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"...anyone who speaks out against the Holy, either in this world or in the world to come."

A Dark Fantasy Cosmic Horror graphic-novel-to-be written by the indomitable Sin Nanna, and sequel to Until The Light Takes Us. It will redefine the term "shitdark".

Three years after the events of the first volume, the ex-knight Louvel is a fugitive in hiding, serving anonymously aboard a merchant ship. He can never return to his homeland of Indria, as he is wanted for his role in the death of King Philip and the murder of his former comrade Stefan. Eventually, the ship he is on arrives at the great city-state of Koroviev, one of the most prosperous cities in the human realm. While the ship is in port, guards arrive looking for Louvel specifically and haul him off. Initially assuming that he's finally been discovered, Louvel prepares to face the consequences of his actions until the guards take him to see the wizard Johannes rather than dragging him to jail. Johannes, it seems, knows who he really is, and has somehow been expecting him. He goes on to explain that he wants Louvel to aid him in some personal matters. Johannes holds a grudge against the theocratic government of Koroviev, particularly the leader of the city's Inquisition, Heinrich. He wants Louvel, a famously talented swordsman, to help him in his covert war against the theocracy, or be turned over to the Inquisition as a spy and a kingslayer. Louvel is left with little choice in the matter and so does the wizard's bidding, in the process uncovering dark secrets that threaten not just Koroviev, but the entire world.

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This was originally supposed to be a campaign for Dungeons and Dragons, 3.5 edition, that I wanted to run for my friends. A while back I tried to start the campaign in earnest, and we got about 4 sessions in before everything fell apart due to conflicting schedules among the group. After a long time spent in limbo and a wee bit of Creator Breakdown on my end, as well as Creator Backlash at the more gratuitously dark elements of the story, it finally became clear that the campaign wasn't going to be resurrected. I elected to take the mountains of story I had left and turn it instead into a comic series, of which this shall be the second volume. That doesn't mean the writing has improved at all, though.

It's still very much a work in progress, so forgive the awful writing and gaping plot holes. This page is best read while listening to this. Or this. Alternatively, this. Maybe even this.

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Tropes this garbage displays:

  • Action Dad: Johannes, though it's not obvious at first.
  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Quite a few, most notably a scene halfway through in which Louvel and Johannes both get very drunk and bond over the things they've both lost.
  • Adult Fear: Mob rule and mass hysteria creating a brutal dictatorship. A more traditional example comes late in the story, when Natasha, Johannes's adoptive daughter who can see the future, suddenly and inexplicably goes catatonic and nothing he does can bring her back.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: The Child of the Black Stone's sendoff is treated very sadly. Also, Heinrich's final scene is so pitiful that one may feel at least a little sorry for him.
  • The Alcoholic: Played for laughs with Lars Petrov, who uses alcohol as a substitute for water and is more or less permanently soused. Played dead serious with Johannes, who drinks to try and drown his deep feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and grief, and eventually admits he's tried to drink himself to death in the past.
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  • Alcoholic Parent: Johannes again.
  • Alien Kudzu: Grows abundantly wherever the Black Stone is present, in the form of strange, bioluminescent trees and flowers. It's an indicator that the Child is terraforming the world around it to more fully suit its needs. Its worshipers refer to this as "the holy garden."
  • Alien Geometries:
    • The strange building Natasha enters into in all her visions. Its interior somewhat resembles Johannes's tower, but with rooms arranged in physically impossible configurations and all windows leading outside showing radically different landscapes from each other. It gets even weirder when we start seeing Schizo Tech such as film projectors, bicycles, photographs, and World War II-era tanks and planes lying around.
    • The Black Stone does this to any place it spends any prolonged amount of time in. The Grand Cathedral in particular resembles a twisted MC Escher painting after being warped by the Child.
  • All Witches Have Cats: Gender flipped with Johannes, who owns a cat named Boris.
  • Almighty Idiot: The Child of the Black Stone is essentially a newborn baby that happens to be omnipotent.
  • Always Night: Inverted. After Koroviev is consumed by the Black Stone, the city is shrouded in permanent daylight, with the sun always directly in the center of the sky. "And the sun shall never set upon Thy Kingdom", indeed.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Inquisition as a whole, but especially their leader Heinrich.
  • And I Must Scream: Heinrich's final fate.
  • Angelic Abomination: The Child of the Black Stone has an angelic appearance and is believed by its followers to be a gift from God.
  • Animal Motifs: Most of the major characters have an animal association.
    • Konrad has wolves and hunting dogs, and he serves as Heinrich's attack dog throughout the story.
    • Heinrich has eagles, which appear in the official crest of the city and symbolize state power.
    • Johannes has cats, which in this setting are generally associated by pagan belief systems with magic and the moon.
    • Natasha has butterflies, something she shares with the Child, fitting considering how Natasha is killed but returned from death by the power of the Child. The symbolism also applies to the Child, who spends most of the story in the "cocoon" of the Black Stone, before emerging and metamorphosing into a transcendentally powerful being that warps all reality around it.
    • Furthermore, the regime has a tendency to characterize its enemies as pigs, which ties in with Konrad's wolf motif in that it's his job to kill them.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Louvel has fully developed into one by this point.
  • Anti-Villain: The Child is ultimately a scared infant that has no clue that what it's doing is wrong and may not even be acting consciously, but it's so alien that its mere presence renders it a threat to the whole world and makes its death a necessity.
  • Anyone Can Die: And almost all of them do, barring Louvel, Casimir, Heinrich, and the Man in Black, and even Heinrich suffers A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Arc Words: "Are you lost?", "You don't belong here", and "Hail!".
  • Arch-Enemy: Johannes really fucking hates Heinrich.
    "You must understand, that killing this man would be like... like curing a plague."
    • Lars Ulrich and Lars Petrov are mortal adversaries, though it's slightly more one-sided here because Lars Ulrich FEARS Lars Petrov.
    • Gorani and Koroviev are this on a national level, with Gorani having tried and failed to conquer Koroviev several times in the past. Gorani was also very slow in coming to Koroviev's aid when it was besieged by an enormous host of orcs 25 years ago, which pretty much everyone believes was a deliberate ploy to soften up the city for later conquest. This is pretty much correct, as it turns out.
  • Archer Archetype: Konrad, as part of his whole hunter motif. Rather than fighting Louvel up close, he opts to fire arrows at him from a distance, and almost kills him this way.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Konrad is the worst example, but most of Koroviev's aristocracy is morally bankrupt.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The Grey Militia, who spend their time killing, torturing, robbing, and raping with the blessing of the Church. The Wolf Brigade are a much smaller and much more depraved version.
  • Art Shift: Natasha's visions are rendered in a dreamy, storybook style inspired by the animation of Yuri Norstein and the paintings of Masaaki Sasamoto.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Heinrich frequently quotes whatever the Bible equivalent here is, typically when condemning or threatening people.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Louvel pulls this on the Wolf Brigade.
  • Ascetic Aesthetic: Many Church buildings are like this, in contrast to the filth of the rest of the city.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Heinrich thinks this is happening to him after he is made protector of the Black Stone.
  • Assimilation Plot: Essentially what the Child of the Black Stone does to Koroviev, and what it will do to the entire world if it isn't killed.
  • Astral Projection: Natasha seems to be capable of this in some fashion.
  • Athens and Sparta: Koroviev and Gorani were this in the past, with Koroviev being a proto-democratic city state built on powerful trade alliances and with one of the best universities in the human world, and Gorani being a socially backwards, warlike feudal state. Nowadays, with Koroviev turning into a repressive theocracy and Gorani rapidly modernizing itself under the leadership of King Vladimir, their roles are being reversed.
  • The Atoner: Johannes has done some things he isn't proud of. Among other things, during the purge of magic users, he was tortured into selling out several other wizards and intellectuals to the Inquisition, including several longtime friends of his. Needless to say, he's got some serious Survivor's Guilt and considers himself to be a coward.
  • Author Appeal: Medieval history, cosmic horror, and nearly ubiquitous metal references. Also, the only reason the character of Boris exists is because I own a black cat and wanted to include one in the story.
  • Ax-Crazy: While he appears to be fully rational and lucid, if extremely cruel, Heinrich is shown in his POV chapter to be a low key version of this. He is a fully self-centered, delusional sociopath who genuinely believes that the entire world is an illusion created by God to test him, thus giving him the absolute right of life and death over all other things as he is the only being that actually possesses a soul. Put simply, he thinks that everyone else is an NPC.
