OT: The Centre Cannot Hold

on December 7, 2014 in Other Tales


Author’s Note: I apologize for the lack of update on Friday. I thought I was ready to do three updates in a week again, but it was a lot more of a struggle than I’d expected. Anyway, this story was written by request of zeel, who wanted to know more about the incursions from invaders beyond the sky. This was a hard story to write as a short story because the subject is necessarily an epic one, so it’s more of a historical account than anything, but now that the details have been more threshed out, some of the seeds introduced here may be followed up on or expanded in the future.


To anyone who against my intentions may be reading this letter:

I apologize for the length of this missive. I cannot hope that you will read it at all, but if you have read this far, it would be better for the world if you were to continue reading. I must do everything in my power to prevent you from reading the other materials you found this with, though if you are reading this letter then I am in no position to stop you from doing so. It would be better for the world if you would not do so until you have read and comprehended this letter in its entirety.

Not counting truly celestial phenomena like comets and temporary effects born of earthly magic, there are generally held to be four sorts of lights in the sky.

There is the sun, of course, as well as the moon. These are the most notable two. The two lighted disks that slide along the roof of the world give illumination to daytime and remind the nocturnal world that light exists. The sun marks the days, the night marks the months, though neither of them did a good enough job for humanity, who eventually found their own measurements to use. The sun and the moon are similar enough that they might have been considered of a single type, but the differences between them are too significant to be overlooked.

The third type of lights are the stars, twinkling gems that studded the crystalline sphere that kept chaos out and existence in. The continuous slow rotation of the spherical enclosure created an interesting effect for careful observers from the ground of making most of the stars appear to change position over time, in a predictable way.

Then there are the planets.

No one in the world knows exactly what they were, though the same could broadly be said of everything connected to the celestial sphere. Theories abound among philosophers, theologians, and thaumatologists alike.

Planets look like stars, though careful observation reveals them to be a bit brighter, a bit steadier in their glow, and circular rather than many-pointed. They do not twinkle, they simply shine. They do not move with the rotation of the sphere but instead move against it in long, slow, looping spirals, like stars that had gotten a bit drunk and were now staggering through the crowd in as close to a straight line as could be managed.

As the most obvious difference between them and stars, their movements are the source of their name: planet. Wanderer. The elves called them “wandering stars”, though the regularity of their cycles over time meant they aren’t exactly wandering.

As with all things cyclical in the heavens, the planets found some use in augury, even though no one is quite sure what the source of their influence might be.

At very points in history and on the globe, individual planets have been associated by mortals with particular gods. No actual such connection has ever been observed, though, and as transportation and communication magic made the world smaller, it quickly became apparent that different cultures had invented conflicting claims.

Planetary correspondences are still important pieces of religious symbolism, but few who study the matter see them as literal. Modern Khersianity doesn’t even concern itself with planets at all. They aren’t exactly forbidden or anathema, but simply unacknowledged.

It’s the inability to catalogue or categorize planets beyond saying they are planets that many people find disquieting after studying them for any length of time.

They are there, always there, always in plain sight but often overlooked by casual stargazers. They are regular enough to base calendars around them. They are one of the most regular natural phenomenon in the world, in fact.

And yet, there is something almost inherently anomalous about them that cannot be denied. Even the gods say little about them, and while there are few enough subjects on which the gods will simply hand out information, their silence on a visible feature of the celestial sphere is something that has quietly worried many theologians over the years.

For all their power to disquiet, though, I have always found planets to be fascinating, which is what led me to my interest in the fifth sort of light, the so-called fixed star Malbus.

Normal stars are often said to be fixed in terms of their distance and position relative to each other. They all move with the motion of the heavens, but it is same motion everywhere and they keep their positions in the grand scheme of things.

Malbus is fixed in relation to the world’s surface. The sky turns; it remains where it is.

It is not wholly unique in this regard. If the sky may be conceived of as being a pair of domes joined around the equator, then stars sufficiently near the top of either dome do not appear to move much against the backdrop of the heavenly firmament. This is a fact that has been known to sailors and other navigators even before the general motion of the heavenly firmament was apprehended. The ancients called these stars “pole stars” due to the belief that they were affixed to the otherwise intangible pole the world turned on… this, of course, being long before it was demonstrated that the world is immobile beneath a constantly turning sky.

Malbus, however, is far nearer to the equator than either of the two so-called polar regions. It is easily mistaken for a planet when one first notices a bright light that did not move with the other stars, and many early human astronomers who wrote of it contended that it was a planet, albeit one whose cycle was either extremely small or whose looping circuits were imperceptibly small.

Closer observation with more powerful spells and more sensitive instruments reveals that it does not move at all. It also lacks the smooth, round outline of a planet, and yet its jagged edges do not twinkle as do stars.

