Heroic Interlude: Arraignment

“Sixty-seven: putting an arrow in a villain during their monologue is a perfectly acceptable method of victory. Heroes believing otherwise do not get to retire.”
– Two Hundred Heroic Axioms, unknown author

Delos was organized in tiers. It reminded Hanno of the city he’d been born in, Arwad. Smaller than Smyrna, the capital of the Thalassocracy, it had been even more strictly regimented than the larger city. There were differences, though, that grew more apparent the longer he spent here. In Arwad people lived and died in the citizenship tier they’d been born to, while in Delos positions in the Secretariat and the attending privileges were… fluid. The city itself was arranged to reflect this: behind the walls, districts were built on clockwise platforms that spiralled higher and thinner until they reached the House of Ink and Parchment. The district where one lived was determined by committees of Secretariat, the arrangements subject to monthly review according to performance and seniority. A botched report could see you lowered by a district, reaching fifty years in the civil service could earn you a manse in the shade of the city’s centre of power.

The way the city had been built had made it easy to defend in the siege. The Tyrant’s forces had broken through the gates once and found the lowest district turned into a killing field, the stairways up to the second district collapsed or barred as the walls of the houses above effectively became a set of inner walls. The Helikean madman had nearly won anyway. It was not his professional army he’d sent as the first wave: only mercenaries and forced conscripts from the people of Atalante. The sheer disregard the Tyrant had spent their lives with had almost managed to buckle the defences, until Hanno had intervened with his associates. Revealing there were heroes in the city had been tipping his hand early, but it was better than allowing Delos to fall. Blooding his team had been necessary, anyway. The sisters had never seen full scale battle before and the Valiant Champion had only ever worked alone. What the Bard did or did not know was buried under a sea of bad liquor, but to his understanding her Role was not meant for fighting.

As for him? To be the White Knight was to be an instrument of war in the hands of the Heavens. His years in the Chamber of Borrowed Lives had shown him the Role behind his Name, even as his skills grew, and made his hazy understanding of this into an irrefutable fact. Hanno was the veteran of a hundred battles, each more desperate than the last, but he’d not spilled blood himself before that day. Or perhaps he had. The sorceries of the Gigantes were beyond the comprehension of men, even those touched by the Gods Above. The Tyrant’s response to the repulsing of his first attack had been… unexpected, though not entirely unforeseen. The walls of Delos were sixty feet high and almost half as deep, the most impressive curtain walls in the Free Cities by a fair margin, which made the city brutally costly to assault. The villain, instead of preparing to starve out the defenders, had instead built a set of large stone towers and filled them with siege engines.

The Secretariat had been sceptical these could be a threat and denied him the permit to launch a sortie to disrupt the construction. The Bard had run around their table and tipped over their inkwells in protest, which had gotten all of them thrown out as well as fined for “disruption of order”, “miscreantism” and “wanton waste of Secretariat resources”. Hedge and Ash had been quite displeased with her afterwards, but the White Knight did not judge. The Tyrant, once the towers were built, had linked them with rope bridges and brought forward the prisoners. Six hundred and sixty-six per tower, men and women and children from Atalante. And just like that, as Hanno watched from the walls, the Tyrant had them butchered like animals. Sacrificed so that the ground around the towers would rise into the air, floating until it was above the height of Delos’ walls. They’d been bombarding the city ever since, night and day. The Hedge Wizard, tanned face paling in horror, had tried to compose herself by noting Praesi mages would have done better. They’d only have needed half as many sacrifices per tower.

They’d lost the first district again a fortnight later after Helikean infantry forced the gate under the cover of siege engines, and if the Champion had not fought her way through the host until she could hold the gates by herself for a bell the city might well have fallen. Hanno had led the counterattack of the beleaguered defenders from the ranks, the Ashen Priestess covering the host with her power so that any wound not mortal would heal within moments. It still might not have been enough, had her sister Hedge not hypnotized the Helikean officers into giving a hundred contradicting orders to their men. The Tyrant’s soldiers had been driven out, then the iron gate melted and fused with the stone so it could no longer open. It would not be enough. Hence why Hanno was here on the walls, waiting for a permit.

“You could at least look like you’re brooding,” the Wandering Bard complained. “At best you’re contemplative.”

Aoede’s feet were dangling off the walls, her ever-present flask in hand. He could smell the hard liquor from where he stood, the breeze carrying it like some toxic fume. The Wandering Bard looked like a hundred other girls from Nicae, full-figured and with dark curls going down to her back, but the stained leathers and the lute slung over her back set her apart. So did the way her liver had yet to kill her. Every Named learned the trick to burn poison out of their bodies early in their career and it could be used to sober yourself up, but as far as he could tell she didn’t use it. Interesting, though not as much as the way she sometimes moved between places faster than should be possible. Aoede often acted the fool, but she knew too much to be harmless. Of all the heroes in his band, she was the one he was wariest of. The others had their motivations worn on their sleeves, but the Bard? Behind the haze of drunkenness there was an intent he had yet to figure out.

“Brooding is pointless,” Hanno said in tradertalk. “If something distresses you, act upon it. Otherwise you surrender all right to complain.”

“So speaks the Choir of Judgement,” she said. “Though you’re fairly moderate for one of theirs. Most would have executed the upper Secretariat and taken command of the siege after out little tower episode.”

He eyed her silently for a moment.

“I do not judge,” he finally said. “That is not my Role.”

“You’re going to be a fun one, I think,” Aoede grinned.

Hanno wasn’t quite sure how to take that, so he let the matter go.

“Do you have a reason for seeking me out?” he asked.

“Secretariat just validated your permit,” the Bard said. “Tonight’s the night.”

The White Knight looked upwards, at the floating towers and the people manning them.

“Good.”

The earth under the towers gave a dim red glow in the dark, though it was not enough that torches and magelights were not used all over the floating platforms. The moon was near-gone tonight and behind clouds to boot, so the dark silhouette of the massive eagle was not greeted with shouts of alarm. Hedge was as graceless in this form as when she was human, but she managed a landing at the feet of the easternmost tower without crashing into the wall. The other three heroes riding her back, tied to it with ropes, slid down quietly. The Bard was gone again, no one knew where. Hanno adjusted the longsword at his belt when the moment he touched solid ground and put on his barbute. The solid steel helmet with the T-shaped opening lacked the protection of a visor, which most warriors preferred when wearing plate as he was, but the White Knight preferred the better visibility. The Champion and the Priestess came to his side a moment later.

Though they were both women, the two were a study in differences. The Ashen Priestess was tall and slender where the Champion was short and bulky, the first aggressively serene where the second always wore a sunny smile. The only commonalities were the tanned skin common to Levant and the Free Cities as well as his own native Ashur and the dark hair – though Priestess wore hers short while Champion kept hers in a thick braid that reached halfway down her back. As befitting of a martial Named the Champion was decked in plate even thicker than his own, her helmet forged to look like a snarling badger. Ash, as her more gregarious sister insisted she should be called, wore a mere coat of silvery mail covering a padded tunic. He could feel the power wafting from it, though it was not sorcery. Names like the Priestess’ relied on the magic of priests instead of mages, that gift of the Heavens that wove miracles beyond understanding.

The shape of the massive eagle shuddered, then collapsed into a kneeling woman. The blood relation between the Hedge Wizard and the Priestess could be seen with even cursory examination, the two sisters sharing much of the cast of their face as well as their build. The eyes were where they differed the most. Ash’s hickory-like eyes were common in the Free Cities but Hedge’s eclectic arcane bag of tricks had come at a cost: one of her eyes was blue, the other a vivid shade of yellow. The mage’s colourful patchwork robes were covered with barely-visible arcane symbols and more pockets than she could possibly be needing. Hedge stayed kneeling for a moment, the coughed out a few feathers.

