Okay, you guys have to let me know what you think of this chapter in the comments section. While it was easy to write it was very difficult to edit. That’s mostly because it gets deeply philosophical in some areas and I had trouble smoothing that out. I needed to get my point across without losing you guys and I hope I did it right. Either way, let me know in the comments section. Maybe I can fix it before it goes public on Saturday.
Chapter Nine: People of Shadow
A calm controlled wind plucked the finished tome from Valerian’s hand and placed it neatly back on its shelf. Elder Richard was busy making preparations for his training and attunement. Between lessons with Elder Allard and Uncle Richard, not mention his own frustrating attempts at attunement, the study was his only refuge and even here, he had weights to bend his neck.
Taking only a single sip of his medicinal tea, he pulled another tome from the stack in front of him. The books were old and the leather that bound them had grown stiff from age and disuse. However, the answers he sought lay within them and Valerian was resolved to go through them all in search of what he wanted.
These texts were an overly philosophical account of an ancient Bathan civil war. According to the author, there were two forces, one dark, the other light and they fought for control over the kingdom. The war resulted in victory for the light but the dark was not destroyed. Not because the light was incapable of this but rather due to the interference of the Emperor of Newhaven himself. “No force can rule on its own”, the imperial figure had argued. “One cannot have light without darkness or darkness without light and any who believe otherwise lead the way to folly. Without balance, all things crumble.”
He bid the victors bind their foes instead. To leash them and make use of their might. “Scary though the shadows maybe, scarier still is the darkness in which all is hidden and though the light can be bright and harsh, more frightening still is light which blinds and robs all sight.”
With this to guide him, the Lord of the Light, now King of Bathar agreed. The powers of the dark were shattered but many of their elements were allowed to remain only under strict supervision from their light masters. What better way to keep an eye on them? What better way to use them? Why rule only the light when you had the chance to rule both?
Thus were born several clandestine and not so clandestine guilds like The Shadowed Daggers and The Royal Shadow Guard respectively. Forces of the dark, leashed by the light.
That was also the sum of what Valerian could understand. The books were difficult to read through. The language of the text was very antiquated and the author made several analogies that, frankly, made no sense to him. More annoying still were the portions where the author rambled on, seemingly without direction as she tried to make some arguments on ethical issues he had never heard off. She was exceedingly philosophical and spent half the book rambling about the concepts of light and dark. Valerian was ashamed to admit that, for all his vaunted intelligence, most of it went over his head.
Even so, he read on. Somewhere in these notes was the information he needed, information on the Shadowed Daggers. It was in one of these very tomes that he had learnt a bit of their history that had enabled him to identify Pugio for what he was. He was younger back then and he’d not bothered to read too much into the text or to even persist past the first book.
Hearing familiar footsteps, Valerian’s head a popped out from behind the book he was reading. For a split second, he hesitated, unsure whether to hide his activities or not. He’d gone past the stage where he needed the old man’s approval for everything he did. However, their relationship was damaged enough. He did not want any more fights if he could help it. Even so, he did not move. The pitter-patter of feet grew closer but Valerian carried on as if without a care.
He wasn’t looking for a confrontation. Valerian just did not want to hide anymore.
His grandfather popped into the study with a large smile on his face. “Ah, Valerian! I was told you were here”, he said throwing his arms open. “What are you reading?”
Valerian turned to face him, even tilting the book so he could see the symbols on the cover.
The old man went still for a second. His eyes immediately went to a recessed bookcase on the eastern wall. The fact that the bookcase was visible and no longer sealed away by an array was proof enough.
He continued to stand still for few more moments, his eyes flickering from the bookcase to the stack on the desk, to the tome in his grandson’s hands. Valerian watched him, wondering just how this would play out.
“You know, even when I had Jonas hide these books, I figured you would find them eventually”, his grandfather asserted. “I was even thinking of putting them back on the shelves. You are obviously old and wise enough to read them.”
