When Simon was eight years old, two Travelers attacked his family on the road. His father was killed, and his mother driven insane. Simon was only saved by the intervention of a strange man with a huge sword. He said that if Simon ever needed training, he would help, but Simon needed to take care of his mother first.
Eight years later, Simon is stuck in a tiny village with his insane mother when troops from Overlord Malachi come demanding a "sacrifice;" nine prisoners, who will be taken to the capital for unknown purposes. Simon tries to save everyone, but instead it is his friend Alin who manifests powers and kills the enemy Traveler—while their friend Leah, secretly the daughter of the King, takes the sacrifices away.
Both Simon and Alin wish to save Leah and the rest of the sacrifices, but they are on two very different paths. Alin is the hero prophesized to put an end to the sacrifices once and for all, while Simon is just a boy. They come at the problem from two different directions, gaining power to save everyone.
And of course, there is the question of what the sacrifices are truly for... and what they are holding back.
A series of fantasy novels by Will Wight. The series consists of three books, as well as a short story collection covering the original nine Territories.
- House of Blades
- Crimson Vault
- City of Light
This series provides examples of:
- Appeal to Nature: Enosh wants to release the Incarnations to destroy the "unnatural" supremacy of Ragnarus, and bring everything back to the "natural order." They don't particularly care that millions will die when the Incarnations rampage, and even want to help them after they are freed. This isn't even the natural order. In truth, Incarnations are rare; usually whenever someone Incarnated, they would immediately return to their Territory and become a part of it. On the rare occasions when Incarnations would remain in the real world and rampage, Elysian Travelers would fight them. A conspiracy created eight Incarnations at the same time for an unknown purpose, resulting in an Elysian Traveler Incarnating to stop them, and then a Ragnarus Traveler Incarnating to stop her. It was a Ragnarus Traveler who saved the world by sealing all the Incarnations (except Elysia, who had returned to her Territory on her own) beneath the Hanging Trees.
- Awesome, but Impractical: All the Dragon's Fangs are massive swords nearly seven feet long and capable of cutting through anything. They are so heavy you need Super Strength to pick them up and even then they're so long they're very difficult to wield properly. Even if you don't care about accidentally cutting everyone around you, it's easy for a skilled opponent to get inside your reach.
- Blood Magic: Ragnarus works on pain and sacrifice; blood is the most common medium of gaining what you want. The Hanging Trees that require nine lives every year are the most famous, but even entering the Crimson Vault requires a Ragnarus Traveler to give up some blood.
- Brick Joke: Several times, people in Valinhall are warned to be careful of the furniture. Even the most experienced Valinhall Travelers know that's a joke. Except when the Nye are actually threatened, they can awaken the furniture to fight.
- The Chosen One: Alin is Eliadel, a natural-born Traveler of Elysia, the most powerful of Territories. He is central to an ancient prophecy stating that he will stop the human sacrifices, kill the king of Damasca, and throw open the gates of Heaven. It doesn't take long for this to give him a swelled head. It takes him much longer to wonder if any of these things he's prophesized to do are actually good.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: In the Endross short story, Simon and an allied Endross are supposed to duel two other Endross Travelers. Simon physically throws them out of the ring in the first second, then asks for more to fight.
- Damsel in Distress: Alin and Simon spend the entire first book under the belief that their friend Leah (who they both have obvious crushes on) has been kidnapped by Damasca as either a slave or a human sacrifice. She is actually an Heiress of Damasca, and when things go sideways she's the one to take the sacrifices to the city. When Simon demands Overlord Malachi free Leah, Malachi laughs his ass off and tells him he's more than welcome to take her.
- Deus ex Machina: Alin gets a few of these handed to him, justified as he's a prophesized hero and people are willing to go out of their way to help him. But this just swells his head more, making him think he deserves more and more even though he is explicitly warned that he doesn't.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Naraka Travelers are supposed to be completely dedicated to justice. Unfortunately, Naraka defines justice as "punishing the guilty." They don't much care about side effects of their punishments, or even about preventing crimes. A Naraka Traveler can commit a crime, undergo proper penance for it in the form of pain, and then go right back to committing the same crime again.
