That Is Not Dead

Originally published at: That Is Not Dead | The Associated Worlds

By dreaming dragons – the world was carved
To dreaming dragons – the world yet bends
Those dreaming dragons – all lie dead
Yet dreaming dragons – carve it still.

“Lay of the Dead Dragons”, fragment, circa -3,500


the light breathes
the shadows move and the objects don’t
are you real?
am I?

I am not.

unknown survivor of passage through the periphery of the Tortelsvard grimward, immediately before dissolving without trace


Drones can’t bleed.

Dallen Osiríän, engineer on OPERATION ABYSS DREDGE, upon being confronted with a post-dive drone that was, in fact, bleeding


You can try a reality engine against it the moment that no-one else is living on this planet, and not before.

Prefect Aldysis Paluna, Fifth Directorate



History records that the trakelpanis trakóras amán are all dead, wiped out at the beginning of the Gloaming, three hundred thousand years ago. In this, history is correct.

The common assumption that death carries with it finality, on the other hand, is incorrect. During the Chaos that marked the end of trakelpanis trakóras amán civilization, five fell upon Eliéra: for three, those who we believe dwelt here before the Chaos, we have names. The Shaper died at her home, in the Dragon’s Nest, and in so doing created the largest of Eliéra’s grimwards, nearly twenty miles across. Of those who dwelled at the Gate of Dragons, both died elsewhere: the Architect fell in Saralainn, and the Farseer was slain abroad in far Marukamui. Of the nameless amán legendaria presume to be their attackers, one formed the first and most famous grimward in central Kaládav, brushing the valley of the Falthrang, and the other died far to the south, amid the monazite sands of Tortelsvard.

And there part of them remains.

What is a grimward? It is the mad dream of a dead dragon, no more and no less. The trakelpanis trakóras amán possessed a peerless ontotechnology, capable of commanding the forces of reality and warping it in accordance with their desires and ambitions, making, twisting, and unmaking with a thought. The amán knew few strictures or boundaries, and acknowledged fewer, the fatal flaw that led to their self-destruction as a race: how much less restrained, then, the passions flickering in their hollow bones, unconstrained by conscious will?

The land, sea, and sky for miles around where they lie, then, are regions where reality grows fuzzy: even the most mundane things found within or passing their boundary may find themselves warped into prodigies or horrors unique in the universe. Space and time themselves quail there: one may cross miles in a footstep only to find that step taking centuries, or a mile may stretch into a journey of decades which leads one out before one entered. There can be no certainty there, no prediction, and no safety. Only the whim of the grimward’s master defines the structure of being within its bounds.

Thus, these regions have been surrounded by long and high walls, posted warnings, and the strongest wardings ancient thaumaturgy or modern technology could devise since early in the Gloaming, long before there was an Empire, layers built on layers and warnings inscribed over earlier warnings, with reality engines humming where once beacon-fires burned.

They may be the greatest dangers we have found in this universe.


WARNING
EXTREME ONTOLOGICAL DANGER

DO NOT TRANSGRESS THE BOUNDARY OF THE GRIMWARD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.
DEATH IS PREFERABLE TO THAT WHICH LIES WITHIN.

DO NOT APPROACH THE GRIMWARD.
DO NOT CONTEMPLATE THE GRIMWARD.
DO NOT PROVOKE THE GRIMWARD.

BY ORDER

IMPERIAL RANGERS, SUPRADEATH CONTAINMENT SECTION

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This is also, as you may have noticed, the start of my attempt to add some AI-generated illustrations to things.

(It is an experiment which may or may not continue.)

…fun.

It’s a land of Dead Gods. Dead Lovecraftian Gods. Dead, damned things that are dreaming as their dying takes millennia.

You can’t even purge the land with fire, because it won’t work. It’s like the half-life of damnation.

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It could be worse. The zones could be expanding.