While human astronomers have often relied on elven records to learn more about their “discoveries”… for if there is nothing new under the sun, there is even less original work to be done in the area of the unchanging firmament… it seems there is little to be found on the subject of the jagged, motionless planet or frozen star. The elves did not write or speak of it, though a few long-lived ones have been known to say that though they do not speak of it any more, they once knew it as “the evil star” .

Putative etymologies for Malbus have connected it to the Draconic “malus“, though most reputable scholars deny any connection, instead pointing to a largely unknown alchemist of the Old Empire said to have been the first human to set foot on the floating island located directly below the fixed light, part of a small chain of such islands that shares the light’s name, as the Malbus Islands.

Lower Malbus, as the first and largest island is called, is the only known floating island low enough to be partially immersed in the ocean. From its surface or that of the ocean, it appears in every respect to be an ordinary terrestrial island, like any outcropping of rock or coral that juts from the sea.

It was in fact inhabited for three centuries before anyone could prove it was a floating island like its four brethren above, the hovering earth-motes known collectively as Upper Malbus.

The four, evenly spaced vertically at intervals of about a mile and a half, slowly rotated in the skies over Lower Malbus, completing a circuit in the space of a year. Each was named for the cardinal compass point they occupied in relation to each other at the winter solstice: North Malbus, East Malbus, South Malbus, and West Malbus.

Despite being located under what is universally regarded as a star of the illest possible omen (even if it was not, in fact, a star), Lower Malbus became an important shipping hub for the Old Empire for three reasons.

One is that it was extremely easy to locate from both the northern and southern hemispheres. The second is that it was located at the confluence of multiple powerful ocean currents. The third is that the area around it has always been unusually free of serpents, kraken, sea devils, and the other usual hazards of the ocean trade.

These three qualities turned what might have been a crazed alchemist’s solitary retreat into one of the more important outposts of a globe-spanning empire. Then the Old Empire retreated back to the Mother Isles, the patterns of trade moved from north-south to east-west, the transoceanic traffic moved from the seas to the skies, and the islands of Malbus diminished in importance.

The Malbus Islands never had an agrarian culture to begin with, and it is doubtful that its limited land mass could fully feed its population. The seas around the lowest island are as barren of fish as they are of monsters. When it occupied an essential part of an empire’s trade networks, reasonably fresh food was plentiful enough. These days the ships that bring food to Malbus are imperial subsidies sent out of obligation, the constellation of floating islands a drain on the imperial purse more than any sort of economic boon.

Many wonder why the Mother City… not a power known for its sentimentality or a long memory concerning debts it owes rather than ones owed to it… has not simply pulled back from the island entirely, evacuating its inhabitants or leaving them to their own devices. Many former holdings have been granted their “independence” from the imperial yoke at exactly the moment the mines petered out or the borders became too expensive to keep secure.

Yet Malbus is not only still held under the imperial aegis, it is supplied with food and garrisoned, even though its strategic value evaporated as its trade value did.

There is a noted wizards’ tower on the uppermost island, the one called West Malbus, in which some secretive work was carried out on behalf of the Unnameable Emperor. Whether the work of what is prosaically termed the West Malbus Centre for Arcane Inquiry is valuable enough to be worth the expense put into maintaining the whole economy of the island system is hard for outsiders to say because it is secret, but in the absence of any earth-shaking magical advances coming out of the empire it seems hard to imagine how the answer could be yes.

The truth is known to few people outside the tower and the emperor himself. What is generally known to those who studied history is that while Malbus has been an imperial holding for more than a thousand years, its rise to prominence was interrupted. It went through two periods of flowering, each followed by a decline.

Many supposed that its first decline some five hundred years ago must have been much like its current one, brought about by shifting realities of politics and trade. The empire did in fact go through a period of brief global decline around the same time that Malbus had gone through its first troubled period, with its continental holdings growing in prominence as its hold on its overseas ones slipped.

What people outside the rarefied circles do not know is that the empire’s troubles abroad were the result of Malbus’s fall, and not the cause of it. It was the loss of a convenient midway point, the safe harbor in the middle of otherwise hostile seas, that caused trade to suffer and far-flung military endeavors to falter as the movement of troops and orders came to a sudden halt.

And it was a sudden halt. While remembered as a decline and imagined as a gradual tapering process, the truth is it was far more dramatic: Old Malbus was wiped out in a single fortnight. In the space of two weeks, every building on the islands had been destroyed, and most of the inhabitants killed.

The empire and the world have forgotten, but the emperor remembers. The Unnameable Emperor and his trusted servants in the West Malbus Centre are the only living… or I should say, extant… soul in the world who know the true nature of Malbus, the anomalous light in the sky. They are the only ones outside of a few dragons who know what it truly portends.

