Chapter 29: Sixth

“Don’t be absurd, Black Knight. It would have been called treason if I’d lost – this is merely succession.”
– Dread Emperor Vile the First

It was a striking scene.

The crypt itself was the part worthiest of awe, I decided. The arched ceiling was covered in silver set with glittering jewels where stars would have been on the night sky. There was no light within save for their shine and a ring of bound sprites serving as magelights. The fallen king was being set down in a tomb with his likeness sculpted atop the lid, men and women wearing copper circlets on their brows lowering him gently. There were low whispers in a smattering of tongues I did not know, but the funeral was a hushed affair. I did not linger to watch when the orations began after the lid was shut, instead approaching the sight that had set my blood running cold. The Wandering Bard looked prettier than I’d ever seen her. Tanned and full of life, she wore red and silver robes instead of the usual stained leathers. The lute was set across her lap in the shadowed alcove where she sat, and she pulled at her flask between exchanges with the young man standing next to her. Him I took my time studying. How often did one get to have a glimpse of the Dead King before he earned that Name?

I’d expected him to be darkly handsome or strikingly ugly, but he was nothing of the sort. Pale, even compared to the other Keterans, but not near corpse-like the way Black was. More like a scholar who did not see much of the sun. He had bushy eyebrows and full lips set on an unremarkable face, the only striking part of him the light brown eyes that looked almost golden in the magelight glow. He looked like a scholar, I thought. One only an inch taller than me, though few of the Keterans were tall. No real muscle to his frame, though his hands were surprisingly calloused. The copper circle on his brow was even more slender than those I’d seen on the other royals. A mark of status? Perhaps. The others had looked older, they might be higher in the line of succession. Or he might have been from another branch of the royal family. Hard to tell when I knew nothing about how the kingdom was ruled. Even without understanding the words he spoke, I found his voice compelling. Calm and deep, it felt almost soothing. It was hard to tell much about intonation in a foreign language – everything spoken in Kharsum sounded like a threat, for example – but he did not seem worried or surprised by the Bard’s presence.

Had he known her? Had she been involved in the fall of Keter from the beginning?

“You’re sure it’s her?” Hakram quietly asked.

I’d been so lost in contemplation I hadn’t even heard the orc approaching. I nodded without a word.

“The lute and the flask,” I said. “It’s her.”

“They both look different than at Summerholm,” Adjutant said.

I blinked and glanced back at the Bard. He was right, I realized with a start. The flask was still of that same strange curved shape, but instead of old scuffed iron it was freshly-polished copper. The lute was not of the same wood, this one paler, and the strings looked different. Animal tendons of some sort.

“The substance changed,” I murmured. “But the shape hasn’t. There’s something to that.”

“Named tend to have symbols and artefacts associated to them,” Hakram noted. “Save for the Carrion Lord, though the loss seems to have been made up in epithets. The lute and flask could be hers.”

“Malicia warned me they’d moved the Bard to the Empire’s official kill list, after the war in the Free Cities,” I said. “I thought Black was talking her up too much because she pulled one over him but I’m starting to see his point, if she’s had her fingers plucking strings this far back.”

“We don’t know for certain her consciousness has been uninterrupted all this time,” Adjutant cautioned.

“You read the transcripts Black sent us,” I grunted. “Hells, I’ve had you lug around the threat assessment he had delivered to the palace – half a book’s worth of scrolls, in records and theories. She made references to events long before she popped out of the woodworks as Aoede of Nicae. That’s at least two or three incarnations. It’s an assumption to say she’s been at it this whole time, sure, but it’s not a bad one.”

“Yes,” Hakram agreed quietly. “And the voluntary sharing of that secret worries me, Cat. It would have been a sharp blade, if kept hidden. Why did she not keep the knife in the dark?”

Yeah, there was that. If there was a meddling face-changing immortal wandering around the continent, why had no one ever written anything about it? Names tended to grow stronger – if also more restrictive – the more stories were associated with them. She would have had thousands of years to build herself up into something pretty much untouchable. And even if she wanted to keep quiet and stay behind the curtains, it struck me as dubious that every single hero she’d helped had kept quiet about. Over the years, there was bound to have at least one blabbermouth that fucked up. Unless Above ordered them to keep quiet, I frowned. That was… plausible. Didn’t explain why no Dread Emperor had ever tried to get out the word there was an opponent on the field of that calibre, after being beaten or figuring it out. I was smelling a rat her.

“That,” I slowly said, “is a very good question. If she’s been underfoot this whole time and no one was onto her, why did she let that out of the bag now? What changed?”

The tall orc by my side considered the two legends speaking before us and clicked his teeth in discomfort.

“I suspect,” Hakram said, “that knowledge of their words would bring more questions than answers.”

“This is too big to walk past,” I told him. “Masego will have his hours. Tell the others we’re setting camp.”

I stayed there a while longer, watching the Wandering Bard laugh at something Calernia’s incipient greatest monster had said. I shivered at the sight. I felt like they were sharing a joke that no one else could understand.

I was really coming to hate that feeling.

“We cannot linger for too long, Catherine,” Vivienne said. “I understand the draw of learning such a secret, but it will not help Callow withstand invasion.”

