Chapter 28: Archaic

“An offer to ‘kneel or die’ would be insincere, Matrons. Deny me and your corpses will be made to kneel anyway, as I have a chorus of your children scream a cheerful tune.”
– Dread Emperor Nihilis I, the Tanner, negotiating the end of the Fourth Goblin Rebellion

I had a mildly amusing comment about Warlock’s unexpected longevity and lack of tan on the tip of my tongue, but I smothered it without missing a beat. Masego, looking at what most likely his second father – the incubus known to me as Tikoloshe – had cast to his face I’d never seen before. He looked betrayed. I squeezed his shoulder comfortingly, even though I didn’t know the reason for his grief, and did not bother to ask whether or not he was certain of the incubus’ identity. Hierophant was not in the habit of make assertions unless he was certain of them.

“Why?” Masego murmured. “He knows I’ve been trying to piece it all together for years. Gods, what practitioner from the Wasteland hasn’t? He was there. He saw it with his own eyes.”

He hadn’t raised his voice, and in a way that worried me more. Anger I knew well, and how to soothe it. Whatever… this was, I was poorly equipped to handle it.

“He might have been trying to protect you,” I ventured.

His hand whipped out and a streak of flame tore through half a dozen soldiers, burning bright blue.

“I am not a child, Catherine,” he hissed, “I do not need to be coddled. Refusal I could forgive, but to force ignorance upon me? As if I was some meddling hedge mage about to blow his fingers off. As if I was incapable of grasping my own limits.”

I heard Hakram stepping lightly behind us, having finally caught up, but without turning I raised my hand and signalled for him to withdraw. More people would only be adding oil to an already volatile brew.

“We don’t know for sure he saw whatever ritual wrecked Keter,” I said. “He could have been dispersed before that.”

“Don’t try to appease me,” he said, turning to me with a burning glare whose radiance singed the eye cloth over it. “Papa has never been dispersed. His consciousness has been uninterrupted for millennia without a single return to the original shapelessness. His contract ended or he succeeded at slipping the leash.”

“Either of which could have happened before the ritual,” I pointed out.

“He wouldn’t have just left, even then,” Masego yelled, to my honest surprise. “He’s a deterministic being, Catherine. It would have gone against his nature to flee for a position of influence. Devils like being in Creation. It is the only place they can truly learn.”

My knowledge of theology had never been all that deep and what I did remember was a little rusty, but I was fairly sure determinism was more or less another word for predestination. Which wasn’t all that popular a teaching, in Callow, though it had some adherents in the southern parts of it. Mostly priests.

“You mean he wouldn’t have been able to choose otherwise,” I slowly said.

Normally even half an admission of ignorance would have been enough to bait him into a lecture. It was telling that he didn’t even attempt one, only frowning in irritation instead.

“You don’t understand,” he said.

I kept my face and voice calm.

“If he didn’t have a choice then,” I said carefully, “he might not have had a choice in not telling you either.”

“You don’t understand, you fool,” Masego sharply repeated. “I have desired to know the answers here for years. It is in Papa’s nature to satisfy desires, and his binding should allow him to do so for our entire family within limits. That contract is one of the single most complex pieces of sorcery in existence, Catherine, Father spent decades crafting the closest to the ability to make choices a devil can possibly have. Which means either Father forbade him to speak to me, or…”

“He doesn’t see you as family,” I quietly said.

“I’m not sure which would be worse,” the blind man weakly said. “That Father would bend his will against everything he taught me just to keep me in the dark, or that Papa never once though of me as-“

His voice broke. I winced, sliding an arm around his shoulders and tugging him close. It was awkward hugging him, since he was noticeable taller than me and just stood there like a dead fish.

“Come on,” I murmured. “There’s a lot we still don’t know, Masego. Don’t come to conclusions too early.”

Slowly, he came to rest his forehead on my shoulder. Gods, the angle must have been Hells on his neck.

“He might have been faking this entire time,” he muttered into my tunic. “Since the moment I was adopted. My first memories. Just playing the role, for Father’s pleasure.”

I’d always thought that Warlock and Tikoloshe had done a decent job of raising Masego, for Praesi anyway. He’d had a golden childhood that taught him to love learning, no real difficulties to face and if he hadn’t come out of it with the sharpest moral compass in the world, well – there was only so much you could expect from Wastelanders. It was hard for me to understand something like having your entire childhood put to the question. The orphanage had not encouraged sentimentality. But I could understand, just a little bit, having your trust put on the chopping block. He wasn’t the only one with a complicated relationship with a Calamity. Masego withdrew eventually, tiring of my hands rubbing his back soothingly. His face was dry, of course. The day that saw him gain Summer eyes had cauterized his tear ducts as well.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said through gritted teeth, smoothing his robes. “They can hide secrets from me, but they cannot prevent me from learning on my own.”

“You want to continue looking at his,” I guessed, eyes turning to the battle still unfolding around us.

Now that the ruby-crowned king was dead, it had turned into a rout for the obsidian soldiers I assumed were ancient Keterans.

“Yes,” Masego said with forced calm. “Tell Indrani the duel here is between two Named. That should hold her interest enough she does not chomp at the bit.”

