was in the Haligtree’s prayer room at present, reading from some of Miquella’s own notes about Unalloyed Gold and its creation, even as he fed an array of candles with a steady stream of flame in his promised night-long vigil for those lost. The emotion lent to the act and the part of his inexhaustible spirit which gave of itself to the flame was enough fuel for Miquella to call raw magic into being, strengthening himself- much like a god would off a follower’s worship.

His rising awareness and strength let him place another golden-red ward on Elphael, shielding it from the influence of the Unseen. He made it a point to learn from all his errors, and he refused with all the might in his being to be caught off-guard again. If something thought to breach his defences, it would have a battle with its own mind at hand.

His awareness turned to Malenia, standing proud and tall on the front bridge, gazing up at the false sky. She had returned, with the sending gate in the snowfield duly collapsed. Preparations were well underway.

“Not cold in the slightest, sister dear?” he prompted, with gentle affection. “I trust there were no obstacles in your way?”

“No, and no.” she replied, with possibly some disappointment at the latter. “Alagos claims there was once a- malformed star, I think that was the term he used- lurking in the Yelough Anix tunnels. Sometimes I find his meticulous nature a bit of a shame. I would have liked to have seen that.”

And fought it, no doubt. Nevertheless, the information was suggestive. He had had the tunnels patrolled in his time and found nothing, save a few curious dragonscales pertinent to… other work. Perhaps it might have been one of the creatures which brought the sagas of the three eternal cities to their ill-fated conclusion, burrowing up there in the years he had been taken from his fief.

He dismissed that line of thought for now, focusing on the two parallel trains he presently kept running.

“While at Stormveil, if you find it possible, excavate all you can about dear Alagos’ past. He has demonstrated a willingness to answer questions- and truthfully - if you are the one to ask them, and what he has to say might prove suggestive for many of our current endeavours, whatever his regrets might be.”

Malenia halted awhile, before walking on. “I can understand the appeal of that, brother dearest, and I look forward to few things more than the tales he might have to offer. Nevertheless, it does not seem- right – without good reason. I have not asked because he is willing to share all he knows about the Rot without the need for questioning, and there appears otherwise a great deal of pain he associates with his past. There is no reason for me to unearth another bevy of regrets.”

Interesting. That led his second line of thought to its conclusion. There certainly was something Malenia would unearth if she could, whatever her or Alagos’ thoughts on the matter. That she hadn’t proved it irrevocably; the damned Rot had torn away that memory. Again.

He calmed his steadily-rising fury, manipulating it to interfere constructively into his sorcery instead. “You misunderstand, ‘Nia. It might do more harm to leave these regrets buried. You might have faith in your beloved’s ability to come to you with them in time, but I thought it better to know of them myself, so I might help him with them. It might hurt momentarily, perhaps, but the sooner I know, the sooner he might heal.”

Of course, there was no need to tell her how useful regrets might prove to be, particularly with their application in proving suggestive for courses of action for him to take. If Miquella were to bring closure to these regrets, Alagos would- in ideal conditions- wilfully accept him as his true Lord.

His sister deserved tranquillity and contentment, and did not require involvement in complications that might arise from attempting to bring those about.

Malenia seemed to consider his words awhile, before her trust in his judgment inevitably prevailed. “If you say so, Miquella. I did notice my Alagos has a certain fixation on being ‘dignified’ about past wounds, which may well be a subtle expression of his peculiar form of paranoia.”

Shrewd of her. Too shrewd, as she had always been. Miquella allowed himself a certain degree of pride, balanced with some worry at whether she might see the scope of all he did in some time. In fact- if her affliction was cured- he would bet a fair amount on it. He felt the presence of a ticking clock to adhere to. It drew his attention to his present work with a focus redoubled.

The course of that train of thought concluded, he picked up the other one.

“Our friend could not be luckier, could he?” A mental blush, almost instantaneously quelled into nothingness by that mighty will. “For the moment, however, I suggest you pursue some rest.”

Her lips quirked up a little. “You, of all people, have no place asking me to rest. There must be a story to tell.”

“There is.” Miquella affirmed, more solemnly than she would have expected. For one who inferred as much as she did from the smallest details, it was an ample warning- prepare.

“A matter of that weight? I had better get to it.”

Sweet Malenia, swift to action as ever. He extended tendrils of his being in ghostly fingers as she drew up that one chair of hers next to his cocoon, drawing them through that scarlet hair he so fondly remembered.

Now to attempt to restore some precious memories that should never have been lost, and conclude his second train of thought. He congratulated himself on his planning, as he had positioned the matter doubly as a test of Alagos’ faith and temperament. If he responded affirmatively- which he was beginning to suspect he would- the Lord of the Unalloyed would have the signal he needed to set all his plans in motion in earnest.

“I shall never part with a perennial gift; never douse a flame everlasting. There is no farewell I bid, for those who live on in my memory, which must live at least as long as I. If there is a way for me to be with you on your new journeys- as you are surely with me on mine- I wish I am of some comfort to you. Until our next meeting.”

A thought doused the candles at the crack of dawn, his vigil at an end. He had said the same words he had for every friend he had mourned, after Miriel had taught them to him. The Knights had, after all, kept his beloved safe and let Millicent be.

Now, to consider that curious set of notes. Malenia had found the old, dusty journal somewhere in an alcove for him to read, and it was in her brother’s firm, precise script.

There had been nothing more fitting for him to do while stoking the little flames than work towards the end of the Rot, and Miquella’s work had proved instructive to an extent he had found in no other work thus far.

Much of this research was- nothing less than revolutionary- if only it was released. And yet, the Lord of the Unalloyed appeared to have hit a brick wall, after which he chose to focus on his own ascension as a true god, in hopes that new insights might arise thenceforward.

Godhood. Alagos pursed his thin lips, wrestling with his idiosyncratic distaste for the concept. Formerly, his response to any true deity might have been to stay as far removed from their attention as he could, or otherwise plot their downfall if possible. As he aged, he was not so sure.

The world might have been filled with injustices, but power in the hands of a god seemed a spurious solution. There was a certain comfort he found in an indifferent universe; a universe which functioned as it did according to no ‘will’ but logic.

Even so, there were gods- Outer Gods- and of them, the less said, the better. He certainly could sympathise with Miquella’s clear intent to excise them. And yet, if it could be done, what would that leave Miquella as? An undisputed power and an ultimate authority over the Lands Between, which he could never bring himself to agree with in any event, no matter how well-intentioned and genuinely benevolent the ruler might be.

And then there was Malenia. He refused to think of that particular complication and abandoned his present line of thought entirely, shifting his focus instead to the nature of the text.

The Empyrean’s work had been meticulous to a clearly inhuman extent he had only seen once before. Nearly every factor had been considered, and Miquella had thought of avenues and possibilities he himself felt like a fool for being ignorant of. There was a defined structure to his scientific method, a clear objective in sight- and by the Erdtree, those little annotations to tie his thoughts in with other disciplines were indicative of nothing less than a genius at work.

He would have thoroughly admired the writer off the merit of this work alone, were it not for a certain characteristic reticence. There was a measured approach and each sentence was considered, thought about before being penned, but the writing lacked the characteristic colour and life of Ranni’s-

He ground his teeth together and blinked twice or thrice. It may have been futile to hope Ranni would ever stop haunting him. It had looked hopeful, and by some miracle he had managed it for five years or so, only for – this. He had thought the work reminded him of something, and now he knew precisely what. If anything, however, the warning had come at the right time.

The strange reticence, the constant remarks about an ‘Old Lord’ and ‘broken parts lightly shifting time’, the offhand, even throwaway remarks about godhood where it had been a very real priority, and the fact that the Lord of the Haligtree lay enwrapped in a cocoon even now?

He did not want to fall victim to a surplus of trust again, but he could not bring himself to think of Malenia’s faith with any scepticism. With her gift for sensing lies and her aversion to them, she might have been nothing less than the most trustworthy person he had ever met.

Alagos sighed. His self of a decade ago would have suggested consulting Gurranq. The clarity of his friend’s mind after he had shaken off his madness was an astounding thing, and he doubted anyone had done as much for him apart from Melina herself. Nevertheless, he would need Miriel’s counsel, as he could not bring himself to do anything Malenia might be hurt by.

Perhaps he should finally prompt a meeting between the wisest among his friends. He had been avoiding the great deal of shock that would certainly come about as consequence, but he had never imagined he would have need of a balance between both their counsels.

The Tarnished set the matter aside for the time and nearly contemplated rest, before being reminded that it was apparently his lot to never receive any at precisely the wrong circ*mstance.

“Finlay.” said that deep, melodic voice he so adored. “Finlay.”

Turning around, he saw Malenia at the door to the prayer room, having arrived so swiftly and yet so light of foot that he had been taken utterly by surprise. Her presence was like a thunderclap; all brilliant light clad within overmastering force.

“What became of her?” she demanded, striding in and towering over him, a monolith gazing imperiously at a mortal. Her voice achieved some manner of resonance with the rushing of his blood that would precede a duel, giving rise to a thrum into his temple that would not cease until he answered.

He looked at the towering goddess of war he had come to love and thought instead of Miriel and of Gurranq, and those decades of self-mastery proved their worth again, enforcing placidity.

“I killed no one by the name of ‘Finlay’, if that is what you ask.” he said, with a calming tone, while beginning to feel a little worried for her.

“That is not what I ask. I know that you would not have done such a thing.” came the rapid, fierce reply. “I asked if you know precisely what became of her.”

“Hmm.” he muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Finlay. It seems I have heard that name before, but where-“

“Where?” Malenia asked, and there was something incredulous in the words. “Where? Finlay, greatest among the Commanders who flew our banner. Finlay, she who was foremost among my Cleanrot Knights. Finlay- the greatest friend I have ever had- no less than the greatest companion anyone could ever ask for!”

“One moment. Please.” he insisted, raising a hand. She had no reason to be angry at him, which meant she was- furious with herself, for whatever reason.

“Evidently, she was a person whose name you feel anyone should know, and hail at that. With time, that might yet be the case. Her importance to you must have been very great.” he said at last, choosing to employ a methodical approach.

“Your talent for understatement makes itself apparent yet again.” she muttered, in a sardonic fashion he was not at all used to.

He had a hunch about what all this meant, and when he thought about it, it nearly made him equally furious.

“My dearest Malenia,” he began, in the gentlest manner he could muster, “has the Rot attempted to take your memories of… Finlay? Is that what sits at the heart of your sudden wrath?”

Her hand clenched, then unclenched. Such a gesture from her would have been the equivalent of an ocean of bitterness from nearly anyone else.

Yes.” she admitted, almost sounding angry at him having understood it. “And it should never have been thus. She meant far more than any frailty in this gods-damned universe should. I was weak.”

She levelled her face at his eyes, and for all that she had none of her own, it was piercing.

“You have skill with the cogs and meshes within minds. I never forgot Miquella, nor my duty. I even remembered Loretta. I remembered my teacher, the Saint of Blades. Why could the Rot take my memory of Finlay from me? Does this perchance mean I took her for granted? Did I not… love her enough, as she deserved?”

Her voice was shaking. Not even when she had lain bleeding and spent before his equally exhausted form had her voice been shaking.

No. That is not at all true.”

His voice had always been firm, but soft. These words were hard and adamantine, as he had put all the extent of his will within them.

“The Rot is a thing that takes and takes until it can take no more, all in an apparent quest to draw away that which it deems ‘imperfect’ in life until it has created its own, chosen lifeform. What manner of bonds would it strike at, if not the deepest ones?”

“I should have been strong enough to remember her, among all others.”

“It is not a question of strength!” he exclaimed. “You did not forget Miquella or your duty because you claim you could not live without them, and the Rot hardly wants its vessel dead. You did not forget Loretta as she guarded your brother while he slept, and was therefore an equally essential variable. Therefore, the Rot took what it could, what it deemed held you back the most. Your love for Finlay must have outshone your love for all else save Miquella and his cause, but it was not something necessary for you to live- and frankly, if you had thought it so, I would have deemed it unhealthy. And furthermore, it could not take that either!”

Her jaw had opened a little, in slight disbelief.

“You see evidence of my failure thereof before your own eyes, and yet-“

“And yet you remembered!” he asserted, triumphant. “The most that thing could do was hide your memories beneath a veil, but when reminded of her- as I assume you were- you remembered. Had you not, your words would not have carried such force, and you would not have felt such anger. I know what it is to lose memories, wilfully or otherwise. A certain hollowness afflicts you, with a consistent feeling of lost potential. You- mourn, because you must have loved deeply, and that love, quite clearly, still remains.”

She stared for a long, steadily-extending moment, likely twisting between thoughts of unfathomable depth. That anger left, steadily, and the shock departed in short order with it, both replaced by an emotion closely evocative of wonder that he had no suitable word for. Erdtree, he needed Gurranq and some sense in his life. This goddess was going to be the death of him.

“Now, you will sit down, think of your brother, and let me have the moment’s peace I need to think of where I had come across Finlay’s name.”

She did as he asked, even choosing to accept when he offered her his chair. He decided to find his tea set and begin brewing a pot, hoping he had not run out of fresh leaves at the present (voracious) rate of consumption.

Working on a brew always helped him focus, even if Malenia insisted on watching with that unerring gaze as he did. Finlay, Cleanrot Knight.

Had Millicent mentioned her? Once or twice, perhaps, but only as one of those great heroes to be admired from a distance. They had clearly not known each other.

Had she been at Aeonia? She must have been, if she was the greatest of the Cleanrot Knights, but in what capacity? He did not remember hearing anything of her in Caelid or on a marching-post or memorial for that matter, leaving the Haligtree as the only location the name might have come up.

Was the name tied to something he customarily ignored, perhaps? Of all the memories he had, those of the Haligtree were by far the ones he was least likely to forget-

A look at the prayer room and a bit of thinking sent the lightning bolt through his thoughts.


His first palm found its way inevitably to his forehead. The second immediately quelled the flame, as he was hardly in the state of mind to risk a brew.

“What is it?”

“Bleeding Morgott and that horrid stick.”

A remarkable thing, how Malenia’s anger of a few moments ago could turn so easily to concern for him. She glanced once at the doused flame and then at him, and the very next instant, her arms were somehow on his shoulders.

“Agh. Please, sit down. I am- afraid- I have a tale to tell.”

Was every single choice of his going to result in some form of catastrophe in later years? He had thought his habit of not summoning spirits and letting them rest had been the right thing to do, as they deserved their rest.

As Rennala would say, though, nearly every law had its exceptions. He summoned the spirit ashes in the neat little pouch he had made for them. Their histories made themselves known to his mind whenever he obtained them, and he had written them all down in a convenient little journal should they prove to be of relevance.

At some point, he had clearly stopped paying attention to his own writings. As he called the journal to his hand from sparks of grace and began to read, he understood that ‘Bleeding Morgott and that horrid stick’ could not have been a more apt phrase to describe the gravity of his ignorance in this case.


Ranni (looks at Camera): And he thought I was being manipulative! (hides 4D Chess Tesseract-board)

I purposely didn't write a flashback or otherwise a scene from Malenia's perspective to maintain a certain ambiguity to what her and Finlay's relationship might have been. I do rather like Malenia/Finlay as a 'ship', and in fact this story in its original conception would have handwaved Finlay's death and had that as the romantic relationship, though Alagos still existed and had a more platonic friendship with Malenia. That form was eventually abandoned as portrayals changed for... next chapter reasons.

With the story its present form, however, I recognise I could not do that relationship the justice I would want to since Finlay is... no more. I also wish to purposely avoid writing flashbacks for an important reason to be revealed later.

Of course, this also means the Ranni-sized elephant in the Room must also be addressed. Though Alagos hasn't completely noticed Miquella doing Miquella things, he might not be wrong to think he really needs a Maliketh right about now.

...I might also have a lot to say about Morgott and that stick.

Chapter 16: And what does Sempiternal mean?


In which Maliketh sets his own plans in motion, Malenia gives tribute to Finlay's memory, and our protagonists journey to Stormveil while the residents try not to panic.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Óðr! Skaði! Close, now, and hark.” the Black Blade commanded, and his two kindred obeyed, turning to him.

They did not truly have names, of course; they were neither ‘kindred’, nor ‘people’ in any true sense of the word. They were little more than Gargoyles furnished with corpse-wax that reeked of death, taught – if things could indeed be ‘taught’ – to wield arts close to Destined Death.

And even so, Maliketh had chosen to name them, and call them kin. After all, if they were constructs crafted and not birthed, which existed solely for the purpose of serving a master, he would be no different. In that way, they truly were ‘kindred’. Furthermore, it brought fulfilment to treat them as people, to cherish their victories and counsel them to move past their errors, and if anything, he had earned the luxury of some companionship.

“Long hath the hour of our return been forestalled, and longer still must Marika bear the burden of imprisonment ere her triumphal march. I impressed upon Alagos the merit of haste upon treading the path of the lord, and have yet to hear a word in reply.”

The two Black Blade Kindred held their polearms in reverential salute, and said nothing. They had never said anything, for they had not been built to. He had missed them nevertheless.

“He said ‘twould be unwise of us to pronounce him a lord anointed, but I judged him and felt him worthy in his wisdom, and in the learnings of his years.”

A decision reinforced by Óðr’s presence, mended, hale and- home. Even if the presence of a sentry at the Grand Lift of Rold had been rendered unnecessary, what with the only Tarnished with a reasonable claim to lordship being one Maliketh trusted with his life, Alagos had gone above and beyond what might have been reasonably expected of him in sparing the Gargoyle’s form after a bout of honourable combat, and then working to reunite them all.

Sometimes, he envied his followers their single-mindedness of faith. Óðr had flown, unwavering, through storms and blizzards, fire and war and finally the stolidness of Rot in the air upon receiving Alagos’ directions to the Bestial Sanctum. And of course, at the end, his dear Tarnished had arrived ready with corpse-wax from the husks of slain valiant gargoyles, with which they had mended Óðr’s wings.

“I owed gratitude and a blessing unto Millicent, his ward, for the wisdom that our lord now weareth as his crown, and so felt not afeard when he declared his intent to stave off her sickness ere he freed Marika. And yet it hath been… too long, since last I heard from him. He hath not called to me, for I have found aught in my readings that might be of aid, but he hath surely not found success, for if he had, we would be the first in ken.”

It had been far too long since that last visit. Far too long that Marika had had to wait. Maliketh had argued, once, that should Alagos restore the Elden Ring and Marika’s rule, she might have been able to lift Millicent’s curse. If Marika had grown weary of the Golden Order and the Greater Will as Alagos had suggested, then surely there must be no restraints on her to keep her from lifting such a curse, and accepting Millicent as her own?

Alagos had remained unconvinced, sadly. It had mostly been a case of the Tarnished’s own unwillingness to rule, and his insistence that he was not to be trusted with power.

He would have been correct if this were a question of two and a half decades past. Maliketh raised a paw to his chest, and felt the warmth of the golden light within. Another magnificent gift. Morgott, King of Leyndell, had been the bearer of this great rune once, and it had now restored the Black Blade to nearly his old stature.

Alagos had been ashamed of himself when he had entrusted the Rune to him, unable even to bear the sight of it. He had given it to Maliketh not as a gift, but as a sign of trust and for his own relief. Even the Black Blade himself had been appalled at the torching of Leyndell. It had felt far too similar to his own past duties.

Witless Tarnished, why covet Destined Death? To kill what?

It was plain that Millicent’s presence taught Alagos things Maliketh himself could not, and granted wisdom and care Maliketh might have lacked. And so he had let Alagos go, off on another mad quest defying fate.

If he succeeded in defying the Outer God of Rot and returned to claim the Elden Ring, he would be wholly and utterly a better person, greater and wiser despite already claiming to greatness and wisdom- and, therefore, a finer consort for his half-sister.

Now, though- the Black Blade found himself growing worried. Unless he left the Lands Between entirely, Alagos would certainly have visited. He had never been away this long without a visit. Maliketh had considered himself incapable of missing anyone, before his kindred’s return corrected that error in his appraisal.

“There is yet another who might know where our lord-to-be resteth - Pastor Miriel, of the Church of Vows, whom I knew in days past. If he resideth yet in Liurnia, ‘twould mayhap be fruitful to seek counsel there. I fear Alagos hath been stricken, whether by wanderlust or danger I know not.”

The Black Blade Kindred stood just as sharply, just as raptly. As ever, he did not truly know if they were listening- or if they could indeed ‘listen’. They had learnt their bladework by watching him.

“Come, then! Let us away to Liurnia, and behold what thereat is. Marika’s restoration must not long be delayed.”

His black armour creaked beneath his robes, and he released a small grunt. Leaping and bounding had been somewhat difficult ever since Alagos had insisted on – completing – his plate (whatever that meant). He still saw his lord and former student huffing in a recent memory, muttering about how ‘that nonsense’ couldn’t possibly protect him with all its ‘gaps’ and ‘lack of coverage’, and other terms that meant little to him.

He could not deny, however, that whatever smith had forged the new plate had done so masterfully and perfectly, matching the old craft at each step, and he supposed suffering fewer wounds and being better protected would rather stem the tide of incessant nagging that dear old Alagos might assail him with otherwise.

Here he was, thinking of days past when he ought to be working towards Marika’s return. He growled and leapt, covering the land at an astonishing speed, while his two kindred spread their wings and flew.

“Finlay… carried me here from Aeonia, after the moment I fell.” Malenia repeated quietly, almost speaking with absent mind.

“I have reason to believe she saved us all.” Alagos affirmed, in a somewhat wistful tone. “Your rescue and survival gave Millicent her purpose and prompted her journey hence- without which I would never been given new purpose and new life. Hells, how can I have missed this?”

An unanswerable question. How could he have missed this? How much more had he left unsaid?

You don’t know the half of my tale, came the unhelpful recollection. She began to wonder if she had acted in haste with the promise of a nuptial.

Malenia had thought Finlay an exemplar of true greatness in life. Stalwart, faithful, and through every bone in her body there had flowed an unswerving loyalty. She now found there were simply no words for how much greater she had been- only an empty feeling of admiration at such a thing being possible, as well as the very slight resentment that came with being in another’s eternal debt. Most prominent of all, however, was the empty feeling that came with the realisation that she was truly gone.

“My mind was taken with Rot. She had seen what I did to Radahn, and to all her fellows. Bearing me away must have inflicted the same curse upon her, as well. And yet she carried me here.”

Alagos looked as if he didn’t know what to do with himself. There came yet again that same barrier, in that he had not known Finlay personally. She read him openly even now, and the struggle was plain- ought he to comfort her while not knowing the pain she must have felt, or ought he to join her in mourning? There was a third emotion as well, though one she couldn’t quite place.

“I found her ashes here, in the prayer room. I can only presume I was preoccupied with Millicent’s fate at the time, or I could not have forgotten this. It is likely…” he began and faltered, weighing the next words on his tongue. “It is likely she spent her last moments in prayer to Miquella for your fate.”

She was not prone to outward displays of emotion unless they were aimed at a purpose, either to galvanise her armies, to starve the Rot of its cravings, or simply to inform others of the state of her mind. Here, she simply did not know what to feel.

“Am I to feel honoured- even proud- that I was the recipient of such devotion? Sorry, that the circ*mstance ever came to be? Or otherwise grave, as I cannot think of anything I might have done to- “

“Feel proud.” said Miquella instantly. “Feel proud to have known her and trained her, and given her the principles she so admirably upheld. I can think of none who might deserve this trust save you. None who might deserve such love, devotion and unshakable faith as you. Not even I would, I fear.”

Alagos responded differently. “It is difficult for me to tell how much of this might owe itself to you being her leader, mentor and goddess, and how much to her love of you as a person. I cannot tell how much she felt she naturally owed you this- unimaginable service- and why she did it, whether out of devotion and loyalty or personal affection. What I can tell is that I have met only four people who might inspire another to such an act of heroism, and you are one of them. Alongside Millicent, you are perhaps the most befitting a sacrifice of this expanse.”

She had that assurance, at least. There might have been the inclination to shed tears, or a further reflection of sadness. Instead, she strode to a balcony and looked up, reminding herself that this- this strength, this devotion- was what she and Miquella fought for, and sought to craft a new world for.

“You spoke to me of a bell in your possession, which could call to spirits.” she said at length, seeing Alagos waiting at a distance. His hands were clasped together as if they would tremble otherwise.

“I did. It is remarkable that you remembered.”

“Can I… see her, again? I wish to remember her visage, at least.” she muttered, then laughed bitterly. “Of course, I am sightless. This must seem inane to you. In truth, I myself cannot affirm what it is I wish. Perhaps I wish to remember how she held her scythe. How she stood. How her presence felt when she was close. I am sorry.”

Alagos shut his eyes, and snapped them open abruptly. “I cannot call to spirits unless I am attacked by one with lethal intent, Malenia.” he said, haltingly. “I remain wholly unaware as to why this must be so. Furthermore, I have not used this… thing… in years. I shall tell you why, I promise. Please - it is only that I require some time.”

There was a certain disdain with how he said thing, though the following phrase was slightly sorrowful. The way he spoke was entirely unique in her experience, and it sounded as though he spoke of a bitter memory, which he – for whatever reason – missed.

“Of all the spirits whose ashes I gathered-“ and here his voice grew softer- “only one ever spoke, and in response to a powerful hope for all her kind. She was the only one who became a spirit willingly. I have tried to speak to others, in the past- I took my questions to them, when surrounded by company too distinguished for them. I tried to speak to them about fears and cares when it would not do to show them to anyone else. It was never fruitful. I can only surmise that they rest, and that rest is not worth disrupting.”

So I can never see her again? Never convey my gratitude, nor my pride?

“Do not be too hasty, ‘Nia. At the hour of my victory- if possible- I might strive to claim her soul from the Erdtree’s cycle of rebirth, just as I attempted for Godwyn. There is still hope you might see her again, if I am able to grant her new life. All the more reason we must cure your Rot, and advance from then to an age of abundance.”

Bless you, Miquella. May your ascendancy be swift.

“I only wish I could tell her how much she meant- and means still- to me and Miquella.” she said, for Alagos’ benefit.

To her prospective consort’s credit, he knew very well when to say nothing. She looked at the false sky, thought of Finlay, knocked down into the earth by a well-executed grapple after a training session, and the resolute expression with which the Knight gathered herself up and prepared to hold her blade off a while longer until her inevitable defeat. The thought granted her strength, and a sense of resolve.

A memory that the Rot could not take, only veil.

“I say that a devotee might be compelled to such an act by devotion for their god,” Alagos said at last, “but I have seen that the bonds between you and your knights were not so. Their loyalty was wholly separable from your- divine aspect, which you forwent in favour of your service to Miquella. I- cannot bring myself to imagine that Finlay’s deed can have been one prompted entirely by loyalty to a lord and god. She must have loved you deeply.”

Her thoughts of a moment ago had brought her enough clarity to divine what he was about say almost immediately.

“Forgive me. I must seem woefully lacklustre in comparison- “

Enough.” she hissed, to a startled expression. “I refuse to have another moment of that from you. The next time you open your mouth to spout such…” she thought about which word she should use, “…lies, I will do all I might to shut it. That is another thing you shall never say again.”

Blatantly ordering him around was typically something he would have objected to, and it was telling here that he did not.

“As for whether I loved her as more than simply a liege-lord to her Knight, what can I say? The Rot has stricken at that part of my memory. As you noted, I cannot possibly tell you whether she harboured feelings for me. If I did have feelings for her, I did not act on them. And, if I am to be frank, I doubt I would have.”

“Oh.” said Alagos, confused for a moment. “Oh, oh- my dear Malenia, I did not at all intend to ask about that- and, ah, I did not require any, er,” he stuttered, and she walked over to him, feeling strangely taller than she already was.

“Of course you didn’t.” she affirmed, deciding to be kind. It was true, after all. “I thought it would be prudent to tell you that even if I had such feelings, I think I am far too selfish to allow them any more leverage. Finlay was loyal, faithful, utterly devoted to me and I could not possibly ask for more from anyone- but, to some extent, she would never have considered herself my equal. She would have followed me to whatever end I would have led her to, but never once attempted to strike a path of her own while in my presence.”

“Selfish? How does selfishness have any effect on this- whatever this is?”

“I think,” she said quietly, mulling over her own thoughts, “I would only tie myself to one who would challenge me, provoke thought and question me. One who would still follow where I lead, but only after chasing me and affirming that I have made the correct choice. One capable of shaking my perceptions, who would push me to grow stronger and become every day better, not simply out of love for them but as part of a genuine interest to keep up and stand at the same height. Would you consider that selfish?”

“Perhaps I might.” he replied, looking down and apparently wrestling with something. “Malenia, I had hoped it was somewhat plainer that I do not, in fact, consider myself your equal.”

“And your self-awareness in certain aspects is nothing less than pathetic, as previously discussed and proven, so let us leave it at that.” she finished, looking once again to the sky.

“I shall miss Finlay dearly, and always bear the sentiment that we ought to have had more time together. No amount of remembrance of times lost, however, is going to accomplish our next task. Have you prepared everything for our journey to Stormveil Castle?”

“There is just one thing.” he replied after some time, glad for the distraction. “You mentioned that I must find a way to source Unalloyed Gold for the needles, as its creation is another matter of complexity in an entirely different field. As it happens, I… might indeed have a source at my disposal.”

“Well? Where is it?”

“Allow me an evening.” said Alagos. “I would prefer it if I were alone - for this matter and nothing else, I assure you. It would be easier for me, I think. I’ve broken down enough in your presence already.”

Ah. She shook her head as it immediately became apparent what the source was.

“Please.” was all she said, giving leave, and sat down with a palm to her forehead to contemplate the sad weight of that particular matter. It occurred to her that her present mannerism was a remarkable mimicry of one of Alagos’ common gestures.

Such a pity, that the kindness within both of them would arise as a consequence of repeated grief- but it was, after all, another way in which they were alike.

When he met her in the prayer room the next day, clutching the unearthed prosthetic close to his heart, she promptly embraced him- gently, for once.

“It isn’t my place to say, but- if I knew Millicent at all, this is what she would have wanted, I think.” he whispered softly into her chest, while she stroked carefully at the wispy silver locks of his hair.

“Did Diallos and Jar-bairn portend anything of their return?”

“I don’t know, Lady Nepheli.” said Rya, in her soft voice. The words were demure in an almost affected fashion, as if spoken by a subject to her lord.

“Please, no more of that. We are all friends here. I chose to let you abide here for your own merits and to have you as my companion all those years ago. Someday, I trust you, too, will receive lands of your own – perhaps to rule, or otherwise to guide.”

She had the passing years to blame, of course. Curious that the two of them hadn’t aged a day in appearance for all that time. Nepheli suspected her lineage, in her own case, which might have been true for Rya as well. On the other hand, governing Stormveil, restoring some semblance of parity to Limgrave and growing a kingdom out of the tattered remnants of nothing had brought some firmness into her eye, and a harshness to her hand. She supposed she could not fault Rya for the distance she sought.

“I, um,” her friend looked unsure what to say, before clearing her throat. Her stare was strangely piercing, in either of her forms. “They left, as you know, for the Badlands, after they heard tell of some ‘upheaval’. A Great Chieftain of old, or so they say, has returned. I… can only presume they wish to have audience, and shall return upon their achievement of this aim.”

Ever since those two had settled in Stormveil under her guardianship, Rya was the one in whom they had shown the most trust. Nepheli suspected that Rya was the only one to ever have shown any kindness to Diallos at their accursed former home.

“A Great Chieftain?” Boc perked up, from where he was buried within a veritable pile of cloaks. Nepheli could only think of one answer as to why he saw fit to store and attend to quite so many cloaks.

“I have reason to believe your ‘lord’ will have heard of it from other mouths already, if indeed there is such an upheaval. There’s no need to eavesdrop, Boc.”

Sometimes, the seamster would grow overzealous in his perceived service to his lord, even if that lord had told him very plainly that he wanted a friend and an ally, not a servant. Nepheli sighed. Speaking of great champions, she was lately often struck by the desire that Alagos simply leave them all well enough alone.

It was true that the Lord of Fire she had known had mellowed. He had abandoned his quest for power and made an attempt to become a mentor, and eventually an adoptive father. She had nothing but praise for Millicent, and the change she had fostered in the former Slayer of Kings.

And yet, there remained those vices, those haunts. His closest friend, Erdtree’s sake, was Marika’s Black Blade. He had once pledged himself to the Lunar Princess, who was- if she understood correctly- the mightiest wielder of sorcery ever to live. He had given her much, but almost too much.

“How have your efforts with our people progressed?” Nepheli asked instead, and Rya looked for once happier.

“Ah. Um. My fellow serpents make the best progress. They know very well to speak, and Roderika and I have been teaching them to read. I have introduced them to the… council that seems to have developed to lead the Misbegotten, and they seem to have found some common ground.”

She looked proud of herself for that, and Nepheli felt similarly proud of her. “What of the Omens?”

“Worse fortune, I’m afraid. There are very few capable of conscious thought. Others have known only pain and a long darkness. Roderika says their spirits ‘wail’. I- I think the King of Leyndell might have had a good reason to keep them in the sewers after all.”

King Morgott of Leyndell. Twenty-five years ago, Nepheli would have cursed his name. She had congratulated his killer, when he had emerged from the smoking ruin Leyndell had been reduced to. She had hated his killer, when he had revealed the truth of the King’s rule, keeping herself restrained only for the Tarnished looked as broken as the city he had razed.

Now, she simply thought of another senseless killing in a long line of unnecessary slaughter, and an error in judgment magnified intensely by knowledge that emerged in the present day.

“We were mistaken, then, in believing the King dispassionate- or otherwise a traitor to his own kind. It is something I have always known deep down, I fear. Keep trying, nevertheless. We must find a way to give them lives of their own.”

“Of course, Nepheli.”

She allowed herself a smile. Rya looked resolute, as strong as serpents were born to be, but also kind as summer. She even remembered not to prefix the ‘Lady’.

“My Lady!” came the cultured, slightly pompous voice, and Nepheli fought a scowl, as Kenneth Haight strode into the throne room. Thinking she ought to act the part, Nepheli walked over and sat down on her throne.

She valued her advisor’s insights and his knowledge of rulership, but those long sessions in argument against the fallacies of the Golden Order and the faults of the Erdtree might have cost her some patience.

“I trust you have something to announce, Kenneth.”

“A dull day only now morphed into a momentous one, my liege.” said Haight, excitedly. “The Lord of Wind and Fire has returned.”

Far away in the courtyard, Nepheli saw Gostoc seize up sharply, and grow terribly still. The poor gatekeeper shook like a leaf.

“With Millicent, I presume?” Nepheli asked, with some hope. Tree forbid he hadn’t decided to bring Maliketh to Stormveil.

“Nay. He may have found an ally greater still.”

“Praytell whom.”

“The former conqueror of this castle- the distinguished Malenia the Severed of the Haligtree- has come again, not as besieger but as our guest!” he announced, feeling very pleased with himself. Evidently, he considered it an honour, and an accolade to the work they had done.

Nepheli and Rya found that they had identical expressions of their faces.

There were few people left in the world with a reputation more chilling than Alagos, and he appeared to have a talent at finding them.

“I see our 'great' Tarnished has done it yet again.” Nepheli muttered to herself, under her breath.


Maliketh: Witless Tarnished, why covet Destined Death? To kill what?

Angry Sorcerer Alagos: You know, I... never really thought about that. Wait, you... might be right, actually.

[Much later]

Alagos: I can't thank you enough, my dear fellow. My life is so much healthier and I don't have to worry about plans within plans within plans and Carian double-meanings and secrets anymore. My friends are actually friends now and don't just tolerate me because I scare them. I have found so much fulfillment in tea-making. I even have a disciple of my own now, and she's the best person in this world! It's all thanks to your wisdom, old chap.

Maliketh: (woof)

Unfortunately, Alagos made the stupendously awful decision to reunite the two Black Blade Kindred. I don't know how Maliketh coerced him into it, but knowing Alagos, he probably offered to let himself be petted behind the ears.

The delay in this chapter was brought to you by a '=' in place of a '==' hidden somewhere within 4,561 lines of code.

Chapter 17: After He'd gone, the Three Young People stood


In which Stormveil greets our protagonists with more fear than cheer, Alagos gives in to a rant decades in the making, and Malenia is equal parts amused and confused.

On the other hand, Boc and Lord Haight are overjoyed while Nepheli, Roderika and Rya rather wish they were rid of their present company.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Was the flame-tongued vortex truly necessary, dearest?” Malenia asked, with a slight hint of mirth. The Banished Knight who had greeted them had worn slightly unfamiliar garb- a previously unseen scarf on their shoulder and a new crest on their tabard- and had sent a Stormhawk flying towards the castle, the moment Alagos had invoked the unfamiliar spell. The Knight had quaked within their boots at the sight of her, though they tried fairly well to hide it.

“The question of how you managed to precisely divine the nature of that particular incantation is worth some interest.” her betrothed replied with a soft smile, as though he had expected nothing less. “Its purpose is limited to the theatrical, in this case, but it is a convenient method of announcing myself. There have been far too many impersonators for my allies to not appreciate certain formalities.”

“And there are few who can wield both fire and wind with such aplomb as my very own Alagos.” the Goddess replied, still smiling. She discovered that Alagos had gotten rather better at restraining his blushes. Pity.

“Stormcaller, but cast with ‘Whirl, o Flame’ already in hand… now how might they be woven into one…” Miquella’s faint voice mused inscrutably. He did tend to grow excited about new possibilities.

The walkway ahead of them was long, unpaved and cratered, as if rent with hammer-strokes by one utterly unconcerned by the state their weapon would be left in. It looked in fact more likely that the bridge had been forced to suffer a dragon’s landing.

“I have several less than fond memories of this place.” Alagos said, walking leisurely ahead with that stately, almost wraithlike gait, espying the faults in the bridge and grimacing. She wordlessly offered a hand to him at that.

“Ah. Thank you.” Alagos said, which surprised her, and she gently took his rough hand within her own. It felt somewhat strange, and was absolutely unlike the Alagos she knew. She felt as though he would never have mentioned his memories at all, with them needing to wheedled out as she had done for all their time together, but there was something clearly, markedly different.

“Would you care to tell me what they might be?” she asked, as she led him through to Stormveil’s main gate, which had opened in greeting. Two more Banished Knights- though perhaps now they ought to be called ‘Stormveil Knights’- greeted them with a deep, low bow, and a parade of lordsworn parted around their sides as if mortally afraid of approaching too close.

“It is rather a matter of embarrassment for me, truth be told.” Alagos said, looking down. “Oh, do stop the pretension of servility, you two.” he bade, looking meaningfully at the two Knights, at which they snuck one further glance at Malenia and attempted to make themselves seem even smaller.

“I cannot tell how they might defend the castle in this state.” she whispered to her fiancé, who nodded his head, entirely missing the subtext.

“I should say! Why, to think I took the trouble to instruct them all in the use of Storm Blade and Vacuum Slice, when they swore service to Nepheli. Whatever I used to be, they should be quite aware I am hardly that anymore.” came the slightly frustrated reply, at which she choked down a snicker. If only he knew whom they quailed in terror at. Miquella, having no such constraints, laughed within her mind.

“Is that one of your matters of embarrassment, dearest?” Malenia asked, all too innocently.

“I fear not. My past I can bear rather gracefully, thanks to Millicent. My… unfond recollections are rather the product of a terribly persistent and, ah, forgive me, unfathomably irritating adversary.”

A more verbose description than she was used to. Alagos did have a certain aristocratic manner of speech, but it was typically employed in monumental understatements, not hyperbole. She felt the vague impression that however much her fiancé pretended to want to forget the matter, he seemed strangely pleased at being able to voice his frustrations about it.

“I sought to have you tell me to share your burdens, but this is making me terribly curious. Pray, continue.”

“Stars, I really mustn’t- “

Continue.” she said sharply, with that stern gaze which helpfully informed him that she saw right through any of his delaying.

“Ah! But if you insist…” he began with a dramatic sigh, at which her smile widened further. A Kaiden Sellsword happened to espy her gleeful face at that moment, considered it the terrible, fey mirth of some mad goddess of war, dropped his blade in horror and ran off.

“My lovely Malenia, I do hope you know I consider you the greatest opponent I have ever faced. Your skill with a blade is matchless, and your encumberment and state of mind was the only reason for my victory.”

“I’m flattered to hear it.” she said, with a theatrical little bow she knew was utterly out of place. ‘Oh, now she mocks us!’, some lordsworn thought, and made a valiant albeit vain attempt to slow their quaking.

There was a caveat, of course. “Our first duel I should feel safe to call my finest accomplishment as a warrior. That you were my most formidable adversary, however, does not mean you were the worst.

Her saintly master had said something similar, once. He had fought and nearly fallen against a peer who had learnt of lightning from the Ancient Dragons, but he spoke of the duel in such a way that made it seem a privilege for him to have participated in it.

“I understand you might have been less inclined to reason in your younger days, but who was it? You seem strangely agitated, and if it is any aid, I’ll have you know I would carve them to ropes if they stood before us now for your sake.”

It did nothing to lighten Alagos’ expression. If anything, he grew even grimmer. Then he alternated between fury and regret, which was something she- in all her long years- had never seen before. The two emotions tended to be mutually exclusive.

“Who was it? Well, a… hellish, raggedy…” he took a deep breath, which to her further surprise didn’t calm him- “Tarnished-hunting bastard of an Omen by the name of Margit the Fell- who- who lacked the decency to even turn up dressed in anything more than a-a-sad excuse for a cloak!”


What in all the Lands Between was he talking about? The name felt vaguely familiar, but it was strange to hear her erudite, articulate Alagos sound so utterly… petty…

“He certainly is a victim to some double standards…” Miquella mused at the worst possible time, at which Malenia unfortunately remembered that horrid little circ*mstance.

“Silence, brother! You, of all, have no right!” she hissed viciously. Attention was not going to be called to that particular matter.

“And he wielded a STICK!” Alagos went on, as if that was something gravely offensive, and Malenia brought both her palms to her forehead. This was, quite suddenly, a very strange world she did not know she inhabited.

“Dearest?” she asked, gently, hoping to restore some reason to the situation. Madness was the furthest thing she would have associated with Alagos, but the very mention of this ‘Margit the Fell’ seemed to morph him into a wholly different being.

“By thunder, I tell you, the- the unbelievably moronic way he saw fit to delay his strikes, not caring if he got bleeding hit in the process so long as he could guaranteeably meet your face with that stick- and that ghastly tail-“


“And he had the gall to say I was of ‘passing skill’ after I had clobbered him a fair bit at constant mortal peril, after which he just proceeded to pull out a treedamned giant crusher- not to mention, he still held the stick-“


“As if that did not suffice already, he was the thrice-damned King, of all the people he could have been, and therefore didn’t just die as everything else well enough did and proceeded to remember my face and have me hunted down for decades while I essentially did his position several favours by defeating his sworn foes-“


The cold, clear command shook free from her throat with the force of a thunderclap, and Alagos’ voice died away, the Tarnished still breathing heavily and audibly. A vein pulsed in his forehead and a bead of sweat had begun forming at his brow.

So forceful had the command been that the entire main enclosure of the Castle had fallen silent, even the Lion Guardian which had been faintly growling an instant ago.

Alagos, to his credit, did have the grace to appear ashamed of himself.

“Forgive me, Malenia. I haven’t a clue what came over me- but ah, perhaps I do. I seem in the habit of losing my senses whenever the name ‘Morgott’ is so much as brought up-“

“Morgott? King of Leyndell?” she asked in surprise, almost in spite of herself. She could feel Miquella listening in rapt attention as well. What, by her sainted father, did this all come to? She thought she had brought some order to the matter, but it had only turned towards the worst, as a thorny vine which grew towards all the wrong places.

Instead of the customary sigh, Alagos released a low, frustrated growl. “I am hardly drunk enough to narrate this tale in all. For the moment, the less questions you ask, the better it will be for you. It all began with a transporter trap some fiend had placed within a chest in a Limgrave dungeon…”

“Send for Master Boc at once. The Lord seems his old self again, and even if it is a passing fit, Lady Nepheli must not see him before he is soothed.” whispered a Banished Knight to her fellow, from a far parapet.

“… I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a particularly perilous duel after surviving the horrors of Caelid by the skin of my teeth. That meteorite staff of mine worked wonders, and I thought to finish him off with a ‘Catch Flame’, when his wounds seemed too great, only for the bastard to delay that final stroke like the venomous little toad he was.”

Malenia did not know whether to feel angry on his behalf or confused on her own. She chose to simply pat her betrothed on the back for his troubles.

“My incantation was successful, but the stick- I tell you, that stick- he swung the stick at the knuckles of my upraised hand. I have never seen any entity leverage any strike with such sheer, calculated precision at the knuckles before or since. He bleeding split them open, doubtless feeling terribly pleased about it. I dropped that dearly-earned meteorite staff into the chasm and resolved never to scream in pain again for the indignity of the subsequent howl. And he still didn’t shut up despite being quite dead while I cursed in pain, grandly enunciating some vainglorious tripe about offering me no quarter. I needed Melina to feed me my damned crimson tears to halt the pain and heal my poor knuckles, through which would course phantom pains for days to come-“

“Dearest,” she said patiently, “We are nearing the end of the tunnel. If I am to guess, several of your old allies are waiting for us in the courtyard beyond.”

The tale had been strangely enlightening. The Rot had certainly carved more gaps in her memory, as she felt familiar with the name ‘Margit’. An Omen, she filled in, and a famed hunter of Tarnished. Miquella had lapsed into a form of stunned shock and was saying nothing, for which she would question him later.

“Ah, lost in reveries. Another unfortunate fault of mine.” Alagos noted. He seemed strangely sad at having to halt his ravings about Margit- or rather, King Morgott. “For now, though, we must greet my old companions and friends. Make what judgment of them you will, though I must warn you, I might not have made the best impression on them in my former days.”

“If you were hounded for years by that deceitful and mighty King himself in the… frankly obsessive fashion you recounted, I would hardly blame you.” she said reassuringly. “Come, now. If I were any of them, I would be proud of your vast acquisitions of strength, knowledge and wisdom.”

“One moment.” said Alagos, seeing that their hands were still linked. “It might not be the soundest course to announce our engagement quite yet. I would not like certain old choices made without foreknowledge hindering your path.”

She raised a brow, and placed her metal hand on his shoulder. “One day, dearest, I will announce to all the Haligtree the pride with which I shall take you for consort, and nothing you or anyone else say might prevent that. For now, however, lead on.”

A series of coughs and a vigorous shake of the head, to which she bent down and touched her forehead to his. “When that day comes, I might have grown to thank you for your faith in me.” he muttered in the faintest possible sotto voce, before calling a subtle wind to have their cloaks billow behind them as they entered the courtyard.

“M’lord! My dear lord!” came the high-pitched squeak, and Malenia nearly shifted her foot forward to bar the way when a diminutive demi-human scurried towards Alagos, with the overjoyed expression associated with a stranger in distant lands who had been handed their favourite delicacy from home.

“Ah! Boc, old friend. Beautiful as ever.” her fiancé said, with the glad, steady warmth she had come to associate with his fires, striding ahead to arrest the seamster before he could kneel and clasping his forearms in a half-embrace.

Beautiful. Malenia noticed belatedly that Alagos almost never used the word. It was interesting to examine whether he tied it to certain concepts or circ*mstances uncommonly associated with ‘beauty’.

The seamster shook, slightly, which explained the word’s use, she deduced. It must have meant a great deal to him.

“Thank you very much, m’lord. I wish me mum could have met you. I’ve done all your cloaks, as requested. And- m’lord- I’ll do this one as well.” he said, voice turning suddenly from soft to critical, espying several tears and frays in his present cloak. Alagos laughed, that same, gentle sound of cascading waters which she dearly wished there was more of.

Malenia decided, then and there, that she liked Boc.

“You embarrass me, dear Boc. But come, now, I have hardly arrived to demand new cloaks. Malenia, this is Boc, finest in his trade in all the Lands Between. Boc, Malenia of the Haligtree, finest swordsmaster in all the Lands Between.”

The seamster seemed to notice her towering form for the first time, and nearly quailed into Alagos’ armour. Something, however, kept him from it. He raised a wary eye to her golden helm, at which she chose to smile very slightly.

It served as enough encouragement for the seamster to sink into a low bow. “Hail, Malenia of the Haligtree. A friend of my lord’s is a friend of mine.”

“Rise.” she commanded curtly, and after some thought, followed with “I am pleased to see my friend has such excellent taste in company.” It was almost too much for the poor seamster, who hid behind Alagos’ robes. Her fiancé had a wry expression, frustrated at what he in his strange sensibilities must have considered unreasonable, but he did gently pat Boc on the shoulder.

“Greetings, Lord of Western Winds and Northern Flame, and hail, mightiest demigod of the Shattering, who knows not defeat. To what does Stormveil owe the honour?” came a low contralto which had been schooled to firmness, and the Empyrean turned her attention to the arriving party of four.

She expected Alagos to voice frustrations at unnecessary formalities, but as the warrior-woman who spoke strode further, she saw his expression harden, and grow slightly despondent.

“No honour, Nepheli.” he said, raising his own voice from its usual softness. “I come seeking temporary accommodations for my companion and myself, in pursuit of an inalienable endeavour towards defying an Outer God.”

At that, the ruler of Stormveil whispered something unintelligible to the two other women who stood beside her. Malenia took the opportunity to examine all of them. The man who had accompanied the three of them was already striding forward in a crisp, formal gait she would associate with a nobleman, but was making towards her, rather than Alagos.

One of the two women beside Nepheli stood hunched in an unnatural manner. Malenia had seen several hunchbacks, and none of them quite evoked the strange feeling this one did. She stood too gracefully, too much at ease, and with far too little indication of pain. There was something secret about her, something veiled.

The other one was demurely clad, hands clasped together, offering advice. Her presence released pulses, in a fashion visible to Malenia’s senses, and she guessed that it must have been the spirit tuner, Roderika. The veiled woman must then be Rya.

“Malenia the Severed herself, in the flesh! I never thought I’d see the day. A privilege among privileges, O Goddess of the Haligtree. Kenneth Haight, at your service.” the nobleman said in a smooth, refined voice, having caught up to her and offered her a sweeping bow. She did not entirely like the title she was associated with and did not bow back, which seemed to have been expected.

“You seem rather familiar with my name, your grace.” she said in a perfectly normal tone, gauging what he might respond with.

“Ah, but who might not be, valiant one? Furthermore, your conquest of the craven former lord of this castle was the sole satisfaction that drove my spirit for years, and I owe personal gratefulness to your name for that. Our friend here must as well, albeit for a different reason.”

It seems he shall be taken by awe no matter what you say or do, Miquella observed, and she agreed with him.

“It pleases me to have brought you some comfort, cold as it might have been. It is for the sake of those downtrodden, and those forced to endure injustices that I have always fought and spent my strength in battles. My brother and I can think of no higher cause.” she replied evenly.

Good. Another Niall, perhaps, to be of aid later.

“Slayer of Kings. An honour as always.” said Haight as an afterthought, nodding at Alagos, who for whatever reason saw fit to reply in a guttural monosyllable.

“I see that in the light of your wisdom, Lord Alagos, you have sworn yourself to the Haligtree and to Miquella. We are pleased that you have found purpose and clarity at last, and shall accept with gladness an alliance with the Unalloyed.” Nepheli said at last, carefully, very much a queen weighing her Kingdom’s options. She did not bear the trappings of a lord, but distinctly bore the mien of one.

“Myself and Malenia have similar aims. As allies, we may accomplish what neither of us might as foes.” Alagos said, just as carefully, and Malenia crossed her arms, levelling her winged helm to look at Nepheli. Even atop some stairs, she felt shorter. To their credit, none of the three trembled, though she still felt sparks and shadows of fear dancing within their veins.

“We seek to rid the Haligtree and perhaps the world of the Scarlet Rot, for which we have come to collect certain... ingredients of a delicate nature. Limgrave is convenient for that purpose, and Stormveil a well-placed lodging.” she spoke up. “Any alliances of a particular nature might be discussed with my brother when he visits this land. I can assure you, however, that if we are treated fairly, the thought of alliance between Stormveil and the Haligtree will be given the highest consideration.”

“Is there any further service we might render to you apart from the provision of lodgings?” Roderika asked, with the tone seemingly helpful. Further examination revealed it just as wary as Nepheli’s.

“I shall have Boc and Hewg working on the resotration of a certain specific set of armour, but we ask no more.” Alagos said. The expression of the seamster, still at his side, grew suddenly half-excited and half-determined.

“Then I shall tell father to rest his strength in anticipation of this great labour.” Roderika replied, with a brief bow, and left with Rya following in her wake.

“We shall require two rooms. Large, adjacent to one another, and supplied with ink for writing.” Malenia dictated to an oddly lanky-seeming steward in commoner’s garb, who had come to receive them. “There shall be no need for a guard.” she added, after some thinking. If Miquella’s powers to shield her dreams did not stretch quite this far, pillows of a certain nature might be necessary.

“May you rest content in the heart of my Kingdom, Goddess. Lord.” Nepheli said, and left at last. The words were said in a manner that made it plain she felt had no choice, as she could not stop them from conquering Stormveil in a trice if she wished. Malenia got the impression Nepheli had her eyes on them even as she retreated.

Alagos shook his head in a distinctly unhappy fashion, and began to chase after her. Perhaps this might have been part of the problem.

She decided to pull Boc aside and prepare her little surprise. The seamster squeaked at facing her without Alagos to seemingly shield him, but to his credit, he held his composure.