Valerian stared the man wondering how much of that was actually true. Despite having learned a lot from the man or perhaps because of it, he was acutely aware of precisely how good his grandfather was at this. Tone, volume, diction, expression, demeanour, the man was a master. He could have you eating out of his hand or dancing to his tune. There were times he let things slip but those were few and far between.
“Tell me, though” he began. “When did you actually discover the hidden shelves?”
Valerian smiled and answered. “I was nine. Jonas had just begun teaching me how to recognise and analyse arrays. Imagine my surprise when I got a positive when practising in the study. It was months before I could finally take it apart and put it back together without issue”
“You were practising in the study?” the old man asked with his eyebrows raised.
“Sorry, grandfather!” Valerian quickly answered.
The old magistrate walked over and grabbed a tome from the stack in front of Valerian. Dusting it off, he said, “This is not light reading. Are you looking for something in particular?”
“I need information on the shadowed daggers. Now that I have one in my life, I figured it was best to learn everything I could. I remember that they were mentioned in the first book of this series so…” Valerian explained, raising the book in his hand at the end.
“Ah, yes!” His grandfather said in understanding “Your pet dagger. I meant to talk to you about that.”
“Still”, he added. “I doubt these books will help with that. They only speak of the daggers in passing. The series is a treatise on the nature of light and dark using The Bringers of Death and the Bathan Light/Dark War as a case study.”
“I’m beginning to see that”, Valerian admitted. “The more I read, the more this Agrippa character tries to confuse me.”
“I’m not surprised. You do not have any foundation in the field”, his grandfather pointed out. “Let’s see if I can help.”
Clearing his throat he took a seat and began. “The concept of darkness described here is probably nothing you are familiar with. Here the dark is the mire that men who indulge in vice sink to. It is not evil like in common parlance. Good and Evil are false concepts. They do not exist. There is virtue and there is vice. Many confuse these with something they are not but the truth is they are wholly unconnected to good or evil. To be virtuous is to uplift oneself. To practice vice is to indulge oneself. The two are not disparate either. It is very easy to practise virtue to the point of vice or to follow vice to the altar of virtue.
“For example, justice so easily becomes judgement and love, obsession depending on the individual just as easily as the hate of something can become the love of its opposite depending on the focus and direction”, he tried to explain.
“The light is the standard of holding oneself to virtue. The dark is the line crossed when we sink into our desires. The Bringers of Death begun as a religious sect that sought the meaning of life. They concluded that the purpose of life is death and so they sought to bring that to the world. Their cause was virtuous in a sense. Doubly so if you consider the fact that their founders wielded concepts of deliverance.”
“Deliverance?” Valerian asked.
“There’s a lot more than the elements out there, Valerian”, his grandfather revealed. “There are the aspects, the orders, and like I mentioned earlier, there is virtue and there is vice.”
“Wait! Virtue and vice are laws?” Valerian asked in shock. This entire time, he thought his grandfather was giving one of his philosophical lectures. Instead, they were actually discussing world laws, the very things cultivators pursued.
“Laws, paths, daos, ways, truths. Call them what you want!” the old man said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Virtue and vice are not so much laws as they are categories of laws. Deliverance, for instance, is a virtue. It has another name: Saving!”
“Saving? As in saving people? The Bringers were killing people to save them?” Valerian asked incredulously.
“That’s the thing”, the magistrate exclaimed excitedly. “So deep was their belief and so staunch their faith in their ideal that they practised their bizarre ways and remained in the light. Over time, the slaughter, bloodlust and death adherence took over and they fell to vice. It really is an almost perfect example of the relation between virtue and vice.
“For as long as they killed for the sake of saving, The Bringers of Death were virtuous. They were of the light. As their ideology changed, becoming more pessimistic and death centred and as their members grew to enjoy the killings they fell to vice and became the darkness of Bathar!” The magistrate said. “That is the entire reason I studied them in the first place. It is the reason why these books are in the study. For me, it is an exercise in intent.”