“Gods,” she gasped. “I’m going to be craving rabbit for weeks.”

Champion helped her up to her feet, then clapped her back. Hanno saw the mage repress a wince.

“Eagle trick, very great,” the Levantine heroine said, her tradertalk heavily accented. “Witch can have many rabbits after victory.”

“Wizard,” Hedge corrected absent-mindedly. “It’s a genderless noun.”

The Champion ignored that as cheerfully as she usually did.

“We shouldn’t linger,” Priestess said. “We’ll be seen.”

Hanno cleared his throat quietly to draw their attention.

“Swiftness will be of the essence,” he said. “If they cut the bridges between the towers, this will get much more difficult.”

“Kill invaders quick,” the Champion agreed. “Then go back for parade.”

“You can fill out the paperwork for that, if you want one,” Hedge muttered under her breath.

The White Knight grimaced at the thought. It would take at least a fortnight to get the form to request the request form.

“You know the plan,” he said. “Let’s end this for good.”

They moved seamlessly, what they lacked in experience made up by the instincts of their Names. The door at the bottom of the tower was barred but the greataxe the Champion used – almost as tall as she was, and used single-handedly with her large shield on the other hand – smashed it down with a single swing. The hall behind it was swarming with Helikean infantry but Hanno did not waste time engaging them. The Priestess and the Champion would take care of it. Calmly unsheathing his longsword, the White Knight headed for the stairs. A cluster of soldiers tried to get into his way, shields raised, but a trickle of power to his legs had him smashing into the mass of them like a trebuchet stone. They scattered under the impact and Hedge hurried behind him, dropping a ball of multi-coloured light in their midst that exploded into bindings. His first kill of the night came when a spearman atop the stairs thrust the tip towards his head. The flat of his blade slapped away the shaft, then a twist of the wrist buried the point into the man’s throat. Without stopping he flicked out the sword, the Wizard pushing the body below when it fell on her.

Hedge’s assessment had been that the ritual room would be close to the middle of the tower and she was proved correct: a heavily barred iron door with glowing runes on it was the only thing on the second level. Letting the Wizard finagle her way through the wards would have taken too long and he could already hear soldiers rushing downstairs, so Hanno drew on his Name. The Light flooded his veins, harsh like a desert wind hollowing out his insides, and it wreathed his hand in a gauntlet. He punched through the iron like it was parchment, ripping out the bar holding the door in place on the other side.

“That’s one way to do it,” Hedge said.

She hurried inside anyway. The room was covered with ritual symbols, painted in what he was fairly sure was blood. In the centre, surrounded by a pentagram whose every corner bore line joining the broader web of runes, was a single perfect disc of obsidian.

“Stoneglass,” the Wizard grimaced. “Of course they’d use the most unstable kind of anchor available.”

“Is this a problem?” Hanno asked.

“There’s a not insignificant chance the ritual will blow up instead of converting,” she said.

The White Knight frowned.

“How not insignificant?”

“Eh,” Hedge said. “It’ll work out. Probably.”

He did not think that had been meant to be reassuring, which was good because he was not reassured in the slightest. Before he could reply, the mage muttered something under her breath and strode into the symbols. Immediately a dozen orbs of red light appeared in the air, but the Wizard snapped her fingers and a bluebird slipped out of her sleeve, wings flapping as it chirped merrily. A dozen rays of fire instantly incinerated it, but by the time its ashes fell to the ground Hedge was barely a foot away from the disk. A spherical barrier of transparent force formed around it but the Wizard whispered an incantation and it started flickering until it disappeared entirely. She deftly placed a polished pebble on the disk and backed away hastily.

“We don’t have long,” she said, absent-mindedly producing a little mirror to catch a ray of fire and turn it back against the orb that had shot it out. “Are the others done?”

Hanno cast an eye down the stairs. There was a plume of ash as Priestess dispersed a man out of existence with a word, and not a single person or object in the vicinity of the Champion remained unbroken. She, at least, seemed to be having a good time.

“More or less,” he replied.

He whistled sharply, drawing their attention. The Champion waved, Priestess sighed and immediately began making her way up. Hanno’s attention turned to the stairs leading above and he frowned. He’d heard soldiers earlier and prepared himself to cover Hedge’s back, but none had arrived. That was not a good sign. The White Knight put a spring to his step and emerged on the third floor, which was abandoned. There was a pair of unmanned ballistae and racks full of projectiles as well as a set of stairs leading to the roof, but no enemies. The threshold to the side led to the rope bridge linking this tower to the next one and he immediately moved towards it. The arrow whistled an inch to the left of his head, the soldiers on the other side of the bridge already in formation. That was no issue, but the way two of them seemed prepared to cut out the bridge was. Instead of pouring more reinforcements into the fight below, the Helikeans had retreated in good order and positioned themselves to cut off their losses if necessary. How unpleasantly competent of them.

Barely a heartbeat had passed since the arrow clattered against stone and Hanno’s mind quickened. He would not make it across the bridge in time, which would endanger the entire operation. He would not make it across the bridge in time on foot. The White Knight was moving forward before he even thought of it, Name pulsing inside of him. The winds howled through his veins, carving their marks.

Ride,” he whispered.

Light roiled violently by his side, taking shape and flesh until a horse stood – without breaking stride Hanno hoisted himself on it, extending his hand so that the lance of light would form inside it. The horse moved swifter than any mortal mount could have, across the rope bridge within three breaths. The lance pieced through the first soldier’s torso, flesh wafting smoke, and a sword stroke sent the other one’s head tumbling to the ground. He’d moved quickly enough the Helikeans were too surprised to immediately attack. Hanno let go of the lance, allowing it to disperse, and the horse’s hooves caved in the head of the man at the centre of the enemy formation. A heartbeat later the mount was gone and he dropped to his feet, landing gracefully even in plate.

“Fucking Hells,” one of the archers in the back exhaled, knocking an arrow.

The longsword cut through both the bow and his throat in the same swing.

“Retreat,” an officer barked. “Collapse the next-“

He swallowed his tongue before he could finish, clawing at his throat as he choked. Hedge had caught up. There’d been twelve soldiers, before he’d crossed the bridge. Now there eight, seven when he caught a man’s blade and broke it before his hand snaked out to grab him by the neck. His grip strengthened, the cracking sound heralding another death. These were Helikeans, though. The descendants of the same soldiers who had waged war on the mightiest nation as a single city-state and forced the man to surrender or see Salia burn to the ground. They did not flinch or fail. One allowed his blade to run him through to keep it stuck as the two remaining archers took aim again – only for the first to twitch, then disperse into a cloud of ashes that had the other coughing. Priestess had arrived. By the time the Champion had crossed the bridge with her axe raised, there was no one left alive on that side of the tower. The other two heroines made their way more slowly.

“Kill everyone,” the Levantine complained. “Like hog.”

“What do pigs have to do with this?” Hedge blinked.

“She means we hogged the kills,” Ash said.

“Yes,” Champion agreed enthusiastically. “You all big hogs.”

“Would you stop calling me a-“ Hedge began, tone irritated, before Hanno cleared his throat.

“You can take point, Champion,” he told the short woman. “We need to get to the westernmost tower and fast.”