I drank from the skin. Tough our supplies were beginning to run thin, at least there was no need to worry about going without water. I could fill the skin with ice with only a thought, then leave it to melt as the hours passed. Indrani had badgered me until I used the eldritch and fearsome powers of Winter to cool her wine, to no one’s surprise. The indignity was somewhat alleviated by the fact that the first thing Juniper had ever told me after I claimed my mantle was that my ability to freeze thing would ease strain on supplies for the Fifteenth. No one but Masego seemed to treat my usurpation of a demigod’s power as anything but a source of free ice and entertainment unless I was actively killing people with it.

“We’re putting all our bets on the Dead King, Vivienne,” I disagreed. “An entity we know next to nothing about. We’re carrying the finest offer our diplomats were able to put together, but we’re still going into this blind.”

“Whatever he might have been while living, millennia have passed,” the dark-haired woman replied. “Any understanding gained would be highly dated.”

“Undead can’t change nearly as much as the living,” I pointed out. “I’m guessing a lot will still apply.”

“We trade guesswork for hours, then,” Thief said flatly. “This is a gamble, let us not pretend otherwise. The decision was made on the assumption we would know little about our interlocutor. We might be able to change that, if Masego pulls through. To an extent. But we all agreed on the initial premise for a reason. Time is our most dangerous enemy, at the moment.”

“I’m not saying we should spend a sennight here,” I said. “But a few days? The payoff is worth the delay.”

“If there is one,” Vivienne sighed.

I looked at her closely. Of all the Woe she was probably the one who’d dealt with the restlessness of our journey the best. Even Hakram, island of calm that he was, happened to have a vague look of chagrin on his face now and then – like he was expecting to have work to do and was kind of irked he didn’t. Thief had been quiet, so far, almost subdued. But she’d refrained from pulling my metaphorical pigtails like Archer did and kept her eye on the horizon unlike Hierophant. The irritation now coming across clear had me wondering if she’d just been hiding it better than the others. She was certainly the hardest to read of the Woe. For others that crown might have belonged to Adjutant, but I knew him like I knew my own limbs.

“You’re worried,” I said.

She sent me a look that implied less than complimentary things about my intellect.

“Not just the usual stuff,” I dismissed. “This is about all of us leaving.”

“The Grey Pilgrim is unsupervised,” she said.

“The Pilgrim is under house arrest, allowed to speak only with goblins and Prince Amadis,” I replied bluntly. “If he can turn Robber to Good, I’d argue he actually deserves to win this war.”

“It feels like negligence not to keep a closer eye on them,” Vivienne sighed.

Most of the time, with Thief, the trick to understand her was not to listen to what she said. It might have been because of her Name, but she tended to go obliquely at matters. The only way to get a good read on what she had cooking behind the forehead, if she wasn’t willing to outright state it, was to figuring out the reasons behind what she said. In this case, she was speaking of Callow but I suspected Callow itself wasn’t the point.

“You’ve been cut off from the Jacks,” I said suddenly.

She looked away. Ah. There it was. Possibly beyond even me, Vivienne Dartwick was the individual in the Kingdom of Callow with the most information at her fingertips. Hakram was the one piecing together the reports from her Jacks, the Dark Guilds under Ratface and Aisha’s web of relatives to send up the most important reports to me, but that was more administrative than a matter of authority. I just didn’t have the time to read it all and see to my other duties as well, not even now that I no longer slept. But Thief had access to all of it as well, and as the head of my net of informants she wielded the power to send agents to unearth any secrets she wanted. It must have been like an itch she couldn’t scratch, being removed from the centre of the web to go traipsing around Arcadia.

“I understand the necessity of committing to this,” Vivienne said. “And the risks that bringing any but Named into Keter would have carried, along the vulnerability of leaving only one of us behind. But we are blind to all the happenings in Creation until the matter is dealt with.”

It’d be exceedingly difficult to scry back home from Keter, admittedly. Unlike Malicia and Black I didn’t have decades’ worth of mages trained in scrying to create relays all over the continent that delivered reports within hours. My limited number had to be placed very strategically, and had largely focused on Praes and Procer. Moving it all around so we could get in touch with the Observatory around the natural barriers surrounding Callow wouldn’t be impossible, but it would screw up our eyes abroad for months. Months where we could hardly afford to be blind to movements within the borders of our most dangerous neighbours. Not something to use except in case of dire emergency.

“It’s not a gamble if we’re in control the whole time,” I told her gently.

“I know,” she said, passing a frustrated hand through her short hair.

I’d thought the cut a little too rough, when we first met, but it had grown on me since. Long hair on Vivienne would have felt odd now.

“We are taking so many risks, Catherine,” she said quietly. “And every one of them seems reasonable when the decision is made, but I look back and wonder if what we have built is a house of cards.”

“It does feel like everyone is out for our blood, doesn’t it?” I chuckled bitterly. “Gods, we know we’re at the end of the rope when the Hidden Horror is the best ally on the table.”

“That is a too great a decision for us to really understand the scope of its consequences quite yet, I think,” Vivienne said. “It is the small things that worry me.”