  • Back from the Dead: After the Black Stone overtakes the city, it begins resurrecting literally everything that has died, often to horrific and eldritch effect. This includes Natasha and Johannes.
  • Bad Dreams: Johannes and Louvel both suffer them.
  • Badass Army: The Militant Order of the Shining Hand.
  • Badass Beard: Louvel now sports one. It's also a Beard of Sorrow.
  • Badass Bookworm: Johannes.
  • Badass Grandpa: Johannes and Ludwig.
  • Badass Preacher: Ludwig.
  • Bald of Evil: Many Greys shave their headsnote , in a manner similar to modern neo-Nazis. It's partly a symbolic rejection of earthly vanities (such as hair), and mostly a way to minimize lice infestations.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Heinrich, as is made abundantly clear in the interrogation scene.
  • Beneath the Earth: Koroviev is built on top of a large system of underground tunnels and catacombs, mostly old tombs or long abandoned defense tunnels originally built to be used when the city was under siege. The tunnels are labyrinthine and claustrophobic, and sometimes one can find the skeletons of people who got lost down there and starved, or in one instance, a group of orc skeletons that were sealed in and then gassed to death during the last war. The city's criminals, beggars, and other undesirables also like to use it as a hideout from the people above. A very spooky place, overall.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: The Child of the Black Stone is perceived as this by those it enslaves. It does, in fact, cure all diseases, heal all injuries, and resurrect the dead, but it also completely obliterates people's free will and eventually turns all things, living and nonliving, into extensions of itself. I basically think of the Child as being a Lovecraftian twist on the Christian notion of The Rapture, and Heinrich actually refers to it as "Heaven come to Earth" in his Motive Rant at the end.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Johannes won't tolerate anything that could even slightly endanger Natasha. Heinrich himself is also basically one massive Berserk Button for him.
    • Louvel resents being called a knight.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: How Johannes ultimately goes out. He takes a shitload of mooks with him.
  • Big Bad: Lord Heinrich Keller, leader of the Inquisition, usurper of the city, and eventual guardian of the Black Stone.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The Inquisition has spies everywhere, and everyone watches their tongue lest a Grey death squad bust down their door in the middle of the night for blasphemous talk. There are also the castles and government buildings in Koroviev, which have hidden compartments in the walls for spies to hide in and listen in on people's conversations, as well as vents in the walls for crossbowmen to fire out of if anyone needs to be disposed of quickly.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Johannes coming to rescue Louvel from the Tower of Joy, using an obscure bureaucratic loophole to argue that he has been wrongfully arrested, while also managing to spite Heinrich in the process.
  • Big Good: Johannes, until he dies.
  • Black and Grey Morality: The villains are horrendous note , and the Big Good has some skeletons in his closet.
  • Black Comedy: Almost all of the humor.
  • Black Knight: Konrad.
  • Black Shirt: The Grey Militia.
  • The Blacksmith: Lars Petrov.
  • The Blank: The Child, barring a large beak.
  • Bling of War: Konrad's wolf themed armor.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Johannes, after getting hit by a crossbow bolt.
  • Blood Knight: Konrad, mostly for the killing and torturing rather than the fighting. Casimir is a more benevolent and jovial example.
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Louvel is completely drenched in blood after killing everyone in the Wolf Brigade. It's washed away after he reenters Koroviev, which is now controlled by the Black Stone and imbued with healing energy.
  • Blood-Stained Glass Windows: The final battle takes place in and under the Grand Cathedral.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Child is so far above human comprehension that it can't be called either good or evil, and it's uncertain if it's even acting consciously. The Man in Black claims that the only thing it truly feels is fear.
  • Body Horror: All over the place, between plague victims, flagellants, and the victims of the Inquisition. A more subtle example is Natasha, who has the white hair of an old woman despite being 10 years old.
    • There's also Johannes, whose left leg is horribly crooked and twisted thanks to absolutely brutal torture at the hands of the Inquisition.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Lars Petrov, blacksmith and alcoholic. The knight Casimir also counts.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Or rather, Goranian army ending. After the Child is killed, a large Goranian host marches into the ruined, defenseless city and are thoroughly horrified by what they find there. Louvel surrenders to them, utterly dejected and traumatized, and is held for a year in Gorani before King Vladimir sees fit to personally question him, setting up the third and final act of the story.
  • Book Burning: And not just the books, but also the people who write them.
  • Bookworm: Natasha reads a lot, as Johannes has a very well stocked library and there's not much else to do all day. This, combined with her desire to see the outside world, leads to her Longing for Fictionland.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: This happens to anyone who falls under the control of the Black Stone. They retain their knowledge and intelligence, but devote themselves entirely to protecting the Black Stone, with absolutely no regard for their own lives.
  • Broken Ace: Johannes is a genius wizard who's traveled all over the world and cured plagues, but in the present day he's a crippled, drunken wreck.
  • Brutally Honest: Johannes always tells the brutal truth. But he doesn't always tell the entire brutal truth.
  • The Brute: Konrad, who is trusted with dispatching politically inconvenient people without being traced back to Heinrich.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Johannes.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Heinrich doesn't even remember who Johannes is. Johannes exploits this to operate under the radar.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth: A recurring symbol, associated with the Child.
  • Burn the Witch!: A favorite pastime of the Inquisition.
  • Butt-Monkey: Lars Ulrich. Ironically, he actually survives the entire story, one of the very few characters to do so.
  • Byronic Hero: Johannes hits all the major points.
  • Came Back Wrong: Everybody resurrected by the Black Stone. Since many of the deceased have decayed too far for them to be resurrected as they were in life, the Black Stone ends up resurrecting a great many people as mindless, identical zombies that are capable of little more than sitting around in a state of catatonic bliss.
  • Came from the Sky: The Black Stone.
  • Captured Super-Entity: The Black Stone after being acquired by Heinrich's forces, though it turns the tables almost immediately.
  • Carnival of Killers: The Wolf Brigade, a small group of sociopathic knights gathered by Konrad to act as Heinrich's private hit squad.
  • Cats Are Magic: A myth spreads through the Greys that cats are actually fugitive witches in disguise, leading to mass killings of them throughout the city.
  • The Chessmaster: Johannes, Heinrich, and King Vladimir, all of whom are Out-Gambitted by the Man in Black.
  • The Chew Toy: Johannes is an utterly serious example.
  • Child Soldiers: The Grey Militia counts children as young as 10 in its ranks.
  • Children Are Innocent: Natasha is a rather strange example of this, as while she displays a Cloud Cuckoolander mindset influenced by her bizarre visions along with occasional signs of Troubling Unchildlike Behavior, she is still by far the most innocent and well-adjusted person in the story.
  • The Chosen One: Heinrich thinks that the Black Stone has chosen him alone to lead mankind to paradise. Louvel actually is chosen by the Man in Black to be the executioner for the Child, which is why he alone is able to resist falling to its influence.
  • Church Militant: The Militant Order of the Shining Hand, who are like a medieval Spetsnaz.
  • Citadel City: Koroviev. It's sufficiently well-fortified and supplied that it's considered to be essentially unconquerable, though the orcs got pretty close.
  • Closed Circle: On a national scale. Koroviev's borders are closed and it maintains only limited contact with the outside world, due to both the paranoia of the Church and the plague ravaging the city.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander:
    • Natasha, partially as a result of her secluded upbringing meaning that most of her knowledge of human interaction comes from books, partially as a result of her visions.
    • Heinrich has numerous odd beliefs and habits that hint at how deeply delusional and narcissistic he is, including a tendency to talk out loud to "God" in full earshot of his subordinates and a belief that his thoughts literally shape the world around him.
  • Co-Dragons: Konrad and Ludwig to Heinrich.
  • Color Motif: The color white is usually associated with the Church and with eldritch things.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Konrad does everything possible to win. This, more than anything else, is what makes him so dangerous. Fortunately, Louvel is more than able to match him in this.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Johannes looks like old Max Von Sydow, Louvel looks like young Max Von Sydow, and Konrad looks like a young Josef Stalin.
  • Complete Immortality: Everything under the Black Stone's control.
  • Confusion Fu: Due to his unique situation, Louvel has adopted an extremely unorthodox fighting style that uses the magic from his witch hand as his primary means of attack and defense while his sword is used more as a backup weapon.
  • Corrupt Church: Most of the clergy are corrupt hypocrites.
