Chapter 47: And Justice For All

“The question of who the most vindictive people of Calernia are has long been debated. Some say it is the Arlesites, who will duel to the death over the use of the wrong adjective in a verse. Others say it is those of the Free Cities, where the moving of a border by half a mile will spawn a war lasting three generations. Others yet say it is the Praesi, who indulge in political assassination the way other nations enjoy a cup of good wine. I would humbly put forward, however, that the answer is the people of Callow. Steal an apple from a farmer of the Kingdom and fifty years later his grandson will find yours on the other side of the continent, sock him in the eye and take three apples back.”
– Extract from “Horrors and Wonders”, famed travelogue of Anabas the Ashuran

I landed in sand.

Hastily I got up and brushed away the mess, taking an assessing look around. I was on an island, looked like, a perfect circle with some kind of shoddy chapel built in the middle. The water surrounding it went on for a dozen feet before stopping abruptly into darkness that looked much like the one that had surrounded Masego’s bridge. I eyed the dark, deciding to be very careful about falling in there. I wasn’t sure what the rules were here, but I doubted that anything pleasant would come out of tripping into the endless void. In unsheathed my sword, ears prickling at the sound of struggle inside the structure. I moved quietly towards the open doors, only pausing when I glimpsed runes on the side of the chapel. Heiress’ work, or had they always been there? Without knowing that I couldn’t risk messing them up. For all I knew, scraping a line through one of those would have the Hashmallim knocking at the door in a matter of moments. I’d rather not fight an angel if I could avoid it, really. I’d been in some pretty rough fights over the last year but I doubted I’d walk away from that one. Before I could cross the gate there was a loud bang and someone was thrown out. William landed on his feet, sword raised, and snarled. I pressed against the side of the wall just out of his sight.

“I begin to sympathize with the Miezan extermination of your kind,” the hero said.

That didn’t really narrow down the possibilities as to what he was scrapping with. The Miezans had been pretty liberal with extermination policies. A tall silhouette of smokeless fire strode out into the sands, its face without features.

“There’s no need to be rude about this,” it said in a calm, cultured voice.

It raised a hand towards William, spawning a stream of fire from the palm. The hero blocked it with his sword, light flaring as he forced back the sorcery. Well, I wished them fun with that. The Lone Swordsman was going to get a good stabbing before this was over, but I had nothing against letting whatever Heiress had summoned soften him up first. Might even make him a tad less impossible to kill. I waited for their fight to take them around the island and slipped inside. For an angel’s corpse, this place was pretty dingy. Two rows of stone benches – seven on each side, which didn’t feel like a coincidence – led up to an altar with a sword in it. A sword in a stone. That… had a shape to it. A story. Something I might be able to use, if I played this right. I recognized the sword in the stone, as it happened. It was the same bitch of a blade William had used in most of our fights. An angels’ feather, used to summon another angel. There were candles behind the stone, seven of them. Most of them had melted, with only two remaining.

There was someone by the altar, looking down on it as she tinkered with runes hanging in the air. Heiress, and would you look at that her back was to me. I crept forward silently, hugging the wall. As my practical decision of the day, I’d come to the conclusion that a sword in the back was a victory I could live with. It would be almost poetic, considering how often she’d slid the metaphorical knife into mine. From the corner of my eye I saw something blur in the air on the opposite side of the chapel, near a pillar. Someone dropped quietly to the ground, looking harried, and Masego looked about ready to retch. The blur disappeared and Apprentice took a look around, eyes finding me after a moment. He opened his mouth to talk, then thought better about it. I gestured towards Heiress and he nodded. Taking a long breath, I reached for the depths of my Name and formed a spear of shadows. Flying faster than an arrow, it tore through Masego’s head, dissipating the illusion.

“Well,” Heiress said. “It was worth a try.”

I noticed the silhouette by the altar wasn’t where the sound came from. I couldn’t quite pin down where it did.

“He already told me I was on my own in here,” I said. “For now, anyway. They’ll find another way through eventually.”

The fake Heiress dropped to all fours, a sight that would have amused me if it didn’t imply there was actually something under that particular illusion.

“You know, if I remember correctly you actually have a sword,” I said. “Yet you never seem to use it. Afraid of a little tussle, Akua? I promise I’ll be gentle.”

I closed my eyes and expanded my senses. Whatever the fake-Heiress was, she didn’t seem to breathe. I couldn’t hear the actual Heiress do that either, though, so it was worth taking with a grain of salt. The illusion ran towards me and I immediately got away from the wall to make some space. The creature leapt over a bench but my senses told me otherwise: I swung my sword to the side and hit flesh, a bald creature of rotted flesh and fangs blinking into existence as it screamed and scampered back. The fake-Heiress passed harmlessly through me as the creature disappeared again.

“Is that a ghoul?” I asked. “Scraping the bottom of the barrel there.”

There was an airy chuckle.

“Seen your little redhead mage, lately?”

I took a sharp breath. No, it couldn’t be Kilian. She was safe with the mages of the Fifteenth, surrounded by hundreds of legionaries. Akua has spies in the ranks, my mind provided. She could have abducted her. And then killed her and turned her into a ghoul, just for the sake of messing with me? No. She’d not planned for me to make it this far. Chider had been her trump card to get me out of the game, make me unable to interfere with whatever she was up to. If I hadn’t been dead already, getting my Name ripped out would probably have made me unconscious – if not killed me outright. She was just playing mind games.

“You’d probably be a better liar if you weren’t so smug,” I said.

The patter of feet against stone was heard behind me, but it wasn’t what I was watching for. When Heiress spoke, the words resounded in every part of the chapel – except one. The corner to the left of the door. I allowed the invisible ghoul to come close, then ducked when it leapt for my chest – my sword came up, ripping through the creature’s stomach as it passed over me. The screaming, wriggling shape blocked the sight of my free hand for a moment and I formed a burst of shadows, pivoting to fire it at the too-silent corner. It hit a shield that flared blue, revealing the silhouette of a frowning Akua underneath.

“Found you,” I said.

“Chider failed, I see,” she said.

