Chapter 30: Witness

“There is only one lesson to be learned from shatranj: no matter who wins the game, the pieces return to the same box.”
– Dread Emperor Benevolent the First

I’d never been in crypt before but it smelled about what I’d expected. Cool, wet stone and a little like dust. The scent was heavy and cloying, but it wasn’t the reason I felt rattled. I almost withdrew my wrist from Masego’s grasp before realizing that might get me expelled from… whatever this was and froze instead. Splendidly uncaring of my wariness, Hierophant let my wrist go the moment after. I looked around. Still here. I’d say that was good to know, but I understood next to nothing about what was going on. That was an unpleasantly familiar feeling, truth be told.

“Masego,” I whispered. “Can they see us?”

We were on the outskirts of the crowd but there were a few attendants close by near a sculpted ramp leading upwards. If they could see us, we’d stick out like sore thumbs. Neither of us could pass Keteran by skin tone alone, much less if clothes were brought into it. Hierophant shook his head.

“We can only subtract from this, not add,” he mused.

That loosened some of the tension in my shoulders, so I allowed myself to take a slower look around. We were at the beginning of the shard, by my reckoning. Most of the grievers were still filing in, and it’d be about half an hour before they king’s corpse was brought in. Less than that before the Bard walked in from a place not within the shard and sat down next to Trismegistus, though. Two of the attendants a little higher up, veiled young women, spoke in a low voice. I frowned.

“They’re still speaking Keteran,” I said.

Masego turned to me, lips curving in a sharp smile.

“Subtraction, Catherine,” he said, “does not preclude acquisition.”

My brow rose.

“You can ransack their brains,” I said.

“Don’t be absurd,” he replied. “The actual brain matter is long gone. I can appropriate an echo of their consciousness, including working knowledge of their language.”

I blinked in surprise.

“Wait, that’s something you can do?” I said. “You can dig out an entire dialect from someone’s head and put it in someone else’s?”

That would have been damned useful to know. Wouldn’t have had to spend so many evenings trying to learn Chantant if there was a shortcut like that. Without Learn to help me along, I’d come to the realization that my talent for languages was average at best and that the most widespread language in Procer was a horrid chore to learn. So many fucking exceptions and whoever had decided that plurals for masculine and feminine names – or even that there should be any of those – deserved to be drawn and quartered. If it’d been a possibility to lift that knowledge out of the heads of criminals, with consent and a reduced sentence dangled in exchange, I would have taken it.

“Theoretically speaking,” Masego agreed. “Of course a living mind is much more complex to excise information from than what can be found in this imprint. Likely the extraction would break the source entirely, what would be obtained would be contaminated with connected gibberish and the bestowal itself drive the recipient mad. Human minds were not meant to process that much knowledge instantly.”

I grimaced. Yeah, it figured. Should have known that if this was a feasible shortcut, Warlock would have cut open a few ‘expendables’ and the Calamities would be fluent in every single Calernian language.

“But you can do it here safely,” I pressed.

He eyed me amusedly, which was a pretty ghastly sight considering his glass eyes.

“For myself, I can rely on my aspect to handle the worst of the backlash,” he noted. “I will have severe migraines for weeks or months before it has all been processed, but I have herbs to alleviate this.”

“And me?” I said, already expecting the worst.

Human minds were not meant to process that much knowledge instantly,” he reminded me gently. “You have regularly employed powers beyond human capacity to understand, and indicted by the principle alienation that ensued. It will be no more unpleasant than when we employed absolute alignment together.”

So a bunch of spikes through the forehead. Lovely.

“I’ll cope,” I sighed. “Work your magic, magic man.”

“Must you call me that?” he asked.

“Be grateful Indrani’s not here, or she’d start hinting about magic fingers,” I replied without missing a beat.

She wouldn’t even be wrong, to be honest. My time with Kilian had taught me that the jokes about mages having clever fingers were well founded.

“Silver lining,” he muttered. “The attendants will do for our purposes, I suppose.”

I glanced at the two young women.

“A question,” I said. “Can you extract from the Trismegistus and the Bard?”

He nodded slowly.

“Broader, more complex minds will be more difficult to work with,” he warned. “But in principle, yes. I must caution, however, that was is taken will be removed from the echo permanently. After the extraction, the actors will be… impaired, for lack of a better term.”

“We’d be fucking with the imprint,” I summarized.

“Fucking is not a term that applies to this subject,” he sighed.

“It’s a term with surprisingly broad applications, Zeze,” I said righteously. “You should expand your horizons.”

Huh, so he could glare with glass eyes without resorting to a light show. Nice to know. The work took too long. We were only halfway through the span of the shard, but the Bard was long gone and Trismegistus remained far from the other grievers for the rest of it. We used the time to get more comfortable with our sudden knowledge of Keteran. Or, as it was actually called, Ashkaran. After he broke the first attendant – a chunk of her face was now missing, like it’d been vaporized – and shoved a blue bubble into my forehead, I’d felt a rush. Like my mind was a cup being filled beyond capacity, until the cup shattered and Winter flooded my veins. It’d been… strangely pleasant. Like cracking your neck after a long day’s work. Hierophant’s own acquisition had seen him go still for a solid thirty heartbeats, and his face had been twitching in and out of a wince ever since. He admitted in a low voice that the aspect had not warded off backlash as much as he’d anticipated.