- Eldritch Location: The Territories all have strange laws of physics, distance, morality, and even time. They are pieces of other worlds that have died; they drift through the void and are twisted by it, until they eventually find another world to latch onto.Valin: A Territory is the severed limb of a dead world... A healthy world dies, fades, floats away. It dissolves into pieces, most of which also wane away. But some small pieces—a tower, a forest, a house—hold tight. They drift across an infinite void until they tack themselves to a healthy world, a world such as ours, like ticks on the back of a dog.
- Elemental Embodiment: The Incarnations are Travelers who have become so consumed by their territories that they are merely extensions of that power. They have a great deal of difficulty thinking like people, being completely obsessed with the ideals of their Territory and making the world more like their home.
- Elemental Plane: Each of the Territories represents something physical like an element as well as an ideal. Unfortunately, the Territories are not whole worlds, and thus are rather terribly out of balance. When they interact with the real world, they have trouble handling more complex ideals and emotions.
- Asphodel, the Gardens of Mist, represents plants and compassion. Except since the Mists feed on emotions, people learn to keep their compassion stomped down for their own safety; someone can die a few feet away and they'll just ignore it.
- Avernus, the Feathered Plains, represents air and loyalty. Except it is very easy for loyalty to turn blind and for any disagreement to be seen as a betrayal; the Avernus Incarnation tried to enslave everyone into a Hive Mind so that they wouldn't have a choice.
- Endross, the Lightning Wastes, represents electricity and bravery. Except there's a fine line between bravery and stupidity; Endross Travelers are, to a man, hot-headed idiots who will challenge everyone and only follow whoever can defeat them in battle.
- Helgard, the Tower of Winter, represents cold and honesty. Except true naked honesty is dangerous on both sides; being honest with no consideration for the feelings of others is just cruel, and also endagers you as well by giving away too much of yourself.
- Lirial, the Crystal Fields, represents crystals and wisdom. Except wisdom is far more than just the accumulation of knowledge; many Lirial Travelers forget that there is supposed to be a purpose to information, rather than just consuming it for its own sake.
- Naraka, the Cavern of Flame, represents fire and justice. Except without the context of mercy, justice is both too harsh and too lenient; Naraka beasts will torture someone for overcharging on bread, but Naraka Travelers can keep committing the same crimes over and over as long as they pay the proper penance in pain.
- Ornheim, the Maelstrom of Stone, represents stone and patience. Except waiting too long can be as bad as not waiting at all; many Ornheim Travelers miss opportunities while they are still considering and planning.
- Tartarus, the Steel Labyrinth, represents metal and diligence. Except single-minded dedication to a task is dangerous both physically and mentally; even if you have the strength to continue until the task is done, your allies might kill themselves trying to keep up with you.
- Ragnarus, the Crimson Vault, represents blood and sacrifice. Except it is far too easy to sacrifice others for what you need; a true Ragnarus Traveler pays their own prices to power their weapons, but it is perfectly possible to pay the price with what you steal from others.
- Elysia, the City of Light, represents light and virtue. Except without perfect balance, it is very easy to focus on one virtue and neglect another; uncontrolled Elysia will charge bravely into battle, then honestly admit that was a terrible idea moments later.
- Valinhall, the House of Blades, is a bit harder to pin down because it's a new Territory, but it seems like it represents battle and survival. Except not everything is a battle, and insisting on making it so just endangers everyone for no reason; uncontrolled Valinhall forces people to fight for absolutely everything, no matter how large or small, and has no concept of charity.
- The Empire: Damasca is a military hegemony that demands nine sacrifices every year, uses powerful magic to stay in power, has access to a vault filled with horrific Blood Magic weapons, and most of the heirs consider killing each other the best way to prove themselves worthy of the throne. However, it turns out Damasca is not actually evil. The sacrifices are to keep the Incarnations sealed, the weapons in the vault are mostly used by the royals themselves paying a price, and the fact that most of the current heirs are power-hungry assholes is just because their father isn't a very good parent; he ultimately names the only moral Heir as his Successor. It takes almost half the trilogy before Simon really figures this out.
