Interlude: Sing We Of Rage

“Sing we of rage,
In Tower and field
Of this dying age
That will not yield
 
Sing we of steel,
Forged in the east
As turns the wheel
And carrion feast
 
Sing we of empire,
For which we bled
Of flickering fire
Now all but dead
 
Sing we of foe,
Of victories won
And that first woe
Tyranny of the sun
 
Sing we of ruin,
As again we tread
West, ever pursuing
Fate writ in dread.”

– ‘The Tyranny of the Sun’, a Praesi song written in the latter stages of the Sixty Years War. Banned by decree of Dread Emperor Nihilis.

Wekesa eyed the sculpted mancala board with a frown, sipping at a chilled Aksum red. The handful of stone seeds in his hand rustled as he flicked his wrist, counting those already sown on the board. Dark eyes moved to Eudokia, whose calm visage betrayed nothing.

“There’s two missing,” he noted.

Scribe’s face displayed only wounded indignation.

“I am insulted, Wekesa, that you would resort to such implications simply because you are afraid to lose,” she gravely told him.

“This is senet all over again,” he sighed.

In all fairness, he’d been the one to start enchanting dice. Though in his defence, Amadeus had never once played without trying to sneak in a loaded pair and Eudokia had a knack for making pieces disappear when no one was looking no matter what they played. Hye had tended to ‘accidentally’ flip the board when it became clear she was losing – even when he spelled them stuck to the table, which rather eliminated plausible deniability for the half-elf. The only one of them who’d ever actually followed the rules had been Sabah, and… Wekesa’s face darkened. The passing months had done little to bury the grief of that. A friendship four decades long could not be so easily let go of. Not when her killer still breathed.

“Calm, Wekesa,” Scribe quietly said. “Nothing was forgot. Nothing was forgiven.”

The dark-skinned man waved his hand in dismissal. He was not Amadeus, to sink into himself at the first sight of anything that would disrupt his composure. He would mourn his old friend properly, and no part of that involved forcing his grief into a box to be addressed only when convenient. He drank deeply from his cup of wine, setting it down. The shiver down his spine that came from someone crossing the wards informed him of Black’s arrival before the man strode in sight. Amadeus’ eyes studied the board, then crinkled in amusement. Ignoring the Warlock’s languid invitation to sit, he leant over it and snorted, a finger flicking at the latest seed Wekesa had sown.

“Someone’s in trouble,” the pale man lightly said.

Warlock inspected the board again, and unsurprisingly found one of the empty houses now held a seed. That smug bastard.

“You’re not even playing,” the mage complained.

“It’s sad how sore of a loser he is, isn’t?” Amadeus told Eudokia with a saddened sigh.

“Hardly becoming of the famous Sovereign of Red Skies,” Scribe agreed solemnly.

“You won’t get away with this, you perfidious dwarves,” Wekesa said. “There will be retribution.”

The allegedly dignified Black Knight smothered a grin and finally sat down at their side while Warlock began to put away the stone seeds before he could be conned any further. Eudokia’s protests that they had a bottle riding on this and the act was a clear concession went superbly ignored. He wasn’t letting those two cheat him out of another prize piece from his cellar. ‘Loshe would have his hide if they grabbed another bottle from Kahtan, the current High Lady was curtailing the sales to better hike up the prices. The two savages didn’t even enjoy the vintages, anyway, they just loved robbing him blind. He’d nearly cursed Amadeus to lose all taste when he’d seen the man drink a forty-year-old Okoro red with cabbage and mutton. In the first Sanguinia’s day that would have been a hanging offence, and was a little cannibalism from the Tower really such a high price to pay for proper stewardship of taste? Good and loyal friend that he was, unfortunately, Wekesa still offered Amadeus a cup. The green-eyed man declined, as he usually did when there was a battle on the horizon. Warlock had always considered that a peculiar habit, considering the effects of alcohol could easily be burnt out of the body by any competent Named.

“Onto the sordid business of war, I take it,” Wekesa sighed.

“Dawn is an hour away,” Amadeus replied. “It has been long enough, and yesterday was a severe defeat for the crusade. The real threats will come out today.”

“Your request has been ready for near a month,” the sorcerer shrugged. “The array as well. I foresee no trouble there.”

“I have no worry of that,” his old friend said. “I came to speak of the Witch of the Woods.”

“Of which we know precious little,” Wekesa pointed out, though his gaze flicked to Scribe.

She shook her head.

“As far as we know she has spent most her life in the Foloi forest, which is beyond our reach,” she said. “Attempting to gather intelligence in Gigantes territory is an exercise in futility. They kill everything that crosses the border without warning. All the Eyes have been able to gather is second-hand, overheard conversations. And even these are rare, save for the unreliable.”

The Warlock sipped at his wine, unmoved. It would not be the first time they faced a heroine whose history was essentially a blank slate. It did make the killing more troublesome, but not overwhelmingly so.

“If she was truly taught by Gigantes spellsingers, she will be using Ligurian formulas,” Wekesa said. “I’ll concede that for greater workings they are without match, but they lack the flexibility and breadth of Trismegistan sorcery.”

“Those greater workings are my exact worry,” Amadeus said. “I remember my histories, Wekesa. The last time spellsingers fought with a Named Praesi sorcerer, plains large as half of Callow were turned into the Titan’s Pond.”

“I am hardly Triumphant,” Warlock chuckled. “And the Witch is no true spellsinger. She has not spent a few hundred years accumulating power and perfecting her craft. There will be collateral damage, to be sure, but I did not toil for months on our warding schemes to protect your armies from dwarven toys.”

Black inclined his head in concession, but his eyes were not in agreement.

“I would not bind your hands on your first encounter with an unknown quantity,” he said.

“Yet,” Wekesa said.

“We cannot afford the losses that large escalation might entail,” Amadeus said. “I won’t bar you from using sorcery falling under Red Skies protocol, but I’d ask that you keep in mind the possible consequences of it.”

The dark-skinned mage finished his cup, rather irked that such good vintage must be treated in so cavalier a manner. War truly was hell, he mused. Setting down the silver, he offered his friends a mild smile.

“I will attempt coddling, then,” Wekesa conceded. “Let us see how long that lasts. And what will you be doing while I get my hands dirty?”

“Settling a philosophical question, in a manner of speaking,” he said.

Warlock raised an eyebrow.

“And what would that question be?”

Amadeus smiled that old smile of the damned, the one that had been the ruin of realms and the death of armies. A madman’s smile.

“Can a man cheat providence at dice?”

The army had risen in hushed silence, but Hanno could feel the thrum of excitement going through the soldiers. Yesterday’s defeat had put fear in the hearts, yes, but also thirst for retribution. The vicious schemes of the Praesi had given birth to the old wroth that was always the fall of Evil, that burning determination that came from witnessing the senseless destruction sown by the Enemy. Yet they are not so senseless, these monsters, the White Knight thought. That they were abominations could not be denied, the paramount fiends of this era, but Hanno had studied the Carrion Lord. The man’s actions followed his own barren sense of integrity, though no one sane would truly apply that word to the works of the Black Knight. It made him dangerous in a way that few villains the White Knight had witnessed could be. No less mad than the Emperors of old, perhaps, but there was cold method to the madness. Hanno had learned the hard way that underestimating the Calamities on the field would only lead to death. He thought of the sisters he would never hear again, snatched out of Creation before they had truly lived. We give you nothing, the Seraphim had promised as they anointed him. We take everything. As in all things, they had spoken truth.

Antigone stood crouched on the ground, watching the burning waters. Pyres of green flames that were birthed beneath the surface and spread from there, unheeding of the laws that bound true fire. There was nothing in the world, they said, that goblinfire could not burn. Some priests in Procer had called the substance the distillation of unholy hunger, the sins of the East made into liquid flame. The impossibly massive wolf that the Witch’s mount and mother both was lying on the ground, her muzzle resting on her paws as she warily watched the heroine she had raised weave sorcery. Lykaia, her name was. Hanno had expected the Champion to started eyeing her as pelt and trophy the moment they first met, but to his surprise Rafaella had swiftly taken to the wolf-mother. The opposite was also true, Antigone assured him, though it could be hard to tell. Lykaia’s notion of mothering occasionally involved being batted around by massive paws, though in all honesty the Champion seemed to rather enjoy that. Perhaps he should have anticipated that Rafaella would be utterly delighted at the opportunity of wrestling with a she-wolf larger than most houses. Antigone sliced across her palm with a stone knife and pressed the blood into the earth. Hanno felt the shiver of power scatter around them, massive and then gone.

Lykaia whined until Antigone sighed and presented her bleeding hand for the she-wolf to lick, almost nudging the Witch off her feet with an affectionate nuzzle he suspected was a reminder to take better care of herself. Wiping away the slobber covering not only her hand but most her arm – though, Hanno noted, the wound already seemed to be closing – the Witch of the Woods bowed her head to him by the slightest fraction. She did not move like a human. She was a beast of the forest, at times, but at others he could only see the Gigantes in her. Chin tucked in, if hidden by the mask, crown of the head made slightly lower than his. Respect-deference-accomplishment. The giants could express broader nuances of relation and hierarchy in a single gesture that the land of his birth could with millennia of tiered citizenship. Hanno kept his back straight and tilted his face slightly to the left without moving his neck. Praise-gratitude-companionship. He was careful not to move too far left, lest he imply subordination on his part. By the mores of the Gigantes, what he had offered was already intimate warmth. Antigone’s head straightened into neutrality, though slowly enough the implication lay she was pleased with his response.

“It is done,” the Witch said. “When you are ready.”

Hanno breathed out, watching the spread of burning green before him. He unsheathed the sword at his hip, mere steel forged at the hands of men. The lance strapped on his back would remain there until it was needed.

“Now,” the White Knight said.

Antigone stomped her feet on the ground, where her blood still lingered, and Creation howled. She did not control it, not the way a spellsinger would have. The Witch had not spent centuries permeating her body with the light of moons and stars, woven a second soul out of sunlight or aligned herself with the celestial spheres. She could not sing hymns to the world and make it dance to her will. Instead the power of her aspect flared, and for a moment she was one with the fabric of Creation. A single cord sounded where she had spilled blood, and the vibration reverberated beyond mortal understanding. The winds stirred the burning lake and quickened until a whirlwind of water and fire was birthed, emptying the grounds where so many had died yesterday. The Praesi’s own murderous alchemy, turned against them as it went howling towards the tower men called the Bloody Twin. Hanno of Arward began his advance, endless ranks of crusaders behind him, as sorcery bloomed ahead.