I would have spared him some sympathy but I was still busy wrestling with the fact that I had servant gossip a few millennia out of date rattling around the back of my mind. I was less interested in who had been sleeping with who in the royal kitchens, or the speculation that the… head household servant for halls and commoner rooms – there was no Lower Miezan word that carried the same breadth of implications – had been getting cheaper candles and pocketing the savings.

“You know,” I said out loud, “for all those rumours about chambermaids being saucy this is surprisingly tame stuff. You hear filthier in taverns.”

“Maybe the sort you frequent,” Masego muttered. “There’s a reason I refuse to go drinking with you and Archer. Last time I saw a rat.”

I snorted. Yeah, maybe Dockside had been a bit much for Hierophant. He liked things clean, and that part of Laure was anything but. We split to see if there was anything interesting to dig up, and to my surprise there was. A surprising amount of information could be obtained from overhearing idle conversation, if there was enough of it. For one, I confirmed that the people with the copper circlets were royalty. Sons and daughters of the dead king, whose name had been Iakim. The oldest child was the heir to the kingship of Sephirah, which I assumed to be the name of the ancient Keteran kingdom. The title of that heir, Zekiah, wasn’t prince. Not exactly. The term was more like lesser king, and by the sound of it Zekiah had shared rule of the kingdom with his father for years now. Of Trismegistus, or whatever his true name was, I heard nothing. The nobles, or at least the man and women bearing titles I assumed to be something like nobility, among the crowd did not speak of him. Apart from the entombment, the favourite subject appeared to be the war with the ‘People of the Wolf’.

Aside from the usual accusations of savagery and wickedness that always sprouted on both sides of any war, the rumour of cannibalism was often repeated. That and transforming into giant man-eating wolves, but I had my doubts about that one. I’d seen no hint of a power like it when passing through the battle shards. No one seems particularly worried about the war, though, not even after King Iakim’s death. The People of the Wolf were apparently no match for walls of stone, and the ‘Conclave’ had finally agreed to enter the war. From context, those seemed to be mages. Had the lack of effectiveness of mages we’d seen so far come from the fact they were just amateurs? Could be. It wasn’t what I’d come here to find out, though, so when the shard began again I found Masego and headed towards the upper alcoves where I knew the Dead King and the Bard would come to talk.

“Heard anything interesting?” I asked.

“Some blame the plague for the war,” he told me, though he didn’t sound all that interested. “They say it was the deaths in the outlying villages that attracted the wolfmen.”

I cocked my head to the side. I’d chalk that one up for Hakram’s tale of the fall of Keter.

“Is wolfmen how you’d translate it?” I said. “It struck me more as-”

“Ah, capitalized,” he breathed out. “I see. Formal address, which would be spoken ‘People of the Wolf’. Difficult to know which of us is correct without seeing the term written, of course.”

“I can’t read it,” I told him. “The girl was illiterate.”

“I have some semblance of the knowledge,” Masego frowned, then winced as his headache flared. “I cut too narrowly, it seems. I cannot quite remember it.”

I patted his shoulder.

“Don’t get a migraine,” I ordered. “I need you sharp for the important part.”

We were both standing, when Trismegistus strode up the ramp and came to rest by a pillar. He looked calm, in the magelight, and did not visibly react when the Wandering Bard slipped through the darkness and plopped herself down in the alcove to his side. She put down the lute on her lap and chuckled.

“There’s nothing quite like looking down at one’s work, is there?” she said.

Her Ashkaran was flawless and without accent, as if she was a native speaker. Trismegistus did not look at her.

“Intercessor,” he said. “I wondered if you would come.”

“Intercessor,” the Bard repeated amusedly. “Not the worst thing I’ve been called. Heard a thing or two, have you?”

The young man glanced at her, mildly curious, before returning his gaze to the ceremony unfolding below.

“You were companion to Nasseh the Great, when he fought for the submission of the twelve cities,” Trismegistus idly said. “You were at Queen Sadassa’s side as well, during the worst of the Wars of the Rat. Fortune and misfortune both draw you like carrion.”

“And which do you think you are, I wonder?” the Bard mused. “So few of them even remember you exist, Neshamah. How horrified they would be, to learn what the prodigal son has wrought.”

Neshamah, I thought, fingers clenching. I finally had a name.

“You come in the service of Those Above, then,” the man said, and he sounded almost bored. “Tedious.”

“Below has already blessed you quite enough, my friend,” the Bard shrugged. “You don’t need the nudge. But I’m not here to put sticks in your wheels, if that is your worry. Too late for that. Maybe if I’d had a few years to shape your opposition, but you played it well enough I had no openings. And I already burned my fingers tossing those bones with odds like this with the giants.”

Neshamah finally turned to face her.

“You have my attention,” he said. “If not intervention, what is your purpose here?”

“I suppose you could call it curiosity,” she said. “I’m starting to understand how little I understand, you see. So I seek knowledge. About how they make people like you. I won’t solve the riddle with the tools they gave me, so it seems I must learn craftsmanship of my own. Which takes me to you. You’re not impossible, my friend, but you are unlikely. Your father did not look Below when he earned his Blessing. But you did, at an age where most children worry about the nature of supper. Was it your mother’s death? Ugly affair all around, I’ve been told.”

