Murkoph is an infection of Duane's prymarics.It's pretty well-known that Duane's eyes and larynx are both prymaric, replacing the bits he lost in the fight that killed him. However, it comes to light that pymarics will eventually be haunted with ghosts  from the khert, which is a common problem with plods. What if Murkoph who keeps appearing out of nowhere, consistently stalking our heroes, is such a haunting or infection, following Duane wherever he goes.
Duane dies in the end.For certain, this time. It will be very much a Bittersweet Ending, Lysa and Lemuel lose him for good, but he's at peace and with Mikaila at last.
Elka has one of the pymaric simulcrums.The one she's looking at in the last panel we see her with the catalogue. She appears to be looking at her hand in that panel, as if she's comparing it to the one in the catalogue, and if you look closely, it looks like her palm is glowing blue, just like a pymaric. It could just be the lighting, though. Of course, this means that simulcrums must be capable of looking like ordinary limbs, but surely, in a world with healing magic, it would be easy to graft skin over the metal or some such thing? Either that, or she's thinking about getting one.
The real reason for Sette's mission is to get Duane into CresceLord Winalils mentions the Ilganyag, so he is almost certainly a member of the Black Tongues. He also looks similar to the Black-Tongue doctor that Cara describes. He probably convinced Sette's father to send Sette to Cresce with Duane. They used Sette because they knew that Duane felt protective of children. And apparently Starfish is being threatened by Frummagem to get his job done. Matty suggests that Starfish is smuggling something that likes pain, but maybe he is actually luring Duane by hurting children (although there seem to be some magical reasons as well). But the Red Berry Boys are running a slave operation that's complicated, long, and tough to keep hidden. It seems like too much potential hassle for a black tongue sorcerer to commission this solely to get an undead wright into Cresce.
- Confirmed, though the intended destination is Alderode and not Cresce.
The crow amulet Bastion gave Sette is Duane's phylactery.Think about it: Duane is really closer to a lich (albeit a primarily benevolent, involuntary one) than a typical zombie, and clearly has his sense of self/soul harbored elsewhere considering that his brain dribbled out his nose years ago. The amulet gives Sette control over Duane in the night-time hours, and also bares a crow motif- very similar to the crow deity that serves as a 'mascot' for the Black-Tongues. At very least, it's filled with his blood from the night he died.
Sette and Duane are Decoy Protagonists. The real story is going to revolve around Murkoph.Ashley pretty much says it outright here.
Murkoph's body is made out of First Materials.Murkoph is a roleplaying character of Ashley's who will be appearing in the story eventually. He's apparently a zombie who has maintained sentience, like Duane. We don't know much about him other than that — all we have to go on is a short comic on Ashley's deviantArt page. That comic (assuming it's canon) is pretty enlightening, though. In it, not only is Murkoph surprisingly well-preserved (unlike Duane, who is a skeleton), he's standing over water. Pymary doesn't work over water, and since zombies are held together purely through pymary, they just collapse if they go over water. But Murkoph is just fine. The only things that can maintain magical properties over water are enchanted First Materials, so it's probable Murkoph made a body for himself out of some. (This would also explain why he doesn't decay, since the enchantment preserving him would be permanent.)
- A possible problem with this theory — in the comic, there's another wright who uses pymary, even when he's out as far as Murkoph. It's possible that he just wasn't out far enough for the Anti-Magic to take effect, though the fact that he was willing to get that close to something that should be fatally dangerous to him still lends credence to this theory.
- Most likely Jossed. Ashley says that docks and the like can be "grounded" by filling them with earth — this allows the khert to move over them unhindered. The dock Murkoph was standing on was one such object, so even if the comic is canon, it can't be used to prove anything.
Duane will become Murkoph.Murkoph is very similar to Duane — a plod that has maintained sentience. He also likes to ramble a lot about existential weirdness, something that isn't entirely uncharacteristic of Duane. Murk's psychopathy should disqualify him, but Duane is already displaying Sanity Slippage...if he snaps, Murkoph could be what he becomes. Furthermore, assuming the above-mentioned comic is canon, he's a tacit caster as well...
- A kink in this theory — Murkoph has hair. Duane is bald. Although, Murkoph is also not a skeleton, so if Duane does become Murkoph, he would have to make a completely new body...which could tie into the above theory, if he makes it out of First Materials.