It is generally believed by those who study the nature of reality that the firmament, the crystalline dome of the sky, was created in order to separate the world from the chaos from which it had been formed.

While the nature of chaos is such that it can randomly give rise to structure, it will also tear it down, and in fact, the odds were such that it will do so swiftly. A stable, permanent structure is completely at odds with the nature of chaos.

It is also generally known that the churning chaos beyond the firmament houses its own inhabitants, though it cannot be said whether they are semi-stable patterns that randomly arise from it, the lords and creators of the chaos, or mere travelers passing through it as the gods had been before they found and shaped the world.

The original inhabitants of the world, the beings that clinging to it when the gods found it and closed it off… if that was indeed what happened… were such creatures of chaos. They were largely dealt with, though accounts differed as to how, by whom, and how completely.

Chaos being chaos, it cannot be said that the slimy, tentacled, and many-mouthed horrors that typified the chaotic beings of the dawning ages of the world are in any way typical of the creatures that live beyond the dome. If the creatures of chaos have any observable trait in common, it would be only the resentment for the order imposed on even a tiny corner of their cosmos by the crystalline dome.

There have been many incursions into the world by beings of chaos recorded over the millennia, though only a handful of these involved direct breaches of the dome. In every such case recorded, this breach was initiated by a mishap or intentional action by chaotic nihilists on our side of the dome.

The nature of the firmament’s exterior is in many ways even more unknowable than the nature of its interior, but its construction seems flawless in one regard: no matter how the forces of chaos may wish to tear it down, they have never in recorded history succeeded in opening even the tiniest crack in the sky from the outside.

This is what history tells us.

In unrecorded history, there has been one breach that did not originate on the inside. The dread pseudostar Malbus, the anomalous light in the sky, does not only resemble a flaw in the perfection of the heavenly firmament. It is one.

It is not quite a crack in the sky, but something worse: a bit of chaos intruding into the world. The wizards of the tower have studied it for centuries, trying to determine if it can be somehow repaired or removed

What progress they have made into that and what they have learned about the nature of the firmament, the chaos outside, and the jagged light that bridges them is not known to anyone outside the closed circle between the wizards and the Unnameable Emperor, though I can say that there has been very little.

Regardless of the ongoing failure to heal the flaw, the other purpose of the Centre for Arcane Inquiry ensures that the Malbus Islands will not be forgotten on the imperial lists: it is the Centre’s first duty to monitor the flaw for any change, any sign that it is about to become active again.

It was only the presence of the wizards and a garrison of imperial dragonriders that saved the world before, the first time that Malbus yawned open and chaos poured through.

When the sky is intact… or relatively so, given the constant presence of Malbus within it… the distance between it and the skin of the world is immeasurable and uncrossable. It is always far.

When the sky is damaged, the enchantment that keeps the distance so unfathomable weakens to the point that sufficiently powerful beings… including great dragons and mortals who have attained levels of might suitable for the epics of old… can reach it.

The worse the damage, the lower the bar for traversing the air between ground and sky becomes. During the near-global cracking at the height of the crisis that heralded the start of the Chaos Wars, ordinary airships of the time could reach the roof with little difficulty.

The opening of Malbus had not been so immediately dire, but it had weakened the binding enough that the lesser dragons used as mounts by the aerial elite of the imperial garrison were able to fly up and engage with the five-limbed invaders who first trickled and then poured through while the wizards worked to end the incursion.

The early battles were spaced out by days, then hours. Monstrosities emerged one at a time, and then in small groups, and finally as a steady, unending stream of horror. The war was fought in the water, on the surface of the islands, in the air in between them, and on the dome of the sky itself.

Malbus being a center for trade and transportation in those days, there were a large number of adventurers in port or on ships headed to or from the lower island at any given time, including when the sky over it opened up. If not for their heroic assistance, the battle would likely have been lost.

As I indicated before, each wave of invaders that has ever penetrated the sky has differed from the previous ones. Those who slipped out through Malbus became known as star-beasts, both because of their point of origin and because many of them bore some resemblance to monstrous starfish. Some were more insectile, some bore a greater resemblance to humanoids, but they all had a radial arrangement of five limbs.

As with every incursion of chaotic beings going back to the original infestation of the world, not all the star-beasts were contained and destroyed. Giant five-winged wasps made landfall and set up nests in at least three continents. Monstrous starfish slithered away along the inside of the dome and were dealt with by the defenders of other lands.

The bulk of the star-beasts focused their attention on the lands immediately beneath their point of origin, which is how the invasion was able to be contained and then stopped, albeit at a great cost.

When the breach was sealed and the last of the star-beast hordes in the area slain, the survivors realized that their victory was likely to be temporary. While the portal the star-beasts had entered through was no more, the jagged point of light that been its seed was still there.