The man smiled.

“You think it kindness to offer me an excuse,” Neshamah said. “But it is an insult, Intercessor. There is nothing in what I have wrought that deserves excusing.”

“The plague alone killed hundreds,” the Bard said. “That will grow to thousands, when the cities begin to be touched.”

“And?” he patiently asked.

“Your people bleed for power,” the Bard said. “But only ever themselves. You would break cities in the name a plan that will not bloom for years yet.”

“I destroy flesh that will destroy itself in time,” he said. “There is no theft in this, Intercessor. It is mere movement of the soul as was ordained, only now given proper purpose.”

The Bard hummed, then pulled at her flask.

“The drow didn’t teach you this,” she decided. “The Twilight Sages conisder death the only sin, they would be appalled by what you speak of. Most tribes beyond the lakes can barely even use sorcery and their allegiances change with the seasons. Was it the Chitterers? I genuinely believe the Gods made them out of whatever was left after the rest of Creation was done. Shoddy craftsmanship, that lot.”

“And still you believe I must have been taught,” Neshamah said. “As if my actions were not the only lucid answer to the truth of this world. There are none closer in any lands to the Gods, Intercessor, so tell me this – why must we die at all? Why were we shaped with such inherent imperfection?”

“Because the Garden was a failure,” the Bard easily replied. “Immortals always fall into closed circles. There are no answers to be had from them.”

“You grasp too little and too much,” the man said. “The Splendid are bound to repetition because they are feared, Intercessor. Because with the span of eternity before them, they might learn beyond what they were meant to learn were they not so tightly constrained. And so mortality is the answer to the deeper question: how do they loosen the bindings without birthing their own usurpers?”

Neshamah smiled, his golden brown eyes aglow.

“Why, by cursing their work with decay,” he chuckled. “By ensuring the banner can only be carried for so long by any one soul before it is recalled at their feet.”

“Below’s favour comes with the end of aging,” the Bard said.

“Blessing from it also calls the blessed to strife in all things,” the man dismissed. “It is a curse of unmaking as certain as that of age.”

“Yet you took a Blessing as well,” she said. “And you’ve birthed no small amount of strife. The People of the Wolf, the southern cities, even your father – all dancing to your tune, every death another stone for your tower.”

“Is this judgement I discern?” Neshamah drawled. “You must have been human once, Intercessor. Do you not recall the urgings of one’s blood? I forced nothing. They do as they will, by their own choosing. All the forces of this war precede me. My forbear slew that of the Witch Queen, and so enmity was birthed between our peoples. Blessings of opposite bent set her against my father to the death, leading to the night of his passing. And war? Ah, war is but the accumulation of a thousand choices. Beyond the guiding hand of any single man. All I have done, Intercessor, was hitch my chariot to a falling star.”

“Oh, I won’t ever forget my first face,” the Bard murmured. “Or the first few after that, when I evened the scales of the debt. I leave judgement to the Tribunal, my friend. To every force its purpose, and that is not mine.”

“We must seem like golems to you,” the man said wonderingly. “Our incantations written by the hands of Gods instead of men, yet not so different peering down from your perch. Eyeless things toiling for purpose we cannot understand.”

“One day, maybe,” she said. “When I will have grown used to dying. Until then I still weep for what we do to ourselves, without needing a single nudge.”

“I have pondered, since I first learned of you,” Neshamah said. “Whether or not your service is willing.”

“They make us better, when we listen,” the Bard said. “Even yours. It is a terrible thing you will do, but no less great for it.”

“Yet you seek to escape your purpose,” the man said.

“I have,” she said lightly, “always loved a good story.”

“What a clever jest,” Neshamah mused. “That there are none to seek intercession for the Intercessor.”

The Wandering Bard laughed. Like he was her friend, and not a monster who was scheming to destroy a kingdom and a half for his ambition. I shivered at the sight of it, for the second time. For reasons darker and deeper than the first.

“Pity, from you?” she said. “People never do cease to surprise me. I look forward to your ending, King of Death.”

“O ye of little faith,” the man who would be the Dead King smiled.

The Bard pulled at the flask again, saluting him jauntily, and sashayed away without another word. I did not follow her. She’d disappear, stepping into an alcove and vanishing into thin air. I stood there in silence for a very long time, watching the man that would become the Dead King look down at his father’s burial. Masego, for once, sensed there was no place for conversation.

“Take us out,” I said quietly.

“I have not extracted from either of them,” Hierophant said hesitatingly.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “We’re done for the day.”

“Catherine?” he asked, but it was more worry than question.

“Take us out, Masego,” I said. “It looks like I need to prepare to fight an entirely different kind of war.”

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119 thoughts on “Chapter 30: Witness

      1. Argentorum

        The way they talk about blessings makes me feel like they might not be as…set in stone as names are. Specifically “you looked below for your blessing. The delineation between the two sides isn’t as clear, because they’re both blessings, which makes me think that the powers might also be more fluid. Or I’m reading too much into it.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. It looks suspiciously like something, or somebody, codified Roles and Names in Calernia into the shapes we currently know them… all for the liking of a Good Story ™. Bard’s been a very busy bunny for quite a long time. And, has shaped a whole continent of conflict.