“Good and Evil are objective concepts and to me and all like me, that is the reason they are wrong, why they will never be proven. Good and evil are propositions some religious folk band around but where are they? Virtue, we know. Vice, we know! They are classes of the laws that govern Verre and its people. Good and evil? Show me their paths!” he stated animatedly.
Calming himself down, he continued “Morality is subjective. It is wholly dependent on the individual and his intent. Everyone has a choice. You either bind yourself to virtue and become an instrument of the light or indulge in vice and be shadowed by darkness.”
“And the Shadowed Daggers?” Valerian asked pulling the conversation to what he really needed.
“The Shadowed Daggers were an elite faction in the bringers”, the old man answered. “At the time they called themselves The Blades of The Reaper. After the war, the few blades that remained were subjugated by King Nungtadel I. They were then reconstituted as a new order pledged to the service of the kingdom as The Shadowed Daggers of Bathar.”
He stroked his beard with a wry smile before adding, “Of course, that proved to be a bad choice a few generations down the line but that depends on who you ask.”
“Why?” his grandson asked curiously. “What happened?”
The magistrate smiled and leaned forward, “No one is quite sure what King Nungtadel I was thinking when he created the group but his successors made the mistake of thinking that being bound to the service of Bathar was in fact, service to the royal family. They were very wrong!” The magistrate revealed. “That is what the Shadow Guard are for. The Daggers, they are markedly different. For what I am told, the Shadowed Daggers interpret their directive as service to the entirety of Bathar. While they work in the shadows, protecting the kingdom and furthering its interests, they serve quite literally as well.”
“The Shadowed Daggers will serve anyone so long as the person is Bathan and someone they approve of, as you well know. Beyond that, they allow every Bathan who can afford it to purchase their services. You find daggers in service to individuals ranging from the King himself to a seamstress in an overlooked village.
“As much as I want to chastise you right now for gaining the service of one even I admit that the daggers are dangerous but only to their targets. However, it is never a wise decision to involve yourself in Bathar’s underworld. There’s is a lot out there besides the shadow daggers”, Valerian’s grandfather warned. “Remember that while they have become very dominant due to their official backing, they are the not the only successors to the Bringers of Death, many of which detest the daggers and other betrayers with a passion.”
“Having a dagger at your side might seem like a boon but when other cultists start attacking you because of that connection you might rethink that”, he pointed out. “Also, the daggers practise a custom called sharpening. It is based on the belief that one blade sharpens another. As such, it is not uncommon for lords to match their blades against each other for sport or otherwise. The daggers themselves condone and even promote this. They do it all the time in their homes and are pleased when their lords engage in it as well.”
“Just be mindful, it is not only the dagger that fights” he added worriedly. “There are times that the lords are the ones that do the fighting. This is very important because whilst a daggers fighting can be seen as a competition and self-improvement. Fights between dagger masters are all about standing. If you lose significantly, do not be surprised when your dagger either leaves on its own or is taken away by a senior.
“No dagger will cut short its path by following a weak master he said, unknowingly quoting Pugio.
“I see”, Valerian told him. Clapping a hand to his head, he continued. “I knew this would get complicated just not how complicated. What do you suggest I do grandfather? Pugio is not going to go away and when he is done with his final assignment everyone will know that I have a dagger serving under me.”
His grandfather leaned back in his seat reaching for his beard again, “Well, you could…”
“Valerian!” his grandmother called as she entered the study, interrupting the ongoing discussion. The two had been cooped in the room for hours. “Elder Allard will be coming soon. You better go prepare yourself for your training.”
Valerian looked at the time and excused himself. The gaunt elder was very demanding. It would be best if he went ahead and got something to eat before the man came.
“Thank you, grandfather”, he said with a small grin as he left. “You have been of great help.”
The old man smiled back, saying, “Always, Valerian! It is what I’m here for.”