- Empire with a Dark Secret: It says something that the centuries of human sacrifice are not the worst thing about Damasca. The truth is, Incarnations rarely arise naturally. There was a conspiracy that created the Incarnations, then trapped them, in order to ensure there would be no unexpected Incarnations in either their world or the Territories. Without the Incarnations, the Territories were far easier to tame, allowing Damasca to build an empire. It's not entirely clear who was behind this; Damasca is the obvious culprit since they benefited the most, but the Damascan Queen of the day didn't appear to be aware of any plot.
- Establishing Character Moment: Cormac is introduced as being constantly annoyed that his commander is trying to talk instead of just murdering everyone, jumps to the opportunity for violence, and when the situation is de-escalated, he kills his commander and starts fighting again. Subverted in that this is a deliberately terrible introduction to the Damascan Kingdom as a whole. The Kingdom is a largely civilized nation that does quite a lot for its citizens and is known for not killing people who don't fight back. The sacrifices, while terrible, are for a purpose.
- Had to Be Sharp: Invoked in Valinhall. It is filled with traps, monsters, and hostile natives who will all try to kill you, in order to force you to always be aware and strong. And if they do actually kill you, then obviously you wouldn't have been able to cut it in the outside world.
- Heroic Sacrifice:
- Kai allows himself to Incarnate when fighting the current Valinhall Incarnation. Since there can't be two Incarnations at a time, this kills him slowly and painfully, but the strange effects this cause on the current Incarnation distract him long enough for Simon to defeat him.
- In the backstory, Queen Cynara the First of Damasca plants the first Hanging Tree by sacrificing her life to it. When the Founder of Ragnarus resurrects her and turns her into the Ragnarus Incarnation in an attempt to create an immortal ruler, she immediately lets the Tree trap her before she can lose her sanity.
- Hot-Blooded: Alin is impetuous, entirely convinced of his own righteousness, and very powerful. It takes him most of the series before he learns even basic patience.
- Human Sacrifice: Damasca takes nine citizens every year to sacrifice to the Hanging Trees of Ragnarus, which keep the Incarnations sealed. The series starts with Damascan soldiers wandering into Myria, a tiny village that isn't even aware they are part of Damasca and has no idea anything is expected of them. Apparently the soldiers are not normally supposed to take all the sacrifices from a single village, especially not such a small one. It's not clear why it was done differently in this case.
- Invisibility Cloak: The cloaks Valinhall Travelers receive from the Nye, when used in conjunction with the Nye essence, make the Travelers very difficult to perceive with any Territory powers. At first this is mostly helpful again Lirial, but it turns out to be very effective against Incarnations, who are constantly looking at the world through the eyes of their Territory.
- I Shall Taunt You: Alin faces two Endross Travelers who try to mock and insult him into dropping his shield and fighting them "fair." Alin is perfectly aware of what they're doing, and therefore embarrassed that it almost works anyway.
- Large Ham: Alin talks, as Simon puts it, as if he is in a storybook. This becomes more fitting once he turns out to be a mythical prophesized hero, but Simon and Alin's sisters still find it annoying.
- Magic A Is Magic A: Travelers use Gates to "Territories" from which they summon monsters and allies. They can also use the Gates for travel (hence the name). Those are the general rules, but each Territory also has its own quirks. Endross Gates gets bigger the longer they are open and eventually run out of control, Lirial Travelers can only summon things if they know exactly where they are, Valinhall Travelers summon powers into themselves rather than summoning allies, so on and so on.
- Meaningful Name: Most of the territories are based on real names. Asphodel is named after the Asphodel Meadows (a part of the Greek Underworld), Avernus is named after the entrance to the Greek Underworld, Helgard is a rare name meaning "one who offers protection," Naraka is a Sanskrit word for a place of torment, Tartarus is another place in the Greek Underworld, Elysia literally means "from Elysium" (the Greek afterlife), and Valin means "mighty soldier" in Sanskrit.
- A Million Is a Statistic: A rare inversion. Damasca sacrifices nine people every year to keep the Incarnations imprisoned. Enosh will do anything to stop those sacrifices, and they are unconcerned about the millions of people who will die when the Incarnations are unleashed.