            I think she’s wrecked a few things in the process of streamlining the tools and board the Gods’ chosen actors get to play with and on. <_<

            Liked by 4 people

            1. PS — Should have said, “Bard’s been a very busy bunny for quite a long time, most of it against her will.”

              She’s borked what she could, when possible and while using plausible deniability. But, has forgotten that the pieces are people in the process.

              Like

    1. stevenneiman

      Weirdly the Book of All Things calls them Names, but that almost seems like a newer term from the way it’s used in some places but not others.

      Like

  1. Aeon

    Fascinating. So Bard isn’t necessarily a hero. I’m seeing some parallels with Black, based on some of the things Neshamah said. And she’s been around for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ruduen

    Even back then, the Wandering Bard likes to watch.

    Now, it’s just a question of what Catherine can take from it all.

    (Also, if she’ll get to snatch any other languages on her way out.)

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    1. Argentorum

      She’s already found the most important thing. She’s a piece on a very old board. The Dead King and the Intercessor have been playing for longer than Callow has been a kingdom.

      I’d also be…rather upset.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Byzantine

        But I think this conversation just showed they aren’t playing. Bard wants to die, or escape from her torment of keeping the balance. But in order to do so she must learn, and the Gods keep her constrained so she cannot.

        And Bard does not work for either side, exactly. She works to ensure the balance is maintained the game does not end. And that puts her in an entirely different position than Cat had assumed. And Cat just learned why the Dead King is so interested in her – she is an unconstrained being with the power of Winter in its entirety. She is exactly what he was hoping to make himself into. And she is something that can defeat the Gods themselves.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. SHARKS

          I don’t think it’s winter, specifically. I think it’s cat & Co’s ability to fuck with the “narratives” made by the gods.

          The summer/winter fae thing was the prototype for the “good” and “evil” narrative. It was supposed to loop endlessly, but cat BROKE that loop. My bet is that is the part that piqued his interest. She already broke the prototype, so now he might be able to finally break the real game.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Byzantine

            Yes, but in breaking the prototype she stole half its power. That means she both has an impossible innate ability – to break patterns – and the unbound power required to do so. The Dead King has the power, but he is bound in such a way that he cannot accomplish his real goal.

            The Bard has been trying to Create something impossible, which would allow her to break her bindings and escape her role. All while still being forced to play it.

            Catherine had the ability to break patterns, previously, but not the power to go up against patterns woven directly by the gods themselves. Now she has that power and that ability. This is the real reason Bard ensured Akua was successful – she needed Catherine to reach her current state, where she is no longer mortal, and unbound by pattern.

            The Dead King likely noticed what Cat has done… and if they talk freely will likely immediately see the bard’s play. The question is what happens next?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Morgenstern

              Funny thing that it wasn’t exactly Cat who had the idea how to break the fae cycle, but rather Malicia. I wonder how the Dead King will take *that* revelation. Or that it was Black who engineered other victories.. etc.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Byzantine

                It will make him very, very happy. Because he has the idea. He’s just been lacking a tool capable of carrying it out. Catherine is that tool – where she goes the story begin to shatter.

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              2. Metrux

                Err… None of the above. The one who made the plan was the King of Winter, but he needed Cat to do it, since he was naturally unable. And yes, Black engineered other victories, but all he does is with the same final objective, and that objective, much like the king’s one, needs Cat to do it, because he is naturally unable… Do you see a pattern emerging?

                Liked by 1 person

              1. People are hung up on that… No. The cycle is now borked. There were ever only two sides which cycled between four seasons. While any one cycle was in play, there could only ever two seasons — the other two were part of a different skin applied to a whole setting. Only upon a reset and reshuffle could the seasons change.

                So, Cat got the half of what was playing out at the time, and she won’t get Autumn (assuming Autumn was the “Evil” mirror), because that skin hadn’t been applied to the cycle in play.

                In addition, she now has the Wild Hunt, where once that was Spring or Autumn (in mythology, there’s just the Seelie –roughly associated with both Spring and Summer simultaneously– and Unseelie –roughly Autumn and Winter– and the border between both rather fluid).

                Because things Arcadia is now borked, the nature of the Hunt would have been in question. One solution: shove unhappy dissidents into it, affiliate it with Cat on the premise that Creation is now her backyard and Arcadia needs her permission to play in it. The Hunt needs to play in Creation: it’s part of its function. Now, its playing to bork Creation to mirror Arcadia.

                Liked by 1 person

            2. Notsteve

              I think this is also why Bard made sure Black broke Akua’s device. Cat was about to get a new Name if it had survived, which would have bound her to the same old system. As discussed here, villains are just as doomed as heroes to die before learning enough to break the system. But since Cat didn’t become the Black Queen, she barely has a Name at all anymore. Which might mean she has the power to change the system but is no longer subject to its rules.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Byzantine

    So Bard was the Gods solution to something that tried to break the game. Both Above and Below cooperated to create her. That explains how she is so… absurd.

    And she has wanted to die for a very, very, very long time. Then the game she is playing right now is not to balance the scales, or let heaven win. She noticed the same thing the Winter King did: that Catherine can break unbreakable patterns.

