A Celebration of Lesser Evils 3.9 (Marginalia & Apocrypha)

“1 The priests of the false gods came to the sanctuary at Chema where Merca also resided, and in time there came a festival day. 

2 And so the priests all levied a new tax upon the people, saying ‘From the rich, a mark of silver or three bushels of grain, and from the poor a mark of gold or six bushels of grain.’

3 And so the people of Chema suffered at the tax and wailed aloud at the collectors, but had no recourse.

4 And Merca, seeing this, was greatly incensed.

5 It came to pass that on the day of the festival the priests secluded themselves in the temple, crying that none but the chosen may enter.

6 And so Merca took up a stave of iron and cried back to them, ‘I too have been chosen by the divine,’ but the priests did not let her in.

7 And so Merca battered down the doors of the temple to see the festival. 

8 And there was a celebration of lesser evils and all manner of sins, for while men outside starved the priests ate of good bread and honey and wine.

9 The men dressed as women; the women as men; and all of them defiled the temple and made it unfit for the sight of the Godhead.

10 Merca yelled aloud, ‘Have you no shame, you false priests? Have you no honor?’

11 ‘Take all your honey, and give it to the men who are ill; take all your bread, and give it to the men who are ailing.’

12 ‘Give back to the men you have taken from, and then twofold for your crime, for you have turned the place you ought to call divine into the dwelling of sin.’

13 And again, she yelled, ‘Unclean, unclean, unclean,’ and struck the head priest with her stave and drove them from the temple, and the people went in and rejoiced.”

– The Book of Charity, Chapter 3:1-13


In a forest cultivated for this very purpose, a crocuta emerges from its cage into the dawn, still muzzled. It gnashes its teeth where it the leather is weakest and whines. It is an animal, but it is not a stupid animal. It knows of the strange two-legged ones, and their thunderous weapons, their sharpened tools, their traps and their tricks. The forest gives it cover from the howling of their hunting dogs and the sharp eyes which carry deadly aim and ammunition, and it bounds, leaps into the underbrush, deeper and deeper.

The hunters think they are the masters of the forest because they have set its boundaries, because they have captured the prey once before, because they have even planted some of its trees and provided deer to its limited constraints. But they are not its masters – they have not even begun to comprehend that the forest was here before the first tree grew, that the wild was always and still is here and alive and totally untamable.

The crocuta finds a stray sturdy branch, and it knows what has to be done. It puts the muzzle to the branch and leverages it, leverages it even though it bites into its skin, leverages it so that the weak leather breaks open and splits and the muzzle comes free, free at last.

Bleeding at the mouth, the crocuta giggles, and roars, and runs wildly into the morning.


“A note on grammar from the authors: upon traveling in Koletya, you may encounter some people who use the word kyeke in place of nye. This is a peculiar distinction found mostly in those from Perasef, or further along in Darea who speak a similar tongue. Where nye of course means ‘you,’ kyeke is more difficult to translate, serving the same function but only used when referring to one’s social lessers. There is no exact translation to Agoran for this word. 

While one may find this peculiar trait endearing or even useful in communicating your position, I must greatly advise against the use of the word kyeke unless one knows that they are in the company that would appreciate it, and only then when it is befitting of the situation. In most dialects of Kolet, kyeke is not only archaic but an outright insult.”

The whistling in the air, the sound of a flail hammering straight into the skull shortly before a blade in the neck – that was what Khatya heard before she had no head. She hates being decapitated. Once one of her cousins tried it as a joke, and she was out of commission for a week. These witch hunters – these petty little children, as she thinks of them, even though she is only about twenty years their senior – had bested her, knocked her head clean off and dragged her insensate body into the tenement. 

She knew this was going to be the end, in all likelihood. No point in not trying a few last tricks. 

– Berali Semtya, A Comprehensive Manual on The Matter of Sorcery


Somehow, no one noticed Mr. Allatsha’s wife sneak away in the middle of the party except for a maid. A silver coin is exchanged for a silence; a small price for the pleasure’s of their locked garden.