Clara watched the exchange with warmth. It was nice to see the two of them together like old times. She couldn’t help but be happy that their relationship was on the mend. In spite of this, she cast this warmth aside as soon as Valerian left.
“I thought you said that you were going to speak with him about the O’be?” she said advancing on her husband furiously.
“I intended to!” The magistrate argued.
“Then, what happened?” his wife asked.
“I-I..I…” he stammered as he searched for an answer.
“Oh, Valan!” Clare said with an exasperated sigh. “You know how important this is. We can’t postpone this any longer. Valerian is not far from the Lord tier. You know what has to happen when he breaks through.”
“The first blood rite”, Valan answered in a sombre tone.
“Yes!” his wife affirmed. “We have to prepare him for it. Valerian’s life is at stake!”
“I know. I know!” her husband relented. “I’ll do it. Vorm will be coming home in a couple of days. The two of us will handle this together.” Seeing his wife getting ready to argue, he quickly added. “It will be better that way. It will be easier for him to see what it means to carry the curse and what it means to have the blessing. Besides, I do not exactly have the qualifications to demonstrate the capabilities of our lineage do I?”
“Make sure you do it!” she told him. “If you don’t, I will!”
“Don’t worry, I will!” Valan assured her. “Vorm to fill him in on what to expect for his first blood rite as well.”
Having placated her, he quickly went to one of the walls of the study and began checking its protections.
“What are you doing?” his wife asked with a curious tone.
“Thanking my luck”, he said with a sigh.
“Valerian found some of my more… esoteric books. The ones I pulled from the library precisely because I did not want him poking his nose in them. Thankfully, it appears that ‘solving the study’s secret’ was enough to satisfy him and prevent him from looking deeper.”
“Valan?” his wife called questioningly. “What’s behind that wall?”
“It is just some files from before”, he said in a bid to play it off.
“Define before”, she demanded.
“Before, before.” he told her. “Back before I left the dark.”
“You mean back when you were a shadow broker!” she realised in outrage. “You mean to tell me you keep your blackmail material here!”
“It is not blackmail material. It is mostly just business records and personnel files, I promise.”
“How long has this been here?” she asked angrily.
“Since my old office burned down”, her husband said, trying to explain.
“Don’t worry!” he tried assuring her. “No one knows! You know me, I made sure of it. To add to that, no one can access these files but me. In fact, I am switching the protections to their highest defensive settings as we speak!”
Sadly, she was having none of it. “I can’t believe you. You brought that stuff to our house Valan! To our home! If any of them find out…”
“No one will find out Clara”, her husband asserted.
“That’s not the point, Valan!:” she yelled at him. “You lied! You’ve been keeping this secret this whole time…”
Valerian pushed off the wall, leaving the old couple to argue in peace. It took a bit longer to reorient himself due to the effort it had needed to listen in this time but he felt it was worth it.
‘Wasn’t that interesting?’ he asked himself as he made his way back to his courtyard.
How was it? A lot of stuff was discussed in this chapter. I assured you that it will all make sense eventually. For example, I dropped a couple of new terms today; concepts, vice, virtue, light, dark, aspects, orders. Well, some of that should have come already. The cosmology of Verre is something I’ve put a lot of thought in. If you have access to the lore packet on the elements/attributes/laws you’ll see I’ve updated the listings to include the new information. Take your time and go through it again. Maybe you’ll get some clues.
I’m also adding a new lore packet for patrons. This one has the complete ranking system (it goes past everything we have so far). It is also a cheat sheet. You’ll find attached some short notes. They are very important and explain the peculiarities of the ranks to those who can figure them out.
Let me know if you have any guesses.
Now, here’s a quick question. How many of you remember the O’be? They’ve come up quite frequently in this series and every book has at least one small reference to them. If you remember who they are or anything about them, why not let us know in the comment section? They are finally going to become relevant and here’s a bit of a spoiler. They are very important!