  • The Corruption: The Black Stone, which mentally enslaves all things to itself and twists space and time with its mere presence.
  • Cosmic Horror Reveal: Ruga, and the reveal of the Black Stone.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Turns into this gradually.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Louvel is completely certain that he's one by this point.
  • The Coup: The final act begins with Heinrich launching one against the leadership of the Church.
  • Crapsack World: Koroviev, literally. It has designated shitting streets.
  • Crapsaccharine World: After the city falls to the Black Stone, it is transformed into what can legitimately be considered a heavenly paradise, albeit one that is utterly horrifying for anybody who values things like "free will" or "individuality" or "change" or "not being mentally enslaved to a giant Cthulhu baby for the rest of time".
  • Crazy-Prepared: Johannes fully expects to be betrayed by the Church one day and has equipped his tower with various traps and escape tunnels for when that day comes. They don't save him.
  • Creepy Cathedral: Koroviev has lots of them. The largest is the Grand Cathedral, the largest building in the city. It's visible from almost everywhere in the city and the interior can house a congregation of thousands. It fell into ruin along with the city, and is mostly in a state of disrepair in the modern day, its vast halls empty except for a few priests. Then the Black Stone is moved there.
  • Creepy Child: The seer Natasha, particularly during her visions. It's heavily implied that her birth was at least partially the result of forbidden magic.
  • Creepy Good: Natasha and, to an extent, Johannes.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Most of the deaths in the story could qualify.
  • Cruel Mercy: While leaving the caverns after killing the Child, Louvel happens upon Heinrich, wandering around confused and blind in the darkness and taking no notice of him. Louvel briefly considers beheading him then and there, but decides that such an end would be too good for him and so leaves him there to rot.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: The Child of the Black Stone is just an abandoned infant doing what it has to to survive in this world and likely has no idea that the people it's harming are even sentient, but Louvel has to kill it before it grows too powerful and corrupts the entire world.
  • The Cynic: Johannes, rather justifiably.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Johannes was arrested and tortured by the Inquisition until his legs didn't work anymore, had to sell out close friends just to survive, and, just to rub salt in the wound, was personally forced by Heinrich to watch them be burned and hanged. Now he's stuck in a mostly useless position where he is made to forge weapons for the people who ruined his life, with only his love for Natasha and his desire for revenge to keep him going.
  • Dark Fantasy: Both in the sense of "Fantasy that takes place in a Crapsack World" and "Horror in a fantasy setting." The general tone I have in mind for the setting is "The Witcher dying of brain cancer".
  • Darker and Edgier: Significantly so compared to Until The Light Takes Us. To put it in terms of black metal bands, I like to think of Until the Light Takes Us as being atmospheric black metal like Agalloch or Burzum, while The Sorrows of Koroviev is Deathspell Omega.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Natasha is partially named after Johannes's late wife Nadja.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Johannes is a particularly vitriolic example. Louvel has also developed into one by this point.
  • Death Seeker: Johannes, for a multitude of reasons. He even admits that the only reasons he hasn't killed himself are to protect and raise Natasha and one day kill Heinrich.
  • Defiant to the End: Johannes goes out in a furious Last Stand against a horde of enemies and ends up destroying the whole tower to deny Heinrich access to his secrets.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Koroviev has all the social attitudes one would expect of an impoverished medieval theocracy.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Lars Ulrich tends to speak like this, in contrast to the rest of the Greys, who are proudly stupid. He still hates "book readers" though. Heinrich also does this a lot, albeit to a much lesser extent, as he actually knows how to read.
  • Demoted to Dragon: After killing the leaders of the Church and becoming a Dragon Ascendant, Heinrich is almost immediately kicked back down to Dragon-in-Chief after the Child subdues his mind.
  • Demoted to Extra: The Man in Black is still an important character behind the scenes, but he appears far less in this volume, having only a few brief scenes.
  • The Determinator: After all these years, Johannes is still trying to save the city from itself and overthrow the theocracy.
  • Deuteragonist: Johannes, to the point where Louvel is almost a Supporting Protagonist.
  • Die Laughing: Johannes chuckles mirthlessly before detonating a cache of alchemist fire, destroying the entire tower and a good chunk of the surrounding area in a massive, fiery explosion.
  • Dissonant Serenity: One of Konrad's trademarks. He drops it when he's actually in danger.
  • Dirty Cop: Many of the Greys are fully willing to accept bribes, especially Lars Ulrich.
  • Dirty Coward: Konrad is more than willing to torture and kill helpless prisoners, take credit for other people's victories, and cheat in duels, but when the chips are down, he runs for his life.
  • Disabled Snarker: Johannes.
  • Disc-One Final Dungeon: The Inquisition's headquarters in the Tower of Joy.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Just about every punishment meted out by the Inquisition. Adultery and homosexuality, for instance, are both punishable by being burned alive.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Many things Heinrich and his subordinates do are intended to invoke the Nazis and ISIS.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Heinrich to the Grand Minister and other leading clergymen. They are the rulers of the city, but Heinrich is the one the protagonists need to worry about.
  • The Dreaded: Heinrich.
  • Driven to Suicide: Teased but ultimately subverted. Louvel strongly considers killing himself at the end of the story, but decides against it.
  • Drone of Dread: A subtle, almost subsonic humming sound permeates the air as Louvel gets closer to the Black Stone, the first sign of its influence on his mind. Also, in areas controlled by the Stone, one can hear a strange sound in the distance that almost sounds like giant stones scraping against each other, which is heavily implied to be the sound of it reshaping and deforming the world. Had the campaign progressed according to plan, I also would have played dark ambient music in the background to help set the mood for the horror scenes, because I am a loser.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Johannes is a pretty heavy drinker, and the events of the story only increase this.
  • Drunken Master: Lars Petrov is perpetually hammered, but also one of the best smiths in the city.
  • Duel to the Death: Trial by combat is a legal way to resolve disputes. The duels are typically rigged.
  • The Dung Ages: Played very, very straight.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Basically everyone in Koroviev is psychologically messed up in some way, whether it's alcoholism and PTSD like Johannes, sociopathy like Heinrich and Konrad, or whatever the hell is going on with Natasha.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Koroviev is on the brink of collapse because its government is absurdly tyrannical, corrupt, and incompetent.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Child of the Black Stone, an infant of an unspecified alien race who is powerful enough to drive almost all of Koroviev insane before it's even born. Its mere presence is enough to warp the land around it into a nightmarish Dark World and it can mentally enslave other living beings to itself without even trying to.
  • Eldritch Location: Everywhere that gets corrupted by the Child. After it is killed, Koroviev remains permanently tainted by its presence and eventually becomes a deserted ruin not unlike the Zone in Stalker.
  • Elite Mooks: The Knights of the Shining Hand are significantly more well trained and equipped than the yokels that make up the Grey Militia.
  • The Empath: Heavily implied with Natasha.
  • Enfant Terrible: The Child of the Black Stone, though it isn't intentionally malicious.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Konrad is first seen killing one of Heinrich's political enemies in what is clearly a rigged duel.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Heinrich personally holds Konrad in contempt, but keeps him around because he's a useful hitman. After his coup, it's outright stated that he was going to kill Konrad as soon as he returned from assassinating Louvel, but Louvel took care of him first. This has less to do with Konrad being a murdering piece of shit and more to do with Konrad being an impious murdering piece of shit, however.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Heinrich is one to Johannes. Both are disgusted with the current state of the city and wish to change it, with Johannes wanting to create an enlightened republic while Heinrich wants to create a militaristic theocracy. Both are deeply cynical misanthropes, but Johannes is a Knight In Sour Armor who believes that people can be made better through intellectual and moral education, while Heinrich is a psychopath who thinks other people are merely constructions of his own mind not worth respecting in any way. Both are powerful men who live in towers and rarely venture into the city itself. Both are aware of the Black Stone and its potential, but while Johannes believes it's an abomination that must be destroyed at all costs, Heinrich thinks it's a gift from God directly to him. Heinrich is also one of these to Stefan from Until The Light Takes Us, being an authoritarian fundamentalist who believes himself to be The Chosen One, but while Stefan was an altruistic Hero Antagonist who was secretly riven with doubts and anxieties, Heinrich is an unambiguously evil fascist who quite literally believes that the entire world revolves around him. Also, while Stefan was a closeted, self-loathing gay man, Heinrich is implied to be more or less completely asexual.