There were seven towers, in all. The Wizard’s overtaking of the ritual on this one would take care of roughly half, but for the destruction to be complete they would need to do the same on the other side. They were on the third story now, where all the rope bridges would lead, so at least there would be no need to move around. That did not simplify matters as much as Hanno would have thought, as he found out. By the time they cleared the third tower, the one they’d landed on had begun to move. There was a deafening sound as it rammed itself into the second tower, half-collapsing but continuing to push it into the third one. At the fourth they found the bridge out already cut when they arrived. Hedge would not be able to turn into the giant eagle again until dawn, and she lacked another form that would carry them all. Priestess managed to craft a thin line of solid light for them to walk across while getting peppered with arrows. The Champion took three in the chest but her Name was remarkably robust: it barely slowed her down. Less than an hour had passed when they arrived to the last tower, but it had still taken much longer than he would have liked.

Behind them three towers had impacted into one large ruin, but the central one was barely touched. Hedge would have to add some momentum to the conversion on this side if they wanted to break the central tower, which she informed him would increase those “not insignificant” chances of blowing up. The seventh tower was already deserted when they arrived, the rope bridge that used to lead to it having been cut from the sixth tower’s side. Magelight could be seen shining through the stairs that led below.

“This is a trap,” Priestess said.

“Not even a subtle one,” the Wizard added.

“We mighty,” Champion argued. “Trap feeble and dim, like Procer soldier.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Hanno said. “We need that tower moving.”

And so down they went. There was no iron door here, only a single hall that took up the entire inside of the tower. A banquet hall, as it happened. There was a long table set there, set with a feast that would have fed three dozen people – and it was still warm, by the looks of it. There were five seats set, and one was already filled. The Bard waved.

“You lot really took your time,” Aoede said. “I’ve been here like, forever.”

The only other person in the room laughed. Behind the table the same ritual array that Hanno had seen before was reproduced in painstaking detail, save for one difference: at the centre of symbols, the obsidian disk was set on a ridiculously gaudy throne flanked by leering gargoyles. One where a boy was lounging lazily. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen, but he looked frail for that age. His limbs were thin and his skin unhealthily pale, his body topped by wispy brown curls bearing a crown of gold with jewels set in them. The boy had a sceptre of ivory across his lap, with a roaring gold lion’s head. The Tyrant of Helike smiled at them, his ugly red eye twitching.

“So you’d be the White Knight, then,” the boy mused. “And sundry sidekicks. By all means, sit. I’ve had a meal prepared for you.”

“The wine is great,” the Bard said. “Fruity, with a hint of arsenic.”

“You’ve had enough of it to kill several villages,” the Tyrant commented. “I’m actually impressed.”

“Pheasant look good,” Champion said.

“Poisoned,” Hedge hissed at her in a low voice. “The word you’re looking for is poisoned.”

Hanno ignored them, calmly making his way down the stairs. The villain stirred on his throne, looking at him.

“Is this the part where you rail at my Evil ways?” he asked. “I’ve been looking forward to that.”

“I do not judge,” the White Knight said.

The silver coin appeared in his open palm, as it always did. As a child, Hanno had seen the laws of men fail. He’d believed in the citizenship tiers, before he’d seen what they did to his mother. And yet Ashur was on the side of Good, was it not? So many places across Calernia were, and yet injustice was rampant. The thought had tormented him, as a child. How could one tell which laws were just and which were not? Picking and choosing was… imperfect. One’s discernment could never be flawless. It was constrained by the events of one’s life, the limits of one’s intellect. Hanno could have, he supposed, destroyed the laws he’d seen destroy his mother. But what would he have replaced them with? His own beliefs, as fallible as those of the men and women who’d crafted the laws he railed against? That was not rectifying an evil. It was replacing it with a different shade of the same. But he’d found an answer, hadn’t he? He flipped the coin, watched it spin in the air. It landed on his palm. The crossed silver swords, not the laurels. The Seraphim had rendered their judgement.

“Kairos Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike,” the White Knight said, tone eerily calm. “The Choir of Judgement has looked upon the sum of your existence, and found you wanting.”

Heat flooded his veins, lighting up his senses. For once, everything felt right.

“The verdict is removal from Creation.”

The boy cackled madly.

“Now that’s the stuff, hero,” he said.

The Tyrant rose to his feet, twirling his sceptre.

“Bard, play something ominous,” he ordered.

Aoede raised a finger, drained the rest of her cup, then picked up her lute. Every other time she’d played in front of Hanno it had sounded like she was committing musical murder but this once, the song ran true. Deep and urgent and dark, like death circling. He almost shivered.

“Your soldiers are dead,” the Priestess said, standing by his side.

“You are alone,” the Wizard said, hands already tracing runes.

“Your skull make cup,” the Champion enthused. “Get me many lovers.”

The boy grinned, red eye burning.

“I am the Tyrant of Helike,” he said. “Dead or not, they are in my service.”

The villain’s sceptre pulsed gold and made a sound like a gong ringing. Hazy silhouettes formed in ranks in front of him. Soldiers, all of them. Ranks upon ranks filled the room and they unsheathed their swords, strung their bows. Lances were raised and horses whinnied.

“Shit,” Hedge cursed to herself. “We got monologued. Never let them finish the monologue, Hedge, that’s how they get you.”

The soldiers moved and the White Knight charged. There was a sheen of light to his sword, and not even spectres were beyond his ability to cut. He sidestepped a lance, cut through the apparition’s belly and carved through the head of the man-at-arms behind it. The heat built up inside of him, spilling out in motes of power as he killed his way through the host. The Hedge Wizard spat out a stream of smoke that enveloped the spectres in front of her as Priestess wove a circle of sunlight around her that burned the soldiers whenever they neared it. The Champion bashed a spectre’s face with her shield, apparently indifferent to the fact that they were intangible. She was not, as far as he could tell, even using her name. The Tyrant’s crown lit up and shot a beam of red light at him, because naturally the madman would turn his regalia into a magical weapon, and Hanno grit his teeth as his plate began melting. If it was not lethal, then it was just pain and obstruction. Those he could deal with.

Hedge threw a small ball of fur at the Tyrant that turned into an angry ferret, distracting enough by clawing at his face that the beams ceased. Now would be the time to call on another of his aspects, he knew. But even with the villain distracted, spectres kept appearing faster than they could be killed and the Champion was beginning to get buried. The moment she was, the sisters would be under assault and it was all downhill from there. There were on the Tyrant’s chosen ground, and Hanno had seen enough heroes die in the Chamber to know how this would end.

“Hedge,” he called out. “Crash the tower.”

“We’re still in the tower,” she reminded him.

“Yes,” he said patiently. “There’s no way we could survive that. Therefore we will.”

“Do it, Alkmene,” Priestess hissed. “We can’t keep this up.”

The Wizard cursed again and leapt forward, turning into a sparrow before she hit the ground. She began rising in the air but archers took aim and Hanno hurried towards her – too late, he’d be too late. One after another, the arrows clattered uselessly against the Champion’s great shield as she charged through a spectre to get there in time. Casually, she decapitated an apparition and kicked the intangible body into another. The sparrow flew through the melee, weaving around swings and arrows to land in a crash on the obsidian disk. The Tyrant threw a now-dead ferret at her, but taking the stoneglass off the throne had been enough. The tower, after a heartbeat, began to fall. The villain frowned thoughtfully.

“I had something for this,” he said. “This tower will be your grave? No, Anaxares said that was second-rate. This isn’t over yet?”

The gargoyles flanking the throne animated and began flapping their stone wings, grabbing the Tyrant by the shoulders. The dragged him upwards, heading for the stairs. The boy suddenly inhaled.

“Oh! I’ll get you next time, heroes!” he said shaking his fist in their direction.