    And we just learned something very special: Catherine has the power of Winter, but is not constrained to fall into a circle. She is the unmaking of the Gods themselves. Damn.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. Novice

      I completely agree especially with your last paragraph. But what would that mean with the Calernian Fae? Because they too have escaped the bindings of Summer and Winter.

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      1. Byzantine

        I suspect they escaped one pattern for another that has yet to emerge. The Fae are too bound by stories to truly stop being part of one. The nature of the story has simply changed.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Byzantine

        He implied she works for both – “You come in the service of Those Above, then” is not something he would say if she always worked for Above, because he was far more aware of her than anyone had a right to be.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Her title here is an indication, too. She’s a go-between for the Gods Below and Above, their mediator (which would make it more clear than Intercessor, but who knows, maybe she’s been trying for intercession for the humans and/or played that role in the human world, so got that title there?).

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      1. Byzantine

        She is immortal.

        If she is eternal… well, that really depends on just how Winter and her are linked. The Fae can die, but they always come back when the cycle repeats. If Catherine dies, the question is what would trigger Winter to reset, now that the cycle in Arcadia is broken?

        I suspect that it is, ironically, Catherine’s death that resets the cycle. If so, then she is very much eternal. And that’s the kind of thing we only find out in the endgame.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Pretty sure Cat doesn’t get to slip the leash that easily. She’s very likely still mortal, if unaging. Otherwise one would expect the Heavens would have advised either the Pilgrim or Hasenbach’s oracle that trying to kill her is futile.
          Also, I think Cat doesn’t reset, precisely because she’s not truly Fae.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yotz

            That’s one of the base problems with digital immortality – quantum matrix on which your consciousness is imprinted may be reasonably considered eternal, but the fine structures of your consciousness are not. And since said matrix must be by definition mutable, it will degrade with the degradation of ‘you’. It’s just like the Gardener in the dark principle, only stretched from decades to millennia of _subjective_ time. Basically – everything rots.

            This is why any depiction of deep immortal are inherently flawed – our consciousness evolved to inhabit relatively short-lived mortal coil, and so we are unable neither to fully comprehend deep time as a concept, nor any being actually able to comprehend it. To grok the eternity one must be eternal. Cat only recently became one – and with a caveat the size of Vredefort Dome: the moment she succumbs to the mental entropy, her body will deform and disintegrate, solving the problem. And if she would be able to change enough to overcome degradation, she is bound to become one of the Old Monsters – compleately inhumane, deeply alien, incomprehensible creature, bound to the Grand Cycle of her own creation. Which solves her as a problem for the Players in deep time.

            Similar can be added to the Below Gift – beyond in-package megalomania as a form synthetic telomere – as it was shown with Black. He felt old inside, and so he aged visibly – he felt invigorated after the Knife Incident, and so he became young again. Even if you’ll manage somehow to retain King of the Hill’s Crown, you will crumble eventually, for the Names of godslayers are Ennui and Oversatiation.

            /streamofcosciousness.end

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Dainpdf

              That is true. Even villainous Named tend to fall into patterns. Perhaps that is part of why the Dead King seldom moves. We’ll see.
              Oh, and Cat dodges way too much for someone who is truly immortal, so we know that she at least thinks her body being destroyed would cause her very great inconvenience.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. Novice

        I think Cat is already an immortal. When talking about handing out Winter titles, Larat has this to say:
        “Ah, but there are such benefits to bestowal,” Larat smiled. “Freedom from the chains of entropy among them. How many of those you love are you willing to lose to age, before bending your neck?” – Chapter 10:Allegro

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Novice

            Catherine’s soul is practically Winter itself. So long as there’s a shard of Winter somewhere, like say via handing out Winter titles, Catherine can and will return thus making her an immortal imo.

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            1. Dainpdf

              Eh… That’s a stretch. Might be Winter as a fae entity will end as soon as Cat dies. Her soul leaves/is destroyed/does whatever souls do when their owners die, and Winter goes with it. Or maybe she does endure as a metaphysical entity, but can now only be briefly summoned with interrupted consciousness, like the devils. We have no way of knowing, as of yet.

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            2. Metrux

              You’re assuming, and with the guide assuming is almost always a bad thing. For all we know the fae cicle was broken BECAUSE of her existance in separation, which means the cicle will come anew after her death. For all we know the cicle was broken UNRELATED to her existance in Winter, which means she’s the last of Winter and it will disappear with her. For all we know fae powers and tendencies don’t follow our common logic, and we may very well not understand what happens. I mean, maybe she is eternal as of now, but when she dies she only resets herself, now as Fae, and can’t change anything forever again. Maybe she’ll even reset inside the united fae kingdoms, which could be even worse…

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  4. Jane

    I wonder how many more Echoes they could find… If they were to go to other great sites, and loot the knowledge therein, how much could Cat learn? The languages would be useful, but could she also learn great sorceries or famous swordplay?

    I mean, the Gigantes *have* to have done *something* that echoes into Arcadia, right? Just imagine being able to lift their sorcerous secrets without decades of study or having to talk her way into a country that would prefer her dead…

    Then again, I wonder if there would be side effects they’re unaware of. I can’t imagine that what she has become has been thoroughly studied.