“Master Boc,” she said softly and kindly, which elevated his courage almost instantly. She guessed he had not associated her with softness or kindness at all otherwise. “I know you are sworn to the sole service of my, ah, friend, but would you perchance accept a commission from me?”

“Gladly, my lady!” he said, all too quickly.

“Not ‘my lady’, pray. I have never ruled, only led in battle. Now, this commission is a cloak, for none other than Alagos, though you mustn’t tell him. The embroidery is of the Haligtree, and I am told it is fairly difficult to sew, but your talents seem well-suited to its accomplishment…”


Matching cloaks! Somebody distract Maliketh before he finds out...

I love Morgott as a character, and several people here have also come to have sympathy for him. He is probably my second or third favourite amongst the demigods behind a very predictable first place. Unfortunately, I rather doubt he'd endear himself to the Tarnished he's hunting.

And yes, Alagos did get caught in the Caelid transporter trap and just proceeded to... live there for a while, too paranoid to teleport back in case something fishy happened to him. This turn of events made him far more formidable as a necessity, but he used to be a bit of an angry little fireball as a side-effect.

This is why you should befriend Maliketh, folks. But beware of trying for any ending apart from 'Elden Lord' afterwards...

Chapter 18: Well, shall we try the preview of Remorse?


In which a Tarnished of no renown is alternatively consulted and insulted, Malenia teaches Alagos the arts of her brother under St. Trina's alias and steps are taken to mend old wounds, while a certain shadow lurks within... well, the shadows.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“So that bloody old bastard’s returned, has he?”

Nepheli grimaced, looking with distaste at the pair of sunken eyes which greeted her, the only light within the silent dark of the cell. Roderika’s arm tightened around her own in reassurance.

“Need I remind you of the consequences of working your spells again?” she asked in a mild falsetto, walking over to the window and throwing it open. Golden rays descended on the drawn face with its unkempt white hair.

“No spell.” said Gideon Ofnir, with a reedy cackle. He had grown a scraggly, pathetic little beard Nepheli would go so far as to say suited him. “I could see it in your face the moment you came to see me, my little whelp.”

“I’ll have you searched anyway.” Nepheli insisted vindictively. “We’ll see if you hid away any seals, as soon as I find someone with the courage to risk their hands on you.

“A charming little lady you’ve made of yourself.” the prisoner drawled. “I’d like to see how your ‘subjects’ reconcile the sickeningly compassionate ruler you’ve no doubt presented yourself as with the barbarian you’ll always be. Now, how would they reconcile their beloved liberator with this brutish plebeian who mistreats her prisoners, let alone prisoners who had the kindness to take her in, formerly, and give her a life…”

“It won’t work.” Roderika said, with every inch of her quiet determination. “She has risen above what you could ever hope to become.”

“Ah, shut up, you little rat! A damn shame, that I wasted so much time on my daughter, only for her to need a bloody mouthpiece-“

“I had come to give you another book to read.” Nepheli interjected, her voice a glacial spur. “A journal of incantations bequeathed to me by none other than ‘that bloody old bastard’, so that you might learn from it and- in the indeterminately far future- wield those learnings in the service of good sense. It appears I miscalculated.”

She did not miss that temporary glint of greed in those yellowish-red orbs before Gideon quashed it.

“No doubt you did.” he said with a leer, hiding slight traces of disappointment. If there was one thing Nepheli was grateful for from her association with Millicent and Alagos, it was her ability to observe, and to understand the workings of another’s mind. Her former guardian had no power over her anymore.

“Might as well burn it.” Gideon decided with a whimsical flourish. “I doubt anything valuable can be learned from the ramblings of that dithering fool. It can’t be worth much anyway, seeing as he chose to leave it with you in spite of his tendency to watch his own shadow, as well as every other damn shadow to exist.”

“Yes.” Nepheli sneered. “Yes, a dithering fool who would have made ashes of the great Gideon Ofnir, the all-knowing, had I not begged for the worthless old bat’s life.”

A touchy subject, she thought to herself, as she shot a meaningful glance at the empty sleeve where his right arm had once been, and then at the manacles which bound his feet.

Gideon coughed, then stood up. He had chosen not to eat any more than absolutely necessary, and looked already half a cadaver. Roderika almost, almost felt an inch of pity before looking at Nepheli’s hard face and steeling her own.

“Why visit me, whelp?” He said, with a laboured breath. “Your gods-damned Lord of Fire finished me. Come to kick the failed aspirant like the trained lapdogs you are?” For the first time, he seemed tired. Knowing him all too well, the two women chalked it up to yet another manipulation.

“You said a man cannot kill a god.” Nepheli said, voice hard. “Lord Alagos seems to have taken your words as advice, and has made a friend of one.”

“So he took that bleeding hound of death and stormed the Erdtree with it at last, did he?” Gideon asked wearily, before his pupils widened in understanding. “No, I would know if he did. The light would not have been the same. That Millicent of yours bloomed at last, did she?”

“She may be the unwilling heir to an eternal life, perhaps, but she is no Empyrean.” Nepheli said quietly. It felt all too satisfying to string him along.

For the first time since that day of fire and storms when Alagos had discovered he was being watched did a flicker of terrible, palpable fear cross Gideon’s face. “Which twin did he dig up?” he asked, in a quaking voice far more uncertain than either his surety or weariness.

“From what he said, I would guess at ties with both.” Nepheli replied, letting no hint of her own fears slip into her tone. “Malenia the Severed, who is matchless in battle, has arrived here with him to work on their own unknowable plots for our world. I have no doubt they could storm the castle and slay its standing army entirely between only the two of them.”

“And you’ve come for counsel.” Gideon inferred, his tone barren of any feeling.

“Yes. I suspect you will give it, if only for the fact that it would be in your own self-interest to preserve your wretched hide.”

“You have,” Malenia hissed, barging into Alagos’ chamber, for all this while, been wearing Black Knife Armour?”

“Why, yes. Should that be of any relevance?” her overly unconcerned fiancé asked in a genuinely innocent tone, continuing to write within the latest of an ever-increasing heap of journals. She was beginning to understand a few reasons behind their frosty reception rather well.

“Have you, for once, considered that you might not have made ‘the best impression’ precisely because you have no clue how to make any impression at all? You may be the wisest among all of the sea of humanity I have seen, but Tree forbid, you can overlook things that are so completely elementary at times!”

“On the contrary, I don’t think I’ve overlooked a thing.” Alagos replied fluidly, dipping his quill into a quaint little inkpot with a Carian crest. “Those who know enough of the Black Knife Assassins to recognise their armour would undoubtedly be aware that they were all women, which I markedly am not.”

That strange man with his strange mind. Malenia was forced to conclude that he somehow entirely failed to grasp how cladding oneself in raiment that screamed murder to anyone’s sight, whether or not discerning, might come off as less than personable. After a bit of thought, however, she was forced to contend with the uncomfortable realisation that she might herself have liked the idea, and tore the image to shreds before Miquella could say anything whatsoever.

“That’s all very well, but why have you not told me thus far? I should not have had to rely on offhand remarks from my chosen consort’s seamster to know his habits.” She had, quite understandably, been curious when Boc had muttered about the cloak’s Haligtree emblem needing to be black and silver.

“Ah.” said Alagos again, with that thoughtful tone again. “It… might be that my mind keeps forgetting about your blindness until you remind me, dearest. You don't make it very apparent.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose. Such odd occurrences had been very common during the shattering and before. “I am not deaf, in case you would care to tell me why you chose it.”

“I did not, in point of fact. Millicent seemed to think it was practical.” her betrothed said, absently patting the prosthesis which lay on the wooden study table in front of him, and Malenia’s metal hand clattered against her helm. Of course.

Curse her daughter if she had understood her father’s absolute lack of understanding as to what qualified as dangerous, and had proceeded to adopt the tendency as a desirable characteristic. It sounded just like the kind of thing Miquella would do. She felt certain he, too, would argue that it would be ‘practical’.

‘But it is!’

“No more commentary, brother. I have yet to interrogate you on the subject of King Morgott.”

“And I shall gladly fill any holes in your memory, sister dear. I seem to recall that I was not unfond of him.”

By now, Alagos had finished writing with a flourish, and banished the journal into a thread of golden grace as was his habit. “Sleep pots, rune arcs, Trina’s lilies, wine and that strange crystal ball you gave me before we left. Is there anything else we shall require for our dreambrew?”

Malenia internally relayed the question to Miquella, and her brother muttered something about an apt meticulousness. “No, but I must first teach you how to collect slumber fog. We might draw it from animals, humans, even perhaps demigods, but no small amount of stealth is of the essence. Let alone waking those befogged, their very dreams must not be disturbed.”

“Oh, bother. I’m rather terrible at that.” observed the human embodiment of a tempest.

“I can’t imagine why.” she said, drier than a desert wind. “Come, now. I noted that animals grazed aplenty in the fields near the castle, and the sooner we begin, the better.”

“This appears rather delicate work.” Alagos noted unhelpfully, after the third failure. Malenia tried to ignore how he had only revealed that he had possession of St. Trina’s torch after they had thrown sleep pots at several animals like a pair of humdrum-rousing ruffians. He had apparently forgotten about it, and only recalled its existence when thinking about how much more efficient such a tool would be.

“One day, he will promptly announce that he has been the Elden Lord all along and defeated whatever lurks within the Erdtree, only to have left ‘the small matter of the Elden Ring’ for later.” Miquella declared, with a palpably growing fondness. She ignored the thought and drew heavily from her reserves of patience, voice clear and commanding.

She had never considered herself much of a teacher. Her methods for training her Knights had involved relentless series of bouts and leading by example. She tried summoning up buried memories of Miquella and Miriel instead, and how they had offered explanations when she was curious in her childhood.

“If you call to your winds, the fog will be scattered, no matter how precise you might be. Slumber Fog can only ever be corralled by the personal touch.” she instructed, her voice more a clear general’s command than the encouraging, instructive tone she aimed at, but it would do.

“Very well. Those hawks seem convenient.” Alagos said, pointing to a rocky overhang. They ran over to where the birds perched, and a gesture from her tarnished called an unnatural pillar of winds that prevented them from flying off. Waving the torch near the birds, now incessantly flapping their wings in panic, threw them into an irresistible torpor soon enough as they inhaled its fires of slumber.

The winds died, and Malenia crouched down, holding the crystal ball in one hand.

“Do you still see it?” she asked, to a nod. She felt for the distinct patch of air which tingled on her forearm with magical influence, and began to sweep two fingers between one sleeping hawk’s snout and her brother’s sphere.

“You must waft the fog gently into the sphere.” she demonstrated, gently guiding the wisps of slumber fog along their way. Alagos, for reasons only known to him, seemed to be having a lot of trouble focusing on her work instead of her face.

“I see.” he nevertheless said valiantly, and she would have sworn she could hear his mind churning as he fixed his eyes on the sphere by force of will.

“Do you, now? How about I be the judge of that.” she said, unconvinced, and tapped the ground next to her with two fingers. He came over and sat down with a hmmf, and to her surprise, took the sphere and began to draw in the fog perfectly. Perhaps he had indeed learned from their previous attempts.

She surveyed him as he worked, brow furrowed, long fingers waving back and forth with something approximating the delicacy and precision she demonstrated, though not quite approaching it. At least he could lay claim to an ocean of patience, and was in no hurry to fill the sphere’s contents.

“Not all subjects can be halted in place like these hawks here, and neither can they be coaxed to sleep after being frightened as such. We will need to approach them far more quietly.” Malenia told him when it was done, letting a hint of pride show.

He gave her the torch and she demonstrated this in short order on a nearby wolf, before directing him to yet another. “I ought not to be surprised that you can be terribly sneaky when you wish.” he huffed.

The Empyrean felt an abrupt sense of alarm which was not her own, which surprised her. It must have been Miquella, and she quickly asked if the Haligtree was under attack, but Alagos whimsically finished “You seem to be able to master every little thing you set your mind to, don’t you…” and the alarm just as abruptly subsided.

“Brother?” she asked furtively instead.

“A thought of no relevance to you, about an incantation I look to invent.” he replied smoothly. She trusted him, of course, but alarm still seemed a strange emotion-

“Goodness!” she heard, and turned around to sense a desperately howling wolf suspended upside-down in a vortex.

“You were tempted to stroke its fur again, were you not?”

“I did not-“

“You tried to scratch it behind its ears. Yet again.”

“Ah, well. It isn’t any use trying to pretend otherwise in front of you.” he admitted sheepishly, looking for another wolf.

“Where did this subconscious tendency to pet wild wolves begin? Every anecdote thus far indicates that you were as far removed from a tender soul as possible in your younger days, but this strange fascination with wolves-“

“It began nowhere in particular.” Alagos said, decisively, and promptly glided off towards a sheep. Malenia sighed. If only the two people she loved most weren’t so cryptic and exasperating.

“It should be nearly done.” said the goddess-to-be, when afternoon turned slowly to evening and they returned to the castle. “There remains only the fog of one whose thought stretches far and wide, and whose imaginings gallop at a speed swifter than the winds you wield. The dreams, if you will, of a truly high-minded being.”

“High-minded?” asked Alagos, treading up the newly-established flight of wooden stairs. “How, precisely, would you define ‘high-minded’?”

“Well, not necessarily wise.” Malenia said at once, before thinking. If one was wise, they tended to avoid being forcibly put to sleep, however harmless the purpose might be. “It must be someone knowledgeable, and capable of grand imaginings that have no roots in delusion.”

Intelligent, then, if not wise?”

“Preferably.” she said, with a noncommittal shrug. “Someone who can think far and fast, and can plan in a structured manner. Somebody who can erect metaphysical architecture off the structure of their thoughts, and so influence the world in accordance with them.”

“I see.” said Alagos. He seemed to have someone in mind already.

“I would recommend Uncle Miriel, if you are unsure. It would be no trouble at all, as he shall doubtless willingly offer his own slumber fog, and doubly safe as well. He has both wisdom and intelligence comparable to your own, and unlike you, those faculties are constant in all matters.”

“Ah! You wound me, dearest. But there is someone closer still at hand. I’ll have it handled before the night.”

“About your friends, then.” Malenia said, and drew him into a corner. “It is clear to me that we are not the first masters you served, and I have noticed a certain association between yourself and the Carians. You use their inkpots, hold the sceptre of Rennala and were once a wizard of some skill. I know not what work they put you to, but it seems to have placed you at odds with Lady Nepheli and the spirit-tuner, Roderika.”

Alagos unfurled open palms towards the ceiling. “Storms. Fall in love with a goddess, suffer her all-seeing gaze. You mean to ask about Rya, don’t you?”

“Indeed.” she said, now not surprised at the customary appearance of his divinatory gift. “The others’ distaste for you appears largely impersonal and prompted by differences in choice. Yet, Rya appears specifically afraid of your person, though she veils her fear well. Moreover, there is something- wrong with her, which she hides from the rest of us.”

“I was wondering when you might notice.” said her tarnished conversationally, opening the door to her chamber for her. “Her human form is an illusion, and she is, in fact, the daughter of Rykard, whom I knew as the Lord of Blasphemy.”


“Yes, that very same Rykard. Son of Rennala and Radagon, former Praetor of the Golden Order and sorcerer-lord of Gelmir. Her true name is Zorayas and she was conceived in a ritual, and though she is rightfully proud of her form, she remains ashamed of her lineage to this day. I killed him in a very protracted affair that resulted eventually in the death of her mother, the fall of the Order of Recusants and the destruction of their stronghold- Volcano Manor- but was able to guide her to Stormveil.”

She was tempted to plaster her fingertips together, thinking quickly. “Then she has not inherited Rykard’s barbarism. You cannot have had any prejudices against her-“

“I would never.”

“-Which leads to another gap in reasoning. At any rate, if she blames you for the deaths of her parents, you should not blame yourself. In defying the Erdtree, they tore apart their moral character and became less than themselves.”

“Power for power’s sake became their only end.” Miquella confirmed.

“It is natural that she should blame me for her parents’ demise and her home’s destruction. I think she does, deep within- and yet she said she had forgiven me. There are some who say that as placation, but Zorayas is not such a person. When she granted me her forgiveness, she meant it sincerely, as she means all things.”

“Then what is it you did, my Alagos?”

Her fiancé huffed, but his pupils dilated and his face formed that dull, listless expression of those in deep thought. Malenia sat down and placed a hand on his own, and finally- finally- he had approached the point where his own fingers curled around hers unconsciously.

“Talk to her.” said Alagos at last, eyes brightening and turning to her face. “It is best you learn this part of the tale from her, and know well the crevasse between us. She is a gentle soul, but one whose strength is unwavering. The world has not at all been kind to her- and if there’s anything I have learned, it is that your very presence is the best possible antidote for all ills and sorrows the Lands Between might offer.”

Sincere, and so utterly blunt. These blushes were proving more difficult opponents by the day. “That may be unwise.” Malenia said after winning a protracted duel against one. “Ever since we came here, she has trod in fear, hide it though she might. Those so afflicted must be approached with gentleness and subtlety, and not with confrontation in mind. Would that my brother were here, to aid her- but I? I am too firm, too transparent in my being and too harsh in my thought. I fear I might be unsuited.”

“Then conduct yourself as you might if you saw one of the daughters you never knew. She deserves the highest compassion, and the encouragement and guidance of one who has the strength and will to set the world on its own feet again. I, sadly, cannot give her that after what I have done, if only because she would never accept it from me.”

She curled his palm around hers, and placed her metal hand on his heart. “Very well. I should like to speak with you about your association with the Carians later, however, and the fall of Leyndell.”

“I will take you to Raya Lucaria after our task is done and worry not, you shall know all. For now, my dear Malenia…” - he touched his forehead to hers- “Go.”

Alagos wondered if telling her the truth about Rya was the best course to take, as he walked down Stormveil’s endlessly winding corridors.

It was not your secret to tell, an old voice croaked within his mind. He dismissed it, knowing well that Malenia would herself have found out in time. There was not much else he could do for Rya, after what had transpired, but he hoped she would find some solace, comfort and perhaps even a sense of purpose after speaking with his fiancée.

Malenia, soon to be my better half.

The former Slayer of Kings smiled a hollow smile, secure in the knowledge that he could at least mend some errors for her sake. He would do right by Rya now, if he had failed before, just as he would by all. Gurranq, he hoped, would be proud.

“Lord.” greeted a Stormveil knight simply. Alagos eyed the stormhawk feather-crest that made up her new plume, and waved away the bow. It was time to turn to other matters; procuring the last slumber fog for his dreambrew the first among them.”

“Greetings. I should like to see the prisoner, if that is possible?”

The knight seemed to consider for a moment, before calling over her fellow. Millicent had taught him to not stare at them while they conferred amongst themselves.

“Your purpose, lord?” the second Knight asked curtly, as if it pained them to speak words in front of him. Both of them had firm grips on the hilts of their swords.

“Just a chat, nothing more. I’ve come to give the old fool my regards and see how well he’s gotten along. If he hasn’t, I shall- give him a piece of my mind, one might say. No more than that.”

It had been a long time since he had last lied, and he hoped his time spent in Malenia’s company had not entirely eroded his ability to speak falsehoods convincingly.

“I am not sure, Lord, whether we have the authority to grant your request of visitation. Such a request would ordinarily need to pass Lady Nepheli’s gaze.”

“Ah, so bureaucracy has taken hold already, I see. I must compliment Nepheli on her expediency.” he said mildly. “At any rate, I do suppose I can indeed avail of the rare luxury of having some time to waste on this.”

The two conferred amongst themselves again, and on this occasion, he did allow his gaze to roam over them. They seemed to be discussing whether he had the right to visit, if he had been the one to incarcerate the prisoner in the first place.

“If I left my sword with you, would that suffice as assurance nothing untoward will happen to our friend here?” he offered, drawing his storied flamberge. He let flames run down the length of its distinctive taper in a perfectly-calculated gesture.

“Nay, Lord. Far be it from us to doubt your sincerity. We shall let you pass. Please, inform the Lady of your visit, and beg forgiveness for assumption on our behalf.” the Knights said and stood aside, letting him walk down the corridor into the dungeon.

He nearly allowed himself a small smile. If there was one thing he had learned from Ranni, it was that a smile was often more terrifying than any grim, severe frown.

“It's been long since last I saw you.” said that grating lisp-rasp the moment he entered the cell, and he quashed the bubbling tide of unpleasant memories of years spent oblivious at the Roundtable Hold before he had known the truth of the all-hearing brute’s character.

“Nepheli told me, you see. My wretched whelp truly has no regard for her saviour, as I had warned you. As for us, my fellow- we need not be foes. A Tarnished cannot become a lord, and you have proved wise enough to turn away from your ambition of the Elden Throne. Even now, I would offer forgiveness for the arm you’ve taken, the knowledge you’ve burnt and the freedoms you’ve drowned. Give me Stormveil, and I-“

“Oh, drain dry that mouth of yours until something that isn't poison finally comes from it.” Alagos spat, hurling a sleep pot with precise accuracy at his old enemy’s face.


Alagos: Millicent, this is Uncle Maliketh. He is very wise, has a heart of gold and has soft fur. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise, and please ignore the rumours about a destined-death wielding maniac in particular.

Millicent: Yes, Father! (Hugs Maliketh) You're very sweet, Uncle.

Maliketh: (sniff)


Millicent: Father, this armour is very light, practical and sturdy, in addition to being immensely durable. Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise, and please ignore the rumours about destined-death wielding maniacs in particular.

Alagos: As you wish, my dear daughter.

Millicent may be gone, but now we might come to have snek daughter. And she is the best (after Millicent of course).

Meanwhile, Sir Gideon Ofnir THE ALL-KNOWING has some time to think about calculated risks and why they shouldn't be taken by those who aren't good at math.

Edit: Do I really tell half the story in the comments? I've found that a few readers sift through the comments and quote my statements therein from time to time and I don't know how to feel about it as far as it pertains to the completeness of the story.

Chapter 19: There was the Day when I began to Doubt


In which two rather (rightfully) frightened people learn to treat a deity as a person, while she tells them stories about her parents and demonstrates that she learned tea-making on the sly. In turn, said deity is told the whole tale of a certain Tarnished's less than noble exploits, which she finds impossible to the extent that the Lunar Princess- sized elephant in the room is only the second most dubious revelation of the evening.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text


A look of abject horror greeted Malenia as she leapt gracefully onto the rooftops overlooking Stormveil’s main gate, with two steaming cups in either hand. A tragedy, she mused, as no such look should ever greet an offer for tea in her estimate, but mortal sensibilities could not often be helped.

“You are perfectly entitled to refuse, if you’re wondering. I would be glad for a second cup.”

For a moment, Rya looked as if she would take her chances with a plunge to the bridge below. Her arms were drawn around herself, as if in guard against a blizzard, and the quill in her fingers had dropped and was dripping ink onto the bricks.

Miquella had known how best to manoeuvre around such apprehensions. Those who followed him did so gladly, however sacred his presence, whether he tried to hide his true pre-eminence or not at all. Malenia herself had never managed it save with her knights, with her directness of nature, but in the gilt-shrined age of the past she had arbitrarily decided that if there was anything at all she could learn, nothing would hinder her from it if she chose to do so.

For now, it seemed best to follow Miquella’s example in such things. She stood where she was, letting the small woman come to her. This Rya did, albeit slowly and reluctantly, wrestling with her own instincts. It was evident that the only reason she moved at all was out of respect to an ancient conqueror heard of only in legend.

And that ancient conqueror was now at her doorstep, offering tea.

“It is my honour to accept. Thank you.” Rya managed, and though her arms trembled, her voice did not. A matter to take pride in.

“A fine place to spend an evening.” Malenia wondered out loud, striding the length of the rooftop. “I wish I could watch the stars again, from vantages such as this. And the breeze is most pleasant.” she lied. The Rot would not allow her to feel such things, and she derived her joy instead from the company of individuals- such as Miquella, or Finlay and Loretta, or of late, a certain wise if slightly odd Tarnished.

“Yes. Yes.” Rya muttered mechanically, distracting herself with a draught of tea.

“How have I done?” Malenia asked, which led immediately to a splutter and shattered teacup. “That terribly, is it? And here I thought I had been as careful as I could. Yet another wound my pride must suffer.”

Rya immediately almost fell over herself in an attempt at apology. “No! No, your excellency! The tea was- the tea was very refreshing and well-made, I- it was my clumsiness, and nothing more-“

“You do not have the bearing,” Malenia began, changing tactics, “of a clumsy person, Lady Rya. I have never felt a hunchback- if you will pardon the expression- carry themselves with such grace before. If my presence unsettles you, then by all means, tell me as much. It would not be the first time I have faced the sentiment.”

The serpent-woman stared at her, numb, with her words stolen from her. No doubt she internally berated herself for not having the courage to say something, and ‘wasting the Goddess’ time’ or something unnecessarily sanctimonious along those lines.

“I thought as much.” Malenia said, manufacturing a weary sigh. “I am never told, even if another’s thoughts on the matter are plain enough to me. I had hoped for a conversation away from talk of alliances and politics. Forgive me if that was presumptuous.”

She made to leave, with a sweep of her cloak. One second, then two…

“Please. Stay. I’m sorry.”

Miquella’s suggestions always worked.

“You are sorry?” Malenia asked, wheeling around. “Have I given you reason to be sorry about anything?”

Rya squeezed her eyes shut, and opened them with a few tears having made their appearance. “I beg your forgiveness for offending you. It was not my intention to make you feel unwelcome.”

“No. You may not have meant it, but you did feel unsettled. Whether or not I feel welcome is irrelevant, if it is a question of your mind being set at ease.” she said, using that gentle voice Miquella would use as St. Trina, when he (she?) called sleep to the eyes of the weary.

Rya blinked again, though the tears were now gone. She took a moment to taste the words, savour them and understand them. The subsequent revelation must have struck her as profoundly strange.

“It is just that… I had not at all associated you with… tea.” she managed at last, her voice a whisper. That whisper would typically have died in the wind, but something about the present wind instead carried it to Malenia’s ears. Another touch of Alagos’ indescribable influence on the airs, perhaps.

“Very few would.” the Goddess said smilingly, as if sharing their own little secret. “And- ah- don’t beg forgiveness for presumption. I would not, in fact, forgive you if you did. I have suffered through enough such nonsense.”

Rya nodded once, then twice- the first mechanical, in reflex to avoid what must surely be godly wrath, and the second in true understanding, slow and more hesitant.

“Now, would you like me to stay because it would behoove you as a host to say so, or would you like me to remain because you do wish to speak with me? Pray don’t bother with anything less than the truth. It is a talent of mine to tell truth from falsehoods, and I would not be offended by any outcome.”

Her companion for the moment looked down, lips querulous. Malenia could not tell whether she was trying to force a lie to her throat, and assumed as such that she was in genuine conflict about her presence.

“You are very different, your excellency, from what I had expected.” Rya finally managed, looking down.

“There is no need for apology.” Malenia allowed, sensing one on the way. “Well?”

“I- would not mind if you chose to spend the evening here.” said Rya sheepishly, looking anywhere but at Malenia’s face.

“Splendid. Have some more tea.” the Goddess said generously, handing her own cup over, to a dim smile that had fought a perilous battle in order to be shown.

So she had managed to learn, after all. Her tea was nowhere close to the lofty heights of Alagos’ specialty, but she had understood at the very least how to brew it from watching him- and frankly- a lot of what he did, Miquella had explained, was overly complex and unnecessary. Or perhaps it wasn’t, and remained an integral part of the process which elevated his brew from any other, but its purpose was inscrutable and quite likely exaggerated.

They sat down, to a companionable silence, Malenia’s legs dangling off the rooftop, untouchable by the Rot’s slimy caresses, while Rya sipped haltingly and wrote in a large volume. An air of calm had descended on her, for which Malenia felt thankful. Now words would flow, and Miquella could have his information at last.

“What is it you are writing?” she asked, calling attention to it. She did not append an ‘If you don’t mind my asking’. Mortals understood very well that it was her right to ask, and their prerogative to answer.

“A- compendium, of sorts.” Rya said, after an internal debate.

“That doesn’t narrow it down much at all, does it? Is this something you would rather not tell me?”

“No, it’s a- ‘cookbook’.” the serpent-woman said, turning to face her.

“In the euphemistic sense, I take it?” Malenia asked. She had seen too many ‘Warrior’s Cookbooks’ and ‘Armourer’s Cookbooks’ to not suspect the use of the term by instinct.

“…Yes. I- it’s for our citizens. Lady Nepheli, Sir Kenneth Haight, Roderika and I are attempting to raise Stormveil as a haven for those shunned by the Golden Order. Albinaurics, Misbegotten, Omens and- Man Serpents. This is- a ‘Regent’s Cookbook’, in that sense. Should there emerge lords and leaders among them, they must know how best to serve their own, and how to conduct themselves amidst foreigners.”

The Goddess did not need to manufacture her sense of admiration. This, after all, was Miquella’s own objective with the Haligtree, was it not? A secondary objective, perhaps, with the defiance of the Outer Gods, the defeat of her Rot and their ascensions to godhood taking primacy- but an objective nonetheless.

“How admirable. Miquella himself thought as you do. If –“ she struggled a little with the word- “Lord Alagos and I are successful in the creation of a new age under my brother’s rule, injustice will end, but to rise to the station and opportunity the formerly oppressed will be given shall require of them education and training. To aid in this is a noble purpose for anyone to lay claim to, whether or not the aggrieved are one’s kindred.”

Two lobsters, one bolt. Not only did Miquella’s rule seem very attractive, Rya knew now that her secret was forfeit.

“You- your excellency-“

“Not that. I dislike the term. ‘Malenia’ will do, though you might call me ‘General’, or ‘Commander’ if you must.”

“Well- General-“ Rya hung her head. “I should have known. You did say you could tell truth from lie- and that is no more than what my appearance is.”

A shroud of dust seemed to clear from the air in front of her, and skin was replaced by scales. The complicated divots and irregularities of the human visage were replaced by a smooth snout of leathery scales.

In Malenia’s estimate, the outline of her appearance seemed far more natural with respect to her typical posture and mannerisms. “You ought to be proud of who you are, especially as you seek to foster pride amongst your kin.”

“I am proud!” Rya said, with a vehemence she had not expected, but which pleased her. “It is simply that- people were cruel. They would not speak to me if they saw my true form. They would call me ‘spawn of Daedicar’ and draw harsh gold light to hand. Here- I-“

“If Stormveil is the haven you claim it is, that cannot be the case.” Malenia pressed, ever incisive.

“I- well- you are correct. As usual.” Rya replied, looking down. She looked at the teacup still in her scaly hands and drank, which restored some warmth to her face and brought clarity to her mind (such a wonderful thing, tea). “I suppose it would be a lie to say I did not know what to think of you. For all his faults, Lord Alagos was fair, and he would neither hold prejudice, nor ally with one who did.”

“Was it your lineage, then?” the Goddess prompted, gently yet ruthlessly. “Did you wish to conceal your parentage?”

Rya gasped. “You knew all along? And you… still came to me? With… tea?”

“There, there. My sympathies are yours to have, after such a father as Rykard. My own- well- you might be surprised to know I am not unfamiliar with your predicament. My own Lord Father was as celebrated as yours was reviled. There was not one who would speak ill of Radagon of the Golden Order when he held court. Miquella truly loved him, once. I did not.”

Rya’s jaw was trembling. She listened with a mighty anticipation which signalled that several metaphysical floodgates had been thrown open.

“I was,” Malenia began, “the product of a broken marriage, to facilitate a venomous one. Our Queen Mother was utterly inscrutable in her divinity, and distant as a star. It was Radagon through whom Miquella and I knew of divinity, but there was always something blank about his face, something absent. His actions seemed locked in time, as though not his own to make. Perhaps he did love us- but that love was carried forward in a form incomplete, for his mind was itself incomplete in some fundamental way. To the end of the elder days, I could not tell.”

“At least however terrible my father’s deeds were, I could tell he loved me.” Rya said at length, in a soft little voice. Malenia noticed that she had shuffled closer to her, and took it as an invitation.

“Our Lord Father was harsh and brutal upon the battlefield, but weary of war in the name of duty. His burdens weighed heavily upon his shoulders, for they were placed there by an Outer God- but instead of casting aside those burdens such as Miquella did- or immolating himself in a blaze of glorious defiance as our great Queen Mother did- Father remained loyal to his precious Golden Order. It was the one constant about him, his loyalty to Order.”

“Did he see the flaws within it, or was he blind to them?” Rya asked, genuinely curious.

“He did.” Malenia said, remembering, and it made her despise him all the more. A curious blend of anger, wistfulness and a daughter’s simple love was what she felt for Radagon. She would typically have tried to forget the feeling and think of Miquella, but Rya was nearly laying her head on one of her shoulders, so she continued. “He saw it all. The flaws, the imperfections. The utter, baseless nonsense. He reforged the Full Moon Greatsword bequeathed to him by Queen Rennala into a blade of the Golden Order, both more impotent and less- beautiful than it had been before. He hid behind rigidity and the routine. He attempted, sometimes, to elevate those oppressed, but did nothing in protest against the Greater Will, which demanded the ruin of those given life that was outside its order.”

“He did something, though. Is that not better than understanding the hypocrisy and resolving to change it, but ultimately doing nothing at all? Is he not worthy of some redemption in that vein, at least?”

“He is.” Malenia sighed. “His nature is- not human, not even godly. It was something constrained, and part mechanical. In a better world, he would truly have been the glorious hero the world saw him as. In this one, there is a reason why Miquella lost faith in his order, and why he erected statues at the Haligtree to honour Marika, but not he. I- said I- did not love him, but when he left, I missed him. Even while the War of the Shattering raged on, even while stricken by Rot, I missed him. For despite my affliction, he had tried to do right by me, no matter the constraints upon his nature. He introduced me to my uncle, Miriel, and when he understood I refused to learn at his hand like Miquella had done, he drew my Saintly Master to these lands, so that I could grow my wings.”

“M-Malenia.” Rya said, struggling with the name, but turning to face her fully, “to me, it seems as though you do love him, like you profess to love Marika.”

She looked away. Perhaps it was true. “Yes.” she whispered to herself, just as softly as Rya. “I love my Divine Mother for the harshness of her wisdom, for the opportunity towards ascension she gave Miquella and I through the shattering of the Elden Ring, and for the bloody, soul-carving lesson she gave us by example, so that we could grow to surpass her in time. But perhaps somewhere, I love my Lord Father as well, for his simple attempt to do right by his own, even if that may have failed.”

Rya pressed her head into Malenia’s chest, in a silent offering of comfort, and she placed her flesh hand on the scales of her head in turn. Just how could her Alagos have ever come afoul of this dear child?

“But enough about me, and my struggles. If you have the knowledge to write a ‘Regent’s cookbook’, as it were, you must have gained it somewhere. Was it while at Volcano Manor?”

“Oh. Of course, you knew that too.” Rya said, but with far less inhibition. “It was from watching my adoptive mother- no, my mother- Lady Tanith- that I learnt what I know of lordship. The tale is a long one, if you would bear with me.”

Roderika brought them dinner and a few logs for a fire, and the three ate on the Rooftops. A long tale about Rya’s ancestry and the affair at Volcano Manor had morphed first into a story of the fall of Godrick in the Limgrave of thirty or so years ago, and eventually into an interestingly vindictive diatribe about Alagos from both Malenia’s companions.

“It would be fitting for any wise leader to know of the nature of their allies before committing to an alliance,” the Goddess had lied as a way of beginning, “but the pact between Alagos and I was forged when in a circ*mstance of no choice for either of us. He told me himself I don’t know the half of his tale, and his-“ she couldn’t believe herself saying this- “cryptic nature has kept much of it from my ears.”

Miquella was absent within her mind at the present time, and she wondered whether Alagos had finished the dreambrew on his own and begun his apprenticeship in smithcraft. Nevertheless, he would have been proud of her technique, as she had learned by watching him, after all.

At first, Roderika too was in awe of her stature and majesty, but seeing Rya talking at length about Volcano Manor and Tanith while leaning against Malenia’s shoulder set her at ease. And the two had launched off into a tale she could scarcely believe.

“And then there was the manner of arrival. Lord Alagos arrived late to an invitation I had issued years ago, at the Grand Lift of Dectus. In truth, I had entirely forgotten about it. He then proceeded to tell my mother that he had come to ‘Join the Serpent-King as family’, perplexing her naturally as she cannot have conceived of anyone getting ahold of that information.”

“And where, then, did he receive the knowledge? Books? Miriel? Queen Rennala?” Malenia prodded.

“He learnt his sorcery at the hand of Queen Rennala, but she was not his liege in those days.” Roderika murmured, with a shiver. “Nay, knowledge of this exactitude can only have come from the Lunar Princess, Ranni.”

A thunderbolt.

“My la- General?” Rya asked, confused. The world seemed to spin. Ancient dregs of smoke dragged themselves from the depths of an afflicted memory, and the familiar feeling of inability at not being able to make sense of anything made itself known to her.

“The Lunar Princess? She lives still?”

“Of course!” Rya said, in a sardonic tone she had not expected. “She lives- perhaps she abides in more than mere life- and her life might be the most prominent in its influence over these lands. Lord Alagos was utterly devoted to her, insofar as a Tarnished of his austerity can ever be devoted to a person instead of some abstract principle.”

“Devoted? Alagos- devoted to Princess Ranni? How?”

“Shocking, I trust?” Roderika said, joining in. “How he would drone on, in a grim, granite voice, about a dark age of cold, doubt and fear, where we would all somehow be ‘free’, and why all life would emerge the better from out of it.”

She shook her head. “I’m afraid I simply cannot imagine it.”

“Neither could I, at first. I could not imagine he could care for another’s aims over his own. You have doubtless seen how he professes to care for the downtrodden, just as you say Lord Miquella did- but all these years, he did nothing! And- and none of us had the courage to confront him until Lady Nepheli chose to court doom one day, and what did she receive? A lecture about how charity was a flawed concept, and how any effort for aid would be utterly futile until the coming of a new age, which, of course, only he and his princess were fit to bring!” Rya exclaimed in several huffs.

Kind, generous Alagos- a misanthrope of that magnitude? Had his mind somehow been erased, and replaced over the years?

“What was the nature of their agreement?” Malenia asked, keeping that boiling anger under tight restraint. “Were they, perchance, betrothed?”

“Not to my knowledge.” Roderika said, and she masked a sigh of something- relief, perhaps, if she wanted to insult herself- behind a throat-clearing cough. “I did not know he could love, until he met Millicent. I understood that he was far more loyal to abstractions than to people, and perhaps her cause appealed to him enough that he was willing to risk his life for it. Nevertheless, something threw them apart, and then he vanished for a decade. He- arrived at Stormveil first, and assisted Nepheli in training her Knights, but then again did nothing. Ever in arts of war and murder did his talents lie, and to peace and healing he remains a stranger still!

“Would it not be unfair to expect anything of him that wasn’t owed?” Malenia asked, placating. Rya and Roderika both shook their heads.

“He slew all others who might have risen to the same station as he, whether by sorcery or deceit, under the command of his shadowy mistress. More to the point, when he so desired, he could be a miracle worker: Queen Rennala herself, for instance. He found Her Majesty entrenched in the depths of a grief so painful that it might be called madness, and drew her entirely out of it by the simple means of offering her an eager student in himself. According to him, not even Ranni had held out hope that her mother’s mind would recover to its original shrewdness, but passion returned again to Rennala’s limbs and fire to her words. If he could do this for her and so gladly, then why not use these talents elsewhere?”


Not only was Ranni alive and- influential in a way Malenia hadn’t expected- so too was Rennala. She could not even justify it as mercy, as Alagos had brought her from the brink for seemingly self-serving purposes. She felt glad, at least, to have the information at all.

“Neither of you hate him, do you?” she inferred, to two slow shakes of the head. “No, you are merely sad that a being of such ability and understanding would squander their talents.”

Roderika sighed. “It was as such earlier on. On our first meeting, he called me a contemptible fool, for having come to be grafted into a chrysalid- but I had no choice! Everyone else was doing so, and I had not a friend in the world, and I- ah.” She looked down. “I was a craven. And I am grateful to him aiding me to outgrow my fears. But I knew it already, whatever he might have thought. He knew nothing of me, but was eager to pass uncompromising judgment. Would it have cost him anything not to say it?”

She understood what they were saying. “No. But people make errors when they do not know better. I have judged his heart and deemed it fair, and it cannot be that my instincts would have lied to me. What convinces you that he is not a changed man?”

The spirit-tuner looked to Rya. “I think you should tell her.”

“There’s no need-“

“I would like to know,” Malenia interjected, “unless, of course, you would not like to tell me.”

“Um. Alright.” the little serpent mumbled, looking up at her golden helm. Once again, Malenia felt the image of a lowly mortal looking upon an implacable deity, and promptly patted her on the back to dispel it, receiving a grateful smile. “I told you already of the battle with my father and Alagos.” she began, halting but growing confident.

“Yes, of how your mother had removed this ‘serpent-hunter’ meant to kill Rykard, after believing that Alagos might just be able to defeat him. I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that he could conjure a comet mighty enough to pierce the flesh of a god-devouring serpent, or that he apparently wielded the godslayer’s black flame in those days.”

“And I, for my part, still cannot believe that he forswore those weapons.” said Rya, forging on. “The duel lasted an hour, longer than any duel should last. Nevertheless, after slaying my father with a black flame tornado, the Lord was wounded and drained enough that he could not drink from his crimson tears, which he spat out along with his blood. I watched as Melina, his maiden, called to life an image of the Erdtree itself to mend his injuries when he staggered to a site of grace.”

She did not hide her surprise, but was forced to wonder what they would have thought of her had they known her surprise was due to an Alagos unimpeded by age being wounded to that extent at all, instead of the idea that he would win the duel (which to her had never been in question). They would likely have left in mortal terror at once if they knew her thoughts.

“I assure you, experience has made him only mightier. I am his better, but only by a hair- though I seek to extent that gap, with every passing day.”

Something about that last addendum brought a measure of relief to her two companions. She was pleased to see that their fear of her, at least, had abated. Even if they thought her dangerous and incomprehensible, they would at least not doubt her good nature.

“It is not the battle that was remarkable, in hindsight.” Rya said, with a tinge of sadness in her tone. “It was the aftermath. He said not a word as his maiden drew new life to his bones. His gaze was fixed on me, as if to calculate what to do with me. His eyes were dead. Cold, dim and inhumanly dispassionate. I have never seen such a completely impassive expression, and it was made all the more haunting by the gaping wounds and lacerated physique. It was a miracle that he was still standing, but the gaze he fixed on me held nothing but frost. I- feel ashamed to say that I fled.”

“It would not be rational to hold a grudge against him, simply in light of a look.” Malenia said with a shake of her head. “I myself was told I looked emotionless after the outcome of a battle. As I always felt either a sense of wrath at my foes for striking at my own, or a sense of grief for the lives that were claimed, the inference cannot have been further from the truth.” And a sense of fierce joy, at being able to wield her mastery, but they did not need to know that.

Rya gulped, and looked to Roderika.

“This story is yours to tell. You have the right, not Alagos, to tell it to whomever you wish..”

Malenia braced herself for the shock of charging heavy cavalry.

“After the affair, my mother prepared a tonic of forgetfulness- a nepenthe, of sorts – for myself. I did not wish to remember the tortures I had seen, and the dark secrets I had not wanted to be privy to and wished no part of.”

“But you should remember!” the Goddess said, confused. “It is necessary to remember such things, in an effort to ensure that they never happen again. To mould oneself into the most aware and most perceptive possible image, one must accept all one’s fears, haunts, pains and regrets. Such is what my mother taught me. If I were present, I would have told you as much.”

“Would that you were present.” the little serpent said sadly, wistfully. “You’re right, of course. I was wrong to wish to forget, and I know that now. But, Lord Alagos, he-“

A single tear slipped from her serpentine eye, and Malenia nearly drew her into an embrace. She could not conceive, could never imagine-

“When I asked for the nepenthe, he- said I truly was ‘my father’s daughter’. A coward, a blind good-for-nothing. He asked whether I had lied to him, and only used my nature as a serpent for a ruse! He wished to know whether I justified my- weakness- to myself in that way, as the reason people would not wish to associate with me must have been my gullibility and my refusal to ‘see clearly’. I refused the tonic, but I- I cannot forgive myself for needing to be shamed into it.”

One of the bricks on the rooftop shattered into rocks and dust under Malenia’s grip.

“I might have cried. A little.”


...Aaaand then King Morgott attacked with half the Leyndell bosses, murdered Tanith, Alagos, the Crucible Knight and everyone else important except Rya (whom he spared out of some lingering kindness), before returning to his throne mightily chuffed, not knowing that one of those people didn't stay dead and would be returning with firestorms.

So this is what excessive paranoia and cynicism does to you. Don't be like Young Alagos. Incidentally, this is why Ranni wasn't very keen on an engagement and only used him- but that meant his paranoia overcame his attachment to her and led him to do horrible things such as burning Leyndell without her advice to guide him- which in turn drove him into the arms of Maliketh- after which Millicent happened- gah! This is too complicated, even for the evil author cackling away behind the keyboard here! Just what is wrong with the Lands Between?

Don't worry, though. Millicent did learn about all this, after which the 'What in hell, Dad?!' conversation took place. Everyone heard the shouting, which is why all of Stormveil loves Millicent. And it was, after all, Alagos himself who sent Malenia to talk to Rya, so that she could hear the tale from the source.

This is- also why the now much wiser Alagos tried to do all he could to not fall in love with Malenia, and when he inevitably did, to hide it from her. Unfortunately for Alagos, Malenia is Malenia, so we have this... eh, 'situation' at hand. Some individuals are just too complex for their own good. Maybe this is why so many people loved Godfrey...

Chapter 20: As Night unites the Viewer and the View


In which Miquella (in his guise as St. Trina) traps Alagos, and somehow manages to both test and manipulate him while teaching him how to forge Unalloyed Gold needles.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“King of majesty tremendous, who dost free salvation send us!”

It had been a common address to his nebulous form, amongst believers in the coming Age of Abundance. He had allowed it, even encouraged it. Though the purpose of the Haligtree and the entire latticework of the reasoning behind his desire for ascension was his love for his sister, and his wish to see her suffering end; it was worthwhile, anyway, to see to the uplifting of the spirits of those beneath them.

A secondary goal that was nearly as noble- if not quite as paramount- as the first, and one that would endear himself to the eyes of many as a kind, benevolent God. It was best, after all, that Malenia should have to cull the fewest possible, when the Lord of the Unalloyed came into his own.

King of majesty tremendous. Not quite yet a form Miquella could risk revealing, for he had not worn it in the waking world- and he never did anything without due experimental process, like any good scientist.

Who dost free salvation send us. Now, if only he could get their Tarnished friend to believe that with all his soul. In time, Alagos would kneel before him willingly, and kiss his unfurled palm and swear himself to their purpose, so that Malenia could be free of the duty she had assigned herself for his sake and reign alongside him as an equal.

And to carry along that purpose, Miquella judged, St. Trina would be best. What better than that gentle, implacable voice to ‘lull’- whether to sleep, or into complacency?

He surveyed his own mindscape, for after the disaster of his first attempt, he knew better than to engage Alagos within the fiendish construct the Tarnished called his own mind. That Lord of Ruin must never come to light again, not until Miquella was wholly mightier than the thing could ever have been.

Black skies and lightning stained with death loomed above fields of wheat stretching far past the perception of any eye, continuing arbitrarily until they met a tree- or perhaps two- or, more accurately, a superposition of two- seemingly in a ghastly embrace, one trunk dragging the other down with it into darkness, leaking runes of gold. The life of Order was fading.

Miquella- now Trina- snarled. That tree- trees- the entire construct of the old Order as well as its opposition - would be felled, neutralised and deemed irrelevant when the Haligtree flowered in his age. Abundance would be set athwart the land, and his victory would be complete. He would be master of both life and death, all for the love of his dear sister.

And so too would Godwyn return, Prince of Death no more, to uphold and be part of his new Order. A plinth in all that was temporal, while Miquella and Malenia mastered the eternal and the arcane.

Ought he to show his eventual devotee these concerns and portents? Perhaps not, as Alagos was both curious and inquisitive (a trait necessary in any scholar- perhaps he would make for a good assistant), but the effort required to veil and mask the future was far more than the effort required to explain it away. And he – now she – truly ought to test her powers of speech and persuasion again, after an age.

Winds which were nonexistent a few instants- temporal coordinates- past blew suddenly, denuding dust-caked ruins in the distance of their time-bought coats. St. Trina recognised them as her own doing, in response to an intrusion she had herself engineered.

Sparks of fire glowed in a circle near her feet, and she leapt off her spectral steed, awaiting. The fire was, again, her own conjuration- it was the simple way her mind chose to explain the appearance of a being she most closely associated with fire and wind.

Malenia’s Tarnished had been clever. He had finished the dreambrew on his own – successfully at that – and had drunk it in solitude, while her sister was not present to ply him with questions and draw out his every secret. Detached utterly to the ethical questions that arose, Trina thoroughly approved of the man’s immediate instinct to avoid all liabilities.

Fortunately, however crafty he was, Trina was craftier. Drinking the dreambrew itself was an act of surrendering oneself to her power, and she withdrew all the information in a series of images, metaphors and lilac-grey threads of feeling from Alagos’ mind, to be examined later.

Rather worryingly, however, the drawn tales were tumultuous enough to incite the clouds above to unleash a true thunderstorm, white lightning ringing unnaturally amidst golden-black death lightning, and a few clouds turned a fiery, angry red from their former grey.

Trina sighed, and erected a shield the colour of unalloyed gold, marked with her Rune of Abundance just as Radagon would mark his barriers with his Rune of Order. She needed dry air, for the forge’s fires.

“That’s Torrent, if I am not terribly mistaken.” observed Alagos once his form had finished coalescing, eyes aimed pointedly at the steed. “I’ve always wondered whom his former master was.” He stood in a posture of perfect self-discipline, not blinking or pinching himself, seemingly ignorant of the weather.

“If he is indeed called Torrent in these days, then I must have been.” Trina replied, evasive. A thread to be pursued at another time. “Alagos of the west winds, whom I have heard so very much about. I have been looking forward to seeing you at last.”

Profound grey eyes narrowed, gazing at her striking golden ones. Twin orbs of fog, or otherwise storm-clouds, daring to hold the attention of golden beacons that could blind and dispel them.

“Enchanted. Have we met before, if I might ask? I must confess to a strange feeling of familiarity.” Alagos said, earnestly, and Trina brutally struck down her immediate thoughts of alarm, keeping her face a convivial mask.

“That depends. I trust you know my name?”

“If a very good hunch can qualify as knowledge, then yes. St. Trina, I assume.” Alagos said, somewhat wryly. He did appear to keep himself well-informed on all matters- another expedient quality. One could never afford to be surprised with something they didn’t know.

“Ah! But who am I to test you, after all?” Trina smiled, and strode down to take Alagos’ hand. He allowed it, with her leading him up to the little enclosure and forge, his own eyes never straying from the back of her head.

He did not look at his feet, which would indicate forced restraint, or at the rest of her form, which always meant some form of indignity and malignance. She made sure to appear always as a very comely woman, to conduct this subtle manner of test. And while restraint was there, it did not at all seem to be the offspring of a concerted effort.

His heart beat in the same, slightly lower-than-healthy pattern, and his breaths were perfectly normal. Complete, natural disinterest- therefore no concern for ‘matters of appearance’ as he stated. Eyes only for Malenia. He passes another test.

“Welcome to my- ‘dream’, if it can be called that, dear Alagos, and well met at last. You have given the Haligtree an infinite gift, and we are forever grateful.”

“That is- all rather unnecessary, I should think. Aiding Malenia was the best decision I have ever made, next to finding Millicent, of course.” the Tarnished replied, with a powerful sort of sincerity. “Forgive me, but- what would you prefer me to call you? Miquella, or Trina?”

“Ah. So you are informed, as well, of the true nature of our- convolution. It betrays quite the scholarly bent, dear Alagos.”

“Convolution?” Alagos asked pensively. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard the term, unless of course you mean ‘conundrum’. I had always thought St. Trina was one of- Miquella’s- guises, or otherwise an alias.”

“Neither an alias nor a guise, dear Alagos.” Trina corrected gently. “It is not typically a concept I would explain to mortals, but as you must walk with a foot in our world- seeing as my sister has decided she must have you,” – Alagos coughed, with a quiet “Please.” – “Miquella and Trina, to me, are two forms of ‘clothing’. Raiment, if you will. I can be- or rather ‘wear’ one or the other at a time as it suits me, but my true being is at once both and something wholly different, since I am more than the sum of my parts. Unlike dearest Malenia, I am not a being who chooses to define themselves in a focused manner, as I far prefer versatility. It helps me know how best to serve her interests, and to make her happier.”

“I see.” said Alagos. “Convolution. Much like a- storm is the product of the transference of heat and changes in pressure, but bears properties of its own?”

“My, my. If you’ll permit my saying so, it is plainly apparent why Malenia thinks highly of your wisdom. Occasionally.”

“Thank you, but if you will give me leave, I shall not permit that.” Alagos sniffed, all too quickly. She found she was truly growing fonder of the Tarnished by the day- and such a pity about his… irregularities. They would be winnowed away, with time.

“At any rate, I would suppose my identity as ‘Miquella’ is most important to me. Why? Well, not because it was the first I bore- chronological order means little to my perceptions, however peculiar that might seem to you – but it was the identity which my dearest sister spent the most time with, and the one she derives most comfort from. As such, you may call me ‘Trina’ if I assume that identity, as I do now, or by any other name borne by any other identity so long as I wear that identity- but I am always Miquella.”