“Oh, she did exactly what you intended,” I smiled. “You’re just not as smart as you seem to think you are.”

“Coming from you,” she said, “that is truly insulting.”

The ghoul came for the third time and I waited for it to rush – then snatched a limb out of the air. I swung the creature like an improvised flail, smashing her against the bench. Really, a ghoul. And she had the gall to say I was being insulting. Keeping a hand on the struggling creature, I hacked through her head calmly and returned my attention to Heiress. Who was smiling. Oh dear. The undead creature exploded a moment later, and as I was thrown against the wall all I could think was that undead bombs was my godsdamned gambit. Leaving the protection of her shield, Akua slowly unsheathed her sword. It was an ornate piece, gilded and the length of it covered in runes. Why did everyone else get to have a fancy magic sword? I shrugged off the impact and rose to my feet, my own sword still in hand.

“Do you know what irritates me the most about you, Catherine Foundling?” she smiled.

“I have better hair,” I replied and burst forward.

She raised her blade in a classic guard, which almost made me grin. I’d fought plenty of people using that before. They were all dead. I batted her sword away and got in close, swiping for her eyes. She danced away, making distance between us. Her free hand came up, crackling with energy, but I ducked under the bolt of lightning and hit her stomach with the pommel of my sword, bending the lamellar steel with the impact. She let out a grunt of pain that was music to my ears before forcing me back with an attempt to slice through my neck.

“Please, continue to pontificate,” I said. “Where’s my monologue, Akua? You’re turning into a disappointment of a rival.”

“You wretch,” she snarled, and brought up her hand to cast again.

I laughed and smashed her wrist with my blade – steel ground against steel, failing to cut through but forcing it down. The ball of flame that erupted hit the ground at her feet, blowing her away as the heat licked at my face.

“You know,” I said as I walked towards her prone form, “I always assumed that even behind the scheming you’d be able to give me a good fight. But you can’t, can you?”

I smiled coldly.

“I might be a little heavy on the brute force, Akua, but even thugs have their day.”

I raised my sword above her and… froze. The fear on the dark-skinned girl’s face melted away as she rose to her feet calmly. My body began rising in the air, hovering a foot above the floor.

“You are not Evil,” she said. “That it what irritates me most about you, Catherine. You just ape the methods, reassuring yourself your intentions are still Good. You act like your Name is a weapon and ignore that it has a meaning.

She slid her fingers down the length of her blade, the runes shining at the touch.

“Your master is the same. Lord Black, fear of the continent,” she mocked. “He is a rat hiding at the center of maze of traps he spent decades building. Dangerous, perhaps, but behind all the tricks he is weak.”

She chuckled.

“No matter how clever the traps, they will not save him from a boot. You shy away from what you are, Foundling, and Creation abhors such spineless dithering. I know what I am. I embrace it, because that is what a villain is. That is why I have power…”

Her sword rose.

“Monologues,” I said, “Not even once.”

The Lone Swordsman hit her with a burst of light before I even finished talking. I dropped back to the ground with a pleased hum: his little Name trick messed with sorcery as well as my own Name shenanigans, it seemed. William, covered in soot, eyed me with horror.

“All according to plan,” I lied.

“You’re dead,” the Lone Swordsman said. “I cut your head off.”

“Eh,” I shrugged. “I got over it.”

I paused.

“Also, you were supposed to reply –“

I had to backpedal away hurriedly when Heiress threw some sort of orb of shadows where we were standing. Her armour was smoking, and for once she actually looked frazzled. Her hair was messed up, I noted with amusement. First time I’d ever seen her look anything but pristine. Heiress was next to the altar, though she steered clear of the sword. Good, now everyone was here. I could actually begin using my bastard cousin of a plan, though… I frowned, looking at the candles behind the altar. Another one had melted entirely, leaving only the last. I thought they represented seven hours each, I thought.

“William,” I said.

“No,” he said immediately.

I ignored that part for the sake of convenience.

“When you were last here, did time pass normally?”

His eyes flicked to the candles, and his face turned white.

“That’s impossible,” he said.

I knew time passed differently in Arcadia – it was the basis of the trick Black had used to get to Marchford in a fraction of the time it would have taken him on a horse. And Arcadia worked that way because it wasn’t in Creation proper. Which meant…

“You moved the entire island elsewhere,” I said. “That’s what the runes on the chapel are for. “

“You mean to trap the Hashmallim,” the hero said.

Heiress stood tall against the glare directed at her by the Lone Swordsman, almost preening.

“This is my house now,” she said. “And the only rules here are mine.”

Shit. Couldn’t let that go unchallenged, not if I wanted my plan to actually work.

“This is Callowan ground, wherever it may be,” I said. “Back me up on this, William.”

Akua scoffed. “The truth cannot be-“

“Shut the Hells up, Praesi,” the hero barked. “These grounds are of the Kingdom as long as I live.”

Good ol’ Willy. You could always count on him to screw over at least one person in the room at any time.

“You’re right,” I said. “She is an invader here. The enemy.”

“You’re one too,” William said with disgust.

“She’s not one of us, you halfwit,” Akua sneered. “She doesn’t have the will or the blood.”

It was refreshing to be in a situation where my opponents actually hated each other more than they hated me. Heiress was in the full swing of her gloat and the Lone Swordsman has his heroic shackles all raised, especially now that it was out in the open that Akua had screwed with an angel’s corpse. Which he finally seemed to remember then and there. Keeping a wary eye on me, William moved towards Heiress. Who was too busy watching me from the corner of her eye to to really do anything about it. I grinned. The Lone Swordsman raised his sword and Heiress backed away, preparing to cast.

What did you do?” Akua said suddenly, looking at me.

“I have three things,” I said. “A kingdom, an enemy and a claim.”

William snorted.

“A claim?” he said. “You-“

“I am the heiress to the King of Callow,” I interrupted calmly.

“There is no King of Callow,” the Lone Swordsman said.

“Yet a man rules it, and I am his chosen successor,” I said.