The glanced she flicked at the collar of my cloak was all she needed to say. I did not immediately reply. The two of us sat on the granite tomb of some dead queen and watched Hierophant weave his runes in the distance. He’d been at it for half a bell, now, and the breakthrough he’d been speculating about was nowhere in sight.

“She could accelerate his work,” I said, keeping my eyes on Hierophant. “Masego tells me that the doomsday fortress had similarities to the Greater Breach at Keter. There’s not a lot of more knowledgeable mages to be found, either.”

I did not need to speak the name of the woman in question. We both knew who I was speaking of.

“She,” Vivienne said with admirable evenness, “has not been punished.”

My brow rose.

“I ripped out her heart and bound her soul to the cloak,” I replied. “I’ll admit it hasn’t exactly turned out to be eternal screaming torment, but at the very least it’s imprisonment with a dab of torture.”

“Yet now she plies her powers in your service,” Thief said. “Safeguarded from all her former enemies. She has made herself useful, and so the leash loosens. How long, Catherine, before practicality pries open the door entirely?”

“I haven’t forgotten Liesse,” I said coldly.

“Peace,” the other woman said, hand rising. “I helped you draft the Accords, Catherine. I’ve seen that look in your eyes when you think yourself alone and you remember the breadth of the massacre. I know the failure shames you still. I’ve seen your fury at the architect of the massacre.”

“I’m not sure what you’re saying,” I admitted.

Aside from effectively admitting she sometimes spied on me unseen, but I’d honestly considered that to be a given. The notion of privacy was something I’d resigned myself to having lost even before an invisible sneak thief joined the Woe.

“I told you once, that Akua Sahelian treading Creation again was a line,” Vivienne said. “One desperate hour after another, we have walked past it.”

I grimaced. I could have made an argument that back then we’d been speaking about the soul she put in the infant as her resurgence plan, or even that all I’d ever allowed to pull at the leash was a soul, but it would have been dishonest. I had allowed Diabolist a foothold back in Creation, like it or not.

“You want me to destroy the soul,” I guessed.

Vivienne laughed, something vicious glinting in her blue-grey eyes. It was a little fucked up, I admitted to myself, that it made her look more attractive to me. Not that I expected anything to ever come of it. Thief was so painfully straight I could have used her as a ruler.

“I have learned,” she said, “the uses of pragmatism. No, let her continue to exist. Let her out, even. She has uses, and the hour has only grown more desperate. Another face will even make Indrani less of a pest for a while.”

“But,” I said.

“For small slights, long prices,” Vivienne Dartwick said harshly. “Let Akua Sahelian see the light and taste freedom. Let her believe she has slipped the noose, so long as she remains of use.”

Thief’s fingers clenched.

“But there will be a day where the world we made no longer has place for her,” Vivienne said. “When we have faced all the horrors before us. And on that day, when she has glimpsed victory?”

Vivienne met my eyes and there was something in them that gave even Winter pause.

“Snuff her out, Catherine,” she said. “Slowly. Painfully. Excruciatingly aware of what is being taken from her.”

I shivered, both out of respect at the viciousness of what she was proposing and a little bit of arousal. Gods, it was a tragedy she only rode stallion. I pushed that guilty thought aside and gave the moment the seriousness it was due. Should I hesitate at effectively letting our Akua with the intent to murder how down the line? Gods, that I even had to ask. I would have seen no nuance there to be had, when I’d been seventeen. But I hadn’t had a kingdom on my shoulders, back then. And I hadn’t looked Akua Sahelian in the eyes as she told me nonchalantly she was going to slaughter a hundred thousand innocents to use as fodder for her ambition. Putting a knife in her back wasn’t somehow made moral by Diabolist being a mass murderer, but it was the kind of petty evil I had made my tools of trade. Fair dealing and mercy were no longer things that applied to people willing to butcher an entire city for their purposes.

“It could be years,” I warned her. “Before we’re out of opponents. We could die before that, too.”

“I know,” Vivienne said. “Let her follow us in death, if that is our lot. Otherwise my words stand.”

I spat in my palm and offered it up. Thief was not the kind of maidenly flower who balked at spit, aristocrat or not, so she did the same without hesitation.

“Bargain struck,” I said, and we clasped hands.

“Bargain struck,” she echoed.

We rose. I spoke the words, and Akua Sahelian walked the world again.

I had two of the finest mages of our generation working on a solution, and yet half a day later here I was: standing with a scowl on my face, being told nothing I wanted to hear. Hierophant at least had the decency to look as frustrated as I felt. Akua’s lips were just slightly quirked, not enough for it to qualify as a smile but enough to reveal how pleased she was to be out of the box and talking magic with one of the few people in existence she’d consider a peer.

“The issue has been the same since you interrupted me,” Masego said, a touch accusingly. “I have yet to succeed in accounting for the disparity in alignment.”

“We can hear what they say now,” I pointed out. “You managed touch for a little bit yesterday.”

“The formula was a dead end,” Diabolist said. “The runes involved would have disrupted further addition. Consider them an ore that spoiled the alloy.”

It kind of pissed me off that my dead rival was better at explaining sorcery to me without sounding condescending than one of my closest friends.

“But you were aligned,” I pressed.

“Not in the right manner,” Masego irritably said.