    The Dead King sounds like an interesting man, who plays a game far more dangerous than any had thought. I’m reminded of how Heirophant’s ultimate ambition could break Creation itself, only the Dead King has presumably gone much further along his path than Masego has… If the Dead King thinks to outplay the Gods themselves, just how much danger is there in accepting his assistance?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Dainpdf

    So the League precedes the Dead King, and so does the Bard. Interesting. And his musings about decay and strife seem to indicate Creation is something like Douglas Adams’s Earth: a gigantic computer, which uses among other things life itself to derive knowledge.

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    1. Novice

      The League does not precede the Dead King. The League of Free Cities was founded in response to Procer’s aggressive expansion. And the Principate of Procer was formed after the fall of Triumphant.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Dainpdf

    Small issue:
    “So many fucking exceptions and whoever had decided that plurals for masculine and feminine names (…) deserved to be drawn and quartered.”
    Missing a piece. “(…) that plurals for masculine and feminine names [should work differently]”, perhaps?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. noname

        Or replace that for the as so;
        So many fucking exceptions and whoever had decided the plurals for masculine and feminine names – or even that there should be any of those – deserved to be drawn and quartered.

        Like

  7. Jonnnney

    So Arcadia was indeed a creation of the gods. The garden of immortals who didn’t change enough to settle the debate between above and below. Interesting, this has very significant implications about the power gains of the fae who escape their leash.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Byzantine

      And I think makes things interesting in another way – the Bard intentionally set things up so that Catherine would gain her Mantle… and so that she would stop restricting it. At the time these seemed like steps to taking down Team Practical Evil, but I’m wondering if Bard is running a shell game: She is, theoretically, fighting against Team Practical Evil in her role of keeping the balance, but her real goal is the creation of something that surpasses the Dead King. Something Impossible that will allow her to break her own leash.

      …Like, say, the unbound holder of Winter, who has an impossible gift for breaking stories…

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Someguy

      “There is only one lesson to be learned from shatranj: no matter who wins the game, the pieces return to the same box.”
      – Dread Emperor Benevolent the First

      Break the box and stab the shards into the eyes of the players.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. “What Foundling does isn’t thinking outside the box so much as stealing the box and hitting her opponents with it until they stop moving.”
        – Extract from “A Commentary on the Uncivil Wars”, by Juniper of the Red Moon Clan, Book 1 Chapter 27

        Liked by 6 people

  8. TheCount

    Now, Cat has got another blade for the Bard, and seen a bit of the Death King’s nature… Things will be interesting. 😀

    Like

  9. https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=3523924

    Go support Erratica on Patreon if you can! He does so much amazing work for us and he absolutely deserves to make *at least* a living wage off of his work on this story.

    Seriously, if you’d pay $20 for one of Erratica’s books, then you can chip in at least two bucks a month. He gives a book a year already, that’s a fine exchange. (Holy crap you give us a book of this a year how the fuck do you manage that?)

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Novice

    Hmmm… So if immortality is such a threat to the Gods, then what about the Elves? Surely in their long lives, one of them has already amassed enough power to threaten the Gods. Or are they so into the Good side that they are effectively shackled? Or maybe it’s only the Elves of the Golden Bloom.

    Why even bestow power to Creation in the first place if there’s a chance the Gods could be usurped? So many questions.

    I’m so excited for the next set of worldbuilding chapters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that was the Dead King’s comment about immortals being bound. The elves are just as bound as the fae in their own way, unable to grow beyond a heavily constrained set of mental and behavioral limitations.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Metrux

        It also comes to mind that we only know the “lesser” elves from the golden bloom, since the “greater” ones never appeared so far. We know for a fact the ones in the golden bloom are limited, since the bard could stop them with words only.

        Like

  11. Catherine can bestow the power of Winter on people, and in doing so free them from senescence. She can make the Gods’ nightmare scenario -a race of unbound immortals- come true. We’ve known up to this point that Cat was a threat to the Gods’ game, but only in the context of ‘Cat breaks rules, she really doesn’t like the Gods’ rules, she’s the protagonist, the natural conclusion of her story is more directly challenging the Gods rules’. Now we have an in-universe reason to believe that she is a capital-T Threat to the Gods.

    Fuck, in that context I’m frankly surprised the Gods Above *only* threw the Grey Pilgrim, the Saint of Swords, and fourteen (ahem, sorry, twelve) holy bludgeons at her.

    Also … this implies that the Gods Below might not like her much either. Now I’m wondering … *is* she still backed by the Gods Below? Her necromancy is confirmed to no longer be of infernal origin, she doesn’t truck with devils or demons, her shadow power is definitely now an extension of the whole Moonless Nights thing, and all the rest of her powers are clearly Winter in origin. Heck she doesn’t even actually have a proper Name anymore, nor a clear Role. I … oh my gods did the Gods Below actually forsake her?! Is she not actually a Villain anymore?!

    … Wait a minute. The Woe are: an explicitly non-divine miracle worker (Masego), an explicitly neutral Named who just seeks conflict (Indrani), an ex-Hero Named who’s definitely not a proper Villain (Vivienne), Hakram, and “I’m trying to squirrel my way into the most half-assed redemption arc ever but no really I’m not a Villain any longer” Ubua. *None* of them are properly Evil (except Ubua and she doesn’t count, although maybe she’s a ploy by the Gods to pull Catherine and her Mantle back into the fold?). I … I think Catherine might not actually be aligned with the Gods Below. Everyone kind of assumes she is but … maybe she’s not.

