Chapter 8: Dialogue

“That is the secret to a peaceful court, Chancellor. Regularly having the High Lords for dinner.”
– Dread Empress Sanguinia I, the Gourmet

 

“This is quite refreshing,” I admitted. “My experience with your side doesn’t involve a lot of talking. Or at least none that didn’t end with blades drawn.”

The Grey Pilgrim didn’t seem particularly offended, but then he’d never lost that vaguely serene look since I’d first had glimpse of him. Might be part of his Name. Or just the result of having seen shit that would turn my hair white. No one made profession of kickin villains in the teeth for over six decades without having stumbled over some old horrors.

“There are few interlocutors worth speaking to, on… ‘your side’, as you so delicately put it,” the old man replied. “One cannot bargain with madmen and minions.”

“Yet here we are, talking,” I said. “Should I take that as a compliment?”

He laughed quietly.

“If you wish,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Though I will not deny that Winter’s shadow looming in your soul is cause for worry, you have displayed noticeable restraint. I am not in the habit of seeking conflict when other roads are open.”

Couldn’t say the same, so I wouldn’t. Just because I’d learned that killing often caused as many problems as it solved didn’t mean I no longer recognized that there were fights worth picking. I should know, I’d yet to manage a godsdamned year as a Named where I wasn’t up to my neck in enemies.

“Funny thing to say, for a man marching with an invading army,” I noted. “If envoys were sent to achieve diplomatic resolution, they never made it to Laure.”

“And this surprises you?” he asked, seeming genuinely curious. “You have hacked your way through every opposition set before you, and twice now slighted the Heavens through their ordained servants. There are few, mundane or Bestowed, who believe you can be reasoned with.”

Bestowed. I raised an eyebrow. Another word for Named, I’d assume, but from the almost reverent way he’d spoken it there might be religious implications. More worrying was the fact that he knew how my little tiff with the Stalwart Paladin had ended. There shouldn’t have been any remaining witnesses to that aside those who wore gaudy wings.

“Look at the graves I’ve left behind,” I said. “What do they all have in common?”

The Exiled Prince, Page, the Lone Swordsman and his band, Diabolist. The pattern there was far from a puzzle.

“They were threats to the Kingdom of Callow,” the old man said. “Or at least what you perceive that should be.”

That last qualifier didn’t escape my notice, but I reluctantly let it go. Heroes would be heroes.

“And so that’s the question,” I said. “What is your merry band of comrades after? Somehow I’m guessing Proceran interests aren’t why you signed on with this crusade.”

“The Empire crafted a doomsday weapon that would have held all of Calernia hostage to the Tower’s whims,” he mildly said.

“Weapon’s broken,” I said calmly. “So’s the one who made it. You’re still invading.”

“The capacity to create another remains,” he pointed out.

I hummed.

“All right,” I said. “Fine. If that’s all then let’s get this done. Bring your army south, I’ll take the lot of you through Arcadia and bring you out on the outskirts of Ater. You can level the Tower and put to the sword every mage in Praes who has the know-how and inclination to make another Liesse. Hells, ask nicely and I’ll lend a hand.”

He blinked, and the serenity fractured.

“You are not lying,” he said, sounding baffled.

“Pilgrim, you think I approve of any of this shit?” I flatly said. “It’s my people who got bled for that weapon. I signed on with Evil to personally put a knife through the eye of anyone intending to pull this kind of play on Callow, among other things. You want to bring down the Tower on Malicia’s head? After last year, you can be my guest.”

“And your mentor in the Vales?” he pressed.

“Was the one who broke the weapon in the first place,” I said. “Someone’s going to need to settle Praes after the bloodletting, and if you have a better candidate I’m all ears.”

He opened his mouth and I raised my hand to signal he should let me finish.

“I don’t mean forever,” I said. “But if you approach Black with an offer that gives him say… ten years? A solid decade to make Praes into the kind of nation that’ll no longer piss in the continental porridge every generation, before he abdicates, I think you’ll be surprised by the answer you’ll get. Even if heroic supervision is part of the terms.”

His eyes narrowed.

“You genuinely believe this of the Carrion Lord,” he said.

It wasn’t a question. Chalk one up to the man having a truth-telling ability, I thought.

“With all due respect,” I said, “I know him a lot better than you do. If he wanted a crown, he’d be wearing one right now. That’s not what he’s after. And as long as he gets what he wants, everything else is expendable – including personal power.”

“This is… an unexpected offer,” the Pilgrim admitted.

“It’s one I’m willing to swear binding oath over,” I bluntly told him. “The only real question is whether or not you can get Procer to turn around if I do.”

“There are other considerations,” the old man said.

I smiled thinly.

“Like a gaggle of princes wanting to carve Callow into their own little fiefdoms?” I said. “I’m honestly disappointed, Pilgrim. You’re willing to kill your way through Callow so that likes of Amadis fucking Milenan gets his way?”

“I have been courteous to you, child,” the Pilgrim spoke curtly. “A grace that should be returned equally. Has is truly escaped your notice how much of a threat you are?”

“Which of us is invading the other’s country again?” I asked, then bit my tongue.

Losing my temper here would bring no gain.

“I… apologize,” I said through gritted teeth. “Much of this tries my patience.”

He nodded silently, the serenity back on his face.

“You are Queen of Callow,” he said. “You are also a villain.”

“Fucking Hells, am I tired of hearing that,” I replied, anger immediately flaring again. So much for restraint. “I didn’t sign on with the side that tosses around demons out of great sympathy for their philosophy, Pilgrim. I did it because I could not find a single other working alternative. Where was this coalition of yours, twenty years ago? Where were all these upstanding heroes during the Conquest? You don’t get to throw it in my face that I’m an evil when Evil was the only game in town. I may have failed spectacularly, but the other choices were either a doomed rebellion or just lying down and taking it. Callow crowned me because it’s desperate, and it got this desperate because help never came.”