Akua flinched, then looked at the sword. Too late now: she’d already given me what I needed. Of her own free will, too. That had to sting. William took the opening to dart for the blade, wrapping his fingers around the hilt and tugging it out. It did not move. His eyes turned to me, scared for the first time since I’d met him.

“It isn’t yours anymore,” I said.

“It was granted to me by the Hashmallim,” he said.

“It’s a sword in a stone. You did that yourself, with no one forcing you,” I smiled. “It’s a symbol, now, in a story about Callow.”

“She’s an orphan,” Heiress said quietly, aghast as the situation sunk in. “She’s the Squire.”

“Would you kindly get your hands off my sword, William?” I said.

They didn’t even need to share a glance before they both turned on me. Wasn’t that going to be a fun ride? The Lone Swordsman was so fast on the move he almost blurred to my Name sight, even damnably faster than when we’d gone for our last round. This time, though, he wasn’t predestined to win. That made a difference. I stepped around his blow but ate Heiress’ spell right in the face: some kind of dark shroud that stuck around my eyes. I flared my Name, clearing it up some, but it was hard to make out William’s sword as he swung again. I took the hit to the shoulder, at this point utterly indifferent to the fact that it bit through steel and into my flesh.

“Still dead,” I reminded him, forming a burst of darkness around my hand and slamming it into his chest.

He went flying and I ran for the sword. The floor under my feet turned liquid but I leapt and landed in a roll just in time to get hit by a bolt of lightning. I was getting really sick of that spell, I thought as my muscles twitched uncontrollably. Was I smoking? I couldn’t really smell anymore, so it was hard to tell. William’s boot hit my back and I was sent sprawling but he’d made a mistake: I fell forward, and Heiress’ next spell hit him instead. He yelled in dismay as a swarm of something sounding like bees gathered around him and I took my fraction of an opening, falling belly first right in front of the altar. Heiress cursed, then actually tried to curse me, but I grinned in triumph and my fingers closed around the hilt of that fucking sword epople kept trying to kill me with. Gods, it burned even through the gauntlets. There was aheartbeat of pure pain and then it felt like I’d just gotten a brightstick to the face. There was warmth, and everything went white.

I was standing alone in a featureless plain. Not, not alone. Something was looking at me. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it – the weight of its stare. I looked down at my hands, noticing I was without armour. My clothes from the orphanage, huh. They looked less rumpled than usual, too. Apparently the Heavens did not approve of my sloppy laundry habits. I put a finger on my bare wrist and frowned when I felt no pulse.

“I beat you fair and square, your presumptuous fucks,” I called out. “Cough up my resurrection.”

The weight turned from noticeable to crushing in a heartbeat, forcing me to the ground. I could feel my bones grind into dust as my back snapped. They were looking at me. There was… where my Name should be, there was only fire. Something scouring me from the inside.

Repent. Repent. Repent.

The images passed through my mind as if I was still standing there. Black, offering me a knife in a dark room. Two men against the wall, bound and with terror on their eyes. Blood on the floor.

Repent. Repent. Repent.

The empty banquet hall in Laure, where Mazus’ death was dispensed with a single sentence. The monster offering me a deal with smiling eyes. Agreement, followed by a sword through my chest.

Repent. Repent. Repent.

So many things. Sparing William, sacrificing thousands for my ambition. The innkeeper’s daughter, swinging on the gallows. Breaking a man for supplies in Ater. Ordering those men dead in the cells at Summerholm, on suspicion alone. Leashing the Gallowborne with the threat of destruction. The dead, oh so many dead. Three Hills. Nilin, the traitor, my friend. All those I’d failed against the devils in the night. Marchford. Hunter, who’d fought and died for strangers. The people of Liesse, at the mercy of devils because I hadn’t seen the betrayal coming. The light going out of Baroness Dormer’s eyes as she surrendered.

Repent. You will not be forgiven. Repent.

I saw things that had not happened, now. Yet. Rising alive from the altar, a crown of light on my brow. Heiress dead at my feet. The Swordsman, kneeling. My red right hand. Liesse rebelling, weapons taken out of hidden cellars, exhumed from hidden stashes. A host sweeping across the south, ranks swelling as cities revolted one after another. Taking back the Blessed Isle, burnt-out towers remade in marble. Breaking the nine gates of Ater and pulling down the Tower on my enemies.

Repent, Queen of Callow. 

I gurgled out a wretched laugh. You can’t ever lose, can you? Even when you’re beaten I have to become one of yours. I forced myself to remember something else. They tried to struggle but it was just as much a part of me as the rest had been. You don’t get to pick and choose what I am. Two silhouettes cloaked in black, standing alone in front of the throne.

We do not kneel.

It wasn’t enough. Those were not my words. I had borrowed them, and in borrowing lessened them. They demanded contrition. They demanded justification, for all my many sins. I had none. I clawed desperately into the depths of myself. Looking for something, anything. What I found… was a starry sky, in ruins that moaned in the wind. A dark-skinned girl, tempting me with a way out. Four dead on the floor as she fled. A lesson learned, a question answered.

Justification only matters to the just.

They flinched.

“I swore it,” I croaked. “Whether they be gods or kings or all the armies in Creation.”

I no longer saw a crown on my brow. They hadn’t liked that at all, had they? So much for being Queen. The fires withdrew, leaving me empty. Still dead. Unlike their trap of a Name, this I took umbrage to.

“You can’t cheat me,” I laughed. “You’re not the Gods. You’re part of the story too. You have to follow the rules.”

I opened my eyes, looking up into the perfect blankness.

“And if you won’t give me my due,” I said. “I’ll Take it.”

They shrieked but the power flowed into me. I felt my body spasm. My heart beat. My blood flow. The plain blurred, collapsed into me as I laughed.

I was standing in the chapel again, the Lone Swordsman’s sword through my belly. William’s green eyes stared into mine, my hand on his shoulder as I used him to stay up. It was a strangely intimate pose.

“What is this, Squire?” he whispered.

I ripped out the thing inside of him, took it for my own. His skin turned paler, his face bloodless.

Rise,” I replied.