“The difference was not unlike reading of a river on parchment while seeking to swim in one,” Akua smiled. “Result was achieved, but along a different path than desired.”

Yeah, still pissing me off. I suspected that was going to happen a lot.

“It might be that this is impossible to achieve within the bounds of Trismegistan sorcery,” Hierophant said. “We’ve been speaking of different perspectives, but most of them are so glaringly fallible or unusable by humans my studies of the subject have been shallow.”

“We only have so much time to spend here,” I reluctantly admitted.

“You demand the miraculous on the schedule of the shoddy,” Masego muttered, then paused.

His saw his glass eyes turn to peer behind him while the rest of his body remained still.

“Could it be that simple?” he said.

“You’ve dealt with miracles before,” I encouraged.

“I’ve vivisected and employed parts of them,” he corrected absent-mindedly. “But the gap is one of understanding, and I have a mechanism at hand to correct that failing.”

I felt him gather power without ever chanting or drawing a rune. Not shaping it for a spell, I thought. Drawing it into himself. I opened my mouth to ask, but Akua discretely shook her head.

“A mystery,” Hierophant muttered to himself. “In the technical sense. Foolish, foolish. I saw, when in transitioned. Quantification is anathema to higher sorceries.”

His hand shot out and he clasped my wrist.

“Yes,” he grinned. “They will not deny me, be they Gods or fathers. I will Witness.”

A ripple passed across the world, and what it left behind was no longer an echo.

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97 thoughts on “Chapter 29: Sixth

    1. ______

      Hierophant said that extracting the knowledge from reflection’s soul may be enough to convert the information into something he can understand. Depending on how “real” this is, they may be able to take something from this shard. Worst case, the Bard escapes; the most likely case, Cat uses her soul-serarching to communicate with Trismegistus while Masego rifles through Bard’s mind (since I doubt the ending of the chapter means that they’ll just look into their heads for some cryptic glimpses and go to the negotiations); best case, the limited interaction would allow Catherine to take some Aspects or artifacts outside the shard.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Anon

    “Thief was so painfully straight I could have used her as a ruler.”

    I feel as though this is a direct comment in regards to the shipping that sometimes goes on in the comments….but I can’t figure out if it’s teasing on Catherine not being the most observant, or just bait to keep the shippers hopelessly waiting.

    Otherwise, a bit surprised it took Masego so long to use one of his Aspects to come up with a better way to study things.

    Good on Thief for finally confronting Catherine about using Akua more and more, though I personally am now a little worried that since she and Cat have ‘committed’ to an evil fate for Akua, it gives Akua more of an opening to try and escape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aspects sometimes manifest naturally due to a name other times they are a result of growth or conflict. In this case Masego had spent days trying to figure out a problem using conventional sorcery and analyzing the past events of Keter but he realizes that he is the heirophant and therefore will not be denied knowledge. Thus this could possibly be his first aspect that he has manifested as a result of not being challenged thus far.

      Liked by 6 people

          1. Yotz

            Glimpse was an aspect of the Apprentice.
            And, since my memory is full of eels – can it be that Masego finally gained his third Aspect here, at that point of time?

            Like

      1. Technically, this was a challenge. A profoundly intellectual (cough the the data up in a format I can use, dammit!) and emotional one (when you find out Popa had a very complex life you knew nothing about which is currently directly related to your own issues, it gets emotional). 🙂

        Like

    2. Dainpdf

      Yeah, I thought that was quite a jab at the shipping community, especially with her repeating it shortly after in other words. But hey, maybe Vivienne just hadn’t met the right woman yet.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. ______

      I’m kind of disappointed that Vivienne didn’t tell Cat about Akea’s remark about redemption, since, due to Pilgrim refusing to help Cat when she was willing to compromise, I now suspect he saw Akua posessing her and now is aiming to redeem the Diabolist into a Good mage Name (or at least to keep her as an option if Cat doesn’t fold).

      Like

      1. haihappen

        ooooooooohhhhhh. Courtroom shows would be so much better if the people involved were fantasy characters…
        “hear hear. As Hierarch of the Free Cities I call this congregation of foreign despots and malcontents to Order. I hereby open the case of Evil vs. Good. The defendant, known among a countless number of blasphemous names, is ‘The Wandering Bard’. The Charges consist, among others, ‘Crimes Against Humanity’, manslaughter, murder, drunken misconduct, willful negligence resulting in gross bodily harm… that will do for now. The Prosecution may begin, Mr. Black, your opening statement?”

        Liked by 7 people

    1. ______

      Catherine saw Masego pull workings straight out of his memory instead of recreating them. given whee we are now, this Aspect may be a culmination of that. If Akua’s hellgate did indeed leave a similar set of shards around Liesse, they may even end up using them to investigate Istrid’s death and/or summon expendable “reflections” of legionaries to fight the crusaders with: both Liesse and the remains of the Greater Breach can plausibly be used to bring them through.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jabes

        I think he just found his Third Aspect, not reusing an old one ( I may be wrong in this, but I thought he only had two so far).

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        1. Rogos

          “Glimpse” was one of Masego’s Aspects back when he was the Apprentice. When he transitioned into his new Name, he lost access to his old Aspects and so now he has to build a new set. It’s the same for all transitional Names : for example, Black didn’t have Lead, Conquest and Destroy back when he was the Squire, he had other ones (presumably including Learn).