“Simply by being who you are, you darken Creation,” the Grey Pilgrim replied calmly.

My fingers clenched, but he raised his hand to prevent the harsh reply on the tip of my tongue. Courtesy for courtesy, huh. I didn’t like it, but I was willing to bend my neck that far.

“This is not a condemnation, it is a fact,” the old man said. “You rule in Callow. Your story is its story. Already, I suspect, you will have seen the effects of this. Your people becoming warped by your presence, old traits grown more vicious or acute. Whether you realize it or not, you are slowly turning your home towards the Gods Below. If you rule long enough, the Kingdom of Callow will sever its allegiance to Above.”

But if losses must be had, better Proceran than Callowan, Brandon Talbot had said. Giving his approval to the slaughter of thousands. The chance the hero might have a point cooled my temper, but only so much.

“And that justifies killing people who still pray at the House of Light right now?” I replied. “Even assuming you’re right – and I’m taking this with a grain of salt – if all the Heavens have to offer is a slaughter then, honestly, fuck the Heavens.”

“Think, Black Queen,” the Pilgrim grimly said “Beyond your anger and grudges, think. Of what it really means for all of Calernia if a nation as pivotal as Callow turns to Evil. Already, to be a hero is to be the corpse that will hold the dam in the face of the flood. If the Kingdom turns, the fragile balance of this continent breaks. Procer weakens. The Chain of Hunger and the Dead King will tear into its flesh, and when it dies darkness will spread across the land.”

“What I’m getting from this,” I coldly replied, “is that that keeping the Principate propped up – no matter what it does – matters more than the lives of innocents. If that’s the argument your side is making, then you might just be praying in the wrong direction.”

“All of this rests on the fact that it is you who rules,” the old man said.

“And if I abdicate, can you guarantee that Callow will be left untouched?” I asked. “Will you swear on your Gods that if Procer tries to annex it, you will turn your sword on whoever is trying? Or even that you’ll stay out of my way and let me take care of them?”

“I do not rule Procer,” the Grey Pilgrim softly said. “And if I take the field against them, too many would follow. It would birth a war as dangerous as this one, in many ways.”

I smiled bitterly.

“The terms I offered you have so many concessions in them I’d probably have to fight a civil war to enforce them,” I frankly told him. “If even that isn’t enough, then I think we can dispense with the pretence that there was ever anything but conflict on the table.”

“And so now we are enemies, confirmed,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “And you may unleash your arsenal of horrors with peace of mind.”

I shook my head.

“That isn’t the kind of war I’m going to be fighting,” I said. “I’ve been down that road before. If I escalate, so do you. The thing is, you and I, we get to crawl out of those ruins. ‘cause someone Above or Below decided we mattered enough. That courtesy isn’t extended to nearly everyone on Calernia though, is it?”

I scoffed.

“Oh, I won’t pretend I’m not sitting on some nasty stuff. So are you. But even if I used it, even if I won, what would that accomplish? I bleed Procer into a truce, but that truce doesn’t survive me.  All that does is kick the next war thirty years down the line. Nothing is solved.  I’m tired of seeing Callow turned into the battlefield of Calernia, Pilgrim. So are Callowans.”

“Heed an old man’s advice, Catherine Foundling,” the Pilgrim said tiredly. “The world can only be healed so much.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said. “My teacher dedicated his entire life to breaking this game, but that’s a reflection of his flaw – he can’t conceive a world where he doesn’t win. I’m willing to settle for the lesser prize. What I can’t break, I would regulate.”

“Some might construe such a boast as blasphemy,” the old man said.

“Aren’t you tired of killing kids because they’re sworn to the wrong side?” I asked quietly. “I know I am, and you’ve been at this for a lot longer.”

“There is not a single life I’ve taken I have not regretted,” the Grey Pilgrim sighed. “No matter the deeds to their name. To inflict death is to end the possibility of redemption, and that is the greatest gift the Gods have granted us.”

“It doesn’t need to be like this,” I said. “We’re the dogs in the pit, but what does that ever really accomplish? One bleeds, another dies, and then they release another hound. The pit’s still there even if one side gets a winning streak.”

“Some of those hounds have gone rabid,” the Pilgrim said. “I grieve their deaths, but I will not allow them to bite children.”

“And those should be put down,” I agreed flatly. “But we don’t need wars for that. We just need rules that both sides are willing to enforce.”

“An agreement,” he slowly said. “Such a thing would be without precedent. And there are many who would balk.”

“Every single Named is a highly dangerous weapon, in their own way,” I said. “Any unwilling to accept constraints placed on their actions have no business wielding that kind of power in the first place. And before you ask, I do not exclude myself or any ally of mine from that statement.”

He studied me silently.

“For such a thing to hold, there would be need for trust where none exists,” he said.

“Then we begin with something smaller,” I said. “Rules of engagement, for your host and mine. Would you be able to enforce these?”

“Within limits,” he said. “I am not without influence and the Saint’s reputation has its uses.”

“If you don’t sack cities, neither will I,” I offered.

He nodded.

“Agreed,” he said. “Innocents should not be made to suffer. You must refrain from using demons.”

“I’ll swear to that, if you refrain from calling on angels,” I said.

He frowned.

“The nature of those interventions is different,” he said. “The Choirs are not a blight, their purpose is to aid in the rectification of wrongs.”

“There kind of rectification they would have offered at Liesse when the Lone Swordsman reached for Contrition was a wrong itself,” I flatly told him. “It was ugly as the things the Empire pulls. And that’s besides the point, anyway: if you use something of that scale, then I have to deploy an equivalent or you’re just going to walk right through us.”