By the time the villain was out the hall, which was still falling, the spectres had dissipated into a thick mist lingering on the ground. Hanno waited until the Wizard had turned back into her proper form.

“I don’t suppose putting the disk back will end the freefall?” he asked.

“With the momentum we have going?” she grimaced. “It’ll blow up in our faces instantly.”

The White Knight sighed. So much for the easy way.

“Everyone, gather close,” he said, reaching for his Name.

They did. Hanno closed his eyes and gathered his power, waited for the beginning of the impact that would signal they’d touched the ground.

“Wait, how are you not wounded?” Hedge said. “I saw you take hits.”

“Witch not so smart,” Champion said. “Ghosts no real, can’t hurt.”

Ignorance is not a magical power,” the Wizard yelled.

The White Knight felt the shudder under his feet, and instantly released all he’d gathered. The world went white.

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103 thoughts on “Heroic Interlude: Arraignment

  1. JackbeThimble

    So Calernia gets some competent heroes at last, and we get some real action for the first time this book, excellent chapter.

    I remain a bit perplexed by the story structure here, with the main plot apparently playing out hundreds of miles from the protagonist.

    Like

    1. Cir_C

      I think it is setup for Black vs White Knight which will have deep ramifications for the story going forward. Seems like with Catherine being the Squire and all she will get swept up in their conflict and maybe she will be forced to make her Choice, the only Choice that truly ever matters…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Theo Promes

        I don’t think so – these guys are competent, yeah, but they play by the rules, like the tyrant. heroic action to break the siege, epic showdown wiht the evil overlord, escape by the skin of their teeth out of the falling tower. Black is someone who breaks the rules, so unless there are mitigating circumstances, I’d expect the calamities to wipe the floor with these heroes, they don’t have nearly the same experience. Remember what the actual fuck ranger gets up to when she’s bored, and we are talking about four of her party mates…

        Liked by 3 people

      2. nipi

        I think all heroes except for the White Knight and Bard will perish. And they will find their way to Cat once the Tyrant is dead.

        Personally I think the Tyrant will try to kill Black. Maybe in some grand plot to kill the Calamities and heroes in one fell swoop.

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      3. Letouriste

        You’re wrong cir ce,she already made her choice long ago.
        She’s a bad guy on the evil side…I wondering if the act of killing your mentor is powering your name…in particular if the relationship between them is deep.

        Like

      4. I’d be really interested in that particular coin toss when it comes to working as Team Black-and-White vs Evil Classic. Because Black and White are equally unconventional takes on the usual expectations of their Roles at this point in time, if in different ways.

        Because I very much doubt that the majority of White Knights have had “I do not judge” as the root of their conviction before… 🙂

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      1. You left out “but, only with deft handling”. 🙂 Because, when it comes to Hammer Horror levels of campy cliché, you really need to know how to handle the volatile things, or they blow up in your face. 😄

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    1. stevenneiman

      It’s easy. Just have everyone in the story acutely aware of the fact that it’s all cliche. On one hand we have a hero specifically planning on the fact that if something is obviously impossible for any of them to survive they will get through it unscathed, and on the other a villain so trope-aware that he not only plans out his hammy one-liner but also requests dramatic background music.

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    1. Nairne

      Yea. While we have Cat in the role of the Dark Knight. See? Even the naming fits (somehow).
      Seriously though, I can see how she flips responsibility on the White Knight. Flip a coin, butcher a bunch of people, leave dealing with the aftermath to someone else. Because they will definitely have a better solution, and he can essentially wash his hands of any flaws and problems that may arise from that.

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      1. nipi

        Well Harvey Dent was the White Knight before becoming Twoface.

        And Cat will be whatever Callow needs her to be.

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      2. Morgenstern

        Uhm… if I remember correctly it was the Joker that gave Harvey Dent the coin tick while making him into Twoface… no? Basically, the White Knight IS already Twoface, unless the coin toss is actually meddled with by Heavenly Powers That Be (he did say something of laurels – although… that doesn’t necessarily have to mean there are even laurels on THIS specific coin, come to hink of it ^^). Would be funny if the coin actually stopped effing working with someone he really, really would have liked to kill (even though he “doesn’t judge”) and/or if he could be made to doubt what he did so far… aaaaall those lives taken for a coin toss, my ass, yeah.

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  2. darkening

    “There’s no way we could possibly survive that. Therefore we will”

    heh, I love how important genre savviness is in this series. And the tyrant is *such* a great character. Can’t wait to see what he’ll do next, I mean, half of creation isn’t arrayed against him, so he can’t fail yet.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Cir_C

    At first I was a little bummed that this was an Interlude, but somehow this ended up being really great set-up for the White Knight and his harem, though it seems like he also isn’t interested in any of them romantically, which is also a trope just the same. What the Guide is really good at is taking the obvious tropes from various genres and make them so obvious that they then have a completely original feel to them because they are super important to the background lore.

    And this talk of Names vs Roles I think is incredibly important to the background lore/story that is at play throughout and beyond the events of the Guide. The White Knight, for instance, is the Name a person takes up/comes into, which in-universe gives them limited super powers, either active powers called Aspects or the passive powers like the ability to detox poisons as mentioned in the chapter, and marking them out as individuals of some import in the greater story. But even beyond that, what Role someone plays in that larger story seems to be far more mercurial and even more powerful and influential but in a subtler way. I think the best example of this is Black vs. the previous Black Knight. Black remarks that he really can’t get much power from his Name, he can maybe manifest a spear-sized bolt of Name juice to use as an attack whereas his predecessor could summon a massive storm of Name power to fight. Yet, it is Black who has helped lead the most sustained period of Praesi military success in generations and has proven to be one of the most capable individuals in the story. This leads me to believe that this is because Black’s Role in the Guide itself has caused this to be the case. And what is his role? His Role is the Mentor to the Protagonist, Catherine, not merely a stock Villain or a backwater warlord as Black himself once said. It is more important for a Named person in the Guide to be in tune with their Role than their Name, it is what provides them with strength their Name couldn’t even hope to measure up to. I posit that this is just further demonstrates that Guide is at once a fun and engaging story but also a brilliant commentary on the nature of story-telling, by exposing and internalizing the meta-narrative devices authors use, the Guide becomes in truth a Practical Guide to Story-telling just as much as to Evil.

    But I must admit I’m just shooting from the hip and wouldn’t be surprised if I wildly over-thought all of this…

    Liked by 5 people

    1. AVR

      Black was a great general before Catherine made her way on to the scene. Focusing on what works rather than on what powers Names seems to have made him great.

      Kairos the Tyrant seems to be the opposite. He’s thrown himself into the role which powers his Name and can summon an army of ghosts in moments without even being out of breath afterwards. It doesn’t bode well for him long term.

      Hanno the White Knight seems to be between the two. More power than Black, but not army or storm-summoning level, he summons a magic horse and fights well, and apparently he can protect a small close group from massive damage when he is prepared and has the story on his side. He seems less devoted to his role than the Bard expected, anyway.

      Typos

      Names like the Priestess’
      (Priestesses, Priestess’s or Priestess, not Priestess’ here)

      the coughed
      then coughed

      knocking an arrow.
      nocking an arrow.

      they arrived to the
      they arrived at the

      There were on
      They were on

      Like

      1. Kallikrates

        Wrt. Black: You can also look at it as he was living through his own backstory, while being one of the protagonists at the same time (The champion and love interest for the innkeepers daughter on her way to become empress).

        It is a story telling classic to branch a story with younger characters while showing more senior characters in more of a support role.

        Like

  4. Daemion

    “Ignorance is not a magical power” … it is, if belief shapes stories and reality is a story.