If there had been any precipitating event or sign of warning before the first star-beast… a hovering five-headed, dragon-like being resembling a hydra with no limbs beyond its necks… had come through, none had noticed it. If there had been any chance to close the aperture before it had widened enough to allow passage, no one had seen it.

In the time of mundane chaos that followed for the empire, establishing contact with the Mother City proved difficult for the surviving defenders, but they did so, taking great care to ensure that the tale of what had happened did not spread beyond those who needed to hear it to open the doors to the emperor himself.

They feared what might happen if the deluded mortal servants of chaos abroad in the world learned the true nature of Malbus.

The Unnameable Emperor saw the wisdom of this, and though it rocked his weakened empire further, he ordered the erasure of all who had heard the story along the way.

All the heroic adventurers who had given their lives defending the very world from destruction… which, per the emperor’s orders, was all the heroic adventurers who had participated in the battle… were given the empire’s highest secret award, the now forever ironically named Dark Star.

The remaining soldiers and wizards formed the basis of what is now known as the West Malbus Centre for Arcane Inquiry. They… we… are the only ones outside of the emperor himself who know the truth both behind the continued existence of the imperial colony on Malbus and the weakening of the Grand Empire of the Mother Isles as a global power, the shift that ultimately resulted in it going from being known as the Empire to the Old Empire, in contrast with the so-called Imperial Republic across the sea.

The world continues to change, though. The Old Empire shrinks ever further in on itself, and every year, the Unnameable Emperor must find himself in a less enviable position when it comes time to allot imperial funds to the supply and upkeep of this ill-starred island nation.

True, his power is absolute, but even an absolute ruler must pick his battles if he does not wish to be constantly crushing challenges to his power. It might be that he will yield to his advisors on the Malbus question in order to avoid a challenge that could end his rule.

It is tempting to think that whatever the emperor ultimately decides to do with regard to our corner of the realm, he’ll make some provision for the continuation of our mission and the defense of the world. But history suggests that when emperors are backed into corners, they often respond by pretending that they aren’t. I fear that if the Unnameable One turns his back on Malbus, he will do so all the way.

It is treason to say this, of course, but it is treason to write these words at all. I do so with no intention that they should ever be read. It is the only way I can write them; we are, all of us, en-geased against revealing the history of Malbus, the truth of our inquiries, or our ultimate purpose here.

The world moves on, though, and we cannot as the dark star above us remain a fixed point as it moves on around us. Rumors swirl all around us about the possible withdrawal of imperial support. If that should happen, we might find ourselves left to our own devices, or under the thumb of Magisteria or some other emerging power.

It is even possible we will be driven out, though you can be assured we will resist that most strenuously.

Though, if any mortal eyes read these words, it will mean that our resistance has failed.

I have no intention that any eyes will ever read these words. I am only able to write these words because I have no intention that they will be read. If you are reading them, then I am dead and the tower has fallen. The geas that prevents me from communicating this information will compel me to fight to the death to prevent them from being read, which owing to the location in which they are concealed is the same as fighting to the death to protect the tower, something that I and all my brethren would do anyway.

So if you are reading this, you are either a nihilist already intent on opening Malbus again, in which case this information can do no more harm, or you are the more-or-less innocent inheritor of the Malbus Islands, in which case it is imperative that you know what it is you have inherited.

You may be guilty of my death, you may be unwittingly complicit in imperiling the entire order of natural existence, but none of that matters.

What matters is that you keep the trust. If the Centre cannot hold, someone must. If you are reading this, then the fate of the world is now on your shoulders. Malbus has not opened in the centuries since the original tower became the Centre, but in that time it has not been quiet. There have been seven flare-ups, seven times the aperture began to form. Most of those times, we were able to disrupt it before anything escaped into our world. Each time, we were able to prevent a full-fledged incursion.

If you do not have the power and resources to hold the islands and world secure, then I urge you: give them to someone who can. And either way, tell the world what you know. Let all the ordered nations of the world be your allies rather than potential enemies to fight you over five hunks of levitating stone.

If we could tell the world, we would. The danger that the forces of chaos might take advantage of the knowledge pales in comparison to the danger of the knowledge being lost.

I hope that in destroying us, you did not completely obliterate our work, because you are going to need it.

Due to the nature of the geas and my own preference to remain alive and in defense of the world, that is the closest I can come to wishing you luck.

I (no longer) remain,
Alador Cervasis, Magister, Third Degree, WMCAI


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39 Responses to “OT: The Centre Cannot Hold”

  1. MaraGratia says:

    Oh, my. Doom and doom. I love the natural philosophy of this world.