Alagos shut his eyes, releasing a deep breath. The signs were very easy to read- he considered it profound, and touching. Yet more arguments in favour of his genuine love for Malenia- things as they should be- and another imperative of urgency that his wandering nature be whittled down to a servant’s loyalty.

“Somehow, I think I have always known that.” sighed Alagos, at length. “It is perhaps the best reason I can think of, to cling to a name. Miquella it is.”

Good, good. Another test passed.

He did not ask ‘Why this form?’, which made her- him- a tad worried about whether the Tarnished had indeed been able to perceive his tests, but the voice of Trina was different from the voice of Miquella.

Miquella’s voice was used to gain knowledge. Trina’s was used to impart it. She chose to distract the Tarnished before it was found out, and flustering him- thanks to Malenia’s very rigorous experimentation- immediately suggested itself as the obvious choice.

“Malenia and I have already conferred, of course. I visited her in a dream while she slept unusually well one of the nights in the months past. She said something about a pillow.”

Alagos nearly froze before self-mastery exerted itself once again. “I am glad to be of service, whatever is required of me.” he said, neither here nor there. Trina chuckled- was the slight annoyance in the words imagined, or truly there?

“At any rate, we discussed the question of your engagement, and as you must know, I gave it my full blessing. You needn’t fret over that aspect anymore. When the tasks she assigned you and the duties you assigned yourself have been completed, she will ask for your hand. You mean to accept, do you not?”

One would think she held the Tarnished at spear-point, with the quiet, inadmissible fear hovering on the man’s marred face.

“If she does that,” Alagos whispered, “I don’t truthfully think I would retain the ability to refuse, let alone wish it. You know as well as I that the mind conjures love, and the heart does not. The heart’s work is to ensure that blood flows through every sluice in the body, and yet- I would call her my heart nevertheless. It is a difficult circ*mstance for me to grasp. I- am afraid I- might as well breathe for her sake, now.”

“And you didn’t once think to tell her this. Your face is fearful at the very thought. Explain this, pray, dear Alagos.”

A god’s entreaty, and a god’s threat. Alagos looked at the distant skies and the rain and thunderbolts that would have tormented them if not for Trina’s shield, and spoke words that might as well have been air.

“I am not enough.” was the halting preamble. “And this is not a result of my deficiencies. Whatever Malenia might think, she deserves far more, and I wish she has it. Even if I live forever, I will at some point run out of things to offer her. I will no longer be able to challenge her, either as a duellist or simply as someone to talk to. She will surpass me in all aspects, if my wishes come to fruition- even in wisdom, which is the greatest of my qualities. I am a finite being, and shall forever remain so. And even if- by sheer force of will- she manages to love me forever and not grow tired of me- her bond to me would hold her back. I would rather not-“ – he broke down with a shudder – “in fact, I cannot live with that.”

Speech was Miquella’s mightiest weapon. Not in centuries had he been robbed of it, neither as Miquella, nor as Trina. This little Tarnished had duplicated a feat of Marika’s.

Unconditional love, even if it could not be returned by necessity. What a perfect find.

Miquella made his choice. No further tests. It was time to cut the diamond until it shone, and chisel the imperfect rock into the shape he desired.

“Forgive me for saying this,” Trina began, “but I fear you have an incomplete understanding of these things, as a mortal must. Trust my words in that, and know only that if she does offer you her hand, accept at once, whatever your fears may be.”

“I wish to.” Alagos said, looking at her gold eyes like a student to a mentor, “I dearly wish to. But I must not act in service to what I want.”

“Then act in service to what she wants, and never underestimate the depths of her thoughts again. Whatever concerns you have, she must have considered tenfold. Accept that, and let us waste no further time.”

Alagos bowed, solemnly, and walked to the fire-grate.

Trina had lied about ‘wasting time’, of course. Within a dream, she could stretch an instant to an infinite limit, and could live as fast she could think- which, in her case, was any arbitrary speed she desired. The only thing that mattered was that her companion be able to do the same, and not be thrown out of it by her manipulations.

It required a disciplined mind, and the necessary element of curiosity to be able to absorb information without tiredness beginning to seep in. Both these qualities Alagos possessed, and they had been accounted for in Trina’s calculations.

There was also another troublesome component- that the mind of a mortal had a finite capacity of information it could absorb and remember, beyond which it could not be filled. This was simply dealt with by draining Alagos’ mind of the information he would not need anymore, though the Tarnished couldn’t know it- with the knowledge Trina devoured replaced immediately with his learnings.

A mortal mind was like a library. It could be filled, even to a vast extent, with tomes of knowledge, but eventually it would run out of space. So too was the mind of a demigod limited, a repository in place of a library.

The mind of an empyrean or a god, however, was a true singularity. Infinite and limitless. And there were so many sorceries there- even a way to blend sorcery and incantation- which would be of such use to Miquella. Alagos would not need this knowledge anymore, of course.

“We begin by melting the necessary amorphous quantity of Unalloyed Gold,” Trina said, conjuring a dream-replica of Millicent’s prosthesis, “and forging it into wire. Though Unalloyed Gold is very ductile, I would recommend the use of a spell for the sake of uniformity, like so.”

She spoke a word of command, and willed the liquid lifeblood of the Haligtree into a long coil, golden magic flowing from her hands to shape it to an impossible perfection. Alagos watched carefully, imbibing the arcane gestures, the words and the finger-movements necessary.

“After the coil is set solidly, but while still hot, draw it through the appropriate hole in a shaping plate, like this one. You will find one in the old forge near my chambers in Elphael- pray remember the hole of the correct thickness.”

She needn’t have said so, burning the thought into her new friend’s mind. “I see.”

“Now, straighten it. This may be done conventionally by pressing the wire between hundreds of other wires between iron rings after some further heating, but a simple incantation of the Golden Order to reduce local entropy will work just as well.” she said, demonstrating.

“Is this an incantation attributed to Radagon?” Alagos asked.

“Indeed. My lord father came close- so close- to true greatness, like his other half. Unfortunately, his need for certainty failed him.” she said, with a slight wistfulness.

Ah, Radagon. Miquella almost wished they were not father and son, and instead equals, so that the Lord could be engaged and told to turn aside. If only he were a whole being, instead of his mother’s half, which the Greater Will sought to puppet and regress into Marika, so that his loyalty could devour her individuality.

How splendid his father would be, serving under his hand for dearest Malenia’s sake. Is that not what a father’s highest duty must be, after all? Working to make his children stronger?

“We must be precise for this next part: cutting.” Trina said, distracting herself, stretching the straight wire and raising it into the air with a thought, after which she threw disc after disc of golden light at it to sever ten perfect segments twice the length of a needle.

“One moment, please. You’re too swift for me.” Alagos mumbled, mimicking the hand gesture necessary to throw a vertically-oriented disc.

“Memories of an unpleasant kind?” she asked. “You have no need to hide them.”

Alagos looked down. “Blast. I might have known you shared Malenia’s talents. If you ever happen to see a Tarnished by the name of Gideon Ofnir, keep in mind that his death would be a net positive to the world.”

Trina laughed, summoning the severed segments to her hands with a thought. “My dear, dear friend, I invented discs of light, as a gift to my Lord Father. He- was most kind in turn, improving upon the incantation. Miquella’s ring of light became Radagon’s rings of light- only that the former has some applications in smithcraft and spectacle, while the latter is- well- a weapon of war so terrible that the lobster I first tried it on was left nothing more than ash.” She sighed, truly fond. “I miss my father.”

“I would miss him too, if he came up with such an expedient way to dispatch those damned lobsters.” It was entirely sincere, and not at all an attempt to make light of the situation.

Trina shook with laughter, clutching a wooden pole of the forging-station. Bless you, Malenia.

“Well! I don’t entirely agree, O brother-in-law to be! How can you cook them if you reduce them to ash?”

“Oh, dear Tree, no.” the Tarnished released a guttural groan befitting a displeased old dragon. “Not you, too. They are not, hells forbid, delicacies. You can tell your dearest sister that.”

“You’ll cook one before the wedding, of course.” she said, completely ignoring him. “Now, we reach the most arduous part: pointing, and sharpening. There is, unfortunately, no spell for this. I constructed Unalloyed Gold to fundamentally reject being shaped to wound as one of its essential properties. I could not, unfortunately, distinguish magically between the possible intents behind piercing flesh with a needle, even if it was to do good instead of harm. It will resist any spell to shape it into a point.”

“A noble intention. Why, if I might ask, does Malenia’s hand remain consistently sharp, then?”

A good question, but one she had expected. “The ability of Unalloyed Gold to do harm is tied to my will. Malenia takes only those lives she must, and what lives she ends are taken so others who deserve life can be spared. My magic assists her in every regard, as such. Her blade, however, still had to be sharpened and shaped manually when it was first made, just as these needles must be.”

“Divine considerations.” Alagos muttered under his breath, in a tone he clearly considered inaudible. “Then how might I physically sharpen them?”

“At great risk.” Trina observed, turning to the penultimate implement in the forging-station- a spinning whetstone. An incantation spun it, accounting for precession automatically. “You must place your straight needles against the stone for half a minute, but beware the stone and metal dust. It could spell the end for your lungs. Be certain to use a protective spell near your nostrils.”

“Perhaps my mastery of the winds will suffice?” Alagos asked, making her curious.

“If you possess such fine control that even the faintest, most spectral dust is no threat to you, then I am most impressed indeed.” she said, carefully. Somehow, she suspected that Alagos was right, which made that sorcery from a foreign land all the more worth possessing. Miquella would have that power, when he ascended.

The rest comprised the enchanting process. “Stamp the impression of the needle’s eye and then pierce it from the metal, like so,” she said, deftly moving between the kick stamp and the adjacent press, “and as you can see, the malleability results in an excess around the eye. This must be ground and filed off, which is a delicate undertaking.”

“Hmm. You stamped two eyes into each segment. I assume this is where you split the wire?”

“You assume correctly. The eye would typically be threaded, but we are uninterested in that. Here, it serves instead as a receptacle for the incantation that will purify the Rot.”

“A hollow receptacle?”

“You are thinking in physical terms. A receptacle of power for a lasting incantation is always of a metaphorical nature.” Trina corrected. “To enchant the needle, you need not do much. There is no specific incantation- at least, not one you would be capable of. All you must do is think of the most comforting things you can, and infuse the very warmth of your spirit into the needle. Unalloyed Gold is very receptive to magic, and it will easily absorb the miniscule part of your spirit that you must infuse into it.”

“A part of my spirit. If anything, I am glad it will come to a worthwhile purpose.”

“You might mistakenly impart a desire to protect. Do not do so, as the Rot will overwhelm such external influences. Instead, bolster the individual’s will to resist the Rot. When I forged my needles, for instance, I- well. I always thought of Malenia as I did. Not her suffering, nor her indomitable will. I thought of her smile, and of the few precious moments she was happy. I would dissolve the world in ash to preserve that smile. In your case, I recommend you do the same.”

Her words were powerful enough to bring a tear from her friend’s eye, though this seemed involuntary. Something about him must have found this unseemly, as his face grew hot as fire to vaporise it.

“Well.” he began, softly. “That should be very simple for me.”

“Then we have been successful. I cannot have asked for a finer learner. I do hope you felt as fulfilled by learning from me as I have felt in teaching you, my new companion. My dear, dear friend.” the Saint said with a smile, releasing Alagos from the dream.

The Tarnished would go, and play his part. For now, it fell to Trina to become Miquella again, and examine the information drawn from his mind.

Cracks split the earth, fissures bellowed fire and a quake tore through the wheatfields of the dreamscape when the image of a certain two-faced Carian Princess emerged floating on the horizon.


The 'King of Majesty Tremendous' prayer is just the approved translation of a couplet from the Dies Irae sequence; "Rex tremendae majestatis, Qui salvandos salvas gratis". I used it because there's no way I can think up something more ridiculously grandiose than what some 13th century Italian priest could.

In addition, I got this particular needle-forging process from the Forge Mill Needle Museum, Worcestershire. And then I added dem majiks.

A good and reasonable writer might have summarised the forging process neatly, talked instead about the metaphysical aspects and halved the length of this chapter. Since you have to deal with this writer, however, you get to have an entire discourse about historical needle forging, and the gratuitous summary of the literary origin of the idea of love coming from the heart. Whether you like it or not.

On to matters of the story, then. I wonder what poor Alagos would think if he knew that his mind was quite literally being put through a wringer. I also wonder whether he would suffer conniptions if he knew that the person doing this genuinely believed they were doing so for his own good.

Imagine a child who can go up to their father and say, 'You know, you had so much potential. If our roles were reversed I would see to it that you realised all of it'. If you can't imagine this, good. You are sane. The thing is, Miquella is that child.

I did say 'help' will be arriving soon, though, and that Miquella would soon have a 'formidable antagonist to his will'. Three guesses as to who that is.

Chapter 21: Words such as "Bad Heart" always to him refer


In which Malenia sees Gostoc and is even more alarmed, Miquella demonstrates for the thousandth time that he loves her more than anything, and the Twins cement themselves as perhaps the only demigods with true emotional maturity while in each other's company.

Meanwhile, Alagos' two oldest friends meet, while they both nurse schemes of their own and try to conceal them from each other.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Nia, dearest. I must ask that you wait. There are more than a few matters of great import I have learnt, which you must know of before you act.”

Half the castle had scattered before the thunderous force of her footfalls as she made her way to their chambers, and she thought she felt Roderika soothing them in the halls she left behind.

“There are few things, brother,” she began firmly, “that could quell my disappointment. I know well how change can grip the heart of even the most dispassionate and transform them. My belief in redemption is unshakable, or neither of us would have a purpose in this world. I cannot, however, forgive myself for failure.”

“Ah! This again. For my sake and yours, sister dear, dispense with it! In no way have you misjudged Alagos; and by no means could you have foreseen it. I spoke with him but a moment ago, and there was much he hid from my eye as well, despite being all but under my power.”

“Misjudge him?” she laughed, bitterly. “Hardly. It fits all too well with what I know of him. You must have noticed that it was Alagos who sent me to speak with them. It could have been all too simple for him to avoid this circ*mstance, if he willed it. Even simpler would have been to not inform me blatantly that he thought less than well of himself in his younger years.”

Surprise bloomed in her mind, surprise from her brother. Over the years, she had learnt to consider it an ominous portent.

“Oh, I see.” she muttered, true venom filtering into her voice of thought. “Not only must I have my intelligence be underestimated by my betrothed, it must also suffer the same indignity at the hands of my brother. For the very first time I can recall, if I might add.”

Instead of shame from her brother, she felt a distinct confusion, and then an odd sense of pride filter into her thoughts. She shook her head. Haligtree, she needed a spar.

“My one and only sister.” Miquella’s thoughts crooned softly, a sorcerous golden hand combing itself through her hair. Her mind led her to fury, and she wanted to be furious, but in the familiar comfort of the action could not bring herself to be. Sighing, she gave him leave to continue.

“It was no underestimation. I confess I myself lost track of that, ah, subtlety. For all my experience, I was hoodwinked- and not only at this turn, I might add. Even so, your sight was clear. I cannot be prouder of the blood and soul I share.”

It was now her turn to be surprised, pausing in her march. Miquella, hoodwinked? Unthinkable. A traitorous thought flitted in front of her perception for an instant, of a sibling’s glee at having noticed something her brother didn’t, before she carved it into pieces in a mental mimicry of the waterfowl’s dance. After another moment’s thought, she decided to be angrier at Alagos if he could somehow outpace even Miquella’s designs.

“But if you saw this subtlety where even I had forgotten it- why, then, are you furious? You every right to remain furious at Alagos, but what do you perceive as your ‘failure’? Why can you not forgive yourself?”

She saw a footman in commoner’s garb in the hall ahead of her rest a moment, slinking in an oddly thievish gait, before the poor fool’s eyes came to rest upon her golden helm. He fled as fast as his feet could carry him, but not before the way the airs laid pressure unevenly upon his neck informed her of the gruesome scar in the shape of a handprint that marked it.

A handprint. Furthermore, the slight, silent susurrus of the air against the skin led her to believe the flesh around the footman’s neck was charred. A long-fingered hand had been wrapped around his throat with the intent to strangle- a burning hand, and one that did not feel the flame that lit it.

She could think of only one hand capable of the act, and felt herself torn as her anger against her fiancé fanned itself to a roaring blaze. And suddenly, she understood that she had an answer for her brother.

“I can trust my mind no more.” she whispered, haltingly, stopping between the adjacent doors to their chambers. “I know my Alagos’ tale now, and had suspected its content before, by what he and Miriel told me. The moment I heard it all, I should have understood it as fact, and adjusted my thoughts of him accordingly.”

She strove to be objective in all things, in all assessments. A general must give themselves every advantage before a battle, and clarity of analysis was part of it.

“This- this, I find, I cannot accept.” she admitted quietly. Only to Miquella were her weaknesses made plain. “My mind- cannot be trusted- to accept fact. I cannot reconcile my Alagos with the Alagos Rya spoke of. I cannot bring myself to accept his past, and that the qualities he bore then may still remain dormant within him. And yet- the gifts he has given us can have no recompense.”

Her prosthetic paused at the doorknob to Alagos’ room, before retreating. It was plain to her now that she needed more time.

“What should I do, dearest Miquella?” she whispered softly, almost fearfully. “Every moment, I hope I could wish away his past. I wish I could say he was not what he was, and that my Alagos sprung out of the ground, aged as he is today. It is a great failure of mine that my mind even considers this- irrational- idea.”

Her brother was quiet, which she would recognise later as the correct response. Miquella’s love for her meant he always took the best possible decision for her sake.

“I- had wanted to think Rya had lied, when she told me Alagos had brought tears to her face. I refused to consider the thought that he could ever have been capable of that, with the crown my mind places upon his head, whether or not he deserves it. If- if Alagos should come to odds with you, could I trust myself to stand against him for your sake?”

She trembled, forced to consider the thought. Miquella had said that no such thing could happen, but if the worst came to pass-

“I could. No doubt I could. I would destroy him for you without a thought, if you deemed it necessary.” said she in answer, clenching and unclenching her flesh hand. It was, however, a conclusion she had never worried about. Again, silence.

“It is the aftermath I fear, brother dearest.” she sighed, lips querulous. “I could slay him if the worst came to pass, but would I be torn by the act? By taking him to his grave, would I accompany him to it? Would my- treacherous heart render me a less effective blade for you to wield, mauled by grief as I might be? For all that he did, I love him. I suspect that whatever he does, whatever crime he commits, I will never stop loving him, even if I must destroy him.”

“I have the utmost faith in you, dearest ‘Nia. And yet, I must ask you never to say those words again.” Miquella replied, power flaring bright. He was a titan as he spoke them, spacetime itself curved vaguely in the shape of a mighty king’s body, crowned with seven stars orbiting his head and with singularities in his eyes. His place as the fiercest empyrean was never in any doubt, but made itself known even more emphatically.

“I let you call yourself my blade because it brings you fulfilment, but my first act when I come to rule is to abolish that title. You are no servant of mine, and shall never be. If anything, it is I who wish to serve you, and must serve you.”

“Miquella, please-“

“No more of this. I will bring you happiness if it is the very last thing I do.” his voice roared, filling her very being with the thought. “And this in no way makes you flawed. It only affirms the depth of love you are capable of. Had you been able to contemplate such a possibility without guilt on your conscience, your dispassion would have alarmed me. It is my place to contemplate matters beneath that lens, not yours. No being is truly perfect- but in fact, after you told me this, you- near that plinth ever more in my thought, ‘Nia.”

Malenia clutched the doorknob to steady her breathing, which came in short gasps and stutters. Not even in the hell carved by the Mohgwyn dynasty had she felt as such.

She hated Miquella.

She loved Miquella.

“But what do I do with myself, brother?” she asked pleadingly, nearly a disciple in prayer. “What do I do with him?”

“You read Alagos even better than I.” was his response. “Better than anyone, I fancy. Confront him as you thought to confront him, but I must insist that you hold true to your wishes. If that means nothing changes in your affections for him, then let it be so. Before you do, however, I think it best to arm you with what I have learned.”

“Oh, wonderful. More secrets I must find a way to reconcile.”

Miquella’s laugh was wry, and his words sad.

“And they will remain. I have his every secret but one. Gurranq, the clergyman who taught him to wield his blade- try as I might, I could not pry apart the knowledge that lay locked behind that name, not without alerting our dear Alagos. There might be a truly dark anecdote to hide, or there might not. What is pertinent is that he will protect the name even subconsciously, which means we must focus our efforts on learning what we can of this elusive personage.”

“I guessed as much.” Malenia sighed. Fie on her, for ever having assumed that this would be easy.

“Other than this pious blademaster, however- you must know the tale of his service to the Lunar Princess Ranni.”

She wondered if she would have to bring herself to punch Alagos, at the end of it. The horrible thought that he might just do nothing and accept it occurred to herself then, and years of staunch discipline as well as Miquella’s obsessive attachment to her hair kept her from tearing it out.

Just what had she gotten herself into?

“Hail Miriel, Pastor of Vows, who presideth still o’er light and love. I knew thee and regarded thee well, in elder days, and it doth me glad to see thee in this shattered time.”

The Pastor knew that voice. By night, it stole sleep. His skin was stone, and his belief in the better nature of all that bore a will with it had made him fearless- but the owner of that voice ever worried him. He did not miss the feeling of fear that the last thing his nieces and nephews would hear might be that voice.

“Who’rt thou, to greet me with such gladness?” he asked, matching his visitor for archaism and manufacturing curiosity. It was not a difficult task, as the voice spoke in a friendly manner he would never have expected from the owner.

“I prefer the name of Gurranq in this age, holiness, for ‘tis the name my lord-to-be knoweth best to belong to me.” grunted the bestial figure in clergyman’s robes, drawing himself up from four feet to two before bowing deeply. “But mayhap the title I was given- Maliketh, death of the demigods- will mean more to thee.”

“Ah.” Miriel muttered. Gurranq. Of all the bleeding people Alagos could have befriended and bonded with, it just had to have been this one. How, by all the vast, empty depths of Nokstella and the nameless thing that had destroyed the city, had that old, flaming bandit convinced Maliketh the Black Blade to teach him swordsmanship?!

He had not an inkling of fear for himself, but the Black Blade had been a drawn sword placed against the neck of each of those dear children. Particularly the empyreans. He could not stand the thought of that terrible foe threatening his little Malenia, and he would never allow it.

“Long hast thou been absent from the affairs of these lands. To what end wouldst thou come to me, crippled by immobility, with most of those I loved taken from me?”

“Absent?” Gurranq- Maliketh- snarled, before composing himself. “Nay. I was gulled, by none other than Queen Marika herself. Blest may her name be still, for I had not the sight to share her vision, in that time. Now, however- I have my lord to thank, for the clarity that lieth in front of mine eyes, and it is for his sake I sought to meet thee.”

“Thy lord? Hast thou sworn service to another, mighty one? Thy devotion to the Queen Mother was unyielding, last I beheld thee.”

“And unyielding it remaineth! I have found a lord who can restore her, and break her from captivity. I came hence for he spoke most highly of thee, and proclaimed his far-sight a credit to thy wisdom. His name is written in thine eyes as we speak. Alagos, of the west winds.”

“Alagos?” Miriel asked, only half-surprised. He expected the name, but not the title. “Thou call him lord?”

“More than lord. He was my healer. He became my student. And now, he is no less than my brother- in arms, in flesh, in thought. I have granted him mine eye and claw, and he hath fed me death, which is my lifeblood.

The Pastor almost moved his lips to ask for proof. It seemed too ridiculous even to imagine. That this doom-clad shadow- this well-nigh dark god- could think of anybody as a brother, and while caught within the throes of madness and wallowing in self-hatred at that!

“No doubt he hath hidden this from you, as from all.” Maliketh began, quietly, before he could ask anything. “Ever hath my wellbeing been foremost among his concern. Behold, the Sword of Night and Flame, which he carried ere I instructed him to wield a greatsword.” he reached into his robes, and softly, delicately plucked out the blade. It looked more like an oddly-shaped little dagger in that enormous paw.

“Thou knew the sorcerer he once was, didst thou not?”

“Aye.” said Miriel, just as quietly. “And not gladly do I remember those days. Yet he hath taken a great change upon himself and I trust him now, so I choose to trust thee. What wouldst thou have of me?”

Maliketh sniffed. “If thou knowest the change that hath brought him unto wisdom, thou must know of the one he calleth daughter. Millicent, birthed by Malenia’s Rot, and stricken by the same curse as her mother.”

“Knew her? I loved her.” Miriel said, simply. “I could not thank her enough for the life she brought to her adoptive father, and the joy she passed on to me.”

“Then where resteth she now? Wherefore did she venture, her father following, and where might I find them?”

“I… could not tell you, mighty one.” the Pastor said, feigning thought. He could not reveal that Millicent was gone, and that Alagos had found her mother in remembrance of her sacrifice and in tribute to her memory.

Too long had he been haunted by nightmares of legendary master chasing legendary master, of general and duellist resolutely facing down murderer and assassin.

“Thou must know well of Alagos’ wandering nature, and that they stray never for long in any auspice.”

“Yet thou saw Alagos of late.” the Black Blade rasped with a terrible trenchancy, two of his death-laden eyes focusing on one of his own. “Thy hesitance saith as much. Attempt no deceit, for ‘twould not behoove one of thy merit.”

Miriel sighed. “I saw him last two years ago: him in Millicent’s shadow, where she would ordinarily be in his. Her training at his hand was nearly at an end, but Alagos struck a wall in his attempts to cure the rot. It was decided, therefore, that she lead and he follow from that moment on, should her destiny guide her to a method to defy the Outer God that defiled her.”

“But it is glad tidings thereof I bring!” Maliketh said, urgently. “Knowledge of an old lord was imparted to the Clergymen of Farum Azula, fellows in the vocation I held after I was stripped of my rank as Marika’s shadow. Carvings and inscriptions in the crumbling Dragon-city tell a tale of the scales of the Dragonlord beyond time, fallen from wounds carved in his hide and carried forth to the Lands Between by the storm that is the gate to his abode of rest. The Lord had fought the Rot before, in a bygone age. With the mind of Alagos and the knowledge I have gathered, we might together decipher these mysteries, and his daughter might be freed at last!”

He had held out an old talisman, the origins of which Miriel could not guess. A great dragon with four heads and two sets of wings- the latter set perhaps meant to stabilise his gargantuan form- was depicted upon it. Had Alagos given it to him, or had Maliketh found it himself? Quite likely, it wasn’t the Pastor’s place to ask.

“And what then, after she is freed?”

“The end of this shattered age, and the restoration of the Elden Ring. When my disciple and lord is freed from his duty to his daughter and has her blessing, the hour will come at last when I draw blades together with him. Thy pains and mourning shall be at an end, holiness. All sorrow and sadness shall fail, at the Queen Mother’s return.”

Miriel swallowed on air, and forged a calm, resolute mask. Part of him almost felt pity for the Black Blade, being deceived as such, while part of him was nearly convinced that his deceit had been seen through.

What ought he to do? Tell him? Millicent was dead, but Alagos remained still in search of a cure for Malenia. Even so, he could not allow Maliketh near his niece.

Should he lie? Evidently not. If the smog around his falsehoods was parted, they would all come to worse fates.

“Why wouldst thou come to me?” he asked instead, playing for time. “Doth not thy disciple, and lord-to-be, visit thee oft out of concern for thy mind? He told me as we sat and drank tea together that he was forever grateful to his ‘Gurranq’, his master, though I knew not whom the name belonged to.”

“Thou wouldst speak truly, were these days like the first of our acquaintance.” Maliketh growled, levelling his snout with Miriel’s neck. Perhaps he was contemplating taking a bite out of it. “Yet in spite of his greater health and greater wisdom, I have not seen him in years, not five of them. All this while I have roamed and read, deciphering carvings, mine nose buried in old tomes and relics to hasten the discovery. Hast thou no clue whatsoever of his whereabouts? Thou said he followed his daughter to her destiny, but where did that destiny lie?”

There was something desperate in those tones, something that would almost have meant life and death. He sensed a need, a requirement of the soul from Maliketh: a need to have been useful, so that his contribution was acknowledged and deemed valuable.

The impossible notion of Alagos taking up with the living death of the demigods began to make a horrible amount of sense to him. There was something soft in those ravenous eyes, something devastatingly innocent. A little light that needed to be stoked only once to forever shower another in fierce warmth.

In another world, Miriel would have deemed it only right that those two formerly broken souls mend each other. Another world without his dear Malenia.

Miriel would shed tears for the circ*mstance later. For now- there could be no lie as well-made as one that was built upon the ruins of truth.

“Millicent perceived her destiny to lie at the side of her mother, who after the Battle of Aeonia was returned to the Haligtree by Cleanrot Knight Finlay, a hero for the ages. If Alagos hath not visited thee, he doubtless followed her there.”

“For his daughter to live a servant? To stand at the- side- of that traitor to her mother-“

“Twas the same argument Alagos employed, at first.” Miriel soothed, restraining his own indignation on his niece’s behalf. “He despised the thought that Millicent should exist- in his words- as a function of another, and subservient to their will. She disagreed, nevertheless, thinking she could be of aid to her mother. Mayhap the works of Miquella would lead them to a cure for Rot, as well. And so he departed with her, to judge Malenia’s character for himself, and to protect Millicent from her if necessary.”

He could not imagine anybody ever needing to protect a daughter of his dear, little niece from herself. He had shouted at Alagos, when the Tarnished had first suggested it, but allowed it if only so his old friend chose to go to the Haligtree at all.

“But thou knowest not the way there?” Maliketh asked. There was somehow a deep tragedy, a profound sorrow in that deathly rumble, as if a blinking little hope had been dashed. He looked a wolf that had been denied its meat.

Miriel drove in the nail to the coffin. “Thou knew Miquella and Malenia well, I imagine. In what world would those deceitful ingrates ever trust me with the path to their secret home?”

It was painful for him to inject the bitter grumble into his tone and make the lie convincing, and the Black Blade released a mournful howl, shaking his head. Miquella would have called this a masterstroke: taking Maliketh’s blinded opinion of the twins (and of all Empyreans) and appearing to share it.

“Forgive me, holiness. Thou seest clearly, as ever. Wilt thou pass on this knowledge, should he visit thee? Nay- hast thou the means to inform him that he must see me posthaste?”

“I- am unable to think of anything at the moment, but thou hast my word I will tell him. I will do all I can for Millicent, dear Gurranq. Alagos is- he truly must be blest by Marika herself, to have companions such as thee to look to. Thou hast my everlasting gratefulness for thy service.”

“And thou, my thanks, holiness.”


Fluffyketh is here! Love him... OR ELSE.

I finally finished an Elden Ring Randomiser Run. Placidusax of the Golden Order, apparently, likes to fly off the edge of the arena and shoot those lasers at you from beneath your feet, in the abyss.

Somehow I got past him, but then the final boss was- for some incredibly strange reason- Elden Malenia. I don't know why it was Elden Malenia. I hope she didn't come to avenge herself on me for whatever reason. I really wish it wasn't Elden Malenia, because whoever made the mod decided she must come in both phases, and it was painful.
Oddly, that was only the second-worst coincidence of this particular run, due to the utter nonsense that was Mohg, Knight of the Haligtree.

In other news, I'm afraid this might be the last real chapter for a while. A certain problem popped up a month ago and there is work to do. Check the top item on this link for incredibly vague detail because I... literally don't know much more. This problem with MIRI came up about three weeks ago and apparently 'folks' decided it's now my problem, along with a very large number of others. They're still running observations, though. Everyone is very disappointed because we thought we'd discovered an earth-like planet recently only to find out it's a big floating rock with no atmosphere.

Chapter 22: Time means sucession, and succession, change


Malenia engages a compulsively evasive Alagos in both a verbal and physical spar, and said (infuriating) Tarnished comes to the realisation that he isn't the only one allowed to be wise. Unfortunately, in the course of the duel, a horrible secret comes to light.


Small Warning : This is a strange 'warning' to put out, but the content in this chapter might come off as a tad dense, with its philosophical reflections being difficult to parse. This is probably because part of the writing process involved rereading a certain philosophy book and then growling at it for about an hour at 2 am. There's an explanation at the end, but I trust my readers to make their own judgment- and the last thing I'd do after the amount of thoughtful feedback I've gotten is 'thin the word-soup', so to speak.

Disclaimer: Just because a certain philosophical view and outlook on morality is presented and seemingly portrayed sympathetically doesn't mean I, as the author, necessarily share it.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“You drew tears from an innocent child.” Malenia announced with perfect calm, opening the door gently.

Alagos startled at the question, though she could tell he had expected its contents. Perhaps it was the cadence that surprised him, with not a hint of anger in her tone.

“I am afraid so.” he admitted with a shake of the head, eyes drooping downwards. His silver hair seemed oddly dishevelled, and a faint trace of heat on his creased forehead suggested he had ground his palm against it recently, as though wrestling a terrible headache.

“What did you seek to accomplish with this?” she asked, with genuine curiosity.

“Well, as you might imagine-“

“No, not that.” she interjected, still perfectly, eerily placid. “It is clear to me how you might have misconstrued Rya’s genuine kindness for deceit, what with the place she called home and the lay of the land. I mean to ask why you took me here in especial, urged me to talk to those you had wronged, and are now sitting with prepared answers as though I wouldn’t have noticed this little subtlety.”

The stately, dignified jaw dropped, then shut just as abruptly.

“Of course. Of bloody course.” he muttered to himself with a shake of the head.

“You could easily have told me about your past yourself, while we travelled. Instead, you have referred only vaguely to a certain ‘stupidity’, and what was that horrid word you felt compelled to use- maladroitness- in your younger days, while remaining startlingly reticent as to the philosophies that drove you then. You have spoken vividly of the duels you fought and the enemies you faced, only to tell me nothing of why you wrought all that you did. And then you bring me to a castle of ‘friends’- only two of whom remember you fondly- to have them furnish me with the tale, where you could easily have chosen to stop at any other fastness or hold you liberated before to procure the ingredients for dreambrew.”

Her fiancé’s pupils dilated, taking in her coldly furious expression.

“It was not for any manipulative purpose.” he said, earnestly, huffing in a deep breath. “I… If I were to tell you these tales myself, you would perhaps disbelieve me. You might subconsciously attempt to separate the Alagos you know from the cruel, terrible fool I was- but the truth is that the Alagos of then is not so distant from the Alagos of the present day.”

Oh, you don’t know the half of it.

“Furthermore, my retelling might come accompanied by several biases or errors in perception of my own- as well as omissions I considered- still consider- trivial to me, but which might have meant the world to those whom I failed. I respect you too much for that. You needed to know the tale in its purest form.”

“A noble thought.” Malenia said, “But only a thought. You continue to avoid the errors of your past despite your self-awareness, hoping that your actions in the future can erase it.”

The words flowed as a glacier, even more coldly and mercilessly than she had intended for. She felt honoured, even humbled by his gesture- but however much she respected his understanding, mending Alagos’ errors took priority, and that meant not showing it.

“I know the future cannot erase the past, and neither can the present.” said Alagos quietly, and nothing more.

“But you can learn from the past, if only you confront it.” Malenia intoned in a voice of steel, her will the clash of a heavy blade upon a hauberk. “And my love for you compels me to see you grow stronger in every way, so confront it! Discard your prepared answers, and your rehearsed explanations. I have no use for them. Look at me, Alagos. Look at the eyes I once had, and tell me why you did not render aid to them after your errors.”

“Neither Nepheli, nor Roderika, nor Rya would accept anything I have to offer-“

“And I will not accept lies.” she said, a thunderous quake of ice-lightning erupting from her voice and settling itself into his bones. “They know as well as I know what you did for Queen Rennala, and precisely what manner of healing you can impart should you have the mind for it. I have been witness to your tendency to collect knowledge, and to your ability to apply insights. I know how fiercely you can fight. Why, then, will you not fight for them?”

Silence, for a moment. Her chosen consort inhaled, then exhaled, and with a powerful effort of will, tore his ancient face from hers and looked to the window.

“Time.” he said at last, the answer dredged up from the depths of his soul. “It is true that I could have aided them. If I am not flattering myself, I could, in these three decades, have turned this fledgling kingdom into a city-state worthy of standing alongside the dominions of the Shattering. I could have written their laws, based on what I know of ethics. I could have uplifted these misbegotten, these omens, these albinaurics and serpent-folk to the same standing as humanity. I might have imparted my knowledge of life, instead of merely my knowledge in how to kill it. But if I did so-“

He sighed, and placed a hand on the wall.

“Who would have taught Millicent? Who would have guided my - our - daughter on her way?” he asked, and Malenia understood that the question was directed at himself. “And now- who would travel with you on your way to cure your curse, as you deserve?”


She understood well enough now. Even if he wished to render aid, he was indisposed. There were simply too many duties on his shoulders. Was this how Marika had felt? How Miquella had felt, during the war?

For her part, her conscience had always been clear. Her tasks always outpaced their completion, but she reasoned that if she did not see to her first priorities, she could attend to no priority. Had Alagos, too, been following this- rational idea?

“Do you have the faintest inkling why I choose to show compassion at all, lovely Alagos?”

Her fiancé seemed surprised by this, a questioning glint appearing on his withdrawn face. His fingers steepled themselves together in a familiar gesture of calculation.

“I would have thought you advocated compassion due to the values you and your brother hold; the values of the Haligtree.”

“And yet, have you not once questioned why these values came into being?” Malenia asked, swooping over him, her powerful form casting a long shadow over his. It was to Alagos’ credit that he remained steely and upright.

"I know that a rational life is no longer conflated with a life of virtue.” he said, after some long thought. “I know that ‘values’ are not part of any cosmic truth in this indifferent universe, and that they are constructs created by the living so that they live in harmony. I know that there may well be selfishness concealed within every act of selflessness, whether or not we wish it. The existence and the nature of the Outer Gods, as well as the fact that they act as suits their whims and would not distinguish between a stained soul and a whole one, has convinced this world that there is no merit to empathy, or to morality at all. Perhaps it convinced me as such, for a time.”

“And so you turned instead to seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge, knowing well that in the quest for your personal enlightenment, any values you might have held could not last?”

A perfect, disarming blow, delivered with a blademaster’s precision to his heart. A stunned Alagos made almost to rise in ire, before finding that he did not have the breath to do so.

“No.” he replied, but it was no more than a whisper. Those fingers, formerly steepled together, now seemed to be scrabbling at the drawn skin of his knuckles. “Once, perhaps, but no more. I know the dangers of that far too well.”

“But you don’t.” Malenia said, again tearing past his defences. “Not truly. It is only that you, assailed by your own conscience, had laid a last snare for yourself. Knowledge itself; knowledge for its own sake. That was what drove you. ”

“That would be selfish."

“No doubt it would be selfish!” she roared, voice as mighty as it had been when she rallied the Haligtree to war. “For in even considering the idea of ‘utility’, you would aspire to a goal, and in arguing for a moral principle, would immediately assume that your opponent has the same goal as yourself. You know this, and yet you have done so. That way lies madness, my dearest, sheer madness and nihilism. When that argument fails, what then? Would you discard your values? What would you have left to strive for?”

“I know not!” he growled, a thunderstorm as much as she was- but even then more muted, more restrained, and incapable of matching her majesty. “Perhaps you see now why I tarried in my way to the throne.”

“But then you would tend to the ones you love, in order to avoid these questions? That would be doing a disservice to your love. Tell me, then! You clearly do not believe there is any ‘reward’ for compassion. You know that it shall not necessarily improve one’s lot in life. I owe no duty to the world and neither do you, but I still choose to have compassion. It is not because I feel I must, as you do. It is not in repentance for any sins, as you feel.”

“Why do you tell me this? If given the time and wherewithal, I would pay a thousand times’ weregild for my errors in the past, if only those I wronged would accept it.”

“But you would do so for the wrong reason, just as you chose to reject compassion in the past for the wrong reason. Yes, I know what you must have thought. How dare the meek ask for my compassion, where they have done nothing to deserve it? What right have they to my aid, if they are not willing to fight? ‘Be great!’, you must have said, ‘do not wallow, and be great!’ ‘Earn my admiration, not my worthless compassion!’” the words were almost said in a sneer.

Alagos’ eyes had widened. Malenia wondered if they had looked like clouds.

“You- plucked my old self- how did you know-“

Ha. Very soon, that old goblin would no longer question that he was hers to read as she wished.

“If I had met you then, I would counter that you never gave them the tools to be great. You would then ask me why you should feel obliged to hand them those tools in the first place.”

“And so we come back to the question of why you feel compassion is necessary.” Alagos said, gathering himself furiously. “The answer to which I would have taken for granted and never needed to know! Why ask the question at all, then?”

“You are a good person, my dearest Alagos.” Malenia said, lowering her voice to a whisper. “But I would rather have the hand of one wise, than one righteous. It might help you understand me that I do not believe in compassion because I think it is ‘the right thing to do’. Neither does Miquella. You seem to think that it is important to me for that reason, which it is not.”

His shoulders seemed to bear the weight of a mountain, in that instant, and he looked every bit a man of his years, instead of the strange agelessness she had grown accustomed to.

“Then you… do not care at all that you have fallen in love with a heartless… bastard?”

He sounded strangely disappointed, wearing that ancient sadness as a cloak.

“Of course I care, you utter fool. But I do not care that you didn’t do the right thing, as the universe does not differentiate between right and wrong. I show compassion, and admire it when shown, not because I must but because I can. I do not care that it is the right thing to do, or the right mindset to have: I simply need no justification at all. Love for growing things is my way in life because I say so, not because of any inherent virtue the sentiment might possess.”

That withered hand- that sword-hand- trembled. Trembled, with that quiet firmness lost.

“How could you say that? That there is no right and wrong-“

“To us there is, perhaps, but we are transient. Not to the universe, which is eternal. And our definitions of right and wrong change with time, as yours must have. Values are what give us meaning, but as old values are discarded and make way for new ones- their crumbling tears at us. A history of rational choices morphs into a history of mistakes- and that way lies the eventual absence of values. What I mean to say is that either we must have values that last forever- or that we must be able to conjure meaning by the simple act of thought. That is what Miquella and I do. We have compassion because we choose to, and there is no justification necessary.”

Her fiancé tried to argue at first, but then parsed the words in his memory and thought. He would think for an hour, and she sat patiently and waited, her golden helm fixed upon his pensive face and offering no respite.

“So the fact that I was not ‘good’ has no meaning to you, but you are angry with me because I rejected compassion?”

“Not even that. I am angry with you not because your past- foolish- rejected compassion when he could not justify it. My anger at you comes from you needing to justify it at all now. I do not either intend to assert that you ‘should’ have shown compassion: only that I love those who do, and need no justification for it. If you were perfect, Alagos, truly perfect to me- then you would have fought for these people and deemed it good because you said so. You need no external meaning; only that which you create.”

He looked at her and then himself, apparently wondering whether he should tell her that he considered her words ridiculous. She was fairly convinced that it was his respect for her which kept him from it, and that hearing those words from her and no one else had given him pause, and caused him to truly consider them.

“I cannot… create… meaning, Malenia.” Alagos muttered, considering his open palm as though inspecting a relic of the past. “Meaning can only be interpreted; understood. If my will had authority enough to understand how the world works-“

“And you proceed to the question of whether that would be ‘good’ again. I ask you to reject that consideration. For now, you would seek to help others because you see some inherent ‘good’ in the act, because your pain compels you to see ‘good’. When you are capable of creating meaning- you will seek to aid them because you can, and shall arbitrarily decide to. Or you might not. The only difference is that I would greatly approve if you did.”

“Look at you.” Alagos said, words haunted with an odd medley of admiration and disappointment. “How could you stand there and demand that I have the will of a god?” he asked, suddenly. “You know full well that I am human; all too human!”

“You know very well that you cannot remain so for long, if you intend to take my hand.” Malenia replied, knowingly. “But for now, I tire of this. I need a good spar, and I sense that it would do you some good as well.”

“Dearest, just what has come over you?” the Goddess asked in genuine bewilderment, after her fifth victory in a row.

‘Yes, just what is wrong with him?’ Miquella parroted internally, as though he didn’t already know. Malenia scowled. Her brother had been completely silent while she had spoken to Alagos, and then flooded her veins with an overwhelming sense of pride and joy at the most embarrassing possible moment.

Unbalanced by that as she had been, she didn’t expect to win their first few bouts as decisively as she did, and from then, it only got worse.

“It isn’t unlikely that you’ve become that much better since our last spar. The heavens know it wouldn’t be the most ridiculous thing you are apparently capable of.” her Tarnished grunted noncommittally, returning to his guard (a relaxed changer’s, which made it all the more frustrating).

It had been incredibly difficult to detect at first, much like nearly everything else about her insufferably opaque goblin. It was true that her technique was better than his, now that she was familiar with his methods, but she recalled starkly how much she had needed to sweat for a victory.

Now- although she still needed to work for it- a loss seemed impossible, because Alagos could not win. He wasn’t trying to in the first place, and she told him as much.

“Nonsense. If you hadn’t somehow danced around that mutation on the bind- or if I had been expecting that you could somehow flick your wrists to disengage and bring in the curve of your blade below my wrist-“

“You are a damned liar and you know it. And I haven’t the faintest clue why you must overcomplicate things by being that good at it.”

Alagos sighed. “If we are quite done about my inadequacies…” he muttered rather cruelly in a clear sign that the conversation was at an end, and with a sigh of her own, Malenia resumed her own guard.

Their little charade resumed; a sidestep to deflect her diagonal cut, the follow-up thrust to the chest which she stepped back and swept her blade down to divert, the rising false-edge cut aimed to his face- him bringing his flamberge to a hasty crown to parry, her aiming two straight cuts at the head which were blocked twice, the preamble to her attempt to close the distance for a grapple- and while she was forced to let go of her blade, it was all too simple to control both his arms with one of her own and signal that she could very easily have used the other for his throat. Six bouts to nil.

It was not that Alagos wasn’t putting up a fight at all, which was why it had taken her that long to pinpoint his hesitancy. And yet, on those decisive moments- there was no flame-brought strength to greet her overwhelming physicality. No subtle sorcery to generate or seize an advantage beyond the habitual and the instinctive. That quiet, tranquil ruthlessness with which her beloved undermined and clove apart aggression had been replaced by the sad certainty of a last stand -powerful nevertheless, but not enough to match her for mastery. She couldn’t tell whether the dimming of that familiar soul-fire had been conscious or unconscious.

“Enough of this.” she declared, fed to her teeth. “If I hadn’t known any better, I would assume you meant to insult me.”

Her fiancé had no reply to that, simply shifting wearily into the guard of the full iron gate.

“Do not for a moment think I don’t know what this is.” she seethed, raising her blade almost in a taunt. “You have suddenly become afraid of hurting me, simply because we happened to dredge up a few memories. I wish you knew how foolish that is, since you were far from afraid when we last sparred. The only wounds you can deal me are to my pride. In fact, the only way you can truly hurt me is the way you are hurting me now.”

“I have said it thrice and shall say it again tenfold: your belief in your invincibility as a warrior will be your undoing.” he said coldly, but she had at least succeeded in drawing a rise out of him.

“Then show me!” she growled, circling. “I asked for this spar to draw out the anger within you, and to silence your fears. I wished for you to express yourself through your strengths, not to withdraw into yourself as you are doing. For now, it definitely feels as though I am invincible, at least against you. Prove to me that I am not. Fight, damn you!”

A distant, shrill whistling in the winds around Stormhill, where they had come, told her that she had accomplished her aim. Alagos’ grip tightened and then relaxed, and a scowl asserted itself on his face in place of the taciturn frown of a moment ago. Good.

“As you wish.” he replied, as though accepting an invitation.

She lunged at him earnestly, the cut to the neck met by a hanging parry. Alagos’s attempt to let her blade slide off and close the distance was halted by a cut to left knee which the Tarnished evaded, at the cost of initiative. Malenia nearly brought her blade up in a rising cut to meet the downward cut she expected as a follow-up, only for it to prove a feint which masked a plunging cut.

On instinct alone, she tore her katana singing through the air, parrying with a sonorous clang, stepping back slightly and forcing Alagos’ blade away with a diagonal cut. Parity had been restored, but Alagos did not disengage, signalling that he was searching for a bind.

On a whim, she allowed it, trying to overrun the flamberge’s strange taper with the curve of her own blade, offering an essential choice to either disengage or somehow force a mutation. Her fiancé chose the latter, dipping his point and forcing her katana aside with the strong of his sword, threatening her wrists should she attempt to follow through to his torso.

Refusing to allow him to bring his blade up and over, she stepped inwards, turning her wrist for a thrust, which he was forced to parry by sidestepping the other way and bringing his blade back upwards instead of up and around.

A false-edge cut at the neck was checked hastily by a hanging parry, but Malenia had the initiative now and was relentless: in swift succession there followed the turning cut to force a parry from a crown; the easy redirection of momentum to deny the follow-up thrust with a slicing cut to the forearm, and then a thrust of her own, which Alagos somehow turned aside by twisting the flat of his blade and pressing hers sideways.

He was in full retreat, avoiding her subsequent thrust to a leg by lifting it- and then he slipped.

Profoundly disappointed, Malenia used the distance and the time she had gained to fly up, preparing to unleash a waterfowl’s dance. After all, Alagos was disoriented, off-balance, tired and hardly had the time to muster his sorcery and blow her away.

Alas that she ignored Miquella’s shouted warning within her mind while enthralled by the thrill of battle. Alas that she recognised the deception too late.

Alagos ‘slipping’ had been a lie; a carefully-crafted, meticulous lie, with his mind apparently detached, cold and terribly calm enough to conjure it despite being in the throes of desperation, even while reeling under the force of her onslaught.

The thing he must have thrown at her must already have been in his hand, the moment she flew. At the very last moment, about to aim the first in a deadly, ineluctable whirlwind of strokes, something earthen and utterly horrible struck her, shattered against her and robbed her of breath.


Her veins filled with it, Miquella’s warmth stolen away, along with Alagos’ fiery blessing. She fell to the ground shivering, defence forgotten.

Her brother’s light left her mind, and in a grand show of eloquence, the scorpion clicked with new life.



An Explanation (I hope)

The crux of what is discussed here is that Malenia managed to figure out that Alagos rejected the idea of compassion in the past due to a very Nietzschean (horrible) argument. I shan't go on about that here, but suffice to say he believed compassion to be a weakening influence, and that any satisfaction felt by a human being at showing compassion is in fact due to the contempt inherent in human nature.

Now, there are a number of counters to this idea, but what's interesting is that Malenia here decides to counter with another Nietzschean argument: that she doesn't need any justification to value compassion. It's important to her because she says so. In the real world, this isn't an argument that can be invoked by a human, as that would be arrogant, but can be invoked without fallacy when 'humans surpass themselves'. I chose to portray it this way because it's a very 'otherworldly'- dare I say even 'godly' way of thinking: and if anyone should have the ability to invoke such an argument after being shaped by their experiences, it's probably Malenia.

The second part of this chapter portrays Nietzschean philosophy with some more agreement. The issue with Alagos is his understanding of values. In the real world, antiquity valued 'virtues' because virtues were seen as rational: the idea of transcendentalism meant that there was a higher 'plane' or 'afterlife' or whatever where souls would be judged in direct proportion to how 'good' they had been. Modern culture has mostly done away with this by the rejection of 'higher planes of existence', thereby prompting a shift in values- from 'karmic' values (as I call them) to 'enlightenment' values. Pertaining to Elden Ring: while there is a 'spiritual aspect', it's ruled mostly by the outer gods, who also have no adherence to any human concept of morality, so it would apply here too. In fact, it has.

So here we have a young Alagos, seeking knowledge for its own sake- falling into 'The Last Snare laid by morality'- assuming that it is his moral imperative to gain knowledge, which is nothing more than a ghost. That 'one ought to pursue knowledge for the sake of knowledge' is a moral principle, but the fact that it is invoked by somebody who rejects the idea of moral principles renders their whole argument invalid. That idea gives way to the eventual crumbling of any value. If he didn't change his ways, Alagos risked becoming 'The Last Man'- a self-aware nihilist, with no values.

Thankfully, this stopped- but again, for the wrong reasons. The third issuse is that Alagos feels that he must be 'good' to clean up his messes, as a sort of recompense. Note that he even refers to helping others as 'weregild'. This will do nothing to heal him and in fact robs his goodness of meaning. Malenia instead tells him not to be good because he feels he must, but because he can.

My own views on the matter

I'm probably not qualified to speak about this, but anyway: 'Thus spake Zarathustra' is the big elephant in the room here. While I agree with the Nietzschean prognosis for society, I disagree with his proposed cure. I don't think the 'Overman' is possible, nor worth striving for. It's awful, antipathic, disrepectful of humanity and I think we'd all die a terrible death if we tried to construct a society that attempted to create an 'Overman' to deal with the absence of value.

My (abstract) answer would instead be to try and construct an eternal system of values, which does not crumble- an answer hinted at here. In the real world, it's difficult to say whether compassion for your fellow individual should be one of these eternal values, as a lot of compassion (though definitely not all) is in fact accompanied by contempt. I'm inclined to believe compassion should be an eternal value but am not willing to get into that argument.

As pertinent to the story, the dominion of the Haligtree here strives for a hybrid answer: People to follow a system of eternal or perennial values, the place of which is decided by two Gods shaped by their experiences, who have instated these values 'because they say so'.

So in summary, Malenia and Miquella are 'good' not because they see any inherent worth in the act of being good (though they do see an inherent worth, it's not what drives them), and instead strive for 'good' and care for 'morality' because they said so. This goodness is inherent and they don't feel the need to justify it. Maybe it's arrogant. I just thought it's very interesting and befitting the mindset of an absolutely wilful and indomitable set of Empyreans.