    • Konrad is one to Louvel, being a foreign knight who serves as a hired gun for someone powerful in the city, as well as someone who doesn't take their knightly vows seriously at all. However, Konrad is a man of high status and wealth who is essentially above the law due to his powerful political connections, while Louvel is a penniless fugitive who must hide his true identity or face execution for his crimes, while also having a very strict personal code. Both are atheists who flout the values they were brought up with, but while Louvel is The Anti-Nihilist searching for goodness and meaning in a world seemingly devoid of both, Konrad is a sadistic Nietzsche Wannabe Serial Killer who revels in depravity for its own sake. Both are Combat Pragmatists, but while Louvel is aggressive and fearless in the heat of combat, Konrad is a Dirty Coward who prefers to shoot arrows from a distance or have others fight for him.
  • Evil Overlord: Heinrich after his coup, though he's not in control of his own mind for long after he obtains the Black Stone.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The Tower of Joy, where the Inquisition is based out of.
  • Expy:
    • Natasha is a mixture of Ran from Texhnolyze and Fuchsia from Gormenghast. Physically, she resembles the little girl in Angel's Egg, and some of her visions are inspired by Lain's hallucinations, such as seeing smoke coming out of her fingers.
    • Johannes is based on and named after Johannes Faust, though the character is no longer an out and out expy of him.
    • Heinrich is based heavily off of Vincent Price's character in Witchfinder General and Captain Vidal from Pan's Labyrinth, while his solipsistic world view is stolen from Kano in Texhnolyze.
    • The Grey Militia are ripped off from the Gray Stormtroopers in Hard to Be a God and the Basij militia in modern Iran.
    • The city itself is a mix of medieval Novgorod and Babylon, basing its society off the former and its reputation as the greatest city in the world as well as its corruption and ultimate downfall off the latter.
    • The Black Stone is a ripoff of The Colour Out of Space. The Child of the Black Stone looks like a cross between Ebrietas, Daughter of the Cosmos and JUDY, and the idea of an Enfant Terrible Eldritch Abomination as the final antagonist may have been subconsciously inspired by Giygas.
    • Konrad is Ryonosuke Tsukue and Ramsay Bolton.
    • Lars Ulrich is basically a medieval Randy, complete with disparaging remarks about his gut.
  • Fainting Seer: Natasha's last vision literally drives her into catatonia from how horrible it is.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Heinrich is a dead serious example.
  • Family Values Villain: Played with regarding Heinrich. He wants to create a morally pure Koroviev free of corruption and degeneracy, but is perfectly willing to use Child Soldiers and have a political alliance with Konrad, a serial killer and rapist, to achieve this.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Koroviev is one to medieval Russia and Germany, particularly the Novgorod Republic if it had collapsed in on itself from corruption instead of being conquered by Muscovy. Gorani, its neighbor, is this to Russia under Ivan the Terrible, and it also has elements of Transylvania during the reign of Vlad Tepes.
  • Fantastic Racism: The people of Koroviev are suspicious of all outsiders, but they really hate orcs and half-orcs. It's not without reason, considering that they're responsible for the most traumatic war the city has ever seen. They also look down on people from other human countries such as Indria and Gorani, which they consider to be barely above barbarians. This is one of the things that most irks Louvel about Johannes, as Johannes has a tendency to speak down to him like he's an idiot since he's a foreign knight and thus supposedly of a lesser intellectual class.
  • Fascist, but Inefficient: Koroviev in a nutshell. The government is horrifically tyrannical and brutal, but also riddled with corruption and almost totally inept at actually managing the city's problems. This is exacerbated by almost continuous conflict between different factions within the Church, to the point where Heinrich's coup against the clergy doesn't even surprise anyone. It doesn't help that their extreme xenophobia leads to them severing many trade ties with other nations and making enemies unnecessarily. At the end of the day, it's closer to being a medieval North Korea than it is The Empire.
  • Fat Bastard: Lars Ulrich and a fair number of clergymen.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Heinrich, who is left to blindly wander the remains of the Cradle for the rest of time, never knowing why he was ejected from paradise.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Konrad.
  • A Fête Worse Than Death: Witch burnings and public executions are treated as a perverse public ritual that is to be enjoyed and applauded. Many citizens, especially those old enough to remember how the city once was, find the rituals to be horrific, but nobody ever voices open opposition to them lest they end up on a stake themselves.
  • Flower Motifs: White flowers are associated with Saint Alessa, the city's patron saint, and are considered a symbol of health and faith. Later, the same white flowers grow in the Cradle beneath the Grand Cathedral, this time altered by the Black Stone to have healing properties.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: "The Tower of Joy" is an ironic name for the structure where the Inquisition imprisons and tortures people.
    • With all its associations with images of butterflies, flowers, and angels, you wouldn't think that the Child was an Eldritch Abomination responsible for corrupting and destroying the city bit by bit.
  • Foil: Johannes and Heinrich are more or less complete opposites of each other in every conceivable way. No wonder they hate each other so much. Konrad is also one to Heinrich. Both of them are Faux Affably Evil sociopaths barely able to conceal their sadism, but the difference is that Heinrich genuinely believes everything he says about "the good of Koroviev", while Konrad has no delusions about his actions and does what he does because he enjoys it.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The tolling bells of the Grand Cathedral are a repeated motif.
  • Foreshadowing: Johannes says at one point that, after the revolution, he briefly considered loading himself up with alchemist fire, walking right into the Tower of Joy, and blowing himself up along with the entire Inquisition, thinking it would be "a just death for all involved". He ends up doing something very much like that near the end.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Johannes has multiple ones.
  • From Bad to Worse: The last 30 years of Koroviev's history, pretty much. Reaches its nadir during the actual story, where the city becomes the human equivalent of Boatmurdered.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Heinrich went from a rank-and-file member of the city's Secret Police to a sociopathic fascist who ruins absolutely everything.
  • Functional Addict: Johannes is an incredibly heavy drinker who nonetheless manages to be The Chessmaster and is still one of the greatest wizards in the human world.
  • The Fundamentalist: Heinrich wouldn't be out of place in ISIS.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Johannes is really good at designing new weapons and destructive spells, which is the primary reason the Church hasn't killed him yet.
  • Gainax Ending: I don't really know if it's a Bittersweet Ending, a Downer Ending, or just an Ambiguous Ending, but suffice to say that nothing goes according to plan for anyone. Following the death of the Child, its control over Koroviev disintegrates and the resulting reality crash causes a catastrophe as Alien Geometries are forced to contort back to normal and all the beings it resurrected crumble into dust or fade back into the ether. The Man in Black suddenly disappears as soon as the killing blow is struck, seemingly to his surprise. Louvel wanders out of the caverns as all the Alien Kudzu around him withers and dies, and comes upon Heinrich, wandering about in a blind daze as the Child's control recedes and he is left alone in the prison of his own mind. Louvel decides to leave him like this, and eventually returns to the surface, where he sees a vision of Johannes and Natasha fade away as the sun begins to set. He considers killing himself with his knife, but lacks the nerve to go through with it and falls dejected to the ground. At the same time, the armies of Gorani, which had been gathering on the border for most of the story, finally launch their attack, only to find a pile of contorted rubble where Koroviev once stood. As they wander, baffled, through the ruins, they come upon Louvel, lying catatonic in a puddle of rainwater, and take him prisoner. The end. Nobody wins.
  • Gallows Humor: Quite a lot, often supplied by Johannes.
  • Garden of Evil: The Cradle.
  • General Ripper: Both Heinrich and Ludwig, though Ludwig is more reasonable and seems to be conflicted about allying with Heinrich.
  • Genre Shift: It starts off as gritty, medieval Low Fantasy with a streak of Black Comedy, but gets increasingly Lovecraftian from the journey to Ruga onward.
  • The Ghost: King Vladimir of Gorani, who is a major player behind the scenes but isn't seen in person until the very last scene of the comic.
  • Gilded Cage: Johannes's tower is one for Natasha, as she is allowed to wander it freely but can never leave for her own safety.
  • Girl in the Tower: Natasha.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Natasha, after her final vision.
  • A God Am I: While Heinrich believes that only he and God truly exist, it's further implied that he perceives "God" as being a separate part of his own mind that only serves to generate the world around him.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Johannes basically blackmails Louvel into helping him and is something of a spiteful dick, but can you really blame him?
  • Good Parents: Johannes to Natasha, once you get past the overprotectiveness.