“Okeanos Risen,” Wekesa said, reluctantly impressed. “Using an unseemly shortcut, but still nothing to sneer at.”

Especially on freshwater. He’d never heard of Gigantes using this particular working away from the sea. Ashurans, when they’d still been Baalites in more than name, had learned the hard way that attempting to invade the Titanomachy from the water only resulted in the sharks growing fat. There was no audience atop the tower for him to expound at, as Amadeus had ordered room be cleared for him to work undisturbed, but speaking his thoughts aloud did tend to bring a sense of satisfaction to his work. He’d gotten into the habit when teaching Masego, as it helped his son understand his conclusions if he was privy to the thoughts that led to them. It was unfortunate that Masego still lingered at Foundling’s side, though Wekesa had made his peace with it. Much of his enmity for the girl had ebbed since she’d thrown away her apprenticeship to Amadeus and ceased being a dagger at his throat simply by existing. Eudokia was furious that process had involved their old friend being stabbed, but Warlock was not particular bothered. Not since he’d noticed that Black’s agelessness had taken a tint of youth in the aftermath. She’d offered his first and oldest friend a second lease on life by her actions, and he considered that to settle the balance of the threat she’d once posed.

She’d still have to die, of course. Alaya would insist on it as soon as the politics of the act became acceptable. It would make a bit of a mess, but those two would bind their wounds and entwine their fates anew after enough time had passed. They always did, no matter what shallow wounds they managed to inflict on the other’s pride. Perhaps it was in order that he suggest Amadeus spend a few years in Refuge, after the dust settled. It would do wonders for both his mood and Hye’s – Wekesa was of the opinion she’d cease gallivanting around the continent picking fights with gods for a bit if she found her lover returned to her bed. Alaya would be miffed at losing her right hand to a ‘vapidly murderous vagrant’, as she’d once described Ranger to him, but Wekesa was rather miffed at her himself. This whole Liesse affair had been gauche in many ways, including the implied insult to him. That she’d never approached him about building such a doomsday device implied she’d believed he would refuse her and go straight to Amadeus. It was a disregard of the trust he’d thought there was between them. He was not inflicted with Eudokia’s blinders, to believe Black should be crowned. Alaya was better fit to rule Praes, and more apt to deliver the peace and quiet that was his preferred state of affairs.

Warlock had no intention of spending the next two decades of his life breaking millennia-old wards, banishing demons and immolating every practitioner in the Wasteland with a modicum of talent for theoretical research. Which was the very likely consequence of a reform-inclined Duni climbing the Tower. That killing one of his few friends as a prerequisite only made the notion more unpalatable, as did his suspicion that Amadeus crowned would find everything admirable about him devoured by the demands of the throne. Shaking the thought, Wekesa waited for the whirlwind to properly and come within the preferred action range of his prepared answers. The addition of goblinfire to the assault was a clever improvisation on the part of the enemy, and did indeed complicate matters of containment. The alchemical flames would begin devouring any solid ward upon contact, and a working of this strength could not be easily be contained with a flawed warding scheme. That was not to say, of course, that there was nothing he could do. Screens of sorcery bloomed before him as he observed the strings of power that had initiated and now maintained the whirlwind. Examining the formula directly was not a real possibility at this range, but he could glean from understanding of it from the observable phenomenon.

The central element was clearly a Creational cascade, the signature element of Ligurian sorcery. A controlled released of power into the world that accumulated ever-deeper orders of effect. The main difference with records of Gigantes sorcery was that there seemed to be no guiding element at play, no ‘song’ – though that was merely a mundane and narrow term for what was in reality an exquisitely complicated verbal control technique. Interesting. Ligurian sorcery required the caster to have a deep understanding of Creation’s workings that Praesi would call High Arcana, though the way Gigantes understood the world in a fundamentally different manner meant there was little overlap with Praesi High Arcana and the Titanomachy’s preceding equivalent. The implication here being that the Witch of the Woods, though taught by the Gigantes, did not share their inherent understanding. Aspect-based bridging, most likely, relying on her Name to expand the capacity of her mind. Aspects did tend to be passing, however, and that would explain the lack of so-called song: the Witch had glimpsed the web when calling on her power, but had not kept that understanding afterwards. Once loosed, her control on her spells was either thin or non-existent.

“How kind of you, my dear,” Warlock murmured, “to gift me a whirlwind.”

Runes formed around his wrists as he set boundaries in the area the winds were about to enter, weaving the forces that would attempt to modify rather than disperse. A hundred feet from the tower, the working fell into his ward and without a word Wekesa activated it. The first part was elementary: he stretched the spinning upwards, thinning the board whirlwind into a much taller pillar-like structure. From there, effect was easier. The forces were dispersed where they had once been concentrated. He flattened the pillar into a sphere and tossed back the burning water and winds in the direction of the advancing enemy army.

“Do try to make this interesting, child,” Warlock said.

Power flared, and this time he was able to watch the cascade unfolding. It was beautiful, he thought, in the way only the very highest of sorcery could be. A single mind touching a facet of the godhead through will and knowledge. The burning sphere shivered and winked out, leaving nothing behind. His eyes narrowed. Matter could not simply vanish, and there had been absolutely nothing left behind – not even air, as the absence had drawn it in. The cascade had not been a physical effect, which meant…

“The Riddle of Kreios,” he said softly. “Now that is a memory I will have to extract and study.”

The Witch of the Woods had inflicted the passing of time inside boundaries, which was masterfully absurd. One of the great riddles of sorcery was that there was no such thing as time – it was a sapient construct, a recognition of entropy – yet there was a force that could only be called this that could be manipulated by magic. The Witch had enveloped the sphere inside folded time until the goblinfire devoured everything within, a beautiful parry. Had she called on Kronia’s Sickle instead the alchemy would have attempted to devour the time actively quelling it but Kreios relied in the conceptual passing of time, not destruction through it. An important distinction, one that had crafted an envelope instead of an attack: she’d let the goblinfire itself do the work, an elegant solution. And one made possible only by his actions. If he’d not gathered the goblinfire together and she’d employed the Riddle, entire parts of this mountain range would have vanished – and likely parts of her army with it. No mere spell-slinging savage, this one.

“Let us test the depths of your knowledge, then,” the Sovereign of Red Skies grinned, and runes burned around his wrists.

Hanno led the assault without looking at the sorcerer’s duel echoing across the valleys. He would trust in Antigone, that she was the match of the Warlock and would allow no harm to come to them. He’d acted to ensure that much, by sending all other heroes to the northern valley. With only he and the Witch present, Creation’s grooves would not be filled with a plethora different stories that all weakened each other by allowing none to be come into the fullness of being. The Witch of the Woods would fight the Warlock. The White Knight would fight the Black Knight. The clarity of this would be as dangerous a blade as the one in his hand. In the Twin above engines and crossbows spewed death at the advancing crusaders, checked only by the shields of mages and the fences of priests. Praesi sorceries lashed at them both, tearing holes that were filled with steel and stone with eerie coordination. It did not matter. With him at their head, the crusaders roared and advanced. Sword bright with the Light, the White Knight pushed through storms of fire and clouds of poison. They dispersed like mist under the sun. Darkness fell in a rain of needles, men they pierced convulsing in violent throes, but Hanno screamed his challenge and they shattered like glass.

“Carrion Lord,” he yelled as in the sky above lightning fought spinning lights. “I summon you, Black Knight.”

His words rang like a thunderclap across the valley. A gauntlet thrown, and not easily refused. Not without consequences greater than whispers of cowardice. A duel of champions for Above and Below was an ancient thing, and not disdained without earning the same disdain from the Gods. The gates of barded steel and iron at the foot of the tower slowly opened. Out came a silhouette riding a dead horse. His plate was simple and worn, his lance a thing of blackened steel and the sword at his hip goblin-wrought steel. As he rode a dark cloak streamed behind him. The helm, as always, hid his face save for eerie green eyes and hints of pallid skin. Bringing up his shield, the Black Knight moved as the gates closed in his wake. Hanno felt it, the cold thing behind the flesh. The cogs of steel ever-turning. His power was faint, even fainter than on their last encounter, but the taste of it had not changed. The presence of two aspects wreathed the man like two ravens on his shoulders, urging the villain to Lead and to Conquer. An old monster drenched in blood, come at his summons.

“It ends today,” the White Knight said.

The monster cocked his head to the side.

“Uninspired,” he replied, and the lance descended.

Lives flooded through Hanno’s mind and he chose the first he had prepared: the Lance of Light. His Name took his reflexes, his training, and replaced them with another man’s. The Knight went deeper still, until his eyes no longer felt as his own, and only then did the Light boil out of him. The radiant mount pawed at the grounds, scorching them, and his lance rose to match the abominations. Hanno was no jouster but Felix Caen, Duke of Liesse, had been the glory of Callow’s knighthood long before he led the doomed charge in the East that earned him his Name. The stance came easy to him as breathing and he watched the Black Knight lead his mount to face him. There should have been a hush over the battlefield, but no quarter was offered or given. The Legions still spewed death from the tower, though their crossbows and engines were alien to him. No less, he thought, should be expected from Praesi. There was no honour to the Wasteland, nothing but barren hatred to be found past the Blessed Isle.

“Come, slave of the Tower,” the Lance of Light laughed. “Breaker of heroes. Come and die.”

The mounts charged, death flying around them, and it was all wrong. It should have been an olive-skinned southerner, a vicious lady of the Hungering Sands with lips like fresh blood, not this pale leech before him. He would crush the thing anyway. Already the Lance could see the sequence, the alignment of men and horse, the way the tip of his lance would go through the throat. Then the man’s shield went down, hand hidden, and the Lance of Light spurred his horse. Death, death was offered to him and he would deliver it in the name of House Alban. Then the Praesi threw himself off his horse at the last moment.

A heartbeat later, as the Lance passed by it, it exploded.

Hanno landed on his back, breath stolen from him and smouldering. He hastily rose to his feet and found the Black Knight awaiting him with the flat his sword resting on his shoulder.

“That remains a surprisingly effective trick,” the monster mused. “I really should send her a thank you note.”

The White Knight frowned. He was talking. Bantering, instead of pressing advantage. Pale green eyes flicked to him.

“Shall we get on with it?” the Carrion Lord drawled. “There is a war on, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“You,” Hanno said. “What have you done?”