On another note, burn the freezing pots. They're awful and I'm rather offended on Malenia's behalf. It took some measure of control not to want to slap Alagos for that one.

Chapter 23: To speak to our dear Dead


In which there is a much-needed reconciliation wherein cuddles may or may not be involved, the world's most terrible weapon (from certain perspectives) is improved, an invention is disavowed and marked for eradication, and the three finally confront the face which has been staring at them throughout their stay.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Dear one, let fly, and now amend

your errors, to ‘neath my gaze ascend.

I chose you, daughter, to wrench and rend:

may all have death, then live without end!”

It was a clicking, cacophonous harmony, almost beautiful in its untameable virulence, and one that felt like a soothing balm upon her soul in a moment of lassitude.

She did not know why the whispers resumed as a song, now. Words had been enough, hadn’t they? Words should be enough, as the majestic scorpion insisted, but it was patient. Its love for its one and only daughter meant an endless patience and a fondness of immeasurable depths.

“I will watch you as you bloom, feed you as your matchless beauty flowers- and to see that you should remain matchless, all else shall wither in your wake by my edict. Glory be to your majesty, and beloved be your name. My dear daughter. You are my gift unto the world- and as all gifts I have given, a gift unto myself!”

The clicking was in an unknowable language, formulated before time began in the conventional sense. The words were silence, the voice chaos- but chaos was present at the core of each and every soul, was it not? And it was this chaotic basis of life that the scorpion sought to foster, and to protect. To love.

“Before you stands a traitor, who would deny this. A traitor whose lies blinded you. A traitor who would seek to use you. Kill him. Kill him now.”

None but her could have parsed the meaning of those word-silences, as they were parts of herself. They were notes attuned to her very soul; the clicking dialect itself invented solely for the purpose of her being able to understand it. And she understood, most of all, that the silken whispers held her best interests at heart.

“The Lord of Fire stands before you. His flames would blind you, his guiles tempt you, and with his winds- there is no knowing to where you might be swept away. Cut this stem of discord at the root. Dry the soil before the seed can flower. Kill him.”


Now this was a voice- not a clicking dialect of metaphors, raining a speech of silence- a voice that sang and echoed in rousing tremors.

She would know that voice anywhere. Her mind conjured that familiar image of a lord crowned with seven stars, waging shadowy war against the claws that had settled within her soul. Glinting spears of Unalloyed Gold rang against the scorpion’s stinger, while a lake of gentle waters attempted to dissolve the thing’s rotten legs within their taintless depths.

Even so, the God of Rot would have won. The Haligtree, while strong, was a stationary thing- growing no longer, settling in to the same stagnancy that it fought against. It was not the grand god who had intervened on her behalf that could save her.

“Dearest ‘Nia, my sister.” The new voice- the old voice- was far softer, as she remembered it, though no less startling in its sonority. She remembered a familiar longing to run her fingers through his golden locks, to press her forehead to his and embrace him, to part the waters of the world’s seas for his will. They would have each other’s staunchest devotion forever.

“Dearest Miquella. My brother.”

She had lost count of how many impossible efforts of will her life had drawn from her, she reflected, as she mustered yet another to force herself into awareness of the world.

The scorpion still grasped at her with tendrils that seemed oddly gentle, to keep her immersed and to drown her, but she denied it and threw off her lassitude. Breath came to her with the force of an avalanche, and with several gasps, she came to herself as she must.


She traced it to its source: a broken pot that lay nearby, subtly chilling the air around it. The first necessity of her being was to siphon away the anger that threatened her: and so she did, trampling over the remnants of the pot, grinding them into dust beneath metallic feet.

A series of faint, weak whispers that she truly ought to be trampling ‘something’ else- a certain face or throat- died away, excoriated by the strength of her spirit.

“Malenia? Oh, Malenia, I am so unfathomably sorry-“ a soft, desperate voice said, its owner directly in front of her, laying two palms upon her forearms. Such an odd voice- desperation seemed so rare, so utterly out of place in its tones.

Warmth and strength surged through her, and the familiar action brought back memory.

Alagos. That dangerous, deceitful melange of half-truths. That dratted, incorrigible old goblin. That foolish, so utterly foolish- and yet so deeply wise-

Damned be words. She truly ought to cudgel him- well, if that was extreme, a punch would be well-deserved- but at the very least, a slap was absolutely necessary-

But she found that her mind gave no thought to comeuppance, in that moment, and did only what it thought was rational. ‘Rationality’, in those circ*mstances, found that she was cold, and dictated that she needed warmth. As such, she immediately gathered up the closest available source of warmth, and snuggled it close.

“You see now, do you not? How many times must I tell you that you deserve far better? Even as I reiterate to myself that I would never hurt you, not while I am capable of thought, that old rage compels me- commands me-“

“Shut up.” she murmured into his ear, focusing on the warmth of Alagos’ face against her neck instead of the nonsense he spoke. “It was the Rot, not you. When you struck me, all you ever did was inform me of a weakness I did not know I had- thereby making me stronger. Is that not our duty to those we love?”

Those storm’s eyes that never wept were blinking- as though attempting to shed tears, only to find themselves dry. Her Tarnished somehow managed to look confused and more than a little mad even while pressed up against her, which she found infuriating.

“All I ever asked of you is that you shed your own weaknesses. All I ever wish for you is that you achieve your own ambitions. You do not need to earn my love, which you have already. But you said once that your happiness is my happiness, and if that is true, any task I give you is meant to guide you towards that light we share.”

She breathed in softly and deeply, the power concealed in even this simple act prompting Alagos to breathe with her. She noticed that his hands had unconsciously found her hair again, only for that idiot to assert his idiotic will and halt them inches from it, as though afraid to touch a priceless treasure that he could never have.

“Dear me. I appear to have stumbled, as usual. I wonder what I would ever do without you, my love.”

“Probably something miraculous as you always do. You’d be off being wise and paradoxically hypocritical somewhere, all the while stubbornly ignoring your own welfare and with no hope or desire for a home. Most of the world would revere your name, while the few who know what a moron you can be curse it-“ she began answering with a smile, before realising something.

“You somehow managed to use the term ‘my love’. After all this while.”

An interminably long pause.

“Ah. So I did, it seems.” he replied, the easy and normally convincing mask of nonchalance nothing less than pathetic before her sight.

“There’s no need to give yourself a mental tongue-lashing for ‘daring’ to do so.”

“Whoever said I am- I most definitely am not-! Malenia. Please. Don’t…don’t squeeze. I’ve learnt all my lessons, and I will put them into practice from this very instant.

…Now put me down.”

“First, you must promise to burn the recipe you used for the freezing pot. And destroy all the pots you find, while you’re at it. In fact, make it your solemn duty to eradicate the idea of the freezing pot.”

“Of course, dearest. Now- no! I asked to be put down, not carried back to the castle!”

“They don’t suspect a thing, do they?” Alagos asked, buried within a pile of books and manuscripts.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘they’, but you tend to be very suspicious as a rule, dear.” Malenia replied. Her flesh hand was feeling along one of Alagos’ many journals, reading by gauging with preternatural senses where the ink had struck and subtly altered the matter of the page. Her metal hand, of course, had found his silver hair and refused to go anywhere else.

“You, of all people, have no right to say that.” the Tarnished noted, half fond and half tired. It wasn’t a denial.

The Goddess smiled, pausing in the middle of an interesting tale about twin Gargoyles and possibly the world’s only study in how to elegantly and calmly express the emotion of bloodcurdling wrath.

“I notice that every time we have duelled, my dearest, attempting my Waterfowl dance against you has never ended well for me.”

“Why, thank you.” he said, then looked at her with a deeply apprehensive frown. “You mean to improve it, don’t you, however impossible that might seem?”

“And you find that objectionable?” she asked sweetly.

“Most… certainly not.” he replied, the long pause destroying his original intent to be curt.

“Oh! You find it attractive.” she said instead.

‘Sometimes, ‘Nia dearest, you can be rather evil.’ Miquella noted with pride, while Alagos was busy driving his quill into the desk with associated strange noises from the back of his throat.

“AHEM.” her fiancé coughed. “The problem is quite obviously the flying jump at the beginning, which leaves you momentarily vulnerable. I see no error in the strokes that follow afterwards.” he noted, tone all precise and objective.

Malenia nodded along, unsurprised. “Alas that the moment of flight is necessary, both for me to gather my strength to strike faster than usual, as well as for the sake of leverage. I’ve managed to make the second and third jumps significantly shorter, but have failed with the first.”

“Then there are two alternatives: the first, to work the jump out of your dance, and the second, to deceive the opponent about its intent.”

“How about I do both separately?” she asked. It was a rhetorical question. “Having two dances in my arsenal would not be terrible.” For me.

Alagos looked around, as if somehow expecting an impending catastrophe. “In the case that you remove the jump – though I know little about kenjutsu – I would suggest reinventing the dance entirely. The second and third assaults both require you to begin while in the air, with considerable forwards momentum and your blade already drawn backwards for a swing. It would be untenable to rely on such a thing without the first part of the sequence, which is already the most efficient way to put yourself in position.”

“I see. You mean to say that without the first, I should rely on no jumps throughout the sequence, as the first part is already the most efficient way for me to work with them.” An insight remarkable for its depth, as she had come to expect. Of course, Alagos remained ever-wise when it came to her.

Her betrothed narrowed his eyes, attempting to visualise the possibilities. “I am not the kind of duellist to favour a prepared variation or sequence. It is typically impossible to implement such a thing. Your Waterfowl dance relies on you outpacing your opponent enough for speed and precision that every attack serves as its own defence, with only the jump in the beginning as a possible opening. If you insist on keeping a prepared variation, there will always be risks- though these risks are somewhat lessened if you can always return to a guard during any phase of the movement.”

“My master didn’t like it either- but when he saw the speed I could achieve in the dim light of the Siofra falls, he insisted that every stroke both attack and defend. The dance was always meant as a surprise: to deprive an opponent of the time to react, so that it would be impossible to halt completely.”

“Then use heavy, chopping cuts that follow through into each other in the same way that you typically do in the dance, but from an initial guard. I would myself recommend a high guard over the shoulder, but that is up to your discretion. The opponent must not immediately suspect the form of attack when it comes.”

“Hmm. I already have a few ideas. You truly are at your best in these moments, dearest. Making up for the stupidity of the past few days, are we?” she asked, needling again, to that same, draconic grumble (of which she was beginning to become oddly fond).

Leaving that aside, the second alternative was to deceive the opponent as to the jump’s intent.”

“And how might I do that, more than I already do? Raising my hand over my shoulder only indicates either a falling cut or a feint with a plunging thrust. I don’t know how else to mask the dance.”

“You misunderstand me. It is not about masking the form the attack will take, which you already do- it is about masking your offensive intent in the first place.”

“What more should I do than what I already do? I only use it when I see a lapse in my opponent’s defences, or when I tire them enough to give myself an opening. I typically preface it with a glancing blow of some kind, and always strive to have the opponent on the retreat to give myself room when I use it.”

Alagos shook his head. “If I had the skill and power to execute the Waterfowl dance, what do you think I would do?”

She thought for a while.

“Employ some insidious trap or deceitful chicanery to convince your opponent that you are in fact retreating, most probably- oh.”

Her Tarnished sighed. “Ignoring the way you phrased that – yes, I know you approve – the opponent ought not to suspect the attack at all. When I fought you, I knew when to expect it. That jump can only mean an impending offence. My options were either to try and step around you- which your control over your flight prevents- or to disrupt your plans entirely. Your objective should be to prevent an opponent from concluding this. If you gain an initiative, but then deliberately sacrifice it, the opponent will be confused- and that will be time enough.”

Her grip on his strand of hair tightened, in her momentary excitement. “You mean to say- I should gain an initiative in tempo, then jump backwards when my opponent tries to search for a bind or parry my incoming blade- ah! I see! There’ll be enough time for me to gather my strength, I can always dive forwards after that moment, and my opposition will not immediately react by trying to disrupt me since their stroke would still be falling-“

“Dear Malenia, if you could perhaps let go of my hair-“

“What a lovely Alagos I have.”

Still waters, it was said, had hidden depths. Stormveil was anything but still- a locus of bustling, thriving life, a kingdom still in its infancy attempting to establish itself amidst the ruins of predecessors both illustrious and maligned- but its depths were well-hidden nonetheless.

“Now jump between the wooden planks to reach the ground. I can feel the dormant power here strengthen the lower you go.”

“Yes, yes, brother. There’s no need to tell me how to get down.” Malenia said, jumping swiftly from plank to plank, until finally her feet came to rest in a graveyard of statues. Spur after spur of jagged stone made themselves known to her, and a tremor of magic Miquella loosed through the ground informed her of four statues that looked solemnly at nothing.

“It isn’t quite a plague, you see.” Miquella whispered, and she wondered if his thoughts were meandering. “It’s far too watchful. There is a discipline to the way it spreads- a certain element of careful planning.”

Her mind caught up, realising that her brother spoke about the power that he had sensed lurking beneath Stormveil.

“An outer god, then?” asked Malenia.

“Perhaps- or at the least, something very much like one. That tells us little, though- the Scarlet Rot and the Frenzied Flame, for instance, are perfectly content to spread as haphazardly and virulently as they might. All I can infer for certain is that there is a concerted, focused will behind the spread of this- thing. This deathblight.”

The Goddess nodded, and walked forwards soundlessly, flipping over a corpse with her blade.

“Three rats, and a large one. Recently killed, which means someone passed through here not long ago.”

Their blood was curiously dried, but the flesh was still soft. Perhaps these had been diseased rats, drained of their life.

There was nothing for her here but the past. She walked onwards, only for the graveyard of stone to turn to one for corpses. Skeletons dotted the brown, filthy soil as though they had grown upon it, and the remains of a giant, monstrous thing that, when scratched, produced the same sound as tree bark stood out to her.

“An ulcerated tree spirit? I shouldn’t have expected less, I suppose- though those are the products of life where it has no place. Why should one lurk in a nest of lifelessness, such as this?”

Her mind fixed itself on the last sentence, and she paused a moment. It was true that Limgrave’s ever-present breezes felt a lot more muted, and that the air stank- but there wasn’t anything heavy or stolid in the air, as she would associate with the Rot. It was simply- sedate.

The vast sense of something absent imposed itself upon her like a deafening silence, but she ignored it and marched on, determined to fulfil Miquella’s ends.

“You said that deathblight has come to infect roots above the land, and that dead trees and skeletons have sprouted blank, dead eyes. Is this what the infection does? Drain life?” she asked cursorily.

“No. It is- death to the living, and life to the dead.” Miquella replied, and she felt alarmed at the hint of a true shudder in his invincible voice. “A corruption of the idea of rebirth. Those who live in death can be said to- experience life without creating new life. It is as though they stretch out their existence in one infinite moment, creating nothing new and basking in the permanence of the old.”

“Then it is something I must raise my blade against.” Malenia said simply, before halting. She felt a faint warmth on her skin, bringing her blade to guard.

A shadow turned swiftly with the sharp whip of a cloak, holding a very familiar sword in a fool’s guard. It held a softly burning mote of flame in its hand in place of a torch.

“I thought you were asleep.” said the Goddess, lowering her blade and walking forward to stand beside the flaming silhouette.

“And I thought you might come here.” said Alagos, pursing his thin lips. “What you’re searching for is right ahead- though I must warn you, it isn’t pleasant.”

She followed his instructions, stepping off the ledge. The strange quality of absence within the winds did not let her feel the outlines of what she was stepping onto, and she needed to walk all over it to picture-

“Godwyn.” said Miquella in two voices at once, Trina’s grimly certain and his own horrified.


I... really have no excuse. I did have a lot of work to get through in June, but this should have been out a month ago. Blame 'This is how you lose the Time War' and other things like that.

The first 'new' version of the Waterfowl dance is just the cut attack that Malenia once had. The second is... just as evil as you might think it is. Alagos tends to specialise in this sort of thing.

I rather think Miquella would have been fascinated by Ranni before the Shattering, but I doubt he's going to be too pleased with her when he learns how she 'did it all'. They'll be meeting very soon, of course, and then the confounding conundrums of conniving cogitation can commence. There's also a bit about why the Lake of Rot is directly underneath Lirunia that promises to be interesting to write about.

But before all that happens, it might be time to check in with Diallos and Jar-bairn who may or may not have come across a very well-known fellow who specialises in earthquakes.

And yes, there will be more cuddles. Maliketh does not like this.

Chapter 24: L'if, Lifeless Tree! Your 'Great Maybe': a Grand Potato.


In which events of a few years past unfold, as Diallos and Jar-Bairn meet the Chieftain of the Badlands and are witness to a battle against a Dragon.

Meanwhile, a few years later, Malenia and Miquella realise the truth of Godwyn's fate, Alagos reveals a mending rune, the plots of a certain Carian Princess are revealed, and the true instigator of the Shattering is brought to light- though, for some reason, one of the twins is far less surprised by this than the other.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The old map had long since reached the end of its usefulness when Diallos felt the first quakes in the distance.

Half a decade’s long march led them past its furthest reaches; through a parched Land of Assassins where none dared sleep, the ruins of a city swallowed by dark where an ever-dwindling bonfire fed by the cinders of lords might once have dwelt, and a curiously pristine crystal palace now devoid of life, where the soul of the King that sustained it had long since fallen into nothingness.

He would be lying to himself if he didn’t admit how woefully unprepared he’d been. At the very least, there was much he had learned. When his whip hadn’t proved enough, he had drawn the rapier an old friend had set aside for him, and when the dangers of the Badlands with their skin like rock proved impervious to it, he took up a strange, smoking hammer in the shape of a crow’s beak from a madman slain on the way.

“How much longer, brother?” asked his companion and comrade-in-arms. Diallos smiled.

That voice had never lost its optimism throughout their long march- and by some miracle, Jar-Bairn had taken to it far better than he could conceive himself doing.

“Glad you asked.” said he, pointing straight ahead. “The old tales tell of a warrior that could shake the earth with his stride and rattle avalanches with the force of his roar. At least one of those things- if not both- is quite possibly happening straight ahead. It’s either that, or this is another dragon and our luck has run out at last.”

“It’s like my old coz said, then! Prevarication is the fruit of an undisciplined mind, and a mind without discipline is a body without direction.”

The last of House Hoslow’s sons grimaced at the haunting memory. “Yes, well, let’s not adhere to all his lessons, shall we?”

He supposed he could not fault Jar-Bairn’s tendency to be fascinated by dangerous characters, given that he had agreed, five long years ago, to embark on this ludicrous journey to meet one such figure.

The tremors heightened, and the ground heated, as though parted in a fissure for the fires beneath to erupt in shattering force. A rasping, reptilian howl was heard- seeming almost as if the creature that had loosed them was seeking desperately to expend its last strength, or was already in its death-throes, throwing all it could to bring its killer to the grave along with it.

“D’you- d’you think he’s alright, Diallos? Wandrin’ in the old world? He warn’t the best at staying out of trouble, old coz.”

The Tarnished fought to keep the sardonic sneer out of his smile, looking down at his friend in all sincerity. He noted absently that with how Jar-Bairn had swelled, he no longer needed to kneel to meet his eyes.

“Trust me, brother. There’s nothing in the world capable of killing that old bastard.”

Jar-Bairn smiled at that. For the moment, Diallos struggled to forget one ancient face, having come all this way to find another.

They marched on, the land splintering as they did: the quake had not been a trivial one. The minor brushes and thorns that grew on the starved, bitter soil of the Badlands shook all the more visibly, the dry tendrils of whatever hardy bush endured in these climes denuded by the force of the shaking.

It was one future in a million that would see them find the Lord of the Lands, one twinkling star in a sea of blank night. By a tremendous stroke of fortune or ill-fortune, they had found it.

Wings beat in the distance- wings the length and girth of a fortress’ walls, and several of them. They swung back and forth with force strong enough to birth a storm, and Diallos saw a shape covered in red fly off amidst them and swing- something- that blanketed the creature it fought in a shower of red.

There was then one less wing.

“Dragon! Brother, it’s a dragon!” Jar-Bairn said excitedly. The way his voice had grown an octave deeper painted an incongruous picture. His enthusiasm at the sight was outweighed only by his sense of loss at not being able to participate in the battle.

Previously, it would have seemed almost sweet. Now, the Warrior Jar his friend had become was a living thunderclap, and the pronouncement left him somewhat uneasy.

“An ancient dragon, no less.” observed Diallos, recalling the tales of that old friend he was trying desperately to forget. “And something is killing it.”

As they came still closer, the wingbeats lessened, and the dust obscuring their sight settled down such that for the first time, they made out colour.

The creature had green scales, but spines of reddish black burst from its back and tail, with the skin around them stained with crimson blotches. The spines seemed unnatural, in a way, as though they had forced themselves through the dragon’s flesh instead of growing from it.

The spectacle of this sight, of course, paled in comparison to the warrior which fought it. Its figure shone vaguely gold, a luminescent shroud of some form cladding its back- and it bore no weapon.

Robbed of its ability to fly, the dragon reared its head and swung a claw, riddled with thorns and vines that seemed even sharper than its blood-red nails which shone like swords. To their amazement, the warrior made no attempt to turn aside- and far from a shield, raised bare flesh to block the blow.

Neither claw nor thorn could pierce his flesh- flesh veined with sinews coiled tight and bulging- flesh that was such that the silver and sapphire armour the figure wore seemed entirely redundant. Two massive hands grasped the dragon’s claw, weathering the force of its onslaught like a mountain peak amidst a storm.

With an altogether sickening crack that sounded not so much like flesh tearing than stone breaking, the warrior wrenched and tore. The dragon’s limb split apart at the seams, corrosive crimson blood spilling and searing through the strongman’s flesh to no sign of pain whatsoever.

Diallos and Jar-Bairn began to run forwards. It was undoubtedly him- of that they were certain- and his strength had awed them to the extent that they had failed to notice the crowd behind him.

A mob only nearly short of an army waited seemingly nonchalantly, not interfering in the battle- not caring for all the world that the ground grew cratered and the sands ran with blood. It was by design.

Pain at last overwhelmed even that ancient dragon’s mighty heart. It lurched forward- and reluctant to do so, as though the very act pained it to do so- it gave a violent, spluttering cough. A tide of blood spewed from its open mouth- which as they saw now was toothless, the bleeding gums pierced by aberrant thorns.

Diallos knew that blood all too well. It was a tide of poison as much as it was blood, eating through armour, calling to the blood within his own limbs to burst, to tear through the flimsy and utterly open pores on his skin. To reject the imposition of shape Diallos’ body inflicted upon it, and become shapeless and formless as it was meant to be.

Madness called to his hastily-shut eyes, and he dimly thought he saw the image of a bloody star expelling flares of dusty beryl light.

“Alright, brother?” Jar-Bairn asked, concerned, looking almost rueful to be away from the battle.

“There is no truth the stars have hidden from you. The only truth is that which you arrive at through the experiences of living a full life- even if it is not true at all.”

He resisted the temptation, recalling these words from his time as a hypocrite in Volcano Manor.

Hmm, perhaps that old bastard’s lessons were harsh, but I am truly thankful for them nonetheless. A pity about his exile and his self-sworn fate.

“I’m fine, Jar-Bairn. I’m here.” Diallos offered weakly. It wasn’t the first time he had felt that particular call.

He would later learn from his friend that the herculean warrior had pushed himself off the ground so powerfully that he entirely avoided the dragon’s blood-laden breath, then plunged his hands into the earth- and by the only hint of sorcerous artifice seen at all during the battle- dug out the earthen heat that dwelt beneath, burning through scales and breaking bones.

The ancient dragon then fell forward, dead in all likelihood, at which point the victor took its great jaws in either hand and rent them from its head in a sanguinary display of triumph.

All Diallos saw was a great corpse and the blood-spattered beast clad as man that had felled it, and all he felt- far from exhilaration- was the vague impression that something magnificent had been snuffed out.

A Lion roared, the man roaring with it. Either voice seemed to shake the heavens, and the crowd of warriors- who, on closer inspection, were nearly all Tarnished glowing gold with grace- shouted in exultation along with them.

“Friends, allies, brothers by blood, blade or both! Godwyn, my firstborn son, held the ancients in high esteem- higher, perhaps, than he held most men. ‘Twas his belief that their thoughts are high and strange, and that they ken more of the world than all of us.”

A hush fell over the crowd.

“If this holdeth true for the foe who challenged me this day, then I am saddened by the shedding of noble blood. If the spirit of Sanguissax the fallen gazeth upon us now, then know, thou master of the skies, that ‘twas an affair nobly fought!” said Lord Godfrey, first of the Elden Lords under the Age of the Erdtree.

More cheers. These were the words of a king, Diallos realised- a gilded king standing in sharp contrast to the beast that had felled the dragon. That lion roared for silence, and as the sun shone more starkly over the settling dust, he realised that it was an ephemeral spirit-creature, grafted onto his back.

It was unsurprising to one who had read the old tales, but unsettling nonetheless.

“Aye, thou didst honourably for thyself, and thou shalt be remembered in tales and song. Yet for all the fight thou offered- thou wast not enough!”

Jar-Bairn tugged Diallos’ sleeve, pointing ahead. The mob of Tarnished was caught up in cheering- all save two Knights in ornate, ensorcelled brass armour, who were stepping towards them leisurely, with a determined sense of purpose.

“For all that thou may’st have been in life, thou fell to one who proved mightier. This is the life thou swore thyself to, as do we all. That is the law of this land and of all lands- a crown is warranted with strength!”

Massive hands fell upon Sanguissax’s corpse, heaving it with impossible strength to reveal a strangely-shaped mound the dragon had stood upon. Its earth was dug by clawed sweeps and forceful kicks, revealing a glittering axe.

It might once have had two heads, but was reduced to one, the remnants of the other caked with brown residue. Diallos wondered if it was Sanguissax’s blood that eroded it, in an age long past.

“In life, a foe- in death, a brother. Such will be the fate of all who stand in the way of my Queen’s Golden Age, and delay the salvation of the Lands Between. I mourn for yon souls, and if Marika would have it, shall see ye restored to life when I am Elden Lord once more- but until then, all who oppose her will shall suffer the touch of this axe, and the force of my fist!” said Hoarah Loux.

Hoarah Loux, Chieftain of the Badlands, Lord of the Battlefield, and never some golden monarch. His throne was carven not of metal or precious stone, but of the skulls of foes- and perhaps friends- he had felled on his path to glory.

Godfrey was a lie, Diallos realised. A well-told lie, clad in just enough layers of truth to exist independently of the truth.

And yet, this lie would have to do. There were no others worthy of lordship- not after their old friend had forsaken the thought, and left in search of wisdom. The Lands Between ran rampant with bandits, ruffians and far worse, and Nepheli and the others could only do so much.

Diallos had found them all a protector, who could at the very least free their lands from the tyranny of Order. Life might flourish once more, if the cycle of punishment that was the edict of the Greater Will was opposed by one with the strength to defy it.

Most of all, it was too late to turn back. Perhaps the lie of Godfrey could be convinced to perpetuate itself, and ultimately become the truth? Evidently, it had worked before.

“How?” was all Malenia could ask, horrified. That this bloated, ossified, cyst-caked monstrosity could ever have been that brother with his smile of kindness, whether benevolent or malign-

“The face is stretched out just as his existence has been- bloated by ashes, and the souls of the many dead that replace its own, departed one.” said her brother.

Memories of Castle Sol and her brother’s reticence flashed in front of her. She had always thought it some ontological matter, its only relevance to her being the military movements necessary to garrison it-

“Now is not the time, Malenia!” Miquella warned, urgently.

Choking down her words and vowing to release them in force later, she turned instead to Alagos.

“Have you seen… eyes… sprout on the husks of dead trees in the wider world? Dead, blank eyes, composed of sap and an otherworldly corruption?”

“I have,” Alagos replied with a frown, “although I wonder how you came to know of this. It’s a strange matter that nobody seems able to explain.”

“I’m not entirely inexperienced in the dealings of Outer Gods.” she lied cryptically. “Godwyn’s body was buried in the Deeproot Depths, which I believe you have visited in the past.”

Her fiancé’s frown deepened. “I did not record that incident in my journals. It must now be asked how you came to know of it.”

“A risk worth taking, Malenia.” her brother chipped in. “He will be told, in time, and anything he might hold against us will be temporary.”

Malenia sighed deeply. She far preferred tearing through mazes over building them- but if Miquella did not wish her fiancé to know that his mind had been picked through (for his own betterment, of course), so it would be.

“Your face, dearest, your face. I knew that you visited the Depths the moment I mentioned them. Did I not tell you that it is futile for those I love to try and hide things from me?”

A plausible enough lie, given the circ*mstances. Alagos sighed and shook his head, and while part of her trembled with the wish to tell him the truth, their objectives must come first.

“Of course you know. Forgive me. I saw his corpse entangled with the Greattree roots, which spread in a network throughout the Lands Between- which were once linked to the roots of the Erdtree, or perhaps the primordial matter that the Erdtree once was. I’m brought to wonder what manner of idiot had the bright idea to bury a demigod’s body there.”

Worse and worse.

“That would be our lady Mother herself. Brave of you, to call the Queen Mother an idiot.” Malenia muttered, more curious than anything.

Marika, some manner of- idiot? Her mother had been harsh, cruel, and could momentarily excise herself of any and all empathy whatsoever so that it would not obstacle her way- but she had always thought of her as ever-wise. Wise, inscrutable, and altogether seeing far beyond what anybody did.

Some days she wondered whether the entire event of the Shattering had been part of her mother’s Grand Design. Miquella certainly seemed to believe as much.

Then again, she mused, if anybody had the right to call themselves wiser, it would be her Alagos- whatever his faults may be.

“Ah, dear me. Can’t you- well, should it not be immediately apparent that- why, Marika of all people- agh!” her fiancé brought a palm to his forehead, as though holding a personal grudge against the world. “The primordial form of the Erdtree- or whatever existed in place of the construct of the Greater Will that we call the Erdtree- was close in nature to life itself. The Queen should very well have known that, before she herself changed it. The primal vital energies which give life to the Erdtree are an aspect of the primordial crucible, where life was once blended together. That is how the Greattree roots have their links to all life in the Lands Between, and that is why they spread throughout them.”

“Radahn and that absurd horse of his. Damn it all.” Miquella said softly, and Malenia entertained the idea that he and Alagos had begun conversing in a strange dialect known only to them.

“You say that as though it is self-explanatory. Perhaps, for the less academically-inclined among us, you might be persuaded to… translate?” came her slightly taunting question.

“Is this how she got away with her terrible decisions? By being awfully inscrutable? Miriel help me, I might have known. The Erdtree roots were first linked to the Greattree roots to exploit their primordial connection to all life. There’s a good reason why the souls of all heroes reach the Erdtree and nothing else to be reborn. What gives the Greater Will individual claim over every soul that might or might not be dedicated to it? Why are the remembrances of each demigod, whether or not they served the Golden Order, etched on the bark of the Erdtree and nowhere else? My dear Malenia, surely you see now.”

The revelation that struck the Goddess was sudden as thunder- but some small part of her had always expected it, even known it. Instinct, more than anything, qualified as true knowledge in a duel of blades- perhaps it did too in metaphysical matters.

“Parasitism.” she whispered. “It… stole that meaning from the Crucible and grew upon it, trampling its existence underneath. Dear Miquella: for what it’s worth, it was a stroke of fortune when you decided to water the Haligtree. I do not think even you had the foresight to understand this.”

“I had a vague hunch, much the same as you.”

“Alagos, I-“ Malenia trembled, finding her fists clenched, “I cannot allow this to continue. You see now the necessity of the Haligtree above all others- to free life of this stagnancy, and allow it to flourish. We feed it with no strength but our own- and constrain those bound to it with no chains wrought of Order.”

“So long as you exist, dearest, I shall do all I can to further your goals. You have no need to convince me of anything. But wait now, and hear the full tale first.” Alagos said, walking over the grotesque visage.

“From my readings and the words of an old friend, the moment the God-slaying Black Flame was confined and codified into Destined Death and turned into a weapon of Order, it cast the permanency of Death from out of the circles of the world. This granted purchase to those who live in Death- and whatever thing it is that Godwyn now belongs to.”

“Which means that in trying to create a weapon of a primordial concept, the Golden Order gave its god’s rival a foothold in the Lands Between.” Malenia realised, horrified.

Is there is no vestige of ‘Godwyn’ that remains within this carcass?” Miquella asked internally. Part of him felt sad, but another part felt vindicated, as though assured of the choices he had made.

“They say Godwyn did not die a ‘true’ death.” Malenia asked Alagos, juggling between the two. “What manner of death do you think he died?”

Alagos laughed. “I know what manner of death he died, Malenia.” Runes glowed with light around him, and a circular, fully-formed rune was held up in his palm. “Touch it.”

“The Mending Rune of the Death-Prince.” the Goddess mumbled when the information neatly slid into her mind, thoughts turning her head, too amorphous and viscous to be voiced. Miquella was in a similar state.

Brother, what’s a mending rune?

"I know not- though Father mentioned the possibility of such a thing once, should the information within the Elden Ring prove false and the Golden Order ever fail. My best guess is that a Mending Rune would be a full rune- as like unto one of the Great Runes- formed outside the Elden Ring, to add or ‘correct’ the information the Elden Ring must contain to more accurately model the laws of the world. In this way, it would hold the other runes together and let them flow into each other- dictating the Order of the World.”

More information, and a storm of it. Miquella seemed to be faring only marginally better than she was. She filed away the information for later, storing it within her impossible depths of memory.

“And what does this have to do with Godwyn, Alagos?”

“Patience.” said he, and with that, laid two burning palms upon the circle’s sides. The projections that made it appear a serrated wheel fluctuated, for a moment- as though fading in and out of existence- and a thrust of the Tarnished’s will split the Rune in two.

“No-“ she’d stretched out a hand to stop him, before she realised what she was doing. It had struck her, strangely, that the Rune was a thing of masterful craftsmanship, and that destroying it would be tantamount to destroying someone’s life’s work. The thoughts were not her own.

“This will not stay apart- not when a life’s worth of experiences went into its creation.” said her companion, straining. A second manner of fire had come into being, though its source was the rune, and it seemed to fight a warring dance against the fire that blazed in his palms. “Now, come here, and take a look- well, examine this half.”

She was too dazed even to be amused by his forgetting her blindness again.

“The Cursemark of Death.” she whispered. Words formed in her mind, in twin voices: one was the voice of Alagos, the blank and emotionless voice he used when furious or sad, and the other was the silent, soothing tone of an unfamiliar woman.

Two demigods perished at the same time, breaking the cursemark into two half-wheels. Ranni was the first of the demigods whose flesh perished, while the Prince of Death perished in soul alone.

Soul alone.

Alagos let go, and the cold fire that sprang from the Rune leapt up from his hand to join the two halves together once more. The Rune disappeared, and the Tarnished somehow managed to morph pants into deep breaths through an esoteric exercise.

“My sweet Haligtree.” Miquella gasped from within her mind. “Then this body is alive, with the soul dead- and the mind is that of an Outer God. The… burial… Mother’s starsdamned stupid burial- has driven all the souls of the dead into its maw. And now Godwyn- that thing that resides within Godwyn- is devouring them, conjoining them to make up for the lack of a soul, and spreading its influence throughout the Greattree roots. The Greater Will had unwittingly handed it the tools it needed. The Erdtree already grew off parasitism from the Crucible, so this God of the Dead had only to steal that metaphor and repeat that theft upon the Erdtree itself. Hence the conjoined trees of gold and lampwood, and the latticework of Order being entwined with that of Death. This is worse than I thought.”

For her part, Malenia understood none of this. She was surprised that Miquella even chose to focus on this aspect, and not on what struck her as most pertinent.

Could it have been that he already knew? Had her Alagos told him, while in the dreambrew’s snare?

“I heard your voice.” she decided to tell him, shedding light on the matter. “It claimed that the cursemark was split in two since two demigods died at once. It seems, however, too convenient to have been a coincidence that they were slain at precisely the same moment. Why is it that Ranni’s soul survive while Godwyn’s perished? She… planned it, did she not?”

Alagos looked downwards, his withered hands squeezing each other ruefully.

“In her own words, she ‘did it all’. She stole the fragment of the Rune of Death, and forged the Black Knives through fearsome rite.”

“Then the night of the Black Knives- the Shattering- this entire, bloody, damned war was all hers. Hmm. She ruined it. She ruined it all. Hmm! All those lives spent- a continent in ruins- my brother’s work stunted and our people in tatters-!”

Her hand gripped her Katana, wishing that its ineluctable grasp were upon her half-sister’s slender throat.

“Malenia, hark! She may have forged the knives, but the Black Knife assassins were not under her command. Even to the last, their allegiance was to Queen Marika. I know that this is not a lie. From the dying words of their leader, Alecto, bleeding beneath the bite of my blade, they were loyal to the end.”

“What right have you to beg for her life, Alagos? Especially where you cast her aside and consider her a friend no longer?”

“You cannot kill her, even if you tried!” Alagos pronounced, winds arraying themselves in biting lances around him. “The only way to destroy her is to mutilate her soul. There is but one person remaining in this world who might be capable of that. And furthermore,” he said, forcing calm upon his voice, “I do not believe it was Ranni who instigated the Shattering. And even if it was, where would you be now without it? Suffering under the yoke of the Rot? Hounded by a world which saw within you a monster due to the curse you bear? Perhaps they would send Radahn, after all, to lay siege to the Haligtree. Morgott could be with him, an allied besieger instead of an enemy defendant. What would Radagon’s will amount to in trying to defend you, if his Outer God commanded your end? What would Marika do, inscrutable as she was?”

Wise Alagos, as ever. She could not deny that they had all seen opportunity in the Shattering- that she and Miquella would not stand the chance they did then to see their plans for the world fulfilled, and their curses lifted.

The Shattering was necessary to topple the Golden Order. But Alagos did not know that she had never forgotten that. For all that Alagos was wise, she had proved wiser. There was one error in his ironclad words, one hidden revelation.

“You do not believe it was Ranni who instigated the Shattering, even as she profited off it. Who, then? If the Black Knives were loyal only to Queen Marika until the end, there can only be one answer.”


This chapter deals with a lot of ontological questions. I've decided to go with a slightly less Lovecraftian depiction of the Outer Gods than most: in that they work through causal and conceptual machinery, which seems better supported by ER's lore about the 'logic of the world', and how metaphysical forces present different philosophies (unrelenting Order for the Greater Will, freewill for the Dark Moon, 'truth' and 'love without boundaries' for the Formless Mother, constant war for the Blood Star, endless life for the Death God/Twinbird, freedom being the annihilation of all nuance for the Frenzied Flame and so on).

Instead of explaining everything that's happening directly like I've done before, I'd like to see what my readers understand from the character's dialogue. I'd be happy to explain anything that seems odd or poetically obfuscated in the comments as usual.

Citations for this chapter include the Crucible Knights' weapon and armour descriptions, and tying Deathblight and Ghostflame together comes from the Tibia Mariner that drops Helphen's Steeple: demonstrating that Deathblight and Ghostflame are sourced by the same entity. The DLC image has been liberally interpreted to suit these ideas.

Now, the First Elden Lord is here at last. Please ignore that large dragon over there. He shouldn't have taken this long to arrive, but in my defence, he isn't nearly as soft as Maliketh. The soft ones come first.

Alagos still cares for Ranni, his first friend, though he doesn't know why that is and finds this extremely annoying.

As a final note, I've always wanted to use the 'L'if, lifeless tree!" line from the Waxwing poem. Here, of course, it isn't a mockery of sympathetic ways to look upon death, but the 'Lifeless Tree' refers to the 'Lampwood' (found in the Helphen's Steeple description), and the 'Great Maybe' could mean either of two things: Godwyn's fate and whether he remains in control, or Godfrey's idea of what the Lands Between should look like.

Of course, the 'Grand Potato' refers to either Godwyn or Godfrey themselves, in this case.

Chapter 25: We saw a Snowy Form, so far, so fair


In which Malenia reminisces about Marika, Alagos tells stories about Rennala and Ranni, and the reasons for his falling-out with Ranni are revealed as the Twins decide to visit Raya Lucaria to see the Carians (and interrogate them thoroughly).


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Why would Mother do this? What was there to gain?”

There was no emotion in the question, only the scientific expression of curiosity. As she walked back to the castle, Malenia reflected that Miquella had not seemed very surprised when she had gleaned information of Marika’s hand in the shattering from Alagos, as though he had already known.

“There is naught you need worry yourself about, ‘Nia. Alagos told me all while we spoke in his dream. It is only natural that he should seek to tell you now, and I wished you to hear it from him.”

She would never in a thousand lifetimes suspect her brother. There were no secrets between them; only truths kept to be told at the right time. And so, when her intuition insisted on finding something suspicious in Miquella’s tone, she tried her utmost to quash its efforts, only to find that she could not.

It alarmed her in some deep, arterial cavern, as the flow of her blood felt oddly strange. Her world was built upon certain truths, and the veracity of Miquella’s words was one of them. For the moment, though, not even Miquella could infringe on what she chose to keep within herself.

“His conclusions, however, are new to my ears. I cannot deny that we might have stood to gain much from the Shattering. Yet- as much as I loved her- I cannot bring myself to believe this might be Marika’s design. If she truly wished for us to achieve our goals- would there not be more efficient paths to them- or at least roads that did not end in self-destruction?”

Malenia shook herself, a swift analysis of the matter assuring her that there were better times and places for contemplation.

“You’re awfully quiet, my dear Malenia. A rune for your thoughts?”

“That I am quiet is at least a welcome change from your usual, infuriating reticence. And kingdoms would have emptied their treasuries to know my thoughts, once.”

“Now, now. I have earned none of your anger- at least, not at this moment. Let me assist you, if I might.” Her fiancé said in a pensive tone, his fingertips together. The breeze picked up a little, and she laughed.

“Oh, please. I’d like to know how you could.” the Goddess muttered sourly, only to remember her beloved’s incisive acuity when it came to any mind not his own.

“Some might say you are very like your father. You match his loyalty to the Golden Order in your devotion to Miquella, you equal his devastating effect upon the battlefield, and- if I am correct- have wholly surpassed his martial skill as a warrior. The untrained observer might even say you take after him, on these grounds. And yet, from what I believe, you always loved your mother more.”

She should have expected the hammer-stroke, and felt it carry more weight than any one of Radagon’s terribly overwrought sparring blows ever did.

“But of course. I terrify well-nigh all who are not of the Haligtree, have been accused of stoking an unchecked ambition, refuse to halt unless I grow to be unsurpassed for whatever I set my mind on, and my rage is well-renowned as something I cannot easily let go. I am spoken of only in my ability to leave corpses upon a battlefield, and am unabashedly proud of that being my greatest achievement. How could anyone not believe I take after my mother, and never my father?”

“Dearest, it is futile, utterly futile to attempt to critique yourself before me. I have discovered, to some considerable chagrin, the curious effect that I only ever grow more enchanted with you if you do.”

That did elicit a smile, and one that was neither wry, nor rueful. She found that her wise, foolish companion had even summoned up the courage to hold open the palm of his hand for her to hold.

“You must remember the soreseal you found at the Haligtree, with Marika’s rune cloven upon it.” she began, under the gaze of those knowing eyes. “It belonged to mother herself, and was her gift to Miquella. You know very well what it does, do you not?” she asked, to a slightly sad nod.

“And you mean to tell me why she gave it to Miquella?”

When she had had eyes, her stare was known to immobilise all but the doughtiest. She had been told she never blinked- but for now, she felt the impulse to shut something nonexistent in pain, amidst memories.

“When the Rot took my arm and my legs, Miquella was desperate to cure it. He turned to Golden Order fundamentalism, but all of Radagon’s knowledge proved an unworthwhile pursuit. The Greater Will chose me as an empyrean regardless of my ailment and cared naught for my fate so long as my will endured, and our father could do nothing. But in that midst, mother sent us her terrible gift. With its power, Miquella could leverage sorcery beyond anything he had been capable of before. The cost he paid was for exhaustion to threaten him sooner, and for pain to haunt his footsteps.”

Alagos had opened his mouth slightly, wetting his thin lips.

“That was my mother’s will and edict- that Miquella should suffer as I suffered, strain as I strained, and wrestle with the same exhaustion that betook me in my days of sickness. That, and only that, represented a way through which I could be cured. My dearest brother took it all to heart, and worked himself to the bone. The soreseal would grant him energy and resolve, at the cost of a weariness that sank to his soul, and he accepted it. Only through Marika’s aid was he able to forge his needles, and reach as far as he did.”

There was that strange, fleetingly irksome feeling again, as though something itched at the corners of the voids that were once her eyes. She knew perfectly well what it was, and dismissed it.

“Mother may not have shown her love for us in the way that most parents do, but her wisdom never once led us astray. It was she who led Miquella to question, and she convinced me to endure through whatever means I could find, even if spite was among them. For that, we love her.”

“I’m sorry.” her Tarnished offered, not quite able to understand. She could not blame him, for mortals did not love in the way gods did.

“Don’t be. If there is one expression I hate noticing upon your face, it is that of sorrow.” she replied. She felt touched that his proffered hand had not wavered, and gladly took it.

“You must hate my expression very often, then.” Alagos smiled softly, leading her onwards. “Allow me to offer a tad more of the recondite, if it might set your mind at ease.”

A warm flutter of grace, and one of his innumerable journals was in his other hand. “Before she… left… us, Melina informed me of something I found intriguing. Queen Marika’s rune was known as the Rune of Sacrifice, just as Radagon’s was called Order and Maliketh’s was Destined Death. And in her own words, she once proclaimed: “I declare mine intent, to search the depths of the Golden Order. Through understanding of the proper way, our faith, our grace, is increased. Those blissful early days of blind belief are long past. My comrades; why must ye falter?”

Search the depths.

Search the depths.

Her metallic grip tightened to the point that she felt as though she held no more than a thimble between her fingers, and Alagos winced in pain, though his overblown sense of dignity compelled him to say nothing.

“She cannot have done that.” the Goddess realised, noticing the painful similarity between her mother’s imprisonment and her own. “When I… invoked the Scarlet Rot, it was always a plunge- a surrender. No Outer God would countenance its devotee questioning its own edict. Heavens, she… mother may as well have signed her own death-warrant.”

“Helphen’s fires. It was always going to happen, was it not?” Miquella muttered in similar disbelief, and she felt faintly nauseous.

“What do you mean by that?” Alagos asked, with that scholarly curiosity burning like kindling.

“Even you, my Alagos. You and all Tarnished may have been her tools. When Godfrey was cast from the Lands Between, his grace taken, many believed it was for him having exhausted his use. What if that had not been? What if Mother sent them away to prepare- and to return after the cataclysm had swallowed us all? Was that not the path you were set upon, my love- to reforge the Elden Ring, and take the Elden Throne?”

“Stars.” The Tarnished breathed heavily, shaking his head thrice. “Those damned, bloody stars. And since the Greater Will ‘abandoned’ the Lands Between- self-destruction may have been the Queen’s only way to escape its scrutiny. And yet, was this the only way? All this suffering and bloodshed? That the lands themselves should turn into some form of ordeal for those living in them- how… wasteful!”

“For now, you ought to discard moralistic thoughts, for this might truly have been the only way. Her shadow’s banishment, the involvement of the Black Knives, the shattering of the Ring, all of it paints the same picture. And yet, when all was said and done, mother had created an opportunity for those she loved. For all of us. The Shattering was our path towards making lords of ourselves- and if we did not succeed, the Tarnished would return, and have their attempt.”

Alagos frowned, sensing something amiss. “You are attempting to lead me somewhere with this line of thought, and I cannot follow.”

“Then let me be plain: did you serve Godfrey once, my dearest? Had you ever called him lord?”

Her Tarnished set an ancient palm to his forehead in an oddly elegant gesture, and shook his head of silver hair.

“If I did, I have no memory of it. However prosperous and swathed in glory his reign might have been, I can never see myself calling one such as Godfrey my lord.”

“That is as well.” she noted, clenching her fist. “If the Tarnished were given grace in hopes that Marika be liberated from her arboreal prison, would not the first of all Tarnished be blessed first of all? Godfrey may return, my love. And when he does, I trust you to carve a path to him for me, for my blade to meet his flesh.”

“It all feels satisfactory, but there is one question left unanswered. Why Godwyn, among all of us?” Malenia asked the air, swinging her dangling legs to and fro.

The night was at its darkest as they returned to Malenia’s room, and Alagos wrote in a blur by candlelight on the latest in his mountain of memoirs. Perhaps this was how mortals sifted between their thoughts, she reflected. Then again, it might be one of her beloved’s idiosyncrasies, of which there were oddly many.


“Why Godwyn? The Golden Prince, the peacemaker, friend to the Dragons and to the people? If there was one being mother ever blatantly showed love for, it was Godwyn. And if she intended the Shattering to begin with, why would it require his death? He was no champion of the Greater Will as father was, with his love of the ancients and their storms.”

“In these cases, I find that the simplest explanation is quite often the correct one.” her betrothed commented, not looking up. “What suggests itself as simplest to you?”

“That Godwyn’s death had nothing to do with mother’s plot, and that Ranni was the perpetrator. Even if the Black Knife assassins were under mother’s command, their knives were forged by the Lunar Princess.”

“They were never once loyal to Ranni, as I found out myself.”

“Even if that were the case, they might at one time have worked in concert with Ranni’s wishes. Mother was notoriously opaque, and perhaps she did not begin it all. After her favourite son was slain, it served to tip her over the edge in grief, and she decided irrevocably to shatter the Elden Ring. For the matter of Godwyn’s death, however- you did say that Ranni had chosen to discard her body at just the same moment as he died.”

Alagos pursed his lips, turning his chair to frown at her. “I believe you have considered all these thoughts before, and are reiterating them to me to have me reach a certain conclusion. If that is the case, I prefer plainness, thank you.”

“Why must you make everything so difficult?” she asked, but with all too much fondness. “Very well. Since my Alagos is too clever by half, he must already know that I would like to have a word with Ranni.”

The storms that rested in his eyes grew dark and dangerous.

“I will have you know that she has done nothing to stand in the way of your aims- and, if anything, she may have aided them along. If you must speak to her, I hope-“

Nothing untoward will happen, my dearest. Take my word for it. It strikes me as singular, though, that you would seek to shield my half-sister despite feeling at best ambivalently towards her.”

“She was… wiser than I ever gave her credit for, and kinder than I knew. There is much about her I should have noticed sooner- it is only that she hid things rather well.”

“She hid things even better than you can? Well, I think not. At any rate, would she be willing to see you?”

“Ah… no.” Alagos muttered with a sigh, releasing a soft breath. “Though I served her in the beginning, I trampled upon several of her aspirations, and she refused me my dues in turn. When last we spoke, she told me that she would ‘leave for the night sky’, and I wonder still what she meant.”

He stood and pushed open the window, a clear and soft beam of moonlight caressing his open palm.

“Perhaps she went to the Dark Moon. Long ago, I espied the indent of a Great Rune cratered upon its shadowed side, and I have come to suspect she hid her Rune there, so that none might claim it.”

“You do understand why I ask, do you not?” Malenia questioned forcefully, before her fiancé could wander off on another of his tangents. “The rite through which she saved her soul was fearsome, and she associates with the Dark Moon, which remains inscrutable in its purposes. It is of the essence that Miquella and I know why she did it, whether she made the world more vulnerable to those who live in Death in the process, and whether her own ideas oppose our objectives.”

“I do, my dearest.” he replied, turning away from the window with a weary smile. She half-wished she had eyes to picture what the moonbeams did with his ephemeral hair. “At best, I could take you to Raya Lucaria. Queen Rennala is- was- my mentor in sorcery, and a dear friend. Even if her daughter felt hurt by me, she will not try to have us killed without reason, at the very least. And Ranni… well. If there is a love equal to your concern for your brother, it is the bond between the Carian Queen and Princess. Should I approach Raya Lucaria, she might intercept us, if only in the misguided belief that she must protect her mother from a risen ghost of the past.”

It seemed a viable plan. Her Cleanrot Knights and the soldiers of the Haligtree ought not to suffer any casualties, with her Rot controlled and theirs stilled by Alagos’ sorcery, and perhaps it would be best for Miquella to regain more strength so that he could speak to them first, before they returned.

“Should we fail to meet her, it might prove worth our while to consult Raya Lucaria’s library on the Scarlet Rot either way.” the Goddess mused, her well-trained mind always on a strategic and practical road. “Then again, I find it odd that you spoke in this way. You seemed almost- fond, when you spoke of Ranni, where you never seemed so before. What aspirations did you trample upon, and what dues were withheld?”

“Forgive me.” Alagos muttered, and she waved her hand in dismissal, only to realise it was a figure of speech. “I cannot help it. Ranni was my first friend, and even though our paths diverged, I will always think of her as that.”

“It would make sense if you fell apart because you disagreed with her methods, but from what I can tell, you blame yourself. Why is that?”

The Tarnished smiled, shutting his eyes. “My lovely Malenia, you know just what a cruel fool I was in those days. Nevertheless, I chose to serve her. You must know that it was not her fault, to attract a haunting figure such as I. In fact, I only served her because I utterly and completely misinterpreted her intent for the world. I… fancy I might have a better understanding of it now, when our differences have become irreconcilable.”

“Then what was her aim for the world? What would this ‘Age of Stars’ Rya, Nepheli and Roderika keep adhering to mean?”