I grimaced. Fair enough. I didn’t really want to spend any longer here than we had to, but if it got his head in order I’d compromise. There was a part of me, that whispering voice that never really went away, that noted this was perhaps the best occasion I would ever get to turn Hierophant against Warlock. To get him firmly on my side before the day of reckoning I knew deep in my bones was over the horizon came upon us. All I had to do was ruthlessly exploit the grief of one of my closest friends in the world. It would be for his own good, too. When the dust settled at the end of the Tenth Crusade, there was a real chance that close ties to Praes and the Calamities might get Masego killed. After Akua’s Folly there would be wariness about powerful sorcerer Named, but if he had a war record of fighting against the Empire… I clenched my fingers and snapped that voice’s neck before burying it in a shallow grave. I was not above manipulating Masego. I would own up to that. But if I did, it would only ever be to help him. Not to rip away all his ties but those that kept him at my side.

“I’ll speak to the others,” I said quietly. “Don’t do anything dangerous. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

He did not answer, light already blooming around his fingers as his face hardened and he began tracing runes. I took that for the dismissal it was.

“He’s been at it for at least twelve hours straight,” Hakram said.

The worry in his tone was subtle enough a stranger wouldn’t have caught it. It was plain as day to me. The two of us stood at the edge of our makeshift camp – raised far enough from the main engagement that at the peak of the battle the war cries wouldn’t wake us – and watched Masego’s lone silhouette. He’d not eaten since he began. Indrani had tried to bring him bread and water, but she’d run into a transparent pane of power she’d not been able to break through. Her screaming had gone unnoticed as well. He’d killed the sound from outside the boundary, was my guess.

“He hasn’t even sat down once,” I grimaced. “And he’s been using sorcery the entire time. Named or not, he should be about to collapse.”

“We’ll pick him up when he does,” the orc sighed. “Put him in Zombie and get away from here while he’s unconscious. This is unhealthy.”

“He’s always been prone to obsession,” I admitted. “We all are, but he’s further down that slope than any of us.”

“This is different, Cat,” Hakram said. “If he begins a trance when studying spellcraft, we can ease him out of it after a few hours. Even Thief knows how, and she’s known him the shortest. But putting up wards to keep us out? He’s never gone that deep before.”

“Family fucks you up,” I said. “So I’ve heard, anyway.”

“We’re what he has,” the orc told me. “His fathers let him loose after he joined us, and you’ve heard the same stories I have. They were always highly permissive, even when he was a child. If we don’t keep him at an even keel, there’s no one else.”

I passed a hand through my hair tiredly.

“You know comfort’s not my strong point,” I admitted.

“He doesn’t need a friend,” Hakram replied. “He needs someone to tell him it’s enough. A figure of authority.”

I glanced at the tall orc uncomfortably.

“That’s not really how I’ve run the Woe,” I said.

“And you were right to do so,” Adjutant said. “A heavier hand would have alienated Archer and Thief before they joined us. But Hierophant is Praesi. He was raised by the Calamities, Catherine. He understands, instinctively, that in a band of Named there is someone who gives orders. That is you.”

“It’s one thing to give orders on a battlefield, Hakram,” I said sharply. “It’s another to pull strings off of it, in private matters. I won’t pretend we’re equals in all things, but I try not to tell any of you how to live your lives unless I can’t avoid it.”

The orc’s dark eyes flicked at Masego’s lonely silhouette.

“And does he look to you,” he said calmly, “like he benefits from this restraint?”

I grit my teeth.

“You’re not tools, Hakram,” I said. “I won’t shape all of you into something more useful to me. That’s not a road I’ll wander down, ever.”

“There is a difference between intervening for our sakes and self-serving manipulation,” he gravelled. “You pretend not to know this, because asserting the authority you were given of us makes you uncomfortable. That is one of the most selfish, disparaging things I’ve ever seen you do. Do you think we swore oaths and made pacts because we were swindled? That you tricked us into putting faith in you? Are you the only one of us that can extend trust?”

“That’s not what I said,” I replied.

“Words are nothing,” the orc said. “Actions speak louder, and the decision not to act is an act of itself.”

My fingers clenched and I glared at Adjutant.

“And my judgement’s always worked out so well, has it?” I hissed. “I carry an entire funeral procession of blunders behind me, Hakram. One of the most recent got a hundred thousand people kill, and we’re heading towards a place where I might just top that.”

“We all sat there, in the room,” the orc said. “We heard the same arguments. We know the same truths, and the plan they spawned. Yet here we all are, travelling with you. Did you somehow enslave us without my noticing? All of us chose to be one of the Woe, Catherine, knowing full well what that meant. Our hands have not been forced.”

I always hated arguing with Hakram. He was so infuriatingly calm and reasonable.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll tell him to cut it out.”

Adjutant raised his hand to stop me.

“Do not bury this,” he said. “Pretend it was the argument of a single instance and move forward as before. I care nothing for your crown, Warlord. Or whose apprentice you were. I put my trust in you, as did the others. You do all disservice by acting as if it was a mistake to do so.”