“Blown up a rather expensive horse,” the Black Knight said. “With the dark and wicked spell of wick and cheap matches. My coffers aren’t what they used to be. Tremble, White Knight, for my power is truly boundless within reasonable limits.”

The White Knight bared his sword, and let the Flawless Fencer flow into him. His stance changed. Sofia of Nicae had always been heavyset, nothing like the slender girls whose beauty was praised by the men, but she did not mind. Her only true love was the blade. This one was well-fitter to her hand, the weight of it perfect for her craft, and she closed the distance with anticipation thrumming in her veins. Praesi, this man, but she’d killed that ilk before. Bands of them had kept roving the Free Cities for years after the Dread Empress was unceremoniously thrown back into the sea by the coalition. It was not as satisfying to slay those as Ashurans, but it would keep her sated until supper. The foe was a sword-and-board man, and not half-bad. He danced properly when she struck, his parry technically perfect and riposte appropriately vicious. She elegantly turned it downwards, then struck across the throat. Ah, just a little too slow. She was off her form today. She circled around him, letting the slope weaken his stance, and offered a feint towards the eye. The shield went up, she closed the distance even as he struck and spun with him as he adjusted. Elbow to the back of the head, then she dropped under his answering swing and hit his helm with the pommel of her blade.

The man worked through the pain, but his stance was broken. She drew blood at the juncture of his elbow, slid around the shield bash and hacked down on the extended fingers of his blade hand. She hummed approvingly when he decided he’d rather lose two fingers than the grip on his sword, then rewarded his courage by kicking his knee and forcing him down. He swung where she would have been, were she an idiot, but instead she kicked dirt into his face. Then, as he struggled with that, she kicked his chin and laid him down hard. Time to end this, then. The Flawless Fencer vanished back into the flood and the White Knight clasped his sword.

“You are not him,” Hanno said.

“A question almost theological in nature,” the thing noted. “Nefarious did have a certain knack for blasphemy.”

“This is a trick,” the White Knight hissed. “You shy from judgement.”

“Shall I give you a lesson, child?” the abomination said. “I so rarely get to monologue, but this is fortunate happenstance. You see, whatever I tell you will not matter. Not in the slightest. You are, by your nature, incapable of learning what I would teach. If you did it would destroy what a more poetic man might call your soul.”

Hanno grabbed him by the throat, raised him up. The thing laughed.

“What have you done?”

“Agency, boy,” the abomination said, sounding amused. “You have discarded yours like a petty bauble and never once considered the cost. Blind faith is such tempting notion, isn’t it? Being able to believe in an answer, in a force, without ever questioning it. Certainty and blindness. I have always wondered at the difference.”

“Where are you?”

“Ah, already better,” the thing said approvingly. “But your true question is – why did you ever think I was here? And so the circle closes, and we return to the matter of faith.”

He could have squeezed, snapped the neck, but he needed to know. To understand the trap so he could break it.

“The answer, of course, is providence,” the abomination said. “You are here because that elusive golden luck of heroes told you I would be here to face you. And I am, in a sense. That is the rub, you see, when one relies on something one does not fully understand. If you do not know the rules, you do not know how they can be cheated.”

“You cannot cheat the Heavens,” Hanno snarled.

“Ah, but providence is a different matter,” the villain said. “It is a force, you see, not an intelligence. It cannot reason. If the greater part of what is me is here before you, well, that is the guidance it will provide. Never warning you that a mind and a body are very different things until it is much, much too late.”

And just like that it fell into place.

“You are in the other valley,” the White Knight said.

“Praesi, Hanno, have so many flaws,” the abomination mused. “Sometimes it seems as if it is all we have. Yet there is one among them that I always believed to be a virtue, in its own way. All it takes is the faintest hope we will get away with it, and we will sit across even the Gods, smile and lie.”

“There is nowhere I will not reach you,” Hanno replied quietly.

He dropped the abomination, and it did not even attempt to rise. Its lips quirked into a smile, thin and narrow and vicious. A blade-smile.

“Do enjoy your victory, White Knight,” he said.

When Hanno’s blade cut through his neck, the body already had empty eyes.

Amadeus of the Green Stretch breathed out. After a moment he rose to his feet. The sounds of battle could be heard at the bottom of the northern Twin, heroes and crusaders having reached the gate and struggling to break it. Ranker was behind him, looking to the back of the tower, and without a word he went to join her. Both of them stared down.

“Is it done?” the old goblin asked.

“They are both committed,” the green-eyed man replied. “My death was the agreed-on signal. Warlock will cover the retreat.”

“Then now is our part,” the Marshal of Praes said.

“So it is,” the Black Knight agreed.

They looked down at the two legions that had moved to the northern passage overnight, swelling the ranks of the three already under Ranker’s command. Amadeus bared his sword, raising it high. The responding clamour drowned out the world.

“Well, old friend,” he murmured. “I think it’s about time we went on the offensive, don’t you think?”

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245 thoughts on “Interlude: Sing We Of Rage

  1. SpeckofStardust

    Well they (the crusaders) would have been better off on attacking via only 1 path old monsters are everywhere after all the fact that only 2 are named is irrelevant.
    .

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    1. stevenneiman

      Remember Irritant’s Law? Heroes can’t win if they have a large enough numerical advantage, at least not against a foe with enough skill at plotcrafting, which Black has in spades. Also, the reason they attacked as they did was because they expected to have the element of surprise by going through what was a sodden hellscape of green flame five minutes ago. They just didn’t count on Black’s incredible powers of contingency planning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rook

        They attacked that way because they had no choice after the losses they initially suffered. I don’t think any of the crusaders thought that mopping up a goblinfire lake with a tornado would catch the calamities by surprise.

        They’re some of the most notorious living villains on calernia; well known for routinely murdering Heroes like chickens, as well as having a walking natural disaster of a caster named the Warlock in their number.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. stevenneiman

          I suppose. I guess it was only the fact that Black managed to weasel his way out of a meaningful killing blow that really seemed to take them by surprise.

          Like

      2. SpeckofStardust

        Considering that White was destined a win here, it also means that none of the other heroes can kill him in this war, only white. As I already stated there are too many monsters in this fight.
        And when dealing with monsters You don’t split up the goddam party otherwise your in horror trope land.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Antoninjohn

    Now those heroes die and Procer losses all their Chosen but the White Knight, Witch of the Wilds and Champion. Without the Heroes, Procer’s army is no match for the Legions of Terror

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    1. Someguy

      Without the army the remaining heroes are just attempting Illegal Immigration. Scribe should just send a lawyer with a set of Writs and criminal charges to Hanno. Since he likes to defer personal responsibility so much, lets see how Judgement will enforce or break Praesi law.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Yotz

          Yeah, well, Imperial Bureau of Legal Immigration and Sundae cares not for their “freedom of faith” or whatever! They still need to fill out declaration 13b-17/11 in triplicate – to begin with.

          Liked by 5 people

        2. stevenneiman

          Maybe, but you gotta admit it would be funny to flip his own schtick back on him just to see how he responds. Especially if you make it obvious that you’re being no more arbitrary than his own masters.

          Liked by 3 people

        3. Someguy

          Judgement eating it’s own tail due to earthly realities makes for a better Story. Hanno’s Role is perfect for such a Praesi tale, his half-Praesi blood creates such a wonderful opening!

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Rook

      They might actually lose Champion. She’s not with Hanno and the Witch right now, meaning she’s cut off from the other heavyweights and further weakened by the overlapping stories of the many green Heroes involved.

      I’m almost wondering if that wasn’t half the point of Black’s play. I wouldn’t doubt that beneath the steel and gears he’s far, far more upset about what she did to Captain than even the other calamities. She was basically to him as Hakram is to Cat, for longer than either of the latter two have even been alive

      Liked by 6 people

      1. RanVor

        Well, Black is very good at suppressing his emotions, and though it looks similar from the outside, it’s not the same as being emotionless. He’s still very much upset about Captain, he just forces himself to ignore it, lest it clouds his judgement and gets him killed, which isn’t what Captain would want at all.

        Like

      2. I see it as more likely that Champion will kill again. She’s (apparently) stupid, never gives up, always cheerful and hits very hard: perfect villain-killer while they are all left wondering how she does it.

        In other words: she’s an anime hero. The horror!

        Like

        1. Letouriste

          She has talking problems in the hero language so no,not an anime protagonist;) this is funny enough to be a side character though

          Like

  3. taovkool

    And once again, Black showed why he was not one to be fucked with. Cheating the story with Assassin. First round on him, even with Hanno winning the duel.

    Yet, after all this, there’s still no sign of the Bard, and Hanno’s dialogue showed that she’s not with his band. Not fighting against Kat either. So where the hell is she then? Dealing with the Tyrant? The Thassalocracy? One of the major player not shown on the board is a major concern.

    Like

      1. I think you’re right. Assassin is his own person, he wouldn’t describe himself as “Black’s mind is here, but the body is elsewhere.” He also hints that it was one of Nefarious’s spells.

        The description of him as a thing rather than a person does sound rather like Assassin, but it’s not quite the same.

        Like

    1. nerferf

      Still banished probably, we still really into the beginning of this uncivil war’s after all , once the tyrant, goblins and dead king and/or triumphant enter the arena then she may pop up to escalate the mess

      Like

    2. Byzantine

      As Pilgrim and Saint noted bard only shows up at the grimmest moment. She is very likely nowhere right now, awaiting the next moment she is needed.

      Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        Nah, if Bard isn’t at the scene, then she’s off somewhere either drinking or regenerating her liver and waiting for her next Story Teleport.

        Like

    3. Jonnnney

      Her story may have been bound be in conflict with the Hierarch due to his lawful condemnation of her actions. There is after all a third front to this war a pair of crazy Named, one of the old breed and another something new, attacking principalities via the waning woods. There is also the fourth front to consider. Someone needs to be keep the recently awakened Dead King in check.

      Like

      1. stevenneiman

        I think his secondary objective in this was to basically let the air out of Hanno. On one hand he gave Hanno an “epic” “final” “battle” “against” him, but then made every effort to not only render Hanno’s victory meaningless but turn the entire thing into a joke at his expense, to rob his very serious character of narrative weight. Notice how Black also gave a villainous monologue but it focused on Hanno being a bland and uninteresting character.
        It’s just like what Cat did to the Saint of Swords. Remember how she used to be so badass, then Cat made her out to be a second-rate bully and the next time we see her she starts doing her impression of a pincushion? Same principle at work here.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Someguy

          I agree with what you say and want to add to it. There is another principle working against Hanno, he is half-Praesi.