          Liked by 5 people

    2. Aehriman

      It can also mean to observe. Or even to observe and recount to others. As Hierophant I’m thinkin this is closer to a religious than legal interpretation o the word.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jane

    Ooooh, Witness sounds about as much as a hax Aspect as Learn! Maybe it’s more limited than first blush would imply, but if it can truly reveal the origin of events… There’s a heck of a lot that could be used for. Though, I guess Masego wouldn’t really have interest in most of the practical applications not related to theoretical magic…

    I know how Vivienne feels. It’s basically internet withdrawal – take a person away from an ocean of information once they’re accustomed to swimming in it, and you suddenly feel naked from all the things you can’t confirm with a glance at a parchment. No wonder she spends most of her time away from the Woe.

    Hm. A bit odd how Cat’s interest has shifted from lightly implied to explicitly confirmed, this chapter. I wonder where that’s going.

    So, Thief has made her peace with Akua, such as it is. Use her up as you wish, so long as you discard her – pretty much the closest the two will ever come to accord, without working together for a couple of years, I imagine. I wonder if that means we’ll get to see her out of the box more often – not that Cat likes to use her, but I’d be surprised if her compass telling her that it was okay to use Akua didn’t have any effect.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. Jane

          Eh… She’s lonely. Between being Queen, being Named, and becoming a goddess, there are very few people she can be close to. To say nothing of how she recently had to break up with her girlfriend over her rising status.

          Vivienne is someone she finds attractive, has a shred of conscience, and is someone she feels comfortable talking to – both in regards to the kingdom, and in regards to her own worries. It’s a pretty good ground for a relationship, honestly, if incompatible orientations weren’t a problem.

          And now that they’re stuck in Arcadia for an indeterminate period of time with nothing to do but sit around and talk… Well, restlessness takes many forms. Cat’s a young woman, it’s not that strange that her thoughts would go in that direction.

          There could be more to it than this, of course, but at first glance, nothing really strikes me as out of the ordinary.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I do no doubt your words. Yet they have little to do with mine. She could’ve been aroused at any number of things Vivi did or said. The fact that it was the suggestion to coldhearted emotional torture and murder speaks volumes about Cat’s current mental status.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Jane

              …Oh, right ^^;; …

              Honestly, between being caught in the flow of the conversation before that (where Cat was mostly trying to understand Vivienne), considering the implications of Vivienne approving of Akua being allowed out more often, and this being the downtime of a party of Villains… I just, um, kind of tuned that out ^^;; …

              That probably doesn’t speak well of me, in retrospect, being able to overlook such a thing…

              Like

      1. Jane

        Well, taking off shipping goggles for a moment…

        It has been previously introduced and now confirmed that Cat has a physical interest in Vivienne; this chapter also explicitly states that Cat does not believe that Vivienne reciprocates her feelings.

        From a metaperspective, there must have been a reason to introduce this story element; it may be a subplot that will affect their relationship dynamics in the future (perhaps a “Vivienne tries to let Cat down gently” or “Vivienne tells Cat she was mistaken” type of things, to cite the most obvious), or it may just be a bit of detail to make their relationship dynamic feel more “real”. It may also be a combination of the two, wherein it’s later used to explained some action of Cat’s in the future that wouldn’t make sense without context like this.

        It seems odd to me at the moment, because it feels like a subplot that’s been building, but which doesn’t yet have an obvious direction – no doubt we’ll have more to go on in a few chapters.

        (Of course, it could also be the author’s way of saying, “I just wanted to establish that Cat thought Vivienne was attractive, but the readers took it too far; let’s let them down firmly here before this gets out of hand”, but… If this wasn’t going to be related to a future plot point, I would think taking a moment for Cat to remember that Vivienne was straight would be enough; reinforcing Cat’s attraction to Vivienne would be counterproductive.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Anon

          It’s actually mildly interesting, as Cat’s bisexuality has come up (aside from Vivienne) multiple times in this book – in flirting with Princess Mazala, to Akua and the twice-bloomed comment, and now the more explicit interest in Vivienne….yet she’s had next-to-zero interest since Keegan.

          If it’s only meant to be a ‘calm down shippers’ moment, it feels like it lingers too long on Cat’s feelings for that – as you say, a simple acceptance of Vivienne’s preferences would have been sufficient.

          This feels like something else, but it doesn’t (necessarily) feel like ‘Cat is getting lonely’ moment either – I dunno what’ll come of this in any specific way though, unless Thief somehow (either on purpose or accidentally) betrays Cat down the line, and in so doing uses Cat’s feelings for her?

          But that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, given that she’s got MORE than enough opportunity to break Cat with her having the fae vows to call upon if Cat ever ‘lost herself in Winter’.

          (idly, it’s also somewhat interesting to note that Indrani, while a hedonist, appears to have actual interest (likely not really reciprocated) in Masego, and Juniper has that thing with…..Aisha, I think?