“You would have to ask her, to know in all. But I believe she wished an indifferent universe, which did not actively take an interest in the affairs of sentient beings. She wished gods and their affairs to be kept far away from these lands, and the chill night of the Dark Moon- the only Outer God to preside over these lands- would be thought of as infinitely far away. She had a strange way of referring to it- she called the path we would take a ‘path of fear, doubt, and loneliness- into darkness’.”

She ground her teeth together in frustration, knowing exactly what a young Alagos might have thought of it.

“And let me guess- your addled mind at the time quite liked the idea of ‘fear, doubt and loneliness’. You believed that the chill night of the Dark Moon was what would reign over the lands, instead of staying far away. Everyone would be forced to find a way in a world that was ripe with opportunity, but did not forgive errors. There would be neither guidance nor protection, as the costs paid for freedom.”

Alagos took her palms in his own, with another of his strange habits- making no distinction between her flesh and metal hands. “Just so. I am not at all surprised that you knew at once. If I was doomed to the yoke of love, I… chose rather well, did I not?” he affirmed, looking to where her eyes had been.

“Yes, shut up.” Malenia muttered distractedly, thinking again. “And the Dark Moon- how did she present it? Would it be content with remaining ‘infinitely far away’?”

“I have ruminated on this for years, and it seems- it seems that staying far away was what the Dark Moon always intended. It is an entity empowered by balance, due to the connection between the Full Moon and the Dark. It draws power from reconciling differences and conjoining dichotomies. After all, the Moon has no light of its own, but if it did not reflect the light of day, we might be blind in darkness. It wishes nothing to do with rulership, and wants no part of the great game played by the other Outer Gods- only to check their power, as I learnt from the aid it sent to Nokron.”

Fascinating. How very fascinating.

To keep the night far away, and to check the influence of gods- on the surface, Ranni’s goals appeared no different from Miquella’s. She had, however, always known the one, fundamental difference.

Why should the Moon shine over the Lands Between, blockading abundance? Why settle for indifference when one could have perfection? Indeed, could the Dark Moon consider the dangers of the other Outer Gods as cemented in the natural cycle of life?

When Radahn held back the stars at Sellia, restraining Miquella’s fate- was it not the Moon which had sent that fate cascading to the Lands Between in the form of stars which could wreak untold destruction?

No. The Dark Moon could not be allowed to stake its claim upon the world. And there was one god who must remain unbridled, and wholly unfettered.

I do this for you, dearest Miquella.

For now, she kept the thought to herself. Alagos would understand, in time.

“That does not sound unreasonable at all. The lines on your face are etched in agreement, as well. But even if you misunderstood Ranni’s meaning in the past, you served her faithfully and well. Why would she seek to antagonise you in the present, after you healed Queen Rennala? Does she believe you incapable of redemption? If she did, why would she tell you that she left for the night sky?”

“Well- that is where our tale turns to darkness, I’m afraid. I did nearly all that she asked me to. I slew Radahn for her, released the Stars, and delved into the secrets of Nokron for her sake. There I found a weapon which could harm the Greater Will, and bequeathed it to her, and it was still not all. I fought and slew a malformed star, fallen from the heavens, of the same ilk as the one I told you resided in the Yelough Anix tunnel. The one thing I did not give her was an engagement ring, which would signify my betrothal to her.”

“You were betrothed to her?”

She found that she had asked the question rather more quickly and aggressively than she intended.

“No, no. I… would lie if I said I hadn’t considered it. I did love her- do love her, as a friend. Despite our differences and my dreadful past, we nevertheless enjoyed speaking to each other throughout our association- at least, I fancy she liked my presence, or she would have dismissed me and my questions. The day my apprenticeship as a wizard under Queen Rennala concluded, she… well… I received the first embrace I can remember. We both felt terribly awkward about the matter, but she did not implore me to forget it.”

The nature of her own reception to the tale mystified her. A part of her found it endearing, and warm after a fashion, while another hated the thought. She forced a powerful exhale, wondering what reason her blood had to boil.

“Did she ask for the ring?”

“After a fashion, perhaps. She told me where it might be found. A note was written within the box, warning any prospective suitor from offering it to her. To walk alongside Ranni would be to take a cold path amidst the stars, fraught with dangers and loneliness. Yet, it was clear to me that I did not love her in that way. I doubt I believed myself capable of that manner of love, right up until I held the privilege of knowing you. And I- I would like to think Ranni did not love me either.”

“You would like to think?” she asked, her tone almost scathing. “Such interesting phrasing. Of course, it would suit me to say that you made the correct decision, even if I find your rationalisation considerably dubious. Regardless, I doubt that would be enough to earn Ranni’s enmity. Whatever you once were, none of your deeds ever seem to have gone against her will.”

“You’re right, of course.” Alagos muttered with a heavy nod, looking out at the stars again. “She is far too ruthless to antagonise one such as I on ethical or moralistic grounds. But after I completed my errands in her name, I took it upon myself to free Volcano Manor, and put an end to Rykard’s terror. Somehow- and I believe a certain slimy merchant I was acquainted with had something to do with it- Morgott, the King of Leyndell, got wind of this, and invaded after the deed was done. While convalescing, I was beset by an army. It was all I could do to distract them, and then burn most of Volcano Manor with my dying breaths in hopes that some of my enemies fell while the inhabitants fled.”

A silence set between them, falling like a cold smog upon their faces, and Malenia felt as though she should reach out and touch the guttering ember of flame that stared out through the window. She restrained herself, waiting for him to finish.

“For reasons that remain enigmatic, that was not to be my end. Waking, I swore revenge. My dearest, I… do believe you know what happened next.” he said, voice fading into a whisper as it sometimes did. It carried a quiet incredulity, as though trying to say, I still cannot believe you would choose to love me.

There was a strength in that thought that he had formerly lacked, though. Cannot, and not can never- and part of him treated it with gladness, instead of considering it a mistake on her part.

He had taken her words and carved them upon the walls of his heart, and she lit up within, now that she knew it.

“Please stop talking in circles, dearest. As it stands, you have contradicted yourself, having said not a moment ago that Ranni would not fall out with you on moralistic grounds.”

Her Tarnished chuckled, as though he found it deeply amusing. “If a person whose discipline and sense of dignity you had trusted revealed himself as a destructive madman, would you not seek to distance yourself from him, purely on pragmatic grounds? Especially if this madman already considered a cynic’s cruelty rational, and a pessimist’s dourness realism?”

Not if I thought I could control him and might still have extracted use from him, was her first thought. It was a general’s undeniable instinct, and she quelled it with some effort.

“Regardless, these questions are flaccid.” Alagos continued softly. “I can only speculate as to why Ranni sought to sever all ties between us, and that seems the simplest explanation.”

“It might help if you could tell me just how you knew she had severed all ties.” The Goddess said incisively. Half the time she rather enjoyed her fiancé’s rambling, but it felt as though he was trying to avoid saying something, finding the memory painful.

“Very well, then. You are aware that I disappeared for a decade after I burnt the Erdtree, and left the path of the lord. When I returned, having found healing, I met Millicent and felt new life within me. My purpose in the ten years I spent with her was to raise her up to be my equal. It was she who called me ‘father’ before I ever called her ‘daughter’. My ambition was her ambition, and naturally, I would have done anything to halt her Rot.”

“And how does this- oh.”

It hit her then, just what manner of event Alagos would deem ‘severing ties’.

“Every one of the years, I wrote a letter to Ranni. I begged her forgiveness for my actions, and pleaded for a chance. I swore to give anything I possibly could, if she would lend aid in curing our daughter’s affliction. I always considered her the most knowledgeable person in the world, and had never faced anything she could not solve. If there was anyone apart from Miquella who could cure Millicent, it was her.”

He chuckled bitterly, harshly, in a grinding vestige of an ancient terror before he forced a cough and imposed quietude upon himself.

“There is no way she did not receive the letters, as I gave them to Rennala herself, and placed them within the rise she inhabited. Not one reply. I would hand her the world, and she refused even the barest sliver of aid. Not one reply. Even if she did not wish anything to do with Millicent, the Ranni I knew would at the very least lend the slightest suggestion of hope in exchange for her wishes- out of pragmatism, if nothing else. The fault must therefore lie with me.”

“I wish I had been there for you, my love. I wish I had always been there for you and our daughter- but I’m here now, and we shall never be parted.” the Goddess murmured soothingly, cradling Alagos’ ancient face.

“To this day, my sincerest hope is that she never read those letters out of wariness. If she read them and refused, I- do not know what I would say to her, if ever we met again.”


Ranni: Oi! Genius! Maybe my falling out with you had less to do with me hating either you or Millicent, and had a lot more to do with a certain grim reaper you befriended for no good reason! Of course, you conveniently forgot to mention how you showed him my blasphemous claw, and then showed up unannounced dressed like an assassin to finish what he could not!

Alagos: Should I... not have shown him that, Ranni? It never once occurred to me that I should lie to him, since he's been endlessly generous... Besides, look at him! His mane is so fluffy. He'd never hurt a fly, wouldn't you, Maliketh?

Maliketh: Ah, yes, indeed not. Maliketh the peacekeeper, that is I. All I seek is to protect my own. Thou hast my word. (menacingly inches closer)

Malenia: I'm beginning to regret quite a few recent decisions...

Chapter 26: The awful sense that they're not quite the same


In which Stormveil comes to the horrific understanding that something isn't quite what they believe it to be, Malenia enjoys herself immensely for no good reason at all, and Alagos finally mends his friendships, albeit at the cost of a library.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Malenia? I’m, um, awfully sorry if I’m being a nuisance, but you’ve woken nearly at dawn every day and it’s noon now, and, er, I brought food-“

Alagos of the western winds woke to a series of soft knocks and a voice softer still. To his considerable annoyance, he found that his awakening had apparently been against his will, as his eyes insisted on blinking continuously, and he felt as though he should like nothing better than to drift off to sleep again.

“Bloody eyes.” he growled to himself, summoning his strength. His will, though ponderous, had few rivals in the potency of its effect. “Bloody years.” he added for good measure, noticing that his hands had found an awfully soft something that they refused to leave, which he assumed was somehow related to his reluctance to wake.

“Are you there, Malenia?” came that gentle whisper, which the wanderer dismissed as a stray thought of his own.

It took him a moment to notice that his hands had begun stroking whatever soft- and unnecessarily fluffy- substance they were entangled in without his conscious realisation.

“What possesses me to make such nonsensical observations- ah. Dear me.”

It had taken him trying to move his head to realise the truth of the matter, simply because there was something in the crook of his neck. Feeling threw off the drowsiness of slumber in an abrupt storm, but he had known what it was the moment he felt it.

“Oh, goodness me.”

His hands- one of which was partly, almost pleasantly numb- had drowned themselves in a very familiar crimson sea. And, for some reason- some impossibly stupid reason- this had resulted in him sleeping until noon for the first time in as long as he could remember, if the golden light that swathed the room was any indication.

He could not remember why he had fallen asleep, and why this had happened. Since he had apparently taken leave of his faculties, he found himself quietly pressing a palm to his beloved’s heart as she shifted in her sleep.

Life flowed there, the most terribly, blindingly powerful form of life he had ever felt. He held a true deity in his embrace. Her blood was at war with itself, one part striving to continue in any meaningful fashion, the other prompting stagnancy, surrender and then rebirth. And yet, Malenia was winning. She always won.

He felt humbled, privileged and awed to be part of the legend she crafted. Now, if only it hadn’t included the necessity of his vaunted self-mastery deteriorating irreclaimably in her presence.

“Storms take me. I’ve become an utter, lovestruck fool, have I not?” he muttered fondly and sadly to himself, suddenly receiving a kiss to his cheek.

His little gesture had woken her, of course.

“Don’t you worry, dearest. It’s nothing I hadn’t known already.”

Of course, it would have cost him nothing to keep those words to himself, he thought, as he choked down his embarrassment and coughed to clear his throat.

“Malenia, it would seem…” he said, wetting his perpetually dry lips, “that you aren’t in the correct room.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to let you mope about and fall asleep on that armchair, was I?”

“Noble as that thought is, I’m afraid your presence here may have created a circ*mstance of some difficulty. It is noon.”

“And as you are both warm and delightfully sweet, such a possibility should be well within your expectations. Is there a point to this?”

“Perhaps I’m at the wrong door… clumsy me, forgetting again…” came some soft murmuring, followed by a slow shuffle of movement. Oh, horrors.

“That.” Alagos hissed. “That is the point. Now release me, if you would.”

“It isn’t a very well-argued point-“

There followed a small struggle that reminded him vaguely of an encounter with a Runebear long ago, made all the more difficult by the fact that his limbs were refusing to cooperate with his wishes as though they had minds of their own.

“Is anyone there?” came a few knocks, firmer than mere suggestions for the first time. Whoever stood beyond the door cleared her throat and made an entreaty that erred on the side of shyness, “Might I come in?”

In that time, the Haligtree’s newest champion had extricated himself from a tangle of limbs, methodically annihilated a vague feeling of loss whose origin he could not- or rather refused to- trace, straightened his robes and practically flown to his armchair, conjuring a spellbook at random through an application of grace.

“Yes, do come in. My apologies for failing to notice you sooner, Rya. One tends to get lost within these…” – upside down, apparently – “…books.”

There was some shuffling, and the door opened a fraction, but the little serpent made no motion to enter.

“Oh. Um, oh. I- I’m sorry to have interrupted you, Lord Alagos, but I was searching for Malenia. Since she hasn’t emerged, I’ve waited to eat, although I do suppose there isn’t any reason why I shouldn’t eat with you instead-“ she murmured uncertainly, making to enter with her tray.

“Ah, then you are in luck. She fell asleep here yesterday, tired of my storytelling habit, and I found it prudent not to wake her-“

“I’ve had quite enough of your paranoia for some time to come. She’s completely trustworthy and you’d be hard pressed to find a kinder soul. Just tell her, my love.” came Malenia’s sleepy voice, accompanied by a completely unnecessary soft yawn. For all he knew, its only purpose was to elicit another of those strange sounds from the back of his throat, which he just about managed to restrain. The sheer force of his shock at what she had said might have helped.

The clatter of a tray upon the ground, the sloshing of the spilled contents of a goblet, a startled shriek and the pitter-patter of running feet all followed in quick succession.

For the first time since he had been faced with an overenthusiastic Millicent when he had taken her to hunt the Great Wyrm, Theodorix, Alagos let himself loose a groan.

“I do believe there is no need for that anymore, my dear Malenia.”


Having Sir Gideon Ofnir for a guardian meant that Nepheli had seen a fair few things in her time, and after witnessing the atrocities the sorcerer perpetrated against the Albinaurics, she understood that she would only ever flinch to something truly horrific.

The last time she had reacted instinctively to fear had been when that accursed Alagos saw fit to invite the Black Blade himself to Stormveil, to have Master Hewg mend his dark iron plate.

Now, that mighty Tarnished had managed to accomplish something altogether worse. It might even have been his greatest achievement, by virtue of how incredibly unlikely it seemed to all of them.

“Are you quite certain?” she asked in disbelief at the strange new world she had been thrust into. Rya had clamped her mouth shut with a scaly hand and was trembling, as though unable to believe what she had just announced, and unwilling to speak a further word.

“The heavens and the stars that traverse them.” Roderika murmured, a palm to her temple. The thought had forced her to lean against a pillar.

An alliance she could understand, as the resident, godly general who had simply walked out of myth was renowned for pragmatism, but this? How could this be? How in the world- and of all the people that might come together, the two of- them-

Well, you never did anything by half-measure, did you, Alagos? Nepheli thought to herself, wishing she could craft a knife from the sheer causticity of her tones to stab her old ‘friend’ with. Sir Kenneth stood still as a statue, features a grave mask that expertly hid the possibility that he may have lost his voice.

“Ah! But this is wonderful!” exclaimed a high voice at the edge of the room. The lady of the fledgling kingdom turned in slight shock to their seamster, who had placed both hands on his cheeks in what could only be joy. “Matching cloaks, I see. Her excellency must be so thoughtful. My dear lord has found a partner to share in his grand adventure at last. I feel strangely proud of ‘im.”

In his hands was a flowing black cloak, with an emblem that could only signify one thing embroidered in shining silver.

Faced with such terribly tangible, such immensely indubitable evidence, the other four could no longer convince themselves that they lived in a nightmare, and made with all haste to their guests’ chambers.

“To think I- to think we have all been telling tales of the lord’s coldness and cruelty of long ago, while all this while they have been- gods, I can’t say it. I can’t fathom it. And by the Erdtree, why did I feel the need to blurt all that crossed my mind when I sat with her? How could she have made it seem so damned easy to talk to her, Marika forgive me!” Rya wailed, shaking her head. Nepheli marvelled at how she held enough breath to voice the awful conclusion the three of them had come to while they ran.

Come to think of it, just why and when had Rya and Roderika begun to repast every time with the Goddess, on the days she was to be found in the castle? And when, indeed, had Nepheli herself joined in? The details were strangely blurred, like raindrops that couldn’t preserve their shape, as though luncheon and supper with the greatest conqueror amongst Marika’s children had been the most natural thing to do.

When they came upon the door, Kenneth and Roderika were huffing, and it seemed they had never run faster in their life. Nepheli dismissed the confused-looking knights who stood guard, silenced her fears with a steely effort of will, and knocked.


It was the wrong voice. The Goddess’ tones seemed welcoming and expectant, which meant they would face either leniency or unspeakable terror. Nepheli hushed her companions and opened the door a smidge, being greeted by a sight she never thought she would saw.

Alagos’ tall form was stooping downwards, daintily tidying up the spilled food and drink. The utterly unprecedented humility of the act was more terrifying than anything else he could have done.

None of them had ever seen the Tarnished do such a thing before- and none had ever once seen him with his back bent, for that matter. He looked up at them, a slight tiredness in his eyes robbing them of the haunting quality Nepheli remembered best about them, and sat back in his armchair as though bracing for a storm.

What in all the Lands did it mean? She was half-inclined to consider it some manner of elaborate show to shape Malenia’s opinion of him, but then remembered Millicent. Had that man- that terrible, manipulative, ruinous butcher of kingdoms who suddenly and inexplicably grew enamoured of wisdom and kindness- truly changed?

She sighed. Whether or not she wished to believe it was possible had to wait, when she had to, quite possibly, save her kingdom in the next few moments.

“My deepest apologies, mightiest of demigods, if any of us have upset or offended either of you. None of us had known that you and our old friend and lord were lovers-“

“Betrothed.” the Tarnished corrected hastily, squeezing his long fingers together and trying not to look at any of their faces.

“Pardon me. That you were betrothed-“

“Why, do you have any objection to the term?” the Goddess asked imperiously. Sir Kenneth seemed impressed at how she could seem quite as majestic as she did while seated on the bed.

“Well, I- but it isn’t-“

“It isn’t objectively true? Was I entirely unaware that our betrothal was one of convenience all along?”

“Ah, no- it may be objectively correct; but you see- ahem- er- I say, now is not the time for this!”

Maliketh’s whiskers. They might as well have been married for quite a long time, with how they spoke. Nepheli found herself and her friends- save the impassive Sir Kenneth- shared the same, entirely numb expression.

Alagos, the living storm, the Slayer of Kings, was stuttering. Miracle among miracles. The thought filled her with an immense confidence, somehow, to make her argument as to why their lives should be spared.

“Queen of Knights, it was never our intent to libel or malign Lord Alagos in front of you.” she addressed Malenia. The co-ruler of the Haligtree did not wear her golden helm, and it created the unsettling effect of being affixed with a piercing stare, whether or not she had eyes.

“Would you have changed anything about how you spoke, had you known I had taken Alagos as my lover, and not merely my ally?”

Said Tarnished choked at the second use of that term, but the world had long since faded away for Nepheli. Sight and sound blended into white streams of nothing, with the universe curving and herself revolving around the tremendous weight of the will in front of her.

“No, hallowed one.” Nepheli said, doing all she could to let her voice not be drowned out in that primordial song of silence. “Every legend I have read about you, and every anecdote I have heard of you convinces me that you would wish for candour, above all else, and that is what we endeavoured to give you. My companions have only told you what they believe to be true.”

“I knew that the moment they told their tales.” Malenia affirmed calmly. “My brother and I have the ability to tell truth from lie, and all that you said was what you felt to be truthful. Each of you wears a veil of terror, however commendably you might hide it, and I implore you to cast it off. I would never harm those who have been fair.”

All of them breathed a sigh of relief at that, though Sir Kenneth somehow did so only internally. Rya even had the courage to look at the Goddess with the adoring smile one reserves for a favourite aunt.

“In fact,” continued the Goddess with a marked change in tone, “all this was part of a plot, cooked by this fool over here. Long ago he told me that I did not know the half of his tale, and I wondered why he refused to tell me. It appears he brought me here so that you might enlighten me instead, even as he was wholly aware that you might not offer the most flattering interpretation of his character.”

Odd. Wherever could the breath in her lungs have gone?

All this- all the fear she had felt until then, all the uncertainty- had it all been pointless?

At that moment, she felt somehow angrier at Alagos than she had ever been, and it was this anger that kept her steady on her feet.

“May I ask why, my lord?” she said, trembling with rage, turning to their old friend. Roderika came and held her hand immediately, while Sir Kenneth had curious expression of judgment while looking at him.

“Not lord.” Alagos sighed. “Please, I will only ever be Alagos. You know well that I can be a deeply manipulative person. Whether or not I consciously wished to, any tale I told my dear Malenia would be interspersed with my own biases and omissions. I felt as though she should instead hear my tale from those that it affected the most. I have both aided and neglected all of you: and I wished you would convey this truth to her, so that she would know me better.”

Hells of iron. It could not be helped. Nepheli found her every conviction shattered by this act of unfathomable respect, her every reservation about him overturned.

Had he changed, and been as such all along? Perhaps not- and yet, she could not help but think that the strange new Alagos she shared the room’s airs with was a good person.

“In telling me what you have, every one of you has aided both of us. Allow me to aid you in turn: Miquella and I accept your offer of alliance, and I promise that you will need to look no further for friends who would protect you. Furthermore, at the earliest instant he can be spared-“ and here Malenia turned to her fiancé meaningfully- “I will send this fool of mine to mend his errors at long last, and shall be placing his considerable talents at your disposal for a time within reason. Perhaps I myself will come with him, and Miquella willing, assist your efforts in finding a place for the displaced.”

At that, Sir Kenneth’s visage adopted a strangely similar expression to Rya’s, which Nepheli found vaguely ominous. Seeing Roderika’s hand tighten over her own helped her overcome her wariness.

“I presume this arrangement agrees with you, my l- my old friend?” she asked, the emotion absent from her voice. She didn’t know if she imagined getting the distinct impression of a flicker of pride form her advisor.

Alagos smiled, and in another of the day’s innumerable shocks, she found that the smile was neither rueful, nor wry, nor deceptive and not at all attempting to hide something. It was fond, and endlessly so.

“You will find, Nepheli, that it is well-nigh impossible to win an argument against Malenia, and I speak from some significant experience.” he chuckled. “Besides, I- truly wish to do this for you. I have always wished to do right by you and yours, even in my days of wrath. I laid the ground that you built over, after all. I cannot help but be proud at what you have done, and sad that I have neglected what I swore to protect. I am no one to proclaim this, but I… feel… that the night I lived in has given way to dawn.”

If only she could believe that. If only she could. The gentle sincerity in his voice was something she had only ever heard when he was with Millicent.

“Dear Nepheli, the only change that has come over my thoughts on this place is the reason I wish to help you. Formerly, I instructed your knights because I thought it fitting penance for the injuries I inflicted, and did not assist you in building a kingdom because I did not trust myself with peace. Now, I… do not believe I do this as penance, whether or not I owe it to you. I do not even wait to congratulate myself on doing the ‘right thing’, as that does not matter to me.

I will do all I can to help you achieve the dreams you have for Stormveil, simply because I would like to. That you would make your people’s ambitions your own is something I cannot commend enough.”

A soft smile, one that made an offer with no expectations from her. It was a plea for acceptance, not even one for forgiveness. Alagos’ face had lit up with conviction in a strange manner that it looked ageless for a fleeting moment.

Looking at his history-scarred visage with its silver hair, overabundance of experience and the palpable signs of a vast wealth of wisdom, Nepheli imagined they all felt oddly warmer in the light of his quiet pride and praise thereof.

“Thank you.” she replied with all her anger, all her resentment, all her relief and all her acceptance. She found that a few tears had slipped from her eyes when they dripped to the floor.

It was much the same for Roderika, whose hand upon hers was a vice. Rya was hugging Malenia and having her back rubbed, and Sir Kenneth was taken by a curious little coughing fit.

“I will make a large donation of runes for all of you, to either forge power or to use as the initial basis for a currency.” Alagos said firmly, rising. “If you have an urgent need for weapons, you may have all I can spare from my personal armoury. And when my most pressing tasks have come to an end, I will set to rights everything I have missed. The Omens, Albinaurics, Misbegotten, Serpents and all dispossessed under your shelter will be able to grasp their dreams just as the rest of us might, and if my knowledge and sorcery can assist to that end, you will have all of it.”

“We have no need for your runes.” Roderika said, at a nod from her lady. “Nor of your weapons. We are sincere in our desire for peace, and if the Haligtree can protect us, then I trust it will. Moreover, those under our care are more than capable of defending themselves, if roused to action.”

“Is there anything I can do for you before I depart, then?” Alagos asked, sounding almost hopeful amidst his solemnity.

“Your books.” Nepheli realised, the idea clicking into place. When it looked like the Tarnished might protest, she hushed him with a hand and explained. “I do not ask for your spellbooks. None of us are adept enough sorcerers to avail of them. I ask only for your books of eclectic knowledge- your journals, your studies, and your scholarly writings of opinion. The most you could do for us is to provide the keys to the enviable wealth of knowledge you have amassed in your travels.”

“You can’t have his diaries and the memoirs I haven’t read. He is as shy about his own exploits as he is boastful of Millicent’s.” Malenia interjected immediately, to a sour look from her companion. From her fiancé.

Nepheli still thoroughly disliked the idea.

“And I fancy I have lived a greater count of years than he.” the Empyrean added, looking at her pointedly, and she almost stumbled out of the door. Such were gods and demigods, and this one, she was forced to remind herself, was particularly dangerous.

“Pray… might I have a moment alone with Alagos, Queen of Knights?” she asked, noticing absently that Malenia had not objected to that particular title.

“Anything you have to say to me is best said in her presence.” Alagos stated with a thunderous clarity, but Rya shook her head and whispered something in Malenia’s ear.

“Ah. Yes, I see. It’s quite alright, dearest.” the Goddess affirmed, looking shrewdly to Sir Kenneth. “Now, I believe you itch to iron out the details of our alliance, do you not, your grace?”

The aristocrat smiled, apparently dealing with the several shocks of the day far better than anyone, including Alagos himself.

“I do indeed, your excellency. If I might offer you a walk? I find it helps me think.” he said smoothly. It was a little frightening at how completely at ease he seemed at the prospect of presenting arguments to the immense force of the Goddess’ presence.

“You should go with them.” Nepheli told Roderika with a squeeze to her wrist, and watched as Malenia walked off with her advisor, Rya close at her side.

A decade’s worth of eruptions awaited within, but one gaze at the weary yet hopeful old creature that had haunted her nightmares for that decade, one fleeting glance at his soft little smile, and her wrath found itself blunted.


Nepheli: Alagos, I would like you to understand something very, very clearly.

Alagos: Yes?

Nepheli: Never let her go.

Alagos: Pfft.

Nepheli: What? Did we not just talk about condescension?

Alagos: I'm sorry, I just had to. You made the mistake of assuming I am even capable of that at this point.


It may have been a long wait, but Ranni gracefully invades the story in the next chapter. And Maliketh will come after that

Chapter 27: Growth means nothing in Elysian life


In which Alagos notices more things than he was supposed to, begins to hate the concept of logic, has to resort to threats to keep Boc off his back, and comes to a profound insight that leaves Malenia in shock and Miquella in tears.

Meanwhile, as our protagonists make for Raya Lucaria, Stormveil is forced to host perhaps the only possible guest even more terrifying than the preceding ones.


I know I foretold that this would be the Ranni chapter, but the order was switched around at the last minute. This is mainly because Ranni likes to steal the show in every scene she's in, and this chapter contained a core idea about my interpretation of Malenia that needed to be brought out. I find it's some of my best writing about her, and as the spotlight ought not to be stolen, a far more... unobtrusive... fellow makes their appearance instead.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“You paused at offering aid since you believed we would not accept it, if it came from you?” Nepheli scoffed in incredulity. “Of course we would! We would accept aid notwithstanding wherever it came from, if it were freely given. In the position I am, I can’t afford to stop and think about who aids us, so long as we receive aid. Even if we hated you- which none of us do- we would have accepted.”

“My apologies. I did not know you were that beleaguered. Indeed, you have done very well to hide it.” Alagos said, rising from his chair.

Beleaguered? You- stars, old man! We are not beleaguered. It is only that I seek to strengthen my kingdom’s position as swiftly as possible, to bring an end to any threat of oppression before lives are needlessly lost. It’s your damned pride again. One of the first lessons I learnt upon that throne is that pride must fall before duty.”

Alagos fell into quietude, dilute grey eyes holding the dark depths of her own unshakably. In the absence of Malenia’s awe-inspiring majesty, Nepheli was reminded viscerally of how daunting a figure the ancient-seeming Tarnished could be.

“Then I do suppose you understand why I should never make a lord of myself.” he said, gentle and calm as a sea breeze. The sheer erudition in the tone nearly compelled her to agree with him, no matter what the content of his words were.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” she said instead, after collecting her thoughts. “That might once have been true, but from your actions thus far, I believe you would make a splendid lord. The clarity with which you spoke, the subtlety in your plot and the respect you have for Malenia- from what little I know, a crown would sit well upon your brow. Those who do not wish for power are those who must learn to wield it. It’s almost a shame that you look to walk a different road, now that you- rescued Miquella, was it?”

The tale had been long, and she’d be lying if she had not noted that many of its mysteries proved elusive. Alagos smiled in affirmation, and walked out to the corridor, inviting her to join him.

“It does seem that Malenia will settle for no less than to install him as the lord and god of the new age she endeavours to bring about.”

“And is he fit to be lord?” Nepheli asked pointedly, injecting all the stern authority of her voice into the question.

“I know not enough of him to adjudicate on that matter. The most I can say is that Malenia trusts him with all her being; ergo, I trust him with most of mine. Nevertheless, if I find his views or methods objectionable, you may rest assured that I will protect you, even if Malenia should not agree.”

The Lady of Stormveil allowed herself a smile.

“You have become so wise, haven’t you? And now this wisdom extends to not only Millicent, but all around you. This might seem far-fetched, on account of the suspicion with which I have treated you, but- it is good to call you ‘friend’ again, emancipator of my people. Liberator of my kingdom, and doom to my enemies. My old lord.”

Alagos paused abruptly in front of a staircase, as though his thoughts had screeched to a halt. He wet his lips, though no words escaped them, and the lady of Stormveil belatedly found him ever-so-slightly raising the fingertips of a hand that otherwise rested motionless.

Nepheli simply let him try for a moment, almost amused. All he did was briefly raise his forearm before lowering it. Words were yet to come.

“Oh, the gods damn you.” she muttered in frustration, and clasped him in a brief warrior's embrace. He was as tall as she remembered- so hauntingly tall, towering over her. She was half-glad for her stockier, more well-muscled build, as that created an illusion of equal footing, though she knew well the terrible strength that lurked within those deceptively thin, long arms.

“Thank you.” was all the Tarnished allowed himself to say, though he did muster one of his small, sad smiles.

“I have Millicent to thank for this, I’d suppose.” the regent replied, climbing the steps to the ramparts. “You’ve been very lucky, my friend. Please, do not begrudge me if I say this, but- never part with her. I don’t miss the Alagos I knew of old, but it won’t take me long to get used to the present one.”

The former Slayer of Kings looked straight at the sun with all the nonchalance of one who couldn’t care any less about his failing sight.

“You don’t consider me too old for this manner of… entanglement?”

“You’re too old for everything, and you’ve always been so- even when I once believed you ageless.” Nepheli laughed, shielding her own eyes. “Besides, I don’t know what to think. A few minutes in your fiancée’s presence and I was convinced I had seen the most dangerous individual ever to walk these lands. And yet, I could not help but talk to her. It was as if a dam I held within myself had burst. Roderika told me she felt much the same, and Rya- grace help me, if she hasn’t just found a new aunt to snuggle up to.”

Alagos looked at her with a pensive frown.

“That was rather succinct. There is a certain something about her. To live a life of such pain, but to relegate that pain to part of the mundanities of her life and nothing more- one cannot help but admire her. She seems unapproachable, but when she speaks, you cannot help but listen. When she listens, you cannot help but speak. There are few words in this language that I do not understand, and few concepts that I cannot codify or explain by analogy. She epitomises well-nigh all of them. I have never felt as strong as when I fight alongside her, but never so weak as when she does something I don’t expect.”

The Tarnished narrowed his gaze, seeming to focus on a point the distance which Nepheli knew well his eyes couldn’t clearly see. “I know that she does nothing without good reason. In fact, I have only now come to realise that she chose to reveal our engagement at a precise, calculated moment, so as to further her aims- to rehabilitate your assessment of me, through association with herself; to facilitate an alliance between the Haligtree and Stormveil as a manner of forgiveness for your ‘misjudgement’; and to mend my broken friendships.”

“Erdtree’s light.” Nepheli laughed. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t be surprised. Danger is the only thing you’ve ever been enchanted by, is it not?”

The fog in the Tarnished’s eyes turned to storm-clouds, and his expression grew dark and warning.

“And addressing the matter of dangerous beings, you know as well as I that perhaps only one other might threaten her in that realm. You have told her of Maliketh, have you not?” Nepheli asked, refusing to be daunted as she might have been before.

“I most certainly have.” Alagos replied immediately, and the swift confidence with which he answered slightly shocked her. “He has arguably done more for me than I have for Malenia, and I am proud to call him my oldest and greatest friend in these lands- whatever anybody else might think of me.”

“And this did not faze her in the least?” Nepheli asked, attempting for an emotionless cadence and failing. The Tarnished co*cked his head to the side, assessing her quizzically.

“I rather think she has more pressing concerns than that. Furthermore, she must have understood that to ask for my own presence is to accept his. In fact, I daresay there is no world I should like to live in that does not house his noble soul within it.”

Nepheli managed to hide her frown, internally thanking Sir Kenneth for a lesson well-learned. Not even when Alagos had torn through the Lands Between as a sorcerer of night and flame had he been vehement in his words. His venom and anger had been subtle, and quiet after a fashion- and it was disconcerting to hear him speak in absolutes.

“I am glad for it.” she said, as such unambiguous clarity could only mean the truth, “And in the interest of transparency, I must ask your forgiveness.”

“What for? At best, your uncharitable view of me was well-warranted by my former misanthropy.”

“When you came here with her excellency, I felt afraid for my people, and consulted Sir Gideon on the matter. You must understand that your motives were unknown to us then. He- advised us to use your association with Maliketh against you, and to drive a wedge between yourself and your beloved. He reasoned that it was the only way to divide your strength, such that my will in a new age was not overwhelmed.”

“His name is Gurranq!” Alagos snarled, alarming her with the bitter ferocity in his voice. “Agh, Maliketh. ‘Death of the Demigods’- a misnomer if ever I’ve heard one. You would do well to understand this.” He shut his eyes for a moment to calm himself, and it seemed as though an assault of storms upon her senses had momentarily abated. “Regardless, I forgive you. You showed the foresight to plan for all possibilities, and the restraint necessary to not enact such a scheme, even if it might have been useless. I am only disappointed that you would still think to consult him for advice. He is worse than useless.”

“Come, now.” Nepheli said, in a placating tone. “One of the themes I wish my people to embrace is that of redemption. It might take longer than Gideon has left, but at the very least, if I make him feel useful-“

“Then in the interest of transparency, I, too, must inform you that he was swift to appeal to me to overthrow you. He asked me to give him Stormveil the moment I visited him to see if he had repented even to the least extent. Frankly, I could not care less if you had him poisoned- in fact, I might even advise you to do it, in the interest of your kingdom. Sir Kenneth does admirably enough as it stands.”

The sardonic tones were hardly the worst part of his words. It was the flicker of that old rage which raised decades-old hackles within her.

“Nevertheless, I- am grateful you told me. It must have taken a great deal of courage, and I feel… proud of you for showing it.” he said after a pause, to her relief. Though a slight air of malaise had settled in, she did feel as though a tinge of goodwill had grown between them, for which she was thankful.

“Then all’s well that ends well, would you not say?” she tried, somewhat half-heartedly, only for Boc- blessed, beautiful Boc- to come scurrying in to save her.

“M’lord! Oh, most glorious of lords, you’ll burst this poor servant’s heart with gladness! I’ve searched everywhere for you to give you my best wishes. To think even my unflappable, self-possessed lord who always trod alone has found someone to share his memories with- ah, happy day!”

“Boc? Boc, please! Temper your enthusiasm, I implore; goodness’ sake, you’re far too loud- and are you quite alright, while we’re at it? Why are you in tears?”

“Aye, tears of joy, m’lord! And- and I’ve done all your cloaks, as requested!” the demi-human said happily, handing a neat bundle to the surprised Tarnished.

“Ah, yes- hmm? These are- not my cloaks, dear Boc. You didn’t need to make me brand new ones- oh, Caelid Dogs, what is the meaning of this?!”

A shadowy black cloak which would have been unambiguous in its menace, had it not been for the silver Haligtree emblem upon it. Next, a deep sapphire cloak with a gold emblem. A grey cloak with a white Haligtree, a white cloak with a pale-gold Haligtree- in fact, each cloak had a Haligtree upon it.

“Oh! Oh, I forgot, m’lord. Her m-majesty- her excellency commissioned a cloak like her own for you, though you were not to know of it- oh, blast, I’ve gone and blabbed, forgive me- but how could I ever have kept a secret from you, m’lord-“

“Calm down, Boc. I’ll shake my fist impotently at her later, but would that not be just one cloak? And where are all my old cloaks, for that matter?”

“Well, you see- she asked for one cloak, but then I remembered how many you run through, kind master, and once I had mastered the embroidery, I had made many more before I knew it. And I- I can’t give you your old cloaks, m’lord. I’ve already made blankets for our Misbegotten with them as she asked me to.”

“Curse her, and curse her use of well-reasoned logic in everything!”

The two bickered as they walked away, and Nepheli couldn’t help a small smile as they departed. She truly had nothing to fear.

“Might I humbly add, m’lord- attending the wedding would be one of my life’s greatest joys. You can’t have chosen any better.”

“However much I adore you, my friend, you are far from one who should dare to make an attempt at that particular conversation with me.” Alagos’ fading voice warned frostily. “That said, I’m beginning to wonder if I chose a little too well, or indeed if I had a 'choice' in the matter at all…”

“I wonder what might become of Miquella and I, when we are rid of our curses. Miquella’s aim was true godhood, as you are well aware, though how we might achieve this without an Outer God for a patron eludes me. For now, we remain Empyreans- gods only in name, able to siphon power from our people’s faith as gods might, but with little metaphysical claim over the dominions we rule. Marika, too, was an Empyrean once- a woman of the Numen race, long-lived and shrewd.”

They hadn’t manifested quite at Raya Lucaria, as the Lunar Princess was apparently more than a little cautious after her parting with Alagos. Halting, hexing or otherwise ontologically penalising teleportation had been how Rennala had been able to hold off Radagon’s typical omnipresence across all battlefields, after all, and her daughter was likely the only one to surpass her for sorcerous mastery.

“What, precisely, constitutes this ‘ascension’? Ranni, of course, told me absolutely nothing- which is annoyingly true for a rather extensive list of subjects.” Alagos asked, brewing a pot of tea a little way away from the Raya Lucarian bridge, while Malenia danced in a soliloquy of steel, her every stroke a blur.

“It is troublesome to explain with words, for as you might know, none exist to precisely describe such a state of existence.” Malenia said, executing a sharp lunge. Among other things, she felt very pleased about her fiancé’s new cloak, and had decided to test whether she could distract him from his brewing with a particularly vicious display of bladework. “In a way, when one of us ascends to true godhood, we come to embody what we represent. Our minds turn from finite to unending, just as our memories are now, and our beings are contained within ideas that wander the cosmic planes.”

“So you would become a being of thought? A conceptual existence?”

“If I choose to ascend, yes- although I would keep ties to my body, and be hurt if it were destroyed. My divine mother herself was such, embodying the predominance of the Golden Order and the might of the Greater Will. She was the logic of the world, and so when the world was shattered, so too was her flesh. And yet- aside from that ideal of paramountcy- she represented sacrifice. She was the herald of her own suffering and that of her loved ones, for the sake of the accomplishment of all ambitions- hers, or ours.”

“And Radagon?” asked Alagos, curious.

“I haven’t given him much thought.” she said bluntly, attempting the first steps of her alternate, more deceptive Waterfowl dance. He was right; this is utterly, delightfully evil. “Miquella believes he was tethered more closely to his flesh than Marika was to hers. He always seemed closer to us after a fashion, while Marika was distant, and it might be that he had a firmer foot in our existence.”

“I see.” said the Tarnished, levelling that oddly knowing gaze at her. She took the opportunity to turn away from him in a pirouette.

“And yet, his conceptual roots cannot be denied. Radagon epitomised Order and Certainty. He wasn’t prevalence or pre-eminence as Marika may have been, but was causality and regression, through which the Golden Order is defined. Some might say this afforded him less power, but his influence might have been more permanent- something that could not truly be erased, if the Ring was not shattered. Indeed, Marika housed fears of being regressed wholly into Radagon, with her defiance subsumed by his loyalty. Caria has certainly felt the effects of this- permanence, if it can be called that.”

“In their ruin, irreversible change and refusal to heal- I am all too familiar with the effects. Rennala, who was nothing if not a champion before, declined into one who had never been. Though passion has returned to her now, she has never been the same, even if Ranni and I tried all we could. That said, these questions do not at all concern me. What I concern myself with is what form you would take, should you ascend. After the Rot is cured, I- ahem- must confess I foresee myself offering that to you, if I might in any way be able to.”

Her blade trembled against her will, her straight arm dipping from its perfect posture.

“You would do that for me? I- would be honoured, but that is something I wish for Miquella, above all else. He has told me of his certainty that he shall come to embody abundance. It is a tricky term, which you should perhaps hear defined first from his own lips. I myself have come to see it as equity and a universal gladness. Yet, if I am to somehow ascend after him, I…” she had to pause to give the idea due consideration, even at the impossible speeds at which her thoughts ran.

“At best, I can tell you that I, too, shall come to embody what I represent. Neither Miquella nor I should be unrecognisable if we ascend to true godhood. It… might be that we come off as stranger- vaster, perhaps. In some ways, more present, and in others, more distant. Come to think of it, what do I represent, dearest?”

Alagos shut his eyes, and levelled his unseeing gaze to the heavens. “If you fear truly becoming the Goddess of Rot and nothing more, put that to rest. I know for a fact you would rather cease to exist than surrender your will to it. Otherwise, it would not be wise for me to speak with any certainty. You understand far more of these matters than I do, and I have been mistaken too many times before.”

“Truthfully, my Alagos, I do not care what I become, and only hope that I should still seek to do good because I can. I am less concerned with what I embody than what I seek to protect, and shall forever protect.”

“Well, whatever you become, my dear heart, I do know that I shall always love you.” her fiancé smiled, absently placing a hand within the flickering fire and collecting a few embers on his fingertips. A strange habit among his innumerable strange habits, and one that she still had to wrestle with herself to accept and not grow furious about.

“And whatever happens, I shall always remain your Malenia.” she replied with a smile of her own, this one filled more with determination than affection. “That aside, I would still like to know what you think, even if you might not be correct. What am I, truly? I have asked myself this question more times than I can count. My master once said he thought he knew the answer, but never told me. When we do succeed in crafting a new world, what would my natural place in it be? Miquella always told me that in his victory, I could be whatever I wished, but- perhaps I am something already. Your eyes pierce well-nigh everything. What do they see, when they look at me?”

“Why, sometimes, they see the Goddess of War.” Alagos replied earnestly, putting his fingertips together. “The one and only goddess of war. You’d be flattered by that, won’t you, after all the work you have done to reach that height?”

She nodded, seeing that he knew her too well. Could he think less of her, due to this admittance? She knew in her bones that her home had always been the battlefield, and it was the tragedy of anyone who loved her to accept this truth.

“And yet, I find that somewhat reductive, seeing as you are so much more. You are kindness that exists for its own sake, defiance that cannot be overcome, strength that is indefatigable and love that is infinite. What are you, you ask?” he said clearly, in a soft voice that paradoxically rang like thunder. Clouds darkened the skies and winds howled distantly, as the ancient Tarnished commanded his very soul to answer.

She found herself transfixed, listening intently. Alagos’ voice, in that moment, carried a power similar to and yet quite different from her own, and it seemed as though his word was law. While she could force the world around her to bend to her will, such that her words were written into its logic, her fiancé seemed to draw words from the logic of the world itself and lay them bare to her ears.

The moment stretched out infinitely and not at all, a light-cone passing through curved spacetime and elongated by its altered geometry.

“Victory.” he said at last, the soft whisper bearing certain strange similarities to a fiery eruption in the force it carried. “You are victory. Your life is life’s triumph. You are my victory, Miquella’s victory, and are victory for even Marika and Radagon. You are triumph for Finlay, for Loretta, and for every Knight of the Haligtree to ever exist. There is no victory without adversity, as you well know, but when you will have won- and I feel certain that you will win, even if I am not there by your side- all who have ever loved you will have triumphed, in what they sought most to accomplish.

You will have supplanted and defied an Outer God, releasing Marika and fulfilling her last wish. You will have been all that Radagon could not, healing the flaws he saw but could not address in his order. You will have brought all of your brother’s hopes and dreams to conclusion, as he fights only for your sake. And every moment you live now, you fulfil every one of these wishes in some small way.

Of course, there exists no victory that can be found before a journey- which is what you embody now, with all the struggle and the hardship along the way. When all this is ended, dearest Malenia- you will find victory is what you always were and shall always be.”

“I may have been wrong. Words… might indeed be adequate vessels after all.” said Miquella, emerging abruptly from his latest reverie. Malenia found that he was sniffling.

However adequate or inadequate words might be, she found that her Alagos had thoroughly robbed her of their use. ‘Victory’ would never have come to her, in even a thousand guesses. Perseverance, certainly; strength, indubitably; determination, perhaps- but triumph?

Alagos had even said it in that strange tone only he and Miquella were capable of, which felt at once pensive and decisive- and that could only mean the wholehearted, unabashed belief of an unreasonably experienced man obsessed with meticulousness, scholarly rigour and rationality.

It must, therefore, be the truth. Now that she had heard the idea, neither she nor Miquella knew what they would do if it was not the incontrovertible reality.

It was true that until recently, she had never lost a battle, but it had been equally true that she felt as though she was losing the war- whatever war it may have been- nevertheless. Then had come this eccentric, opaque, needlessly masterful fool full of wisdom at whose hands she tasted temporary loss, but every moment onwards, there was the certain and inalienable sense that she neared a final victory over her long defeat.

As for the Tarnished himself, he rose with a little grunt of effort, shook off ash from his palms, straightened his cloak and made to ride off to the woods nearby to hunt for turtles, entirely unaware of what he had just inflicted upon her.

“How dare you attempt to ride off into the sunset after saying such things! Come back here this instant, and kiss me.”

The grey skies of Stormhill parted to reveal gold light as day dawned, only for shadows to swoop in on wings of darkness, glued together by corpses.

Brown, tattered robes of a humble clergyman hid the armour of midnight worn by the bleakest shadow of all.

It was his last hope. His dear pupil’s absence had grated on his patience long enough. The thought of the pain Marika must suffer propelled him on, step by silent step; and not one creature that roamed Limgrave heard the tramp of doom.

“Descend, and hearken to me.” Maliketh commanded, his Kindred swooping down to attend him in a surge of black wings. “Make haste to the Castle’s walls, and announce yonselves with roars that all its residents might hear. If ye find the airs safe, alight in the courtyard, and await my approach.”

Alagos had told him that his old friends would appreciate the warning, after all.

“Should bolts of metal and flame from ballistae darken the airs ‘neath yon wings, retreat instead, making examples of what few yon claws might reach, and join with me to assail Stormveil in earnest.”

He would never risk his companions’ lives in an overture of trust, not after his lord-to-be had gone to such great lengths in uniting them.

The Lord of all assassins, however, felt reasonably confident that they would come to no harm. If they had been friends of Alagos, once, they must not be of foolish stock, and would not needlessly throw away their lives by threatening him.

“I trust thou’rt well, my brother and lord. Fret not, for thy Gurranq shall find thee, and free thee of thy woes. Thou wouldst pleased by my presence, I imagine. Together, we shall save thy daughter and my queen, and we shall at last give thee the greatest gift we are capable of granting: matrimony to a god, ‘neath the Erdtree’s fallen leaves.”

And so came Death to Stormveil, with an optimistic little smile.


To start off, I notice this thing has touched 50,000 views. Since I have no clue how the view system works, I'll just assume the 50 or so people who probably read this have gone over it a thousand times each- in which case, thank you all! I've been blessed to have your presence, insights, and the pleasure of conversation and discourse with you.

It is unfortunately that time of the year where I have to get a paper out or risk being jostled about and politely complained at. Therefore, I'm afraid to say I don't foresee any new chapters for a while- though I'd always be happy to talk about what I've written thus far, and to address concerns, critiques, questions about direction, questions about the future, and practically everything.

As for this chapter, Alagos does no more than put to words what Malenia really represents at the end of the day: the triumph of one's will over adversity. There may be some hiccups along the way, true, but- as it pertains to this story- if she's cured of her curse, that is what she will be: Malenia, Goddess of Victory. Ergo, her unrotted Great Rune would be called the Rune of Triumph, which sounds fitting for the rune adjudged 'most sacred of all'.

If Malenia wins, everyone who loves Malenia will have 'won' in a way: Marika in her quest for defiance and emancipation, Radagon in being freed of the duties that burdened him and in doing right by his people, the Cleanrot Knights and Haligtree Knights in their devotion and belief in her cause, Miriel in his hope and attachment, Miquella in... well... everything and Alagos in those things not pertaining to his habit of being cryptic and then fading away into the sunset.

That, and poor Alagos has been flustered, caught out and been out of his depth for the longest time thus far. He deserves to be the one doing the flustering, for once. But I do hope he stops lying about Maliketh.

In other news, Nepheli seems to have invoked that 'speak of the devil' trope and accidentally summoned Maliketh. Do not summon Maliketh, folks. He may look fluffy, but it will not end well for you.

Chapter 28: Fondling a changeless child, the flax-haired wife


Our final main character appears, and starts plotting. Malenia decides to dabble in psychology, and Alagos reminisces about his time as Rennala's apprentice.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Dragon-song was a strange tongue to reck; a language entirely without words, it was sometimes harsh and monosyllabic, sometimes sonorous and ululating, and as a whole utterly incomprehensible if close attention were not paid to the gestures of the dragon in question.

Godwyn had called it beautiful. To him, the hisses, snarls, snorts and softly released breaths of Fortissax had been a mournful song of sorrow, held close to the hearts of only those who might understand it. To Ranni, Adula’s particular song was a pain in the neck- never mind that she lacked a neck, for the moment.

Would that Godwyn had been around to spare her the embarrassment of seeming quite as slow as she surely did, but Godwyn could hardly spare anyone now, could he? A pity and a shame, that he was the one stricken; but there was no other way in sight. Rykard was too valuable, Radahn too unassailable, the Omen brothers at the time inaccessible, and the less said of her Empyrean fellows and their particular fearsomeness, the better. The Hollowbrand scar had needed to be split, or she could never have freed herself from the Greater Will’s yoke.

Perhaps it was selfish of her, to make a sacrifice that was not hers to make, all for the sake of her own ambition- but what was greatness, if not the achievement of ambition? What did she owe to anyone, that fate and chance should contrive to deny her greatness?

No, fate and chance were nothing, for she had slain them. At the very least, she was thankful that she did not lose sleep over it, as she felt she surely should have if she were capable of ‘sleep’ in the conventional sense.

Adula’s song grew darkened, agitated. Her pupil-slits narrowed, and her breaths grew shorter and sharper. It was not often a dragon espied a creature they did not know they could defeat, and rarer still was a being of whom they were wholly, utterly afraid. Her dear Knight had seen two, and flown at once to her Rise. Ranni could only smile to herself. It was the worst of the possible outcomes that might have developed from that old fool’s choices, and so she had anticipated and prepared particularly for it. At the very least, she could say that some things were going according to plan.

There were matters she could not control, of course: she doubted she could still kill Alagos with a single stroke to the soul. Her old ‘friend’ had a spirit of quietly ravenous flame that was now too strong to be dimmed. Perhaps advancing the effect of his years through the Dark Moon’s gifts might slow him, but she would readily confess herself at a loss at how to negotiate the matter of her sister. Ranni was a better sorcerer than Radahn, but not nearly as destructive- and here she would not have the advantage of range.

Nevertheless, she doubted they would come to blows. If they attacked her dear mother- which she would give them no reason to- Ranni had her safeguards in place. The only one in danger was herself: yet Malenia could not kill her, unless she decided to invoke the Scarlet Rot and that terrible scorpion-god struck decay and silence into her spirit, and Ranni knew quite well that she would never call upon it willingly unless she somehow threatened Miquella. Of course, she intended nothing of such clumsiness.