          If Black “was his father” (heh) the Narrative momentum (Force :P) would be with him. But he isn’t so the usual results of victories for Praesi “heroes”(?) has greater momentum. Remember: “Victory, most fickle of friends.” —Taghreb saying.

          Like

        2. Rook

          Pretty sure they have deflating dramatic flairs refined into a regular engagement doctrine. He handled Ubua the exact same way as Hanno, and even used the same ‘uninspired’ response to their final dramatic line

          Liked by 4 people

            1. Metrux

              Ubua is the “ofccicial” other Name of Akua. I completely agree we shouldn’t change the characters names, like Cat’s, but this is a special case since it’s canon :B

              Like

            2. In a flashback apprentice has a long conversation with Akua. Father Warlock is proud of his son for talking to people, Aunty Sabah asked does he have any idea who he was talking to. He remarks Ubua after using all his powers to remember her name

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        3. More than that: you could argue that both Black and Warlock haven’t so much gone for outright ridicule and embarrassment, but the kind of (viciously pranky) avuncular training experience they would hand any young pups who come at them while just a little too full of themselves.

          By framing the engagement that way, they aren’t going for mentor positions, but stressing that they are masters who don’t really want to fight these brash beginners, but the hot headed fools just won’t let it go. So, the (accidentally/on purpose fatal) slap-down they get is for their benefit… (Evil, remember — training is supposed to carry a risk of death.)

          No, really. xD

          Liked by 8 people

          1. stevenneiman

            I guess that’s another way of looking at it too. He didn’t play up the personal sympathy as much as Cat did with her “I didn’t seize the throne to kill kids” speech, but he definitely gave the sense of a tired old man wishing he didn’t have to deal with this. And the fact that he’s borrowing just a little from the stories of deadly sink-or-swim mentors certainly helps keep Hanno on the back foot even if it isn’t likely to be what brings him down.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Metrux

              Another interesting point to keep in mind is that this is the first time he borrowed one of Cat’s tricks, just in the first battle after been given a “second chance at life” from her. In a way, this can change the relationship of their Roles, from Mentor and Student to equals, or even make her the Mentor, like in “The best student surpass the master”. I don’t think this is what it’ll be, since Erraticerrata does love to make us confused, but I’m pretty sure this signifies a change in their relation.

              Like

              1. stevenneiman

                That might actually help protect both of them. Black can drop his old mentor position, and meanwhile it seems to argue that, having arguably surpassed her mentor, Cat’s story is over. On the other hand, that might not be it because he’s borrowing something from her that she developed when her journey was only just beginning, so it can’t really be a sign of her conclusion.
                I think it might be trying to shift the tone of the mentor story, from “mentor passes the torch to the next generation”, which is usually lethal, to “taking an apprentice breathes new life and joy into the mentor”, which is an oddly twee story for the likes of Amadeus but he’s not choosy if it lets him survive without sacrificing his objectives.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Wekesa, for one, is all for embracing the twee-est twee that ever twee-ed, as long as it puts a naughty-boy smile on Amadeus’ face and adds zip to his pranks.

                …. He and ‘Loshe make a ton of sense as a couple.

                Like

        4. Bonesawer

          We should be very, very scared that this encounter resulted in a draw by the Heavens’ standards. Neither one of the Named inflicted grievous damage on the other, and we already know that losing armies counts for little in terms of victory or not to the Heavens.

          If this encounter counts as the second of a pattern of three, we have to rely on outside intervention to save Black in his third. With his narrative weight, there’s no way he can lose and come back having rebuilt his power for a recurring nemesis.

          The options as I see them are that this didn’t count as the second since they never truly engaged (I doubt this since it had serious consequences), one or more of the Calamities is going to have to sacrifice themselves to save Black from dying in encounter #3 (not sure about the groove made by Assassin during Liesse, could go either way) which isn’t preferable, Cat’s going to have to save him from Hanno possibly at the cost of some of her remaining morals/goals (this is the ideal goal as her goals, while gray, are pretty insignificant and/or stupid and could improve with replacement, especially as a result of a reforming of the bond with her smarter teacher-father), or Black dies and everyone is sad (the least desirable outcome for obvious reasons).

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          1. Metrux

            We already know they have no pattern of three, especially since this is NOT their second battle. Remember, they already battled twice and there was even an interlude in which Black remarked how strange it is a pattern didn’t arise. At the time he thought it was because he would never live enough to complete it, but this was shown as not true, so there must be another reason why no pattern appeared, which we don’t know yet.

            Like

            1. Black already remarked how in the first fight the heaven’s had built a hero to counter Chat. The heaven’s planned on Black dying since by a squire merely existing the Black Knight will eventually die. Then Chat taking his name Would face the White Knight who hard countered her with his various abilities, OP summon every white knight hero to counter her, shiny horse to kill any undead minion she summoned. That was the plan until Black destroyed the array and the Squire severed ties with the Black Knight.

              Like

  4. Ok so I get the fencer but who was the lancer trying to kill?

    It seems that the deeper the white knight sinks the more he forgets himself and objective mudled. Dipping to deep into aspects which he has been doing can turn back onto him. He could loose his own identity if the heavens deem him unworthy and loan out his body.

    Also Witch of the Wilds and wolf mother already to cool for me another amazing named IMO has been introduced and she is coupled with my other favorite hero the Champion to cool!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Also of note is during the bit with the Flawless Fencer, where “she” thought she was off her game. Hanno’s aspect makes him think he is those he chooses, but *they* are not *him*.
      Their bodies do not *match*.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Transgender people exist even in the real world, despite having to spend a lot more than a minute or two trapped in a body that doesn’t match how they identify. What really strikes me are the way that the Lancer was annoyed at not having his actual nemesis to kill and the Fencer took note of things that Hanno already knew. Both of those much more strongly imply to me that heroes Hanno Recalls get dropped into the situation clueless.

        Like

    2. Lancer was there to fight Black on horseback. However, as it turned out, Black was *planning* to be unhorsed, so it didn’t matter.

      We didn’t see the Barehanded Pugilist, but I imagine it’s a similar idea – if Black realizes that he can’t win a sword fight, he’s likely to go for a grapple, where the Pugilist would have an advantage. (Catherine does the same thing – if she’s fighting a “proper fencer” she tends to drag the fight down into the mud and mix it up with her fists.) Hanno planned to overwhelm Black in a specific area of skill rather than try to be a jack of all trades, which is Black’s strength.

      Like

  5. Someguy

    There is no need to win every battle when losing results in Enemy strategic overreach. When you know you are going to lose anyway, just set things up for your General to win.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Every time I see warlock fighting I always get the feeling he is so OP that creation will fuck him.

      – Fight with lone swordsman under dog, death flag
      -underdog fight again against the hedge wizard avenging her sister double death flag
      -Now he is all alone vs a Knight hell bent on killing him an evil ruler and a witch who has sided with nature againt a guy who literally makes pig/dragon abominations.

      Peta and US marshall vs Mad scientist

      Liked by 1 person

      1. oldschoolvillain

        That’s the area of all Named casters. Warlock is only so powerful because of his specific approach to wizardry and how much knowledge he has to apply.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Metrux

          Yeah, he didn’t even use his Name powers here. He would, arguably, have this same power under himself without a Name, as long as he had the same time and resources to study. This is why he is so OP: he has no need for god given powers, he steals the powers for himself.

          Like

  6. Gunslinger

    Holy shit, this was so worth staying up for. Black is fucking awesome.

    I wonder if the implications of calling him Amadeus of the Green Stretch means he lost his Name?

    I also wonder if the body double was Assassin again, though the line about Nefarious suggests it was a spell to possess.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Yotz

        About “of the Green Stretch” thing – it may be a narrative tool to underline miniscule personality shifts – as in, the Black Knight murders people, Carrion Lord leads the Legions, and Amadeus of the Green Stretch just quietly enjoys every moment of his life after recent unexpected metaphysical rebirth.

        Probably not, though – just name-cycling to lower the repetitiveness of text.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. To be fair, Assassin can also copy plot powers to some extent. Black was able to get himself captured in a sacrifice play to help Catherine, even though Black was never in danger and Assassin doesn’t die when he’s killed. (I don’t think it was Assassin this time, though. Assassin is described differently when he’s revealed.)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ein

      I honestly think Assassin is in the body of the hostage prince, either to kill Cat or to kill Pilgrim (causing peace talks to break down). Cat will probably gib Assassin in the process Warlock is probably going to die though. Black’s death will probably be at the end after all the others are dead, solidifying the accords via martyrdom.

      Like

        1. Metrux

          Technically those talks, and even Cat alive, could be seen as bad to either Black and/or Malicia, so… It is possible Assassin would move against her or against those negotiations. The thing is, we don’t know how loyal and crazy assassin is, if he is more alike the Warlock he will never get in between this unless specifically asked to by Black, but if he is closer to the Scribe… Then yeah, she could be assassinated any day now.

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          1. Insanenoodlyguy

            Then there’s the theory that Assassin is Scribe all along. Though I have an alternative take: Scribe is Assassin. By which I mean Eudokia opreates openly with her true Name and pretends to be the named Assassin. It just so happens the same powers that make you a wonderful background administrator also make you great at stealth kills and cheating death.

            Like

  7. 1queenofblades1

    “Do enjoy your victory, White Knight.”

    ….Black what are you doing? Black no. Black stop. Don’t try and game a pattern of three. You aren’t Catherine. That’s her shtick. Stop stealing her shtick.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t think pattern of three has anything to do with it.
      He’s simply trading victories.
      Allowing the White Knight to “win” while winning himself at the other tower. He’s simply betting his own victory against the miscellaneous Heroes will be greater than the WK’s, as the Warlock will be minimizing his losses.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Byzantine

          That was actually a mistake by Black. Cat is not squire, nor will she transition to Black Knight now. So who knows why Above did not let a pattern of three form between them.

          Like

        2. Wolfkit

          But that was back when Catherine was still Black’s successor. It’s not impossible that what went down at Akua’s Folly changed things enough to allow a pattern of three between Amadeus and Hanno.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Jonnnney

          I don’t believe the above nor the below is capable of forbidding a pattern from emerging. It is the story that drives creation it what allows patterns to emerge.