- Jossed. Murkoph is from Sharteshane: http://fav.me/d1ahaoq
Quigley is doomed.Even setting aside the fact that he's entering the threshold for keeling over from old age at any moment, he can't stay alive if the plot is to be kept intact. Quigley wants to save the children from Starfish's operation, which will derail that major plot thread. It's too early for that plot to be solved, even partially. There's also another problem that decreases his survivability: whatever wants those slaves isn't going to be happy if Quigley comes up and goes "So hey I'm taking these kids with me bye~", especially if they're the main course. As if that wasn't enough, Ashley says there's going to be a Wizard Duel in the next chapter — almost certainly between Quigley and Duane, which would be a perfect chance to off him. As a corollary to this, Matty may be doomed as well without his father to help him...
- The fact that Quigley wants to save the children doesn't mean he must do so or die...he could easily just fail, as Duane failed to save Cara. Or he could succeed. Starfish is just a thug hired to do a smuggling job. The short term plans on those who hired him might hinge on the success of that job (if they didn't account for the possibility of such a risky undertaking failing...Starfish might not be the only one they hired), but they're still around no matter what happens...the failure of one smuggling job wouldn't come close to resolving everything.
Bastion had something to do with Duane's reanimation.We haven't seen much of Bastion so far — however, in the one scene we've seen him in so far, he places great emphasis on Duane's condition, insinuating that calling him a mere plod is not at all accurate. Alone, this wouldn't be too suspicious...except that Ashley has also said on her Formspring that he's an exceptionally knowledgeable gruftgrammer who knows a lot of weird, unknown magic. Most notably, he's practically the only wright on the continent who can reliably teleport, a skill that requires a strong sense of self. Duane's enchantment seems to use a similar function — his self is persisting even after his death. These facts seem to point to one of two things: Either Bastion reanimated Duane himself, or knows a great deal about how he was reanimated.
- A recent boost to this.
The reason pymary fails over large expanses of water is because...(Post your own theories here!)
- Blank ocean is like a void in the khert, or there are no Ley Lines over it or whatever. Perhaps magical energy is attracted to land, so there's nothing to tap into if you go out too far.
- This theory is impossible — the khert is required for life. There's life in the ocean, so there must be a khert (or something very similar) over it.
- Water is Anti-Magic for some reason, though only in large quantities.
- Perhaps there is such a thing as First Water, and large expanses of water (like the ocean) contain a fair amount of it?
- Unlikely. Word of God says First Water does exist, but it's contained in nereids. It's possible there's some freefloating First Water, but probably not enough to dispel the khert so effectively.
- Perhaps there is such a thing as First Water, and large expanses of water (like the ocean) contain a fair amount of it?
- Vengeful water spirits. They were apparently trapped and controlled by wrights earlier in history in an attempt to stop natural disasters, so perhaps those that remain have learned to stifle pymary.
- There's a competing force that bonds to water and water animals to contrast with the khert that bonds to land and land animals. They're not compatible and wrights haven't had the means or maybe even the chance to develop something like pymary to control the water-khert.
- The khert is attached to land for some reason. There is a khert in the ocean, but only on the ocean floor — thus, people on boats can't access it.
- The khert's powers fade with distance. If you were to travel by airplane, the same effect would occur. Since the khert is bound to the land, the farther you are away from it, the weaker it is. Just like magnetism and gravity. Water has nothing to do with it beyond acting as a physical barrier between you and the khert.
- Answers on Formspring seem to say this is the case. Going too high in the atmosphere will also cause you to escape the khert's influence, and mountain ogres (i.e. the things that become the earth) have their own kherts attached to them. So yes, it seems like the khert is bound to land.
In life, Duane was a GoldThe girl Duane sees in flashbacks has blond hair and green eyes, and it might explain why Duane can tacit-cast since the Golds have an odd connection to the Khert. And when Quigley asks him his caste, he replies ssom soud, and according to the wiki "soud" is the name for the Gold caste. I'll actually be surprised if this isn't the case.
- The fact that he explicitly says "I am Gold" in Tainish means this can be considered confirmed. Also, I think Ashley confirmed it even more explicitly on Formspring.
Sette is connected to Tirna in some wayMostly based on her command over insects, which are shown to be associated with Tirna. Her independence, her by turns vicious and loving nature, and her understanding of the world are also thematic links. Could be an actual in-universe connection or simply a deliberate allegorical link to add a layer to characterisation. Tirna's a goddess that can effortlessly change her form and Sette's never met her mother. It's not that unlikely Sette's inhuman traits come from the child of a god.
- OP: a recent boost to this.