“Rest now, my faithful Knight, and take to the airs as thou wishest. I know thy longing, to be far from here, and as thy liege, I grant it.”

Her voice carried the steel of cold command- benevolent, in granting a gift, and altogether unquestionable. She had never found these tones particularly hard to conjure, but she reflected dimly that the practice would do her good. It was precisely the tone she must keep for what was to come.

Adula roared softly, from which Ranni gauged a mournful sort of defiance- a refusal to leave her side, should her strength be needed. She tamed her own sardonic smile- strength was the last thing that ought to be employed in a matter of such delicacy.

“Honoured Adula, who hath been my sister-in-arms and my sword at war…” she began, letting her tone slip into gentleness she would show to none other but Iji and Blaidd, “…who refuseth even now to let her heart rest when I ask to be left alone – I bid thee, not as thy Lady Ranni, but as thy Princess and Queen to be, to have faith. Recall my words at Caria Manor as I said them- that we of Caria disavow all faith but that in what hath been proven. And have I not proven myself? I, who slew my two fingers by mine own hand? I, who lost mine uncle and brother, but keep true to the dark path they trod? I, who keep alive the knowledge and majesty of Caria, and who laid conquest to death? All my life I have fought- ‘gainst my puppeteers, then for my patron; ‘gainst my peers and for my people, but above all, for myself and for mine own freedom.”

A gentle chiding, at which Adula lowered her head in embarrassment that Ranni quite frankly found adorable. She would not blame her knight; in any and all circ*mstances but her own, it would certainly be rational to sequester oneself behind all the strength one could find when faced with one of the Twins. At the least, she was glad it was not Miquella who had come.

“In this matter, thou canst serve me no more. Be free of thy burdens, and return when I send for thee, my dear knight.” she bade softly, laying her land upon a great welt on the dragon’s neck. It was the work of wretched Alagos, who- true to vicious form- had had the cruel idea to invoke a beast claw incantation right against her throat when he had downed her with his horrific gales, before Ranni had appeared and stayed his hand. Why Adula had attacked him while he was still in her service had seemed a mystery back then- but perhaps she had already smelt his treachery. In hindsight, that ancient arsonist’s use of beast claw should itself have been her first clue.

It was pointless to dwell on the past, however, as making the best of present matters had always been Ranni’s chief talent. A storm of wings and winds and her knight was gone, and she descended from her perch on Raya Lucaria’s rooftop, softly bemoaning the puppet’s limited mobility. Pidia, the rat, had been good for only one thing, and he couldn’t even see to that properly. She nearly made for her mother’s side as planned, but out of some old instinct of the Shattering, took a slight detour to gaze out of a window that overlooked the walkway into the academy.

A winged helm veiling a crimson sea greeted her. She nearly swept herself out of sight, as the Malenia she had known would take notice of everything, before she reminded herself that the Scarlet Rot had rendered her half-sister blind- not that it seemed to affect her skill at war and murder in the least. But as she approached the window again cautiously, she almost wished she hadn’t. She might have kept her previous confidence otherwise.

There they were, the storm that had consumed Leyndell and the Goddess of War he now served, and of all the things they could have done, they were holding hands.

Not by the light of the full or dark moon could Ranni tell why they were holding hands. It might not be completely out of place between friends, she reflected, before abruptly remembering that one of the people under consideration was Alagos.

Impossible. Was this some sick, cosmic jest played by the Greater Will in vengeance against her transgressions? Was it a dream- but she did not dream- could it then have been a vision, remarkably like life, that she could not force her way out of?

She used her Empyrean’s senses to look more closely. Alagos’ presence felt somewhat melancholy- as though seeing something he would rather have forgotten; Malenia’s was bright and terrible enough that the scarlet taint around its edges was nigh-imperceptible.

But she didn’t need an Empyrean’s gifts, nor the moon’s blessing, nor the mage-sight she had carefully cultivated in Renna’s tutelage to observe what happened next, as her half-sister said something soothing, then bent down to her new servant’s face and- stars-

For the first time in centuries, Ranni felt something akin to terror. Grim calculation immediately reasserted itself, but she felt that she could never foreseen a calamity of these proportions. She hadn’t prepared well enough.

By the whims of her darkling patron, she hadn’t prepared well enough. And so, she did the only thing that was practical: to throw her prior perceptions and assumptions out from that very window as she left it, and make all haste to the Grand Library. She would need to observe carefully, but act quickly to spin victory from angles she had not considered before.

“Her Majesty will see you now, Sir Alagos.”

“Thank you, Moongrum, old fellow. If you’d be so kind as to lead, we are more than glad to follow.” said the aforementioned Tarnished. He held a bouquet of crystal buds in one hand and a book in the other, with an expression that seemed cautiously hopeful.

Malenia knew him rather better: it was the mask he wore when expecting the world to fall apart around him, because he saw no reason not to appear dignified and calm as it did.

The Carian Knight grunted under his breath, betraying his displeasure that the Queen had agreed to see them at all, but the visit was necessary for a number of reasons- one had better know the past before one could plan for the future.

“I’m surprised he didn’t make some attempt to relieve us of our weapons.” The Goddess commented as they walked along. Alagos levelled a dry look at her.

“Moongrum didn’t get to where he is by being a complete idiot, did he?” he whispered softly, in a voice like the lightest breeze that only she could hear. She laughed openly, not caring what the knight might have thought.

“All the same, I had expected for a knight to make the attempt. Pride, pageantry and grandstanding are, after all, essential cornerstones of the profession. You wouldn’t imagine the number of Redmanes who refused to let me in Radahn’s presence carrying my hand as we attempted to negotiate, or even before then, the army of Preceptors and Prelates that seemed unhealthily interested in my practice tachi as my own father came to meet me while my master and I trained at Siofra River.”

“I daresay the Carian Knights are rather like your Cleanrot Knights, or Miquella’s Haligtree Knights- they care only for the purpose they serve in battle, not out of it. Although I must note that the Cleanrot Knights in particular tend to go about their art of war in the most dramatic fashion possible, which might be rather reminiscent of someone I know-“

“Do shut up, dear.”

Alagos smiled, the tension momentarily leaving the lines on his face. “Are we too obvious, Malenia?”

She took some distinct pleasure at levelling precisely the same dry look at him that he had at her.

“Why,” she began innocently, “I had thought you didn’t get to where you are by being a complete idiot, did you?”

“Oh, you’ll be the death of me.” Alagos murmured, choking down a chuckle. Moongrum turned around suspiciously, to be met by identical, politely inquisitive expressions on their faces. The Knight growled something unintelligibly and moved on. “That said, I am glad of it. If a certain someone appears as I suspect she will, it might have her thoughts take a tumble. Such an experience is entirely new to me, and I confess I am somewhat looking forward to it.”

And the untrained observer might make the error of thinking her fiancé was too nice.

They passed through hallways and archways, from debate parlours to amphitheatres, through guard-rooms, antechambers and repositories. Many a masked sorcerer stood silently by as they strode past, and the same cloud of fear Malenia had felt at Stormveil rested palpably, quietly within them.

It was a credit to Moongrum that he marched on without comment. But Malenia chose to look further, for not everyone held the same terror. There were some whose hearts beat more swiftly, whose knees trembled, whose faces twisted behind the proud alabaster masks they wore, and all this was familiar- no sorcerer, after all, would be pleased to stand within arm’s reach of a saint of the blade. And yet, there were some who did not look at her at all, which brought her to wonder.

In fact, some seemed so entirely distracted by Alagos that they failed to consider- or perhaps deemed wise not to consider- that she was present at all. Their faces twisted too, but not in awe and rather at some remembrance of phantoms of pain from the past. Their knees did not tremble, but were bent- a prepared bent, as though they expected to flee at any moment. They kept remarkably silent, which was good discipline that her general’s instinct could appreciate, but as the three of them passed out of sight there were inevitably voices- sighs of relief, or cautionary tales quietly told, and she strained to hear them.

“If there was one who could stand against her, it had been the Lord Radahn- and look what cataclysm she brought upon him…” was the gist of a few whispers, and she dismissed the thought entirely as was rational. It may have been a necessary death or an unnecessary one, given the circ*mstances, but the past was the past and could not now be undone. But then there were others- “That her majesty should agree to see him after this treachery…” and “Stay your tongue! I do not wish to witness a rendition of Preceptor Miriam’s end.”

Alagos had told her that he had been Queen Rennala’s student once, that he had thought most fondly of her, and that the last he saw, it was reciprocated. Nearly all sorcery he had learnt had apparently been at Rennala’s hand, save the occasional instruction from Ranni.

“Another frosty welcome- apparently they missed your charms, which seems par for the course for your earlier journeys. Did you have another of your perhaps overenthusiastic escapades here, dear?”

“Well, you already know the sort of habits I held in those days.” Alagos said wryly, though not without grace. “I suppose you mean to ask precisely what happened. The tale is too long to last the rest of our walk, but suffice to say I know these walls very well. Rather too well, in fact. When I came to the academy of Raya Lucaria, it was as though I was beset by a storm of magic. Glintstone sorcerers and other fouler things thought I made for a sterling test subject.” he smiled cheerily at a few of the sorcerers they passed, and the sorcerers, the poor things, bowed low.

“Then, I had my confrontation with her majesty, for the Great Rune of the Unborn which Radagon- or perhaps Marika- had bequeathed her, though not after a certain large, red, strangely intelligent wolf decided I would make for a good dinner.”

“You killed Sif?”

“Sif? You knew that wolf? Dear me, I am sorry-“

“Oh, no, I didn’t know her. But my father wouldn’t stop talking about her. I got the strangest feeling that not many people, birds or beasts liked him while he held court at Leyndell, and thriving on the past was all that was left to him.”

“That is… strangely sad.” Alagos said contemplatively, a palm momentarily pinching his chin. “Nevertheless, her majesty wasn’t in the best state of mind. It took half a decade for the strength of lords to return to her, and the rest of that decade for her to resemble her old self again, or so I was told. In that time, Raya Lucaria became something of a home to me. And naturally- like any and all old homes- it needed to be subject to, er, maintenance.”

“I see.” she whispered in understanding. She’d known him for long enough to understand what ‘maintenance’ meant in Alagos-speak, and the sorcerers’ wariness at his arrival helped her put two and two together. For some time now, Moongrum had been leading them through stairwell after stairwell and passageways that seemed endless, and she was rather sure he had opted for the longest route possible, as common discourtesy dictated during the time of the Shattering.

She wondered why the knight was delaying. Perhaps it was his uneasiness at his Queen’s decision to meet them- unconscious duty may have compelled him to postpone it for as long as possible. “Who were the spiders laying cobwebs, in this case? And if there weren’t any, why would her majesty tolerate an assault on her people?”

“There certainly were spiders.” replied Alagos. “In fact, my assault against them is why we are tolerated here and now. Many sorcerers- particularly those of the prestigious Twinsage Conspectus- had turned against her Majesty. After she grieved on Radagon’s departure, they mistook that grief for madness. They proclaimed then that Rennala was no champion, and unworthy of the honours she had been given.”

“And they had no right to that, the liars.” said Moongrum abruptly, venom in his voice. They stopped for a while, Alagos somewhat surprised, but the Knight kept marching without a word.

“Er… quite. They had her majesty locked in the Grand Library, and took control of the academy- but they were careful never to threaten her life, or they would face Ranni’s ire.” her fiancé continued. “I did tell you about her, ah, other pursuits, didn’t I?”

“I remember.” Malenia affirmed, recognising that this was not the place to discuss Rennala’s obsession born out of grief, or the number of children without mind or limb she had birthed through her Rune. She did not know what to think of it all- had the Queen brought imperfect life into the world just to fill her days with something other than tears, had she taken experimentation too far like an unscrupulous scholar, or had she committed an honest mistake she hadn’t been aware of? But Alagos seemed to think well of her, so Malenia was inclined to be charitable.

“Well, she snapped out of that glut soon enough. I never called her Queen, but…” Alagos gulped, looking down in some sadness, “I did call her Master. I was her student, after all- and I have never thought of myself as ungrateful. She was elected Headmistress of the Academy through her own merits, and not through lineage, and her prowess as a mortal sorcerer is unsurpassed. Even I in my wizardly past could never equal her for ingenuity. She deserved to hold again the rank she had earned, and clearly, she had a great deal left to give, whatever anybody thought. And- well, she would never suggest the idea herself, of course-“

“You took back control, in her name. Whether or not she deserved it, did you stop to think if she truly wanted that, Alagos?”

Alagos paused. “One moment, please, Moongrum.” Alagos bade the knight, and with a stiff nod, he allowed it. He took her hand and drew her into an alcove, looking at her face with the uttermost clarity.

“If my master had wanted a safe, undisturbed life I would have granted it. If she wanted just a castle to rule, I would have granted it. I owed her my strength in those days, after all- and however much I was blind, back then, I would like to think I knew what she truly wished. And my heart told me she craved the excitement and the adventure of innovation again. She had so many ideas- more than half of them not only good, but practicable. She could let slip some inordinately useful advice entirely offhand, which would keep me alive years later. But it was not only the fulfilment of scholarship she craved- more than anything, I felt she wished for the chance to prove herself again as worthy of the mantle of a champion. And though she would unquestionably be named a ‘Legend’, recognised as such even by the Erdtree itself, she bears the same mark all such ‘Legends’ bear- the same mark that you bear, in fact- that their accomplishments are never enough.”

Was there love in that voice, the love of an apprentice for a master who exceeded themselves? The same love that she had had for the Blue Dancer? Perhaps not, but there was certainty. It was certainly abrim with admiration, and respect.

And most of all, it told Malenia that there was no need for gentleness when they met, which left her smiling inwardly with anticipation. She had, after all, been waiting for Miquella to say something for some time now, and felt the same anticipation from him- although not for meeting Rennala, but for Ranni.

A while later, they came at last to the Grand Library, and Moongrum pushed open the great, carven doors. A small breeze blew in, which she realised was Alagos’ work, for the benefit of her senses. Through it, she could feel the ornate tracery that lined the bookshelves, and her other senses informed her of the faint traces of gold that lined the leather-bound tomes.

The desk that stood in front of them was remarkably simple in comparison to that artistry, and lacked the musty air of ancient history which Miquella loved so much, informing her that it was rather new.

The Queen of Caria sat behind it, looking up from the intense study of a manuscript to regard them. Her crown had been placed on the table, as though she no longer needed its presence to wield her authority, and black hair tinged slightly with grey tumbled down her shoulders.

There was not a line on her face, or so Malenia felt, save the slightest wrinkles around her eyes which spoke of a certain weariness she was growing all too familiar with. But, most certainly, she had taken to age far more gracefully than her dear Alagos.

“Your majesty.” said Moongrum, and bowed low, hand upon his bosom.

“Ma’am.” said Alagos instead- a decidedly strange greeting, with a short bow of his own. “Forgive me my tardiness, but I have come at last, with some answers, I hope.”

But the Last Queen of Caria looked at neither, and her fearless eyes were fixed on the Goddess who had come in the full splendour of her might to her kingdom.

“Come hither then, thou who slew my son.”

And unbeknownst to Malenia, for the first time in her life, her perceptions had failed her, as she did not notice the spell-cloaked, white-clad figure standing behind the pillars beyond, pressing her porcelain fingers together in coiled anticipation.


Awfully sorry for the ridiculous delay, folks. I've been rather depressed lately, and did not want that to filter into my work. I retooled and reread this chapter until I was convinced it hadn't.

Originally we did have Ranni and Malenia (and Miquella) trying to run circles around each other, but I decided to split the chapter for some context, and also to establish Ranni's character. I apparently have a thing for casting her as particularly ominous and dangerous and playing up some of her manipulative traits, but I sort of also see her as someone who, when something goes horribly wrong, panics and immediately decides to do the most dramatic thing imaginable to give herself some more time to deal with the situation. And of course she acts all proud of it later so that no one ever suspects that she might have panicked.

...Unfortunately for my good sense, I love these Empyreans too much.

Expect the next update soon indeed, because Ranni just won't shut up about Maliketh and this stuff practically writes itself. Also, here's the gratuitous skit it's become tradition to have every chapter-

Malenia: I had thought you didn’t get to where you are by being a complete idiot, did you?

Morghost, Last of all Spectres: If thou'rt so sure of that, then thou might be interested in some beachfront property at Farum Azula I am willing to sell thee...

Chapter 29: A wrench, a rift- that's all one can foresee


In which there is a cry of havoc, and the dogs of war are let slip.


Anniversary update!

I did watch the Shadow of the Erdtree trailer. I did catch that you need to kill Radahn for some reason to access the DLC, and that Miquella has gone to the Land of Shadow. There... really wasn't any way for me to write around that. I think I got his character right with the implication that 'there is nothing more terrifying', but the description says that Miquella divested himself 'of power... of lineage... of all things golden' when he entered the Land of Shadow, while I did show that he still wields a tremendous amount of power in Chapter 20.

So I'll just make a note that this changes nothing, as far as False Azure is concerned. Just... consider this to occur in an alternate universe in which Miquella's first priority was his precious sister. As she should rightfully be.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Your son was a warrior, Queen of Caria- a general through and through, as I am. He knew as well as I the dooms he courted when he chose to hinder the forces of the Haligtree, and what he would face should we meet on the battlefield. There is no glory in the act of war, as all generals must know; and the only glory that war can win stems from the peace that follows it.”

Rennala raised her pale face to meet Malenia’s challenge, her shining eyes cold, hard and unyielding. The Goddess felt that they had the same softness wrought by time around them as Alagos’ did, but the wisdom in those ancient orbs did not speak of the same weariness. A moonbeam filtered in then, to light Rennala’s regal face and shine upon her conviction, and Malenia was tempted to scoff as a conqueror might. The desk had been positioned precisely to bathe the Queen in moonlight should such an occasion come, but the imagery was entirely wasted on her as she could not see. She had only known that the moon lit the Queen in an otherworldly form of theatre through the essential geometry of the room and her having kept track of the time, and could easily have ignored it if she wished.

“And ye of the Haligtree claim to have fought for peace? Peace? Ye who carved and tore nigh all the lands there are, ye who would not be forestalled in yon march no matter the blood ye spilled and the heads ye took? Thou- thou who poisoned a continent entire, in forfeit of all honour and dignity, for thou couldst not countenance the thought of thy first defeat? Thou blest among the blest; thou honoured above all! Thou who held the rune adjudged most sacred, thou who forswore thine own ambition! Didst thou lie to us and thine own self, as thou tore the lifeblood from my son’s veins?”

“Enough!” interjected Alagos, the air heating. “It was you who taught me, your majesty, never to act on a conclusion forged from incomplete scraps of knowledge. I confess I did not always apply the lesson, but please, recall it before your words compel me to do something that would tarnish our time together forevermore.”

Malenia could not help but smile internally at the swiftness of the response- but it had been wholly unnecessary. “Stand aside, Alagos. Not one soul could be expected to show reason here- after all, I did doom her son. However justified my reasons may have been, we must be compassionate.”

Her fiancé looked a little surprised at himself at his interjection, as though he did not know quite what brought it on while her face had remained unruffled and patient all along. She herself knew the reason very well, of course. If Rennala had spoken out against Miquella or even Alagos, she would have done the same.

The Queen, however, looked puzzled, as though not expecting her response. Malenia realised that she hadn’t, after all, been speaking out of grief and rage, and that some part of her must have said those words precisely because she wished to gauge their response.

How entirely appropriate, and how entirely dangerous. It was Miquella who should handle such affairs of words thrown about and not her- but she wasn’t entirely without skill in the matter. It was fortunate that Alagos had spoken out after all, as his words could be used as an avenue to explain themselves.

“I do not begrudge you your words, Queen Rennala, and I do not condemn your wrath. If anything, I am heartened that you loved your son.” Malenia began, with patience and understanding forming a wall that anger could only beat its head against in futility. “I know that I could offer any reason to justify Radahn’s end, and that you would accept not one of them. I do not expect you to accept my reasoning- but I do expect your sense of reason to not be coloured by rumours and lies.”

A great sigh lifted heaved from the Queen, as though she were marshalling the last of her ancient patience. “Then speak. Tell me why thou wouldst raise thy blade against him, and why thou took him from me.”

“Then first you must know that I am not blessed. The Scarlet Rot is no blessing; it is an affliction. The Aeonian bloom is not a weapon under my command. It is a surrender. From birth have I been cursed by the scorpion-god of Rot. Not one moment passes that its whispers do not cloud my thoughts. I have been blinded by its touch. Food is ash in my mouth, and water is blood. In its worst moments it takes all feeling but pain, and pain is worsened a thousandfold.”

It had seemed that Rennala would at one point interrupt her, but could not bring herself to do so. She had listened, quiet and intent all along.

“You believed my rune the most sacred of all?” Malenia challenged, her deep voice still soft and gently chiding. “Behold. The Rune of Malenia, turned to Miquella’s service in war. The Rune that could not protect me, that only my spirit of resistance has kept from being turned entirely into yet another mark of the Scarlet Rot’s hold.”

Sorcery was in her blood just as it was in Miquella’s, but the Rot held hers in its thrall. She could not express herself through incantations unless they were turned to its service. For her, sorcery was like a sluice-gate, a dam formed of her own will holding back a red river of filth and decay. She could not manifest her will onto the world unless it were in a tainted form- but bringing forth the light of a great rune? That she could do, at the very least. The scorpion, after all, was proud of its hold on her, and liked when others were reminded of it.

Rennala examined the half-rotted rune, gold-turned-scarlet, almost raising a hand to examine it before she thought better of that foolishness.

“Thou canst not… the healing of thy spirit and body is held at ransom.” Rennala said contemplatively, a tinge of sympathy almost entering her voice.

“I am not the Goddess of Rot, as the battle of Aeonia may have led you to believe, Queen of Caria.” Malenia said clearly. “I do not command it. I could command it should I wish, but if I did, I would be no more than a thrall. It is true that I intend to surpass all others, but it will be by overcoming their strength, not debilitating them unto weakness.” As I am victory, she reaffirmed to herself.

“Then why curse Radahn, if this be not a falsehood?” hardness had returned to the Queen’s voice, and resolve to her old eyes.

Malenia sighed. “Desperation. Urgency. And- if I dare say it- love. Throughout my life, my brother is the only one to have cared for my affliction. When I- lost my legs- he- threw all his being into working to cure me. He became a fundamentalist under my lord father despite his distaste for the Golden Order, then left it when he understood that the grace of gold cold not aid me. It is true that he wished lordship- but ‘abundance’ and ‘rule’ have always been secondary. His first wish has always been for strength enough to cure me.”

“And my Radahn stood in the way of thy brother’s lordship?”

“No.” she replied, and it was not a whisper. She had done this once before and could do it again. “Miquella was taken from me, by an Omen sorcerer. A child of Marika’s, maybe, for the power he wielded. We did not know of him while we fought in the war- at a guess because he was condemned to the shunning-grounds at birth and did not emerge unless under cover.”

“Mohg, the Lord of Blood.” Miquella supplied. “Brother of Morgott, and King of the Mohgwyn dynasty.

Malenia paused, feigning exhaustion to listen to him.

You knew of him?

When you were gone in the war, he came to the Snowfield, asking for sanctuary, and offered to water our Haligtree's roots with his blood. I was in correspondence with him for a time and I refused, as I knew even then that he worked under an Outer God. I thought I could free him. When I had paid for that hubris, he tried to offer me his bloody bedchamber, as I have told you. I wish I had known him less well.”

There was something oddly suspicious in those words, something that did not sit well with her. Her instincts, quite inexplicably, told her she could not accept them. He was hiding something.

She berated herself inwardly. It’s Miquella. He must have a good reason. And this is hardly the time and place for me to question him.

“Thou chased him, I imagine?” Rennala asked, drawing her out of her reverie.

“Of course I did. When he is near, I feel hope. I scoured the Lands Between in search of the faintest thread of that hope, to find him and rescue him from his captor. That led me to the Caelid Wilds- held by your son. He had barricaded and buttressed his fief against us, while I could feel Miquella in danger.”

“And how couldst thou expect him to know better? Thy reputation preceded thee, I imagine. Thou hadst made rivers run red with blood in thy haste before, and thou’rt an Empyrean. He could match thy might only through centuries of effort. He mastered both blade and bow, studied war for years in his duties, and worked himself to the bone to match me in sorcerous skill- and he could barely equal thee. Thou, who wield only a sword. Thou who held no knowledge of war ere the Shattering, and yet overcame him- General of Marika’s armies- in thine ability to read the ebb and flow of battle. If thy search for thy brother brought thee here, I would have done no differently. And for that, thou wouldst have taken my life, wouldst thou not?”

A pause settled over the room, and Malenia invoked her talent for reading meanings behind words. It felt almost as though Rennala were wistful for possibilities that might have been. She does not hate me, Malenia realised. She may have been many things- a sorcerer beyond all mortal-kind, a matchless inventor, a champion to lead her people in war- but in that moment, she was only a mother who wished she could have protected her son. As Miquella would do, Malenia moved in for the kill.

“Do you have such little respect for me that you would believe I put his fief to the sword at once? I treat every single loss of life amongst my Knights as a personal failure. I came to Redmane Castle under assault by Rot, not knowing whether I was being deceived by my senses, with my Cleanrot Knights dying of my own affliction around me. There was precious little time to waste. But Radahn did not trust me.”

“Why should he?”

“Ah, indeed, why should he? Perhaps because the damned Golden Order he sought to uphold had failed? Perhaps because he accomplished nothing by keeping me from his lands? By keeping me from my brother?”

“Mayhap he believed he could save Caelid from thy Scarlet Rot, by holding thee at the gate.”

It was a cruel question, designed specifically to be a spike aimed at her. She refused to give in to the trap, and kept her calm.

“There were two possible outcomes. Either he gave way, and Caelid might be struck by Rot; or he refused, and Caelid would be struck by Rot- for I would be far less inclined to restraint in the latter case. But this question,” Malenia stated, borrowing one of Alagos’ turns of phrase, “is flaccid. Radahn knew that Miquella and I were the foes of the Golden Order, and he would not let the legacy of Godfrey die. Plainly and simply, he sensed opportunity- to rid me of my upstart notions, or to rid the world of an upstart. I would never be so weakened, so beleaguered as I was then. My forces would never again be stretched as thin. He would have me bow to him, for his agreement. I, who have spent all my life unbowed, as it is a necessity to hold my curse at bay.”

She knew Rennala could feel her gaze, despite her lack of eyes. The lines around Rennala’s own were soft, which meant- if she wasn’t wrong- that they held no judgment.

‘Foolish boy. My dear, foolish boy.’ she nearly felt the thought.

“When I returned from that meeting, my every effort to have him turn aside failing- I was at first determined to spend another day coaxing, cajoling reason from him. Then I returned to my camp, to find that- Agnodice, one of my Knights- she had passed away by then, her life taken by the Scarlet Rot. I knew then that I had not one more day to waste. If my Knights’ lives were forfeit, then I must at least lead them to the warriors’ end they wished.”

The Queen shut her eyes a long moment, and opened them. The rigidity that her form had held a moment ago collapsed, and she seemed in that moment just as weary and tired as Alagos himself did, when he spoke of his past.

“Tell me of the battle of Aeonia.”

She obliged. “Radahn… fought well. I cannot find fault with his honour. He was willing to accept temporary losses if it meant corralling us to terrain where he could engage us with the full weight of the advantages he had- range, a wider line, and gravitational sorcery- and so he met us in pitched battle at the Swamp of Aeonia. I stepped forward to duel him, as I did not wish any of my knights to risk their lives should he call down the stuff of stars. He was- brave enough- to accept my challenge.”

“Thou knew well his honour and took advantage of it.”

“But you do not fault me.” Malenia countered. “You know very well that the only moral way to fight a war is whatever saves the most lives you are responsible for. Partway through the duel, the Scorpion of Rot renewed its assault on me. The Redmanes were fighting back from the losses they had suffered before, and they sang their Song of Honour as they slew and were slain. Radahn would not give in. I fought to kill- though I would have spared him if he were defenceless- but I could not close the distance swiftly enough before he would ride away and marshal his sorcery, or draw his bow. I did not know how long I could continue, as we had given up every advantage for swiftness. And so, I made my choice. Perhaps I was mistaken or misguided, and there might have been another way. Nevertheless, I do not regret that I made that choice, and never will regret it.”

Rennala took a moment’s pause to digest the words, and clenched a hand on the desk. “Then, by thine own words, thou didst not do all thou couldst have to halt this tragedy. Thou went to war spurred by thy pride, and thou dost not regret that thou reduced my son to little more than a starved beast, quenching his thirst on the rotten blood of his own fallen knights.”

Alagos tensed at her side, tapping a finger against her wrist, asking whether he should intervene. She caressed his hand in response, assuring him that there was no need, and spoke in a way that forced an immense weight onto anyone who listened.

“What I inflicted on Radahn,” she began in a tone of hitherto absent ice, “was a fraction of what I have suffered. A thimbleful of the bitter tears I am forced to drink every moment. You have seen what happened to him. I have suffered for every second- of every minute- of every hour- of every day that I have lived from the thing that brought him low. And yet, I stand here, speaking to you now, hearing you trying to fault me for one instant of lapse. In all that time, Miquella was the only balm I could avail of. The only one who could, for even a moment, bring a smile to my face. And Radahn kept him from me.”

The Queen held her gaze, rising once again to the challenge in her voice- but where her palm was once rigid, now it twitched. Where the regal authority in her stare had seemed effortless, now it seemed to cost strength to maintain.

There was conflict where before there hadn’t been, she realised.

“Would you have done any differently, ma’am,” asked Alagos quietly, “had I- or anyone- somehow kept you from seeing Ranni, in this age?”

“Keep my daughter’s name from thy lips, thou lie-smith!” Rennala hissed, but the words were empty, and she knew it. The shadows had lengthened, and all the room’s sparse light crowned Malenia alone.

Rennala appeared to wrestle with herself for one moment. Miquella informed her in subtle warning that her ancient might was surging to her fingertips- but she did not reach for her staff.

“I blame thee not for my son’s death, blade of Miquella.” she said at last, with a burdensome heave, as though forcing the words out against her will. “I needed to hear the truth in thine own words. Twould be wrong for me to lay nigh all the blame at thy feet, when thou owed Radahn naught, and thou hast suffered so much- more than I- for no fault of thine own.”

“If it is of any comfort to you,” Malenia licked her lips, “…your majesty, I have chastised myself more harshly for not being strong enough than you ever could. It was Miquella- and dear Alagos here- who taught me that it was not a matter of lacking strength, or will. Perhaps I could have done more, and perhaps I should have, but it is beyond my power to change the past. I only wish to do right by those who remain in the future.”

“Then mayhap thou couldst begin by dispensing with thine only lie.” Rennala shot back suddenly. Her words were a sharp knife, a dagger held in wait for a lull, to now be thrust into her chest.

“Lie? I told no lie!” Malenia replied, defiant. What was this, another trap of words? Sleight of hand? Had Rennala feigned those sighs, that forgiveness?

“My Radahn- as thou well knew- was honourable to his core. He may have sought glory, but his heart remained humble. He must have recognised the warrior’s pride that burnt within thy breast for it was his own, and he would never have demanded thee kneel ere battle began.”

“If you simply plan on disbelieving me-“

“Hark!” Rennala’s voice rang, palm rising for patience. “I listened when thou spoke, now hark. The boy I raised ne’er would have been unmoved by thy circ*mstance. There is only one thing thou might have said that would have held his gate closed in thine hour of need.”

“All I ever asked him for was permission to search his land for my brother! His own troops might have kept watch on our every move if they did not trust us. I know he cared little enough for revealing strategic locations in Caelid, for he would shortly have left on a Third Siege of Leyndell had our armies not met.”

“And yet, thou dost mention the Golden Order. I know not what the stresses of the war demanded of thee, nor what little lies thou told thyself to steady thy sword-arm. I forgive thee for them, for I have done much the same myself in my wars ‘gainst Radagon. But Radahn ne’er would have raised his love for the grace of gold- misguided as that love may be- unless thou broached the matter first. I know of thy brother, and of his fate.”

Her hand nearly went for her katana. “Is that a threat?” she asked in a dangerous whisper.

“No threat.” Rennala said, her voice equally dangerous. “No more than an entreaty for honesty. Wouldst thou deny that thou made another demand of him? One that would have seen his gates closed to ye of the Haligtree forever and anon?”

It took her a moment to understand.

She scoffed. She laughed, and it was a fey laugh, washed with the slightest hint of madness and disbelief.

“That? You think I would come to kill him for that? Oh, your majesty,” Malenia said, unable to restrain the hint of mockery, “to think that we who do not believe in fate, who believe in forging our own destinies and care nothing for prophecies tied to the stars, would care a whit about a wholly unnecessary feat of gravity magic that we did not even know the reason behind!”

“I know thou wouldst!” Rennala thundered, rising. “Thou might not wish to, but thou wouldst treat it as duty. And for what Radahn perceived as his duty, he would deny thee. Do not tell me thou hast forgotten. Do not lie to me, not now- not after I war with myself to forgive thee when thou took him from all of us.”

Malenia restrained her instinctive reply. It was possible that she might have forgotten a detail under the depredations of her curse- and Rennala would not raise the point with such certainty for nothing. But while the Rot may have preyed upon her memory, it would always leave those that were painful to torture her; and she felt that if she had indeed come to demand that Radahn free the stars, she would have remembered it.


“I assure you, this is… the first time I am hearing of it.”

I assure you?’ Why would you need to say-

“My old master, that is quite enough.” Alagos began to speak, in the quietest, softest, most horrifyingly chilling timbre he was capable of. “This is the first I am hearing of this. Miquella’s ‘fate’? I have read his handwritten journals, and it is plain therein that he despised the very notion of fate. Who told you these lies?”

Rennala fell silent, affixing him with a glare. “I pity thee.”

“I know who did.” Alagos continued unfazed. “I know it by the way your expression tells me that I am unworthy even to speak her name. If my Malenia were sent to kill Radahn on account of the Starscourge conflict, she would have told me.”

“Thou fool. Thou young fool. Thou hast assumed at once she did not lie to thee even then.”

“That, I am afraid, is called love.” her Alagos replied instantly, with his characteristic wry smile. “And besides, why would she?” he asked earnestly. “What would she have to gain? She tried to cast herself in the least charitable light possible, when first we met, so that I would be wary, and she might be spared the danger of growing attached to me. When I saw through it, what reason would she have not to tell me the truth?”

“Speak not to me of love.” Rennala grumbled, but she sat down, looking fatigued, as if the existence of the concept itself had drained her.

“Ma’am’, said Alagos, far more gently, “I truly do understand. If Millicent had told me something such as this, I, too, would immediately accept it as the unequivocal truth. But now, if you shall permit, let me enlighten you. There was only one empyrean who ever had a fate held by the stars. Only one empyrean who needed those stars unshackled. What did she tell you when she failed to convince Radahn to release his hold? That she was happy to set aside her ambitions so that Radahn could have his glory? Did she treat it as ‘regrettable’ when she told you that she had sent me to the festival honouring his death? Or did she insist that there was ‘no point in prolonging his suffering’ when at last she had the chance to act on her plans?”

The Queen of the Full Moon had no answer- but her daughter did.

“Fine words, from the man who learnt his art of war at the hand of Death Himself!”


Maliketh: Me? Death Himself? But... but... I'm cute?

Alagos: Oh, yes, you are, old boy. Don't listen to what anyone else says. I know you have the gentlest soul of all. *strokes floof*

Quite literally the rest of the world: The cult of floof is taking over!

On a more serious note, I know Rennala might sound more confrontational than people are used to, but I wanted to be as accurate as possible to a parent who loved and lost her son when she finally has an opportunity to hold the person she perceives as his killer to account. And Malenia doesn't exactly take flak. From anyone.

I address here the possibility that I rejected before- of Malenia potentially needing to fight Radahn to release the stars, instead of just as part of a search for Miquella. I did so since Shadow of the Erdtree necessitates releasing the Stars to find Miquella- but evidently Miquella found the land of Shadow while he was still alive. It remains to be seen if Miquella needed Radahn dead.

If the DLC does reveal that he did, one might wonder- in terms of this story- if the line of thought that Miquella felt bad, and tried to 'cleanse his sister's conscience' at some point while trying to 'help' has got any merit... huehuehuehue...

Chapter 30: Under the stage direction of some goon


In which Maliketh arrives at Stormveil, proceeds to be a worrywart, voices some incredibly controversial opinions, and is greeted by an idiot full of sound and fury.


Very small warning for some, er... Yorkshire-certified language in the starting section of the chapter. It's really very mild, and I'd say it makes sense in the context, but it might come as a slight surprise.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“I know what you’re after.” he rasped to the whispers in his mind.

The cell was dark, but not dank. The cold and moisture were kept at bay by fires lit outside. Thankfully, the Knights who guarded it stood just far enough away that they could not hear the conversations he had, and so did not mistake his state for senility or something worse.

The whispers did not cease.

“I know that you lie in wait, anticipating the moment I slip. The single instant I wish to be free of my burdens. It will not happen while there’s breath still in me. I know of what you do- hells’ sake, I saw it with my own eyes!” he ranted, to nothing and no-one in particular.

“Oh, my. Why the long face?” no-one replied, jovially.

“I’ve no damned patience for your rhetorical questions.” said Sir Gideon Ofnir, glaring at the wall through baleful eyes drained of vigour. “You know bloody well why. You asked the same question to our mutual acquaintance, didn’t you, wearing the body of an oaf I once knew?”

“Ah!” said no-one, in recognition. “Ah, that one. I fear ours was quite the wasted meeting- a perfectly good vessel, turned to ash on the winds. He’s quite the stubborn ox, isn’t he? Didn’t even listen to a word I said, even if he had guessed already that I told the truth. I could have done without the attempt, in fact. In hindsight, I stood only to lose- but then again, how could I possibly know he cared nothing for lordship or love?”

The All-Knowing spat. He’d get one over the bastard if it were the last thing he did. He’d get one over him soon enough, if the yellow visions told the truth. The only matter left was to play it properly- but he felt a curious lack of fear at that prospect. After all, what had he to lose?

“But come now- onto more interesting people, such as your good self. You were watching him, were you not? A most ingenious spell, if I might be allowed to commend your prowess. And I should know- I happened to quite the scholar myself, in my youth.”

“I must have forgotten.” Gideon snarled. “Visions of madness, howls of frenzy. Fires of chaos that killed both caster and victim. Such ingenious works of scholarship on your part. Now get to the gods-damned point!”

“I am but here to listen, All-Knowing one. I wait upon your words. The point is yours to make, and it is you who are yet to broach it.” replied the ‘ingenious scholar’, in an entirely cloying whisper.

“Ha.” Gideon exhaled, as though he had won a victory. “Then make good on your word and shut your arse. I know by rights you wouldn’t have an interest in me- I, who do not believe I can attain lordship, and have given up hope for the Throne- I, who wish only for Queen Marika’s hopes for us to be satisfied. Then why is it that you seek me out? Why do you find me in my darkest hour, and whisper of things I’ve craved?”

He could feel a smile, somewhere. A toothless, gormless smile, which hid the guile of an apostate.

“Why do you accommodate those whispers? Why hear what I have to say?”

“That’s beside the point, and you can keep your arse shut. You knew perfectly well that I asked a rhetorical question. You cannot make use of me as a vessel for your god. Therefore, you must seek me as you desire another vessel for yourself- a ‘gift of flesh’, as I believe you called it. It will not happen- it will never happen. It’s got to be a ‘gift’, hasn’t it? If I choose not to surrender, you can bloody nothing. And I’d sooner die choking on my own breath before I surrender.”

Silence, then chuckling.

Deep, hearty chuckles of mirth; the kind shared over a tankard of ale with a friend. Or at the least, that was the impression he suspected- he’d long since forgotten what those evenings with Dolores and bloody Seluvis had been like.

“Then, O aspirant laid low, why keep me?” his nameless tormentor asked, with genuine amusem*nt. “Your mind would have rejected me if you truly believed what you said, and I would speak with you no more.”

Perhaps - Gideon reflected - he truly was inches from madness, as he joined his newest acquaintance in chuckling. His was a harsh, reedy, hoarse cackle, more angry than amused, but darkly self-satisfied after a fashion. “Because I’ve got some use to wring out of you, seeing as you were kind enough to visit. I know what you’d like to do, of course- you’d burn out the mind and make a meal of the soul, and into that void, you'd slip in your own. You’d wear my flesh as raiment, and use my voice to cry drivel about Chaos taking the world. You truly were a pathetic fool for thinking I could be taken in by your false promises.”

“I see the All-Knowing does not disappoint.” replied the thing that had once been a man, not even bothering to deny it. It almost pleased Gideon that his intelligence had been respected, before he reminded himself that a commendation was a condemnation if it came from him- no, it. “But that is not all. How can it be, when you would go to such lengths to congratulate yourself?”

“I know for a fact that you have no voice of your own. You speak for your God. You are its mouth, to drive its prey to madness. But you are also one of its many ears, if I have the right of the matter. And I have an offer your Demon Sultan would never refuse through all its strange aeons.”

God?” came an almost offended blanch. “Such a terribly misplaced term. I am a hand, it is true. I am a voice among a thousand voices, an ear among ten thousand ears, an eye among eyes beyond count- all that is true. But just as your hand is part of you, so am I a part of the One Great. I am Chaos, and Chaos is I. I laugh at those who pursue futility; those who would divide and distinguish, for Chaos shall take the world as is our right!”

“Then laugh at me and begone, if that is truly what you mean to do!” Gideon snarled, forging on. “I’ll continue to divide and distinguish for all the time I have left. I’ll build walls so long as there are walls to be built. It’s been the work of my life to restore order, which is built on differences." He had a keen listener, which was proof enough for his conjecture. "But I know you shan’t. If you leave me here to languish, your patron will stand to lose all its gains on these lands with that arse-weaselling numpty and his new family on the prowl. And not one of the Demon Sultans, whatever be their aim, would loose their hold over any land in the cosmos lightly.” he said, with manufactured confidence.

“If you truly were All-Knowing, you would understand that I already know what you are about to ask. I knew it ever since your arrogance overcame your fear, and your mind decided on its course.” said the apostate, the words somehow carrying an infuriating smirk behind them. “But let us say for the sake of indulgence that I, Shabriri, am intrigued by your offer.”

Gideon sobbed with laughter, muffling it against the rag on his remaining arm to avoid the sentries’ suspicions. It was an encouraging sign that he had managed to keep track of the details, this far into the plan. He laughed, and laughed until he was hoarse and exhausted.

One last time. He had an opportunity to make his mark on the canvas of all history, one last time.

“Grant me your bloody eyes!” he cackled and cried, biting his arm and drawing blood to restrain the sheer relief of it all. Months of torture and debate, months of meticulous planning and circumlocution were finally at their end.

“Grant me eyes.” he hissed, sobering. “Eyes on the inside. You shan’t have my mind or my flesh, but when I am freed from here, and when I build my walls with the power I am granted, you shall have the right of way with whoever lingers on the other side. A bounty awaits your harvest, in Miquella’s hidden lands. I’ve seen it! I’ve seen it all!”

Shabriri was silent, in throes of that same amusem*nt. Gideon wondered if that amusem*nt had in fact been his own to begin with.

After all, his plan proposed such a delightful irony. How incredibly, entirely fitting.

“You can have the Omens. You can have the Albinaurics and the Misbegotten. You can have all Miquella’s bloody pets for all I care. And when you take them, I’ll hunt them all down. I’ll weave them into the eternal struggle Queen Marika wishes of us Tarnished. You’ll simply make it easier. I won’t have to waste time coaxing and cajoling what fellows of mine remain; their scant compassion will die a swift death once they behold the taint of your madness. But you need me to build the walls and carve the canyons that shall render them vulnerable. After all, you fear their protectors, don’t you?”

Abruptly, the air of mirth was gone. Heat pressed against the skin of his eyelids, and his eyes themselves felt pressured. He did not allow fear to master him- or perhaps it was more accurate to say that fear had mastered him along ago, and he had learnt how to live with it.

“Yes. Of course you fear the Lord of the Unalloyed, and his terrible sister with her impossible might. In some futures, they might wound even your Demon Sultan in its game of fate and chance. You hate that bum-jawed pillock of our mutual acquaintance for bringing them back together. Well, here’s a thing: I’ll kill him. I’ll kill him! I’ll sink him in his own past! I’ll drown him in a tide of sh*t! And then I’ll watch his twin gods from behind the walls I will have built, as your patron takes their subjects’ minds from them. I’ll watch as they are forced to kill their own. I’ll watch as they betray everything they once stood for and become monsters- monsters upon the way to be killed, in our eternal struggle! By all the Gods, by the Flame of Frenzy, I’ll see it done!”

“And then shall a Lord of Frenzy rise.” said Shabriri, with a metaphysical smile. Gideon couldn’t bring himself to care so long as he made his mark on history. With Dolores dead and Nepheli a traitor, if the world died in fire, he supposed he might as well stoke the flames. If the throne couldn’t be his, he didn’t give a dog’s breath if it were burned to ash. Only Marika was left; Marika and her wish that the Tarnished continue to struggle unto eternity.

“May Chaos take the world!”


The Castle shook at the slow, rumbling proclamation, and the courtyard’s occupants were taken by an onslaught of dread. Nepheli had to restrain herself from tightly gripping a tree-branch.

One calamity after another, was it?

“Hath he the courage to lie, even as he trembleth before Marika’s Black Blade?”

She saw that Roderika was breathing heavily, as well as her face hid her thoughts. She had been in the Lord Reaper’s terrible presence, breathing the same air, starkly aware of his ability to cleave the soul itself, as she stood vigil next to Hewg while the master smith forged a more complete set of midnight-black plate from him at Alagos’ behest. She had watched with barely-concealed horror as her adoptive father, unable to recognise his own work, mended his Black Blade with the remnants of a Blasphemous claw and time-twisting dragonscales while Alagos looked on, either heedless or dismissive of the consequences. It was never something one could possibly get used to.

Nepheli went over to her and placed a hand at her back, while forcing herself to breathe calmly. After a few moments’ wrestling with her worries, Roderika followed suit.

“Stay close to me.” she told Rya, who was being remarkably brave. The last time Maliketh had visited Stormveil, she’d chosen to take Nepheli’s advice and stay out of sight. The Black Blade had been a sword at her family’s throat, after all- an assassin out of nightmares, who might come one day and kill every one of them.

“Or is it verity that assaileth me, when I am told that my lord came here in the company of Malenia, the Blade of Miquella?”

With those words, the Reaper strode in, in all his dreadful grandeur. He wore ecclesiastical robes caked with dust and mud from travel, but each present knew that he was a Clergyman only so far as Godrick could have been called a demigod.

He used three paws to walk. The fourth held up a cross-eyed and unhealthily pale-looking Gostoc by the scruff of his neck. The steward was swiftly placed against the wall, where he sank boneless to the floor, his strength having given out the moment he was confronted after he’d made the error of voicing the barest whisper. Behind him followed Sir Kenneth. For once in his life, the Duke looked hunched, and seemed to be trying his best to melt out of sight.

There was nothing for it- if she lied, Maliketh could simply interrogate some other Knight, some other steward, some other witness, and they would pay a price in lives and perhaps even souls that they could not afford.

“I do not teach my people to lie, your eminence- but if it is the truth and only the truth you wish to hear, you might simply ask us.” Nepheli spoke, forcing steel to the forefront of her mind.

The Black Blade growled- and now for the flattery.

“In the end, are we not all allies under your chosen lord’s banner? Do we not build over the ground he laid, and is it not our destiny to follow in his footsteps? Is it not the warmth of his fires that we are drawn to, and do we not draw breath from his winds?”

“And ye would claim to hold true to yon words, when ye did naught to aid him? Ye know well the peril of an Empyrean’s company. Ye might have sent for me, I imagine.”

“What peril?” Nepheli asked, both earnestly and as a challenge. Rya looked at her, in fear for her life, and was ignored for the time being. “Lord Alagos seeks only to cure the Goddess’ affliction- an aim she herself shares, for she never wanted any part of her curse, even if meant a sacrifice of the power it could afford her. Forgive me if I see no harm in that- in fact, I see it as yet another sign of our lord’s wisdom, and his courage.”

“And thou believe that is all?” Maliketh growled back. “Thou trust she will be content with that? Nay, ‘twould ne’er suffice for that wretched upstart. She will take, and she will take all she might- at swordpoint if need be- till our Lord resteth in the dust and she hath seen her benighted brother ascended unto the stars themselves! And if he doth deny her- as I know he shall- all he might do for her shall lie forgotten ‘neath the shroud of her betrayal!”

Part of her flared up in anger at that- in anger, with fear forgotten. For some reason, she reflected dimly- all the while aware that she had no time for reflection- she refused to hear such words spoken against Malenia. How curious.

“With the respect I owe you, brother of my lord,” said Nepheli, forcing calm upon herself again, “if there comes a time for betrayal, I trust Alagos to have prepared for it. His wisdom, as you are no doubt aware, surpasses my own- and he would not attempt a venture such as this without a plan in place. Let betrayal come when it comes – if it does arrive at all – but betrayal notwithstanding, how could freeing Malenia of the Scarlet Rot possibly be in the service of anything but good?”

The Lord of Assassins paused at that, and regarded her fully. He drew back slightly, with a tip of his head. She knew then that he had understood her twofold implication- that if things went well, it could mean an alliance with the Haligtree; and Maliketh would rather avoid killing Marika’s children unless the Queen ordered him to. If things went poorly, on the other hand, attacking and killing Malenia would prove less risky. Whatever the effect on her swordsmanship, she wouldn’t at the very least be able to unleash another Aeonian cataclysm.

“Hmm. Forgive me.” the Black Blade rumbled softly. Nepheli and the others had to fight to restrain their surprise at such words from him. “I seek only to protect mine own. Ye may not know him as well as I; our lord is predisposed to be generous- too generous, of late. But he would not throw away his life recklessly, nay, not with the duties he hath yet to fulfil. Thus, I must ask of the heart of the matter- his journey to the Haligtree was to find the means to free his niece, not her mother. Why did Malenia accompany him, and not Millicent? Where resteth she now? How fareth my niece?”

“We know not, mighty one.” Roderika supplied quietly. None of them had broached the question, assuming for the time that Millicent had not travelled with her adoptive father for any number of good reasons. They were rather occupied planning for disasters to ask.

“At a guess, Alagos did not travel with Millie for her own safety. It is most likely that she remains at the Haligtree. I believe our lord seeks to strike two hawks with one arrow- cure both Millie and Malenia at once. In that case, I’d imagine he would be far less willing to risk Millie’s life on a journey that might lead to an Outer God.” said Rya, in a soft whisper.

Maliketh turned to her, lips curling up to reveal an endlessly sharp set of teeth. Nepheli wondered with some alarm if this was meant to be a grandfatherly smile.

“Dear Rya, it is best thou understand sooner than later what churneth in the minds of the mighty. ‘Twas not for peril, for Alagos could not keep my niece from following him through any means of strength or skill of rhetoric. ‘Twas, I am certain, for kindness. Alagos would not wish Millicent to see her own mother turn on him, should betrayal come to pass. Aye, he must have arranged to leave the Haligtree in secret, to spare her the possibility of pain.”

Rya blanched at that, and Nepheli hoped Maliketh didn’t see her utter disbelief for what it truly was. She wondered at what to reveal, and what to keep hidden- evidently, the Lord Reaper did not approve of Malenia’s presence- in fact, he seemed disappointed in the fact that she existed at all.

“Alas; my lord had no need for the venture.” the ancient shadow huffed, almost sorrowful. “Would that he had come to me, for I have come into the possession of knowledge dear to him. Together, we might have saved my niece sooner, if only he deigned to visit me one last time ere he left.”

“Our lord’s sense of urgency might have worked against him.” Nepheli said, in a hesitantly soothing tone. “But if you have any information that might aid him, why not send for him yourself? Tell us- tell his holiness the Reverend Miriel, and any allies in the world Alagos has left.”

Maliketh rounded on her, with a strangely wary expression. “That knowledge might fall into the grasp of Malenia and Miquella, if I were so careless.”

“Then let it!” Nepheli spoke, in perhaps the greatest among her many displays of courage. “In her excellency’s own words, the Two Fingers cared not for her affliction when they anointed her a possible successor to Marika. She herself cares little for the throne or the Elden Ring, and would see them in her brother’s hands. How would curing her Scarlet Rot possibly impede or expedite her plans for succession?”

Excellency?” asked Maliketh, in a dangerous growl, acknowledging the term directly. “I know thou meant it as a form of address, but hark- there is nothing of excellence within that Rotten Empyrean. Thou shouldst hear it from the Uncle she ne’er did want; the obstacle on her path to glory - her soul is ashen-cold, frigid; a thing of horror and the evils of endless war, with or without her curse. Her rage knoweth no bounds. She is not incapable of love, nay- but it is given only and forever to her brother. She would burn us all, poison us all, drown us all- dismantle the crust of the very world if she felt she must - for Miquella’s sake. She hath no loyalty- in fact, she knoweth not the meaning of loyalty- save to his will. She will honour no debt; foster no healing. Forsooth she is as I was created to be- perfect where I am flawed; for kindness cannot move her, and she hath ne’er once craved peace.”

He trembled with wrath as he spoke, ancient might darkening his terrible eyes. Nepheli noted that he had deftly avoided addressing her point. She decided to push on regardless.

“Whatever she is, Lord Alagos seemed to regard her as a friend.” she said, slowly and deliberately. She had been waiting for a hint at whether she should tell him of their betrothal. For her kingdom’s safety, perhaps she should- but her old friend did not deserve that, not after all he had done to mend himself.