    I quite like the new heroes. Competent, somewhat funny and they don’t have that holier than thou attitude of the previous batch.
    The Tyrant is just having fun and doing whatever he wants for the hell of it.

    And soon the Calamities will walk into all of that. It’ll be explosive. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  5. “Praesi mages would have done better. They’d only have needed half as many sacrifices per tower.”
    Good to see Imperial efficiency is well respected. Can’t have the filthy do-gooders getting the wrong ideas.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. agumentic

    “Sixty-seven: putting an arrow in a villain during their monologue is a perfectly acceptable method of victory”

    The reverse is also true, as we all seen.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. nipi

      No killing a hero is never acceptable. Thats why that job falls to villains. However doing so during a monologue is effective all the same.

      Like

  7. Burnsy

    Hey, now these guys actually seem like a likeable, competent group of Heroes. The Tyrant is really committed to stereotypical villainy, but he makes it work.

    The Calamities are going to rip these poor sods apart.

    Also I notice that the naming scheme for Heroic Interludes has switched from fencing terms to legal ones. That’s interesting, wonder if the naming scheme for Villainous Interludes will get a shake up too.

    Like

      1. Burnsy

        I assumed so too, although its interesting that Cordelia’s interludes also got fencing terms last book. Following the pattern I’d have thought that her’s would be based on something like chess terminology. Maybe EE just bases it on the main Hero/Villain that Cat will be facing?

        This is just me musing and rambling, by the way. I just find naming patterns interesting, like the “All According To../X’s Plan” arc in Book 1.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. stevenneiman

        Burnsey: Actually, the second interlude for Cordelia was called Precipitation, implying possibly a weather theme for her interludes. I can’t recall what the first one was called.

        Like

      3. Burnsy

        Ah, but that was a regular old Interlude, primarily Anarxes. And since it was about the Tyrant and called ‘Precipitation’ and then he did that whole mass destruction thing with a storm in the prologue, it was probably foreshadowing that.

        Like

    1. Morgenstern

      > The Calamities are going to rip these poor sods apart. <

      I sure hope they do. =D And if one of them SHOULD die in the process, I seriously hope they get a DESERVING end and not just some shitty offing by hero because hero. That would suck so much, this being a story NOT about the "Good Heroes", but one making most all of us rooting for the other ones who are the real protagonists, in main and side story, as well as the ones driving this whole story of "new Practical Evil" and how to do it… (and winning!? We hope…)

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        Hm.. come to think of that…. after all the description of Scribe’s relationship with Black and all the foreshadowing for “Black’s demise now, in a week, a month, or a decade”… and her not being truly one of them (according to the “Dramatis Personae”), but only closely related, probably not really Evil either… I can totally see her doing the Page move, where Page didn’t succeed…. popping up in front of Black to take the killing stroke in her own breast – and fucking things seriously up in other respects because of one less Spymistress being around that was rather important to the whole Black(‘s) organization… Well, or simply dishing out one hell of a revenge right-back-at-you. 😉 (And whatever would Ranger do? Or Malicia.. or the other Calamities.. this would seriously not just involve Cat, not by far… She’s nowhere near either unless the fighting moves to Callow once again, because she is there…)

        On the other hand… if Cat can resurrect herself…. I’m seriously wondering and have been for a while why Black has the extra title of “Carrion Lord”… we didn’t yet get an exaplanatory flashback for that one. =/

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        I mean, yeah, of course, it might just be that he has left such a massive trail of corpses in the past… but that would be a rather lame explanation for such an extra name. Also, higher necromancy seems to be quite common in the higher ranks of Evil, not just by the examples of Gods-know-how-many former Tyrants/Emperors/Empresses…. always destroy the corpse and make sure they cannot rise… But yeah, this new hero bunch now has an Ash priestess…. it just won’t fit in my head that of all the tropes this trope of the villain coming back should NOT apply, if they The Practicals even fall at all, what with this being THEIR story, too (and not just Cat’s, judging by the title, whatever the character summary says about “main protagonists” and listing all the older ones only under “Praes”).

        Like

      3. Morgenstern

        Hm… further thought: We have some a multitude of hints by now that “the Uncivil Wars” are incoming — somehow I for one seriously doubt that is all just about civil war of the Free Cities against each other, and very much suspect that we will also see an civil war in PRAES upcoming. That, though, is the exact silver lining Black has hinted at in the extra-chapter on his and Malicia’s meeting, that he simply does not dare to hope for (yet), because we all know how the Gods like to smash such hopes and overconfidence… better to prepare for the worst. War against the Truebloods would be directly down Black’s alley, though — and Catherine is very much steering that way, if you ask me (as is Malicia in using Cat to probably get rid of Heiress and to get rid of Tasia in the process (potentially by other means, though), too). Heiress and Cat seem absolutely destined to clash again. And what can that mean other than a war against the nobles backing Heiress? If Cat doesn’t totally fudge it because of Fae invasion, vengeance is finally incoming…. and that will mean a carrion trail…. unless we should surprisingly really see only a sociopolitical clash because of “seek new allies” blah. Somehow I doubt that will go over all that well, though. Especially with Cat being so unsure of what exactly even is her alley there and how to make it work and then the Fae meddling on top, stacking cards against her once more and FOR Heiress in giving her time to get that much closer to her goals. All is hinting at a culmination of Nobles’ Plans in the span of one year. I don’t see even Malicia getting past that through only diplomacy, however brilliant and ruthless, and embarassing her opponents to de-fang them. The title theme “Uncivil Wars” would seem to second a BRUTAL clash, militarily-so, not only politically backstabbing-wise. Simply defusing that after all this foreshadowing and with the background of the other two books? I don’t see it that working quite well. It would be too little badassery and shit-hitting-the-fan in there, if all just ends in a tiny logical puff and “all is well without (actual) war”…

        Like

  8. Burnsy

    Double posting but I was struck by a sudden train of thought and I need to get this idea/theory now. This also got massively out of control and rambly, apologies.

    So I was thinking about how these guys seem more like an actual heroic party, while Willy’s guys were, frankly, a complete mess. Then it struck me, William was The LONE Swordsman. The fact that he was running around in a five-man band instead of going solo was even something Cat complained about. He was never supposed to be a leader, he wasn’t meant to be the protagonist in the story the Gods had planned, Cat was!

    According to the Gods plan, Cat was supposed to choose to become a hero the night that she became the Squire. Her story was supposed to go something along the lines of; making a heroic escape from the Black Knight’s villainous clutches, fleeing to Summerholm and joining up with the Lone Swordsman.

    The two of them fight and kill all the Squire claimants (accidentally ensuring that Heiress becomes Amadeus’s inheritor) and then run off and join up with the rest of the heroic crew. Eventually Willy slinks off to do his broody loner thing while the rest of them go on some adventure that bonds them forever etc

    The thing is, Cat’s whole thing with the 15th was taking a bunch of talented people with crippling flaws and helping put them in positions where they reinforced each others weaknesses and became a greater whole. Instead of fostering division like William, she’d have got the Bumbling Conjuror, Thief, Hunter and TWB working together as a real team.

    Then in the end of the Book 2 equivalent she and her group become the first to kill a Calamity in Summerholm and then head South to fight Heiress, Apprentice and the Fifteenth Legion. They team up with the Exiled Prince, setting up for them to help reclaim his throne in the Book 3 equivalent, and then William sends word that Heiress has summoned and unleashed a demon and they race to Liesse just in time to fight and defeat her. Apprentice escapes, swearing revenge, and William summons the angel of contrition. Cat ascends to the Queen of Callow and begins preparations to lead the next Crusade.