          But I don’t recall ever having any specific insight into Thief’s being explicitly into dudes that I can recall off-hand, though I do have a vague recollection of….something? Bah, it must be pretty far off)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Jane

            Well, my first thoughts were that a darker plotline that could arise from this would be a “Cat, blinded by her feelings for Vivienne, doesn’t realize how far Vivienne has turned towards Villainy, and trusts her to stop Cat from doing something monstrous; Vivienne, believing that Cat’s actions are justified for the protection Callow, fails to do so.” scenario. There have been enough elements introduced to justify such a scenario, and it’s a conflict that would fit well with the themes of the series.

            Now, I don’t think that’s actually going to happen, as there hasn’t been nearly enough foreshadowing to suggest such a thing – but if the story does go there in a few chapters, the outline was present, between Cat having reaffirmed her trust of Vivienne several times, and Vivienne having crossed several lines she would have once balked at while Cat frets that she’s a bad influence on Thief. And of course, that’s only one example of how this could be used in a more dramatic fashion.

            More likely, though, I’d expect we have a lighter subplot where Indrani takes Cat aside and says that she should really stop mooning over Vivienne, and instead offers to set her up with someone who’s actually interested in her. Or Cat finding out that Vivienne really is into women as well, but if that was where this was going, I’d expect fewer confirmations that Vivienne was straight – even if it’s easy enough to say “Well, Cat was wrong,” authors usually leave more wiggle room than that.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Anon

              Maybe, but unless it’s another named who has sufficient power to not be used as a pawn piece, they’d quickly get lost in the shuffle – which was a large part of why Cat dropped Killian (in addition to her distaste with the blood sacrifice to activate Killian’s true magic potential)

              And on that note, there’s not a lot of prospects whom Cat would be kosher with – between being the Queen of the remaining Winter Fae, Queen of Callow, trying to thread the needle of ‘making lasting peace while not getting trapped in a heroic-face-turn story’, and the ‘cementing’ of the Woe as a band of named with a fixed number, I don’t see another ‘new’ person really being able to insert themselves so easily this ‘late’ into the overall story progression.

              The only way I see Vivienne betraying Cat at this point is if Cat somehow REALLY slips up and inadvertently is about to doom Callow – in giving Vivienne the keys to basically banish/control her, that’s about as high of a trust level that Cat could ever give, unless she is separated from Winter.

              …..If anything, I would almost moreso expect Cat to be the one to ‘ditch’ Vivienne, if she ever gets ‘confirmation’ that by being an agent of the gods below (and being a reaper, like the grey pilgrim once mentioned) has turned thief into an agent of evil.

              But she seems intent on breaking that connection over almost anything else, so we’ll have to wait and see.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Jane

                Ah, well… It’s Indrani. I hadn’t meant to suggest that her proposal would actually work – rather, that she’d suggest Cat join her on some tavern crawls to “get it out of her system” or something like that. Of course, that might sound rather superfluous, but it would allow the author to reference Cat’s isolation as a theme in the story in a way that still seems fresh.

                As for betrayal… Well, a twist such as the one I described would be a “betrayal” of Vivienne’s role as a morality pet, but from Vivienne’s perspective, she would just be furthering Cat’s agenda. I think Cat would be deeply hurt by that, but would understand that Vivienne had still done what she believed was best for Cat and for Callow, and could forgive such a thing in time – after a whole lot of self-flagellating about how she was the one who led Vivienne down this path.

                Of course, that also depends a lot on what, exactly, happened; I was thinking something like, “Cat overdoses on Winter to stop the Proceran army, trusting Vivienne to restrain her if she’s going too far; Vivienne decides it’s better that the army is slaughtered to the last soldier here, and declines to do so”. Something like a second Liesse, perpetrated (somehow) by Vivienne, would be harder to work past.

                As for Cat walking away… Well, she might really want to, but could she really? She needs Thief, both as a member of the Woe, and as Callow’s spymaster. There’s no one else that can fill those roles, and even if it’s toxic for Thief… Asking her to leave would cripple the kingdom, and the damage would already have been done anyway. Even if it’s for someone she cared about, could she really risk making all of her previous crimes meaningless?

                Joking suggestion to conclude this comment: You know, between establishing that Cat would like a new girlfriend, and that Vivienne is willing to forgive Akua being out of the box… Maybe this is leading into a way to make Cat/Akua possible 😛 .

                Liked by 1 person

            2. Yotz

              Speaking of decadence and debauchery as an opium of the suffering masses – although technically not a stallion, but since body is a construct of mind, futanari is a thing…

              Like

              1. Jane

                …I, uh, don’t think that’s likely to be a practical solution outside of a doujin of the series.

                I mean, yeah, Cat can remake her body, but I don’t imagine she’d be comfortable doing so like this, or Vivienne being reminded of that fact… Plus, that’s kind of a heavy thing to bring up when they’re not even dating, and Vivienne hasn’t shown any interest in doing so.

                …Okay, okay, so I’m taking a joke too seriously, just… Channeling Masego for a moment as I think of all the ways that would be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Be glad I stopped here.

                Like

          2. ______

            Vivienne mentioned in her interlude that “she did find a few corners with boys she liked, but they sure as Hells weren’t tradesmen and there were no wedding bells around the corner”.