  • Goo Goo Godlike: The Child of the Black Stone is a powerful Reality Warper who is worshiped by those who encounter it before it's even born.
  • Gorn: There are some pretty unpleasant deaths, to say the least.
  • Gothic Horror: A definite influence, particularly with the overall aesthetic of the setting.
  • Grand Inquisitor Scene: A literal example when Heinrich interrogates Louvel in the Tower of Joy, though Louvel is able to turn the tables on him.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Eastern War 24 years prior to the story, in which a large alliance of orc and human tribes from the eastern wastes invaded Gorani in a massive war of conquest and annihilation. Though Gorani and Koroviev eventually emerged victorious, it was at an enormous cost; Koroviev was besieged for almost three years, during which it lost nearly a quarter of its population to starvation, and the incompetent wartime leadership of the Council of Princes was so damaging that it set the stage for the religious revolution that installed the current government of Koroviev. It also led to the early ascendancy of King Vladimir after his father was killed in battle, and his victory in the war is what created the powerful cult of personality that he currently enjoys.
  • Grey Rain of Depression: It rains a lot in Koroviev. And when it's not raining, it's foggy.
  • Grumpy Old Man: Johannes.
  • Guile Hero: How Johannes has survived all these years.
  • Gutted Like a Fish: How Louvel finally dispatches Konrad.
  • Handicapped Badass: Johannes isn't traditionally a badass, but you have to give him props for surviving this long in a society that hates him while doing everything possible to subvert the theocracy that ruined the city and his life. He's also Crazy-Prepared enough to single handedly kill over 100 men when Heinrich finally decides he needs to go.
  • Happily Adopted: Johannes claims Natasha is his granddaughter, but she is actually this.
  • Harmful to Minors: The child characters are exposed to as much horror as the adults.
  • The Heavy: Heinrich.
  • Heavy Mithril: Inverted, as much of the story was inspired by various metal bands. Most notable is the Black Stone, which is taken from the song "The Black Stone" by Kayo Dot, which is about a meteor that falls outside a village and becomes an object of worship. The city itself is named after a Khanate song. There are many other examples, all of which are detailed under Shout-Out.
  • He Knows Too Much: Why Heinrich sends Konrad to kill the protagonists.
  • Hellhole Prison: The dungeons in the Tower of Joy.
  • Heroic BSoD: After a certain point, Natasha stops speaking completely and spends all day in her room staring blankly at the wall. It's because she receives a final vision of the tower being assaulted, Johannes and herself being killed, and the entire city of Koroviev being consumed by the Black Stone. This also causes Johannes to have one, finally breaking through his stoic cynicism and causing him to bleakly admit that he doesn't understand anything that's happening.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Both Louvel and Johannes; Louvel for being a suspicious foreigner, and Johannes for being a wizard.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Johannes frequently does this.
  • Hidden Depths: Displayed by Johannes, who initially appears to be very sinister and manipulative, to the point where he seems like he might be the Big Bad, but is later shown to be a tragic, sympathetic Anti-Hero.
  • Hitler Cam: Heinrich is usually seen from this angle. Inverted in his final scene, where he's seen from above as he stumbles around in the dark following the Child's death to highlight his powerlessness.
  • Holier Than Thou: Heinrich's general demeanor.
  • Homage:
    • The fight with the Wolf Brigade is a fusion of the fight with the Yoshioka School in Vagabond, and the Battle at Amon Hen in The Fellowship of the Ring. Konrad's death is ripped off from the death of the main villain in Rambo 2008.
    • Natasha's visions are a mix of the Black Lodge scenes in Twin Peaks, Jan Svankmajer's Alice, and the animations of Yuri Norstein. One specific vision she has, where she looks outside and sees a crashed bomber plane sticking up out of a swamp, is inspired by an iconic shot in Ivan's Childhood.
    • Louvel's fighting style in this volume, in which he forgoes a shield in favor of dodging and makes use of basic combat magic, is ripped off from The Witcher, with a bit of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice thrown in for good measure.
    • The final scene of Louvel lying catatonic in a muddy ditch as soldiers come to take him away was inspired by an iconic shot in Stalker.
  • Horrifying the Horror: The Child of the Black Stone actually ends up doing this to the Man in Black, who is clearly extremely disturbed by its presence and demands that Louvel kill it for the sake of humanity.
  • Humans Are Bastards: More or less the main theme of the story. The entire thing is just a cavalcade of the absolute worst of humanity on full display.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: The eldritch horror from another world ultimately ends up being a pitiable Tragic Monster that only wants to survive in an alien environment. The real villains are the humans who start to worship it and plan to use it for their own destructive ends.
  • Hypocrite: Heinrich is a fanatical moral crusader, but he actively covers up Konrad's serial murders and sexual assaults because he's a valuable political ally and his victims "don't count" on account of mostly being serfs. In his POV chapter it's also shown that, despite being fanatical about tracking down and punishing heresy, he himself holds deep-seated beliefs that could only be considered radically heretical, namely being a solipsist who genuinely believes that only he and God are real while the rest of the world is an illusion designed to test him.
  • I Am the Noun: Courtesy of Heinrich, in his Motive Rant. As explained under Ax-Crazy, he more or less means it literally.
    "I am Koroviev."
  • I Call It "Vera": Casimir's sword is named "Irina", after his daughter (or perhaps his daughter is named after his sword).
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Louvel kills Konrad by impaling him from behind and then gutting him.
  • Insufferable Genius: Johannes likes to lord his intellect over others, particularly Louvel.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Though there's quite a bit of friction between them at first, Louvel gradually develops this with Johannes, and later with Natasha.
  • Irony: The famously incorruptible and patriotic Heinrich ultimately gets brainwashed with ease by the Black Stone and becomes its most fanatical servant, leading to the near complete destruction of Koroviev. Also, for a man proud of his vigilance, he ironically ends up gouging out his own eyes after being converted by the Black Stone, and his final fate is to blindly wander the empty caverns beneath the Grand Cathedral for eternity.
  • It's All About Me: Heinrich is self-centered to a pathological degree. His POV chapter shows that he is a solipsist, who believes that only he and God are real.
  • It's Personal: Johannes wants to overthrow the regime on philosophical grounds, but is also motivated by a desire to get revenge on Heinrich.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: This is beloved in Koroviev, used with abandon by the Greys, the Inquisition, and the Knights. Louvel receives this from Heinrich himself, before Johannes steps in to save him.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Johannes.
  • Jerkass: Even amidst the depravity of Koroviev, Lars Ulrich comes across as a petty, spiteful dick.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Johannes is a bit of an arrogant dick, but he has the city's best interests at heart and he cares for his daughter.
  • Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Heinrich, especially once he makes himself dictator of the city.
  • Karmic Death: Konrad and the rest of the Wolf Brigade receive richly deserved deaths at Louvel's hand. Some escape the fight, but its implied that they're either killed by Goranian soldiers or taken over by the Black Stone anyway.
  • Keystone Army: The only way to stop the Black Stone's influence from spreading is by killing the Child.
  • Kick the Dog: Heinrich personally tortured Johannes until his left leg was useless and forced him to sell out friends and colleagues to be imprisoned and executed. Furthermore, Heinrich did shit like this so often he doesn't even specifically remember Johannes.
    • There's also the fact that the Greys literally have a policy about killing any cats they come across, on account of them being "demons".
  • Kids Are Cruel: The Grey cadets are just as fanatical and wantonly cruel as their adult superiors. Some of them even denounce their own parents to the Inquisition, in a way similar to Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • The Killer Becomes the Killed: Happens to Konrad at Louvel's hand.
  • Kill 'Em All: By the end of the story, almost everyone in Koroviev is dead, as is the Child of the Black Stone. Back when it was a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, every single NPC with the possible exceptions of Lars Petrov, Casimir, and Boris the Cat was dead by the end of the story.
  • Kind Hearted Cat Lover: Johannes is the proud owner of a black cat named Boris. Natasha is particularly affectionate to the little beast.
  • Knight Errant: Louvel's cover story for being in Koroviev.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Casimir, once you get past the alcoholism and wanton violence.
  • Knight In Sour Armor: Quite literally every good character except for Casimir and Natasha is one of these by this point.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The appearance of the Black Stone changes it from normal Low Fantasy to Cosmic Horror, while the hatching of the Child changes the tone from "grim but hopeful" to "HELL."