    That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately for the Gods, Cat said screw that and now they have an incipient Dread Empress waiting to climb the Tower.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Jaertin

      I like it! Explains why this White Knight got Hyperbolic Time Chamber training. Cat was supposed to take up the mantle of White Knight and lead the Callow adventurer party, and eventually take down Amadeus. Then suddenly they were short a White Knight and the heroic party was in shambles with Lone forced into the wrong role.

      I think the Lone Swordsman was supposed to be their Sixth Ranger, Mamoru type person. The guy who shows up conveniently when the fight is turning against the heroes, then leaves, and is mysterious/more morally ambiguous than the main party. Probably supposed to be Cat’s love interest too.

      Like

    2. Jaertin

      Come to think of it, I suspect Apprentice was also “meant” to join the heroes. Heiress already has magical means so he’s not a great fit with her. The Bumbling Conjurer, however, was an obvious filler, and a filler means something else was meant to take that place. It even fits thematically, if Apprentice joins the heroes then with him, Cat and the Hunter you have three students turning against their evil masters. That might be a significant pattern in addition to generally making the heroic party the anti-calamities.

      Even Apprentice’s half-demonic upbringing works in eventually making him the Merlin to Cat. Of course realistically Apprentice would never turn against his loving parents, but the Angels are noted to have a very poor understanding of human nature.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        I had noticed the bit about how bad Angels are with people skills too. Supposedly there are tons of storied about demons trying to masquerade as humans and being found out by some fundamental misunderstanding of human nature, but so far demons are two for two with trying to trick humans (the corrupted pony and the fake demon), while the Heavens are zero for one with their failure to convert Cat. They even had the advantage that it took a will save for her to even make her own decisions before she could choose to stand up to them.

        Like

    3. Yitzi

      I’m not so sure that Cat isn’t following the plan. After all, she did say near the end of book 2 that she felt that Creation itself wanted her to succeed, and that doesn’t really fit if she’s not playing her proper role (and quite an important one). She’s now essentially on the fence between the two sides…and in a setting like this, that is quite a significant position.

      Like

      1. Dianna

        That is an interesting thought. Cat is on the fences between the two, and Oh look here is the White knight and the Black knight. Both competent, both reasonably likable… I too almost think it will be like her first name dream all over again, having to choose between the sides, except in that instance, Cat basically told both of them their way wouldn’t cut it, as well as telling the angles to shove it.
        So while it might be an interesting thought have her, say, have to choose between the White and Black knight, she has already made her choice.

        Like

      2. Burnsy

        True, but I think the angels wanted her to win against Heiress because, you know, the demon summoning. Then she sas supposef to be mafe Contrite, Queen of Blades, Crusade, yadadada.

        The gods above are basically a bunch of GM’s desperately trying to railroad Cat back into the plot they had planned.

        “What the fuck she didn’t die?? We buffed the Lone Swordsman, nerfed her and set up a rule of three to give him stat bonuses. How the fuck is she still in the game?”

        “No look, it’s fine, we’ve sent an Angel of Contrition, she’ll be back on track in… what do you mean she rolled a nat20 on her intimidate check!?”

        Liked by 5 people

      3. Son of Arathorn

        Haha! Wouldn’t a DnD in this setting be so glorious tho? Stay bonuses for how in tune with your Role and Alignment, Unique Aspects approved by the GM according to prior, and the setting is wonderful. Anybody want to do this?

        Like

      4. stevenneiman

        That wasn’t a grand plan for her to succeed, just her Name trying to finish its pattern of three with the LS. Of course then Akua went and screwed it up with her pet abomination and again by providing Cat with an “enemy” for the Sword in Stone trick. For a supposed archnemesis, Akua has a strong habit of accidentally helping Cat. First she maneuvered Cat perfectly into a position where all she had to do was pull off an impossible victory in the eleventh hour against non-Named, and threw in an awesome tactician ally to balance some of Cat’s weaknesses at no extra charge. Then she played the bad cop to let Cat win desperately-needed support as the good cop twice, then she passively pulled Cat’s ass out of the fire just by needing to beat her for the pattern of three, then she fixed Cat’s Name and gave her a chance to get a sweet new set of Aspects when her extra trump card backfired (while also throwing away that mandatory victory unused), before finally providing the enemy required for Cat to steal her resurrection and defeat the Lone Swordsman once and for all. She’s less of a fearsome threat to Cat’s objectives and more like some kind of annoying Santa claus.

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      5. Dragrath

        I love the argument you guys brought forth very convincing, but don’t forget there are more than the gods above and their angels 😉 The powers of villains come from the gods below so Cat could very well have been breaking someone’s plan yet still following a “plan”. As after all, we have seen so far that the gods below want mortals to do their own thing rather than follow a script thus bonus power for add-libing the story 😉

        Like

    4. cdos93

      oh wow, that makes a ridiculous amount of sense. The new heroic party also draws parallels with the “intended” group of heroes. To use the 5 Man Band trope:

      Cat/White Knight as the Leader – pretty self explanatory
      Thief/Hedge as the Lancer – foil to the leader. Thief would be the Han Solo type Lancer only interested in money at first, and Hedge is the Snarker in Contrast to the strait-laced Knight
      Hunter/Champion as the Big Guy – The melee expert in each group
      Conjurer/Ash as the Smart Guy – Pretty obvious, being the magic casters of the group.
      Wandering Bard as The Chick

      Like

    5. stevenneiman

      Interesting thought. I don’t know if the plan was that precisely laid out, but it does make sense as an alternate timeline where she took part in all the same battles and won for the other side. It would also fit with the fact that she has the new Aspect Take, if it could have somehow worked retroactively to allow her to keep the allotted victories and spend them elsewhere.

      Personally, I think it’s more likely that what she did was throw off the Lone Swordsman such that he never had the narratively appropriate moment to win. She pushed him into a leadership role that put his Name on the fritz, and then managed to play Akua and William against each other such that their assigned victories basically canceled out. Finally, she turned the two idiots against each other one last time so that she could steal the sword in the stone, and with it William’s moment of victory. Now she has not only the power and authority to rule Callow, but the stolen will of the heavens ensuring that she does, and villain or no she has the will of the people to support her claim and make this a story about her ultimate triumph. In a way she draws power from not only being the heir to Black and Malicia’s pragmatism but also the power of both Good and Evil, and a Name that despite its weakness if designed to handle either and theoretically both. It’s also a transitional Name, which means that she has the chance to grow into some new Name, though I’m not sure what it would be called.

      Like

      1. Dianna

        The Gray Knight? Catherine the Gray? Or maybe just The Knight? Not sure if the world could handle such blatant Neutrality. Though Ranger and Archer don’t seem to have any particular alignment.

        Like

      2. When you’ve got a figure who tests anybody, regardless of status or alligence by basically saying “screw convention: come at me if you think you’re hard or canny enough” — you’re in uncannily Green territory. Which, is technically, in Blue and Orange Morality and, therefore, doesn’t actually give a flying fig about the whole Black vs White thing. 😉

        Interestingly, Cat seems to have a faeish thread to her tale: she’s bedding a faeblood lass, and is in the process of telling a bunch of trueborn fae to go screw themselves: her turf! “Mine! My own! My duty, my view, my people, my word! I keep what I own by whatever means I can!” is the very heart of Green. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Unoriginal

      Pretty much, except he may or may not have the choir of judgement vetting them before they he does the wetwork.