    Oh fuck this would even match up with the whole Grey Pilgrim’s thing about “so long as you’ve signed on with Below your people will follow” and Catherine’s worry about that. The perfect ending to that conflict would be Catherine finding out that she’s not actually aligned with Below and throwing that wrench into the Pilgrim’s moral compass. Force him to *actually* judge Catherine by her moral merits and push Catherine into actually evaluating her own actions without the default assumption that some amount of Evil comes with the territory.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. “Catherine can bestow the power of Winter on people, and in doing so free them from senescence. She can make the Gods’ nightmare scenario -a race of unbound immortals- come true. We’ve known up to this point that Cat was a threat to the Gods’ game, but only in the context of ‘Cat breaks rules, she really doesn’t like the Gods’ rules, she’s the protagonist, the natural conclusion of her story is more directly challenging the Gods rules’. Now we have an in-universe reason to believe that she is a capital-T Threat to the Gods.”

      Eh, I’d have issues with this course, mostly because a power climb is not a very complicated story and it does not engage it’s readers in the same way Practical Guide has up to this point. Which has usually been through political drama, magic, high fantasy and war. Since Practical Guide’s whole thing is wrapped around messing with the conventionally expected Hero Vs Villain then it’d be in poor form from a perspective looking at the writing of it if this happened.

      You *can* make it work(see Kill Six Billion Demons for an example), and you can get working stories out of it, but Prac Guide hasn’t set itself up to do that.

      Like

      1. John doe

        I disagree. I think much like TTGL and Worm it could escalate in quite a satisfying way. We’ve had hints there’s a much larger game in the works since the first book. We’ve seen Cat pick fights above her weight level routinely and slowly build up her strength to pick bigger and bigger fights. This is her logically endgame. The only way to have lasting peace is to break the cycle that forces conflict. It fits her motives too well for her to ignore.

        Like

        1. Also I feel like this wouldn’t necessarily culminate in Catherine duking it out with the gods. She doesn’t have to do that to fight them. She ‘just’ has to break their narrative in a sufficiently thorough way and divorce the world’s trajectory from the Gods’ question of Good vs. Evil.

          Like

        2. TTGL was meant to escalate the way it did because that was the premise of Spiral Energy in the first place. Probably one of the better anime out there for how it did what it did and the awesome it could pack into a show. Though it’s ending was a bit sadder than I think it needed to be.

          Worm also escalated, but that unfortunately made it worse *points at S9, Tagg and Alexandria*. It had nice fights, but post-Leviathan things get suspect.

          In this case there’s not too much thematic difference between Xianxia and Practical Guide if it decides to go with the idea of Cat fighting the Gods. Aside from that it also entails discarding one of the central precepts of the books, which is that mortal non-Named can actually action change via warfare. What’s a bunch of mortals going to do with the Gods? Nothing, they’re mortals and thus not important in a fight against Gods. This flies in the face of what the Guide seems to be about.

          Power climbs work in certain settings, as previously established in TTGL where it went with it wholesale. Other times where the setting is set up for that to be a proper thing. But rebellion against the Gods in their fortresses is a trope that’s been done before in fantasy and it holds no interest for me. Fucking over the God’s plan by pushing through the Accords? That would be very Guide like and I’d appreciate that ending.

          Like

      2. Clmineith

        It seams to me like if she was creating a Neutral side.

        The catch here will be if, after years of fighting for creating a side free from both Good and Evil, she eventually realized that she has just created a new side to trap people into

        Like

        1. crescentsickle

          Except that neutral side doesn’t have gods associated with it. Creation, or at least Calernia, is a board game for the Gods Above and Gods Below to figure out who wins. There are two distinct sides that are heavily maintained to see which one wins.

          A third faction existing is one in which mortal representatives say “fuck your game” and attempt to ruin the whole point of what’s going on. It is the worst possible scenario for the Gods, because the mere existence of that side breaks the game. “Good” and “Evil” no longer weigh just against each other, and so whatever portion weighs against Neutral may offer bonuses or penalties for or against the two sides that matter.

          What is revealed to us is that the hearsay about Creation being a wager between the Gods is legit, and it’s so legit they cooperated to make sure the wager is honest. Immortals are bound to prevent their interference, and that makes them unsuited for the wager. Mortals aren’t bound in the same way, but they get expiration dates so they can’t ever amass enough power to break the wager. Just in case any of that fails, they created failsafes: agents charged with policing the game board. That’s Wandering Bard.

          It sounds like Calernia used to be just people versus people, and those people either followed the Gods Above or Gods Below and received blessings of power, ability, etc. Since the time that the Dead King yet lived, however, Calernia has been plunged deeply into exacting lines. More and more agents for either side, with more powerful and more specific abilities. With more weight. Not pawns on the board with different colors and subtly different ways to move and act, but specific pieces in defined roles with well-defined rules. Not just “One with a Blessing from the Gods Below”, but “Black Knight”, or “Dread Empress”.

          One thing of special concern is that we already have some neutrals, and the especially important one is Ranger. I think, like Squire, there are some pieces on the board that can be played by one side or the other. Different stories, but very similar powers. Ranger as a Name sounds like one. So what happens when an Immortal, supposedly bound, happens into a Name that can be played for either side, and then plays neither?