Ashley's "tomorrow Matty dies" jokes are actually a cunning ploy to throw us off our guard.At one point, she will actually tell the truth — a spoiler hidden in plain sight. However, we won't suspect anything because of all the other times she's said it. Thus it will be a shocking plot twist when Matty actually does die, despite the fact she spoiled it in advance! (Indeed, it will actually make it more surprising, since we will assume she's lying!)
Mr. Starfish is related (by blood or marriage) to the Frummagems.We already know he's working with them in some capacity, and not just with Sette's branch of the family. Also, compare his face to Knock-Me-Down's: They're eerily similar, especially the nose.
Lawrence Murkoph is Blondo Mcwhoopass from 1-16.Blondo is blond, and Murkoph is... kinda blondish. They have the same general hair/face shape. And Ashley has been sort of ambiguous about whether Murkoph is from Sharteshane or Alderode, possibly to throw us off the scent? And she hinted that someone's theory about Murkoph being Duane's brother might be on the right track.
- Jossed! "Blondo Mcwhoopass" is Duane's brother Lemuel. Lawrence Murkoph is someone else, it would seem.
Murkoph is Ssael.YOU KNOW IT'S TRUE
- A serious bit of consideration for this: Murkoph's facial scars are very similar to the glamoured scars that Duane displays here, depicting Ssael's injuries after being mauled by lions. However, Word of God says that Murkoph is Sharteshanian, which throws a wrench into this...unless there's a SURPRISE TWIST that Ssael was from Sharteshane?
- Appears to be Jossed as of this page. Murkoph explicitly mentions Ssael, which would imply that they are not the same entity.
Mikaila is responsible for Duane's zombie state.From one of the comments: "All this time, I've been presuming that Duane zombified himself to protect his daughter. Now I realize I may have been terribly wrong. It's looking like his daughter did it, as/after he is dying. (Since she now has a displayed pattern of miscasting spells) She must have either botched a healing spell to make him undead, or botched the zombie spell, to tie in his actual spirit instead of just the body, which is the proper(?) way to do it."
- This troper wonders why would Mikaila know how to do that, though? She learns her pymary from some innate talent and from her father's spellbooks. Do you think a devout Ssaelit Rector (y'know, a religion that abhors allowing the human body decay and all forms of undeath) would have material on necromancy? Pymary doesn't run on wishes, it's rather strict.
Mikaila is alive in the present day.I can see Duane still being in full patriot mode even if Alderode killed him, but I don't think the same would be true if they killed his family. Furthermore, if Mikaila died, wouldn't Duane be flashing back to her bloody corpse instead of seeing her alive and well? He is clearly not a happy individual, you'd think he would be fixating on that if Mikaila's dead.
- Well, crap. I'm still going to insist she survives somehow. There's apparently a time gap between this page and this one, between which Mikaila's body has gone missing. Also, I know that metagaming is bad, but some time before the scene in question, Ashley talked about how comics can easily be used to mislead the viewer. Coincidence? In the scene itself, there's a lot of margin for error. In the first shot, the view of the sword is blocked by her arm, and in the second, she's hunched over, making it difficult to tell where the wound is centered. Also, I can't find it for some reason, but I could have sworn reading a formspring answer about how Ashley doesn't actually like killing off characters because it ends character development. All of this just seems a bit too suspicious.
- Well, there is a question that will add another layer of creepy here: how does Murkoph knows name of Mikaila's best friend? What if he was a person who taught Mikaila some of her tricks?
- We never do see Mikaila's body though, after getting stabbed. We only see her walking into a door beckoning Duane into the khert. I think it was just an illusion of sorts, or some sort of near-death dream since she doesn't answer him when he calls to her.
- Almost certainly Jossed as of this page. The only way this theory can still be true is if Lemuel's lying, which seems unlikely.
- I don't think it's that unlikely. Assuming his goal was to get Duane to leave, he'd have a motive to sever his ties to Alderode with that kind of lie.
Sette is somehow born of the Khert.When she's running around in the Khert in chapter seven, she mentions it smells familiar, can interact with it in unexpected ways, and has an odd interest in Lady Ilganyag's 'baby forest.' Duane translates Ilganyag's line there as "Run away," but could be that he was getting the account secondhand, and it was "Runaway"—tl;dr Sette is one of the crow-lady's babies, incarnated in the real world.
- It would explain why Lady Ilganyag was chasing her when Sette ran and only left to get Duane when she knew Sette was in danger. She wanted to protect her run away. Makes you wonder if "Aum yut shenut" means something along the lines of "Welcome back home".
- While its not a stretch to say a god can manipulate the khert its interesting to see Lady Ilganyag interact with the khert.