Democratists: 39 seats

Telyanists: 20 seats

General Sepulcherite Party: 13 seats

Darean Union Party: 12 seats

Sereya Front: 10 seats

Peyakya Front 7 Seats

Independent – Regional: 19

Below is a ledger of all senate seats for this year…”


There ought to have been songs for work – that was something that was always done in the old days. A song for rigging the ships, a song for harvesting the wheat, a song for clearing the trees. There is no such song for this labor. 

The task was brutal in its simplicity, and immense in the effort: to dig a divet in the frozen earth to the temple, to drain away the shimmering liquid metal within. They had brought with them the heaviest of furs and the thickest of clothes and still here beneath the ever-setting, never-setting sun they find themselves chilled to the bone. This clime is not for the Dareans or even the ungovernable Mnar who sometimes encroached on it with their reindeer. All the laws of man and god do not apply here and even the sun’s chariot has stopped in place to observe their toil, sure as the overseers. It is a distant and cold white dot in the gray-blue sky, unwilling to give any comfort to the blasted heath. 

Half the gunpowder was too wet to use by the time they had arrived. That meant that the first thing to be done was the clearing of the forests, what little they were, scraggly ancient trees that had borne hundreds of rings in their lifetimes and now made the foundations of their crude shelters and held apart the divet. Through the frozen earth they dig with picks and shovels and muscle.

And of course in the toil they die. Old men first, bodies shriveling with icy blue extremities. They cannot be buried properly – their grave is where they fall, and the other workers step over them, more worried of the same fate befalling them than any of them if they were to stop moving. Rebellion and escape are pointless. Any such effort would only see a slow death at the hands of the wind and the aching cold or else the wild animals that stalked the tundra or else starvation. 

Reinforcements come. Slaves, peasants and serfs all, willing and unwilling, all put to the task of the cruel eyes of the overseer, the hideous crouched nude figures watching from afar who seem to revel in their decay, and cruelest of all the scribe. Every day the command comes down, and every day it is met with silent reservation, a stoic knowledge that there is no other way of things and if there was it would surely kill them.

Some still think that this mission is their salvation – their communion with I-Atshe. A young man grabs the pick of a dead man and drives it into the wicked, forsaken earth. And day by day and week by week, the divet widens.


“The curse and the hex are perhaps the broadest and most dense variety of focus, and so they are often misunderstood by the novice. This is primarily because the hex and the curse are not so much any one form of focus, but rather a broadened descriptor of what a focus does and the process of its creation. A wand may curse, a bowl may curse, even a carved stone may curse, and so on and so forth. Also unhelpful is the fact that this definition is highly varied upon the matter of culture. So, I will first note the varieties and distinctions that I have come across in my studies and travel, and then elaborate on a unified definition for the purposes of this book.

Firstly, in the classical treatise on the matter Jīrmet (Kol. Curses – often translated into modern Agoran as Śiarmet), a curse is taken solely as a focus which is the product of great hatred or will against an enemy. In its original meaning, this was also broadened to include the invocation of devils to do one’s bidding, though most of the treatise focuses on the matter of sorcerous curses. The resulting foci from such concentrated emotion are invariably unpleasant in their effects. Scant historical accounts describe The Scourge’s harrowing campaign against the Sur involving a standing stone being made into a great focus and being laid with the bones of men to send a curse of storms on the land. The Horned Lords of the Sur were said to be adept sorcerers, but none were a match for the Immortal, and so the Sur were thoroughly wiped out to later be replaced by the Kolets. 

Later treatises on the matter of curses would make mention of the superstition of contamination – that the mere presence of a curse-focus in the workshop could trigger strong emotions and hence contaminate other foci in the process of being refined. In my personal experience I have not encountered this, but I also have not made a great many curses. 