Shadow spread across my body in thick chords. Healing me, pushing his blade out of my flesh. I could feel my heart beat and it was glorious. All the little things I hadn’t realized were gone, now returned to me. The sword was still in my hand, the blade that has once been his. I rammed it into his neck, biting deep as he fell twitching to the ground. My boot rose once, twice, thrice. The skull gave the third time, breaking like an overripe fruit. My gaze swept across the room, finally falling on Heiress.

“I believe,” I said, “that we were having a conversation about power. By all means, finish your thought.”

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199 thoughts on “Chapter 47: And Justice For All

  1. Remember Black saying you can’t break a pattern but you can transcend them.
    Isn’t that what catherine did with william. She got defeated but rose as a dead and transcended the pattern of three!
    I don’t think the rule of three with heiress is over!
    On the blessed isle heiress said “This is your win”
    On the marchford she said “It’s a tie”
    But she said nothing about victory here.
    And the wandering bard is still nowhere to be seen.

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  2. Shequi

    I’ve realised that Catherine may have made a mistake. William’s statement that the angel-chapel is part of Callow as long as he lives ceased to apply whencahe killed him. Heiress might leverage that.

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    1. Thebes

      She’s aware of that: (“These grounds are of the Kingdom as long as I live.”

      Good ol’ Willy. You could always count on him to screw over at least one person in the room at any time.). She’ll figure a way to bash Heiress’head.

      Like

  3. Bart

    1. We know that an angel is about to rise, a new one that never existed before (even though angels are timeless.
    2. We know that Heiress sees herself as heir to all creation.
    3. Lone Swordsman is dead. Raised from the dead and rekilled. He’s not coming back.
    4. Heiress is still alive.
    5. Cat was offered the job of “Good” and spurned it. Presumably, the side of goodness is still looking for a counterpart for Cat, someone to fill that role.
    6. Heiress is smart. Yes, she is blinded by prejudice/upbringing, and short-sighted sometimes as to the ultimate end effects of certain things, but she’s not stupid. She can learn.
    7. Heiress just saw Cat do a heel-face-heel turn and benefit thereby (and Heiress is smart)
    8. Catherine cannot suddenly go good because the story title is about being evil. She must remain evil.

    So here’s what I think happens this next week. Heiress does her own heel-face-heel turn, and takes Good up on the offer to be Good, and manages to be the heir to the Lone Swordsman’s ritual, stepping into the role of an angel. Heiress will repent — yes, it’s more that she’s disappointed at the results than being sorry about the action but she genuinely truly wishes that she hadn’t taken those actions (because of the results, but the contrition remains). Also, Heiress is immune to angelic brainwashing by dint of being a Named.

    However, Cat won’t let her go so easily and rather than Heiress retire to Heaven, Cat herself will proclaim that Heiress is still her enemy, that Cat will tear down the heavens itself if necessary to actually kill Heiress and make her pay for her crimes.

    Thus the heavens will once again be completely opposed (diametrically) to Cat, and Heiress will still be an integral part of the story who hasn’t received her comeupance and thus is still free and clear to scheme and work behind the scenes.

    And that’s what’s going to happen in the short term to Heiress and Cat.

    This is going to set up a massive schism in the Tower as all of Heiress’s former supporters will be offered one chance to repent and serve the side of Good (actually, Heiress will visit them and use angelic powers to brainwash them).

    The Empress wasn’t able to move directly against Heiress in the past because of Heiress’s vast supporters/network. Now Heiress will basically end up with the same supporters, plus all of those already on the side of good, and will take her fight directly against the tower, putting the Empress, Black, and whoever/whatever Cat is now directly on the side of evil.

    The story will thus continue about the tradeoffs that Cat must make in order to safeguard/protect Callow (which, already being technically part of an evil empire and now having a technical evil ruler will be firmly on the side of evil rather than good, and thus opposed to Heiress).

    And once the tower is vanquished (as has to happen — in the final climax of the Hero’s Journey, the hero stands alone and thus the tower can’t be there to support Cat), Heiress will take all the forces of Good who’ve already followed her, and all the forces of Evil who will then follow her, and wage war on those who truly oppress them (God himself) in her bid to inherit all of creation. Heiress’s story isn’t about to end. It’s just about to begin.

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    1. Styn

      Why do we know a new angel is about to rise up? The rest of this is just silly. If the Lone Swordsman just got regulated, what makes you think heiress isn’t about to meet a similar fate?

      Like

      1. Bart

        “Why do we know a new angel is about to rise up?”

        https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/heroic-interlude-prise-au-fer/

        “Forty-nine hours later, a Hashmallim would come into Creation the exact moment he died.”

        Right now they’re out of creation. Well, technically they’re in Callow, see the name semantics, but actually they’re out of creation, and thus kind of out of time as well. If Heiress were to become an angel and go back to the world, she would be reentering creation and time, and could be said to be entering creation upon his death.

        Cat did have an encounter with Good, but I don’t think that was the angel’s sole appearance. Something else will be happening.

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      2. Given that the Sword/feather was the lynchpin to the whole summoning ritual and poor Billy Boy died after it was removed from the summoning circle and by its blade…

        Methinks the ritual is well and truly borked, if not totally bricked. 😛 Which is preferable to the hacking Akua was going to put it through to capture and bind the angel. She’s got a demon, she doesn’t need an angel, too. And, I think she’d choose to scrub pots before she’d choose Good, even for a ruse. 😛

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    2. It’s impossible for a mortal (even a Named) to become an angel, as it would be impossible for them to become a devil. Heiress’ core motivation as stated so far is heavily involved with being a villain. Catherine resisted an attempt to force Contrition on her using her own core motivation this very chapter. Angels are not invincible or indestructible, and considering the Tower has a demon for a gatekeeper anything holy trying to breach it is in for a rough – but very short – day. Same with most major imperial cities, particularly Wolof. Good nations would not unite behind a Praesi, even one demonstrably heroic. They have heroes of their own, after all, which they like much better. The Hashmallim represent one Choir of many, and they all have different methodologies.