- Misery Builds Character: You have to earn everything in Valinhall, from food to shelter to even the right to a good night's sleep. On the other hand, Elysia should operate this way, but they keep skipping steps because Alin is The Chosen One, and just give him power that they know he hasn't earned. Alin quickly gets a swelled head, while Simon knows the value of everything he has.
- The Mole: Leah was sent to Myria to search for the prophesized Elysian Traveler. Or rather, she was sent out to live on her own because that's a royal tradition, and they decided to have her look for the Elysian at the same time just in case he turned out to be real. Leah actually identified Alin in her first few hours in the village, but eventually dismissed him because he wasn't having any contact with the rebels. The truth is he hadn't come into his powers yet and was completely unaware of his destiny; Leah is rather embarrassed when she finds out how much she messed up.
- The Nameless: Ancient people refused to give their world a name, as they were afraid this would lessen it somehow and turn it into just one giant Territory where foreign Travelers could enter. People from that time therefore refer to it as "The Unnamed World." This practice has fallen out of fashion, but no one ever got around to naming it, so modern people just call it "the real world."
- One-Handed Zweihänder: All of the Dragon's Fangs, the swords that Valinhall Travelers use, are at least five feet long. They weigh so much they need Super Strength just to pick them up, but with that they typically swing them around as if they're as light as a feather.
- One-Man Army: The Travelers of Valinhall are unique in that they summon powers into themselves, rather than summoning creatures and objects from their Territory. Simon, half-trained and missing most of the powers of the House, is able to kill a dozen experienced Travelers sent to kill him. When Alin sees the destruction, he assumes Simon managed to call a small army to help him.
- Person of Mass Destruction: All Travelers (except Valinhall). They summon monsters from another world to fight for them, and are fully capable of destroying entire towns. Of course, some are more destructive than others; Lirial Travelers mostly have powers of protection and espionage, while Endross Travelers have Gates that constantly spit lightning and get bigger the longer they are open.
- Physical God: The Incarnations are Travelers who have drawn too much power from their Territories, and have become a physical expression of those Territories. They can draw unlimited power, are almost impossible to kill, don't need to eat, sleep, drink, or breathe, and their mere presence starts deforming the world into something like their Territory. Their primary weakness is that if they ever enter their Territory again, they will soon be trapped and unable to leave, since they are very much part of the Territory. Once they are trapped, the insane single-minded nature of the Territory fades, and they become much more human again. That's the way the Incarnations are supposed to work, but hundreds of years ago someone created a bunch of Incarnations and convinced them to stay in the real world.
- Plunder: Valinhall's emphasis on earning everything means the Territory has an odd ability. If a Valinhall Traveler wins an item from another Territory in battle, they can take it back to Valinhall and have it remade into a form that the Travelers can draw power from. It is placed in a room and given an appropriate test, and once a Traveler passes that test they can use its power.
- Poor Communication Kills:
- The villagers had no idea that they were expected to provide sacrifices or even that they were officially under the domain of the Damascan Kingdom. Cormac certainly didn't help by jumping to slaughter as soon as possible.
- Enosh is little more than an apocalypse cult, brainwashed to believe that freeing the Incarnations is the right thing to do because of the "natural order." Alin is not from Enosh, but it takes him a long time to start asking the right questions about why they're doing what they're doing.
- Prophecy Twist: Alin is prophesized to put an end to the sacrifices, kill the King of Damasca, and open the gates of Heaven. All of this happens, without any significant twists or turns. People should have asked what would happen after. Alin becomes the Elysia Incarnation, a rampaging god of virtue who will destroy any and all evil, no matter how small.
- Reality Ensues: Despite all the incredible powers a Valinhall Traveler can summon into themselves, they are still just a single person. This greatly limits the amount of damage they can do. They might be a One-Man Army, but anyone from another Territory is a Person of Mass Destruction, capable of summoning armies and altering the terrain on a massive scale. When the Valinhall Incarnation is unleashed he kills hundreds of people over the course of a few weeks. He duels most of them individually. When the other Incarnations are unleashed, they kill more than that in the first minutes they are awake, as they utterly destroy whatever city they were sealed under.