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        2. Azure

          Catherine’s relationship with Vivienne is almost arm’s length because in Catherine’s mind, she is the keeper of her keys, her last resort to stop her from going over the edge. So she has assumed an emotional distance present from Vivienne’s end as her ‘jailor’, but still allows herself physical attraction since she thinks its safe, since it won’t go anywhere. I wonder how much of a flawed narrator she is though, thinking that Vivienne is actually capable of that distance, because to me there are signs that she isn’t. Vivienne’s hate of Akua is visceral and some of it was due to her wearing Catherine’s smile. Now that is not a sign of someone who is just a jailer and can pull the trigger at any time with no conflict.

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    1. IDKWhoitis

      Witness, in conjugation with the Observatory, Sahaleian Scrying artifacts, and unlimited access to Arcadia (Cat) will probably be on of the most productive methods of information warfare. Like if Masego can reproduce the type of watching the Augur did at the end of Book 4, Cat will never be on the back foot on the information front for the foreseeable future, regardless of which dimension she may be in.

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      1. Jane

        Well, the problem there is… It’s Masego she has to rely on, and like his father, he’s interested first and foremost in his own affairs, and only loosely attached to the greater world. He’ll help out when it’s something big, and apparently can run the Observatory without cutting too much into his own time, but I imagine the bulk of this will go to Heirophant unravelling the secrets of Creation.

        Which will have benefits of its own, obviously, but not really of the type that would immediately leap to the minds of the more practical sort.

        Of course… Even if it’s only occasionally that this Aspect will be used for more worldly matters, that’s still a pretty big advantage in a pinch.

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  3. IDKWhoitis

    Odds on Bard and Dead King discussing something completely innocuous? Like gardening or the invasion? Because it seems like the bastards below are being a bit too helpful. Im fully expecting fate to show a massive middle finger here, and make this whole witnessing almost a waste of time (outside of Masego gaining another Aspect).

    Like

    1. Or flirting. And then going into an empty room and enjoying wild sex. Nine months later, the baby is born, but subsequentalliy lost in time-warp during the Ritual of Keter, and later adopted into Imperial Orphanage and named Cat.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As hilarious as that would be, Cat is at least half Daoine(sp?)? Deoraithe? Don’t remember which is the non derogatory term for “Wallerspawn”.
        Her parentage is probably a question that will remain unanswered. Though, there probably aren’t that many Deoraithe who would have been in the vicinity of Laure in the right time frame, so Duchess Kegan might have been able to find out eventually, with enough digging, but as of the last time she was on screen (circa Akua’s Folly), Kegan didn’t know, and might not have even been looking.

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    2. Jane

      Even if the contents of the conversation themselves are meaningless, what it reveals about the relationship between the Dead King and Bard will be significant; polite distance, light dueling, a bit of camaraderie… Just having a vague outline as to how they once treated each other sheds a great deal of insight on a previously unknown, but very important, relationship.

      It’s true that their relationship could have (and likely did) change after this conversation, or that this particular conversation might have been out of character for them, but… Just having an idea as to whether they’re looking at some kind of ancient betrayal, or a rival outplayed, will give them a great deal of insight on two figures that may as well be mythical, but for the fact that Cat has to treat with them.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Yotz

      “So, what should we talk about?”
      “Let’s just tell a series of increasingly lewd anecdotes to embarrass thouse foolish children who will try to eavesdrop on our conversation in a few hundred years!”

      Like

  4. Someguy

    I have been wondering, why haven’t they wrung arcane textbooks and backup libraries out of Akua? She should have some knowledge/ownership of secret caches of magical knowledge outside of Wolof set up by herself & her predecessors to fall back on should Tyrants successfully seize their House Seat right?

    With those in hand Cat can 1-up Black by establishing a Mage Academy with better mage doctrine that Black could not talk Warlock into doing.

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    1. magesbe

      Without knowing the other side of the story, we can’t be sure how much of a betrayal this actually was. I mean, Masego certainly views it as such, but it might be somewhat justified from an objective point of view. We just don’t know yet.

      But I suspect that’s not your point.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Jane

        I wonder what sort of limitations are on Witness? Traditionally, similar abilities (presuming it does what I assume it does) require being at the site of the event in question, or possessing a related item – but that doesn’t necessarily hold in this setting.

        Could Heirophant just desire to see a conversation where his fathers discussed keeping this knowledge from him, and allow it work that way? That seems overpowered, so probably not, but… How much preparation would he require, to learn the truth of why neither of his fathers told him? Assuming that there were conversations or other circumstances to be Witnessed.

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        1. Quite possibly a cat

          It seems like it’s making stuff show up so it can be witnessed. Best/worst case it’s forcing stuff into reality.

          It’s probably super useful against Elves or Thief or certain demons. He might even be able to save hero 13 and 14! You could probably force Bard to show up or at least not leave.

          Like

  5. RoflCat

    ….Is nobody going to mention that the chapter’s title + Thief’s approval (albeit with added ‘don’t forget to kill the whore’ for future plan of action), Akua is now the Sixth of the Woes?

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      1. Yotz

        Indeed! He didn’t even ask for consent, making it unconsensual hand holding! Oh, how deep they plunge into the abyss of Ebil!..