          Regardless Black has no reason to want to start a pattern of three with Hanno or any heroes for that matter. The only reason he would want one would be to extend his life, but he doesn’t put much value on his life. Besides it is much harder to game the system when the rules are so concrete.

          Like

    2. stevenneiman

      I don’t think that was a pattern of three, though it was similar. When Hanno pronounces judgement, he gets something similar to the last part of a pattern of three, where he is fated to win. When black tried to win the fight Fate and the Heavens threw a hissy fit about him interrupting, which was why there was the backlash that nearly killed him anyways. This time, he’s just allowing Hanno to safely dissipate the free victory in a harmless manner. Cat’s trick was slightly different, playing two patterns of three against each other. The first one let William kill her but she had to be allowed to come back for the second, and the Akua was dumb enough to make her contingencies clash and give away that second pattern before she could cash it in.
      Also, having inviolate schticks is stupid, and neither Black nor Cat tolerate stupid, unless they can use it to get someone else killed.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Shoddi

          As the Chief Vice Sub-Assistant Understudy Intern mage in the Praesi Department of Research, Development & Reanimation, I may have a solution for you.

          We have developed a process by which we painstakingly engrave elegantly coded runes onto a thin card of silver. The runes produce a Ligurian sorcery-inspired envelope of the concept of folded time. Via a process of (mostly) non-destructive memory extraction and transfer, a brief 5-7 second moving image can be inserted into the time envelope and infinitely looped. When the user activates the card, the small 2-dimensional replay of the image will begin.

          The current designation for this creation is the Gravure-Imbued-Filigree. GIF, for short.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Yotz

            Bah! Gravure Imbued Filigree is a yesterdays news! If you want to use something closer to the cutting edge of modern arcanotechnics – use Animated Paratemporal Necromnemonic Gravures.

            Liked by 1 person

    3. Dainpdf

      This felt more like his schtick than Cat’s. Catherine has a tendency to juggle multiple narratives and pull the rug from under people, while Black goes more with a judo style where he lets people get exactly what they want, but in a way that kills them. He refuses to engage the narrative, as Cat said a few chapters ago.

      Liked by 8 people

    4. I think he’s intentionally hamming it up, while also being as over the top faux dramatic as possible, as a tactic to get Hanno to burn through his allotted heroic drama.

      You can only pack so much heroic drama into a story before it gets stale and another narrative needs to take over after all.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. stevenneiman

        Hanno is a serious hero who stars in a serious story as the victorious protagonist. Take away the seriousness and the victory will follow, at least when it actually counts. It’s just like what Cat did to the Saint of Swords. Laurence the mighty champion of Good is unstoppable on the field, but the Archer can take on Laurence the second-rate bully with semi-accurate delusions of grandeur.

        Like

      2. Raved Thrad

        I just pictured this entire story as a campaign, with the GM telling Hanno’s player, “Well, you just lost several Plot Points there. If you’re not careful, you’ll run out of Plot Points and a mere goblin is going to kill you.”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Meanwhile, Amadeus can freely indulge his sardonically dramatic streak: 1) the official skull ring means bowing in drama-comedy’ s direction at every chance is expected, 2) he genuinely doesn’t view Hanno as his One True Enemy™ and moral antithesis (that’s WB — and, he has evidence of this), 3) he’s refusing to frame this confrontation as a grand clash between Good and Evil — it’s a spat; an intense session at the gym, really.

        Like

  8. Fascinating. I want to learn more about Assasin with each passing moment.

    As I understand though, Warlock would not survive this battle. I do wonder about Black. I doubt that he would die, given that Cat essentially gave him a second chance, which is noted by Warlock. This chance is not so easilly thrown away. Heavens might be stacking the deck in their favor, but their whole shtick is playing by the rules. They cannot not play by them, and so Heroes can’t too, and there lays their greatest weakness. By rules of narrative causality, Black has to live, otherwise there was no meaning in Cat’s sparing him. Wekesa played his role, what he has to do now is go up in flames. And so now he stands, all alone against two Heavens finest. His fate is pretty much sealed.

    Black though? He has to at least kill the Champion. I don’t know how the fuck Heroes missed out on the fact that revenge will be at least attempted,and attempted in full.Champion is bound to get what’s coming for her, what with her wearing Captain on her shoulders only solidifiyng further her fate. And other Heroes are even more vulnerable. It’s been memtioned that their Fate is not one of Crusades, that their being there already puts them at risk. Plus the fact that Heroes are the more vulnerable the more they are plentiful, and this is not a good story for them.

    Also, I found it funny that Black story now is one of some kind of redemption. He is (alledgedly) a father who betrayed his daughter, and now stands protecting her and his country against invading hordes. Wekesa, much the same, protect his family too. And I lost my thought.

    I do wonder, exactly how Assasin masquarades as Black, why Heavens can’t catch up on that, and why they didn’t use this earlier.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Forrest

          No, I do believe that was Assassin. The difference is that back then, Assassin looked like black even out of his armor, whereas here the fake was just covered in armor.

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          1. Raved Thrad

            JFC what are you on? Either you’re on some seriously fucked-up drugs (in which case, keep them away from me) or you have absolutely zero ability at reading comprehension.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Morgenstern

            It was just explained AGAIN on this very comment page just a few comments above, how “Ubua” is an IN-STORY joke mis-use via fault by Masego that Captain onyl strengthened instead of weeding it out…

            … while a thing like “Chat” is NOT in-story at all. What the heck are you raving about “Ubua”; while you yourself were calling for “Chat”? Was the “Chat” thing meant as irony? oO

            Like

            1. Morgenstern

              And yes, I know the “Chat” thing is meant for Cheshire Cat, I’ve followed the comments. It’s an out-of-story nickname by posters. While “Ubua” is IN-story and thus has much greater credit to be used… so why are people still railing on about “Ubua”, while accepting “Chat”? It just doesn’t make sense…

              Like

    1. stevenneiman

      I agree with Gunslinger on the fact that I don’t think this was Assassin, albeit for slightly different reasons. Black essentially said that the trick worked because a majority of him was there, and my guess is that because he is a mastermind having his mind there was enough. He was controlling the double through some kind of presumably magical link, and it was his scheme that put it there. In a sense Hanno was fighting against Amadeus, but in a way that Amadeus could let him blow his free win on to no real gain.
      Also, I have an unlikely but awesome thought about how he might avenge Sabah. Praesi have a history of commanding the dead, Sabah had an Aspect related to taking orders, and I doubt the Champion is expecting an attack from her own trophy cloak.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. soonnanandnaanssoon

        That actually makes some Narrative sense as well. If he does this, he stacks “Avenging a fallen comrade”, “Heroes artifact/weapon fails/turns against them”, “Coming back from the dead for One Last Stand” and “Villain commander uses Undead Weapon” against the Champion.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. It also makes sense from a world mechanics perspective. When Ranger invaded the Dead King’s domain, the three undead heros that she faced retained theirabilities and memories. The same is probably true of Evil named, but there are fewer of them around because Evil tends to burn their dead.

          Like

    2. Metrux

      Well, for one, Warlock is as much experienced as Black, has more power and is, arguably, harder to defeat, one of the reasons he is sent as their secret (not so secret) weapon. So no, he shouldn’t even be in danger from those two upstarts. If it was Grey Pilgrim and the Saint, or one of the two wth the Witch that should be his counter? Then yeah, lot’s of chances for death raining today. The way it is it’s more like they robbed the heroes of their victory here to get it elsewhere.

      Also, that is absolutely not Assassin. 1. He said the bigger part of him was there, while Assassin just fakes it, as noted in how Cat could see something strange in him; 2. He was in a Story about the duel of them, he couldn’t let someone else do it; 3. When they last employed assassin, Black did his own things while assassin posed as him, but here he was clearly in some kind of coma to control this other double; 4. He himself says this came from a previous emperor… And I very much doubt other emperor would have done the same thing with his own Assassin, even if he did have the same capabilities.

      All in all, I think you’re not meta enough :V Go play some munchkin -qqq

      Like

  9. Raved Thrad

    I really can’t wait for White Idiot to get his comeuppance. I admire how he’s trying to manipulate the story, just like Black, but he’s so damn _lazy_ that he doesn’t deserve to win. After the setup, which includes his past life research, all he really does is go with the flow and expect things to work out for him. Well, that and scream “cheater!” when things don’t go his way. As someone once said, if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.

    It’s a shame White Idiot can’t appreciate how Black just shafted him:
    “I’m going to use the rules to punish you.”
    “Okay.”
    “Wait, what are you doing?”
    “Not following the rules.”
    “But you’re supposed to follow the rules so I can punish you.”
    “Tough. Anyway, your friends are all going to die now. Later!”
    “Raaaaaaaaaaargh!”

    On another note, this story is really making me hate the “good” (or is that Good?) guys the way Skyrim made me hate (high) elves. Bravo. You know the writing is good when your emotions get involved.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. stevenneiman

      Good does have to be capitalized if you’re referring to the cosmic faction. I’m not sure if the lower-case version can be used for something like saying that eating vegetables is good for you. And yeah, a lot of the heroes are very unsympathetic. I do have to admit that I quite like some of them, like Champion. I know she killed off another sympathic character, but she’s just so funny, and I like the way she doesn’t act self-righteous (like how she told the Tyrant she wanted to try and impress lovers with his skull rather than droning on about how much of a bad person he was).
      Hanno is probably the one I hate most, given that he basically gives the “just following orders” defense for murder except that he placidly continues following those orders after doing so. I don’t think he’s exactly lazy, so much is fanatically inflexible in his thinking. He’d have to be, since it’s the only way not to go an ineffectual kind of insane from the guilt of his actions or the fact that the beings he works for are basically eldritch horrors with no more regard for human well-being that Cthulhu.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. stevenneiman

          True as that might be, I don’t think it gives him much excuse given that he chose to be mind-raped rather than have to make his own choices. He’s not like William, he actively sought out and seemed to be hoping for exactly what he got.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            He was looking for an ideal of justice after looking earthly justice in the eye and finding it wanting.
            He had faith in the system; when his naivete was shattered, instead of embracing that he sought to recapture the ideal. Well, he did find it in the hands of the angels… or at least that’s what they told him.
            He wasn’t searching for the angels. He was searching for an ideal, and he grabbed the first one he got.