  • Knight Templar: Heinrich. Like Johannes, he sees how far the city has fallen and wants to restore it to its former glory, but his way of doing so is to make it even more fanatical and aggressively militaristic. There's also his ally Ludwig, who is almost literally this since he's the grandmaster of a religious knightly order.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For someone who spends the whole story condemning thousands of people to death and damnation, Heinrich ends up in a very personal hell at the end of the story. After the Child is killed, Heinrich has the heavenly paradise he longed for suddenly ripped away from him, and is left to blindly wander in the darkness beneath the Grand Cathedral in confusion and despair, possibly forever.
  • Last of His Kind: Johannes is the last wizard left in Koroviev. He was one of a handful of wizards spared by the purges, but over the following years the rest died, fled, or disappeared. This breeds resentment against him by commoners whose loved ones are sent to the Inquisition on false accusations of practicing magic, while Johannes is openly operating as a wizard with the blessings of the Church.
  • Last Stand: Johannes mounts one when the Inquisition comes to kill him, and ends up killing over 100 men with his spells before deciding to bring the entire tower down on top of his attackers.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: One scene has Heinrich apparently soliloquizing directly to the audience, only for it to be revealed that he's speaking to "God", as is his habit.
  • Leave No Survivors: Once Heinrich launches his coup, he orders the Knights to slaughter the entire leadership of the Church, while also sending the Grey Militia and the Wolf Brigade out to clean up other dissidents, i.e. all of the main characters, especially Johannes.
  • Light Is Not Good: The Inquisition all have white uniforms, and all of the life spawned from the Black Stone, including the Child itself, is luminescent white. In addition, Natasha's Mystical White Hair is the most obvious outward indicator of her otherworldly nature, which she views as a curse.
  • The Lost Lenore: Johannes's wife Nadja, who disappeared without a trace while he was imprisoned by the Inquisition during the purges. Though she isn't dead, Maria is also this for Louvel, as he can never see her or his son with her ever again.
  • The Lost Woods: The forests surrounding the city, after the Black Stone hits.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: What the Black Stone does to the minds of those it enslaves.
  • Mad Oracle: Natasha.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Natasha is this for Johannes, though he regrets the necessity of this and would raise her normally if he thought it wouldn't result in her being burnt at the stake.
  • Mage Tower: Johannes and Natasha live in one.
  • Magic Knight: Louvel has learned much about magic by this point in the story, and uses various magical charms and basic spells to help him in combat. This proves invaluable to him when he has to fight the Wolf Brigade.
  • Magic Meteor: The Black Stone, which has adverse effects on everything around it and seems to be completely indestructible. It's an egg that incubates a baby Eldritch Abomination.
  • Malevolent Masked Man: Many Greys wear chainmail facemasks that resemble balaclavas.
  • The Man Behind the Curtain: The Child is built up as a terrifying, unknowable God of Evil for the whole story, but when it's finally confronted, it turns out to be a frightened, oblivious infant that only wants to survive.
  • Man in White: Heinrich is always seen in his white Inquisition uniform.
  • Master Swordsman: Zigzagged with Louvel; while he's grown more accustomed to fighting left-handed during the Time Skip, he's still rather awkward with it compared to regular swordsmen like Casimir, and his sword swings tend to be deliberately slow and unorthodox to confuse his opponents. He instead uses the magic of his witch hand as his primary weapon, with his sword being more of a sidearm.
  • Meaningful Name: Johannes is named after Johannes Faust. Heinrich is named after Heinrich Kramer, real life witch hunter and author of the Malleus Maleficarum.
  • Military Mage: Johannes's primary job is developing new destructive spells and magical weapons for Koroviev's army. His expertise in this field is the main reason he's still alive. He was actually forced into this career a long time ago, when the orcish siege forced the city to enlist most of the city's alchemists and wizards into constructing destructive spells, alchemist fire, and poison gas to fight against the hordes. Johannes proved to be quite talented at this.
  • Mind Rape: The Black Stone does this to every conscious being that gets near it.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Heinrich. Most of his beliefs and actions are motivated by a deep contempt and disgust for the human race, most clearly seen after he begins worshiping the Black Stone, where he proclaims himself as having transcended "material putrescence".
  • Mook Horror Show: The battle against the Wolf Brigade turns into this very quickly.
  • Mook Lieutenant: Lars Ulrich and other named militia commanders and Inquisitors.
  • Morality Pet: Natasha is this for Johannes, and is in fact the main reason he hasn't killed himself yet. That said, he admits to sometimes finding her unsettling, something he feels guilty about.
  • Moral Sociopathy: Heinrich is an utterly pitiless sociopath, but he follows a strict code of religious law that he believes makes him inherently right.
  • Mr. Exposition: Johannes serves as the main source of information about the city's downfall.
  • My Greatest Failure: Johannes has two, both explained under The Atoner.
  • Mysterious Waif: No one is quite sure where Natasha came from or what the source of her visions is. Johannes simply found her one day as an infant in a house with three corpses in it.
  • Mystical White Hair: Natasha's hair is described as being "as white and brittle as ancient bone."
  • Nice Guy: Casimir and Lars Petrov. They're pretty much the least creepy people in the story, though in true Koroviev fashion both are quite violent people in their own right.
  • Noble Demon: Ludwig has elements of this, and is definitely the most sympathetic of the main antagonists ( the human ones, anyways).
  • Non-Action Big Bad: Despite extolling the virtue of righteous violence, Heinrich never engages in combat. He has personally participated in the torture and execution of potentially thousands of people though.
  • Non-Malicious Monster: The Child of the Black Stone. I'm proud to have written a story where arguably the most innocent character is the Big Bad Eldritch Abomination.
  • No Sense of Humor: Heinrich, especially when the subject of the joke is him.
  • No Woman's Land: It should be no surprise that Koroviev is immensely misogynist. Men are literally promised wives as a reward for entering the Grey Militia, and the women have no say in the matter of who they're allowed to marry. It wasn't always this way; during the old days it was the most egalitarian city in the human realm, with plenty of women holding high positions of power.
  • Not So Stoic: Johannes gets extremely anxious and depressed when Natasha suddenly goes catatonic.
  • Not Worth Killing: Louvel decides this about Heinrich at the end.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Johannes pretends to be a doddering sycophant around Church officials to throw off suspicion.
  • Obliviously Evil: The Child is implied to be acting benevolently to the best of its understanding, resurrecting the dead and curing all ailments that plague people, but also completely changing the entire world around it into an extension of itself and obliterating peoples' free will.
  • Oh, Crap!: Konrad has a moment of this after Louvel's magical trap kills half his men in the space of about 5 seconds.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Johannes, who is trained in alchemy, medicine, history, astrology, astronomy, and also has a passing interest in the history of the elves.
  • One-Man Army: Using guile, superior swordsmanship, and a little bit of magic, Louvel single handedly kills almost the entire Wolf Brigade. At the same time this happens, Johannes is able to kill over a hundred men using the spells and explosives stocked in his tower.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted with Lars Petrov and Lars Ulrich.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: After Natasha goes into catatonia, the normally stoic Johannes becomes incredibly resigned and somber.
    "I don't understand this. I just don't understand any of this."
    • Played for maximum horror with Heinrich, who if anything becomes an even more disturbing character after the Black Stone takes him over. While before he was a hateful, paranoid, and domineering individual, in the finale he's become significantly more tranquil and calm, and his voice is noticeably higher and softer than it was before.
  • The Ophelia: Natasha plays this straight to the point of cliche.
  • Oracular Urchin: Natasha.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The Black Stone has absolutely nothing to do with Koroviev's descent into a theocratic dictatorship. The religious mania in the city makes it fertile ground for being made to worship and protect it, however.
  • Overprotective Dad: Johannes.
  • Papa Wolf: Johannes to Natasha.
  • The Paranoiac: Heinrich is a pretty textbook example, seeing conspiracies and threats to his power everywhere he looks and regularly instituting purges as a result.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Runs high in Koroviev, and everyone is suspicious of foreign saboteurs trying to subvert the new state. Like, for example, the protagonists.
  • Persecuted Intellectuals: Literacy is literally a crime for anyone not of noble birth.
  • Pet Rat: Johannes pays Lars Ulrich a tidy sum to spy on his superiors for him.
  • Pet the Dog: The Man in Black has an unusually kind and gentle demeanor when he appears to Natasha.
  • Phrase-Catcher: "Stupid fucking foreigner" for Louvel.
