Lacre and the Nature of Direful Reflections

There will be spoilers ahead for lore about the Bazaar, the Fallen Cities, Mr Eaten, Parabola, and the Great Game. Proceed at your own risk.

Lacre falls every winter in London. As this festive season ends, Time the Healer comes to melt the Neath-snow away into Direful Reflections. And, from year to year, it’s always in the spirit of Sacksmas to give gifts (of knowledge and conversation) and take (innocence and precious, precious time), and so I’d like to make a case for what is possibly the nature of Direful Reflections and how it connects to the annual melting of lacre.

b Vestigial reflections of old things that no longer fully exist take the form of &quotDireful Reflections&quot. When the lacre melts, the released Direful Reflections are all that remain of the destroyed inhabitants of the former Fallen Cities.[/b]

Since Direful Reflections are so rare in Fallen London, we can try to examine each source to determine their nature.

I. Waking Dream of Reflections (The Nadir)

[quote=A kind of monster]A guest waits at the gate of your dreams, like an assassin, a pedlar, a creditor, like an unwanted suitor. Let the Nadir have that guest.[/quote]Sacrificing dreams of &quotIs Someone There?&quot to the Nadir gives a Direful Reflection. Many of the &quotIs Someone There?&quot dreams focus on the feeling of being watched. The watcher resides in Parabola, and catching sight of its face here in the Nadir gives a Direful Reflection. This implies a Parabolic connection (already established just by the nature of being a reflection and its use in creating a Parabola Base Camp).

Importantly, the visitor is cast out - it is not meant to exist in the Is, only managing to bleed through the weak barrier between the Is and Is Not in the Nadir.

II. A Masque in the Marshes (Rare Success)

[quote=A series of surprises]You do not speak of the thirteenth guest you saw: a long-necked gentleman, […]who watched from the party’s edge[/quote]This again evidences the Parabola connection, as Parabola-linen was used to evoke these visions. Like the Waking Dream of Reflections, emphasis is placed on the sight of the watcher. This is consistent with the art for a Direful Reflection, which depicts a creature in the mirror - it’s the sight of these Parabolic creatures, and your newfound knowledge of their reflection, that gives the Direful Reflection.

III. Ask for help understanding your dreams (Interview with the Interpreter: a Game of Chess

[quote=‘A correspondence?’]&quotWe see a correspondence. Games of war, war played out through games. A seven-branched candelabra. Few of us are chess-men, but we like to believe we are moved by the hand of another. The glass opens only for the serpent.&quot[/quote]This brings us to the Great Game connection. Information about this is sparser, but an important connection to draw is that the correspondence mentioned here is not precisely the Correspondence (though that is an aspect of it), but rather correspondence chess. The Renown 40 item for the Great Game, aptly named &quotThe Great Game&quot, can be found in the Mirror-Marches and is a regular correspondence match with the fierce old man in Vienna (or, if you prefer, the White). The game in Parabola reflects the Great Game in reality. The chess dreams reference this (the only other direct reference to the Bloody-Handed Queen outside of these dreams is in the Parabola destinies).

There’s more to this, I believe, but let’s examine the rest first.

IV. Confess your mercy / Repent your ruthlessness (Veilgarden)

[quote=Repentance]Was someone else there to hear your confession? Did they lay a hand on your head in blessing and forgive you your weakness? Standing beneath the flickering gaslight, blinking on the edge of the cavernous gap in your memory, you could not say.[/quote]This is the most reliable source of Direful Reflections, and it’s notable in not having a direct Parabolic connection. Instead, you gain the Direful Reflection by destroying the memories within yourself. What you gain from this process is an idea best not worth considering - it’s reasonable to conclude, then, that the Direful Reflection is created from the forgotten memories.

V. &quotSilas! You rogue! Times still hard?&quot

[quote=&quotHard enough!&quot]You finish the bottle of wine, and the wild tales he shares grow wilder […] &quotSnakes that walk.&quot[/quote]This one is far more ambiguous. It could be that the wild tales are the Direful Reflection (there are many, but one is tied directly to the Fingerkings). Alternatively, it could be that Silas himself is the Direful Reflection due to his dealings with the Fingerkings (as implied by his Salon appearance).

VI. Advent Calendar (2016 - )

[quote=You wake, suddenly, in the night. There is something outside of your bedroom windowsill: a candle, burning brightly behind the glass.]The season is rife with old customs. When you wake in the morning, the candle has burned down. Only a smear of wax remains, and the memory of its flame, fierce on the glass.[/quote]This is more complicated, but simply, the Direful Reflection appears to be the memory of the candle flame.

I believe that the candle is a vestigial remnant of Mr Eaten in Parabola (formerly Mr Candles, who knew the paths to Parabola). The symbolism is all present - candles and destruction - and the imagery references &quotA dream about a window at night&quot, which is also full of Eaten symbolism. Furthermore, this was first introduced in Advent Calendar 2016, the first since the return of Seeking. If this is true, then the Direful Reflection is specifically a reflection of the destroyed form of Mr Eaten.