“The Choirs have been known to extend hand when defeat looms,” the Pilgrim told me. “There is difference between call and offer.”

“You think your side’s the only one afraid of dying?” I said. “Calling demons is probably the single worst thing a person can do, objectively speaking, but it feels a lot more acceptable when the alternative is getting stabbed in the throat. We can’t prevent escalation if your bargaining position is that we fold but you don’t.”

The old man stayed silent for a long while.

“I will concede,” he finally said, “if you swear away devils as well.”

No great loss for me there. I’d never approved of using those either.

“Done,” I grunted. “As a gesture of goodwill, I’ll add a warning. There’s a demon from Dread Empress Triumphant’s day bound somewhere in the vicinity of Harrow. My people believe it might be one of Absence.”

“A Hell Egg, after all these years?” he said, brow rising. “I thought none remained within Callow.”

“Would that this were true,” I ruefully said. “I don’t know exactly where it is, or what keeps it bound. Odds are it’s an old Legion standard but I can’t guarantee it.”

He inclined his head in thanks.

“I will discuss this with the others,” the Pilgrim said. “If we can slay it, we will.”

“So long as you keep the fight contained,” I sharply said. “If a chunk of the north suddenly no longer exists, I’ll consider that a breach of terms.”

“If have fought their like before,” the old man said. “It is ugly strife, but there are ways about it.”

I didn’t like the risks involved in this, but then I wasn’t all that happy about that unlit sharper staying buried near Harrow either. If they could kill it without making a mess I wasn’t going to complain. If.

“I want prisoners well treated, even Praesi and greenskins,” I said. “Neither beaten, tortured nor otherwise harmed. I’ll extend the same treatment to anyone I capture. I’m also willing to arrange regular prisoner exchanges when the campaign allows.”

“There are evils I have been forced to make peace with,” the Pilgrim said with iron in his voice. “Torture is not one of them. You may be certain I will allow no such thing so long as I draw breath. The matter of exchanges, however, will have to be discussed with the Princess of Aequitan. Answer will be given before battle.”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure Malanza would bite but it was worth a try. Morality aside, I needed my officers much more badly than she did hers. If she cottoned on to that she might just decide to sit on them. On the other hand, the Procerans tended to make officers of their relatives. They might want the assurance of being traded back if they got captured. We’d see.

“No killing of anyone offering surrender,” I proposed.

“So long as that surrender is genuine, and no attempt at treachery is made,” he countered.

I grimaced but nodded. Fair enough. I’d need to ride my sappers hard about the treachery clause in case they ever got captured. They did like to offer ‘surrender’ in time for the enemy to walk into a field of buried munitions.

“Those are the terms I have to offer, at the moment,” I said. “Unless you have anything to add?”

“No,” he said, after a moment. “This will serve.”

He sighed.

“You are right, you know,” he said quietly.

I had a few pithy responses to offer, but I kept my mouth shut. And to think they said I couldn’t do diplomacy.

“It is shameful, that Callow was left under occupation for so long,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “That we only ride to relieve in in fear of what your coronation represents.”

Limpid blue eyes looked up at the morning sky.

“This does not absolve you,” he said. “But there is truth in what you say. We stand burdened with the guilt of inaction. For that alone, I grieve that it must come to blood. You are the sin of our indolence returned to haunt us.”

“I don’t want to fight you at all,” I said. “But I will not bend my neck to the kind of ending you peddle.”

He sighed.

“We will try to slay you, on the field,” he said. “Even I. Much suffering can be avoided by your death, however tragic that ending.”

“Suffering is the nature of human condition,” I said. “We are what we do with that. I choose to give it a purpose.”

“It does not sound,” he gently said, “like I am the one you are trying to convince.”

“None of that, now,” I said, wagging my finger. “You want to fight for a side that’s not exactly driven snow? Fine. Disappointing, but that’s the world we live in. But you don’t get to pull the grandfatherly act afterwards.”

He smiled sadly.

“Am I not allowed to grieve the sight of a child who mutilated her own soul trying to make a better world?” he asked.

I flinched. That struck closer to home than I would have liked.

“I am my mistakes too,” I said. “Not just my victories. And I knew going in that power comes at a cost. No one gets to eat the first course then balk at the bill. Grieve all you want, but someone recently told me that grief without corresponding action is meaningless. That applies to both sides of the fence, I’d think.”

“All your plans,” he said. “They are dust, if you do not survive to attempt them. All that would be left is the costs.”

“Isn’t that always how it is?” I tiredly replied. “There’s a reason it goes ‘change the world or die trying’.”

And on that cheerful note my first talk with the opposition concluded.

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127 thoughts on “Chapter 8: Dialogue

    1. Flameburst

      Probably because he and hanno are the only heroes we’ve met so far that don’t have their heads so far up their asses they get stuck in their esophagus

      Liked by 6 people

    2. stevenneiman

      I think it’s because he does the whole “shame of necessity” thing but manages not to seem clueless or full of shit when he does. Most of the other antagonists so far have either been driven mad by their own guilt or else became convinced that their higher purpose meant that they could do whatever they wanted free of moral or practical repercussions. People like Hanno who decided that he should offload all responsibility for his actions to a group of eldritch horrors, and William who never really had a better reason for wanton destruction, murder and attempted mass mind rape than because he felt bad about taking reasonable action to protect himself.

      Plus, there’s the fact that for all that he thinks that Catherine’s death is necessary, he’s the only one so far who’s been willing to meet Cat halfway on a matter that seems so basic as preventing warcrimes. The only antagonists who’ve even been in the same room with Cat without trying to kill her directly were just trying to manipulate her into ruining herself regardless of the consequences, but the Pilgrim actually met in good faith, tried to dissuade Cat from a course of action that he felt would cause unnecessary suffering, and then when he realized he had nothing tactical to gain he still worked with her to help with the reasonable parts of her own vision. That’s better than we’ve seen from anybody else, including Black and Malicia.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Yotz

        Reasonable action to protect himself? I guess – from your point of view – William ought to chop his sister to pieces, bake them into pies, and sell said pies to his and his future fiance’s relatives to collect enough money for the wedding for his actions to become _un_reasonable? Or it would be reasonable still?