Happiness was a thing so rarely found that she felt it was her duty to foster it.

“Lord Maliketh, perhaps the Goddess is the finest actor I have ever seen to deceive us so, but it seemed certain that she felt fond of Lord Alagos.” said Sir Kenneth, for the first time. It was a miracle that his voice had somehow returned to its firm, carefully modulated cadence. “She must have seen something of worth in an alliance of mutual benefit with him, something that might possibly have stirred her heart”-

“Doubtless thou wast deceived, then, for she hath not a heart! She is a thing, a weapon of war in her brother’s hand by her own will. Thou canst not fathom the unease I feel, at having my brother and lord a sword’s length from murder itself.” Maliketh shot back at once, seeming almost frightened.

It was the strangest of all sights. The shadow breathed heavily and swiftly, struggling with himself to hold his composure.

Death, worried beyond his wits for a mortal’s life.

Evidently, he seemed to realise this, as he gulped, looked to the skies, and forced composure on himself by an effort of will. “Prithee, Lady Nepheli.” he said in a suspiciously quiet whine, walking slowly up to her and looking at her with eyes that seemed strangely larger and rounder than they had been before. Something tugged at her heart, and she hated it.

She heard a small sniff, and felt the absurd impression that he was somehow reaffirming whether she was friendly, and therefore to be trusted.

“Praytell what thou felt from him. Thine insight hath grown into something remarkable, for the kingdom thou hast built in so short a time, and held against a world that would see it razed. Did my brother’s words feel hesitant? Dost thou believe he held plans for the future in secret? Did he mistrust his new companion, and fear to voice it? Or worse, did he trust her too much? Praytell that he hath kept his mind. Praytell that his time with his brilliant daughter hath not clouded his eyes, and that he knoweth her mother for the creature of ruin she is!”

“I- I cannot tell for certain.” Nepheli found herself saying, fighting to keep her tale intact in front of the harrowing scrutiny of those old, sad eyes. “Our lord is very difficult to read, as you surely know-“

A hundred things happened at once.

A hoarse scream, followed by smoke, followed by the screams of voices other than the first. The tint of yellow-gold from the throne room, and a flash of light. Nepheli drew her Stormhawk axes, Rya and Roderika their sideswords, and even Maliketh an esoteric-looking dagger.

The sound came from the other side of the courtyard, from behind the doors that led to her throne room- which meant an escapee from the newly-constructed dungeons. She had a horrible feeling she knew just who it might be.

But how? He had had no seal to summon incantations and no staff to shape magic into sorceries. Most of all, the area was guarded by Knights aplenty. They would have seen him and stopped him, and if not, warned her before he could ever come-

“Sir Maliketh! As the God-Queen’s loyal servant, I hail you in her majesty’s name. Forgive me; I could not help but overhear your conversation.”

The doors opened ponderously then, with no arms behind them. The corpses of several of Stormveil’s Knights littered the floor behind them, their one-armed, one-eyed killer standing with a lunatic’s callous smile on his face.

Chains of what had formerly been manacles trailed from his dirty feet, chains that were melted by unearthly heat. A third molten, dripping chain fell from his left arm, which delicately clutched a- thing- in the manner an enchanter would brandish a sacred seal.

The mystery of the ‘thing’, of course, was solved immediately when they looked at the bloody, gaping wound where one of his eyes used to be.

“My pitiful, lying little whelp never was much good at reading people. Now perhaps I could be of assistance to that end?” offered Sir Gideon Ofnir, the All-Seeing.


Maliketh: What art thou doing, my lord to be? Thou hast duties to tend to, lands to heal and promises to keep. How couldst thou do all the good thou wishest for the world without the Goddess at thy side?

Alagos: I know, old boy, and trust me, I'm trying!

Maliketh: Ah. I see. I ne'er should have doubted thy prudence, my king- wait, nay, thou FOOL, not THAT ONE!
I wonder whom among Malenia and Maliketh will have the more interesting reaction when they realise the other was the subject of Alagos' "Having considered all arguments to the contrary, I'd still like to hug that one in particular" habit at some point in his life. I quantify 'interesting' in terms of how much suffering they will generate for Alagos, of course. But I'm truly sorry for the cliffie, folks. Again. It... really was not intentional. I'm not- I'm not lying. I'm not lying, I swear- no, NOT THE COLOSSAL SWOR-

Chapter 31: A grave in Reason's early spring


In which Maliketh witnesses true horror.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Thou reek of chaos, old rat.” Maliketh rasped in disgust. He loosened his claw around his dagger, which Nepheli found odd at first if he planned to attack, until she recalled how Alagos fought with a gentle grip.

“Chaos, madness, the Flame of Frenzy- call it what you will, Sir Maliketh; but it is not my master.” said Sir Gideon, with- of all things- a shrug. “I was approached in my dreams by the apostate Shabriri, aye. I was plied with offers of power, aye- but I refused them. In its haste to use me, the Demon Sultan presented me an avenue to use it. After all, what could it gain from me? A spent force am I, having stepped aside from my dreams with the advent of one stronger- and I know this well. I know whatever it offers would not last. And so I reject it ultimately; I use it only temporarily, for the strength to say my piece, and through it all remain a loyal servant of Queen Marik-aargh!”

Every moment she had spent in the Lord Reaper’s presence, Nepheli had felt curiously vulnerable, as though she stood on the precipice of a volcanic crater. It seemed to her that at any point in time, the Black Blade was restraining an eruption of violence through an immense effort of will, and only waited for the precise moment to release it.

She was proven right, and that moment had come. Maliketh let Gideon speak for just as long as he would need to for him to pay more attention to his words than his surroundings before he struck. There was something almost marvellous about it, as her warrior’s instinct insisted on informing her- the perfectly-timed fashion in which he leapt in for the grapple, the way he methodically dislocated the shoulder, the further twist applied to the wrist for Gideon to drop his own frenzy-stained eyeball, and the effortless way he forced her adoptive father to the floor by giving point to his throat with his dagger.

The finest of assassins was Death himself, in the end.

“I- I seek only-“… Gideon spluttered. Maliketh looked balefully at his discarded eyeball, conjured some form of dark, bloodstained fire flecked with gold in his paw, and directed it calmly at the makeshift sacred seal, of which not even ash remained.

“If indeed truth spilleth from thy treacherous lips, then thou’rt a hubristic loon and naught more! Why should I heed thee, thou who wouldst march heedless? Thou, who sacrificed thy dignity, thy sanity, thy very soul for power and temporary escape? None can command it, fool! None can use it. Thou’rt a tool for it, and art tainted with it forevermore. How fortunate, then, that Destined Death lieth close at hand, for it is the only mercy thou might avail of!”

“Then use me, before the end!” Gideon spat, desperately. “Use my knowledge, I beg you- or kill me now. Kill me, and kill your every chance at information. Destroy forever your aspirations for a new age, while your chosen lord falls from his path and swears his life to a forsaken Goddess of Rot!”

Nepheli halted, horrified. Could he have seen- but how? Was that simply the way of the evils of the world, that would consort with each other to deny any form of victory whenever one looked achievable?

“Thou liest.” Maliketh spoke, with absolute confidence. “Thou liest, for thou canst not comprehend true nobility. The thought ne’er hath approach’d thy mind, that one could care for the lives and welfare of strangers one ne’er saw before. My lord doth as though ‘twere his duty- and he ne’er would shirk duty.”

There was an extended pause, as everyone stood horrified. Nepheli tried to say something, knowing what would come, but her tongue felt dry: if she spoke, the Reaper would understand that she knew something of the matter. One glance at Roderika, Rya and Sir Kenneth told her they knew the same. And yet, they all predicted what Gideon would say before he said it.

They foresaw one and all the nasty little smirk. They foresaw the mad glint in his eye.

“Not for the love of his wife?”

Maliketh howled a wolf’s howl, his soul baying for blood. He drove a claw into Gideon’s neck, and hurled him into the nearest wall.

“Greet thine end, slanderer!”

And yet, when that should have broken his neck, Gideon merely coughed, then stood, the air around him shimmering a sickly yellow.

“I’d be of your mind, Sir Maliketh, were I meself of a year ago.” he said, voice weak, though somehow gaining in strength. “I’d have killed meself where I stood. But- I’m afraid to say- I discovered that the Frenzied Flame is no liar, as other Demon Sultans might be. It wields truth and truth alone- truth, twisted and spoken in such fashion as to aid its purposes, but truth nevertheless. That is why it is so effective. You’ve known it- you’ve fought it, in all your years. In your heart of hearts, can you ever recall it lying? It may not have told the full truth, but what more ‘truth’ do we need of this matter?”

Death growled. He pressed a claw into the earth, and dug out talons which tore at Gideon’s feet and forced him to his knees, but he listened.

“Thou insinuate…” he voiced, as though unable even to bear the thought, “that mine own brother is wed. That he told me not, and that every one of his friends,” he swept his unblinking gaze at Nepheli and all her friends, “kept this from mine ear. Why? What could drive him to fall so far and so low? To take the hand of- of that Rotten Empyrean, a living curse upon the lands, who would drive a sword into her own mother if it meant some twisted perversity she’d call victory?”

“You’ve no need to trust me, Sir Maliketh.” Gideon wheezed in pain, arm flopping uselessly at his side, still somehow able to keep his ghastly smile. “See it writ on their faces. Question another who might be witness.”

“He remains a liar through and through!” Nepheli interrupted before he could say anything further. “They are allies, hardly wed. He never saw them- I made certain of it. He can only have seen visions granted to him by Frenzy, which I see no reason to treat as anything more than the mad ramblings of a deranged lunatic with nothing but his own hatred to cling to!”

“Allies,” Maliketh asked softly- either dangerously or worse, vulnerably- “and naught more?”

“They were bound by contract.” Roderika said to spare her, scrambling to find words that weren’t necessarily false. “And they seemed fond enough of each other as friends might be. Any more than that, and I would be relying on presumption.”

Maliketh looked first to the four, then to the shambling old sorcerer who had finally lost his strength and planted his face on the floor, unable to support himself with either his arm or his torn legs, and rumbled in such obvious conflict that it seemed he genuinely had no clue of what to do or whom to believe.

No calculation passed over his features, nor any hint of decision or resolve, and so when the very worst came to pass, none were prepared for it.

“Boc.” Death pronounced, looking to the sky. “Ah, Boc knoweth my student’s mind best, save Millicent and I. Send for Boc!”

In the Lands Between, the existence of the Elden Ring meant abstractions were seldom anthropomorphised. After all, with Queen Marika brandishing its might, the logic of the world itself bent to accommodate her will, and the wills of her children.

The four fundamental forces all had histories of their own, and were well accounted for. The command of lightning, for instance, was associated with the ancient dragons, and magnetite- with its strange properties- was believed to be stone that they had touched. Gravity was the tool of the Alabaster and Onyx Lords, and could be wielded and tamed as Radahn had shown. The other two lacked a name for the time, but were accounted for in the histories as under the purview of the Elden Ring itself- that which could command the stars, giving life its fullest brilliance.

Other, less physical and more philosophical concepts were similarly seen to- Chaos, for instance, was the offspring of the Frenzied Flame; Pestilence was the Scarlet Rot; Conquest and War were seen as thrones to aspire to instead of deities to bother about; and no rational demigod had anything to fear from Famine or Paucity.

That so much already bore a name- Fire that of the Fell God of the Giants, Earth that of the Primordial Crucible, Water that of a certain fairy or the Swordsman she blessed; and Wind, of course, the Dragons again- or perhaps to the Storm-Lord of old – meant there was little enough place for superstition. And as such no demigod, nor Empyrean, nor deity would ever in their right mind give way to superstition as mortals might: when the lords of the world called something by a name, they meant it.

And there had only ever been one ‘Death’ Marika’s children knew.

They had known they might die after the Shattering, if they proved not strong enough- but the word their minds would associate with such a circ*mstance was ‘failure’ or ‘loss’ not ‘death’. They had only ever called one thing Death.

“Fine words, from the man who learnt his art of war at the hand of Death Himself!”

Malenia tried to give thought to whether she sensed truth or deceit, and failed. She attempted to express surprise at the drop of an illusion, and at the way a four-armed, somehow brittle woman- puppet - creature- materialised in thin air in front of her, speaking with her half-sister’s voice, and failed. She tried even to remonstrate herself at failing to notice that shadowy observer’s presence, and found that she could not bring herself to think of it.

For the first time since the moment she discovered Miquella had been taken, Malenia palpably felt her own heartbeat.

Death himself. Death in the flesh. Lord Death, the pillar on which the Golden Order had stood. The risk all champions took when they went to war. The sword at her brother’s throat. Her uncle.

She could defeat him. She knew she could conquer him, just as she knew somewhere deep within that she could conquer anything. And yet, she had nothing to support that instinct.

She had asked Death for a spar once when she was little more than a child, years before she’d ever met her master. She had wondered if all the terrible legends had held any truth within them. That Radagon’s blank face had shown some signs of emotion when she declared her intent had been her first clue.

“His name,” Alagos hissed viciously, seemingly forgetting to be surprised at all, “is Gurranq!”

She looked at her fiancé’s sword arm, and knew the tale at once. She knew precisely where that halting footwork, that mastery of distance, that deceit came from. The wraithlike, strangely graceful sidesteps. The loose fool’s guard, and the deceptively gentle grip. The retreating defence turning suddenly into a relentless onslaught with sudden surges of strength the moment an initiative had been gained. The way the winds felt like they were aiding him. The very choice of a greatsword itself- she realised that she’d seen it all before.

Betrayal slipped like a knife into her throat, and bile rose like blood in its wake.

“Alagos,” she voiced, calm slipping like a sheet of rime in winter over a dormant volcano, “how? How?”

Her fiancé- her dearest companion- her traitor- risked one glance at her away from Ranni, and at once saw the fury she felt.

“How- no- why is it that your master-at-arms was Maliketh the Black Blade?”

All was silent. Even Ranni, who had until then worn an expression of implacable resolve on each of her faces, seemed struck just as numb as Malenia herself.

“Thou… thou didst not… nay! How couldst thou have kept this…” the Lunar Princess murmured as though in indignation, struggling to find words. Malenia had never remembered her being anything less than utterly sure in her speech.

Whatever she expected to find on Alagos’ face- shame, bewilderment, sorrow- was not there. The grim finality and implacable, terrible acceptance that hardened every line on his battle-worn visage was something she had never seen before.

The seamster looked strangely fearless as Roderika took over from the steward who had brought him, and led him over to the courtyard with all the gentle strength she could muster.

Nepheli shut her eyes for a moment, and prepared herself for the end. Hers had been a life well-lived, for all its flaws, all its bumps, and all the bastards she had come across. At the very least, she hoped she could buy some time for her friends – whose company was the most precious thing she had ever known – to make an attempt at escape.

For a time.

There was no escaping Death.

“Sir Gurranq!” Boc chirped (chirped!) at the sight of the Reaper, and walked all too innocently, all too guilelessly towards him. Roderika seemed to hesitate for a moment, but soon found herself only too glad to let him go. “How fareth… farest thou?” he asked, stumbling with the manner of archaism, looking curiously at those terrible black beads to see if he had spoken correctly.

Of all things, Maliketh huffed- Nepheli hadn’t believed him capable of huffing- and walked forward, offering a claw. The seamster took it in both hands, and in an act that completely baffled everyone present, shook it feebly.

“Thou find me in good health, little one.” The Black Blade spoke, in a gentle rumble nobody would ever have associated with him. “And thine attempt at conjugation, while appreciated, needeth some attention still. What of thee?”

Boc beamed. “Lord Alagos visited recently, and left us all in good cheer.” Nepheli gripped her axe in anticipation. He could say it at any moment. “Pity that thou missed him. What canst I do for thee-“

“Can.” Maliketh interrupted, with an encouraging smile.

“What can I do for thee today?”

Nepheli levelled an urgent look at him while he spoke, which proved a mistake, since he only co*cked his head and curiously looked back. How in all that was golden did he ever come to consider the Beast of Destined Death a personal friend?

In her mind, she cursed Alagos for all the things he’d brought upon them and himself.

“I wish to solicit thy thoughts on my brother’s visit, little one.” The Lord of Assassins spoke candidly. “Tell me, dear Boc, is it true? Our ever-wise lord- in whose eyes we twain are beautiful- hath he truly found another to share in his journeys?”

Why? Hells of the world, why? Why by Marika did he have to phrase it in that manner?

She could not say a word, though many threatened to spill. If she dared speak, she knew he would strike. She could only watch stunned, stupefied, in stilted and strained silence as nightmare became reality.

Boc thought a moment, pressed his little hand apologetically to his temple, and told all.

“Of course! Please forgive me, Sir Gurranq, I’d forgotten to give you the most joyous news of all!” Boc breathed excitedly, visibly calming himself, failing to interpret the anxiety on the Reaper’s face for anything close to what it truly was. He even forgot his attempts at archaism in his excitement.

“He'll share so much more than his journeys, Sir Gurranq! Malenia is the one! A soul so glorious, so mighty, so majestic and yet so loving as that of the Goddess is surely impossible to find. The star of luck shone upon our friend at last! They’re to be wed, Sir Gurranq! M’lord’ll have to thank you, as this joyous occasion would not be possible without-“

Maliketh struck the earth. He struck it so mightily that stones were thrown up by sorcery, and Boc himself was flung away before he could finish. He roared with such rage that Nepheli was forced to cover her ears, but when it ended, he retreated into himself, quaking.

“My brother… why wouldst thou… why?” he asked the stars, in shock. His voice quivered, when Nepheli felt certain it wouldn’t if a sword pierced his flesh. He breathed a gasping lungful of air, as though in terrible pain. “Thee as well? After all I have suffered- after all thou didst to soothe that suffering- why didst thou gull me, as Marika did? Why turn from the path of the lord? Why… betray…”

A single, large tear dropped from his ancient eye, falling on the ground like the end of an epoch.

She didn’t know what to feel. Should she still fear for her life? Plead that he was misinterpreting things? Feel- how she hated this – feel sorry for the Death of the Demigods?

Silence settled again on the courtyard, with not even Gideon daring to break it with a reedy, self-satisfied cackle, as they beheld the Black Blade fold his claws into a fist with enough force to draw blood.

“Nay.” he pronounced at last, sorrow having fled his voice. “Nay, thou wouldst not. The Alagos I knew ne’er would shirk his duty. The Lord whose skill I fostered would sacrifice his own joy if it meant the welfare of others.”

He still spoke to the skies, as if Alagos sat on a throne in the clouds to answer.

“My disciple would die ere he broke an oath. My- my brother ne'er would countenance seeing me left with no one! And what couldst thou see in her? Mayhap thou might wish her cured, if thy daughter asked thee. Mayhap thou wouldst be kind to her, in misguided belief of redemption. Mayhap thou dost admire her skill with all thine heart, but love? Nay. Nay. MIQUELLA!”

Nepheli’s jaw had long since dropped open. Had he gone mad, just as Gideon? She could not make head or tail of what he was saying, even though he spoke with perfect, ponderous clarity.

“S-Sir Gurranq…” Boc trembled, rising unsteadily to his feet. “Did I… offend?”

Marika’s Shadow looked back, and inexplicably forced calm back into his tones. “The fault lieth not with thee.” he spoke in a heavy whisper. “The truth is, thou hast seen a lie. His mind is not his own. Alagos hath all this while been in great danger- and not one among ye,” he whirled in fury to Nepheli and her companions, “had the wit to see it! Ye were all blinded by him! By the treacherous Lord of the Unalloyed. Curséd be St. Trina and her dreams; may they never see the light of day!”

“Not all is lost.” came a small, weak voice, muffled as the owner’s mouth pressed into the ground. Maliketh stalked over to Gideon and raised him up, holding him up by his hair. “I… know… the way to the Haligtree. I’ve seen it.”

After a moment’s hesitation, the Reaper grunted, curled a palm in an arcane gesture, and pressed a fingertip to Gideon’s heart. Bestial vitality, Nepheli recognised; having seen Alagos invoke it before.

“And what wouldst thou ask in return, to guide me on my way? I shall not trust thee unless thou shouldst accompany me for the full length of the journey, and once we find the Haligtree, thou’rt certain to die.”

“Oh, I’ll live.” Gideon laughed, which came out as more a hacking cough than anything. “I’ll require just the one trifle: a needle of unalloyed gold forged by Miquella, to cure meself of the taint of madness, and return to being her majesty’s loyal servant.”

“And what of thee then? The Empyreans and their Knights would slay thee at first glance, and I cannot say I shall protect thee. What wouldst thou do, Tarnished? Betray me for clemency, perchance?”

“Nothing.” said Gideon with a hollow smile, rising painfully to his feet. “You could keep me restrained without seal or stave at hand if you wish. I only ask, after Destined Death has been delivered, that I be granted an audience with any Omens, Misbegotten, or Albinaurics that remain- to warn them of the dangers of the Flame of Frenzy, of course. Miquella may not have taught them all that we of the Golden Order know, and I will not have them pose a danger to our Lands.”

It came together in an instant. Nepheli may not have understood at all what else had ensued, but she would bet her life that she’d managed to piece together her bastard foster father’s plan.

“No!” she shouted vehemently. “You can’t! He means to transfer his corruption to them-“

“SILENCE.” Maliketh proclaimed, turning to her enraged, but it was enough.

Nepheli hadn’t been the only one to understand his plot. And through the tumult of the hour, they had all forgotten Rya, who had slowly, demurely, unnoticeably inched closer to Gideon while the Black Blade agonised over Alagos.

Nepheli, Roderika and Sir Kenneth blessed her with all their hearts the instant they saw her pounce. In less than a second, Gideon gave a choked cry as her fangs bit deep into his throat, the illusion of her human form falling only after she had struck, and with a hiss she delivered the venom.

Then came terror, and for the second time in the day, Maliketh erupted into a thunderstorm of movement. Faster than the eye could see, his claws gripped Rya’s side harshly enough to pierce through her scales, and heaving he threw her bodily into the trunk of the nearby tree, but he had moved too late.

In the instant he raised his palm to deliver another Bestial vitality to the choking, thrashing man screaming on the ground, one of two Stormhawk axes cut through the air and buried itself in his chest.

Even as she expected to meet her end at any moment, Nepheli smiled in triumph. If there was one thing she was proud of having done in her life, let it be this. Alagos, the old moron, had been right: it was a long time coming.

Time stretched unending over this one, frozen moment, burning itself into the memory of everyone present.

And Maliketh retreated from the world, for Death to take his place. He did not raise a blade of solid darkness in the coming tempest, and did not doom anyone to oblivion with slicing waves of dark fire. He did not need to.

Nepheli, Roderika and Sir Kenneth had all burst into action. The Knights waiting outside overcame both their terror and their standing orders and rushed in to protect their Lady. There was not one individual in the courtyard who stood frozen with terror, and yet they might as well have been frozen for all that their action was worth.

Death clawed at the ground, and a ring of teeth tore from it to slice at their legs. He leapt to avoid their swords and axes, and while flying threw shards of biting obsidian at Sir Kenneth, who fell to the ground, his white robes stained with his blood.

Death raised a great stone and threw it at Nepheli with pinpoint accuracy. When she rolled to the side she found that he had expected her to do so, and sent a second set of claws to flay flesh off her side. She rose nevertheless, wounded but able to fight, only for a second stone to immediately strike her temple.

Death struck and struck at her knights, with the same retreating, off-putting deceit she had seen Alagos use in his swordsmanship, and they fell dead to the ground.

Death swept Roderika’s feet from underneath her, and hit her head against the ground to force her into slumber.

Death gently whispered an incantation which dropped Boc boneless to the floor.

And finally, Death found Rya, who looked up at him with defiant victory in her face, and contemptuously struck her into unconsciousness for no other reason than to complete the spectacle. They were all outmatched. So grievously, tremendously outmatched that they lacked even the time to feel fear, and had only weary acceptance to offer.

More Knights strode in, but Sir Kenneth staggered to his feet, blood dripping palpably off him, and bade them halt.

“Tarry!” he commanded, still managing to leverage some authority in his voice in spite of his wounds. “Have you taken leave of your minds? His servants stand outside in the larger courtyard, and they will kill all of us between them if we threaten him!”

The Knights paused, and in a gesture of cool-headedness under the most horrific danger Nepheli lacked the strength to properly appreciate, stood aside. Sir Kenneth wearily flopped to the floor.

“Ye took an age of gold from yonselves and all the world.” Death murmured emotionlessly, surveying the carnage he wrought. “Ye sacrificed all hope, and for what?”

“I… will never see hope… in treachery and corruption, Maliketh.” Nepheli forced out, coughing blood.

“Honour is a fool’s prize.” he pronounced, with a shake of the head. “Twas Marika’s first lesson to me. Sithee! For all yon honour, yon efforts have been for naught. I swear, by the Erdtree I swear that I shall not let this ruin come to pass. Marika Eternal, my word hear thou: I shall save this age if it be my last deed upon this good earth. And when renewal cometh, ye had best hope the Queen and her Elden Lord shall be more merciful than I!”

Saying those words he left, the Knights of Stormveil forced to part in front of him in a shameful half- procession.

“I’ll have thy mind returned to thee, Alagos. I’ll save thee yet.”

Nepheli wept.


Well, I don't think that could have gone any worse than the way it did! I'm sorry, but it had to be done. Contrary to whatever propaganda Alagos and the Cult of Floof might publish, Maliketh is not, in fact, a therapy dog.

In other news, I've long known about the various Ghibli-isms in Elden Ring. Malenia herself, for one: her design is inspired by Princess Kushana from Nausicaa. But for some reason I only made the connection that Elden Beast is the Nightwalker while rewatching Princess Mononoke yesterday.

And now for a 'research question' if anybody's interested: Would you rather have tea with Miquella, or with Maliketh? Assume Alagos is serving the tea.

Chapter 32: She'd pounce upon it as upon a fond affinity


In which there is an incredibly violent argument, and an eruption.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“I doubt you could even imagine it.”

Alagos’ soft voice was colder than the Snowfield, as he spoke through a wintry smile. Shock and anger coursed through her, but she mastered them for now, replacing them instead with honed sternness.

This was a problem. It was quite clearly a problem; and therefore she turned all her attention towards solving it. It was a familiar rhythm from the Shattering, a retracing of old steps, a walk down memory lane in working to counter a disaster- and yet there was something strangely different about the matter, as not one solution made itself apparent.

She searched the depths of her soul for an answer, and emerged empty-handed. She did not even know what to call it- a betrayal of trust, or of friendship? An act of paranoia? Some long-running plot in the shadows?

She dismissed that last thought at once through force of reasoning; if he truly had aimed to kill her, it would have been far simpler to appear in Death’s company after having shown him the way to the Haligtree. It could clearly not have been a case of affirming whether she was a danger to the things he loved before choosing to strike, as she was entirely certain she herself ranked foremost in that list.

Was he ashamed of his association with the Death of the Demigods? She doubted it- there was not a trace of shame or weariness on that face.

“In fact, you cannot.” Alagos continued. “I should have known you would find it impossible to leave another to their happiness if it meant some petty vengeance for a lost victory you were never owed in the first place.”

This? asked Miquella. This was our Gurranq?

Sister and brother were struck equally speechless.

“Thou wretched, conceited fool.” Ranni replied, and Malenia was startled to find that there was no venom in the voice- only pity, and the same weariness Alagos often carried. And perhaps pity was a calculated gesture, as she knew very well that it was the emotion both she and Alagos despised most of all. “There are matters for which the world bendeth not to thy will, and thou’rt not its centre. Not all that passeth hath its cause within thee. I cannot fault thee for keeping thine association with Death from me- no doubt he bade thee to lead him here, to strike at my very soul if need be to avenge the suffering wrought by the Shattering, for I would have done the same in thy place. And yet- keeping the truth from her, whom thou profess to love?” She turned to Malenia, her face- a lifeless, unnatural, construct-face, as she dimly processed- contorting in a puppet’s mockery of gentle understanding. The sentiment was as entirely manufactured as the face that showed it.

“Thou may be mine Empyrean peer, sister, and thus sworn by instinct to see the end of me- but I ask thee to consider, with all the rationality centuries as a General have given thee- what would that gain thee? Thine aims are not opposed to mine. I have been in thy place before, and was deceived by this ravenous creature as thou wast, and I beseech thee to consider my words- ‘tis not too late. Cast away this butcher of kingdoms ere the Haligtree’s branches burn, and claim the throne thou wilt in thy new age. I could not care less, so long as an order wrought by gods doth not touch the lands and their people.”

Malenia wished she could say she answered with a scoff, or with conviction. Instead, she answered as though she were grasping for straws.

“If he wished me gone or dead, he chose a terribly long-winded way of seeing to it.”

Ranni smiled. “Ah, but thou hast not seen as much of humanity as I. What hast thou to claim company? Loyal Knights trained by thine own hand? Lordsworn, in awe of thy majesty, and the victories thou won? Commanders who swore their banners to thee when thou unleashed thine overwhelming strength?”

“I’ve seen Alagos’ heart.” Malenia hissed. “That is enough.”

“I do not doubt what thou hast seen.” Ranni said, gently chiding, as Malenia faintly heard Alagos arguing with Rennala in hushed tones. Doubtless the Queen was stepping in to protect her daughter. “I must ask, however, whether thou hadst a name for all thou beheld, or whether there were elements thou didst not recognise. I have spent many a year in the study of the human mind, and I observed thus: the human condition is to suffer from conflict. If I lie to thee, Malenia, or if thou shouldst lie to me- we would know our lies as the lies they are, and naught more. In that way, conflict doth not ail us. But parts of humanity are often more skilled and subtle in its capacity for deceit than we can be, for in the fog of their conflict, they trust their own lies as truth. I believed I had this liar’s friendship once, and was mistaken, but if part of that friendship had not rung true in his own heart, I would have seen it for a falsehood. Thou might believe thou hast his love now, and mayhap he, too, hath driven himself to believe such- but offer him a choice between thee and the sword placed at our throats, and it would be the last choice thou might offer anyone.”

Anger welled up within her, but it was useless anger, as it lacked focus. Twin spears of fury lanced at Alagos and at Ranni- and she had always considered bidents among the worthless forms of weaponry. And so, she did as she always did- she focused her fury, sweeping aside the matter of Maliketh for the time, and struck at Ranni first. Alagos could be seen to later.

“Is that what you believe?” she asked, radiating proud challenge. “Is that what the cynic who found it necessary to take countless lives for her own purposes, to bring death to an untold count of souls for no fault of their own would propound for truth? Doubtless he forfeit friendship with you, as I cannot imagine you believed it worth anything. You would throw him into the arms of Death, and think the worst of the consequences when by some miracle he was spared?”

“Do not insult me by claiming you saw no opportunity in the Shattering!” Ranni warned, seeming for the first time angry. “The institution of the Haligtree was built upon my ‘crime’, as thou wouldst call it. It was by the blood of my hands that thy brother saw the way to his ascension.”

“We would have found another way!” Malenia thundered. “One that did not necessitate such ruin! It has always been our creed to either find a way of make one.”

“Ah, then I take it back, sister dear,” Ranni said with sardonic sweetness, “for thou learnt more of humanity than I recked if thou couldst take their ability to deceive themselves for thine own. Wouldst thou have done any differently were Miquella in my place? Would he not have done it all if it were thee? What if ye were mine elders, and the first to feel the cold steel wrapping around ye? What if the golden chains had begun to bind ye, stealing breath, blunting will, forcing order upon the chaos of yon souls, as ye were wrought into hollow vessels for the Greater Will? What if Marika’s fate was thine? What if thou and Miquella were regressed into one, ‘perfect’ whole as the Queen mother was with the worm thou called father? I spared ye the burden of that choice. I let ye be heroes in righteous war while I paved the way from the shadows, shouldering the burden of what needed to be done. And ne’er once did I ask any of ye for thanks!”

“I notice you make no mention of the thing to which you sold your soul.” Malenia replied after some thought. She spoke in the same cold monotone with which she would discuss Radahn’s occasional sorties with Finaly and a collection of distinguished Knights. “You traded an interested master for an indifferent one- a cold, dark thing, veiled in occult mystery.”

Even as she thanked Miquella for the description, she perceived a slight change in the congealed magic to the right of Ranni’s face. Her senses told her that the Lunar Princess was somehow curious, which filled her with worry. She set it aside for the time, and continued on, resolute.

“It is a doom that binds you, a silver pull on your soul. I believe humanity calls this notion ‘fate’. Did you think you could hide your nature from me, herald of the Dark Moon? You asked me not to insult your intelligence, and out of respect for your wishes, I ask earnestly: how could you possibly entertain the thought that our aims might even be remotely aligned when you seek the lands between under the eternal night of an Outer God?”

She had thought it a precise strike, a perfect, plunging thrust to the throat. Apparently, it had no more than glanced off her sister’s guard.

Ranni gave a hollow laugh, a sound that seemed somehow wrong from the puppet-body that issued it. “Then I must be the poorest herald there is. Tell me; wouldst thou raise to that rank a herald who was suspicious of thee in all thine efforts’ despite? Wouldst thou let them promulgate thy word if their fascination was tempered with wariness, and if the very first lesson they took from the mentor they loved was to be afeard of thee? Most certainly not- no general would. And neither would the Outer Gods thou knowest- not the Greater Will, which seeks ever to control, and punished Marika for defiance. Not the Scarlet Rot, which- if I am to believe thee- drinks of thy lifeblood and would only grant thee might in moments of darkness.”

“And yet, the Dark Moon has done so.” Miquella murmured faintly, startling her attention.

Be careful, brother. I have a horrible inkling that she might hear you.

“I am aware.” the Lord of the Haligtree replied distantly, raising the metaphorical equivalent of a hand to his chin.

“Sithee!” Ranni- preened, was the right word. “I’ve envied thee thy talents, in some wasted moments of the past. Thou always hadst a talent for observation, didst thou not? Thou’rt a hound for truth, and when truth rears its head, thou ne’er couldst deny it. Why would the Dark Moon see a herald in me? I know thy brother despiseth fate. Would he be glad to hear that I have slain it? The Moon ne’er gave me a fate, or a duty. It showed me opportunity, and the means to see my plans realised. It is the wisdom of the Moon which guideth fate, and the Dark Moon drave death before it in the days before the Golden Order. It is through death that it wove its works, and it was only through death that I could be freed of my chains. What ensueth afterwards? I could not care less. I have done what needs must be done, and freed myself of my ‘fate’ with the strength of mine own hand.”

“What about the Age of Stars?” Miquella prompted, and this time, Ranni actively turned her head.

“Most impressive, if thou learned the use of magic despite the Rot’s hold on thee.” her half-sister commented, with remarkable composure. She held back her sigh of relief, partly out of concerns at whether Ranni had seen through it after all and simply tried to lull her into complacency at seeming to misinterpret the matter.

“And that is all? What of your Age of Stars, sister dear?” the Goddess of Victory asked, leveraging precisely the same sardonic tone Ranni had used. “I seem to recall a certain all-encompassing chill night of ‘cold, dark, doubt, fear and loneliness, in which all the certainties of emotion would become impossibilities’. You claim to have no interest in rule, in which case I am brought to wonder why you have not already left for the night sky- to the Dark Moon, which would afford you power and opportunity. It follows that you must retain interests in these lands- interests that apparently entail wiping all that is beautiful from them, including the very concept of love!”

For a moment, she revelled in victory, as Ranni gave a horribly dissonant gasp, and fell silent.

Then her face twisted.

It was impossible for the puppet to form that expression, as no mortal’s face had ever held it. And the moment she spoke, her perpetually calm, cold voice tinged for the first time with terrible madness, Malenia knew what the expression had meant to be.

She’d known it on her own face many a time. Whomever had sculpted the puppet could never have imagined the fey mirth of the gods.

“Is that-“ Ranni hissed, laughed and roared all at once, “is that what thou believed?”

The question was addressed to Alagos, who swerved from a harrowed-looking Rennala with a duellist’s reflex.

“For thy all purported appreciation of poetic prose- for all thy proven mastery of deceit- thou ne’er once thought to read betwixt the lines?”

Alagos restrained a snarl of anger. It had never helped him in the past with Ranni, after all.

“If your pride had allowed you to pay even the slightest attention to my letters-“

“Ah, but what sense it maketh now!” Ranni interrupted him, still laughing madly. “What a fool I am for being blind to that which was plain! Of course! Of course Alagos the living tempest who slew his rivals by deceit ere they could challenge him would believe in that. How couldst thou do it? How couldst thou possibly deceive me into holding faith in thee?”

“I did not particularly try.” the Tarnished replied icily. “Quite unfortunately, you don’t have anyone else to blame for that error.”

“And doubtless you continue to be blind,” said his dearest Malenia, striding in for his sake, “as you would otherwise have known he is changed. You, most of all, should know that our pasts need not define our futures. The misanthrope you might once have known is no more. That part of him was killed by Millicent. Her mother, Princess Ranni, asks that you answer to why you did not help her when she quite likely saved you from Death’s hands!”

“I owed her naught!” Ranni spat defiantly.

“I couldn’t care less.” Malenia rumbled dangerously, with deadly intent. “In a world in which you had acted, perhaps Millicent would be alive. And since you have never cared in the least about such notions as justice, then by your own logic, I see no reason to conclude your life is worth anything. Let Death take you if it shall appease him. Flee and set your god against us if you must. Miquella and I will prevail, as we always have, and your soul shall answer, shivering before me, for the death of my daughter!”

A headache threatened him, of the same kind he had felt when Malenia had unleashed her Scarlet Aeonia, or that one which had struck him at the Queen’s bedchamber in Leyndell, when Melina had spoken of Marika’s words to Radagon.

Spacetime itself howled in torment, twisted by the wrath of gods.

And then Ranni did the most dangerous, the most terrifyingly effective thing she could possibly have done in that moment- she put her fingertips together and becalmed herself. For a moment, Alagos thought he saw her meet Rennala’s eye, as something unspoken passed between them.

“I am sorry.” Ranni spoke quietly, and his blood boiled in anger at the sadness that coloured her voice, as he instinctively understood that she had seen a weakness that he could not perceive. “I am sorry for my blindness, and mine antagonism to thee. Thou’rt not my foe, my sister. Examine my words, prithee- ne’er once did I say I do not believe him changéd. ‘Tis only that thou believe him wise in his age, when he gave me only unwisdom. Here standeth a man who once believed emotions becoming impossibility, to give way to what he would call ‘rational thought’, meant the good of the world. Why, why on earth would I ever wish for something so senseless?”

And now she pretended to be sympathetic? He was tempted to laugh in despairing rage. Masterful indeed, Ranni, he thought. Part of him- an ashamed part of him- wished he had not come here with Malenia, and instead with Gurranq after all.

“I don’t deny that I was a contemptible fool, and have never done so.” he replied with dignity. “And yet, when you were the only person who could have disabused me of those notions, when it would have benefited you immensely to do so as I was still in your service, why did you not say a damned word?”

She smiled at him. Her second, spectral face smiled at him- which he knew Malenia couldn’t sense-and he cursed at himself as he knew he had somehow fallen into a trap.

“I had faith in thee!” she said, in such a perfect imitation of grief that for a moment even he doubted whether it wasn’t sincere after all. “I thought I knew thee, as Malenia claimeth to know thee now. Thou ne’er once gave me cause to doubt thee. For once, in my life, thou compelled generosity from me. Is that the lesson thou wishest me to take? That I should have held thee in suspicion, and not once considered thee worthy of trust? That I was wrong to seek a friend in thee?”

“How does this have any relevance-“ he tried, but whatever force he put in the words, he’d have failed.

“Thou wast right, of course. I- I had thought it all a private jest of ours,” she said, with wistful sadness that claimed to lost innocence, and he wanted to tear the puppet to pieces with his bare hands at such a brazen tactic- “and ne’er once questioned thee when thou regurgitated my words. Thou ne’er understood mine aim at all, in truth.”

“Enough!” rang Malenia’s voice in command, and while Alagos’ half-formed response died on his lips, he noticed dimly that the power in his beloved’s voice had had no effect on Ranni. It was simply convenient for the Lunar Princess to act as though it did, and look patiently to Malenia, the perfect listener.

Flames of old wrath flickered within him, and he missed his mentor’s presence. Gurranq wouldn’t have wasted any time, would he?

“I did not come here to listen to pointless tirades. You keep pivoting, your majesty. It does not matter what Alagos thought of your aim, as you never once voiced it. You claim it is somehow congruent with Miquella’s objectives as you knew them, and have furnished me with no evidence. I cannot imagine an age under an Outer God could possibly coincide with the banishment of the Outer Gods’ influence from these lands?” Malenia spoke in a voice like a storm of swords.

She’ll say anything to save her hide, he desperately wished to communicate.

“And do not think to lie to me.” the Blade of Miquella warned, pre-emptively fitting her hand into the latch on her prosthetic.

“Then hear it from me, in mine own words.” Ranni whispered quietly. “The Age of Stars is my solemn oath to all lives and souls, to embark upon a thousand-year voyage under the law and wisdom of the Moon. My order will be not of gold, but of the stars and moon, and the chill night.”

“Remarkable that you could speak at such length about delusion, and then delude yourself to believe that Miquella and I would ever allow such an order’s reign.”

“Art thou quite finished?” Ranni asked, tilting her head slightly. “Then let me finish as well. ‘Tis simple. I wish to keep mine order far away from this land. Even if life and souls are one with the order, the order itself could be kept far away. ‘Sight, touch, emotion becoming impossibilities’, hah? All I ever meant was if ‘twere not possible to see clearly, touch, feel- and therefore believe in the order, that would be better for all life! Do what thou wilt with the Lands Between when they lie ‘neath the shade of the Moon, for there will be no Outer Gods driving destiny with their puppets and proxies. Raise Miquella to Kingship if thou wishest. Have yonselves revered as gods if ye must. Whether or not people overthrow ye is not my concern. I will have freed myself, and there ne’er will be a soul bound to the same chains I was. There ne’er will be fate or destiny. There ne’er will be another Ranni, forced to choose between losing herself to regression, or setting death athwart the land to free herself.”

“I see. An order of night, that can be thought of as infinitely far away. The illusion of true freedom, the idea that choice means something, simply because the master of fate would have no interest in fate. And yet- would an indifferent universe not lead to doubt and fear? Confusion and uncertainty would reign. No, we cannot have that, can we?” said Miquella.

It was true, of course. Why settle for indifference and opportunity for the ambitious, when they could make abundance and opportunity for all? She knew very well, of course, that paradise was only possible if the order were close to the lands.

Only if there was a benevolent god in rulership over the populace, protecting them from the wiles of the Outer Gods, could all things truly flourish. A god who truly knew their people’s minds must reign as an enlightened King.

She would not lie to herself- Ranni’s aims were admirable, in the context that motivated them. And yet, it simply could not be done. The Age of Stars could not come to pass, if the next epoch was to be shaped under Miquella’s hand. Things would be so much more difficult to arrange under the laws of the Moon, after all.

And, unlike the proposal of illusion, Miquella would bring true freedom from fate. They needed no Outer God as protector and benefactor when they had each other.

“I see.” Malenia spoke. “I cannot deny that I understand your feelings. I feel almost tempted to laud your efforts, in point of fact. Is your hope for such an age why you have remained in these lands? Is this, in fact, why you chose to meet with us, despite your enmity with my betrothed?”

She wondered if Ranni would notice that she had said nothing about whether she agreed with the proposition.

“Nay.” Ranni said, with a little shake of the head, and the weariness in her tone startled her in how much it resembled Alagos. She was brought to consider if her fiancé had picked up the gesture from her to begin with. “I set aside hopes for mine age long ago, as the only Tarnished given grace with the resources and requisite might to bring it about is this Death-bothering wretch who deceived us both. Did he not tell thee? He slew all his competitors, with lies and stealth when might alone would not serve. Many are the cliffs of Altus and Liurnia, and for a decade, the winds howled most fiercely about them.”

“How dare you-“

“You have no need to tell me, and I tire of your wallowing in memory. As I said, I care nothing for what he might have been in the past.” Malenia said, forcing her to continue on.

“And yet, thou must see it- there is not another who could do it. Not another with the Runes necessary to mend the Elden Ring, or the strength to the storm the Erdtree, or the experience to accomplish what I have in mind. I cannot do it myself, for fear of drawing the Greater Will’s attention to the doings of the Moon. Nay, I remain for far simpler concerns. If I were gone, canst thou not see that he and his master would conspire to take my mother from me?”

“Now this is preposterous.” Alagos hissed, turning foggy eyes to Rennala. “Even you cannot possibly believe that, ma’am, whatever nonsense she might have fed you.”

For a moment, the Queen looked uncertain. Then she assumed a mantle of stone, and walked to stand beside her sister.

“Thou wishest me to trust thy goodwill, when thou wouldst not even trust thy beloved with thy master’s name?”

Alagos’ eyes widened, then narrowed, and the Goddess got the impression that he saw something she did not. And then some veil of darkness descended on the room, and the familiar warmth of Alagos’ spirit was gone.

She would almost say it felt inverted- where before it had exuded comforting heat, now it drew all warmth to itself, leaving the rest of the room cold. That faint, steady undercurrent of hope she loved fell, drowned within a tide.

His voice did not sound the same when he used it. There was nothing soft about it- it was hard, cold, jagged like volcanic rock, and smouldered with bubbling, hateful fire. Distantly, she noticed that he had changed dialects in violent mockery.

“A score of my years I have blamed myself for the ruin of our friendship, as I had forgotten the sting of thy lies. Thine every word a dagger; thine every order an exercise in patience. Thou darest blame me for the wrath thou gifted me? Thou claimest the poison thou fed me came from mine own self? Thou accuse me of not knowing better when thou taught me all I know, to make me a tool for thine use?”

He did not sound like her Alagos anymore.

“Thou doubt my love for my daughter, when it would have given thee the world hadst thou wished it? Thou now question my loyalty to my love, and seek to use my gratitude to my master who truly taught me to be better when thou ne'er once tried? Thou sour, sore, sordid, shameless, slandering sow!”

Even Ranni looked taken aback. If she were to guess, Malenia would say that she was not so much affected by the insults herself, as much as the fact that Alagos was capable of them. She’d always known his anger to have been a cold, tranquil thing.

“Dearest.” she bade. “Calm yourself.”

“And thou!” he fumed at Rennala, ignoring her- he had never ignored her- “Thou who washed thy hands of thy student. I wonder if it was worth anything, in the end. I wonder if I should have left thee in thy gloom, as thy daughter cared not whether thou wast sane or slumbering. Would I have wrought such ruin if I had never known ye? Would I have come unto wisdom sooner, if Gurranq had been my first teacher? I had thought thy daughter drew her callousness from Radagon, but I see now that she took that lesson from thee. Alas that I could not learn it myself!”

He did not sound like her Alagos at all.

She had understood that Ranni was subtly trying to insinuate that she had misinterpreted his mind. She knew she hadn’t.

She did.

“Do you?” asked Miquella. "Even I could not pierce this secret. It is certain that he loves you unconditionally, but does he truly love you most?"


Well... that happened.

I had to redraft this chapter thrice. Initially Ranni was going off endlessly about Maliketh, but then I realised Malenia wouldn't want to hear it- it would be practical for her to confront the matter of Maliketh privately, and instead try to squeeze information out of Ranni. The final draft, which I'm still somewhat unhappy with, has Ranni constantly trying to steer the conversation back to Maliketh in a roundabout way without Malenia realising, but with some important information about Age of Stars coming out as well.

Unfortunately, this took a very long time. It wasn't helped by the fact that I spent a lot of time watching Frieren because I am apparently a magpie who can be distracted by shinies.

In the meantime, Ranni proves that she's the only one who can drive Alagos to screaming in rage (we don't talk about King Morgott and the Night's Cavalry, Erdtree Avatars, Tree Sentinels and all sorts of other nasty things he managed to organise for a decade's manhunt, of course). Malenia would find that impressive if she weren't still processing everything.

Chapter 33: A sacramental bond, uniting him and me


Alagos presents Malenia an ultimatum, and has it answered.


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Silence held court in the Grand Library of Raya Lucaria. Silence, staring down at gods and mortals alike from a throne of lies, almost mocking them for their inability to escape its oppression for the time.

Initiative was the defeat of silence, of course, and there was little to bolster initiative other than revenge. And so, Ranni moved first.

“Thou wouldst call me slanderer, liesmith, when thou hid thy sword-hand’s lineage from thy liege? Thou, who took from me all hope of companionship when thou took personal pains to slay all thy fellows and thy kindred, though they had no quarrel with thee? Thou, who even now schemeth and plotteth to have me and mine slain by thy master-at-arms?”

Winds howled in clamorous furore outside, as Alagos responded, words dripping less with anger and more with arrogant contempt.

“How quaint, for the serpent to accuse the wolf of subterfuge. What wouldst thou have me do? Turn aside when it suited thy whims? Fall into nothingness when thou exhausted thine use for me? If thou shouldst so crudely, so grossly use the brother and uncle thou profess’d to love, what whim of thine could be relied upon to not dispose of me? And thou might still have stayed my hand from murder, if thou cared even a whit as thou claim to!”

“I’ll have thy tongue for daring to call my daughter a sow.” Rennala echoed sonorously, gazing at Alagos with cold hatred.

“Then I shall join thee in silence, for that is all thy words were ever worth to her!” her former student shot back, as fire to her frost.

“Enough!” Malenia interjected, and found that her voice was hoarse. Even if she had filled that word with every ounce of power, every inch of command that her presence possessed, she doubted it would have had much of an effect on her present company.

As such, she had no qualms speaking her mind.

“You are all… so terribly… clumsy!” she murmured, as though under the influence of a splitting headache. “All of you are engaged in doing yourselves a disservice. You are giving in to anger, and it is making matters obvious. You, for instance…” she gestured vaguely at Ranni, “are both playing for time, and rather desperate to prove a point. You find yourself unused to a circ*mstance in which you do not control every outcome and are thus floundering. There is a certain flimsiness in your firm words, a certain… uncertainty. You repeat them to yourself internally as though to prove their veracity, but they seem more infirm to you every time you speak them. You are attempting to shore up the cracks with confidence, but when that is shaken, you respond with anger.”

“For all that she speaks about the dangers of lying to oneself, and about being above the ways of mortals, she seems to have engaged in the practice herself for quite some time.” Miquella supplied. When Malenia told her sister as much, her response was most certainly interesting.

The puppet opened its mouth to say something, only to shut it abruptly. Evidently Ranni felt she did not think her words through.

“You, your majesty,” she turned to Rennala, “have let yourself become so obsessed with protecting your daughter and her happiness that you fall in remiss of that very duty. By hanging on to her every word, by refusing to believe she could possibly have erred, you deny her the opportunity for growth, and the strength drawn from it. I understand, perhaps better than anyone, that you might have come to think of her as all you have left. In doing so, you have forgotten to see with your own eyes. To disavow your own apprentice at the drop of a hat if she gave the word-“

“And would you not disavow our friend here at once if Miquella ordered it?” Ranni snuck in slyly.

“No!” she bellowed on reflex.

“No?” asked Miquella.

No- I meant that you would never make such a- such a ridiculous proposition. Strange that she should at once consider the idea ridiculous, or indeed a ‘proposition’.

“I would not. And Miquella never felt the need to coerce or manipulate me, for one.” she stated firmly.

“The blindness in thine eyes seepeth to thy soul, I see.” Rennala hissed. “To think that my little Ranni would ever feel the need to coerce-“

Ranni held up a hand. “Her… her words are not unwarranted, mother.” The voice was strangely soft.

Malenia felt her hackles rise. If Ranni had intended to be in any way sincere, she would not let it show here. She certainly was planning something.

“My dear daughter,” Rennala said at once, and the incongruity of her newly soft tones was almost tragically amusing- “if thou carry guilt o’er thy choice not to wake me from my slumber, prithee cast it off. ‘Twas mine own fault- I hadn’t left thee much hope, had I?”

That expressionless face was impossible to read. “I beg forgiveness, mother.” The words were strangely blank- without emotion or intonation.

“Forgiveness for what? For the fact that thou ne’er thought to rouse her, or that thou wast not the one to rouse her? I wonder if thou wouldst have been as ‘sorry’ had I not come into thy mother’s tale!”

Oh, Haligtree’s sake, he could not help himself, could he?

“And you!” she rounded on Alagos at last. “You have been guilty of both their sins- both falsehood and blindness. I am ashamed that I must admit Ranni was right. I knew very well that you have lied to yourself, but to think you would lie to me over a matter that could mean our deaths? And then you speak in the same anger you had sworn off, the rage you supposedly ‘spent your life in battle against’ as you told me long ago, digging yourself deeper into a well of resentment whose walls crumble at the seams, burning bridges because you would rather not face what lies across?”

“What in the world- digging ditches and burning bridges? Oh, blast that, it can wait for another time- what I must ask is this: how, by all that is left of this world, could you possibly have anything to fear from my old teacher?”

“You are being obtuse, and you know it.” the Goddess enunciated sternly. Her fiancé’s answering look of utter confusion was something she could never have expected.

“I… rather think I’m not, my dear Malenia.” he said, and the words were a strange thing: all the anger he had carried when speaking with Ranni had evaporated, banished to some dark, poisonous swamp that festered still within his soul, and in its place was an honest, entirely honest perplexion.

“You know that the very name Maliketh means the Death of the Demigods-“

“That simply isn’t his name, Malenia.” Alagos interrupted (interrupted!). “I had thought you, of all, would have listened when I told you that his name- the one that belongs to him- is Gurranq.”