My lips thinned and I met his eyes. He’d only ever called me by the old orc title when it was a matter of utter seriousness we spoke of. Which meant he’d been sitting on this for a while, waiting for the right moment to bring it up. Reluctantly, I nodded. His hand went down, and I strode for Masego’s one-mage lightshow. I felt the wards even though I couldn’t see them. My fingers trailed across their surface, transparent sorcery forming wherever my hand touched. I rapped my knuckles once, but it was like hitting a solid wall. I heard Indrani turn towards me in the distance, but did not look. Breaking the wards might hurt Masego, so I’d have to show a little moderation. I seized Winter, wove its power into a maul of ice tall as I was and grasped the handle. I squared my footing more out of habit than true need: the construct was light as a feather to me. I smashed it into the ward once, twice, thrice before Hierophant finally stopped tracing runes long enough to look at me. Dropping the maul, I gestured for him to end the ward. He shook his head.

“Now,” I said flatly.

He flinched. He tapped a sequence among the runes hovering around him and a door opened before me, made visible by the transparent power that formed the cadre of it. I walked in, dismissing the maul with a flick of the wrist.

“Catherine,” he said. “I’m not hungry. There’s no need to-“

“You’ve been at this for twelve hours, Masego,” I said. “It’s done. You rest, you eat, and then we discuss our next move.”

“Not now,” Hierophant said, “Not when I’m so close.”

“To what?” I replied, eyebrow rising.

“Walking the true span of the echo,” he told me. “Not true interaction, no, but the full witnessing of it. As if I were truly there.”

I glanced sceptically at the ghostly battle.

“And?” I said. “What does this gain you?”

“This isn’t an illusion, Catherine,” he said. “It’s a reflection of the state of Creation at specific points in time. The echo of an individual includes all that individual knew then. If I can carve out that knowledge and translate it into a form I can understand-”

“You’ll learn a lot,” I interrupted. “That’s fine. You want to work on that project? I’ve got no objection. But you do it right. You sleep, you eat, you talk with the people who love you. And you do it at a rate that doesn’t make a wreck out of you. There’ll be more interesting shards deeper in anyway.”

“It would only be a few more hours,” he said.

“Then it won’t matter where those are spent, will it?” I patiently said. “Or is there something specific to this shard that makes it easier to work with?”

He looked away. So there wasn’t. I took him by the arm and dragged him until he began walking on his own.

“Come on,” I said. “And while you’re at it, you’re apologizing to Indrani.”

He frowned at me.

“What for?” he asked.

“That, for one,” I grimly said.

Godsdamnit Hakram. It’d be easier to be angry at him if he wasn’t right so often.

We moved forward, to everyone but Masego’s relief. The five of us had taken to talking as we passed through the landscapes, trying to piece together the story unfolding. It was made more difficult by our inability to tell the sequence the shards took place in, which even Hierophant admitted he was unable to discern. That spawned the game of ‘tell me how Keter fell’, which allowed us to whittle away the hours as we walked. We tried, one at a time, to piece together what we’d seen into a coherent sequence.

“All right, bear with me on this one,” Indrani announced.

I sighed at the sight of the silver flask in her hand. It was barely noon – probably – but I was less appalled by the drinking than by the fact that she seemed to have an endless supply of booze. Where the Hells was she keeping it all? If Thief had been holding the liquor, she wouldn’t offer it up nearly that often.

“Do we have a choice?” Vivienne drily asked.

“Don’t you drag theology into this, Dartwick,” Archer drawled. “Anyway, this is how Keter fell. So there was a witch queen with a nice big mace, but she was a woman with needs. So she hit up the King of Keter and she made the bedroom eyes, but he was weird about it. You know, have her the brush off. So then-“

“No,” I said.

“No,” Hakram agreed.

“Gods no,” Vivienne muttered.

“Seems unlikely,” Masego conceded.

“You’re all joyless,” Indrani complained. “Mine had everything. A lovers’ spat, sex and violence and revenge. It was going to be worthy of song.”

“For mouthing off after your turn was ended, you get skipped next go around,” Vivienne noted.

Archer muttered something sounding pretty insulting under her breath, though I didn’t recognize the language.

“Hakram?” I said.

“This is how Keter fell,” Adjutant gravelled. “There was a plague in the borderlands of the kingdom that took a great toll. The queen of the iron men saw weakness and struck with raids, only to find the soldiers of Keter weak. She assembled more men and invaded the kingdom, forcing battle and slaying the king on the field.”

We’d seen more and more plague shards over the last two days, so he might actually be right. Only towns and villages so far, though, we’d found no city being afflicted. The battles were becoming more frequent as well, though few were as large as the one where Masego had found his father. After a few days passed Hierophant was forced to admit that a mere few hours before his breakthrough had been an optimistic assessment. He still spent most of his downtime working on his ‘witnessing’, but we’d all gotten used to hearing he was going to finish it any moment now. We saw our first Keteran victories, most of them won through sorcery. The sorcerers gathered in small cabals and struck with rituals, the brutality of them increasing the farther we went in. Lightning and fire were traded for spells that boiled blood or broke minds, and once or twice we even saw the Keterans fielding devils of their own.