        There’s nothing reasonable about William, that’s why Contrition was able to hook him up so easely.

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      2. Mani

        Reading through your comment, I believe I figured out why the Grey Pilgrim survived this long.

        It can’t be because he takes the role of a “mentor”. Mentor more often than not die right before a pivotal change in their apprentice. No, the Grey Pilgrim survives because he is loved. It’s even stated a few times that people really like him, and we’ve just seen why that is. He is so god damn reasonable, almost like the Hero equivalent of Black, which I’m sure is no coincidence. And he is not just loved by the people, he is, more importantly, also loved by the readers, which gives him a similar kind of “meta-game” advantage Black has as the protagonists mentor.

        I’m really interested how his story will turn out.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Drd

          Interesting comment comparing Pilgrim to Black. They’ve both been at it for 60yrs, are both highly influential – even loved (Black is loved by the armies he has rebuilt, and by the other Calamities), both reasonable, intelligent, sharp and insightful, and both dislike the senslessness of unnecessary conflict (Black hates the trueblood’s precisely because of this).
          We already suspect that the Bard is the heaven’s counterpart to the Dead King, does that hint to other hero/villain links?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Metrux

            If so, this might be more a game board than we thought, when you deploy a important piece you give the other side a piece of equivalent power, that he may deploy to intercept yours, or somewhere else to tilt the balance. If so, each place that is Evil or Good might as well have been chosen by the Gobs, Above or Below.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. stevenneiman

              If it’s a game, I feel like it’s less like chess (or shatranj, which sounds like it’s basically chess but possibly with less strategic depth) and more like poker. Each side largely knows what its own advantages are and the game is mostly about deciding how much Above and Below are willing to wager on any given hand.

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    1. Dany

      Black doesn’t want to “break” the game. He wants to WIN the game.

      Cat seems to sometimes understand that, but not in this chapter.

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  1. SilentLurker

    I can genuinely say I’ve found a Hero I like now. The Grey Pilgrim, for all he has an annoying idea that his side is incapable of moral offences, is both interesting and also seemingly willing to try to make change, even where it means compromise. For that alone he’s easily the best hero we’ve seen so far.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Rook

      I don’t think he’s saying Good is incapable of stumbling, it seems to me it’s the opposite. He agrees that Procer isn’t perfect, he admitted it was their failure to only march on Callow out of fear when it was too late, and he doesn’t seem to be any particular fan of the suffering that innocents and civilians go through as a side effect of Good vs Evil.

      It’s just compromise. Cat has no perfect solution so she settles for what she sees as the Lesser Evils, and the Pilgrim also doesn’t have any perfect solution, settling on what he thinks is the Greater Good. I mean he’s stands on the other side of the fence but you can’t begrudge a man for not abandoning an entire lifetime’s worth of belief and experience over a single campfire talk.

      Liked by 13 people

  2. Stormblessed

    Gods, Cat keeps offering so much as terms to avoid conflict but nothing is ever good enough for pissy little Good, who has to have everything. At all. They offer no reconciliation, no compromise.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Sean

      In an interesting way, I think Good can be seen in a broader way as an unwavering loyalty to one’s ideals. Evil, broadly speaking, has no ideal but the acquisition of power (and to a lesser extent, what could be called hubris). On the otherhand, Good gains its power by an unwavering dedication to ideals, regardless of whether or not those ideals are actually worth anything.

      In the real world, both of these have wrought tremendous damage. Idealogical conflict being as responsible for as much misery as selfish ambition.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Cat is super lucky this dude has a truth sensing power, or she wouldn’t have even managed this much. I mean, put yourself in dude’s shoes.

      You are preparing to liberate a land which was conquered by the Empire of Evil. The slave in charge of it is noted badass Black Queen, famous for her motto ‘justifications only matter to the just’. So you can’t ask her to justify anything, because she not only thinks having reasons for stuff is for chumps, she thinks it so strongly she PUTS IT ON HER BANNER.

      You know a few things about her. She recently had a pissing match with another monster, and wiped out the population of a large city in an attempt at building a demon summoning superweapon, which then got broken in more internal squabbling. She crucifies prisoners. She is resettling the ares she has ethnically cleansed with goblins, a race of war criminals known primarily for sexism and arson.

      The various slaves under her are kept in line through fear of her omniscient surveillance systems and her mighty army, which she used recently to settle yet another squabble with her own underlings by, surprise surprise, hanging her enemies.

      Looking at her, you can see that her soul is shrouded in Winter, the branch of Fae characterized by skullduggery and treacherous conduct. She attends the meeting not openly, to treat with the dignitary, but in disguise, with monsters waiting in Arcadia.

      Now you start talking, and she has a proposal. She gives you her word that she’ll help you take down her master (this is the same word she gave that master of her fealty, for those keeping score), and in exchange you leave her to continue to oppress her people and turn them to devil worship.

      Sound fair?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. werafdsaew

        Catherine didn’t wipe out the population of a large city; that was Diabolist. And when did she ethnically cleans anyone?

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        1. Nobody else knows that. Cat attacked one of her own cities. All of the civilians ended up dead, and everyone who surrendered she crucified. The official story is that some of the victims were responsible for killing the others or something, but the obvious explanation is that the winners did the killing.