    Current score: 2
  2. Readaholic says:

    Ooh, Lovecraftian 5-limbed horrors? Or something of Ms Erin’s fertile imagination? Hints abound that Embries may know something of this malefic anomaly. Mack’s Grandmother may also know something, given her ability to duel the Red Dragon to a standstill.

    Current score: 3
    • zeel says:

      I would be more interested in what Callahan might know.

      Current score: 8
      • Order of Chaos says:

        She has seen of the giants more times than others knew they had tried to come back.

        Current score: 2
        • Nocker says:

          Between all those giant incursions, chaos breaches, and an occasional army of demons mentioned in Vol. 1, it seems like the world is constantly under attack, and that the number and frequency of threats is increasing as well.

          Between all that I’m both a bit amazed things are as lenient as they are. The idea that someone like Pala can just walk around a college campus and learn to fight BETTER is insane, since she explicitly is going to go home and take that knowledge with her. Shit, even Mackenzie is probably pushing it. The idea that chaos spawn like goblinoids are also given that kind of leeway is also kind of noteworthy.

          It seems like the more we learn about nonhumans, the more retarded the concept of Harlowe and it’s students becomes.

          Current score: 0
          • Corven says:

            Uh… dude, no one ever said, to the best of my memory, that the “monster races” like giants, goblins, etc are “chaos spawn”. They are not the “deluded mortal servants of chaos” mentioned in the text. I think this refers to Doomsday Cultist an their ilk. And in this world, darkness does not mean evil and evil does not mean (necessarily) chaotic.
            At least that’s what I take away from this.
            You are of course free to disagree. 😉

            Current score: 7
          • Burnsidhe says:

            Goblins, Kobolds, Ogres, etc, they’re all part of the natural order of things in the MUverse.

            They are, as another poster said, NOT chaos-spawn. That’s an idea from Games Workshop’s “Warhammer” and similar settings. This isn’t one of those settings.

            Chaos-spawn is stuff from completely outside the natural order. Five-limbed starbeasts. Gibbering amorphous masses. Crystalline entities whose idea of a properly ordered universe involves turning reality into a six-dimensional construct and stringing living matter about like ribbons to decorate. The truly unknowable. Think Call of Cthulhu, and then you’ll have an understanding of what chaos-spawn are like.

            Current score: 3
  3. zeel says:

    Yay! I love that “floating islands” is the least interesting part of this. So was any of this in mind when Malbus was mentioned previously?

    http://www.talesofmu.com/other/her-imperial-majesty
    http://www.talesofmu.com/other/his-imperial-majesty

    Looks like they are withdrawing from Malbus, and that the IRM isn’t going to be picking it up. Which means that things could get. . . interesting soon.

    Please tell me Mackenzies cruise isn’t going anywhere near it at least (no idea on the geography here).

    Current score: 1
  4. Thinker of Thoughts says:

    Darn, now I want to know more. And on the subject of individuals who might know more, I believe that Mack’s half brother may have been an airman during the the incursion, given his semi immortality and potential physical proximity to the roof if not the actual events. I don’t seem to recall how old he is/was, oh well. On the other hand that brings to mind once again the other half-demons we have encountered and their potential longevity (and tangentially their relation to the university). I wonder when Mack will learn of her half siblings and any other half-demon students from MU.

    Current score: 0
    • zeel says:

      I think he is two (?) Years older than Mackenzie. Not nearly old enough.

      Current score: 2
      • zeel says:

        Well she was definitely 18 when she has Mackenzie. But I don’t see any reference to her actual age with him. I’m guessing she was between 13 and 16 the first time, which would mean Aiden is 2-5 years older than Mackenzie. Can anyone else remember a concrete age for Laurel Ann at the time?

        Current score: 0
    • Burnsidhe says:

      Is Aidan Mack’s half brother? I thought he was her older brother, adopted by a different branch of the family before Mack was born, instead of letting him go to ‘Brimstone’ Blaize.

      Current score: 1
      • zeel says:

        Full brother, born before Laurel Ann was of age. Her mother wouldn’t let her keep him, so he was adopted by one of her father’s air force buddies. Mackenzie was born when she was 18, so she left home so she could keep her. The Man was the father of both of them.

        Current score: 4
    • Nocker says:

      I think you’re looking in the wrong place.

      Lulu II and her sisters were shipped off by the mother isle to an “institution” that’d recently gained independance and new owners. That was 40-50 years ago and the independance thing was relativley recent, right around the time Malbus gained independance. Shipping four half demons into that garrison is exactly the kind of boon they need and one the emperor doesn’t need to give huge fanfare for.

      But then, the new owners sent the whole group of them away to someone who makes no bones of their casualty rate or plans, essentially off to die or go from protecting the world to endangering it. They apparently shut the whole place down.

      Something smells rotten here. I’d bet good money somebody is playing with fire, and not the demonic kind.