Small numbers, and not particularly impressive specimens. Closer to imps than the Wasteland’s favoured meat shields the akalibsa and walin-falme. Hierophant dismissed those we saw as being from some of the easiest Hells to reach, and noted that diabolism as a branch of sorcery was one of the magical disciplines that benefitted the most from the passing of years. It had taken centuries for the Praesi to accumulate names to call on and to learn the secrets of the most useful Hells, the line of every High Lord building on the knowledge earned by the previous generation. His assessment was that diabolism had not been a favoured sorcery of the Keterans, but that in their desperation they were turning to cheap solutions to turn the tide – like barely sentient devils that could be bound through simple shedding of blood.

“His successor, Trismegistus, found his kingdom on the verge of breaking as the iron men pushed further in,” Hakram continued. “Rather than face defeat, he unleashed devils and turned the remainder of his people into undead to bring revenge unto the invaders.”

He got a vote of agreement from everyone save a pouting Indrani, which was just enough to bar him from getting a swig of the bottle of aragh Thief had pulled out. Archer was a sore loser. Adjutant’s story was the most believable so far, though the rest of us moved around the mosaic tiles again and again in order to see if something else fit better. We realized the underlying mistake the day after, when we encountered the most striking shard yet. We’d assumed we had all the necessary tiles to tell the story, you see. We were disabused of that notion when we found the first landscape out of Keter itself. It was the funeral of the king we’d watch die, his body tastefully covered by a shroud so the pulped head could not be seen by those attending. Among those present in the great crypt where the entombment took place was the young man I was fairly sure became the Dead King. Not because of anything he did, but because of who was talking to him. The face I didn’t recognize, I’d admit. But the shoddy lute and the flask? Those I’d recognize anywhere.

They belonged to the Wandering Bard.

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98 thoughts on “Chapter 28: Archaic

  1. ruduen

    I’ll admit. I was wondering when the Bard would peek their head in.

    I didn’t expect it to be here. This is… going to take a whole lot to reconcile into a whole. We don’t know enough about sentient undead to have anything more than wild theories so far, so things are going to be crazy for a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RoflCat

      No, this is basically showing that the Bard had hands in the ascension of Dead King.

      Y’know, an ‘Evil’ being cornered by ‘Good’, so time to pull out the Dooms Day Button.

      And…well…Akua’s sudden interests in redemption was…well, sudden, after all that she said about how she accepts being Evil.

      A part of me hope I’m wrong and Akua is planning to double-cross Bard when she can and return to Cath’s side just to ‘redeem’ herself in the eyes of her Empress, because just like how Fallen Heroes can relearn to be Good, Redeemed Villains can also go back to Evil.

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      1. Letouriste

        …what? Akua and the Bard didn’t have contact since long before her death so I don’t understand where you coming from:/ there is no link at all between them now

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    2. Yotz

      What I’d like to know, is if WB are able to maintain a conversation with someone few hundred years away from and after her current point of incarnation. Entities who can step sideways from the curve have a tendency to show nasty surprises like that – though being able to oracle through possible futures helps in being able to converse with someone from down the stream.

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  2. nerferf

    Yep, seems this was a set up

    Bard must have needed a long term villain for the gods above to throw shit at and decided to take advantage of a gullible desperate new ruler to encourage down this path

    Its becoming obvious the bard isn’t on any side really but to keep the games in creation running to please the entertainment needs of the gods above and below

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Death Knight

      You might be onto something. Huh, maybe we’ve pegged her wrong then? She’s not a Hero or a Villain; she’s the weaver of tales. Some might go far enough to say she’s EE’s avatar in the story. Her Role is not to ensure the Heroes win, but rather to ensure there is always stories to be told. Almost all stories thrive on conflict. This means she’s Catherine’s True Enemy. Her Role makes her opposed to any and all notions of a long term peace between Good and Evil since a story bereft of conflict is no Story at all. Though this explanation still feels..”forced”.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. nerferf

        Not really forced at all, we been getting tips told to us through out the book

        We seen her arrange things to make the story exciting by giving boons to name on both sides at times, such as she had willy free the slaves instead of stopping aku getting that demon just so both can have advantage against cat, heck she even led willy to doing that ritual and helped aku to achieve that ritual by stopping those elves from killing her

        And when she was forcing Hierarch to choose a side it seemed she was more annoyed that he was being boring and wanted him to actually start being entertaining for her audience than anything else

        And look how he started his banishment of her in that same talk

        “No,” Anaxares said. “I know you, old thing. You are the sound of the lash, the deal in the dark. You are the servant of stillness. I deny all you peddle.”

        Seems she has a big hand in keeping the status quo,

        I think black was just plain wrong about the nature of the bard as he does not know what we know and was trying to make sense of her with his limited view of things

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Just This Guy, Ya Know

        Some might go far enough to say she’s EE’s avatar in the story.

        Given that the term weaver of tales might be considered an author and that EE’s Name is Author, you just might be on to something.

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    2. Dainpdf

      I think this is more along the lines of her fucking up a manipulation like she did with the Free Cities, or Black’s theory is true and the Dead King is the counterpart Below got when Above got her.

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      1. Jonnnney

        That’s what I’m thinking. I’d guess she either pushed him towards his evil path thinking he would fail or she tried to turn his genius to the side of The Above and ended up pushing him the other way.

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    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      Heirch called her “stillness”. I think that’s accurate at this point. She works all the angles to keep everything in nice, predictable patterns.

      Part of my wonders if she was originally a gnome, and her defeat will trigger a full Gnomish invasion or some-such.