      Pretty sure the Choir of Judgment is in on it though and I would put it at 50/50 chance that if so no one had been found innocent as of yet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nehemiahnewell

        He didn’t kill “the upper Secretariat” because “he does not judge.” I think it’s safe to say that judgement is discerning.

        Like

      2. Unoriginal

        Replying to myself here, but @nehemiahnewell we don’t know if he flipped the coin or not. Maybe he didn’t, maybe he did. But honestly it sounds just like a being of extremes to judge almost anyone as wanting and unworthy or at the very least in need of tough love.

        Like

  9. It seems like certain stories or patterns are locked into Creation itself. The last two books it has been the pattern of three that gave Cat so much trouble. How much do you want to bet that there is also a rule of opposites. Meaning that with both the Black and White Knights in the same general area they will have to have a one on one showdown. Of course knowing Black he will find a way to subvert this.

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      Depending on the direction the story goes, if might be that Black dies setting up a way for Cat to defeat the White Knight. Suddenly, vast responsibility and power will be placed on her beyond what she expected, and she will have to figure out a way to cope. Maybe she’ll even end up killing both Knights and claiming their Names, though if she did she would need to prove that it was what Amadeus wanted or she’ll have the other four and a half Calamities and possibly the Dread Empress looking for payback. Not a good position for anyone to be in, even if they did somehow end up with two Names at the same time.
      Probably more likely that she takes on the mantle of Black Knight and just kills Hanno. We’ll just have to wait and see.

      Like

      1. Dianna

        I think it is pretty clear that Cat is going to be the next Black knight, she had her chance to go good last book.
        As for two Names? How would that even work? Names are Roles, they signify the part a person plays in a story. I don’t think anyone can have two Names at once, especially two Names so obviously opposed to each other. You can’t be an offensive force for good, and an offensive force of evil at the same time.

        Like

      2. Morgenstern

        “It takes a NOVICE to defeat a master.” — If Cat would suddenly be pushed into the next name by Black dying … no longer novice. To hell goes all that nice foreshadowing (even though that might have been purely meant for un-Named Cordelia against Empress Malicia, but… it didn’t feel like it..).

        But maybe I’m just turning a willfully blind eye there, because I feel Cat *already* getting into Black’s name as horribly inappropriately way too early. And I effing hate the “Mentors have to die” shit. Especially when Cat is NOT a hero for whom this trope was made for…

        Like

      3. Morgenstern

        Names are Roles? Nahnahnah… now you’re mixing it all up. Names and Roles are definitely NOT the same thing. Otherwise you’d never need two names for the same thing and that would just be bullshit.

        Like

  10. Letouriste

    “Wizard,” Hedge corrected absent-mindedly. “It’s a genderless noun.”
    I’m just seeing too much in this or you made a feminist character?^^

    In any way this chapter rocks:D really funny.
    I’ve particularly liked the banter(of course) and the depiction of Delos;)

    Did the white knight see each recent hero death? He talked like he had see hundred of downfall of heroes…
    You managed to make a good heroes group:) well,that’s probably not as hard than their contrepart given there are a lot of inspiration for that everywhere:)

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I don’t think she so much a feminist as just offended by having the incorrect term applied to her. Consider how Masego would react if someone called him a warlock, with or without capital w. Besides, there’s a fair chance that witch has a Evil connotation given its negative use in the real world and the fact that the Exiled Prince called Cat one despite her lack of any magical talent whatsoever.

      Like

  11. Soronel Haetir

    I’m going to laugh so hard when he flips his coin judging Cat and it turns up laurels and then he stands there confused and is killed.

    Like

    1. Naeddyr

      There are so many ways this could go, trickery-wise too, depending how integral their “virtue” is to an angel. If Judgement really IS Judgement and IS just… Ho boy. All sorts of shenanigans can be arranged, ALL SORTS OF.

      Conversely, if the choirs are just in-name-only or more political in nature (ie. the angels CHEAT), then that’s a way to bring a paladin to fall through doubt…

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        Or Cat will find out about the coin and just tell Masego to create an illusion of laurels. Then run him through because he doesn’t think he’s allowed to fight back.
        Alternatively, convince him to check one of his allies and then do the opposite illusion and make him kill them. That would probably be even funnier.

        Like

  12. Son of Arathorn

    Triumphant! (May she never rise) I can’t wait for the patreon to get enough slaves, 1 chapter a week isnt enough for my addiction. On a side note, I wonder if Ratfaces Ex will ever return? I feel like this is the calm before the storm, watch out White Knight, you’ve never faced a villain like this: “Unleash the goat!”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. stevenneiman

    “Hanno adjusted the longsword at his belt [when] the moment he touched solid ground and put on his barbute.”
    “a pentagram whose every corner bore {a} line joining the broader web of runes” I assume it should be that and not “lines”

    I really wonder whether Kairos has figured out some way to avoid losing like a classic villain or if he’s going to die like Triumphant (may she never return) having won great victories but ultimately unsuccessful. He seems like he might be setting up a pattern of three with the way that he fled the scene defeated with a cheesy one-liner, but that would probably be spoiled by the fact that he was defeated by multiple enemies rather than a single nemesis.

    He’s far too trope-aware to not see where this is going at this stage, but at the same time he has yet to do anything to protect himself from a Heroes triumphing in the eleventh hour. Anything we know about, at least. He seems to dislike blindly following any preset patter, but at the same time he has thus far been acting like a massive ham and doing nothing to avoid the cliched path to defeat.

    Like

  14. Unmaker

    Classic good versus classic evil with a classic ending. Which is why Black and company do their best to subvert the sh** out of the situation – they don’t want a classic ending.

    And the Bard amuses as always, but she didn’t get much screen time this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. somnolentSlumber

    Most would have executed the upper Secretariat and taken command of the siege after out little tower episode.”

    “out” should be “our”

    “Fucking Hells,” one of the archers in the back exhaled, knocking an arrow.

    “knocking” should be “nocking”

    “Oh! I’ll get you next time, heroes!” he said shaking his fist in their direction.

    Should be a comma after “said”

    Like

  16. Dvo

    Any chance we can see some of that excess patreon money contributing to an extra chapter fund? Maybe price each extra chapter at 150 or something? Just gives extra incentive between intervals of donation goals.

    Like

  17. .

    If the white knight said he fought more than a hundred battles in his experience, so, does that mean that Black and co had fought a lot, a lot more? I mean a villain’s life span is naturally longer than a hero’s. And Black did say that his group had put down a lot of heroes even in just a year. (But I forget the exact statistics already.)

    Like

    1. Soronel Haetir

      Black said that he has personally killed 23 heroes (or heroines) and orchestrated the death of more than three times that. I’m not sure where you think you saw a yearly stat.

      Like

      1. Morgenstern

        There was a kind-of “yearly stat” for CAT, about what she achieved in just two years… maybe the confusion stems from there?,

        Like

  18. 1) Black is going to die. He’s said it himself, and knowing his end isn’t exactly far off is, I think a big part of why he’s gotten so paternal with Cat. He heard and acknowledged Malicia saying that was a weakness of his, one he’s turned into a kind of strength, but still a weakness. Yet he doesn’t change what he’s doing. Malicia told Cat that Black is going down. She even gave Catherine a rough expiration date for Black. I believe Malicia is trying to save Black. Since he’s going to die because he did all the wetwork when he was helping Malicia consolidate power versus the Truebloods, Malicia is out to finally destroy the Truebloods by taking down Heiress’s mother, and with her the rest of the Truebloods. The fact Malicia is willing to risk Heiress reaching an endgame that would end Malicia’s regime says a lot about her loyalty to Black, despite the crippling fear she constantly wrestles with. However, Malicia is pragmatic enough to realize there’s a good chance she can save neither Black or herself.