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  4. Nafram

    Well, I think that Erraticerrata is going to once again surprise us with a twist none of us saw coming, like Cat having previously been “defeated” by Heiress at the tower. Maybe Heiress will find a way to come out on top, or maybe Rock Falls Everyone Dies. However, I will not deny myself my right to *try* to guess.
    Let’s keep in mind that Heiress had an objective here, and it hasn’t been revealed yet. If the pattern still goes, I think her victory will be achieving that objective, at least partially. Or maybe not. It’s possible that the Bard was wrong, that there wasn’t a pattern between Akua and Cat, that Akua is not owed a victory. Otherwise, I dunno, I think that Heiress would’ve said something about it in her latest interlude, being as well versed in such things as she supposedly is

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  5. Letouriste

    I don’t understand why people believe the bard will help heiress to escape,she said herself she find her boring and a hero bard saving a bad guy don’t happen in stories,that’s not her role…
    I think akua is not finished,she still have a few trump cards(the demon,Maybe a teleportation device or something,the pattern of three maybe…I think this one is finished)
    She will fight and lose…maybe escape.
    And THEN the bard will spoke with cat;)
    well,just assomptions,i can be wrong

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  6. Gerion

    Okay, can someone please explain to me just what the h*** I just read? There is so much going on between the lines, so many Name shenangians, so much word fencing that I am left utterly confused.
    In the narration Katerine constantly hints at some deeper workings and the rules of a story driven world that she is using to her advantage. But she never explains anything to the reader!
    Why is it so important William supports her statement about the island belonging to Callow?
    Why are the angels obliged to resurrect her?
    Why does she need a catchphrase to oppose them?
    Why can she suddenly steal William’s Aspect?
    Or does she actually steal his Name, too, when she pulls the sword from the stone?
    Am I correct to assume she contests Akua’s claim to the Name of Heiress, too? Can she even have more than one Name at once?

    So far I have enjoyed this story very much. I would be a real pity if my experience got ruined by something like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Soronel Haetir

      I’ll venture answers to a couple of your questions.

      Re. William supporting Cat’s claim about the chapel being part of Callow, basically it’s a matter of voting. 2/3 of those present say that it’s Callowan, if it were just Cat it would be a wash with Heiress’ claim that it is not.

      Re catchphrase: She is using that to resist the angels. They might not be able to brainwash her like a non-Named but they still have enough metaphysical weight as to make such resistance painful.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The Sanity Faerie

      First, the resurrection. There was a comment in an earlier chapter (no idea which one, but I think it was *relatively* recent) that Evil didn’t get true resurrection – only undead shenanigans – but that if they well and truly beat the true forces of heaven, they could claim holy miracles of that type by force. Don’t remember the details. Thus, part of what she’s doing is winning one over the angels (it’s an angel’s wing, inside a dead angel, used in an angel-summoning ritual. Angels are in the mix).

      Now, the sword. It’s a sword in a stone. Apparently, Callow has some sort of legend following along the King Arthur track about a young orphan squire who pulls a sword from a stone in order to defend against an enemy, thus indicating that they’re the true king/queen of Callow. Catherine knows this story, she can see the beginnings of it, and she knows that story-mastery is about lining up as many aspects as you can, so that the power of *your* story (king pulls sword from stone) can break the power of *their* story (Champion of Repentance sacrifices themselves to call a Hashmallim). She’s already an orphan squire, and there’s a sword in a stone right there. She gets William to agree with here that it’s Callowan land (at least as logn as he lives) which means that the two of them outvote Akua (thus making Callwo a reasonable setting for the story). She declares a claim to the throne as Queen (“there is a man who rules it, and I am his chosen successor”) and Akua as a foreign invader (Praesi, no less), thus giving her the enemy. That’s a pretty strong mix of narrative elements – allowing her to claim the sword for her own.

      Back to the resurrection, the fact that she was able to disrupt an angelic summoning ritual by seizing an angel’s feather sword for herself, and claiming it by right (at least storywise)? Yeah, that counts as getting one over on the powers of Heaven… and as she said (from having Masego and/or Warlock explain it to her) they’re still part of the story, and still have to obey the rules.

      Inside the angel realm, we’re back to story-battle. The angels are playing heavy on the “We’re Good, and Good always wins. Also, we’re Angels of Repentance. Repent. Sure you have a lot of power into being Queen, but the Queen of Callow is Good, right? Obviously, the Story says you should repent now.” Her Name provides her *some* insulation (or at least inertia), but she needs some icons to defend herself with. She tries to go with “We do not kneel”, but it isn’t *hers*, so it’s weaker. (It would have worked just fine for the Black Knight, especially with the degree to which he’s reinforced it by steel and the blood of Praesi nobility.) The other (“Justification only matters to the just.”) and the oath she swore are things that are *hers*, that she can use as reinforcement, both psychologically and storywise – that her story in particular is a story of not being bound by the themes that the angels are using.

      For the Name, her name is currently unformed. She’s forging elements in it (first of three) by dramatic action – and seizing first the feather of an angel and then a resurrection in quick succession are absolutely dramatic action. She then uses that power to claim Swordsman’s power of Rise, and kills him (augmented by her earlier death-curse). We don’t really know how it works exactly at the moment. My suspicion is that the fact that she claimed something he saw as his (the sword) is what let her claim his power, just like counting coup on the angels let her claim the resurrection.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Unoriginal

      Why are the angels obliged to resurrect her?:
      I suppose I shall answer some more of your questions. The entire world runs on heroic fantasy tropes as such everything/one who is not one of the Gods (the capital G is important here) has to bow to the weight of the story at some point. Even angels, whom one can infer are more intune with the story than almost anyone else have to play along. As such the angel is obliged to resurrect her when she perfectly plays out the story of the orphan Squire becoming king from the sword in the stone (Arthurian legend IRL). As such the Angel is obliged to do as the story says and attempting to turn away from it leaves the angel weak enough to be taken from.
      Why is it so important William supports her statement about the island belonging to Callow?:
      Soronel already answered this but i’ll add to it, essentially the catchphrase is part of story dramatics, dramatics like that are loved by stories and as such it helps Catherine resist the angels influence and claim what is rightfully hers. This is also the reason why previously sworn oaths are brought up because it adds further to the story and makes her position better.
      Why can she suddenly steal William’s Aspect?:
      We are left to assume its part of a new-aspect of her new-name (or possible squire redux, we wont know for sure until next chapter) and it appears to work by taking something in possession of another, whether or not this is permanent remains to be seen.