      Current score: 2
  5. Arancaytar says:

    This sounds pretty scary, especially given that it seems closely contemporary to the main story (Magisteria is a relatively young nation, iirc).

    The Unnameable Emperor saw the wisdom of this, and though it rocked his weakened empire further, he ordered the erasure of all who had heard the story along the way.

    The Emperor Protects.

    Does this undead/immortal emperor and the chaos incursion thing give off a Warhammer 40k vibe for anyone else?

    Current score: 1
    • Oni says:

      The vibe has always been there, intentional or not.

      Current score: 1
  6. Thinker of Thoughts says:

    I would also love to see a picture/drawing of the islands, the description gave me enough to get a vague idea of what it looks like but the details are still a bit fuzzy.

    Current score: 0
  7. The0Antagonist says:

    What a truly terrifying letter to find in the ruins of a wizards tower.

    Current score: 1
  8. Iain says:

    Demonstrated how?

    Current score: 0
  9. Glenn says:

    Malbus was discussed in the story, His Imperial Majesty.
    As the Ambassador of the Old Emperor told the Emperor of the Imperial Republic,

    “The matter of Malbusian independence… as it’s being characterized in the press… is really a strictly internal matter of the Mother City,” Reese said carefully. “It is more a matter of reorganization… of clarification, really, of our duties and obligations to each other… than a substantive change in our relationship to Malbus, or our claims in the area.”

    “This has been conveyed to us many times,” Magisterion said.

    “Indeed? Well, I do not wish to overstate the case or give the appearance of greater importance than exists… but it must be understood that any overly aggressive act in response to a perceived vacuum created by the appearance of a withdrawal from the island of Malbus of our imperial aegis may be seen by certain factions within the Mother City as a hostile act against our empire.”

    In other words, Malbus gets formal independence, but the Old Empire doesn’t want the Imperial Republic to intervene there. Hopefully, the mention of “…our duties and obligations to each other…” means the Old Empire will continue to supply the Centre
    with the resources it needs.

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Ya, I spent half the chapter trying to figure out where I had heard the name “Malbus” before. Finally realized what it was though, and I left a comment up there about it too. . . But apparently links, even internal ones, trigger a spam filter so “Your comment is awaiting moderation.”

      To quote myself:

      Yay! I love that “floating islands” is the least interesting part of this. So was any of this in mind when Malbus was mentioned previously?
      [URL Snip]
      [URL Snip]
      Looks like they are withdrawing from Malbus, and that the IRM isn’t going to be picking it up. Which means that things could get. . . interesting soon.
      Please tell me Mackenzies cruise isn’t going anywhere near it at least (no idea on the geography here).

      Current score: 0
    • Nocker says:

      Sounds like a desperate plea more than anything in this context.

      “We’re sending our creepiest motherfucker over to drop a bunch of cryptic hints and say that this totally-isn’t-important-but-really-it-is, so please for the love of god start investigating and figure things out.”

      If it was as minor as they’d claimed they’d have just sent a minor and more agreeable official to meet with another official. But Reese is a peer to the emperor and in his undead circle and thus “in the know”. For him to blatantly lie about so odd a case is enough to trip up a whole lot of red flags on it’s own.

      The only real issue is that the Emperor was a total git too obsessed with politness to actually think about the words being said.

      The Centre isn’t being supplied properly. Because the Centre, as I’ve mentioned, has visibly hemmoraged at least a few high level and hard to replace assets and enough of the Old Empire’s forces are pulling out that everyone can see it.

      The fact that we’re even reading this presumably means that the Magus who wrote it is dead along with every other known defender, save perhaps for the one lone slave who probably won’t last long or stay coherent.

      Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        That is an interesting interpretation. For old BOB it may seem like a good move to provoke the IRM into taking Malbus, since being in a similar political and military position as the US IRL, the IRM would be the best option for its defense.

        Though why they wouldn’t just be direct about it I don’t know. It’s important – but I guess political BS is far more important than the fate of the world.

        That or they really don’t want the IRM to take Malbus, but there playing it like idiots.

        Current score: 0
        • Nocker says:

          Remember that the word “Geas” came up. It’s possible that they physically could not tell them directly and just being conspicuous about what they couldn’t say was all they could manage. Because unlike draconic will, geas apparently has such workarounds.

          Reese was making a big show about wisdom of the past and totally-nothing-going-on at Malbus. Anyone with a good lore library and a few guards could tell you the place was signifigant in at least a few ways, since even sentient monsters stay the fuck away from the place.

          Current score: 0
          • zeel says:

            That would make sense if he was a representative from Malbus itself – trying to lure the IRM into taking over, but he was an ambassador from the Mother Isles. Thus it makes little sense that he would be in a position to know this information, be under a geas, and care enough to try to subvert it. Since he isn’t actually directly affected by the affairs of Malbus himself, I don’t see why he would bother subverting the will of the emperor on this matter.