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            1. Silynt

              That’s the whole point of this person’s comment – the Pilgrim isn’t reading this story and so can’t possibly know the whole truth. Walter listed out a bunch of things that the Pilgrim could reasonably know about Cat’s recent activities, and his point is that without being able to KNOW that Cat is being honest, he has absolutely no reason to take her word on anything.

              Liked by 1 person

    3. Agent J

      The Angels said it best. “We take everything and give nothing.” Are we really surprised that their tools have taken up the same motto?

      Like

  3. Joel

    Both sides scored some points here, but I think that Grey Pilgrim was positively shocked at how reasonable she was. If that “code” of warfare holds, it could have interesting effects on the “story” of this war. If neither side is committing atrocities, and Catherine doesn’t do anything too Evil, then it becomes less of “Good vs. Evil” and more “unlawful invasion.”

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Byzantine

      We already know it is possible for a country to be ruled by Good and Evil working together. Unlike Black she isn’t going to try breaking the game, she’s going to see how far she can push the rules.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. It won’t hold, this whole chapter is setup and foreshadowing of that and it won’t be “evil” that breaks it either. The Princes will do something that breaks the terms such as killing the Orc’s out of hand when they surrender or doing something with the Demon and that act is what will break the hero contingent of the Crusade.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Amoonymous

        I like this thought (and would like your comment as well if I had a WordPress account).

        Good being the first to break the terms would also tilt the story (more) towards Evil being the relatively innocent victim (and thus make Evil more likely to win).

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Nairne .01

          It would certainly be interesting if that prince took the demon after gaining enough support to shake things back home so he could be seen as representing the Principate and that given the tools they too would unleash demons on the world.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. If the Prince did use the Demon, though, would would Grey Pilgrim react? I could see that either forcing or letting Cat and him work together.
            Something I’ve been waiting for something to happen that brings Good and Evil together; if Winter is Evil and Summer is Good, we have still yet to see the joining of the courts as we saw from Arcadia.

            Like

      2. Yeah, we where already making parallels between Praes’s high lords and Procer’s princes earlier and how the current Procer is acting more like Prae than Prae with the backstabbing, invasion of callow and use of great rituals.
        The greedy prince leading one of the armies of the crusade choosing to keep the demon for its power make a great story for his coming into a villainous Name.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Rook

        The Pilgrim actually worded an extremely dangerous pledge there about torture.

        “You may be certain I will allow no such thing so long as I draw breath”

        Extremely double edged sword there, pretty surprised. It could be used offensively – interpreted as a pledge to not let the culprit off so long as he draws breath; and it could be turned against him just as easily – interpreted as allowing such a thing to be forfeiture of his right to draw another breath.

        Especially when this comes in the context of a formal verbal agreement between the two. I’m not sure if he’s banking on his experience to play a very dangerous game, or intentionally making a show of goodwill.

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        1. Busser

          I mean the key word is allow. I think like most good he is uncompromising in whatever ideals he does hold.

          As long as he has verbally forbidden it, I would think that’s enough.

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        2. Remember, Cat made a big deal about whether or not the Pilgrim can enforce the agreement to his side. If he dies, obviously all bets are off. Just like killing Catherine means demons are on the table again–a fact Mr. Gray doesn’t seem to realize–because what good is a rule nobody can enforce?

          Honestly I think Cat got the better end of the deal by far. Did she give up any advantages she actually wanted to use? And she got the Pilgrim to agree to keep the Choirs out of it, as much as that’s going to be possible. And Cat has so many other weapons, like the Fae, the Observatory, etc. That, or the Pilgrim has some hidden aces she’s unaware of.

          Like

    3. Ohhhh, there’s a thought.

      By offering these terms she’s fundamentally altered the nature of the Crusade. If they’re accepted the very narrative may see her side as less “Evil with a capital E” and more “homeland defenders”. And if they’re refuted, then the Crusaders definitely give up their “Good with a capital G” advantage.

      Liked by 4 people

  4. Raved Thrad

    Is it just me, or does the Grey Pilgrim ultimately have his head up his ass? When he says “You have hacked your way through every opposition set before you, and twice now slighted the Heavens through their ordained servants” I parsed that as “How dare you kill the heroes heaven sent to kill you.” It takes a certain kind of zealotry — one which I equate to evil — to berate someone for killing the assassins you (or your side) sent after them, no matter how holy or righteous you think your side is.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. Rook

        The same can be said of the mentality of the Lesser Evil though. Both of them have their own blinders and neither are perfect; the latter tunneling on the fewest flaws and the former tunneling on the greatest virtues. It’s a mistake to consider a difference in point of view as arrogance simply because they disagree.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Rook

      It’s not so much being in opposition so much as looking at the end results. The characters in the story don’t get an omniscient birds-eye view of her methods the same way readers do. All that they know of is that everyone she’s gone up against so far had ended up a corpse, if you can still call what was left over a corpse.

      I mean as a reader we know it’s not true but she’s the type of character where her namesake ‘foundling gambit’ is literally burning everything down with goblinfire

      Liked by 5 people

    2. Yeah Nah Yeah

      I think he was referencing the two separate times she told angels to go fuck themselves. Once with the Lone Swordsman, and once with old mate from the start of this book.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Yeah, he was being pretty arrogant.

      “How dare you have killed all these people we sent to assassinate you and invade your country? Aren’t you ashamed of all that blood on your hands?”

      It’s the same kind of thinking that lead to the Treaty of Versailles.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Nafram

      I believe he was referring to the fact that she personally rebuked and insulted the Choirs when she met them face to face through Willie’s sword and the Stalwart Paladin’s connection (how that works I have no idea). Then she proceeded to rub salt in the wound by immediately killing their ordained servants in a brutal fashion right in front of them. And while she may be well justified in both of those things, a Hero, even one as reasonable as the Grey Pilgrim, would balk at those, especially what happened with Contrition.