            Like

            1. Agent J

              That’s… depressingly pathetic. When his blind faith in the system was proven stupid and his naïvete shattered he… pieced it right back together and threw that same blind faith at the first substitute he could find? Hanno sucks…

              Liked by 1 person

              1. No, after being failed by mortal justice, he decided to only trust divine justice instead. He doesn’t trust the system or anyone else, because they’re fallible humans. Even Hanno himself is a fallible human, so he doesn’t trust himself either.

                (Yeah, he’s got better morals than the Ashuran committees, but that’s not a high bar to clear.)

                But the Seraphim aren’t human. When they claim to have divine knowledge of good and evil, beyond what any human can possibly know, they might *actually be right.*

                The belief that all humans are irretrievably sinful, or that true Goodness is so far above us that we could barely recognize it as human, isn’t that strange or even that obviously wrong. John Calvin thought up something similar 500 years ago, and he didn’t have an angel speaking directly to him to help things along.

                Like

                1. Problem is: in this setting, humans were specifically designed to not meet Seraphim approved standards as part of the wager/war/question. That’s… judging the program for the network designer’s decisions using upper management’s blue sky ideas of how the system should work, not the network as it works on the ground, with all its tweaks, both logged and misplaced.

                  In short: seriously, angels — quit throwing a fit every time the modem goes wobbly and the game lags. You installed both the modem and an always online MMO.

                  Like

      1. Raved Thrad

        I’m hoping Black or Cat, depending on who puts him down, sends him off with the words “you’ve been judged and found wanting.” These “heroes” deserve a big dose of irony, preferably served with a side order of death.

        As for the gods being eldritch horrors with no regard for human well-being, that’s to be expected of _gods_. It’s when “Good” humans lack all empathy that they themselves have no regard for the well-being and suffering of other humans, because “deus lo vult,” that they become monsters. There’s nothing wrong with eldritch horrors acting like monsters, whether they be Above or Below — it’s in their nature. It’s how Good subverts the nature of their followers that the true horror lies.

        Each time a hero, and other people on the side of “Good,” have had leisure to reflect on the human cost of the war, it’s always been “How dare they perform such acts of villainy! So many men dead, from horrors we’ve not seen before! All we want to do is kill them, and in turn they unleash terrors unimaginable on us and these poor men following a righteous cause!” Each time I read something like that, it serves to underscore that these people truly _are_ monstrous. They may, indeed, be fighting monsters, but they themselves are no less monstrous, and the fact that they cannot see that is equally monstrous.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Jonnnney

          “Judged and found wanting” would be a good epithet, but I’m hoping for “Justice only matters to the Just” and stabby stabby infront of the seraphim. Spitting directly into the eye of an angelic choir is more Cats style anyways.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. stevenneiman

          I agree with what you’re saying about the Gods being arguably blameless for their nature.The real difference between Good and Evil is, I don’t recall anyone being mentioned who actually regards themselves as servants of the Gods Below. They might be business associates of the Gods Below, or people who take inspiration from the Gods Below, or even minions of the affiliates of the Gods Below, but no servants. Whereas at least 30% of heroes, and quite possibly a lot more, do regard themselves as servants of the Gods Above, and even more than that take self-righteous pride in that fact.
          But my original point wasn’t that the Gods Above are reprehensible. Moral judgements are pointless against anyone who is so far beyond the potential for punishment. It was that Hanno had to sacrifice his capacity for critical thinking in order to allow the Heavens to subsume his will so thoroughly when they have such different goals than he does.

          Like

          1. Raved Thrad

            It’s not just a lack of critical thinking, IMO, but a critical lack of empathy: not only can he _not_ put himself in the other guy’s shoes, but he (and just about all the other heroes we’ve seen so far) seem to have no concept of collateral damage, as inflicted by them, when it comes to furthering their goals. Three thousand dead soldiers? That’s just a stepping stone to killing the Black Queen. The only time they stop to count the casualties is when it’s inflicted on them. “ZOMG seven thousand dead! How dare she kill so many! It’s like she doesn’t want us to kill her!”

            The gods can’t feel empathy for mortals because they themselves are not mortal. It can be argued that they cannot understand the trials and travails of mortals because they will never face similar problems. That Hanno himself has suffered through some of the worst things that can happen to a human and _still_ dismiss the suffering he and his fellows cause is what makes him a monster.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. It’s not just a lack of critical thinking, IMO, but a critical lack of empathy: not only can he _not_ put himself in the other guy’s shoes, but he (and just about all the other heroes we’ve seen so far) seem to have no concept of collateral damage, as inflicted by them, when it comes to furthering their goals. Three thousand dead soldiers? That’s just a stepping stone to killing the Black Queen. The only time they stop to count the casualties is when it’s inflicted on them. “ZOMG seven thousand dead! How dare she kill so many! It’s like she doesn’t want us to kill her!”

              Literally all of this moralistic whining can easily be levied at “Practical” evil, Cat included.

              Like

              1. It comes to the exact cognitive dissonance we’ve been talking about. With Cat, we expect here to have flaws. We see her as a Villain, but more importantly, as humans. While pur perspective on heroes is tainted by all these modern media, comicbooks included, that we really can stomach them having flaws. I mean come on, they are heroes, why the hell they are not all perfect immortal Supermans with impeccable ethics?

                Like

    2. Dainpdf

      It’s easy to hate Good until you realize that most of the time they’re fighting against people like Akua and Wekesa. You know, the ones who respectively deployed and invented Still Waters. And if you find no concern for human life and/or rights a problem, boy do I have some bad news about Amadeus for you…

      Liked by 7 people

      1. RanVor

        On the flip side, it’s hard to like the good guys when they’re D&D-style murderhobos who just slaughter everything that gets in their way and only get away with it because they happen to be pointed in the right direction.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Uh… They’re not.
          A muederhobo just kills any NPC without asking who or what because they want loot and XP. That’s not what the heroes do.
          If you must find a comparison, they’re like DnD paladins who err on the side of “exterminate evil”.

          Like

              1. He’s not a murderhobo. He is however a religious nutcase so extreme that he believes all humans shouldn’t be allowed choice or reason. He believes that the Gods are so above humanity that all human opinions and ideas are damned and pointless.
                Essentially he wishes for slavery so deep that its basically a rejection of sentience itself.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  I think you mean sapience. But yeah, Hanno is a nutcase. He’s just the nutcase that doesn’t let an entire city of noncombatants be turned into zombies so he might have a superweapon afterwards. One which summons demons. The things that damage reality itself. And, again, he’s angel addled.

                  Like

                  1. Metrux

                    I do think most heroes ARE murderhobos, since the classic murderhobo don’t kill everyone, only the ones he can get away with. A good murderhobo will never kill the weapons shopkeeper, unless he can grab everything in the shop afterwards and not be hunted for it. In the same vein, most Heroes do like to go from a fight and a party to another, killing Villains and common people alike for their own reasons. Sometimes those people are not even on the side of Evil.

                    Hanno is not a murderhobo, though, I have to agree. Sure, he makes no actual choices and leaves it all for the angels to decide, but he also doesn’t judge every single person that comes in front, neither does he grab stuff from the dead.

                    Champion, though? Saint? Hells, even Bard could be considered a murderhobo, if a meta one instead of robbing valuables…

                    Like

                    1. Dainpdf

                      Common people? When have we seen Champion kill those? The only one we’ve ever seen put commoners at risk was William, and even in that case it was not guaranteed they would die.
                      And we’ve never. Never. Never seen a hero kill people for loot. Saint is violent, trigger happy even, but you will notice that for all that she actually protected people from the Watergate. As for the Bard, I’d call her Magnificent Bastard, really.

                      Like

                    2. Hanno has straight up murdered people, he reminisced about it last chapter. He settled a dispute between Crusaders by murdering one of them and presumably damning his soul to the Hells. He gets away with it though because being an instrument of Judgment makes him immune to consequences in countries that worship the Gods Above.
                      Also it’s been said that Angels of Judgment are more dangerous and damaging than Contrition. If he starts losing and an Angel tells him to wipe out a city, he wouldn’t hesitate for a second.

                      Like

      2. stevenneiman

        The thing about Good is that it doesn’t fight Evil because it does harm, it fights Evil because it’s Evil. In one of her interludes, Cordelia Hasenbach noted that Malicia was improving the standard of living in Callow, but she noted that only as an advantage to her enemy, and not even one she could appropriate for her own use. The other thing is that Evil, in the rare but vivid cases where it does lash out, it does so out of frustration and desperate futility, created by the fear that inciting disasters of the most spectacular sort is the only thing they can do that the forces of Good won’t undo, without regard for whether they helped or harmed actual people.
        A good way to think about it in my opinion is to imagine a world where 1% of black people become serial killers. A sensible person would try to figure out why in order to prevent them from becoming serial killers, and if that failed find better ways to identify those serial killers, but the approach of Good is to exterminate all black people. The one place this metaphor breaks down is that it’s completely hopeless to try and exterminate Evil because there’s an artificially imposed balance because all of the stories require the existence of both factions.

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        1. Dainpdf

          If you pay attention to what the Pilgrim said, you’ll notice that Evil rulers are apparently a hazard upon the morality of the people. Just by ruling the country tends towards becoming like Praes or Helike.
          And while living conditions may be improving, do recall how much they worsened first. Think of Mazus and co.
          Also, gotta remember that the people of Liesse aren’t exactly enjoying improved HDI right now. You could say Malicia greenlit the project due to being afraid of invasion, but Procer has been under pressure from the Chain of Hunger and the Kingdom of the Dead for ages and they haven’t resorted to massacres of civilians or demons.

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          1. Metrux

            You’re only seeing it from Praes point of view. There is, actually, much more comendable places ruled by Evil, since in all this continent Praes is known as the land of horrors and destructive super magics. Take Hellike, for instance. One of the strongest in the league fo free cities, more foten than not ruled by Villains, with a nice quality of life.

            Also, it’s been noted before that this is the “small” continent, as in, only small powers dwell here, both for Good and for Evil, so there are many greater powers.

            About Procer not resorting to massacres and demons? Well, they did resort to massacres. And conquering wars. And wars amongst themselves. Even mind rape by angels. The only reason they didn’t employ demons is because they can’t, unless you want to suddenly find your friends, family and everyone nearby trying to kill you… So Procer is as bad as Praes, no matter what is said. The thing is, as I noted before, there are bigger and better powers for both sides, none of those two can be considered the common, they are the lower echellons. For exemple, we know the elves of this continent are only here because they are racist assholes and the rest of the trully Good elves banished them. Do you think a culture of semi-imortals who do something like that will get in petty wars like Procer? Of course not.