These treatises also make mention of the hex – from the Agoran ehecso, meaning ‘fold.’ The hex is a specific kind of focus that may be laid in a place far from the owner to create an effect, accessed through a container of some kind that is tied to the primary focus. The hex proper receives its mana through a reservoir of charged mercury, human bone, or a representative bowl or coffer which could store the mana therein. Since these are quite often made with malintent, it is often that they are conflated with curses, though the two are technically separate.

Fittingly enough, the first specialist in this field I met was an Agoran herself, and of a distinctly odd persuasion. She would openly offer to put a curse on anyone for a price, but rarely actually did so unless she believed their grievances to have true merit. Her favored manner of doing so was a hex of sickness, made from the dried root of a nightshade, leather and twigs of yew, tied back to a box made from wood of the same yew tree. When brought to bear, it would make an entire household sick and vomiting, and so long as she could return to charge it on a regular basis she could maintain this indefinitely. 

Among the Miqa, I observed a similar technique, albeit with animals instead of plants. A sorcerer would place all manner of poisonous vermin inside of a small box, and would let them consume each other to intensify the poison within them. Then, they would squash the one remaining animal and use half of the paste to make the hex and the other half to infuse into the box and connect the two. 

The Sondi have very particular ideas about the matter of curses, ones which may be worth entire volumes on their own. Though in recent years a curse has come to mean any hindering form of sorcery, Sondi war-sorcerers have long made a finer distinction between the lesser and the greater curse. Lesser curses are those that impede or attack directly – that turn the ground beneath one’s feet to sand, that wind fall out of sails, or make ones weaponry hot to the touch. They are considered a critical part of a sorcerer’s arsenal if they are going into combat by many Sondi sources. However, the opposite is true of the greater curses. These are the ones that rob men of their senses, mimic natural illness, make men mad and so on. I have never encountered such curses, but most treatises consider them greatly forbidden and cruel, and impractical both in their cost in mana and in their escalation of any conflict. Once such a curse has been unleashed upon a foe, equally grievous reprisal may be expected from their allies. 

It is of course remiss to speak of curses without mentioning the Church of the Sepulcher’s relationship therein. Since refinement is considered to be the shaping of an object towards its truest form, to invoke hatred with that sacred act is something of a taboo. To this there is one exception: as the Godhead is benevolent, it is only in their nature to hate sin, and hence execration against sin in prayer and in sorcery is natural and wholesome. Specialists in this sort of curse are common amongst the Order of the Sliced Tendon. Their patron Saint Vesa the Righteous was himself supposedly a great sorcerer who at times execrated his enemies, and hence the license to do similar acts largely falls to his followers in the territory of the Church…”


Sol shivers in the night. Three long hard years he had gone without coming close to such violence. He had felt his hand seize in the moment, his muscles shiver with the old motions of war and when he stitched up the deep wounds in Ana’s arm he swears he can hear cannonfire, the trod of feet defending a land foreign to him. And still he steadies himself. Dawn is coming and with it all the waking nightmares would have little hold on him. He was sure of it. 


“It was at the coronation  that I had my first good look at the so-called heir apparent to the Sondi Empire, of the House Undula. He was scarcely more than a youth at the ascension, around nineteen years of age, but he still carried a regal air to him. He was well-formed in his features, wise-eyed and decked in crimson silk. His bride likewise joined – a member of the House Inrash, and no less handsome in her dress or her figure. He stood before the throne where his father once was and sat upon the step below it, his life likewise. I stood in the upper gallery where they had the guests of honor and people of import; whereas all the noblemen had gathered below for the momentous occasion.

Unlike the royalty of old Koletya, there was no fealty sworn here. Instead, each of the many houses from the many independent polities in the empire came forth with grievances. Some were severe and belligerent; others quiet and mostly satisfied, at times taking turns bargaining as one by one the prince explained his plans and made promises to each of them. Each one seemed to more or less come away satisfied that their ruler was wise and had taken their matters into consideration. This, I am told, is one of the first requirements to be Emperor – that they are wise enough to manage the many affairs of their subjects in due course with good temper and a firm hand.