      Like

    1. Rook

      Thematically fits too, what with Black having Break and all.

      Although it brings up a pretty comical image of a madman trying to fill out all the paperwork required to commit his permitted atrocity for the month

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Nairne .01

      Is it me, or was someone already using this aspect? (I know more than one person could possibly have it, and it would probably work quite differently too).

      Like

  5. Alivaril

    I am absurdly happy this conversation wasn’t skipped. It’s also one of the rare times I haven’t been annoyed by an impending conflict between two likable people with legitimate points. On that note, good job with Grey; he’s a really nice change from certain Stupid Good individuals.

    Liked by 8 people

  6. Fern

    Looks like we’re going to settle on enementor then; i can safely say i’m pretty happy with that. It’s interesting to see a Hero actually willing to debate philosophy without sounding like a tool.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Big Brother

    The Grey Pilgrim is now my new favorite. Sorry, Masego. Any Hero willing to sit and talk terms with a Villain to establish restrictions in warfare before combat ever begins is one worth listening to.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Antoninjohn

    And then Procer raised the city, the Angels were sore losers and lent a hand and on a field of cold and darkness did Cat strike down the armies, the heroes and the Angels backed by the power of their broken Oath

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Ohhhhhh shit, any oath she’d give would cut both ways wouldn’t it? Breaking an oath with a fae lord/god is up there when it comes to Bad Ideas, and narratively speaking, breaking faith with the beleaguered queen of the country you’re invading automatically forfeits your divinely protected Good status.

      Cat probably could turn them breaking their oath into a hell of consequence.

      Liked by 7 people

  9. Rook

    The Pilgrim has a point.

    Cat or even Black are the exception, not the rule, the same way the Pilgrim is an exception for team Good.

    I think it’s important to realize this is a guy who’s spent most of his life fighting the Heirs and Diabolists of the world. Fought villain after villain and failed trying to talk sense into the Evil equivalent of the Lone Swordsman more times than Cat has yet to even try.

    I don’t think he’s looking at Cat when he decides to keep on his path. He’s most likely afraid of what happens when she’s gone and Callow flips, all the Akuas of the world that might spring forth from it. At the end of the day his main issue is that he doesnt have enough grounds to trust Cat can break that kind of cycle he’s probably seen a hundred times. It’s not an unreasonable position.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. nick012000

      If Callow flips to Evil, I don’t think they’d produce very many Akuas, if any. They’d just be magnifying Callow’s negative traits, like their tendency to hold grudges. You’d start seeing things like the Tolltaker, Callowan Squires and Black Knights, villainous Queens and Kings, etc. Maybe you’d get Named members of the various Dark Guilds, like Thief running the Thieves’ Guild.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Remember the aspect Learn, and how it’s compounding over time? Evil, at least as Pilgrim describes it, is a corrupting force, building on itself, and in a few years (5? 10? 50? Does it matter?) the Callow you know will be unrecognizable.

        Fuck, in fact, over a few decades even without Evil influence, it will change to the point of unrecognizability. Your assumptions about Callows enduring nature are off base. And even if they aren’t, we don’t know the nature of the Heros Callow has produced. There may well have been budding Akuas in that bunch, we don’t know.

        Like

  10. Nightlurker8

    “We are the Others, We serve different forces,
    But in the twilight there is no difference between the absence of darkness and the absence of light.
    Our struggle is capable of destroying the world. We have concluded a Great Treaty, a truce.
    Each side shall live according to its own laws,
    Each side shall have its own rights. We delimit our own rights and our own laws. We are the Others. We establish the Night Watch,
    So that the forces of Light may monitor the forces of Darkness. We are the Others. We establish the Day Watch,
    So that the forces of Darkness may monitor the forces of Light.
    Time will decide for us.”
    The Great Treaty between Darkness and Light. ©Night watch.

    Liked by 5 people

  11. Rainbow Trenchcoat

    I think this is probably the single most important moment that’s happened in the story so far, because the Grey Pilgrim conceded that the Angels were in any way equivalent to demons, and was willing to forswear their use. From the Prologue on, the most important point about the Angels was how the Choirs showed themselves to people at their worst moments, and then fundamentally broke them in some way to fit into their greater plan. Good’s whole point is that people can’t be trusted to do the right thing, and so there’s interventions from the Angels at the most direct to the Bard at the more subtle. Agreeing to block that intervention is a huge change for the Good side.

    Like

    1. nipi

      He didnt concede that they are equivalent.
      “The nature of those interventions is different,” he said. “The Choirs are not a blight, their purpose is to aid in the rectification of wrongs.”

      This is what he conceded to:
      “We can’t prevent escalation if your bargaining position is that we fold but you don’t.”

      Liked by 2 people

  12. DD

    Lots of Pilgrim love here, for good reason. But I still kinda, you know…want to Cat to kill em all. And then turn on Praes and crucify the High Lords. And then spank Malicia for acting like a mentallly ill moron this past little while.
    I know it won’t go that way, but still.

    Like

    1. Vortex

      I mean Malicia’s actions make perfect sense to me. Just as Cat prioritized the interests of Callow and Black prioritized his personal agenda of breaking the game, Malicia prioritized the interests of her Empire, as any good Empress should. Now, she did it in an evil and backstabby fashion, but that is Praes in a nutshell and she has a reputation for being the most backstabby and evil of all of them.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. As much as I love the talk they just had, I can’t see Prince Amadis bending to the will of an “ancient kook”, as I’m sure he’ll view the Pilgrim after this, when slaughtering prisoners and looting cities for supplies makes things so much simpler on him.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Rook

      Realistically I can see him conceding in this to be honest. It’s really just a numbers game, is it worth losing the cooperation of two of your biggest powerhouses (likely more, given that the veteran heroes will probably draw more than a few of the younger ones into their orbit) to sack some cities right now, considering you plan to own by the end of it all anyway? Probably not.