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  6. d_o_l

    Something just occurred to me. Witness could potentially counteract the influence of Absence, since we all know that subplot’s coming back at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well obiously, he’s talking about near theorised to be a. It’s hinted throughout a chapters that loose and two are alledgedly. It’s unknown whethere they manage to or it just, in process. So we wait until this particular Chekov’s gun fires. Any questions?

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    1. Cimer

      He didn’t go analog in lieu of digital, he went quantum in lieu of classical.

      Quantification is anathema to higher sorceries.

      That sounds like quantum mechanic’s measurement problems. If you try to measure something too precisely, you lose something else.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As a quantum computation researcher, I would just like to say that is a very common misconception, but actually the polar *opposite* of the truth. Quantum mechanics is entirely about how *everything* can be quantized. That’s where the term “quantum” comes from.

        Measurement ‘uncertainty’ actually has very little to do with uncertainty unless you’re constructing a very specific experiment and you’re not sure what’s going on under the hood (like Heisenberg was). The way you’ve probably heard of it before, it’s really just more of a descriptor of … okay I just realized I have absolutely no idea how to explain what it actually means without going into Clifford algebra territory. Fuck. Uhhhh, you know what, I think I understand why the incorrect notion of what the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle means, on a physical level, is so prevalent. Because I can’t possibly imagine how to explain what’s *actually* going on to a layperson. Or even most physicists.

        Uhhhh … I guess the moral of the story is that quantum is complicated and that sane people shouldn’t touch it with a ten foot Mach Zehnder.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Multifactors, feedback loops and all the headaches that going micro gives intellects stuck in macro… Remember when you next want to scream and bang the wall, you chose your own hell. *discretely hides own cognitive science and neurology textbooks* *whistles “innocently*

          At least we didn’t go into metabolomics. The interactions of the Krebs cycle are hell on toast with a side of torture. Or, there’s always law to shudder at.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I remind myself of that every day.

            That said … you do neurology? Hahahaha. Oh friend you’ve got it so much worse than me. At least quantum mechanics can be broken down into simple truths, even if those truths are hell to parse. You’re stuck with the complexity of your systems and there’s nothing you can do about it.

            …. you know what, yes. We can agree on that. At least neither of us went into microbiology. Or law. Neither of those have any respect for sanity.

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        2. stevenneiman

          Well, I’m glad to hear that I chose the right major to avoid dealing with all those sane people. In the (early) physics classes I’ve taken so far, I kept on wondering why people were so confused until I realized how hard it was to try and explain some of it to them even when I’m pretty sure I do understand it, and given that that was a physics student to slightly more confused physics student I can see how much worse it would be for anyone who works with quantum mechanics to laypeople.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hahaha. Yeah physics requires a special kind of crazy. It has a stupid-high dropout rate, but that’s not because it’s capital-H Hard or because you have to be extra special smart to hack it. Most of the physics ‘dropouts’ go on to have perfectly successful careers in some form of engineering.

            Nah physics just needs that special little dash of crazy and a deep, deep love of puzzles. The dash of crazy is so you can let go of familiar reality and accept ‘weird’ stuff as perfectly ordinary, and the love of puzzles is so that you don’t burn out on hour 3 of trying to figure out how to *start* solving a problem. (Or hour 10 or 50 or 100).

            And hey, welcome to the ranks! I hope you find it a happy and fulfilling field of study!

            Liked by 2 people

            1. stevenneiman

              Physics sounds sort of like Dark Souls. The almost meditative process of beating your head against a wall for hours followed by the burning triumph when it breaks before you do.

              Like

  7. Letouriste

    So Akua is now the 6th member of the crew? I have mixed feelings about that^^ suit the narrative of this story though. That’s still weird because that create redundancy (akua is mage and demonologist like masego, tactician like cat, skilled in politics like cat,vivienne and hakram…albeit better at that. ), I don’t think that was necessary for their crew(make things easier for sure)…BUT that could be what cat need to survive pilgrim plot to redemption. The pilgrim could not predict this afterall and having a dead mass murderer monster without real remorses in your crew is hardly heroic no matter what you do

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    1. Yotz

      The ultimate party piece would be a possibility of Ubua proving the truthfulness of her redemption to V, so in the end V will try to break the deal with the Winter and accepting consequences of such a deed.

      Like

    2. werafdsaew

      Akua is good at politics, especially wasteland politics, which is a necessity if Cat were to ever take the tower, and I think she will.

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    3. stevenneiman

      I think she actually might not be as unrepentant as you think. I’m not certain of it by any stretch, but she might be the very bizarre offspring of “Iron sharpens iron” and “good guys always win”. She still thinks in terms of attaining more power, but she might very well have realized that acting like a horrible person is a path to defeat and forgetting.

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  8. stevenneiman

    This is something that’s been bugging me for a while, every time it comes up. “Discrete” means in specific parts. Bricks are discrete while clay is not. “Discreet” means caring about privacy or secrecy. This isn’t an alternate spelling from a different part of the world the way that legionaries vs. legionnaires is, it’s a pair of similar but completely distinct and unrelated English words. Sorry if I’m going a bit Masego on you here, but it’s been bugging me for a very long time.

    Liked by 2 people

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