Once the whole matter of the grievances of the many nobles had been safely dealt with – a process that took no less than two hours – all the nobles kneeled before the prince and said, ‘You are wise, O Prince of Undula. Your rule is wise, and we will submit to you should you also be worthy.’

It was then that a wizened man entered, plain in his dress and having shorn his gray hair short. He bore in his hands the crown of the emperor. The prince stood, and looked over the crowd, who recited the next part of the ceremony.

‘Prove to us your mastery of the world. Prove to us that you are worthy of emperorship, that the crown may be yours.’

I am told that this response is different for each emperor apparent, and so I have recorded here what he said as best as I can:

‘I am the one who has wrestled with the lesser gods and made myself their master as my father before me. I have learned their ways; their secret names; their hidden laws. Their secrets have made me wise to all attacks and to the ways of defending myself against them. I have studied the art of thaumaturgy. I have learned the way to make myself of many forms.’

It was then that I was most startled – I had assumed that the Sondi speak of witchcraft being a sign of good moral character was an exaggeration spread by drunken travelers, but I then beheld with my own eyes the prince himself transmuting his flesh. At once he turned to a great serpent, a stallion, a lion; and when he roared all the crowd seemed to cower with fear before he changed again to a prince, and said: 

‘I have shown you that I have shackled the gods to my will. My name shall be Yema.’

All of them bowed in great awe, and he was presented with his crown, which he wore. Then, they all yelled aloud:

‘Hail, Yema! Hail, O King of The Many Nations! Hail, O Lord of the House Undula! Hail to the God-Conquering King!’”

-Excerpt from a letter sent by a Kolet diplomat.


Manguyaat watches as Bena burns. The foul unctuous smoke rises higher and higher into the night sky as he writhes and tries to scream with what little of a throat he has left, until something in him gives and the half-dead falls all the way down into dead. And then it is very quiet but for the slow sounds of the city and the crackling flesh. The deed is done, and she removes her mask. 

It is a victory. A small, miniscule victory. She sits down on the stoop unsatisfied with her results but still willing to celebrate her good fortune and fame. She takes her pipe from her pocket, stuffs in the tobacco and lights it, letting the smoke join her lungs and fill her cheeks with warmth. She puffs on it a bit before moving along. 

She touches her necklace again, and opens the little locket there. There is the ash from home, set behind glass. She closes it with haste and walks into the clear night. The righteous mission she had once been so certain of now towered over her in its impossibility, in its scope. To know a task is difficult is one thing, but to look it in the eye and face that adversity is another.

She sighed.

Still, it had to be done. She had come all this way to kill every vampire on the earth, and couldn’t exactly make peace with them now. 


“The flag of the Republic of Koletya shall consist of: 

  • A stripe of red, for those that died before and during the revolution for our freedom.
  • A stripe of gold for the great wealth, tradition and prosperity of the Kolet people. 
  • A stripe of white for the bright hope of the future.”


A little girl stares out the window – she has just turned eight years old, and being mischievous and young she often stalks about the house at night without her parent’s permission, to steal bites to eat or play with their cat. But more than that, she loves to look at the stars and the light of the moon that danced silver on the floorboards. She used to think that she might fly among them, or with the slight trick of her fingers pinching together, crush them into dust. That childish fantasy has faded, though, and she is quite content to look at them.

A creaking of wood and then a shadow – black as the night sky itself and full of menace. A beautiful woman, clawed wings digging into the side of the house, clambering listlessly up its side, and in her small hands another woman, held like a naughty cat so that her limbs splayed away. 