      Not to mention it’s limiting on both sides, and limiting the foul play is on paper a good strategic move when you have such a major advantage in numbers in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That, though, requires a view of the bigger picture than we’ve seen Amadis display so far. Remember that this is the guy who was pushing for a Proceran Prince to go down and take command of the Liesse Rebellion, which would have turned it from a civil war/rebellion to a blatant expansion attempt. He doesn’t seem to see past his goal of becoming First Prince, and damn the consequence, hang everyone who would stand in his way of that.
        The Princess in command – Malenza, I think her name was? She might see the strategic benefits of agreeing, but she’s been shown to be the competent commander to balance out Amadis being the bumbling slimy politician trying to turn the crusade into a political coup. How much influence she has is yet to be seen, especially since I think it was implied that he had leverage over her.

        Like

        1. Rook

          I think it’s pretty straightforward really. Slimy as he may be, he’s still on the side of Stupid Good, with all the prejudices that apply. He has a lot of reason to fear that the Black Knight’s protege has a lot of nasty tricks up her sleeve. Limiting those is a pretty straightforward victory, especially if you’re also being pressured by the two biggest powerhouses you have available.

          On top of that he’s shown to have quite a lot of fixation on divvying up Callow after the conquest, it makes perfect sense to not burn down the prize you’re aiming for to ashes. If for no other reason than selfishness, he already has plenty of motive to ensure he doesn’t ‘liberate’ callow into a barren wasteland.

          Like

  14. SMHF

    You know when the Grey Pilgrim said coming to an understanding between Heroes and Villains is “unprecedented”, I get the feeling it has less to do with no one ever trying it and more with Name shenanigans!

    I mean stopping Heroes and Villains from making peace with each other, is probably the one thing both above and below Gods agree on!

    btw dont forget to vote for the Guide! lets keep it on number one spot as long as we can! 🙂
    http://topwebfiction.com/vote.php?for=a-practical-guide-to-evil

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Zach

        There’s always been this weird mismatch between the gravity attached to happenings on Calernia (like the Gods apparently being super-invested in there being a balance there) and the scattered mentions of Calernia only being a small part of the world and there being an all-powerful race of sci-fi gnomes (who are apparently strong enough to render the powers of Calernian nations – which include demons and shit – meaningless).

        Like

  15. nipi

    Is that a typo?
    “But even if I used tit”
    Cat, you naughty girl. Tame your tongue. Youre in the presence of a holy man. 😛

    So is one of cats new aspects going to be Regulate? (And there were a few other words thrown around in that conversation.)

    Like

  16. Allafterme

    I half-expected a hero with a angelic staff up his a*s so far up that you can see the holy shine when he speaks. Excellent chapter.

    Like

    1. Ranger, and by extension, Refuge, are independent polities of the Kingdom of Callow. Catherine doesn’t have any power over Refuge, but the Crusade won’t be bound by their bargain with Cat if they go that far south.

      Like

      1. SilentLurker

        Refuge is actually an entirely separate nation that is a technical protectorate of the Kingdom Under. You know, that one nation on Calernia that might qualify as a world power comparable to things like the Miezans, the Yan-Tei Empire, and the Gnomes? Refuge is not in any way loyal to Callow, and it is mostly off limits because Ranger, acknowledged as the strongest Named on Calernia by basically everyone, says so.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. nick012000

      By force, because that’s the only type of authority that the Ranger is willing to accept. She did say that Named on either side that weren’t willing to agree to limit their use of power would be killed.

      Like

  17. “Pilgrim, you think I approve of any of this shit?” I flatly said. “It’s my people who got bled for that weapon. I signed on with Evil to personally put a knife through the eye of anyone intending to pull this kind of play on Callow, among other things. You want to bring down the Tower on Malicia’s head? After last year, you can be my guest.”

    Be honest, Cat. You were perfectly willing to take that weapon for yourself before Black blew it up.

    I mean, I’m glad she’s changed her mind since then, but she’s definitely willing to go full supervillain if she thinks it might prevent further invasions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ______

      She had heard Malicia’s argument after her talk with Akua on the roof, but she also hid the bargaining cheap that was Akua’s horcrux. While she mentioned that the transition into Black Queen would allow her to take the control of the weapon, this Name would be influenced by Winter enough that telling which urge was her (exagerrated) wish to protect Callow and which was the Role settling into the grooves of a villain with a superweapon is harder than usual.

      Like

    2. werafdsaew

      I think she’s simply aware of the sunken cost fallacy. She would not trade lives for the weapon, but once the weapon has been created, would keep it to avoid further war.

      Like

  18. You know, I think we’ve been missing something really important so far.

    So many times this book, only 8 chapters in, have we seen countless references to Cat holding back her Name, Mantle, and idiosyncrasies.
    Is that not the biggest Checkov’s Gun so far? How long will we get to see the gun be loaded before it fires off a nuke?

    Also, I just want to see her decimate shit with her name and raise the dead into an undead army.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Forrest

      To be fair, I don’t think Cat would be a problematic ruler in Tolkien verse, since Creation itself would not see to altering an entire country just because the ruler was a bit morally ambiguous when deciding to protect her home and people. So there probably would not have been a conflict in that case. But alas, Creation in this case is geared to try and force a people down one of two roads.

      Like

  19. Antoninjohn

    The rule of three for the story, 1. No raising cities 2. No Angels 3. No killing prisoners and accept surrender
    Break these rules and Callow has the story

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While it’s true that Catherine isn’t in a position to really enforce the terms of the deal on the Crusade, consider this – when has breaking a deal with a Queen or High Lord of the Fey courts EVER gone well for someone? Also, if the Crusade breaks the rules, they’ll lose a lot of their Heroic support, and Catherine will be fully justified in emptying every hell that Masego can get his hands on to drive them out of Callow.