Semantics and pedantry! However fond he was of them, they had no place in a well-reasoned argument. She crossed her arms, and made to tell him as much- “And what difference does that make-“

“All the bloody difference in the world!” Alagos spat. “Maliketh is not a name; it is a title placed upon his shoulders by those who thought to use him. Did he ask to be the Death of the Demigods? Did you once think to ask him whether he was pleased with the duties thrust on him?”

“I can’t imagine he cared much at all. He certainly never made any effort to reach out, or disabuse us of our notions of him.”

“And why should he? Who cared about him, if I might ask? Certainly not Queen Marika, or any one of you. And yet, since his very nature is to serve her, since he was created as a shadow to serve her- he could not deny her will. He thought she loved him because he hasn’t the first clue what love is. If you truly believe him a sword held at your throat, then whom would you blame? The sword, or the hand that wields it?”

“How about both?” Ranni said, barging in unexpectedly. Of course she’d found the perfect moment to do so. “What wouldst thou do if thou wast threatened thus, swordsman as thou art? Thou wouldst strike away the sword first, and then have at the hand.”

For a moment, she pondered what to do- should she avail of Ranni’s support and play into her hands, or defend Alagos again?

“Then thou’rt a fool to believe him a sword, or a tool for war in the first place!” Alagos parried, switching dialects for no reason at all than to deliver the words in a more venomous cadence. Reluctantly, Malenia made her choice.

Ranni, unfortunate as it was, was the only one who saw reason.

Malenia.” Alagos beseeched, in that soft, beckoning whisper she thought she might never refuse, “You weren’t there. If there is anything I could ask of you, I ask you to trust my words in this. Gurranq is capable of much more than death. The only reason I stand before you now is the kindness he has done me, and the wisdom he has shown me. If he has wounds, they are no different from yours. Time and patience will heal them. If he strikes out in anger, it is born of grief. He never asked for the hand life dealt him. He deserves an attempt at happiness and fulfilment, and even to pretend otherwise is hypocrisy.”

“Ah, I see.” she muttered sardonically. “I see it well. You were taken in by his grief. What tales would he narrate as you trained before him? Of the grandeur and prosperity of the Golden Order, perhaps? Of how glorious the old days were, and how dearly he wishes to return to them? Is that his grief? That the cruel regime built on deceit and oppression crumbled, and the perpetrators suffered as they must?”

“Then why excuse Queen Marika, whom you still claim to love?”

“I do not!” she rumbled in a voice like thunder. “I love my mother, but I would not pardon her errors. If her passing were necessary for a better world, I would strike her down myself. And yet, I recognise that the Greater Will hardly left her a choice-“

“And what choice do you think the Greater Will- or Marika- or anyone- ever left dear old Gurranq?”

“Imbecile! ‘Twas ne’er a question of choice at all. My very own brother could not resist the curse laid upon his soul: my kind, honourable, loyal brother who ne’er did any wrong unless I commanded it. Death ne’er had Blaidd’s tender heart. Death was no more than a tool in our divine mother’s hand- to do her will, should her golden master allow it, and to strike her down if she strayed. Mayhap thou wouldst call his tale a tragedy. I say, wouldst thou call the forging of a knife, or the concoction of a vial of poison a tragedy? Death is Death, be he wolf or rune, be he beast or doom made manifest, and Death hath no mind to think beyond his master’s command. He hath no will to turn aside. Death cometh to take all who cannot defeat him or pass beyond his reach, and no more is said of him.”

There were scarcely any winds left in the room, but a momentary breeze- stimulated by the sudden fall in heat, told her that Alagos’ countenance would be terrible to behold. His palms were aflame before he snuffed them.

“Lies. Damned lies. Thou’rt capable of no more than lies.” he spoke, as though it were a litany. “They would crumble into ashes and dust, if thou knew that Gurranq hath done what Blaidd could not! Marika needn’t ever have betrayed him. His loyalty was given to her alone, and the Greater Will held no part of it. He set aside his own nature on account of his love for her.”

“No.” Malenia said, and she found that there was something sad in her tone. “I am willing to believe that he may have overcome his allegiance to the Greater Will, but if this is true, then in no way did he overcome his nature. He merely let one part of it overcome another, and traded one obsession for the other. Exercise your formidable powers of reasoning, for once: if he truly overcame his nature, why would he love our mother, who never loved him? Whom would he truly love and swear fealty to? You, my sweet Alagos, you. You are the only one who ever truly loved him, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom. Can you truly imagine him setting aside Marika’s will and doing your bidding instead?”

“I don’t have his fealty because I would never ask for it-“

“And you would not need to.” she marched on ruthlessly. “If you truly believed him peaceful, you would never have gone to such lengths to hide him from us, or us from him. Do you understand why we must do away with him? I do not wish to hate him. He has my everlasting respect as a warrior, and my gratitude that he taught you, but whatever any of us does, he cannot be turned from his way. He shall remain forever a threat to my brother, and I refuse to stand by when there is an opportunity to answer that threat.”

Her companion looked at her visage, and found it not unkind, but pitiless.

“With time- if I were given time- if- if I talk to him-“

Alagos recoiled, as if physically struck.

“You- you wouldn’t even consider him a person, would you? Your very own uncle?” Those foggy eyes were tearful.

“He was no uncle of ours.” Ranni supplied decisively.

“I had thought you better than this.” Alagos murmured, unable to meet their faces. “Cleverer than this. If I told you the tale of the day I staggered into Gurranq’s sanctum, wounded and stained with Rot, and of how he healed me clumsily with Bestial Vitality and let me fall asleep on his paw, I suppose you would dismiss it as a dream. If I narrated how he took an interest in tea simply because I am fond of it, and how he would lap at it suspiciously before he learnt to lift a cup, it would not move you.

If you knew how he saved me from a dragon at Farum Azula while I was wounded from a brawl with Godskins, you would consider it done for ulterior aims. If you knew how he’d sniff at me to smell blood and injury whenever I came to visit him, doubtless you would consider it him looking for something else. And you- if you were there when he didn’t quite know what to do with himself as Millicent held him-“

“You let her approach Death?”

“That!” Alagos waved with an accusatory flourish. “Stones of the Dragons, that. How could you expect him to turn aside when you would refuse to on principle? Yes, he has his flaws, his biases, his misperceptions, but they are there since he has known nothing else for centuries and millennia. I know for a fact that he can change, I have seen it, and even effected it. You know this. You wouldn’t have spoken without having considered- unless- ah.”

She nearly couldn’t help herself, when she saw him make for lifting his palm to his chin before aborting the gesture. ‘Speak’. The command would have been easy to issue, but she feared he might just comply.

“Excrete the last of thy delusions and let us be done with them.” Ranni supplied instead.

Alagos smiled a horrific smile, and she knew it to be the worst that had ever painted itself on his face as it did not touch his eyes.

“I had thought your hate for him is self-explanatory, your royal highness, but I fear it might be more similar to Malenia’s than I had thought. All this while, I thought the both of you feared, for no reason, that Gurranq would strike at those you love. Your words certainly led me to believe that this was the case. How very uncharacteristic of me to not read between the lines.”

There were a thousand things she could have said- ‘What are you playing at?’, ‘You are assuming the worst’, ‘You speculate baselessly’. They were responses born of reflex, and she tamed them. She knew Alagos well enough to have divined what he would say before he said it. He knew.

“Each of you would use me to bring about the world you envision. Of you,” he turned to Ranni, “the less said, the better. At the very least you are self-aware enough to abandon hope for your Age of Stars, but it would still be in your interests to have my old master-at-arms removed on account of the fear you still cannot let go. Thus, you attempt to drive a wedge between Malenia and I, and present yourself on her side of it. And of you, Malenia-“

He shut his eyes, and breathed deeply. His features seemed suddenly more drawn- the lines on his face were harder, the scars starker, the lips thinner and the brow more ruthless.

“I may crave your hand in marriage, but you are not the only one to whom my love is given. It would not do to speak what is on your mind here, would it? Well, then: whatever age you wish to bring about with Miquella on the throne shall not come at the cost of Gurranq’s life. I shall not let you strike pre-emptively at him for a crime he did not yet commit. You know very well that if he attacked you, I would stand in his way. I am afraid, however, that he has done as much- if not more- to earn the same oath of protection from me.

Have it in plain terms: if you move against him while he has made no move against you, then you shall have to kill his student first.”

“How…” her throat felt dry, dried with Rot. The practical argument first. “You would sacrifice the world’s happiness for your own loyalty to one who would not repay it? You would throw away an opportunity for paradise if it meant the life of- how selfish!”

“And would you not do the same for Miquella?”

That is entirely different.

It was not, and she would not insult him with that utterance.

“The truth is, Malenia, Gurranq has done more for me than I have done for you. As much, I would argue, as Miquella has done for you. Notwithstanding loyalty, or empathy, or even the barest feeling of debt- do you truly believe I am the sort of person who can ever set that aside? I refuse to live in a world that contains another who took his life without provocation. I cannot kill him, or stand aside as he is attacked, no matter how much I love you. If the question were not of me, you and Maliketh, and instead of you, Miquella and I, would you kill me if Miquella wished it?”

“I could never imagine you being a threat to Miquella-“

“Just as I cannot imagine Gurranq ever choosing to threaten you?”

The room felt suffocating. She almost wished Alagos had gone back to wrath and vitriol. Perhaps he had simply gone beyond wrath, and this gentle, quiet, understanding tone was the worst indictment he was capable of.

“I can no more kill my master-at-arms at your bidding than you can kill me at Miquella’s.”

As he spoke that statement, she saw with perfect clarity that he did not believe it, and had spoken it for the theatre it would evoke.

“Would you, now? If Miquella ever saw me as a threat, and you could not convince him otherwise- would you kill me at his command?”

It was the cruellest question he could ever have asked her. Even Ranni looked shocked.

She noticed distantly that her sword-arm was trembling.

“Malenia? Malenia, my dearest, precious sister, you needn’t-“ Miquella was saying-

The truth, then. However cruel the question, and the terrible resignation that accompanied it, Alagos had enough of her respect to deserve that, at least.

The truth of her failure, and nothing else.

“I could never!” she forced out with a shuddering breath, and left with as much swiftness as her legs allowed. She hoped it hurt him more than any sword-stroke she could muster.


Apologies again, folks. Life thought it would be fun to kick me in the shins. Anyway, this did take entirely too long to write. I'm not as busy in the coming months (says that with four binders filled with Phys Rev A, D & Lett. on desk), but I'll definitely be taking some time off to do a full playthrough of Shadow of the Erdtree. I may or may not have made a Frieren with night comets for the completionist run.

That should not really detract from writing time very much, but I shan't be inserting anything new until I complete it. I am, however, not above editing previous chapters a little bit for things that aren't very major. For example, Malenia's motivation to fight Radahn remains the same, and Miquella being at the Haligtree and with his attention on the Lands Between remain the same, as do the Twins' relationships with the major characters, but a few small things such as the nature of the deathblight phenomenon, how godhood works, Rennala's family, and the source of Alagos' fire might be... subject to a bit of revision.

No spoilers here, but- if you already know - Shadow of the Erdtree is going to have a very interesting character who confirms a few of my speculations about the nature of the Carian Royal Family. I'd be very interested to see what Malenia would think of them, and there might possibly be quite a few parallels with a certain character in here.

Pertinent to this chapter, it seems the Cult of Floof is at it again with their propaganda. They'd probably have leaflets if Ranni or Miquella didn't magically erase the concept of the printer from their minds.

Chapter 34: Author's Note- the Road onward (and a Tale of Two Dragons)




(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

We appear to have hit something of an impasse with False Azure.

I’ve just finished well-nigh speedrunning the main quest in Shadow of the Erdtree (with Black Flame spam and Scarlet Rot), and I think I have a handle on almost all there is about Miquella except a few potential details about St. Trina. With that, there arise a few problems pertinent to this story.

First off, the good: I’m somewhat shocked at how accurately this story has managed to pin down the character of Miquella, largely by accident. His focus on the big picture, for one, and how he’s willing to enact all sorts of skulduggery to achieve it. His particular form of hypocrisy, for another, coupled with his genuinely benevolent intentions. He’s very much shown to follow a utilitarian philosophy and use people to that end, causing an immense amount of pain in the short term for gain in the long-term.

If the reader will allow another feeble attempt at self-congratulation, he’s also shown to have a penchant for long and incredibly convoluted plans, as well as an over-reliance on foresightedness, which is one of his most visible traits as portrayed here.

Next, the bad: I’ve managed to get Malenia completely wrong. The canonical Malenia is, quite plainly, not this one. Funnily enough, this took just one item description to achieve, which I’m… somewhat in awe of. The Malenia portrayed here would never countenance, let alone go along with the plan Miquella made based on a vow with a certain brother. I am reasonably certain that this Malenia would have done her utmost to try and talk Miquella out of it on account of the toll in lives and suffering said vow would exact, and failing that, would outright rebel against him.

The reason I came up with for the Battle of Aeonia also couldn’t possibly have been further from the truth. To put things simply, Aeonia was the most pointless bloody thing imaginable, and the canonical Malenia was complicit in a plan that this one would have burnt at first sight.

Last, the ugly: the Maliketh of this story was right. So completely, utterly, hauntingly right when he was pontificating to Nepheli about Malenia being “a thing, a weapon of war in her brother’s hand by her own will; murder itself” that I find myself horrified. I wrote that line intending it to be a tragic note about Maliketh’s inability to see clearly when he perceives her as a threat- and it turned out a prophecy. That’s my read so far, anyway- I fully intend to peruse almost every item description and dialogue event there is on my completionist run, and I hope I have gotten it wrong, but in case I haven’t… we’ve got a problem.

In several notes, I might have jokingly talked - in Maliketh’s voice - about Alagos making the wrong choice or the mad choice, and that the ‘sensible’ thing to do would be to side with his master-at-arms and become Elden Lord. Unfortunately, it seems that that really would be the sensible choice. In fact, if Alagos knew the truth of the absolute nonsense that’s been happening, he’d have hightailed it to Gurranq immediately, profusely apologised for trusting people he really shouldn’t, become Elden Lord and begun raising armies to beat up this absolutely crazy trio of a lord and two gods before they could start putting themselves in charge of any people’s lives.

That is, in fact, what is going to happen in the sister-story, False Flames. The outline for that is finally done, and it’ll be easy to continue. It’ll be my apology to Maliketh, because that isn’t what’s going to be happening here.

For this one, here is what I can’t do:

  • I cannot change the protagonism issue. The main character has always been Malenia and will remain Malenia. Alagos does not, therefore, have the avenue of siding with Maliketh- which means a lot more personal tragedy for him, and potentially for Malenia, as well as confronting a compromise of morals.
  • I cannot change the character of Malenia. Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve grown quite attached to this interpretation, to change her character even the barest bit to coincide more smoothly with canonical events would effectively destroy the story.
  • I cannot change the relationship between Miquella and Malenia. Here I’ve portrayed Malenia being Miquella’s blade as the product of her own choice (based on prior item descriptions from Malenia’s armour), and that Miquella is not entirely pleased with that, as he wishes her to be his equal. The truth, however, is that Miquella very much thinks of Malenia as his blade, and is not above using her, and that Malenia herself is quite content with that. So I will, quite plainly, have to throw the canon out on that point.

Now, with those points in mind, on where to go from here, I can carry the story forward in four ways:

  • Simply neglect all events from Shadow of the Erdtree save a few peripheral references to other characters and history. That is to say, throw the canon out entirely in favour of preserving the original intent for the story and the characterisation. This I’ll find quite easy to write- but the problem is that it would make the story dated, after a fashion, and I’ve always striven for a degree of consistency- if I present an alternate narrative, it must be a plausible one. Besides, there are two characters from Shadow of the Erdtree whom I’ve found I simply adore. I really wouldn’t want to throw them out. I could, of course, attempt a middle ground- that is, to try to include them but in an entirely different context from their actual portrayal- but I’ve a feeling that will somewhat detract from their characterisation. I also don’t want to seem as though I’ve cherry-picked events to tell a story that is deliberately kind to Malenia and Miquella. It already is, but- there shouldn’t be any mental gymnastics involved to consider the story’s conclusions sensible.
  • Preserve the events of Shadow of the Erdtree, and turn False Azure into a tragedy with a bittersweet ending. I confess I’ll find this the easiest of all options to write, since tragedies come very smoothly for me. This way, I can guarantee that the storytelling will at least remain good, and the narrative can remain compelling, while it is much closer to the actual events than the above option. But somehow, I feel like this would be somewhat cheap, after I already promised a happy ending and put a large amount of work into trying to get to one.
  • Hew close to canon, keep the events of SotE, and blame all the discrepancies between this story and canon on Miquella. This will at least let things make sense. Again- Miquella’s set of abilities as portrayed here are startlingly, almost shockingly accurate. He certainly is capable of charming minds and messing with memories. This would deal with the problem of this particular Malenia being complicit in a scheme she would never countenance. However, for some reason I feel it would not be very compelling, or interesting to explain away the discrepancies in that way. It would essentially be the author making as many excuses for Malenia as possible, which I don’t want to (just a few excuses here and there is fine). That leaves us with the last option-
  • Somehow try to tie events in this story with Shadow of the Erdtree. This would imply a necessary disconnect between the Malenia portrayed here, and the history she played a part in- much like the disconnect between the old, experienced Alagos and the young, arrogant Alagos. Or perhaps for an example more pertinent to Elden Ring itself, the disconnect between Marika at the start of her reign and Marika at the end of it, or that between Blaidd when he was in control of himself and Blaidd when his nature as a weapon of the Greater Will overcame him.

The trouble is to explain what changed, and how she changed. It would make things a lot sadder, in a way. Certainly a few chapters I’d had planned will make me sick to my stomach to write. Again- the only reason this can be done is that by some miracle, I’ve gotten Miquella right, as the not-Griffith but also not-Jesus and instead an in-between: an ambitious, slightly Napoleonic figure with genuinely good intentions.

The fourth option will be a horrific challenge to write, but there is still scope for a happy ending which wouldn’t compromise Alagos’ humanistic philosophy and his categorical principles, and would keep Malenia as the heroic figure she’s been shown to be with the strength of will she’s been shown to have.

One thing I will not do under any circ*mstances is trivialise human suffering, or use the ‘least of all evils’ argument. The story has always been not only about doing the right thing, but going about it for the right reasons and in the right way. Rather counterintuitive for Elden Ring, I know, but I’d like to keep it that way- and the fourth option shall make that the hardest.

That is the question I ask- which path to take? At the moment, I lean towards 1 or 4, however tempting 2 might be.



I've decided, after a lot of discussion, that the story is going to move forward with a slightly modified version of option #1.

The main thrust of my rationale for this is fourfold-

1) A piece of consistent feedback I keep getting is that Malenia and Miquella are believably written to be intelligent, and that theirs is a convincing portrayal of nigh-inhuman intelligence and perceptiveness. I've been told I have done fairly well in refuting the adage that a character can be only so intelligent as the writer behind them. If I were to give Shadow of the Erdtree too much credit, however, the twins turn into a pair of irreclaimable morons. As one reviewer noted, 'the more you think about SotE, the less sense it makes', and I find I quite agree.

2) No matter how compliant I try to be, there will always be an item description or piece of dialogue that conflicts with the story's themes. A more blatant example-

"Remembrance of Radahn, consort of Miquella, hewn into the Scadutree. The power of its namesake can be unlocked by the Finger Reader. Alternatively, it can be used to gain a great bounty of runes. In their childhood, Miquella saw in Radahn a lord. His strength, and his kindness, that stood in stark contrast with their afflicted selves. And so Miquella made his heartfelt wish. That Radahn would one day be his king consort."

- Remembrance of a God and a Lord, emphasis mine

This goes completely against False Azure's narrative thus far, as many a chapter keeps banging on about Malenia and Miquella's kindness and especially the former's strength despite adversity. A lot of that strength has even been attributed to the amount of conflict and struggle the twins have had to endure and the resilience that has engendered- and secondly, neither likes to think of themselves as hindered by affliction. Therefore it is thrown out.

3) Trying to do something related to memory loss will introduce all sorts of retroactive pacing issues. Feedback indicates that pacing is the aspect I struggle with most, and I have no wish for this to turn into a slog. But furthermore, if I were to be accurate to Shadow of the Erdtree's Malenia, there are a number of planned scenes with Maliketh that would absolutely sicken me to write with the new information in context.

4) And perhaps most importantly- Alagos has already managed to destroy Miquella's plans without really intending to by reducing Mohg's corpse to cinders. He likely ruined them twice by convincing Miquella not to cast out his aspect as St. Trina, since she has proven to be of great use in trying to manipulate him. And then thrice by forcing Miquella to invoke his love for Malenia when they argued, making the thought of casting out his love dubious as well. (Perhaps Alagos deserves congratulations for a demolition job so thorough)


Therefore, the approach for Shadow of the Erdtree's material shall be thus: keep the good, erase the bad, and drat the inconsistent. In general, this means that if there is some conflicting piece of dialogue or item description somewhere that contradicts what has been already written here, I am less likely to try and creatively reinterpret it than to reject it entire.

The major specific changes are as follows, and I would advise the reader to stop reading here if they don't wish a list of changes and would rather be surprised-

1) Radahn, Consort of Miquella has been blasted away into oblivion. In fact, the whole vow between Radahn and Miquella has been thrown out. I'm not necessarily averse to Miquella having had a crush on Radahn or something akin to that in their youth, but maybe in this timeline Radagon got to know of it (likely from Maliketh's spying, bless him) and bashed him on the head for contemplating incest. Or perhaps Marika had Maliketh police Radahn's movements, with instructions to appear and 'offer a friendly spar' if it looked like Radahn was getting too chummy with the Empyreans.

As far as False Azure is concerned, General Radahn was no war-crazed maniac obsessed with fighting the greatest battle of his time, and had more than the mental strength necessary to reject any possible brainwashing by Miquella. The Starscourge was simply the proud and mighty defender of his fief who fought valiantly and died for it. He conquered the Stars on account of his own beliefs and philosophies, and other plots had nothing to do with it. Radahn's story ended at the Radahn festival, with the Redmanes singing their song of honour in farewell to a demigod whom even his enemies would consider a living legend.

Malenia going after Radahn did have to do with her brother's plans for godhood, but in a different way.

2) Miquella remains a protagonist, and the entire plot Miquella made for godhood will be erased and redone. Miquella still plots godhood- as was my original intent for the story - but I'll make a more intelligent, less specific and more plausible plot to attain divinity. The present framework I have in mind does involve the Land of Shadow, but has nothing to do with the Rite at Enir-Ilim and is less time-sensitive. It involves Scadutree fragments and invokes the actual Elden Ring. Miquella brainwashing and using Mohg to that end still remains, however, and shall be addressed.

I will also strive for a more nuanced take on godhood rather than the simple idea of it being a prison, or a curse. It certainly can be a prison or a curse if executed poorly and is nigh-impossible to attain, but there is a specific way to gain it which does not necessarily imply control and rule over people, while simultaneously not being a curse upon the god in question. Alagos' humanism will be very important to Miquella's quest for godhood and whether he attains it in the end.

Additionally, the specific method to attain godhood Miquella uses in SotE - that of steadily throwing away his emotions and eventually entire aspects of his being like St. Trina- has also been dismissed. He does so to escape the bindings of the Golden Order, but that isn't the only method of escape.

3) I will continue to portray Marika as a complex character with hands tied in certain places. For instance, I plan to have Messmer's crusade be not entirely without reason. The endless crusade shall still be portrayed as wrong, of course, but not meaningless- it will rather be portrayed as a bad way to solve a genuine problem. UPDATE- After some digging, it seems the crusade was with very good reason, but unfocused and often targeted the innocent aside from the perpetrators. I would consider war the right course of action in those circ*mstances, but the way the war was persecuted is incorrect. Therefore it shall remain unchanged.

4) Well written characters from the Realm of Shadow such as Messmer, Rellana, Gaius, Igon, so on and so forth will be kept in, as part of largely the same context. The war between Messmer's armies and the Hornsent civilisation shall be retained in largely the same context. I might have to erase a few NPCs from the main quest who serve no purpose- for instance Thiollier, as Miquella never separated from St. Trina here. I will, however, make an exception for the characters I find the most interesting, such as Sir Ansbach, even though his raison d'être has largely been addressed already.

5) Most importantly, Malenia remains unchanged. I've accepted that this is not the canon Malenia, and in this universe (unfortunately) Maliketh is not a prophet. I would never want to portray a Malenia who did the same things as the canonical one as the embodiment of victory. In commentary and notes, therefore, if I refer to 'Malenia, Goddess of Victory', or 'Malenia of Victory/Triumph' or something of that ilk, I mean this particular Malenia (whom some might consider whitewashed). And no, this has absolutely nothing to do with Van Hohenheim, why do you ask?

As apology for the non-update, have a bit of background that I couldn't plausibly fit in to the point-of-view narrative in the story as a treat-

"It is an age of grandeur and the brilliance of golden light. Gales and storms tear through the floating cities of the children of Time, and the winds carry the roar of dragon-song.

Music-without-words is the chief weapon of the lords of the skies, and their command of light and lightning has made them a force beyond reckoning. Dragons thrive on timelessness and memory; and great repositories are built through marshalling wind and are studded with gravelstone to remain aloft. Impossible fortresses that intuition would consider liable to fall apart at any moment are the sturdiest battlements in the world as they sit at timelike rest.

From Farum Azula rules the Philosopher-King Placidusax- long regarded the greatest of all his kind, and the closest to divinity. For centuries, the dragons have cultivated humanity as elders, teaching them the ways-that-should-be-known, whilst using their memories to preserve timelessness and song. The Dragonlord's paternalistic faith in the younger folk has rather recently been betrayed. He has taught, for all his ancient years, that fire is to be restrained and commanded, tempered and focused, but his light-clad kin took the lesson too far, and in trying to restrain curiosity, have cultivated the flame of ambition.

Dragons use fire to sate their hunger, but the flame of ambition can only provoke it. Placidusax is no stranger to that flame, but his visitor for the day is unique among Time's children for it burning eternally within him. Sometimes the Dragonlord wonders if Bayle the Eldest and Fatherless was 'incomplete' in some way, his wings wrought before the rest of their shapes were fully realised by the divine. The incarnate of dread may not twist time to his will, but his might is without equal.

To stare into those beady red eyes is to one day invite challenge, but he knows Bayle will not strike at him- not while he has the ear of his god, and they have a mutual foe to face. He has heard the tales of Bayle challenging his own progeny to test their might, and devouring them when they prove lacking. He muses wryly about how the Dragons would have moved to destroy the Drakes' tyrannical father long ago, if it had not been wisest to leave the father alive to control the numbers of his own stock. After all, how mighty could one Drake be in place of a thousand, and a Drake who could not twist time at that?

He is thankful for that choice and reaffirms that wisdom, as the Dragons are at war. If nothing else, Bayle the Dread could be as much of a living calamity to foe as to friend, and the demands war makes of them force compromise.

Permanence duels transience, and change seeks to overcome the status quo. The blue lighthouse may be untouched, but the ancient grey has fallen, as have hundreds of others. Their cities are aflame, and the Dragons cannot douse them, as their fire has been stolen and turned against its masters. The Dragonlord is given to believe it all somehow began with some nondescript record-keeper beneath even the least notice. The alliance against them is threefold- a wyrm from the abyssal depths of the realm of shadow, a scorpion of pestilence to overcome the dragons' timelessness with decay, and the bastard who began it all with theft, now reforged by a God of nightmares into a vessel of crimson ruin.

The lightless wyrm is ambitious. By granting the promise of immediate freewill it seeks to enshrine itself in their humans' faith, while forcing deviation from the ways-that-must-be-known. If only the miserable fools were patient, they would have been granted that with time when they were ready- but humanity have always been an ambitious lot. Bayle licks his lips as the Dragonlord sussurates his thoughts- perhaps he rather likes the taste of them.

The scorpion is entirely mad. It believes its works are art and its decay is a gift. It considers the death it would deliver to be life. The greatest liars are those who deceive themselves, of course, and the scorpion is always sure to present its maledictions of accursed transience as blooms of beauty.

The King is worst of all. It burns what it will because it can, to collect nightmares from kingdom to kingdom in a dance of fiery cataclysm. If it cannot reach the heights the dragons climb, it will contrive some way to drag them down. It is quite fond of the wyrm for its curiosity, but has abandoned the search for truth itself.

Placidusax has fought all three before- with lightning and wind, if not with fire, for the theft has turned flame against them. Bayle was sent a summons as the Dragonlord seeks to pore over the knowledge of one among the few older than he, if it should help them reclaim their sacred gift. Perhaps the oldest of all glimpsed a grain of primordial truth, before he turned his mind from it in his impatience and contempt for the trappings of the world. It is not the case, and the First Drake tells him in his grating, dissonant song that they will need to innovate.

A century passes until the decisive battle comes. The scorpion is ineffective, as all butterflies have been charred by the heat that courses through the air, and there is no ground for flowers. The wyrm betrays the King of Ruin for reasons of its own- perhaps it wishes no part of what it knows is a losing battle, or perhaps it believes it is walking into a trap. And as the former record-keeper fights alone, the Dragonlord strikes.

His solution is to draw on the divinity he can touch, and his scales glow gold as his four heads emit beams of pressurised fire. He notes with some satisfaction that these golden flames of uttermost ruin cannot be turned against him as they burn away the shadows that form the King's cloak. But however fiercely he fights, however often he summons lightning from the skies, the King finds some way of dancing around him. It has stolen wind as well, the Dragonlord understands, and thus for victory's sake the war must end that very day. He puts forth all his ancient cunning, turning himself to thunderclouds to overcome wind, bringing to bear all the light and lightning at his command.

He burns the King. He wounds it and slows its eternal, mocking dance. He nears within sight of victory, but it is dreadful Bayle who strikes the final blow.

Bayle's solution has been to wed fire and lightning, such that his fire cannot be stolen. Hurricanes try to force him from the skies, but such is the strength and hatred of the eldest that he laughs in murderous fury and defies them. Two terrible eruptions of concentrated flame-lightning - in the most horrific show of might Placidusax has ever witnessed - and black winds carry away the cinders of a lord.

The Dragon-king is wise, and sees at once that he has merely traded one nemesis for another."


UPDATE: Moved notes to the end

1) Messmer is cute. I’m entirely serious.

I don’t know why he is cute, how he manages to be so, or why at all he needed to be so, but he is. He’s awfully tragic, but somehow still cute, and has very swiftly become one of my favourite characters. This means I’ll probably write about him being cute later.

Pertaining to this story, Messmer being related to fire and snakes has somehow made chapter 13’s tale about Alagos being related to fire and wyrms very relevant. Completely without intention, I have already acquired a plot bunny related to Messmer’s fire and Alagos, and how Messmer himself can be saved. For, ahem, reasons.

2) Rellana is by far my favourite boss from SoTE. It seems I’ve got quite the weakness for knights in full-plate armour wielding swords with anything approaching a decent level of practicality. I noticed a bit of Godinho in her system of dual-longsword, which is absolutely unprecedented- realistic technique in Elden Ring- and I already love her. That, and… she also probably wants to save Messmer for the same, ahem, reasons. She’ll definitely be appearing whenever I write for Elden Ring.

3) I’ve depicted Miquella and Malenia as having some amount of respect and affection for Marika, on account of Marika’s soreseal and the unspoilt stakes of Marika in the Haligtree. That was completely wrong. I won’t be retroactively editing it away, but when it comes to Miquella in particular, he might… think of her rather differently than Malenia has been shown to think of her.

4) Shadow of the Erdtree turns Dragonlord Placidusax into a bit of an offscreen hero, with the introduction and story of an excellent new boss. I love this new boss on account of how uncomplicatedly evil he is. I feel sad about certain events in this story that were to… happen… to Placidusax now, and am not above changing them. I have already thought up what I feel is a pretty good history for Placidusax and Lord Evil McDreadington here, and shall likely be integrating it when the time comes.

5) I sort of hate the main quest and the final boss. I like neither the story, nor the design, though this is after hastily rushing through the story and only three attempts on the final boss with an awfully cheesy build. There are a bunch of other encounters which I find far more interesting.

I'm not fond of how the main quest reveals that a bunch of people (whom I liked!)just so happen to be complete morons. The running joke about Fluffyketh being the only sane character in this story is… probably no longer a joke. SotE has meant he's definitely toppled Malenia and is now my favourite character (shared with Millicent), at least until I go through the mental gymnastics necessary to try and put Malenia back on top, and he will get a rather large amount of appreciation from me going forward for keeping to his senses. In other stories, he shall likely be given a chance to… do something… about all the idiocy.

Chapter 35: Not flimsy nonsense, but a web of sense


In which Ranni tries to think in five directions at once, fails, somehow manages to rescue her situation by doing so, and miraculously manages to give good advice. Alagos comes to realise that some of the rifts between them were his own fault, and tries with tremendous stubbornness to ignore this.


Note that a MAJOR update detailing the story's direction has been made to the previous chapter. I've come to a verdict and it is written out in detail there. There's also an anecdote about rather an interesting dragon that I just added as a treat.

I'm posting the written chapter early, since I got the impression that quite a few people would like to wash the taste of Shadow of the Erdtree's writing out of their minds.

Chapter Text

Well, here was a rarity.

She had seldom found herself without words before, and never without an assessment- or even the barest awareness- of the next course of action to pursue. Whenever in her bygone youth she had seen something that she lacked the words to describe, she could at the very least isolate a distinct feeling with association to that ‘something’, for later analysis and consideration.

She was the greatest sorcerer ever to have lived. She’d taken the science of flouting the logic of the world to the highest extent it had ever been taken, and she would fancy she had no equal in thinking sideways, for that was the way to milk the most from the gifts of Outer Gods.

After she had seen her cold, dark and entirely mysterious sponsor, it had become her habit to invent terms that she felt were appropriate for phenomena never witnessed before. Her mother had made sure they were accepted as convention in most scholarly circles. The major schools of magic drew their nomenclature from her, and the best textbooks of the very library she sat in quoted definitions penned by her hand.

If she were, however, asked to define- or at all describe regardless of rigour her present circ*mstances- she was certain she would come up with nothing. She hated that as surely as she hated failure.

Chill of the Moon, I am tired.

“And thou cam’st here and claim’d to have mellowed, when thou wouldst ask thine own beloved such a question!” Mother was saying with a distant ringing.

At once, arguments from both sides of the matter began asserting themselves to her before they were made: “How could she expect me to carry out such a sentence if she would not be capable of it herself”, countered by, “The cases are false equivalencies”, followed by “the argument is made for the sake of a general principle which I will never betray”, parried with “matters such as this cannot be subject to rational generalisation”, assailment renewed with “if you advocate more involved discussion, then the question is worth asking whether or not it would hurt her feelings”, and on, and on, so on, so forth.

It almost felt normal, to have her mind churning again with foresight- but the arguments were a distant thing, far in the horizon, beyond the periphery of the current abyss.

Her mother moved to begin the chain, perhaps from the first element or, perhaps the third. Alagos, however, remained completely silent- either ignoring the words, or acknowledging them, reminding her brutally of the size of the abyss.

She had failed. Plainly and simply, she had failed. Whenever she plotted, she made certain never to plot too far ahead. If the chaos she stirred up followed reasonably deterministic patterns, she could engineer dilemmas from which she would always be in a superior position to what she held before. She had foreseen two outcomes- the first, that Alagos stand aside, and his swordsmaster were killed, leaving her free from fears of his terrible vengeance. The second, that he remain adamant, and that her half-sister’s relationship crumbled, after which she would have less to fear from either of them individually, and could tip the scales for one against the other.

She knew Malenia’s thoughts towards Maliketh well enough, as they were her own. It was patently absurd to think that Alagos remain adamant on protecting him, and that Malenia herself would step aside on the matter. Indeed, it remained absurd.

And yet, she faced a third rather terrible situation: that this had not torn them apart.

Alagos had conformed to her line of thought. She would never congratulate herself for her predictions as she appeared to have miscalculated how much his outburst would affect her, and if she were honest, it had felt awful for the heavy sprinkling of undeniable truth it had carried, but it was an outburst all the same. Malenia, however-

There was simply no explanation.

She corrected herself- there was indeed a ready explanation, but it was not rational.

Malenia simply loved her chosen consort that much.

Could an empyrean love a mortal- a plain mortal- quite to that extent, so as to risk their own doom for the sake of that mortal’s wishes? They could love the mortal’s achievements, perhaps, or aid if it were given, but love of the person? Of the self?

It most certainly wouldn’t be rational, but rationality was immaterial: she could readily envision herself engaging in a prolonged bout of irrationality with a companion who did the right things and had interests in the right places and were a joy to converse with and were not Alagos of the west winds- but Malenia?

With her love for and devotion to Miquella, had she even enough left for this… Tarnished?

She sided, as always, with the evidence, however bitter she felt at having to do so. Proceeding forwards, did he deserve even an ounce- no, pointless question, that old bat deserves nothing- ah, yes, was her sister just that foolish?

She was forced to concede that Malenia was not. However much it pained her to admit it, throughout the day’s dialectic, there was only one conversant who had spoken cogently and maintained their composure- and it had not been Ranni herself.

She had known, contrary to her own words, that Alagos could not possibly have tricked her half-sister into a relationship. Therefore, he had done- something- that Malenia found worth courting his affection for.

What could that have been? Did she appreciate that he had put Radahn to rest and released the stars? Did he perchance overcome some assassin, or overwhelm a monster such as Astel had been? Had he made efforts in assisting her in defiance against the Outer God that would claim her-

The thoughts hurt.

She tried to banish them at once, but to her endless frustration failed again, as her treacherously perfect memory recalled for her at that moment that he hadn’t been the worst conversationalist.

She’d loved Blaidd, of course, and Iji- but those centuries whilst her mother slept had been damned lonely. Not that she feared loneliness, of course, as it was to be her ultimate path in life- but informed and erudite discussion had never… hurt. None of her previous champions had quite managed to keep her interest. The warriors were admirable, but much like Blaidd and Iji, admirable from a certain distance. The two that had been gifted with sorcery were more the instinctive sort- those who could see something done and repeat it, satisfying themselves with intuition regarding the precise mechanism of a spell.

There had never quite been someone for the textbooks; never someone who would pore over paper whilst muttering to themselves as she had often done- working through from the first principles to the most advanced approach, breathing in the history of the spells as they were conceived, recognising the demands the epoch made of the sorcerers that wove them, and the philosophies that led their minds in the patterns of visualisation they favoured. And certainly never someone quite so endearingly arrogant as to approach her as often as Alagos had done.

She huffed to herself, and tried to dismiss her own thoughts. She had her mother now, and she was proud that Queen Rennala of Caria was perhaps the only mortal sorcerer who eclipsed that liesmith for ingenuity and creativity- but then again, she would not have been there to fill her days with something to look forward to if Alagos had not-

Tchah, what is with me today?

Clumsy, indeed. Malenia had been right to call her that, she mused ruefully.

She should have done it herself. She knew her mother better than anyone ever had, and Rennala of Caria would have liked nothing better than to overcome an obsession and start plotting her daughter’s triumph alongside her.

She had thought to spare her pain, and had caused more pain as a consequence.

Thinking of the knight that had once served her and served her well took a toll, and she briefly made the gesture for lucidity. Casting staffless, hah. Thou ne’er couldst achieve that.

The thought of Alagos as a companion on her journey into the night sky was laughable, and had always been. In a low moment after she slew her two fingers and the fate they would bind her to, she had once given it serious thought after it became apparent no other Tarnished could rival his achievements in her name, and swiftly resolved never to consider it again.

The arrogance she could live with. The poetry and the obsession with tea were annoying, but bearable. The paranoia and reticence, however- the damned sternness- they were impossible. The mask of dispassion that she could not tell was a mask. The impassivity. The lack of colour, of vibrancy. The pessimism, and the contempt for life at large. That he held to the entire image of a knight-errant marching grimly to fate's drum, that he carried a cloud of doom around him, and that for not even a moment would he drop his constant calculations- much like myself- shut up! - these were intolerable. And, she recalled with a start, he had been a good enough friend for her to be cautious of ruining that friendship with the wrong foot placed forward.

Could puppets suffer a headache? A matter for study later, she supposed. For the time, she spared a few thoughts to the scene at hand.

Mother had made a few attempts to repay her former student for his vituperative assault on their ears, but Alagos seemed transfixed by some distant sorrow, letting the words wash over him to no effect- except, perhaps, to make him sadder still. Eventually, she had been forced to give up, and simply stared at him awkwardly.

“Mother, if thou wouldst acquiesce- pray allow Alagos and I a moment alone. ‘Twould be wisest if thou wert to rest awhile.”

“And leave thee alone to face more barbs o’er yonder?”

Ranni shook her head fondly and sadly, hat flopping to the side. “Thou hast no need to protect me, mother. The wind hath left its lord, and the fire with it. We have… matters to discuss with the cold of reason, and I feel this is best done alone.”

Mother gave her one final, uncertain glance - answered with a manufactured sigh - and left slowly through the grand ebony doorway.

“I am sorry.” she heard, the moment her mother was out of earshot. She found it curious how Alagos had the skill in observation to know precisely when she would be out of earshot. “I ought to have begged, ought I not?”

When he fell silent afterwards, she prodded him to continue. “I know thee well enough to recognise a rhetorical question.”

His thin lips quirked up in a familiar, ghastly gesture. She had seen him smile before, but his smile would become a horrible thing if those sharp, stormy eyes had no part in it.

“I ought to have come here and fallen at thy feet. Prostrated myself and claim’d thee for my sovereign and liege. Promised thee the world, my life, and all that I can give. Perhaps then thou wouldst be convinced of my sincerity, and our daughter would yet live.”

Ah. That.

She would never admit here that she did not truthfully think of it as one of her proudest moments.

“Thy loyalty would still have been to her, and not to me. I could ne’er trust an oath made o’er that matter.” she said, with a shake of her head. “And thou wouldst not have given me all that thou canst give. If I had, for instance, stipulated that thou slay Maliketh-“

“Gurranq!” he hissed in sudden fervour, before forcing calm upon himself. “And nay. I could only promise thee what I can give, and his life is not mine to give. If thou hadst wished mine after Millicent were cured, such that thou wouldst have naught to fear from me, then I would have granted it, and gladly. I would have sworn an oath ‘neath the shade of thy Dark Moon, if that would satisfy thee.”

“Thy death would be meaningless.” she told him. ‘Thou’rt nothing’ had been on the tip of her tongue, but for reasons she felt too tired to examine, it died there.

Was there anything he could have promised her? Not the Age of Stars, as that would require his teacher’s death. Not his fealty, as only his daughter could have it. She was attacked by a niggling thought- that she had had nothing to lose from curing that Millicent. Baring metaphorical teeth, she attacked it.

“Thou planned for thy daughter to become Elden Lord, didst thou not?”

He stared at her as though she were insane. “I would lie if I claim’d that would not please me, and do honour to what I perceive as my legacy- but I did not ‘plan’ for my Millicent to do aught at all beyond what she wished for herself. Thou knowest me well in that I may have suggested the idea of lordship- many a time, in fact, as I knew not another more suited to the role- and she would have possessed strength enough for it had she a few more years ‘neath my wing. My dear girl, however, wished no part of lordship. The one matter that lay in her mind was her mother’s wellbeing, and if not that, her legacy. I had wished for her to be more selfish.”

She felt tired beyond belief, and could not muster the energy to project where that past would have led them.

“And if I acquiesced, wherefore thence?”

“Thence? My Malenia hale and restored, our Millie safe and in our embrace, and us here. In thy debt. Inclined to the uttermost to consider thy suggestions with a benevolent eye. Prepared to fulfil nigh on any compact thou couldst present. The events of today, but with myself in praise of thy generosity. A plan to counteract Gurranq should he attempt such utmost foolishness as to oppose us. That is what thou wouldst have thence.

“And no Age of Stars still, I am compelled to note.”

“Thine Age of Stars is dead!” Alagos growled dangerously. “Dead at thine own hand. Would that thou hadst another Tarnished to bring it about, whether by force of argument or arms- but thou wouldst ne’er have it even while I abode in thy service. I slew them all, as thou said, by sorcery or deceit. Now, thou might continue to believe that ‘twas for the flame of ambition burnt bright in my breast- the breast of thy knight who ne’er wished for lordship and craved only knowledge, and set aside his aspirations for the sake of thy cause- or thou might at last understand that I did it for necessity. And this hath naught to do with the present, for even without thine Age of Stars, thou wouldst lay claim to an eminently better position than thou holdest now.”

She would not let him leave it aside. “Thy words hold no water. Mayhap I could have lied to thee, and told thee thou wert irreplaceable until thou brought the duties I handed thee to completion, only to cast thee aside afterwards.”

“And I would have bloody well appreciated that!” the Tarnished snarled. “Lie or treedamned truth. Thou made not the slightest effort to convince me that I was needed, or wanted. Thou ne’er once told me what thou thought of my methods, only that they would do. Thou ne’er made the least attempt to guide me, when I came to thee for knowledge. Thou simply- thou wouldst do little more than order me about, thine errand-boy, pausing only to tell me when thou wouldst brook no disobedience in some matter or other drivel of that ilk, until the work was an illness, and I a husk too tired to parse thine every word as thou expected of me-“

She had begun preparing a reprisal from the moment he spoke, but halfway through discarding it in favour of another, she noticed a crucial insight- that she felt too exhausted to go on in that way. She could chart the cleverest course forwards for herself, and inevitably fail when her confused thoughts drove her to one impulsive response on reflex.

Ah, night save me. I might as well let fly with a blind experiment, then.

“Mine apologies.”

He fell silent. She saw- not without some amusem*nt- that he was mulling over the words to detect deceit, or sarcasm, or anything else aside from the sincere, blasé fatigue the phrase had been infused with.

The experiment had worked almost too well. Alagos’ expression was the most- well, expressive she had ever seen from him: blank shock at the unprecedented, and not even the least attempt to veil it.

“’Twas mine error, in my choice not to answer thy letters and aid thy daughter.”

Her former knight seemed to be in incredible pain with every word she spoke, what with the interesting shapes his lips were forming. Conversely, she found that for her own (likely utterly stupid) reasons, the tiredness that had sunk to her soul was steadily lifting with each one. She’d never cared much for his feelings, of course, and so continued, as she might as well aid her own.

“I acted without evidence in hand, and struck a great sorrow unto thy soul. I wished no part of the change that had come upon thee when thou sieged Leyndell, but I should have sought thee out and understood thine actions then, for thou wast still in my service. I could not believe that thou couldst have healed from meeting Dea- Gurranq, of all creatures thou couldst have met, and did not take the steps to affirm my disbelief.”

He held up a hand, and stared at her with rather a nasty expression.

“I am… sorry…” he murmured, grinding his teeth, “that I was overmastered by rage, and did not consult with thee on the matter of reprisal after the armies of Morgott ambushed me in my rest at Volcano Manor. I should not have disappeared from thy side, even if I did not present thee thy ring. I should not have departed without explanation, for in so doing I insulted our friendship.”

So he, too, had decided to try her little experiment, she realised with the barest vestigial remnant of a fondness she did not know she had kept. She sniffed before realising she had done so.

“If thou wast by wrath overmastered, bitterness must have taken me. I feared if I agreed to meet thee, thou wouldst bring Death- but I could have made with thee a contract of exchange through a projection, and hidden my mother if thou refused. I failed to make the effort, through my distrust of thee, and strayed from the right path forward on account of my bitterness toward what thou denied me.”

“I should have mustered the courage to meet thee in person, instead of writing to thee. I should have apologised for the burning ruin I made of Leyndell, for all the paltry good that would do, to assure thee of my healing. I failed in my duty to my daughter, for I did not wish to face thee.”

Stars’ sake, this was stupid, and she felt horrible for realising that she needed it.

“For all thou didst in my service, I should have let thee see more of myself. I should have taken a deeper interest in thee, and sought on mine end to preserve our friendship. I am- I-“ - accursed sniff- “I am terribly sorry I made thee feel unwelcome, or unwanted, or expendable, or- or a tool to be discarded in any way, and I should have known better as I myself was in danger of being rendered a puppet-“

“And I should have been a kinder friend. A better friend, who stood at thy side when thou needed it, who enquired of thy mind when thou wouldst not reveal it. I should not have hidden for fear of showing weakness that I sought thy guidance, or thine approval, or in some ways thy companionship. I should have revealed more of my deductions to Iji- mayhap then he might yet live- or spent more time in discussion of his nature with Blaidd. I should have made a greater effort to understand what thou meant by ‘fear, doubt, loneliness’; and what thou truly sought for thine Age of Stars. I should not have rested so assured of my knowledge, and so afraid to have it challenged.”

“Nay. Nay- ‘twas not thy fault- I ne’er should have claimed confidence where I lacked for it, or shown grandeur in place of friendship, or pretended to infallibility where-“

“Hells, Ranni, any more and you might just kill me from the sheer shock of it all!” he said, and there was a laugh hidden in that voice somewhere.

The puppet could smile- Pidia had been good for that, at the very least- and she let it show one. She noticed that Alagos had changed dialects again- ‘from the sheer shock of it all’, she presumed. Part of her wanted to keep it this way, as his diatribe had been in her own form of speech and it hurt, but-

“I prefer when thou form speech in mine own tongue.” she said, hiding a smile. It was very curious how his cadence and tone would adapt fluidly to the dialect he employed and the person he spoke to. With her, he would speak more slowly, more carefully and somehow more evocatively than he typically did, and she had often found it amusing to watch him consider words and taste them on his tongue before he said them, as he’d picked up the habit from her.

Alagos almost smiled before he forced it down- but there it was, the softening of his eyes- and was that a dilution of their colour- which told her that the smile was truly meant.

“Thou command and I obey, highness.” he quipped, as he would in some rare moments of sarcasm when he had served her.

The fog over her mind had cleared, and here she was again- here she sat, with a friend she could not stand, who had once again gone in over his head and done something foolish. It was time to chide him for it, she supposed, or there was no knowing what nonsense he would next get up to.

It took two hours. He’d somehow grown prodigiously evasive in his absence, and she found herself taking tips. She learnt that in the twenty years he had been gone, there had been some remarkable developments in magic- a way to blend certainty and faith, to meld sorcery and incantation that he and that insufferable old turtle in her mother’s favourite church had invented- and it almost made her regret paying no attention when Radagon had gone around trying to teach his children of miracles, and how to bring them about. She justified it to herself by remembering that Radahn had always paid the closest attention, but never was any good at it.

Radahn filled his head with meat, though. I could have done better.

I could have done better.

I can do better.

She would. She would do better.

“Alagos.” she said, stopping him in the midst of a rather strange tale about a Death Rite Bird, “I know I cannot hand thee recompense for the years we wasted, or for the life that was taken from thee. I can, however, grant thee what thou wishest most dearly now.”

Quite the miracle, how his face grew guarded at once. She’d taught him well.

“And thy stipulations on the matter, as well as recompense for aid granted?”

She smiled, finding herself strangely happy to make the gesture. “Naught. I am choosing to hold higher ground than thee, and trust to thy goodwill. As thou say’st, the Age of Stars is a distant dream by the errors of our past, but that doth not mean I could seek some more comfort from the age that is to come for Mother and I.”

He murmured something under his breath about hating it when she looked smug. She knew he was well aware that she’d hear it.

“I only ask that thou extend us the same guarantee- that should Death come to claim us, thou wouldst stand in his way.”

A huff. A huff so prolonged that he must have deliberately breathed in for it.

“Praytell how thou wouldst supply me with the knowledge to cure Malenia?”

“Communion.” she whispered nonchalantly, as though it were the easiest thing in the world. His eyes widened almost comically, before he realised he needed to preserve his reputation as the reticent and self-contained sage.

“I suppose the Dark Moon is less inclined to falsehoods than most other Outer Gods. My time here remindeth me that it would rather hand out truths that would make one crave nepenthe- but wouldst thou truly go that far for us, who have insulted ye?”

“And why not go so far?” Ranni asked, as though it were the most natural thing to do. “The Moon would not dispose of its own herald. Furthermore, there is little enough for me to do in these lands, save going into the night sky. I do not, as I wish to keep my mother company. Wouldst thou not consider it a rational thought to have those who would rule the Lands Between in my debt?”

“Ah.” Alagos allowed. “Rational indeed. I knew not how I missed thee, Ranni. Why I insist on nostalgia for thy devious smile eludeth me, of course…”

The Lunar Princess pondered between a huff, a giggle, and a flourishing inhale, only to settle for an awkward gargle. “And I thee, with thine absurd tales and still more absurd mind.” She placed one of her four arms on his shoulder, and was surprised to see that he did not flinch, as was his usual instinct.

“Go to her.” she urged her old friend, with what she felt reasonably certain was a pat. “I am certain she resteth somewhere in these gardens, perchance having flayed some poor beast that crossed her path. Go forth and give her the apology that is hers by right, and the duel she would have from thee after the cruelty of thy words, and when thou’rt suitably maimed and bruised thou might heal thyself and make amends. Then ye had best remain afar from here while I prepare for communion, for I wish no part of ye lovebirds’ lunacy.”

“Ranni, thou knowest me well, I imagine- or hast thou forgotten me in all my time away? What sort of person dost thou take me for, to think I might engage in-“

“A fool in love.” she provided helpfully. Chastised, Alagos left, dragging his feet somewhat reluctantly until she sent a biting little wind at them to hurry him along.

She, too, was an Empyrean, after all. She may not have her battle-obsessed half-sister’s altogether undeserved skill at intuiting invasive truths, but with her mind cleared from endless plans for the future, she could see that much with a well-nigh insulting clarity.

False Azure in the Windowpane - Tulak_Hord (2024)


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