And then the gore. The little girl had known of such things – she had even once glimpsed a pig’s carcass in a butcher shop, but being the daughter of a carpenter she is sheltered from much of the worst that the flesh had to offer. Her experience is limited to splinters and scrapes and other wounds of childhood. This was something else entirely; her belly had been hollowed out red, dark splotches and shadow and being so thoroughly bled out that she no longer had any blood to give. The girl does not have a single word, or cry, or thing to say.

They look at her with contemptuous eyes, then hungry ones and she cowers and the cat hisses before they continue their ascent. The girl, shocked and desperately trying to convince herself that she was having a nightmare, returns to bed and hides under the covers, convinced that the monsters could not get her there. She prays, sobs, hears every creaking of the boards as the foot of an intruder before finally falling asleep.

When she awakes the next morning, she quietly convinces herself that she had a nightmare, and had never crept out of her room that night. So, she rises with the dawn, ready to face the world – and runs crying to her room when she spies the harsh claw-marks in the wood.


“Do not use the word tiar when referring to kissing your relatives, lest your reader believe that some licentious activity has gone on…”

-Found scrawled in the margins of a poorly translated Kolet play.


Temari touches Maya’s shoulder very gently as she prepares to enter the parlor. 

“It’s alright,” she says, “You just have to tell them what happened. You’re not a part of this. They won’t hurt you.” 

And so she walks in, quiet, clutching at her own dress. She’s lived for thirty long years; it feels like a hundred or more when her knees ache like they do today. Thirty years of labor, first at home, then among the porters, then as a maid, then as one of the head maids, thirty years threatened by those pale figures in the dark who bit her arm and supped her blood. She sighs, walks in and coughs a bit as the dust is kicked up from the floor. Five men in total, all discerning her with their eyes and making her feel quite small. Temari followed and sits beside her in the dusty parlor.

One of them, wearing a scarred, milky-white eye, passes her a drink. She swallows it down and tells her story.

“A few guests of my employer were doing a tour of the facility,” she said quietly, “And one of them – they inquired if I knew any sorcerers. I said yes, because that’s what you say to someone who’s that rich, and they were guests anyways. I couldn’t refuse them that.”

Her eyes twitch. She tries to convince herself that they are only burning from the taste of the strong alcohol.

“Couldn’t,” she says, trying to not cry, “I told them about my brother, and they said that they’d escort me home. They… they grabbed me about the arms and one of them drew a knife on me. Told me to draw my brother out by telling him to meet with them. Told me that they knew where my daughter lived. So I did, I called out to him and one of them jumped him.”

She shook her head.

“Wasn’t an ordinary robbery. They offered him things. Said that they’d give him riches, land, safety, immortality. He was a good man. Said he’d never take it from them. And then – then they fell on him. I tried to stop them but-” 

And then, it all came rushing back. She put her head into her hands and sobbed. Her brother wasn’t always on the up and up – he had gotten in with wrong crowds, fought, drank – but he had been a good man to the end. A strong hand rubbed her shoulder.

“It’s alright, Maya. It’s alright,” said Temari, “You did good. Are you gentlemen satisfied that this wasn’t anyone’s fault but those rich folks?”

There was a murmur of disquieted agreement.

“Then the score is settled. We’ll return bet money to the appropriate people, and next time we’ll run a competition over a shorter span. Keep things more likely to stay clean, mm?” 


“I kissed her. Why – why did I torture myself so? She kissed me back and I could not resist indulging it, could not resist that breach. She touched me so tenderly that I felt I could die and be happy then and there. And then we withdrew, and I felt sick to my stomach…”

-Diary entry, undated. 


“And you’re sure of what you saw?”

“Sure? No. Of course not. I want to believe that my cousin would not do such things. I placed the extra hexes for safety, not to entrap her. But we have to investigate this, as much as it pains me to do so.”

Imera taps his fingers on the table. 

“You talk to the mute first. Be discreet, friendly as is necessary. I’ll keep an eye on her. And if it comes down to it, you’ll have to do the prosecution. I have too many conflicts of interest.” 

Danza nods, and begins her trek back to the church.

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