      Or does she actually steal his Name, too, when she pulls the sword from the stone?
      Am I correct to assume she contests Akua’s claim to the Name of Heiress, too? Can she even have more than one Name at once?: My personal interpretation is no to first as it just wouldn’t fly with the story both in universe and out and the second assertion I’m doubtful of although if it makes you happier at night go ahead and interpret it that way. ALSO it should be noted that heiress is a name that is at some point states during a heroic interlude that is destined to fail by bard but squire isn’t (at least not in the same way we are lead to believe).

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    4. Unmaker

      I’ll take this on…

      Why is it so important William supports her statement about the island belonging to Callow?
      I agree with Soronel Haetir, but at a deeper level, Names are story plots. Two out of three story plots say the chapel is in Callow, so it is in Callow.

      Why are the angels obliged to resurrect her?
      IMO, a side effect. The sword in the stone story doesn’t end with an undead ruler, so they have to resurrect her to fit the story.

      Why does she need a catchphrase to oppose them?
      She has to have the mental strength to oppose them – non-Named just get dominated by angels, but even Named have problems with them because angels are more powerful than Named (but apparently more limited/focused). So Catherine had to find core beliefs to fight back against the mental compulsion. “We do not kneel” is Black’s core, “justification only matters to the just” is Catherine’s.

      Why can she suddenly steal William’s Aspect?
      She awoke her Take Aspect. And since stealing Aspects would be way to OP, either it was a power rather than an Aspect, or there are significant limitations, e.g. limited use or only usable when opposing the one you Take it from.

      Or does she actually steal his Name, too, when she pulls the sword from the stone?
      She was offered Queen and turned it down. The sword in the stone is not part of the Lone Swordsman story, so it doesn’t fit that she got that Name. She may still be Squire.

      Am I correct to assume she contests Akua’s claim to the Name of Heiress, too? Can she even have more than one Name at once?
      I am going to guess ‘no’ for both of those. So far as we have seen, one Name at a time. Cat wasn’t attacking the Name directly – Cat even calls Akua Heiress in the last paragraph, so Cat still acknowledges Akua as Heiress. Cat is fighting Heiress any way she can because Cat has finally internalized that killing Heiress is better than leaving her alive to plot, no matter what the immediate backlash is. What Heiress was afraid of was Cat 1) screwing up Akua’s power grab, 2) firmly setting herself up as the heir-apparent for Callow, and 3) maybe graduating to a more powerful Name at the same time.

      Liked by 2 people

    5. Bart

      stevenneiman said (in the previous page of comments — turns out if you get enough comments then WordPress starts splitting the comment page up):

      As I understood it, the Sword doesn’t technically require that the user be Good, just that they be worthy. “Worthy”, here being defined as meeting the three prerequisites that they be defending Callowan turf from an enemy of Callow, that they be on Callowan turf, and that they have some claim to leadership of Callow (which normally would disqualify any Villain since they can be assumed to be unsuitable). Heiress made the first one easy, since she is not only a card-carrying villain but she outright declared her own people to be superior to Callowans. William provided both the sword in stone itself and the Callowan turf, by a Heroic Callowan (who can be assumed to never lie) defying a claim by a trickster villain that the ground they were on was no longer of Callow. Black and Cat herself provided the claim, which would normally be impossible for a Villain because Callow is so rarely controlled by Evil. However, Black is the current controller of Callow, and has outright stated that he intends to put Cat in charge of the nation, which makes her in the most real sense the heiress to rule of Callow.
      Basically, the requirement to be a Hero is implicit in the requirements of worth and the normal situation of Callow, but Cat managed to finesse around that because a Villain sits on the throne. It probably didn’t hurt that the powers of Good didn’t realize until too late that they couldn’t just cheat and make her Contrite after giving her what she wanted.

      Anyway, that helped me to understand what’s going on. As to what exactly happened with Cat, whether she got a new name or is still the Squire, I guess we’ll find out in about 28 hours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gerion

        First, thank you for trying to answer my questions. Still I feel not much better.
        1) That William’s vote is neccessary to get a mayority is kind of obvious. The questions I actually wanted answered here are:
        a) Does a simple vote actually determine whether the island is in Callow or not? It is outside of creation and Asua moved it further away with her magic. Normally I would assume that a vote cannot change scientific facts, but we are talking magic here, so things might be different.
        b) Why does Katherine need the island to be part of Callow? Is it because she couldn’t invoke the Sword in the Stone trope otherwise? What would be different if it weren’t?
        2) Again I got many answers who not really told me what I need to know. So I will rephrase: What are the precise rules and requirements that need to be met so a villain can demand a resurrectoin?
        3) Katherine’s catchphrase is simply there to bolster her will to resist the angels? I thought there was more going on than just a simple boost in confidence. Like she needed to justify her defience to creation.
        4) It seems I missed her getting the Take Aspect. This expains it.

        Another question I would add to the list:
        “I have three things,” I said. “A kingdom, an enemy and a claim.” This seems to be very important to Squire, together with the island being part of Callow. But what is the deeper meaning here? Why does she need these three things and what does she need them for? Is it all so that she can invoke the Arthurian legend?

        Also, she didn’t know about the sword in the stone part before she entered the chapel, but her entire plan seems to hang on it. What has been plan before that? How did she plan to get her ressurrection without it?

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      2. Bart

        1a. The land was moved outside creation, yes. But was it still a piece of Callow? For instance, if someone took Cat’s shirt, is it still her shirt? It’s in their hands, finders keepers and all that, maybe it’s their shirt now. Does Cat still have a claim on the shirt just because it used to be hers? Yes, the land was ripped out of Callow, but does Callow still have a claim on it?

        1b. I would assume so, and I have no idea.

        2) Somewhat dealt with in the next chapter.

        3) Sure, maybe that’s the case, why not.