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    1. Unorginal

      Mind you the timing is all wrong for her to be Indrani unless the bard can do fuckery on an as of yet unforeseen level and basically mas the win button but the point still stands.

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    2. Matthew

      You are. Indrani has the Archer powers. Bard has powers but they are explicitly story/genre savvy powers and her ability to stay drunk.

      We know the bard can disappear. We know the bard changes faces (though not at will, seems that she just reboots periodically). We know the bard has the Cliff’s notes to the story, (see her pointing out that the glass was poisoned by Assassin).

      She can’t fake combat powers.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Unorginal

        Its heavily hinted at that Bard replaces people who fit the bill for her name, proof enough that you don’t want character traits associated with her. but I’m not saying nor have said that Bard is Indrani, rather that I was stuck with a sudden sense of dread when I realize they shared character traits.

        (honestly, I’m worried about her dying as a direct result of this.)

        It could very well amount to nothing but since when has Archer had any aspects of name-related ways to store alcohol in large amounts and stay smashed?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Matthew

          All Named can drink tons of alcohol without effect if they want to. It was established early that burning off poisons is a trick that all Named have.

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          1. Unorginal

            Where is she storing it (the alcohol)? Burning out poisons is old-hat and has been noted before. There was the bottomless bag artifact/s that was mentioned by William the lone swordsman as a way someone could store a truly ridiculous amount of alcohol but to my knowledge, Indrani doesn’t have one.

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            1. haihappen

              Indrani does indeed behave strangely: confuring drink from anywhere and talking about composing songs.
              The Bard may or may not have Archer highjacked as a way to get into the meeting of the capital E support group. In this case she can probably be “exorcised” or will leave by herself when the damage is done. Not “If”, “When”.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Coincidance

                Have we ever seen Archer and the Wandering Bard together?
                Are we sure this is really Archer and not Wandering Bard imitating her atm?

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                1. Morgenstern

                  Or maybe she got her hands on the “Endless Flask” of WB herself after Willy’s group was disbanded / somehow got it from Thief? Who knows…

                  And yes, I had those same vibes. Especially after she is now telling shitty style-stories, as if she weren’t even trying (or trying rather slyly to be seen as “trying, but failing”); even though the theme and maybe even the shitty style do still fit Archer. There are some bad parallels. But really, that exact same thought of “oh shite, can WB hijack *anyone’s* mind / wear *anyone’s* guise after all?” entered my mind after that first paragraph noting how Archer seems to suddenly have an endless supply of alcohol, BEFORE I read further on. At least now I know it wasn’t only me. ^^

                  ——
                  “I sighed at the sight of the silver flask in her hand. It was barely noon – probably – but I was less appalled by the drinking than by the fact that she seemed to have an endless supply of booze. Where the Hells was she keeping it all? If Thief had been holding the liquor, she wouldn’t offer it up nearly that often.”

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                  1. Morgenstern

                    On a more logical than emotional note, this really CAN’T be the same flask – or Cat has a majory illogical blind spot, noting she’d know that flask anywhere only a few paragraphs later, but NOT recognizing it if that were really what Indrani was taking a swig from seemingly only minutes before…

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Death Knight

                      Or more mundanely, she simply has a vat of alcohol somewhere that’s always kept full by people she pays. Then she hired a mage to create a syphon at the bottom that is tied to her flask always allowing it to be filled. Warlock did something similar when he and Black were stomping down the baronesses who backed William. He placed a syphon at the bottom of Black’s glass that emptied it into his own so this is definitely not impossible. The only snag might be the distance required to maintain the connection.

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        2. DigitalCaesar

          Description of Wandering Bard at her last appearance in he Hierarch portion of the Epilogue:

          “The stranger drank loudly from a **silver flask** before turning to him, and when he saw her face he recognized her. Aoede of Nicae. The Wandering Bard.”

          From this chapter, Archaic:

          “I sighed at the sight of the **silver flask* in her hand. It was barely noon – probably – but I was less appalled by the drinking than by the fact that she seemed to have an endless supply of booze. Where the Hells was she keeping it all?”

          Relieved I’m not the only one worried. But it is weird that she recognized the flask from past-Bard, so if it is the same flask with Archer she should notice. Maybe just a slip up on EE’s part with the description, but it’s def weird.

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    3. Jonnnney

      They both fill roughly the same out of combat role in a 5 man Named band. The Comic relief/obnoxious lecherous drunks rarely dies first. The main difference is the bard is doing it on purpose while Archer is just having fun.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      Hierarch is a tool and Black has so many death flags that he will end up unNamed if he can survive the end of the story. Both seem unlikelly as allies for her, besides, great leaders make their followers greater, so I’d rather guess Cat will bring most, if not all, of her Woe to greater lengths. I mean, Adjutant doesn’t trully need to grow in power, but he should grow in technique, while Masego is already the most powerfull of the band, after the Name transition. Both Thief and Archer can be seen as intermediary Names, and thus can grow, or simply grow without changing Names, like Assassin and Captain, and probably Adjutant. Thus, although they still seem like underdogs, when compared to the big guys, if you look al the way they came… And all the potential they still have… The Woe will serve her better than uniting with big figures.