      Like

      1. Forrest

        I actually meant the other way around. Catherine can enforce her side to obey the agreement, as the queen. Meanwhile, the Grey Pilgrim may be a popular cultural hero, but he practically even said himself he can’t make the nobles behave in response to Cat’s abdication offer.

        Like

  20. Anon

    I’m perhaps a little confused at the recurring Name usage (capital-tense) going on by the opposition for Cat as the Black Queen. Does no one save Black and maybe Malicia not realize that said Name didn’t come to her?

    (Sidenote: Hopefully Malicia can’t hear this conversation, or Cat’s a goner)

    Aside from that…it’s sad to see that even the most reasonable ‘Good’ element in the pilgrim refuses to see any large-scale compromise with leaving Callow and preventing Procer from divvying up the spoils. Procer getting a pass for being ‘good’ leaves a bitter taste on the tongue.

    But on some level, the refusal makes sense due to the Named still being a thing (which influences more than any normal man or woman could), but at the same time, if you think a thing is destined to fail, you’ll usually end up self-fulfilling that prophecy.

    I’m a little uncertain on Cat’s plan of ‘regulation’ – does she mean something akin to ‘self-policing’, in that all sides police each other to avoid excessive GOOD or EVIL actions? That seems like a terrible idea, from an outside point of view, and one that GOOD would have a huge difficulty in agreeing to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Unmaker

      Having rebellious underlings is _normal_ for rulers of Praes. Admittedly, not many of them want to overthrow Praes itself, as opposed to rule it, but Malicia has probably already predicted Cat’s attitude anyway.

      Like

    1. Darkening

      Hm. I suppose it did get mentioned that arcadia and creation were created as mirrors to each other, and masego speculated that they still might. Should be interesting to see if that actually pays off somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Zach

      Yeah, including the fact that the one to jump the gap was from the Evil-equivalent side and did so through morally questionable means, which is a decent parallel to Catherine’s efforts.

      Like

  21. WuseMajor

    If that’s an example of the kind of person sworn to Compassion, I think I can see why they’re supposed to be the most dangerous.

    Like

    1. Where did it mention that he was sworn to Compassion? Also, when did it say that the Heroes of Compassion were the most dangerous? Not saying you’re wrong, I just can’t remember these events.

      Like

  22. Decius

    Crusade finds the demon, Cat fights the demon with them because the demon is worse than the Crusade, Crusade goes home because the Grey Pilgrim refuses to gain an advantage from the Callowan hosts fighting a demon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lennymaster

      You forget he survived 60 years fighting the Diabolists of Calernia. I think he is just a mite too practical for that.

      Like

  23. I dunno,
    I might try for a nice win…but force my back to the wall, and I’d Bonfire it up and worry about a unified Calernia hating me later. Still don’t get why critically weakening Procer’s defenses versus the Ratlings would be bad. Procer will hate the one responsible for it? How’s this a negative when they’re at the head of an invading Crusade already?

    Cat’s playing this like Procer/The Crusade are unbeatable heavies…but only if you play by Good’s rules. Armies are made of soldiers. Soldiers are people. Convince those soldiers they are allowing their families and loved ones to be slaughtered whilst they’re serving in a foreign war, and find out what the term desertion means.

    Just getting a little tired of the new soft Cat. Escalation and double-down on some more escalation got her this far. She doesn’t have the mindset, the skillset, or the disposition for clever statesmanship. She’s a warlord. What she wants to be is immaterial. Killing her enemies until there’s no one left to disagree with her philosophical position is her strength.

    Like

    1. RandomFan

      That’s evil’s trap. You escalate, and good escalates back- and the thing is, good’s closer to united. The heroes might be no saints, but the Good nations seem inclined to cooperate if things go sideways bad enough- even when not, the heroes don’t engage in petty backstabbing, it seems, with the exception of bard. Good isn’t united, but they can put away the swords when push becomes shove, it seems.

      Because of this, and because your Evil associates are as likely to see you as a threat as an asset, Good can escalate farther, even without the inconvenience your Evil peers can cause.

      The more harm you cause, the more likely your story ends in an unmarked grave. The heroes won’t back down for mere threats, unless you bunker down or are an endless horde, it seems. And note that even the dead king doesn’t seem to have been doing much on the offensive- he’s just holed up and takes down whatever heroes come for him, most days.

      The Tower’s tried escalation for generations, Triumphant herself was a master of it- but it ends the same way. Everyone bleeds, and you haven’t built anything of value for it. You don’t bleed less for it, either- no, you bleed the most. Even her own kingdom says “May she never return”- for all she was a champion, they don’t want her back.

      That says something. I don’t know what, but I don’t think being the queen of escalation lets you win, not alone.

      Besides, she hasn’t locked off a lot of routes to escalation. Fae are still fair game for both sides. Her resurrection trick, if she pulls it again, is probably more dangerous than weilding an angel-feather sword but also fair play. She never agreed not to use goblinfire. All said, she agreed to not do stuff she wouldn’t do anyways save from utter desperation in exchange for never having to deal with angels. Angels would have been an inevitability, otherwise- good sees no issue with using them, and of course they could.

      In short, she won the negotiation. Sure, the Grey Pilgrim probably got as much as he could of what he wanted out of it too, but that’s not losing.

      You can’t beat good down. That’s just not possible- Black pointedly avoids that kind of escalation for a reason. If Cat hadn’t grown up and tried to focus on something other than “win”, she’d just be the next Triumphant- may she never return.

      Like

  24. Hardric62

    Late to the answer, but… I can bet this measures won’t take for long… Posterity is talking about Uncivil Wars, after all…

    Like

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