            Thus, I disagree with the Pilgrim, Evil rulers can be good for their nations, as much as Good rulers can be bad. Because, as ever, Good is not good and Evil is not evil.

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            1. Dainpdf

              Wait, what? Name one such massacre. Anything we can put on the scale against Liesse.
              Procer is imperialistic and expansionist, and that’s bad. Their nobility is corrupt and decadent. But they are not the High Lords.
              You say they don’t summon demons only because of the repercussions from neighbors. I want a citation on that. Cat won’t deal in demons either, and that’s part of the reason she can swing heroic roles every now and then. Also, attacking people who use demons is part of it. It’s the right thing to do. It’s exactly what they don’t do in Praes. Or Helike, FYI.
              If you want proof, note how Pilgrim basically offered to clear out that demon Cat pointed out in their first meeting. Because whether you see it or not, they do care. It’s just they put Good above what nations rule the land. And if some people end up sacrificed in the process, that’s unfortunate, and they’ll try to avoid it, but at the end of the day it’s worth it.

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              1. “Name one such massacre. Anything we can put on the scale against Liesse.”
                That time an angry Proceran hero Contritioned a city because they weren’t fanatical enough? What do you thinks happens to the old, sick and young when the rest of the city becomes living attack zombies?
                Humbling of the Titans. No way they fought the Gigantes up front and won. Even centuries later, they still kill any Procerans they see, even diplomats.

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                1. Dainpdf

                  The Gigantes are said to hold grudges; plus, they apparently kill almost anything that comes over their borders.
                  And yeah, you can keep bringing up that one example with William back up, but while that is still pretty bad it’s not a demon based hell weapon, and it was not (as far as we know) secretly stimulated by Cordelia.
                  Also, he was Proceran? I didn’t remember that.

                  Like

                2. Not William’s failed attempt. During an Interlude chapter William reminisces about other Angels of Contrition that have been called down. Including once when Procer was going to sell their peasants to the Dead King to prevent him from invading. A Hero was not cool with that so she mind controlled one of their cities and sent them against him as a suicide army that never even reached Keter.

                  Like

    3. Jason Ipswitch

      What leaves me wondering with Hanno is what his ultimate role in the story will be. I mean, he’s a net character (for an inflexible Good Hero), but where is he going narratively? It worries me, because it ultimately makes sense for him to challenge Cat, but for that to happen, he really needs to beat Black first. And I don’t want to see Black lose to such a hidebound moron.

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      1. nimelennar

        The existence of the Coin of Judgment McGuffin implies that at some point, it’s going to return an unexpected result.

        So Hanno exists to either grant legitimacy to Cat’s redemption story, or to realize, Wanted-style, that the heroes “deserve” death just as much as their targets and switch sides.

        Like

    4. Hanno spent an entire day living the lives of twenty one heroes who fought Black … and that wasn’t enough to prompt him to question the “force Black to obey the narrative” step of the plan.

      Well I was worried about Hanno as a threat before now I’m sure not. The man’s an idiot. Who the fuck goes twenty one (+1) rounds with Black and comes out of it thinking “alrighty then, what I need to beat Black is the right set of combat skills, which I will apply to his face as he meets me in single combat before our respective armies”.

      Good gods. I know Akua was derisive of the intellects of Heaven’s swords, but this is a new low. Hanno thinks they’re playing checkers but really they’re playing “the pieces are coated with contact poison and also there’s a car bomb under your seat”, and he doesn’t realize this after watching *twenty one* fucking people sit down at the checkers board only to turn people and explode.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Darkening

        To be fair, Black did already go toe to toe with him twice before. With tricks and ambushes and fire support, yes, but he actually showed up and gave him a fight.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. stevenneiman

    I really do wonder what exactly he did to pull that off. It would be child’s play to make something that looks like Black, talks like Black, and to a certain degree even fights like Black so long as he controls it, but I have no idea what he was doing to make it so that providence thought of him as basically being there when he clearly wasn’t there enough to be inconvenienced much by dying there.
    I also wonder whether there was any particular reason for the exploding horse, or if that was just for a cheap laugh. I suppose it might be that the more up close and personal the kill, the more it would use up the judgement rendered upon him. That would also explain the monologue, making Hanno’s “victory” as classic and perfect as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        Increasing the relevance of the battle. Cat mentioned a couple of chapters back (I think just before Watergate) that monologuing increases narrative weight and thus the importance of every blow.

        Like

    1. Black had pretty much worked White’s whole “be dead Heroes” shtick out before the fight. Which means blowing the horse up forced Hanno to switch “faces” right off the bat, thus losing access to a big (and ultra-dangerous) one and forcing him to adapt (which he isn’t that good at).

      Amadeus’d also use it to work out if Hanno can repeat the ghosts he goes for. Or not.

      Also — pranking is a way of life, not just for April Fool’s! xD

      Like

    2. Morgenstern

      Remember that bit about the eyes already being dead when the killing stroke actually hit? Black was NOT there during the actual kill. He was just there to get Hanno invested so much he couldn’t draw back anymore

      Like

    3. “Actually a Doombot” is a fairly common Villain trope, so presumably the narrative allows it even though it makes “providence” look kind of dumb. The hero has to fall for it, for the same reason that you can never thwart a villain at Step 1 of their plan.

      Like

  11. nick012000

    Calling it now: the Black Knight beats Hanno by calling him out while he’s deep inside the life of a Callowan Hero, and getting them to realize they’re fighting on the wrong side, and *attacking* the Red Flower Vales.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. Jason Ipswitch

        Ah, but that was with a very obvious Praesi Black Knight sitting right in front of him.

        Put him between, say, the Order of the Broken Bells and an obvious invading Proceran force and he may make a different choice.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Byzantine

      It does seem to be setup for that, now that you mention it. The deeper he goes into a past Hero the more he loses himself – and he is clearly losing himself utterly to fight Black.

      Like

    2. ______

      Or, alternatively, if he gets to fight Cat and tries the same way to rifle through the souls of the heroes she killed, the only one significant enough would be the Lone Swordsman. William is a truth-teller and generally opposed to any kind of Proceran occupation, so if she catches on, she may well turn him unto the other heroes (especially if Akua does succeed in redeeming herself and gets out to join the ultimate band of heroes in Witch’s stead).

      Like

  12. The White Knight spent almost the entirety of this conflict sat in his tent going through heroic lives with the explicit intent of learning about the Black Knight and coming up with an effective way of dealing with him. The end result is a stock-standard heroic challenge to a duel and expecting a conventional response from the Black Knight.

    Our boy White is an imbecile. Truly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He thought the Black Knight as in previous struggles would want a duel.

      He thought he had a rule of three battle sequence
      1.Black retreated at their first confrontation
      2. Won their second confrontation
      3. The white Knight felt this was his time to shine….

      What he does not know is that Black was setting up Cathrine for a revenge storyline and he planned on dying. As Warlock stated Chat gave Black a second chance in life thus a new story has surfaced. One in which Black is back to his happier days. She gave the rusted gears in his head some grease. Thus Black has no need to face Hanno again in face to face combat.

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      1. Jonnnney

        Remember step two of a pattern of three is a draw. And step three guarantees victory to the one who lost the first step.

        Hanno is under no delusions about a pattern of three, his fault was in his goal. He was focused on defeating the Black Knight when he should have been trying to kill the Black Knight.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. werafdsaew

      To be fair, Black did try hard to kill the White Knight in his previous two engagements. The White Knight does not know the reason, and so does not know that the reason no longer applies.

      Like

  13. Silverking

    So that’s the weakness of Hanno’s power: strength and experience but no context of current events. They cannot keep up with the times, and they will fall for newer tricks. It’s almost funny how accepting the other Names are of their situation. “Where am I? Wait, evil to kill, never mind.” To paraphrase Akua, the singlemindedness of heroes is a feature, not a bug.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. stevenneiman

      I hadn’t thought of that, but it would actually make a disturbing amount of sense if heroes could just be counted on the try and kill a villain whenever Hanno dredged them up, even if they have no clue what’s going on. I wonder if his power screens for ones who would take fives seconds off to think first and finds him someone else, or if heroes are really that predictable.

      Like

  14. Dainpdf

    I love this. It was so weird reading the fight. I kept thinking something was off, but never guessed the actual reason. Masterful!
    Also, can we have a spin-off with the Calamities once this is done? They’re too great not to. Love me some Maddy.
    Honestly tho, Cat still lacks the experience Black has. Compare what Black did last chapter to Cat’s Watergate, for example, or how he completely subverted Hanno’s narrative with great elegance while she at best gave the Pilgrim pause. Granted, the Pilgrim is probably a better hand at it than Hanno. Then again, the White Knight had so much narrative momentum behind him I’m surprised he didn’t snap his neck falling off his high horse like he did.
    Finally; dammit, Black! You’re supposed to use a goat, not a horse!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Darkening

      I mean, making a lot of assumptions there that the calamaties will survive the story in any meaningful fashion. The previous generation counterparts to the main cast typically don’t make it out of stories very well.

      Liked by 2 people

            1. Morgenstern

              Maybe something about it never being as good dragged out into a full story compared to the short glimpses giving us all kinds of ideas, somehow akin to jokes? Hmm…

              Like

    1. Jonnnney

      More of a deflection than a parry. Hanno used divine providence to gain a victory when he should have been using it to get a kill. He didn’t even do his coin shtick. He really is lost without Bard to guide him

      Like

      1. Forrest

        I know you meant Necromantic, but I am now passively considering who Nex would be, and why their constructs are so romantic. I personally think it’s quite the fun mental image, of some Necromancer named Nex dressing up some zombies in a swamp for some quiet tea.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Shoddi

          Thank you, Forrest, for that mental image. Now you’ve got actively considering… things.

          1. In her Name dreams, Catherine has a swamp in her mind/soul.
          2. This swamp is filled with zombies.
          3. Cat’s “evil” side, whom she named “Lady Backstab”, also lives in the swamp and has control over the zombies.

          Therefore, Lady Backstab is “Nex”, and she will have the zombies dress up and serve tea. Also, she will invite Condescension Queen over, to apologize for that one time she knocked Queenie out and buried her alive.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Novice

    “Tremble, White Knight, for my power is truly boundless within reasonable limits.” Fucking hilarious. Though this is something I’ve come to expect from Cats mouth not Black’s.

    Liked by 6 people

  16. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
    The Calamities are terrifying monsters, but damn it is so much fun to listen to them compared to these boring inspid and heroes!