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  3. Aeon

    Baaaaaaaard! I want to see her get forced into an actual fight. So, did she kickstart the Dead King so all of Good would have a true enemy? How many crusades have there been aimed directly at Keter again?

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      1. Unorginal

        More than just that I think, with it being hinted that some crusades were eaten by demons and forgotten (or were so minor that it was natural to skip over naming them.)

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  4. Oh. Oh man.
    The Wandering Bard had a hand in creating the Dead King?
    That’s huge.
    I mean, I had thought that the Bard was what Good created in answer to the Dead King, but to find that the Bard is connected to his origin?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Matthew

      Maybe its to anchor the evil pole of the continuum…. Like people are people and in shades of gray, By creating the Dead King, it means there is a true capital E evil that the rest can be measured against.

      Like

    2. RoflCat

      She seem be an agent of Above, sent to basically ensure this cycle of Good vs Evil (and that Good win in the end) keep going.

      Basically Above want this rigged pissing match to keep on going and sent a Story Police to ensure it never ends (it’d be why Bard seem to focus so much on the Practical Evils, because they’re trying to break the cycle, and why she seem shocked by Hierarch’s refusal of the call)

      Liked by 5 people

    3. Cicero

      Or… it’s possible that this was the very first iteration of the Wandering Bard, and she had not yet become a Name, but her interaction in the drama that created the Dead King also resulted in the Heavens deciding they needed their own Immortal Named to combat him, and who better than the poor wandering bard heroine who got tragically caught up in whole mess.

      Somehow I feel the Wandering Bard did not get a vote…

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Dainpdf

        See Black theorizing that the only two things great enough that Below could have gotten in exchange for the Bard were the Dead King and Triumphant, and the latter wasn’t likely.
        This all but confirms it was the former.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Cicero

          Yes, but Black was assuming that the Heavens got the Bard first. Who is to say that it wasn’t the other way around? I mean, it does tend to be the villains who attempt the super weapon, gain ultimate power, etc followed by the heroes getting a counter to that.

          Like

    4. Metrux

      It isn’t uncommon for major enemies to be active in each others “birth” of “growth”. It’s a much used trope in video game rpgs, for exemple, and in both Harry Potter and Eragon, in books, so… It comes as no surprise for me that she was there when he became what he is.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jane

    Aw, how cute, Cat pretending to have a conscience ❤ !

    Joking aside (yes, I acknowledge Cat really does have a conscience, that's pretty much the entire point of the series), now we have firm confirmation that the Wandering Bard is a truly ancient monster who is intimately involved with the story of the Dead King. It’s been a theory banded around for a long time, but now we have firm proof.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Someguy

    Ah, no wonder he was bound as a Plot Flag. Any Alliance with him will be an opening for Wandering Bard to come in and muck things up. That’s a major reason not to ally with him.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Metrux

      The Bard is already against her, and if they trully are equivalent it’s a reason TO ALLY with him, since it’s simply using a counter. When you fight against fire, you want water to your side, and vice versa.

      Like

  7. Typo thread
    Masego, looking at what most likely his second father – the incubus known to me as Tikoloshe – had cast to his face I’d never seen before.

    Add “a” before “cast”

    Hierophant was not in the habit of make assertions unless he was certain of them.

    Change make to making

    And there was another typo but I’m just a volunteer and on mobile tonight so it was difficult to copy/paste multiple things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      Masego, looking at what most likely his second father

      This sentence also lacks a verb… e.g. ” … what WAS most likely … “

      Like

  8. Byzantine

    Masego did miss one possibility: His father was bound from ever talking about it long before they ever met. Perhaps as a result of the backlash from Keter’s due.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. John Smith

    Triumphant fucking wept, Bard, what did you do?

    Did you make a Dark Lord and his Mordor just to add flagor to the setting?

    That fantastically horrifying.

    Like

  10. edrey

    both sides use devils so both must be evil, but after that great ritual those ancient lycaonses turned good becaude they needed the miracles to survive
    for one the bard make a plan and backfire or is her first time, but that its odd because to manipulate both she first need to travel and shouldnt be that powerfull at the time then its the first choice, so since when she is playing? and what is the plan of the gods to taker her down?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yotz

      Possibly not evil per se, just desperate enough to try “for the Greater Good” approach – “end justifies the means” and all that nonsense. Which inevitably led one side to the ultimate downfall, and the other to the eternity of atonement for the transgressions past.

      Like

      1. Nope. ‘Loshe was summoned by a witch queen of the people who later became Cordelia’s ancestors. Probably even the very one with the impressively big mace.

        Which means this was either Evil vs Evil… Or just Blue vs Orange vs a spectrum of Greys… before somebody (glances at the Bard) brought out the charcoal and whitewash.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Metrux

          He explicitly says he was first summoned in the period in which a Witch Queen grew dissatisfied with her husbands. It was never even mentioned if he was involved in such confrontation, and as we see him in the episode he is fighting at the side of Keter.

          Like

          1. It’s not clear which side he’s on. And, I’d put money on his contract/bonds being passed amongst a specific clan of Witch Queens, even if he got memory wiped/ smashed to bits by resummon/ horrendous abuse of the shackles each time.