        4) Ok.

        Another question I would add to the list:
        But what is the deeper meaning here? Why does she need these three things and what does she need them for? Is it all so that she can invoke the Arthurian legend?

        Presumably, yeah, so she can invoke the legend.

        Also, she didn’t know about the sword in the stone part before she entered the chapel, but her entire plan seems to hang on it. What has been plan before that? How did she plan to get her ressurrection without it?

        I presume Apprentice told her what might happen and together they made up a plan.

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  7. @Gerion and Anyone Else Wanting an Explanation:

    Everything happening has to do with the Fate of Callow. William and Catherine as Hero and Villain were taking opposing Fate-Paths in their intent for Callow’s future. William was trying for a Heroic Reclamation of Callow from the Dread Empire of Praes/Callow’s current nominal Ruler, the Black Knight. This is why William began a rebellion, found a noble heir to the throne (the now-dead Duke of Liesse) and enlisted the Prince, Page, the Baroness of Dormer and the Countess of Marchford in his Rebellion.

    Catherine’s Fate-Fork on the other hand, was to use her command of the Fifteenth Legion as Squire and Black’s Designate Heir to Rulership of Callow to crush William’s Rebellion and use the influence that’d give her with Dread Empress Malicia (with the Black Knight’s help) to proclaim herself nominal Queen of Callow, reform the abuses that have been allowed to go on since the Dread Empire of Praes conquered Callow and rule Callow as a now-Evil Kingdom-Ally of the Dread Empire.

    William’s Rebellion unraveled due to the combined efforts of the Black Knight and Squire. This left William only one last option to keep his Fate-Path for Callow alive. Sacrificing himself to bring the Hashmallim into existence to brainwash all the citizenry of Liesse and later all of Callow, and turn them into the Crusaders of the Latest Crusade against the Dread Empire.

    Heiress, meanwhile, intends to trap the incoming Hashmallim for her own purposes. Heiress and William both failed to stop Catherine from arriving in the Angel Corpse Chapel, and Catherine Leveraged the Sword-in-the Stone trope William had created as part of his last move to legitimize her seizing Rulership of Callow. When Catherine’s hand gripped the Sword and drew it out, the Laws of Creation say the Angels “owed” Catherine a resurrection because she can’t be dead and fulfill her new role.

    The Hashmallim, for their part as the Contrition Choir first tried to pound Catherine down to make her into a Contrition Hero by making her feel guilt for the villainy she’s perpetrated in getting this far to become Queen of Callow. Catherine found the words to negate their influence “Justifications only matter to the Just”…This put Catherine squarely in line with the Evil Fate-Path and gave her the juice to throw back the influence of the Hashmallim.

    THIS is where the Hashmallim in their sheer arrogance FUCKED UP! They tried to break the Rules of Creation and Deny Catherine her due resurrection because she refused their offer. Creation/Fate/The Gods Pushed Back, HARD by giving Catherine the power to ***TAKE*** her resurrection from the Hashmallim, and then ***TAKE*** ***RISE*** from William to heal her wounds and line the defeated William up for the coup de grace. William had lost in every conceivable way….his continued attack on Catherine essentially “Offended Creation”…so Creation punished him by giving Catherine the juice to not only put him down, but rip out his own essence to do it with.

    Now Heiress is the only remaining impediment to Catherine walking away with all the marbles as basically the Evil Queen of Callow. Some believe Heiress still has a Pattern of Three going with Squire, which would make Catherine due a Defeat at Heiress’s hands. I DISAGREE…Heiress’s “Defeat” of Catherine was Chider being able to rip Catherine’s Squire Name out of her essentially unopposed. Catherine survived precisely because she was already Dead, ironically…and then, with the Pattern of Three now over, ripped her Name back out of the destroyed Chider and went inside to confront Heiress and William.

    That doesn’t mean Heiress isn’t still a legit opponent or that Catherine’s victory over her is in any way assured…but I BELIEVE it does mean that neither is Heiress any longer “Due a Victory over Catherine” due to the Pattern of Three.

    The Bard has remained absent so far (Again, I BELIEVE) because she foresaw William’s defeat all the way back when he put the Sword in the Stone…Or at least she foresaw the possibility of his defeat…and that if defeated, William would be UTTERLY defeated. Remember, when Catherine killed William the Lone Swordsman isn’t going to Heaven. He murdered his own Sister and became Contrite…his deal with the Hashmallim was he goes to Hell when his life is over…but IF he accomplished all his Heroic Goals, he’d get the chance to beg his Sister’s spirit for forgiveness for murdering her before he goes to Hell.

    William failed. He doesn’t even get to see and beg his Sister for forgiveness now. He just goes to Hell as a deluded murderer. His entire life worthless, having meant nothing more than being the architect of a failed rebellion that caused the deaths of THOUSANDS if not TENS OF THOUSANDS innocent people.

    Catherine’s revenge on William is complete. It’s absolute. William got fucked in every CONCEIVABLE WAY, just like he deserved. He wasn’t a Hero, was never a Hero…he was just a lackey of Good with a guilty conscience who failed to live up to his Devilish/Angelic Pact with the Hashmallim. Now he’s off to Hell. End William. I don’t think the Bard wanted to see that. Remember how often she’s said “You Contrition-types, you always break my heart.”

    Now that William’s ended, the Bard will show up and try to salvage something for Good…MAYBE. I’m unsure that the Bard was ever a Heroic Role…so much as a Role that can be in either camp based on whose driving it. Much like Ranger being both the Black Knight’s mentor and one-time lover, and now the mentor-queen of Heroes she trains and sends out into the world.

    Ranger is an In-Between Role…and I believe the Bard is too. I think, though currently have no rock-solid evidence for this…She was compiling a Tragedy that would ultimately do more for Good than William’s success ever could’ve…but the Bard HERSELF is NOT Good, because she could at any time have helped William succeed…but she instead helped him down this road to ruin. She molded him as her Tragic Figure to create her Tragedy with. That’s why she’s so poisonous towards Catherine. Catherine at least has the courage of her convictions. The Bard has only pragmatism and expediency in serving her goals, which involve evils more insidious than anything Catherine has done…Ironically to serve Good. Which is also why Almavora drinks like a fish.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Letouriste

    Wait a second…that’s a story about a orphan squire and the sword in a stone right?
    But…in Arthurian story,Arthur become king when he took the sword
    She lose the queen name against the angel but maybe she still will get a knight name? She just took a legendary sword right? Not really fitting for a mere squire…so maybe the take aspect is for a new name?