- Realpolitik: Enosh is an apocalypse cult that controls a small city-state, and is dedicated to destroying the Damasca Kingdom. Damasca could easily have conquered Enosh centuries ago, but having a powerful nation of Travelers nearby, even an enemy one, had its advantages. Enosh helped keep the Territories in check, they occasionally shared knowledge, and even had a few trade treaties.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Nearly every Damascan authority figure, despite an intentionally terrible Establishing Character Moment that makes them look like a bunch of Evil Overlords. Malachi caused most of the events of the series by demanding sacrifices from Myria, but the sacrifices were for a good reason and he is perfectly willing to have a conversation rather than fighting someone he believes is an insane zealot; his only major mistake was sending a violent asshole to escort the sacrifices. King Zakareth is practically emotionless and a rather terrible father, but he is a good man doing the best he can in a terrible situation, and ultimately names the kindest of his children as his Successor. Leah herself, when she becomes Queen, quickly rallies her people to survive the rampages of insane gods, and even takes to the field personally on multiple occasions.
- Right for the Wrong Reasons: People assume Kai is insane because he talks to his dolls. Except his dolls really are intelligent, prescient, and always give good advice. Kai is insane because he is obsessed with his dolls. They hate him and constantly insult him, but he never notices.
- Rule of Three: In the Ragnarus short story, it's mentioned that the Hanging Trees work best in multiples of three, and any more than nine would be unstable. It's no coincidence that the Trees fail just a few decades after a tenth is added.
- Screw Destiny: Simon is informed that he has no great destiny, that Alin is the one who will save everyone, and surely everything will be alright because of the prophecy. Simon picks up his sword and gets to work.Simon: I don't know if I've ever told you this, but I don't believe in prophecy.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: The Hanging Trees of Ragnarus seal the Incarnations of the Territories, preventing them from rampaging across the world. The seal is maintained by feeding the trees nine sacrifices per year, and it's been weakening for the past quarter-century because the King was forced to seal a tenth Incarnation into a prison built for nine.
- Seer: Some Avernus Travelers can see the future, but only specific parts. One might be able to see her future relating to money, another the stars on a given night (useful for predicting the weather), and another knows when the latrines need to be emptied (which saves the clan from disease). On their own, these visions are incomplete at best, but an entire clan working together can paint a clear picture of the future.
- Shipper on Deck: An Endross Traveler suggests that Leah "catch" Simon. If only because she feels she's too old to do it herself.Leah: He does have a way with swords, I'll grant you.
Helene: What other virtues does a man need?
- Ship Tease: Simon and Leah have a bit of subtle teasing here and there. In addition to him desperately (and unnecessarily) trying to save her, once he discovers who she really is they get closer, she realizes a few times that she wants him to think well of her, and they both privately admit to themselves that they'd prefer to keep each other safe. In the end, Leah assigns Simon to be her bodyguard, knowing it will keep them closer.
- Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Kai's idea of training Simon is to bring him into Valinhall, a place where every room holds traps and death, and tell him to "keep an eye out." Simon almost gets killed five times before the end of the hour. Later, when training under Indirial, Simon is very happy to have a teacher who actually tells him what he wants instead of just throwing him into a lethal situation and expecting him to learn.
- Smug Snake: Talos, one of the Damascan Heirs, believes that he is a genius plotter and master swordsman. He is not. He's not a terrible plotter, but his father sees a lot more than he thinks, and he keeps allying with the wrong people. He is, however, a terrible swordsman; Simon spends a good chunk of their duel assuming that Talos is playing with him before realizing he's really just that bad.
- Smug Super: Alin spent his entire life acting like a hero from a storybook, and then he got incredible powers to back up that belief. It doesn't take him long to get a swelled head, dismissing other Travelers as weaklings trying their best and always assuming he has the right to do anything. It takes him a while to get a clearer view of the world.
- The Stoic: King Zakareth is almost supernaturally calm at all times; when Leah reports on how she screwed up her mission and tried to recover, he spends the entire conversation completely stone-faced, and Leah has no idea whether he approves or disapproves of any of it. When he names her his Successor, he smiles once or twice and even apologizes. Leah is so shocked she wonders if he's been replaced with an imposter.