    In subverting the pattern of Evil Classic Dread Emperors/Empresses, Malicia is doing something none of them ever did. She’s actually putting effort into trying to ensure Praes remains in New Evil hands if/when she and the Calamities fall. Rather than allowing the New Evil Legacy created by her and the Calamities to vanish in the hands of the next Evil Classic asshole. Don’t believe for an instant Malicia isn’t aware Cat’s been hearing “The Girl Who Climbed the Tower.” So long as Cat doesn’t try to cut down Malicia’s time as Dread Empress, I don’t believe Malicia is opposed to Cat taking over. With the Truebloods gone it could be doable…and, assuming Cat proves she can handle Callow, I see no reason why Malicia wouldn’t consider Cat a viable New Evil heiress (little “h”). This is supported by Malicia taking so much interest in what Cat wants, and stepping in to help advise her/avoid making missteps in Black’s absence as much as Cat will allow.

    2) The White Knight was built by the Heavens to be the end of New Evil. All that experience watching thousands of conflicts between Heroes and Villains that resulted in his being so genre-savvy. It smells of an attempt to create knockoff “New Good.” Except the Heavens really don’t know how to take their hands off the steering wheel. Hanno might’ve got it done. Hanno as Grand Bitch of the Heavens is a dead man walking. Hanno has the goods to absolutely wreck the Tyrant and any other Evil Classic he runs across. He has the goods to be a pain in the ass even to New Evil, but while he might bring down Black and the Calamities, he’ll fail to close the deal when Cat comes to bat (Not just because she’s the Protagonist either. Did anyone else sense the disconnect in Hanno? He’s basically JUST the White Knight. He “White Knights” to White Knight, as a result of his early negative experiences. He doesn’t seem invested in anything as a person beyond playing his Role…just like the Tyrant.)

    3) I kinda feel sad for Heiress. She’s doing all of this to free her father and herself. Yes, she’s an awful person…but she’s falling into that Evil Classic trap of thinking she’ll still be able to enjoy/savor any victory she achieves no matter how many lines she crosses, and of course she wouldn’t be able to even if Cat wasn’t going to ultimately stop her. None of that means I won’t cheer when she GOES DOWN IN FLAMES, but yeah a little sad for her.

    4) I’m not sure Cat will become the Black Knight this book. If she does it’ll probably be fairly close to the end of this book IMO. There’s definite ambiguity in her being Black’s heir, yet the whole Girl Who Climbed the Tower thing. Don’t really know what the two possible (or perhaps successive) paths mean.

    (Anyone else have theories on the Black Knight/Future Dread Empress alternate/successive path issue?)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        Nah, it was absolutely mentioned directly in the story… how Black would have called on Wekesa to take the asshole down who put her in his seraglio and must have repeatedly raped her for fun, ending up in her being heavily traumatized and having absolute angst about ever being that helpless and out of control again, ending up in the assumption (it seemed to be Black’s POV, more or less, but possibly inserted with some third person know-it-all…) that Malicia is all about CONTROL. She doesn’t do leaps of faith – Black is necessary for that. He did the leap for Cat and Malicia seems to have trusted him on this, which enabled Cat proving herself – to become a fine new tool in the Empress’s accessory, it would seem. Of course, if Cat is sticking to Malicia’s plans for her (or even Black’s plans for her)… is dubious. 😉

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      2. Morgenstern

        Something along the line of “they wanted to see her old laugh again and see the fear in her eyes vanish”, and how Black wouldn’t even had to have asked Wekesa (Warlock) bc. in his own way Wekesa loved her, too (and then that line about her eyes and laugh).

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      3. Morgenstern

        (And how Black’s way would not have been poison, but calling on Wekesa for the most horrible way ever to take someone out. But having felt he needed to leave that victory to Malicia’s own hands.)

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  19. BartHumphries

    It could be something like Black Catherine the White Knight. You know, like the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Angels_of_Anaheim Their primary website lists them as the “Los Angeles Angeles”. However, for legal reasons they have to be known as the city that they’re actually in (Anaheim) so that’s still part of their legal name. Los Angeles and Anaheim are in different counties in CA and everyone in CA knows they’re absolutely not the same place, but most people outside of CA don’t know the difference. It’s like thinking that New York and New Jersey are the same place.

    Anyway, why not claim both names? Just because nobody’s done it before, why should that stop her?

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    1. RandomFan

      I think someone has probably done it before, if it can be done, and would be able to tell you exactly why taking a villian and hero name at once is a bad idea. Two neutral or good names is fine, though.

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      1. RandomFan

        Well, still implausible and likely to end badly, but vastly superior to two opposing names, and also to evil names. evil doesn’t play nice with anyone, not even itself.

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  20. Morgenstern

    Hedge stayed kneeling for a moment, the[n] coughed out a few feathers. (needs the “n” in there)

    There’d been twelve soldiers, before […]. Now there [were] eight, (needs the “were” that is missing)

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  21. Morgenstern

    You know, it would be fun to see the White Knight getting wind of the succession plans of Black/Malicia for Cat (what with that “only a novice can…)…. and then come for Cat to get their New Deal of Disturbing the Balance of the World undone. Failing, of course…. I could totally see that, as the Bard is all about THAT and seems to dislike/fear Cat the most, while not being all that concerned about the trouble of the different realms.

    (Especially if this is supposed to be some kind of New Deal for (the) Good – it totally makes sense, if you’re ruthlessly-ends-justify-the-means and AngelsWantYouToBringJudgementToThatAndStopEvilMasterplan (which necessarily NEEDS the second generation, on whom all eventually hinges!) to go for the *apprentice(s)* first, the supposedly still-weak guys that are despite being yet-weak meant to succeed and bring about the longterm-generations-plan WHILE they are still (supposedly) weak. Pragmatical move is to off the weaker help first and only THEN go for the big ones behind them, when they have less help, after all.)

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  22. Morgenstern

    On an off-hand note: I’m really waiting for the Dead King and probably the Chain of Hunger, too, to make his/their move in this book, after all that foreshadowing when it comes to them…. they HAVE to be up to something … or there has to be a reason why they’re not … “coming out to play” currently (although… maybe it might even have to do with the Arcadia/Fae or, if on the hilarious side, Triumphant supposedly being in Hell, too, where the Dead King has obviously already moved in, at the very least having barged through the front door).

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  23. Morgenstern

    I’m also interested in finding out if Ranger will pop up somewhere again. I mean with all that Chaos incoming… there’s gotta be something of interest to HER, too, hasn’t there? I don’t really see her not coming to help in the last moment for Black, for example – or at least going after someone responsible for revenge (Scribe, too, btw…). Hm. So many contingencies… Black’s death would cause so many OTHER ripples, I can’t help but feel that would upset the whole main plot (as far as what it seems to be so far) for THIS book, besides the whole Cat-is-not-ready-point, because it would draw in too much other stuff/people besides Cat. *headscratch

    But who knows, maybe you actually do have some genius plan to put it all in line and I just fail to see it for being partially blinded by the Shiny Badass Bastards One Can’t Help But Root For Them hypnosis employed for greater shock effect when the Dump *does* come early… *shrugs

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    1. Morgenstern

      But yeah, my main point for ranger was “worthy targets”, what with that extra chapter on her we got. In all THAT, there really should be worthy targets, no?

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      1. Morgenstern

        *ahem
        Ranger.

        (Yeah, Badasses You Can’t Help But Root For 😉 – applying to her, too *g* Their thought child is certainly *getting there*, I have no doubt. Just on the road yet.)

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