  • Physical God: The Child of the Black Stone is already one in its womb. As it gets older, it gets more powerful, and it's stated that if it isn't killed in its infancy, it'll effectively reshape the whole world to its liking.
  • The Pig Pen: Lars Ulrich has never seen a bathtub in his life.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Louvel, who is caught between the plans of Johannes and the Man in Black. He is aware of this and incredibly frustrated by it.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: All the bad guys are incredibly racist and sexist. Women are expected to Stay in the Kitchen and homosexuality is punishable by death. Nonhumans are literally spit upon in the streets and their deaths are not treated as a big deal. Konrad also has an extremely elitist attitude toward the lower classes, considering them to be subhuman and calling them "street pigs."
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Natasha has been like this since she was born.
  • Principles Zealot: Heinrich is an extremely evil example. It's a big part of what makes him an intimidating villain, as, unlike the rest of Koroviev's government, he cannot be bribed or bargained with, and he would torture or kill anyone, even close friends and family, if it fit his twisted ideals.
  • Properly Paranoid: Johannes, about everything. Heinrich is irrationally paranoid about a great many things, but he's on the money about Gorani attempting to subvert the internal stability of the city. He's incorrect about Louvel being in on that particular conspiracy, however.
  • Prophet Eyes: Natasha's pupils and irises pretty much dissolve when her visions come. When she is last seen in the Cradle, she has cataracts over her eyes.
  • Psycho for Hire: Konrad is Heinrich's private hitman.
  • Psycho Supporter: Ludwig to Heinrich.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Many of the Greys are just regular dudes who joined up to support their families. This actually ends up reinforcing the Humans Are Bastards theme even more, because all the atrocities they commit are not being done by psychopaths, but by normal people who have been manipulated by a malevolent regime.
  • The Purge: A regular occurrence in Koroviev. The leadership of the Grey Militia is purged so often that some officers, like Lars Ulrich, deliberately avoid being promoted so as not to be in the line of fire when the next purge comes. Heinrich starts an especially brutal one after his coup, in which he has the Knights of the Shining Hand massacre almost the entire leadership of the Church.
  • Putting on the Reich: The platemail that the Knights of the Shining Hand wear resembles a cross between Knight Templar armor and KKK robes.
  • Rage Helm: Konrad's helmet is made to resemble a snarling wolf.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The bulk of the story was conceived during the presidential election in 2016, which is why everything is as nasty and horrible as possible.
  • Reality Warper: The Child warps the geography of Koroviev into strange and unnatural shapes with its dreams.
  • The Red Baron: Konrad is known as "The Wolf Knight" due to his armor.
  • Religious Horror: Mixed with Cosmic Horror, particularly near the end when the entire city begins worshiping the Black Stone.
  • Revenge: One of Johannes's major goals is to kill Heinrich for, uh... everything.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: After his coup, Heinrich starts publicly executing members of the clergy by throwing them from the roof of the Grand Cathedral, which is similar to how ISIS executes some of its victims.
  • Room 101: The lowest floor of the Tower of Joy, where the torture chambers are.
  • Sadist: Konrad is one sick fuck.
    "Let him bleed. It is a sin to relieve the pain of a sinner."
  • Sanity Slippage: Hits the entire city after Heinrich moves the Black Stone into the Grand Cathedral.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Konrad.
  • Scenery Gorn: Many lavish descriptions of Koroviev's muddy streets and crumbling gothic spires.
  • The Scourge of God: Heinrich refers to himself as "the sword of God" during his Motive Rant.
  • The Scream: Natasha lets out a bloodcurdling one when she receives her final vision that Louvel can hear from a different floor of the tower.
  • Seer: Natasha is one, though her visions of the future tend to be highly distorted and dreamlike, rendering them somewhat difficult to interpret. Johannes theorizes that she may have some sort of magically induced attunement to the flow of time that allows her to perceive "echoes" of the future, in much the same way as a radio picking up radio signals. Just like Stefan in the last volume, her visions are always triggered by flashes of light, which further hints at their divine nature.
  • Serial Killer: Konrad kills for fun and profit.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Heavily implied with Ludwig.
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy: Or rather "Shocking Pyrrhic Victory Legacy". The current political situation in Koroviev stems from the aftermath of the orcs' devastating siege of the city during the Eastern War 25 years prior, in which nearly a quarter of the city's total population died to violence and starvation. Though the city withstood the siege and emerged on the victorious side of the war, it was a hollow victory reliant on a mixture of reinforcements from their ancient rivals in Gorani and sheer attrition on the orcish side which only ended after more than a thousand days of continuous fighting. The sheer suffering inflicted on the city's people, as well as the ignominy of their victory-by-association with Gorani, was a devastating blow to the national pride of the city and destroyed faith in democratically elected Council of Princes, who were subsequently blamed for the lackluster performance of the city's armed forces during the siege. This set the stage for the religious uprising that overthrew the Council and installed the current government, who would proceed to ruin everything right up to the present day.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The jolly Casimir and buffoonish Lars Ulrich both hightail it out of the city after Heinrich's coup, sparing them from the subsequent events.
  • Shoot the Dog: Johannes's Suicide Attack against the Knights of the Shining Hand is as much a mercy killing of Natasha as it is a last act of defiance for himself. Unfortunately, both are resurrected by the Black Stone.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Johannes's only goals in life are to kill Heinrich and protect Natasha. He succeeds at neither, though I don't believe he'd be entirely displeased with what eventually happens to Heinrich.
  • Shout-Out: In keeping with my habit of naming things after metal songs:
    • Natasha is named after the song "Natasha" by Pig Destroyer.
    • Lars Petrov is named after the frontman of Entombed, and shares his general demeanor.
    • The Black Stone is named after the song by Kayo Dot. In terms of behavior, it more resembles The Colour Out of Space.
    • The city itself is named after the song "Torching Koroviev" by Khanate.
    • One of the saints the Church reveres is a "St. Alessa." Another is Saint Vitus.
    • Johannes owns a cat named Boris. Said cat gets along well with Natasha.
    • When asked why he won't let Natasha leave the tower, Johannes paraphrases an Electric Wizard song (or rather, a movie sampled by an Electric Wizard song):
    "Look around, you'll see what's out there. Fear. And frightened people, who kill what they can't understand."
    • The capital city of Gorani is called Otrebor, named after the frontman of the band Botanist.
    • The story takes place in the year 1349, which is the name of a black metal band. The way the plague arrived in Koroviev, on a merchant ship full of dead men, is how the Black Plague arrived in Sweden in real life on that very year.
    • Johannes's late wife Nadja is named after a drone metal band.
    • When recounting the purges, Johannes says he was caught "between the hammer and the anvil".
    • Konrad's personal cadre of psychopaths is called "The Wolf Brigade".
    • A lot of the prayers and mantras repeated by the Church are literally just Deathspell Omega lyrics.
    "Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord! My mouth shall sing Thy praise!"
    • The plague ravaging the city is called "The Red Death".
    • Ludwig is named after the boss Ludwig the Accursed in Bloodborne.
    • Heinrich, while talking to Ludwig, says "Snakes and devils surround us, friends are few and rare indeed", which is a quote from the Death In June song "The Enemy Within".
    • Johannes shouts "COME UP AND GET ME!" when he sees the Knights of the Shining Hand gathered outside his tower, a reference to the Death Grips song "Come Up And Get Me", which is about a very similar situation.
    • The orcish general that besieged Koroviev in the backstory is named Shura, after the spiritual force of bloodlust and corruption in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
    • Ballistae in this world are referred to as "bolt throwers".
  • Shrinking Violet: Natasha.
  • Signs of the End Times: Many people in Koroviev believe that the world is about to end, and considering just how awful everything in general is, it's hard to blame them. It doesn't help that the Black Stone has the potential to actually destroy the world.
  • Sinister Minister: Pretty much all the high ranking Church officials.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Lars Ulrich. He's especially fond of the word "whoreson".
  • Small, Secluded World: Natasha's "dream house", where she finds herself in all her visions. It somewhat resembles an expanded and dilapidated version of the tower she's spent her whole life in, with windows outside showing different worlds that she's read about in books, such as rainforests, deserts, and later on, a World War II battlefield and the void of space. It appears to largely be a construct of her own mind, as it consists almost entirely of things she either knows about or has imagined, and she is always completely alone in it until the Man in Black invades it.