            Mainly because I know my tokoloshe tales, and that’s one of the most common of the sex slave type. :/

            Like

            1. Reasons why I suspect a standard shape to the tale: ‘Loshe slipped the leash and was able to grow (the standard “good”, bittersweet ending for a freed, blood-bound tokoloshe — note “bittersweet”, and “good” — even a happy end where the tokoloshe doesn’t wind up rendered down for muti and the kids are saved will hold loss and tragedy for the tokoloshe), the love of deserts (salt is anathema to a tokoloshe; they are also often described as gluttonous if not controlled properly), lemons = bittersweet, happy daddy (tokoloshes love kids, even if they love them in a way that isn’t human caring), troll (having Wekesa be a prankster is a massive plus for ‘Loshe). Betcha ‘Loshe has little love of heights, hates chains, avoids ochre/clay and despises being forced to stay unwashed, untidy or dirty. Probably is fine with electricity, though. Storms are an old friend and thunderbirds partners in some kinds of crime.

              Like

              1. Another PS — ‘Loshe also happens to be my guess for who Assassin actually is. Shapeshifting, nasty sense of pranking, ironic “artwork” when killing, invisibility (whether through use of the classic under-the-tongue/ stomach stone or not), preferring to hide/stay in the dark and able to get anywhere? Hello…

                Liked by 1 person

              2. Another PS: you can slice, shoot and try to burn or freeze a tokoloshe, but it won’t work. They will still come at you Terminator-style. But, one way to stop them is: smash their limbs. It’s how they are controlled/ made in the first place, and it’s the one kind of torture they are sensitized to. Say, by using… a very big stick/ mace.

                Hmmmm…………… Witch + stick + tokoloshe + very large, tragic event involving a lot of death that may not be what it appears to be on the surface… We have maximum TT!

                Like

  11. Dainpdf

    So I guess this confirms that the Bard and the Dead King became who they are at about the same time, as counterbalance to each other. Black was right (big surprise)!

    Like

  12. CaptainSemantics

    I’m now envisioning this conversation with the dead king:

    Cat: So what exactly DID happen to Keter?

    Dead King: Well there was a witch queen with a nice big mace, but she was a woman with needs. So she hit up the King of Keter and she made the bedroom eyes, but he was weird about it –

    The entire Woe: Noooooooo

    Liked by 8 people

  13. Nethermore

    Hmm, a number of possibilities there.

    The Dead King was mentioned as Evil’s counterweight to good’s OP Bard, so the Bard might have known that such a thing was incoming and helped it happen in a convenient, relatively isolated location and with a central Named who wouldn’t try to conquer the world. Without interference, maybe a super-Villain would have risen in a Good nation, turned it, and become a problem demanding more resources and attention than the Kingdom of the Dead.

    Bard might also have just fucked up, lol. Seems likely that she’s still relatively young here, because if the Dead King is her counterweight then Evil would have tried to develop it ASAP after the Bard appeared.

    Also, even if Bard hadn’t been aware of the need for an Evil counterweight, creating the Kingdom of the Dead might still have looked like a reasonable calculation:

    – the kingdom was already evil-aligned (devil summoning), so nothing lost there
    – the horror and threat would likely stabilize Good-alignment of what would later become the bordering proceran principalities.
    – consider how many crusades were launched against the Kingdom of the Dead. Obviously its creation allowed for unprecedented unity of purpose in the Good-aligned nations. That none of those crusades were wins might have been Bard’s miscalculation, or just part of the long con.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. WuseMajor

    Honestly, what worries me most here is that Masego might actually succeed at his working and end up being “possessed” by the Bard. Possibly as a result of Cat’s orders to find out what she knows.

    Like

  15. RanVor

    Does anyone else find it not surprising that almost every time a horrific atrocity happens somewhere in Calernia the Bard is somehow connected to it?

    Like

    1. Totally not surprised. It’s like she’s been playing both sides against each other, or something. 😛

      I think there’s a reason Karios is being *very* indirect in trying to evade/spike/killl her, while still being very careful to stay under her radar by looking so very much like the Classic Evil™ she can easily manipulate. It’s quite easy to keep her focused on Team Practical Evil if they look like the bigger threat to her shell game, and he like the biggest chump who ever cackled while twirling a moustache.

      It’s a pincer manoeuvre by whatever Is in that crypt that’s plugged into whichever side of the Gods or Creation.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. Well, it looks like Black’s theory has been validated. The Wandering is indeed at least as old if not older than the Dread King. So Triumphant wasn’t the intervention of the Gods Below.

    The shape of the ancient story is fascinating, especially given the symmetry of the present. We have a Lycaoenese on Procer’s throne, waging war against Evil nations. Granted Cordelia is not a witch-king or any kind of sorceress, but she is an opportunist, striking her enemies once they have been weakened.
    No wonder the Dread King wouldn’t hesitate much about striking the Crusaders…

    Next time Tikoloshe, Wekesa and Masego are in the same room, the conversation is definitely awkward and unpleasant…

    Like

      1. Let’s take a step back from this series and look at it from a DnD perspective. This shit is definitely Chaotic Evil.

        >Stopping elves that want to kill someone instigating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.
        >Starting the legacy of the Dead King.

        Like

        1. Yotz

          More like a True Neutral – an active agent of Balance. She knows exactly the measure of Good and Evil in the world and never hesitates to add more to even the scales.