            It’s certainly a possibility, but it seems more likely that the Old Empire is trying to push the IRM toward Malbus without losing face politically.

            Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              I think you misread the point. They want to but they can’t say outright. If not a Geas then something similar is stopping him.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              No, I get the point. That’s what is happening in this OT. But in the previous the character in question would really have no reason to care enough to attempt to circumvent a geas. Though this line certainly supports your case:

              “His Imperial Majesty the Unnameable One has not empowered me to speak officially on matters pertaining to Malbus. Honestly, I doubt the issue is important enough for him to have even thought much on it.”

              It just seems out of character with the rest of the things Reese says – why would this slimy creep care about Malbus? What is his personal interest in the matter?

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Another thought though, on a Meta level – His Imperial Majesty was written two years before Magisterius University and the Methods of Obstinancy (The chapter that first references the incursions from beyond the dome). Over a year and a half later this chapter is written at my request.

              What are the chances that any of this was planned out over three years ago? The fact is that Reese was probably not written with the intent you describe simply because he probably wasn’t written with this whole concept in mind at all. Future chapters may reveal that you are correct about Reese – but I would say that is more likely a soft retcon than a long term plan.

              Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              Pretty darn well I’d say. Malbus is already connected to Mercy’s comings and goings and this OT fills a couple of holes in that particular story pretty neatly. While the concept was probably altered a bit Malbus strikes me as one of those things that was always going to be important one way or another.

              Of course, the only way Mackenzie herself can find any of this out is to circumvent a geas in some way. But transferring information directly from one brain to another is kind of the Owl Turtle’s whole thing, so all he really needs to do is go to one dreaming half demon and overlay the information onto another.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              Wait, how is Mercy related to Malbus? I don’t remember that. . .
              Edit:
              Okay so Mercy found her new “pets”:

              “On some little speck of rock off the coast of the Mother Isle…”

              Is that what you’re going on? Or is there someplace that identifies said speck of rock as Malbus?

              Current score: 0
            • Nocker says:

              “…On some little speck of rock off the coast of the Mother Isle… all the males of the litter were put down when they turned, but the bitches were shipped off to an institution. There were more of them, but sadly, only the ones who could be fed the most easily were kept… anyway, the island’s got a new proconsul who wanted the place shut down, and so I found myself with four bitches for my breeding program…”

              They were shipped from an island to another island where power recently changed hands. I don’t know what Proconsul entails but in history classes and KDR it seems to be equivalent to a governer or representative reporting to the empire.

              This of course depends on a whole bunch of things given the nature of proconsul, the Malbus break, and the nature of the person speaking it. The Empire could still keep it’s former territories in a kind of commonwealth situation similar to real life Britian, where Malbus is mostly self governed and uses it’s own currency, but still has ties to it’s former master(making this particular proconsul more equivalent to governer-general). Or it could be a clean break and Mercy is just referring to the actual independant leader in that fashion because they’re either assumed a puppet or not a native to a land who’s only inhabitants are mostly from the Empire anyway.

              Personally I’m more inclined to believe that there’s more of a commonwealth situation going on. The cultural paralells to real life are self evident, and the way Reese defined their relationship is reminiscent of this. It’s also more convenient in regards to the Empire itself since while Malbus is totally independant on paper they still get to appoint at least one major government official who can keep tabs on things and report back without raising suspicion. I’d also expect that it appeals to the Emperor, who gets to still claim at least some form of “ownership” over the territory without needing to be responsible for it.

              I could be totally off and the place is never named, but AE never really bothered with a detailed map that’s been released(and the one she did in MS paint shows that the isles aren’t just two big british style ones, but a chain of eight smaller masses). However, the dates and events line up well enough that I’m willing to bet money that there’s a connection there.

              Current score: 0
            • To throw a bit of clarification into the comments because I know the concrete geography is lacking: I was trying to portray Malbus as being an equatorial trade hub useful for being smack dab in the middle of the Old Empire’s trade routes at the height of its power. If it were “off the coast of the Mother Isles”, those would be some short trade routes. It would also almost necessarily mean that the barren/cursed waters around Malbus are the waters of the Mother Isles, or at least one of them.

              I mean, you could say Japan is off the coast of North America or Cuba is off the coast of Africa if you wanted to stretch a point, but that’s not typically how someone would describe the location of an island in the middle of open ocean.

              Current score: 2
          • zeel says:

            I think you’re reaching too much. The dates only line up so well because this stuff is happening contemporary to the MU storyline. The more important dates to look at are the publishing dates of the chapters. Your theory assumes that all those hints were dropped intentionally.