VII. Take the air (The Sundered Sea)

[quote=A zee-voyage]You remember a ship, her belly burdened with blocks of quarried stone. A shape rose from the darkness: a lion of towering basalt. Scaffolding bandaged its head. Craftsmen crawled across its unfinished face. The falcon-masked oarsmen faltered in their stroke.[/quote]They say to save the best for last, and this is easily the most clear connection between lacre and the Direful Reflections they create. This references the Salt Lions, but not as we know them: it’s a memory from their construction, as evidenced by the craftsmen and by the ship sailing towards the Salt Lions with quarried stone. The scaffolding and falcon-masked oarsmen are consistent with the Second City, which Sunless Sea informs us is the architect of the Salt Lions.

It is this memory of a forgotten and destroyed people that gives you the Direful Reflection.

Conclusion (I): On the Great Game

This is a more tangential conclusion to the main discussion of lacre, but the Great Game introduces a third aspect to Direful Reflections beyond the lacre-memories and the Parabola-reflections. They bridge the gap between these, as they’re created in the annihilation of memory and an awareness of how it connects to Parabola.

We know that there are pieces in the Great Game in Parabola, represented literally by chess pieces. This is the plane on which the correspondence chess with the White is played. I would suggest that the chess pieces in Parabola are constructed from the remnants of the forgotten memories of the Great Game - mementos of a struggle, if you will. The Direful Reflection gained is a reflection of this.

Putting the Pieces Together: The Melting Lacre

What is common among all Direful Reflections appears to be the presence of something which does not exist - creatures from Parabola, old and forgotten memories … which, of course, leaves the question: what is left behind when the lacre melts?

Knowing what lacre is, I think the answer is pretty simple. When a new city falls, the inhabitants of the old city are transformed into lacre as their city is annihilated. They are gone, forgotten. They no longer exist. Thousands upon thousands of people with lifetimes of memories, all reduced into lacre in an instant, should leave enough Direful Reflections for a city to collect.

In other words, when the snow melts and winter ends, remember that it’s a reminder of the coming fate of London and her people.

You really know how to ruin christmas, don’t you? :(

Well… that’s truly some food for thought…

Generally excellent thoughts. Two things to add.

  1. Direful Reflections’ strongest connection is with the Fingerkings. The art, as far as I can tell, represents a snake in a smoking jacket, and I don’t know of any other entity that fits that bill. I, III, and V directly reference them, while II does so indirectly. VI at least has a mirrored connection; bright light on window glass makes a mirror of it, as the candles currently in my living room window (don’t judge) are currently demonstrating. Several of the events that give you Direful Reflections also increase Touched by Fingerwork. In fact, only IV and St. Joshua have no clear connection to Parabola and the Fingerkings–and how much do we actually know about the rites of St. Joshua? (Not even an irrigo joke, but if the shoe fits…)

  2. On this:

[quote=Azothi]Knowing what lacre is, I think the answer is pretty simple. When a new city falls, the inhabitants of the old city are transformed into lacre as their city is annihilated. They are gone, forgotten. They no longer exist. Thousands upon thousands of people with lifetimes of memories, all reduced into lacre in an instant, should leave enough Direful Reflections for a city to collect.

In other words, when the snow melts and winter ends, remember that it’s a reminder of the coming fate of London and her people.[/quote]
That may be too direct of an equation. &quotAdded to the lacre&quot might fit the the evidence better; the actual mechanisms of what happens when a City is destroyed are extraordinarily obscure. Also, it must be observed that the supplies of inhabitants may be somewhat more limited than expected. Certainly, whatever happens, some residents survive and live into the next City; London has famous inhabitants who not only lived in but Fell with the First, Second, and Fourth Cities. (If there’s a Third City resident, I’ve forgotten about it. Please correct.) The First City seems to have disappeared; there are only three survivors I know of. It was, however, the smallest. The Second City seems to have had the Third dropped directly on top of it, but also has descendants scattered about the Unterzee (and, it appears, at least two places in Parabola); this suggests that a significant portion of the population had already left before that event. Of the Third City’s dissolution I know little, but again Third City descendants are found in the Tomb Colonies and Parabola. The Fourth and largest City, we are told, was nearly abandoned when London Fell; nearly all its inhabitants had left for the Salt Steppes centuries before. (The Bazaar must have been particularly lonely in that period. I wonder if that has anything to do with her interactions with London.) So, if you’re looking for inhabitants of the older Cities as the source of your lacred Reflections, then you’ve got a supply that’s at least a thousand years stale, made from cities that all put together would make only a small portion of London. I suspect we need to look deeper for the explanation of these yearly Reflections.

Don’t forget another source of Direful Reflections: you get one when you go NORTH. Literally, while going through the Gate. It’s the last item you’ll ever gain in your game (through regular means, access codes still work when you’re North).

I guess that means you quite literally turn into a Direful Reflection when going North. Makes sense.
edited by phryne on 12/23/2018

Beautiful thread. Thank you, Azothi, for my new head canon. I will go cry quietly by my Christmass tree now.

Also worth considering the cases where you gain Direful Reflections at the end of Exceptional Stories, such as the Eldest Daughter/Poison ending for the Empress’s Shadow. It rather seems to lack any supernatural destruction of the sort presented by your theory.

If I’m not mistaken, the Viscountess ending for Court of Cats also gives you 5 Reflections, though that mostly serves to reinforce the already-stated Fingerking connection.