    Like

    1. Arthur didn’t automatically become king. His right to become king was recognised. He then had to persuade a bunch of people with both diplomacy, craft, skill and the odd battle before he could actually sit on the throne wearing the crown. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Personally I think Catherine will still be Squire…for now. That said, I think my fellow readers should pay a great deal of attention to the Hashmallim decision to try and deviate from the Rules of Fate set in place by the Gods by attempting to deny Catherine her earned resurrection.

    The Angelic Choirs are one of, if not the uppermost tier of Good before you get to the Gods that support the “Good Side” of the Divine Wager made between said Gods. The Angelic Choirs have historically made (rare) appearances to support Good when its position has become completely untenable in the mortal realm. One of those historically rare Angelic Interventions WAS happening now. The Angels still had several possible plays according to the Rules of Fate…UNTIL Catherine survived to reach the Angel Corpse Chapel and leveraged the Sword in the Stone Trope + Black Knight designating her Heir to the throne of Callow. When Catherine’s hand gripped the sword’s hilt, the Angels were per the Rules down to two possible moves.

    1) Get Catherine to become a Contrition-based Heroic Queen, William’s boss. This failed. The Hashmallim were then SUPPOSED to move to Move #2.

    2) Grudgingly concede defeat and grant Catherine her resurrection and allow her dominant story-fork to continue moving forwards. This is where everything went to Hell for Good. The Hashmallim tried to Break Fate and deny Catherine’s resurrection.

    It cannot be overstated how severe a breakdown in the cogs of the Divine Wager this is. The refusal of the Hashmallim to obey the rules…when the stakes were already so high (The fate(s) of an entire Kingdom’s worth of people…all of whom having at least the theoretical potential to be champions of Good or Evil.) The Hashmallim’s defiance threatened to overturn the only VIABLE Fate-Path for Callow remaining with William’s being negated. This could have caused the entire current battlefield between Good and Evil (Callow) to become non-viable.

    Ironically, even the “Good Gods” despite the fact they were losing this battle would unite with the “Evil Gods” to prevent this from happening. A MAJOR correction was required to preserve the current Callowan Battlefield’s viability as part of the Divine Wager.

    Evidence for this? Consider: Look at EVERYTHING Black has said relating to his frustrations about the absurdly impossible eventualities that traditionally favor Good. Angelic Choirs step in to help foil Evil, but no corresponding “Demonic Choir” ever steps in for Evil. That’s what’s lead to Black’s aspiration in life…to create a situation where, just ONCE…all the absurdities that favor Good WEREN’T ENOUGH to save Good.

    Does that line up in ANY WAY with a transitional Name like Squire (Described consistently as not being as powerful as non-transitional Heroic and Villainous Names like Lone Swordsman or White/Black Knight) gaining an Aspect so powerful it allowed her to ***TAKE*** from the Contrition Choir, and then immediately ***TAKE*** from the Choir’s champion the means of undoing the injuries that would’ve impeded Catherine’s resurrection?

    There’s MORE to it than Catherine simply winning her battle with William and beating the Hashmallim. THAT is what WOULD have happened had the Hashmallim played by the rules. They didn’t…and as one of the top-most echelons of Good there are going to be negative consequences for Good beyond Evil’s victory in Callow. After all, that victory had already been won by the Rules. I believe Catherine is going to retain more power than simply Squire Redux with an Angelic Sword (which I doubt she’ll get to keep beyond this encounter anyways)…the scales are righting themselves, but to do that Evil has to get an advantage beyond claiming the victory in Callow that Evil had already won.

    Catherine’s the beneficiary of that rebalancing, and I believe it leads to one conclusion. She’s leaving that Chapel considerably more powerful than simply Squire Redux with the damage to her soul and Name undone. I think Take is overpowered, and intentionally so because of the egregious imbalance that Good’s agents tried to create in the Divine Wager…and I doubt Catherine’s power-up ends there.

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  10. lennymaster

    I still think she is due a victory against the demon. It corupted her third aspect so it had to be destroyed/cut out by Apprentice, makes one win for him. Then she pretty much beat within an inch of its life, but beeing a Villian, she could not kill it, and was stoped from banning it by Heiress. If angels are part of the story and have to follow its rules, than so does a demon.
    I bet Heiress pulls out the thing, which gets destroyed (because she might be more Grey than Evil now, my personal favourite) while Heiress makes for a hasty retreat.

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  11. Captain Amazing

    Cue the Catherine specific timeskip. I only hope that she scars Akua before the fated defeat.

    I do have to say though that I expected that more would be made of Chider and William than viciously being put down. I can reluctantly understand why William had to die as he was too much of a fanatical monster to ever cooperate and the story had to pivot to Heiress being the antagonist for the next arc. But for Chider, it just seems like a waste for the story (not the meta-context) to have done so much for the character only to be killed off.

    Like

    1. Letouriste

      No chider accomplished her role,a stepping stone and a comparatif for Catherine growth.
      William have been used totally,anymore of him would be too much…same for akua.
      I honestly think she will die here,or lose a lot=> character growth for her
      Because like she is now,she is not anymore fitted for rivalry with cat:out maneuvered etc…
      I think she will die and then her father will set on the vengeance road(evil tainted with love,so some good in there right?)

      Like

  12. Captain Napalm

    Favorite line in this chapter: “some kind of shoddy chapel”. You can see the difference in perspective and characterization when two people describe the same thing. William had paragraphs describing it with a tone of awe; Cat’s like “meh”. (I’m sure part of that is that you didn’t need to describe the same place twice, but still.)
    Also everything was badass, but I feel like that’s been covered.

    Liked by 1 person

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