    The White Knight is truly the hatchet’s man of the Heavens. For a man who was giving plenty of knowledge about Black’s methods, he was really too quick to forget about the dagger in the dark. The Black Knight will never fight fair. The Calamities have not survived for so long without developing a frightening amount of contingencies. But the worst part is ignoring the strategic picture. Hanno sent the other heroes to the other pass without an afterthought. The army of Procer was once more divided in two thanks to him and the Witch of the Woods.

    The irony is painful it almostt hurt. If the heroes had chosen to attack on a single pass and let the goblinfire block the other path, they would have been five heroes against two villains. The other legions would have been there, but the numerical superiority would have been theirs.

    Instead the most dangerous heroes are on the wrong battlefield, with only Wekesa and a Legion to make a fighting retreat. On the other side, the heroes are going to face the Black Knight and two more Legions than they expected. This is going to be a slaughter…the Carrion Lord is going to add to his killing list several heroes I think.

    Sorry Hanno. The Black Knight is in another valley.

    Your greatest mistake was to underestimate the power of explosive horses.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. When it comes to narrative in general and Named in particular, a numerical advantage makes defeat likelier. This very chapter mentions this explicitly: most of the Named involved would just end up with mere side-plots for the duration of a mass engagement, and that makes them much more vulnerable.

      Also, it seems to me that Hanno wasn’t able to use his understanding of Black’s ways because he drew too deep and forgot who Black even was, being more concerned with the battles his borrowed skills’ true owners expected to find themselves in. He was not Hanno at the time, and those bygone heroes weren’t in on his plans beyond remembering whom to switch to.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What happened to the Hanno who along with his band of heroes fell form a tower. He had such faith that they would survive because it was so likely they would not.I had suc hope for him he seemed like a good hero who was willing to get dirty.

        He had the champion ahero who clearly enjoyed killing for sport collecting blood trophies. The ashen priest who healed you although it hurt like a bitch.

        It seems his defeat and encountering of the black knight has caused him tunnel vision. If he was smart he would have traded places with the grey pilgrim and saint of swords. That would have pitted him against Chat his arch nemesis. Then it would have pitted Black against two old heroes making it people who understand how to weave stories. By pursuing the “Black Knight” he is missing the true enemy the abomination that is Foundling.

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          1. Metrux

            I don’t even see how this could be possible. Are you simply assuming that because things are going nicely they need to fall down? This is Cat’s thing, Black has been full on victories for most of his life.

            Like

      2. stevenneiman

        No, I don’t think he ever could have beaten Black.The insane ideology he has adopted pretty much requires him to swear off critical thinking in order to work, and Black can choose not to be an opponent so much as the ultimate test of critical thinking. Dumping the fight on people who didn’t even know who they were up against certainly didn’t help, of course.

        Like

  17. ericwinter

    You know, I quite like this chapter for the sole reason that it comes closest to something I noticed from the very first. Black talks about the lack of agency; how Heroes are bound to always follow orders and obey the Gods Above, while Villains go off and do their own shit with only minimal interference from Below. Now remember the very, very beginning of the story, when we were told how Creation came to be. “The Gods disagreed on the nature of things: some believed their children should be guided to greater things, while others believed that they must rule over the creatures they had made.

    So, we are told, were born Good and Evil.” What, I wonder, is wrong with this picture?

    Like

    1. Jonnnney

      Remember what was quoted at the very beginning was the book of all things. A book written by mortal men to spread faith in the gods above. Very little of that book is what one would call “truth”

      Like

      1. Yotz

        More poetic way would be to make that skin her own. It even falls into Heroic narratives under the Tortured Hero archetype, “One who hunts Monsters” clause.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. stevenneiman

      I think you mean black is a necromancer. Also, we know from those guys Hye killed in Keter that undead Named can retain their Aspects, and I one of Sabah’s relates to taking orders.

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Actually it was noted as really impressive and the first time she saw a Named undead retain Aspects, though we know dead ones do. Though simply relying on the ordering could give a boost, even though it wouldn’t come as a permanent aspect in this new unlife.

        Like

  18. burdi

    the map for upcoming war between Cat and Malicia
    1. All The Woe side with cat
    2. Black side with Cat
    3. Scribe side with Black
    4. Matron side with Cat (maybe)
    5. Most Praes army officer side with Black
    6. Ranger side with Black (if she join in)
    6. Wekesa side with Malicia

    Malicia position seems very weak, i wonder how the war will unfold
    Maybe she even join Catherine since she has story to join The Grand Alliance, instead against her and face destruction

    Like

    1. RanVor

      I doubt Wekesa would choose Malicia over his own son. He might be an awful person otherwise, but he loves the boy dearly. I don’t think he would bear fighting against him.

      That would leave Malicia with only the high lords to ally with. Sure, they hate her, but they hate Black even more. They’d probably provide their support in exchange for revoking the reforms, and she’d have no choice but to agree. That would ultimately make her just another Tyrant madly grasping at power, sealing her defeat with the power of the narrative.

      Like

      1. Yotz

        Of course Wekesa would never turn upon his son. Though, he might try to “save” him from that goody-two-shoes no-bad good-doer Catherine Foundling, and consequently send him to his pocket dimension without supper.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. She way be able to invite the dead king to the party. It’s not 100% certain since we where only shown a scene with him receiving a call right after Malicia said she would have to take drastic measures, but since we know the Tower has a hotlink to him it’s the logical conclusion.
      But again it would not be the first red herring of the story.

      Like

  19. Weroxx

    I would just like to leave my future pleasure when Hanno faces Cat and discovers that the heavens can indeed be cheated. She did it twice already.

    Like

  20. Yotz

    >With the dark and wicked spell of wick and cheap matches.

    That’s a thing of a kind lying far beyond the boundaries of the slipperiest of slopes of the foulest villainy! Troubling is that Black stooped to such a degree, for if he continue to tread this despicable road, next time he may even use the forbidden art of Black Metallurgy!

    Like

    1. Yotz

      PS: on more serious note, it suddenly dawned on me that using Black Metallurgy may be a really, really, really bad idea. Praes already got their first two Red Letters.

      Like

  21. James Adam Lenox

    Did they ever get Captain’s body back? Because if they haven’t I think the wolf skin is a red herring to distract us from the fact that there just so happens to be a wolf about the size Captain was when she disappeared from the story.

    Like

    1. CaptainSemantics

      I doubt that the wolf is actually Sabah, but the parallel could definitely have narrative significance somewhere along the line

      Like

    2. oldschoolvillain

      They held a funeral for her in After – I think that the cloak that the Champion took was an actual cloak, rather than Sabah’s skin.

      Like

        1. James Adam Lenox

          “She was not wearing, for once, the wolf fur cloak she’d claimed from someone that was no wolf at all.”

          There is alot of wiggle room in this sentence actually. Saying its a cloak claimed rather than made from someone, also calling it a wolf fur cloak but then say that she was no wolf at all. Then again, Good is know for sanitizing and poetic language.

          Like

          1. Really, *really* good. It’s not remotely ambiguous to me. Sabah only has a wolf fur of any kind as the Beast. And you can totally say that you “claimed” a beast’s hide, and have it be accurate word use.

            Like, Champion has been established as a blood happy murder lady. She would *totally* skin a werewolf in its wolf form. Because its a monster instead of a person in her head.

            Like

  22. Aston W

    I’m still waiting for the Gnomes in their space ships to appear and drop atomic bombs on the whole continent when the balance is broken.

    Literally, the only reason for stunting technological development is to develop your own.

    Reminds me of a certain Webcomic.

    That they only appear when a letter is given remains the silent high point of the story.

    Cat can fight and struggle. But not against neutron bombs.

    Like

  23. CaptainSemantics

    Reading this I realized that Black emulates Cat even better than Akua did back in the last series of interludes.

    Which leads me to one inevitable conclusion: when Robber gets bored of running scorpion fights he should put on a Cat impersonation contest.

    Like

  24. Jonnnney

    Hanno went for the win when he should have gone for the kill a poor use of providence. These folks are stronger than the children who faced Cat, but they are still children. Looks like the most important win in the last book was Hierarch’s banishment of Bard. Hanno is fucking up pretty badly without her guidance. He didn’t even do his coin shtick.

    Gotta say I’m surprised so many people are focusing so much on the pattern of three. It was prevalent early on in the story, but it is only one pattern and given that it requires a loss then a draw I don’t think any main hero or villain on the field is gonna aim for it.

    My biggest take from this chapter is, looking at the Gigantes, quite a few races of good are fucking OP but just too damn lazy to fight evil unless it is knocking on their doorstep. That is two Good races that live for hundreds of years and can wipe the floor with all but the most powerful villains, but they just can’t be bothered. Looking at this combined actions of the Saint of Swords it seems that the greatest weakness of those that follow the gods above is time.

    Like

      1. oldschoolvillain

        Arguably worse – he and his wife were cursed – one with endless hunger, one with endless healing. Triumphant was a special sort of monster, but one that I prefer to leave in the annals of History than have return.

        Like

    1. Metrux

      I think he can’t use the coin again on Black? I mean, you can’t pass judgement twice on the same issue.

      And yes, I do agree people are putting too much stock into the pattern of three, it is not the only pattern we have seen before!

      About the Gigantes, weren’t they almost wiped out, and that the reason why they don’t leave their place?

      Like

  25. Aston W

    Red Letter gonna be the great equaliser.

    Any technological development and boom.

    Great way to wipe out Nations. Am I the only one who remembers that?

    Bunch of flying ships wiped out a kingdom. Black said that.

    Like

    1. JJR

      Without knowing why the Gnomes do what they do trying to manipulate them would be excessively dangerous. Sure, it seems like Procer could win this war by sending some spys into the Principate to start doing physics research, “On behalf of the First Price, we swear.” But, we don’t know how the Gnomes even know about the state of research on the planet. They might see right though the ploy. And if they get pissed off by the attempt at deception, it may be Procer that gets the apocalypse. Hell, if even if the attempt goes perfectly, they might be in the habit of destroying whole continents, not just the country the research took place in to make sure none of the knowledge gets out.

      With only one incident of attacking and a handful of red letters to go on there just isn’t enough information to be able to manipulate them.

      Like

      1. Aston W

        It would be better than Good winning though.

        Let’s see if Cat becomes a hero.

        I can see Black planning it for a murder-death-kill event.

        Destroy the World instead.

        Like

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