- Summon Magic: The primary magic system of the world. "Travelers" can open Gates to strange worlds called "Territories," filled with powerful elemental monsters and forces. The rules are slightly different for every Territory, but every Traveler can summon a small army at nearly any time. Valinhall is the main exception, as they summon powers into themselves rather than through a Gate.
- Super Speed: If a Valinhall Traveler makes a pact with the Nye, they are granted part of their essence, which slows the world while still allowing the Traveler to move normally. Kai is the only experienced Valinhall Traveler known to not have Nye essence, as he refused to make a pact.
- Super Strength: If a Valinhall Traveler defeats the skeleton Benson and all his animated knights, they gain "Benson's steel," an incredible and long-lasting boost to strength. This is often the first power a Valinhall Traveler receives, and seemingly the one that they all share. You need steel to even wield Valinhall's famous swords in combat.
- Super Toughness: One power of Valinhall is the "stone gauntlet," which makes the Traveler nearly indestructible while it is active. It only lasts for a couple seconds, as it is only intended to help survive one or two hits, but the power recovers quickly and can be used again soon.
- Tactical RockPaperScissors: Each Territory is weak to another; for example, Endross Travelers are highly emotional due to the nature of their powers, so Asphodel, which attacks and feeds on emotions, is most effective against them. The exception is Valinhall, which is highly effective against all other Territories, and is best fought by another Valinhall Traveler.
- Teleportation: All Travelers can open Gates large enough to travel through, hence the name, but different Territories are better for travel than others. Avernus is known for being unreliable to Travel through (but skilled Travelers can jump straight to their clan holds), Lirial is constantly shifting and requires precise calculations, Ragnarus can be entered from anywhere but can only be exited in the exact same spot in the city of Cana, and Valinhall Gates can be cut from anywhere but always land in the entrance corridor and exit in the same spot the Gate was cut. Naraka is generally considered the best for travel, as locations are reliable and the waystations permanent.
- Took a Level in Kindness: Alin is a lot nicer to Simon after he realizes Simon is at least as useful as he is. Ironically, part of the reason this happens is because the people of Enosh keep trying to convince him that Simon is too dangerous to have around.
- The Unchosen One:
- Unlike Alin, Simon is just a random boy who had some bad experiences with a few Travelers. He has absolutely no connection to any of the Territories, which he would normally need to become a Traveler. Thankfully, Valinhall doesn't need a connection; all you have to do is pass the tests, and you gain the powers.
- In the Avernus short story, it turns out that Simon was subject to a small but important prophecy. An Avernus girl told Denner that one day Kai would have a choice whether to take an apprentice or not, and it was very important that he take him. It was Denner's recommendation that convinced Kai to take Simon.
- Underestimating Badassery: Since Valinhall is a new Territory with only a handful of Travelers (never more than thirteen at a time, and apparently they haven't had a chance to have more than twenty total), most people have never heard of it. Valinhall Travelers are often mistaken for normal people, or even lone Tartarus Travelers (who are famous for never fighting alone). Simon in particular gets underestimated for being a young boy in a ridiculous cloak who talks to dolls.
- Unequal Rites: Most Travelers look down on other Territories, but Grandmaster Naraka in particular looks down on Valinhall, dismissing it as an "artificial" Territory that was created a mere sixty years ago. Since Valinhall Travelers are very good at killing other Travelers, part of this might be simple animal fear.
- Unreliable Expositor: Kai, of the "incompetent" variant. It certainly doesn't help that he never wanted to be a teacher in the first place, and constantly grumbles that it should have been Indirial's job.Kai: We have real work to do. What have I told you about the Incarnations?
Simon: Practically nothing.
Kai: Yes, that sounds like me.
- Wake Up Fighting: Exaggerated; since the Nye attack Valinhall Travelers in their sleep to keep them sharp, the Travelers learn to fight without waking up. The non-Nye servants, who are significantly more vulnerable to being stabbed than the Nye, learn quickly to wake up the Travelers by yelling from across the room rather than trying to shake them awake.
- Women Are Wiser: Played for Laughs. Queen Cynara compliments King Zakareth on being an excellent king of Damasca... almost as good as some of the queens.