How in the world did Marlais Torateir of the Drake-Bone Blade survive the journey into a grimward to get a drake bone? And why did his daughter, Sky-Born Loral Torateir of Telírvess go back into one? (Or did the grimward mutate Loral Toratier through her father’s genetics?)

Big goddamn mythic energy…

(One can certainly speculate about what happens when you take a mind cracked in just the right way, with an extremely strong personal narrative and a will honed and tempered to physically implausible sharpness, and then expose it to thought-reactive Precursor ontotechnology, and in doing so you can fill entire journals with talk of miracles and impossipoints and will defeating law - but at this historical remove that’s all pure speculation. And, in any case, can be conveniently summarized as “big goddamn mythic energy”.)

…also, paying no attention to the statistics on all the people who tried this and didn’t survive. :grimacing:

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I continue to look forward to Moongleam’s reaction when she finds out there’s a live one on Equestria…

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There is one very important piece of evidence which makes it clear that the dragons of Equestria aren’t quite up to the standards of their ancient ancestors:

It is physically possible to disagree with Dragon Lord Torch.

It might not be the greatest life choice you ever made, mind, especially if he’s there at the time, but the laws of reality do not prevent it.

And thus, we know those dragons to be lesser spawn of greater sires.

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I was thinking of Draconequi, actually.

Or that Dragon Lord Torch has had Reality slap him in the face enough times that he makes sure that the local laws of his current brane allows for people to disagree with him.

Annoying…but sometimes very useful.

That does actually sound like a not-too-far-off description of the situation with the local Draconequus…

…depends on some of the exact implied rules, I guess. (I hadn’t read that specific story so I don’t know how it works in there.)

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One of the privileges of Drake-level ontotechnology is that you can define reality such that this literally never happens to you; i.e., you can write “I am invincible,” into the laws of nature.

(The only things you have to worry about is someone with access to stronger irreality who can overwrite it with “No, actually, you are vincible (by me).” Reality has to shut up and do what it’s told.)

Ah. Well, that’s not an unreasonable supposition, but it’s also not where I was going. Spoilers for FiSA follow, in case I ever get back to it:

Way, way off in the Uttermost West, where the plains of the buffalo peter out in endless war, there is a black mountain of unusually geometric form, studded with openings into a netherworld. (An eldrae would recognize it instantly as a variation on a dweomerberg, much as the Tree of Harmony is an unusually variant world tree.) This is the lair of the Challenge System.

You see, while both the builders of Eliéra and those of Equus were trying to design improved successor species (solving, as it were, the Friendliness problem), the Architect, Shaper, and Farseer were trying to design their way out of the trap the Drakes had found themselves in. The unnamed progenitors of Equus were trying to evolve their solution. The job of the Challenge System was to provide selection pressure to this system by introducing problems which the ponies would have to overcome using friendship-based solutions. (The work of the Challenge System is why Equestria, outside the civilized areas, is such a death world. It wasn’t intended to produce quite such, um, challenging problems as it did, but then, it’s been free-running for hundreds of kiloyears without any supervision, which is a little outside its design parameters. It’s also in the fringes of a grimward, which doesn’t help.)

Discord was a relatively late-period product of the Challenge System in one of its wilder oscillations. He’s also a profound glitch in the works of the whole thing by being self-aware, which its products really aren’t supposed to be. He can do a lot of the wilder chaos that he can because the Challenge System, which it really wasn’t supposed to do, handed him root-level access keys to the ecology maintenance system that keeps the Equus crater habitable, but that’s not nearly as powerful as full Drake-level onto.

(It is also why the Sun, Moon, weather, and general ecology have to be operated on manual much of the time, because the ecology maintenance system has more bugs in it than a bait farm, thanks to all the time Discord has spent screwing with it over the millennia.)

.

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…this is far too good of an idea…

…and it makes so much sense from a Watsonian and a Doylist perspective.
“You’re telling me that Discord is due to the system having a glitch?”
“You’re lucky you only just got one, and not eight trying to fight for the top of the food chain.”

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