  • Smug Snake: Lars Ulrich, whom Johannes describes as "a chittering little sore of a man". Heinrich and Konrad also have definite elements of this, though both of them are legitimately dangerous.
    Johannes: They are all rats, posing as wolves.
  • The Snark Knight: Johannes.
  • Spanner in the Works: The Black Stone to literally everyone, including the Man in Black.
  • Spiteful Spit: Louvel does this to Heinrich while being tortured.
  • The Sociopath: Heinrich and Konrad.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Konrad has a soft, thin voice and almost never shouts, until Louvel is about to disembowel him anyway.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: Koroviev.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Johannes is no less drunk and vulgar than the average Korovian, he just happens to possess a larger vocabulary.
  • Squishy Wizard: Johannes is a very frail old man despite his immense magical knowledge. He's effectively dead the second one of the Knights is able to get in melee range.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Child of the Black Stone has a mermaid-like body structure, with an upper body resembling an emaciated human torso with long, spindly arms and a small, eyeless head that looks like the Eraserhead baby, and a lower body consisting of a large mass of roots.
  • The Starscream: Heinrich despises the current leadership of the Church, considering them to be greedy, faithless cowards. He eventually stages a successful coup against them and declares himself dictator of the city.
  • State Sec: The Inquisition, who are based on the Spanish Inquisition, the Soviet NKVD, and the Oprichnina of Ivan the Terrible.
  • Stepford Snarker: Johannes's sardonic humor and Insufferable Genius act work to hide the fact that he is a broken man filled with regrets.
  • The Stoic: Johannes, most of the time.
  • Straight Edge Evil: Heinrich doesn't drink, smoke, use drugs, or even appear to have any interest in sex. Johannes jokes that he probably spends his free time sitting in the dark staring at the wall. This is later shown to be true.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Natasha somewhat looks like one even though she's still alive. After the Black Stone takes over, it resurrects her and Johannes as wraiths because their physical bodies were obliterated by the alchemical explosion that Johannes set off.
  • Take That!: A fat, cowardly, corrupt, and thoroughly unhygienic militia commander is named Lars Ulrich.
  • Taking You with Me: Johannes blows himself and the rest of the tower up with a shitload of Knights inside of it to keep them from capturing Natasha. This is undone later when both are resurrected by the Black Stone, however.
  • Tears of Blood: Heinrich, while gouging out his own eyes after being taken over by the Black Stone.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Louvel and Johannes are this close to killing each other for the first half of the story.
  • The Theocracy: Koroviev, though it used to be a merchant republic with a surprisingly advanced and enlightened social system.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Louvel, in the very last scene.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It becomes difficult to tell what's real and what's not when the Black Stone starts making everyone hallucinate.
  • Time Skip: It takes place 3 years after Until The Light Takes Us.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In the 3 years since the first volume, Louvel has improved dramatically as a swordsman and has an icier, more methodical demeanor than he did back then. He also grew a nice beard at sea.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: What the Grey Militia are at heart.
  • Torture Technician: Heinrich, as both Johannes and Louvel have had the pleasure to discover.
  • Tragic Dream: Johannes's desire for a free Koroviev, Natasha's desire to live a normal life.
  • Tragic Hero: Johannes, just like his namesake.
  • Tragic Monster: The Child itself is not evil or malicious in any way, it's simply incompatible with this world.
  • Trapped in Another World: The Child is an example of the antagonist being in this situation. Its attempts to make this world more hospitable to itself are the cause of the central conflict.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Johannes went through a horrific one in the past that he still bears the scars of today.
  • Troll: Johannes delights in fucking with people, especially Church officials who come to him for inane magic-related purposes.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Natasha has moments of this, such as one scene where she watches Boris tearing apart a mouse with wide eyed fascination. The cadets of the Grey Militia are a more serious example, as they're children as young as 10 years old who are even more violent and fanatical than their adult counterparts.
  • Twisted Eucharist: The Black Stone asserts its control over humans by tempting them to drink the waters that flow from it (which is implied to be something like the Child's amniotic fluid). Doing so cures them of all disease and injury, but also obliterates their personalities. In a place like Koroviev, where both plague and religious fervor run rampant in equal measure, the people interpret it as a sign from heaven and flock to it.
  • Überwald: Koroviev and Gorani. The whole region the story takes place in is really just an expy of Central and Eastern Europe.
  • Undying Loyalty: Everything controlled by the Black Stone has this towards the Black Stone. Literally undying in the latter half of the story, where it starts resurrecting everything that has died.
  • Unknown Rival: Johannes to Heinrich, though he actually prefers it this way.
  • The Unsmile: The one time Heinrich smiles, it's more a sort of predatory sneer.
  • Unwitting Pawn: It's heavily implied that Heinrich is one of these to King Vladimir, who is subtly inciting his rise to power in order to further destabilize the city.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Heinrich wants to use the Black Stone to bring about heaven on earth and make Koroviev the new holy city.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: It really should go without saying by now. It helps that the villains are inspired greatly by actual hate groups.
  • Vestigial Empire: Koroviev used to be an incredibly advanced and enlightened city, with a proto-democratic system of governance, one of the finest universities in the human world, and a standard of living for common people far in advance of their neighbors in Gorani. However, following a devastating siege during the last invasion of the orcs, as well as a series of plagues and famines, the city's government collapsed in on itself and the Church seized full control of the entire city, leading it to become the dystopia it is today.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Inquisition and Grey Militia are treated as patriotic heroes by many of the townspeople.
  • Villains Out Shopping: The Grey Militia are frequently seen doing this. Beneath the religious fanaticism and violent anti-intellectualism, they're just regular guys who like to get hammered, bang hookers, and accept bribes too.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Heinrich has one after the Child dies and his heavenly paradise is taken away, rendering him blind, deaf, and alone in the cold and barren caverns of the Cradle.
    • Konrad has one when Louvel's trap kills half his men and he sees Louvel himself completely rip through the survivors. By the end of the battle he's reduced to running away in a blind panic and screaming at the shadows.
  • Visionary Villain: Heinrich wants to "wash away the filth" and make Koroviev into a holy empire, and thinks that the Black Stone is a gift from heaven that can help him accomplish this.
  • Waif Prophet: Natasha is a small, sickly 10 year old who can see the future, so she fits this to a T.
  • Walking Spoiler: The Child of the Black Stone is a sort of flying, lurching, scuttling spoiler.
  • Wizarding School: Magic, including Black Magic, was studied extensively at Koroviev's university. Because of this, when the purges came it was one of the first places to be sacked.
  • Wham Episode: When Heinrich launches a coup and takes over the city, which includes sending death squads after Johannes and Louvel. Doubled in intensity when the Black Stone falls into his possession and it takes him, and with him, the entire city, over.
  • Wham Shot: A subtle example; during one of Natasha's visions, wrecked World War II-era tanks and planes can be seen in the background, foreshadowing the breaking of Medieval Stasis that occurs in the next volume.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Or cat, rather. Shortly before Heinrich's coup and Natasha's descent into catatonia, Boris runs away, never to be seen again. Shortly after that, shit gets bad.
  • Witch Hunt: Still going strong, even though all the real witches are dead. Most of the accused are just innocent people.
  • The Witch Hunter: Heinrich is the main one Louvel and Johannes need to worry about, though the Inquisition as a whole is the most powerful faction in the city.
  • Womb Level: The Cradle, a series of catacombs formed from the hatching of the Black Stone that exists beneath the Grand Cathedral. It's an incubator for the Child, filled with the "flowers" that allow it to survive in this world. It's protected solely by Heinrich, and also houses Natasha's wraith. It's pretty freaky.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Arguably, the Child.
  • Wretched Hive: Koroviev as a whole, but especially the port and the slums, where the story starts off.
  • X Must Not Win: Johannes's attitude towards Heinrich.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Happens en masse to the Grey Militia after Heinrich's coup. It also would have happened to the Wolf Brigade had they not already been butchered by Louvel.
  • Younger Than They Look:
    • Natasha, despite being a young girl, has features of an old woman, including white hair and crow's feet around her eyes, almost to the point where she appears to have progeria. It goes further when she's having visions, as to outside observers she appears to have cataracts over her eyes.
    • Louvel is about 24 years old by this point, but is so battle-scarred and weather-beaten he looks like a man in his early 30s.
  • Your Head Asplode: Happens to one unfortunate Knight who gets hit in the head by a bolt of magic during Johannes's Last Stand.

"Oh sweet child of Heaven, have mercy upon us."
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