          Which leads to a possibility of WB being not from Above or Below, but of Creation itself – for Creation strives to be, but will inevitably cease if one of the Players will ever achieve a formal victory. Definitely explains utterly inhumane nature of WB’s name – result of a blind idiot god trying to influence things it would never consciously comprehend through an agent who feels nothing but contempt towards the master.
          Oh, hai there, Nyarly!

          Liked by 1 person

  17. ______

    A couple of comments:

    First, I find it strange that the attributes like the lute and the flask persist even though those objects were bound to evolve with the progress of technology on Calernia, slow as it is.

    Second, there’s something I missed writing my latest wall of text (https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2018/07/06/chapter-27-into-dusk/#comment-18383): Masego acts as if he didn’t know about the very possibility of such a reflection happening, and confirms in this chapter that he wasn’t told anything about it. Yet in book III, interlude Calamity I Warlock states:
    > even millennia past that man’s apotheosis mages still sifted through the remains of his reign to advance their craft.
    What are the chances that this whole landscape was what he has talking about? What would push Wekesa to conceal an entire field of research from his son?

    Third, if the entirety of the fallout of theis conflict (the Evil kingdom of Keter turned into a Wasteland, the Dead King becoming a major enough villain to empower the Bard by symmetry but getting trapped in his hell, the Lycaonese turning to Gods Above for protection after their Evil witch-queen was slain along with most troops loyal to her) was a plot of the Bard, what are the odds that she decided to write Keter off because it bordered three “irredeemably” Evil nations (Chain of Hunger, Everdark and the Deoraithe who used stuff like necromancy and more underhanded strategies, only turning Good similarly to the Lycaonese after being driven into territory where they bordered the Miezans (or the Empire), and so could keep them fighting each other instead of the Good nations?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We already know that Echos reflect Calernia at specific points in time, but what if the nature of a name is timeless? Wandering Bard could just be what they perceive her to be, from a more modern perspective of her persona.
      Just like how Arcadia changes based on who is viewing it, what if WB adapts like that too, and is one of the reasons why she’s never the same and is always existing in the world.

      Like

  18. Un-Metaphorical Grapevine

    This isn’t consistent, I’m pretty sure the Bard’s facial features change along with her name, therefore how do they recognize her?

    Like

    1. Morgenstern

      According to what the author presents as Cat’s view/”certainty”: THAT flask and lute that Cat (thinks she) would recognize anywhere.

      Like

  19. Fun fact – in chapter 8, Catherine said she would regret stabbing a bard. Lols.

    “I didn’t know if I had it in me to stab a Bard, honestly. The were always charmingly ineffective in the stories, it would have been like kicking a puppy.”

    A vote for the Guide is a vote to stab a Bard

    Liked by 3 people

    1. On a more serious note, I’ve been thinking about how to kill the Wandering Bard, since I’ve started re-reading the series two days ago.

      I haven’t gotten to that part yet, but there is a moment where William and Vivienne talks,and they discuss how the Bumbling Conjurer died and not the Bard, where one of them points out that the Bard makes her presence more “known” to the story.

      That could be the Bards weakness – being pushed out of the story, so she doesn’t have any narrative presence to save her – and thus her “disappearance” aspect doesn’t kick in, and Cat can finally stab her, repeatedly, through the eyes.

      Or I’m just a madman who’s raving. Who knows

      Like

      1. Metrux

        Well, isn’t this kind of what happened when the Hierarch denied her? My theory is that he unwitingly banished her, in a temporary fashion, and that is why she’s not present at this time in the Story. That becomes even more certain as you think on a writer’s perspective: all you show must be relevant, since you have limits to time and effort to put into a book. And both Hierarch and the Tyrant of Hellike are the only two shown that have no conection to Cat, even the White Knight is the enemy of her tutor and his actions shaped Cat’s fight with Black, while all that was shown of the Tyrant was specifically to make the Hierarch. I don’t think this coincidence… He has a special place in the Plot.

        Like

      2. ______

        Vivienne also mentioned her never takindg a wound she wasn’t directly responsible for. Hierarch took advantage of this, along with the fact that she was his subject at the moment, and that the Tyrant conned her into playing a Role of a mastermind (as opposed to Kairos himself on the side of the League of Free Cities and traditional Evil, and Black on the side of the Empire and practical Evil).

        They need to find someone whose course of action she changed directly (like the two Emerald Swords, or maybe have Hanno Recall William in full so they can convince him to call her out on leading him, Bumbling Conjurer and Exiled Prince to their deaths), something that would allow to actually exert authority/power on her (like Hanno’s judgement coin, or give Larat the crown of whattever place her new body will come from), and lock her into a Role that ends differently from “and then the narrator closed the book and wishede everyone good night”.

        Like

  20. Dakota

    Everybody wondering if the wb had a hand in creating the dead king should ask what if it’s the other way around what if the same cataclysm that created the king and limits his interaction with the world also threw the bard into her current state

    Like

  21. chris S

    Inb4 the Bard addresses Cat and the Woe in this echo.

    Either directly or through good old fashioned “I’m having a conversation with you but the words are actually for the person watching this hundreds of years from now”

    Liked by 2 people

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