            I’m not saying it isn’t possible, or that the continuity couldn’t be retroactive. . . but it just seems like a stretch. This isn’t a mystery novel.

            Many readers tend to treat this story like some vast elaborate epic – a collection of deeply interwoven plot threads that will eventually come together and be tied up in a neat little bow. But I really doubt that, I think it’s far more likely that a bunch of things happen, and some of them happen to Mackenzie, and some of them don’t affect her or anyone she knows.

            Mercy, Callahan, Embris, The Man, Grandma Blaze, the ROTT, Acantha, [that elvin history teacher whose name I can’t spell], Malbus, Hydra squad, and others – are all quite interesting and mysterious. But while some are connected, most are only connected by Mackenzie, and most not even that. I don’t know why everyone is treating it like some kind of crazy conspiracy.

            Current score: 1
            • Nocker says:

              I think of it less as an epic and more as a web of events that are building to various other events in the future.

              A few months ago the idea of Callahan and The Man cutting a deal would have been laughed off, but guess what happened? Or Acantha and the man if the phrasing is as commonly accepted? Or Acantha and Emberies? Shit, Callahan and Mercy have their own relationship well before Mackenzie or her mother were even born. Martha met Emberies before this and she also fought the forces of chaos in the war seperate from Hydra squad doing something mysterious out in the shift.

              Things really are connected in the most ridiculous and uncanny ways sometimes in the MUniverse. We don’t usually see it in the main story because Mackenzie is kind of resistant to such concepts and she’s kind of shielded from it at the university, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there because people that aren’t her do their own digging and find things when they do. Even if it’s sometimes retroactive that doesn’t mean there aren’t plates that have been juggled for a really long period of time without us getting the reveal.

              Remember it took something like two YEARS from Aiden’s name first coming up to Dan actually appearing in a story. Feejee was one of the very first characters introduced but the whole mermaid deal didn’t really become prominent until like halfway until volume 1(and for that matter, Leda didn’t do all that much until she raped Steff and then died). Mike Gregory took about a year to appear in the main story. Ridiculously long payoffs years later are practically what the story is built on. While the story has always mocked the idea of Checkov’s gun, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t used it more than once.

              Current score: 0
            • zeel says:

              But how many of those things (if any) were planned that way? Most such plot elements tie together because AE’s fantastic world building leaves so many possible plot threads laying around. So when something new comes up there is all kinds of material waiting to be used – which is brilliant writing, not deep scheming.

              The problem is that if you look back on a chapter and notice something new in light of a new chapter, the new detail probably exists only retroactively. Either because AE went back to it for reference on the new chapter, or because you as a reader are reaching for continuity.

              So is Reese trying to goad the IRM into taking an interest in Malbus? Maybe, maybe the whole thing with the geas was written in here to make that link. Or maybe AE had/will have the same idea and run with it. Or maybe he’s just a slimy politician.

              My point is that retroactive continuity is a crapshoot, we can’t necessarily assign motives to a character that was written over three years ago until those motives are made more clear. If the next OT involves Reese talking circles around Malbus again then it’s all but confirmed. Otherwise it’s just as likely that he knows nothing about it at all.

              On an unrelated note: Dude, we are way obsessed. How many times have you read through this whole story? I feel like I only started noticing your comments recently, but you have clearly immersed yourself in the lore.
              Anyway. . .

              I think of it less as an epic and more as a web of events that are building to various other events in the future.

              That’s one way of putting it.

              Current score: 2
          • Nocker says:

            Eh, yes and no. On one hand I don’t doubt AE just threw some stuff in there and it stuck. On the other there’s no doubt in my mind she has a big fat word document somewhere in her hard drive to keep consistency.

            But yeah, I’ve probably gone through the story more than a dozen times over the years cumulativley, though most of it through checking one thread or another at a time or only in hunks.

            Current score: 0
  10. zeel says:

    So by Word Of God:
    Mercy’s demons are from Malbus – Jossed
    AE plans this stuff in advance – To a greater degree than I expected, but no master document.
    This is an epic universe – Mackenzie is not the hero of said epic

    Current score: 1
  11. Burnsidhe says:

    I think I finally figured out part of what’s going on there.

    Ambassador Reese was pointing out, not so subtly, that Malbus was a weak spot in the Old Empire’s holdings. If the New Imperium wants to ‘poke’ at the Old Empire politically speaking, Malbus would be the place to do it.

    The deeper game is that the Old Emperor does NOT want to lose hold of Malbus. But he’s under pressure from his advisors and the shrinking holdings of the Old Empire, to cut costs and withdraw from the Floating Isles. If there were an invasion, or something that he could justify as being an aggressive move, he could then keep funding Malbus as a matter of national pride and power, thus silencing his opposition on the matter.

    Current score: 1