          Either Hye is the product of gaming the system by the hands of the Wandering Bard’s caliber, or Hye is an agent like the Bard. Calling it now, because she doesn’t fit into the new reality based on what we understand so far.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Azure

            Ranger is the ultimate killer, so yeah she’s definitely an agent. She threw down with the Summer Queen so that tells you she’s on equal footing with pretty much the most powerful immortals in play. She’s definitely a fail safe to end anyone who threatens the balance. The Bard just nudges things, Ranger is the hammer that smashes if needed. I’d say Catherine may have to face her at some stage if she really comes close to breaking the game.

            Like

          2. Metrux

            Hye is as bound as the elves, remember when she met Cat and said she practically couldn’t stop herself from killing her. It’s in her nature to be bound, only in a diferent way than we are accostumated.

            Also, you may be confusing something, Cat is very much a lesser god right now. Masego has implied innumerous times she’s not human anymore, she had even fewer consequences to this learning than the miracle worker with an Aspect to help that did the job itself. If she does rise a new side, she will rise with it, and finally we get another God on the game board. What this implies, we know too little to even begin imagining.

            Like

  12. TheTime

    just so you know, Neshamah is Soul in Hebrew. Which have interesting implication, as Keter is Crown in Hebrew, as well as the source of divine power in the cosmos in Kabbalah. Is Ashkaran a Hebrew inspired language? Zekiah sounds vaguely like זכייה, which means “winning” or “gaining [something]”, but maybe I’m digging too much into this.

    Liked by 6 people

  13. *gasp* This is why Masego’s incu-dad couldn’t tell him about the Dead King’s rise. Incubus is a bound immortal. And the Dead King’s power grab is the ultimate expression of an attempt to become an unbound mortal. I’ll bet you there’s some kind of interdiction the gods laid down to prevent immortals from conveying information about how he did what he did.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Byzantine

      The fact it remains a mystery after this long despite pieces literally being present in Arcadia means something was done to make sure no one was ever aware of what happened. I suspect it may be possible to figure it out, but impossible to convey by any means. That restrains the problem to individuals, and those are easily dealt with.

      It also explains why his father said nothing – he can’t. He can’t even say he knew what happened, because even that is conveying information about it.

      Like

    2. ______

      Yeah, looks like he’d have conceal any possible way of disrupting the God’ wager. From interlude Liesse IV:

      Wekesa had long suspected that the reason for the existence of angels and devils was that the Gods could not intervene directly in Creation or any of its adjacent realms. Not, like the Book of All Things stated, because a wager forbade it – but because the Gods were Creation. That their power had been made into the world all mortals inhabited and could not be withdrawn without unravelling the entire edifice. Hence the establishment of catspaws defined as opposite, but ultimately serving the same purpose: advancing the experiment.

      Like

  14. Neuromute

    From google research Neshamah is Hebrew for “breath”, referring to the spirit or soul. So even before he was the Dead King his name was Spirit or Soul. Combined with the comments about not being remembered or even perceivable by his family I think Trismegistus is already some kind of ghost/lich or a being of pure soul. He’s already shed his mortal form.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Anony

    I don’t get it.
    Why is “Human minds were not meant to process that much knowledge instantly.” a reason not to do this? Just do it over a couple hours, or days or w/e.
    On top of that, Cat isn’t even human anyway.

    A praesi caring what human minds were “meant” to be doing feels just a tad ooc lol.

    Like

    1. I mean, Masego did end up doing it to himself despite serious personal agony. That’s pretty Praesi.

      Also, while doing really dangerous things with magic is very Praesi, so is the dumb getting killed early because they did *stupidly* dangerous things with magic. Masego may have made it his life goal to eventually transgress all the bounds the gods placed on magic, but he’s also Praesi mage who’s practiced for decades and is still alive and that means he has a healthy awareness of and begrudging respect for those bounds.

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    2. Metrux

      It is a reason because of what was said in the chapter, and also, you don’t know how it works, why do you assume you CAN do it over time? And yes, Cat isn’t human anymore, the reason why he didn’t hesitate for a second to do it for her.

      Praesi die early and consistently because they disregard this kinds of things, Masego is not really Praesi in his ways. He inherited a little from his father, but the man himself was already a little of an outcast, and this boy was born with difficulties for social, while being teached by an incubus. It feels very right to me, the way he acts, because it’s consistent with what was shown of HIM, not of some stereotype.

      Like

  16. SpeckofStardust

    1. Bard didn’t make the dead king.
    2. She predates him.
    3. She was made by those below and above to deal with a problem that wasn’t working by the rules, aka the first practical evil/good cause they would win the argument but not by letting either side of the argument win.
    4. Which is why when bard went against black she could actively/openly work with both a hero and a villain, because he qualified for that level of getting his ass kicked.
    5. Just because at one point she wanted to escape doesn’t mean she still wants to do so.
    6. She’s definitively not dead. After all she has to be there when the Dead king kicks is :<

    Liked by 3 people

  17. PotatoMan

    Maybe in the beginning, Bard was helping create conflict between Good and Evil. When talking to the Dead King, Bard mentions that Trismegistus “already has enough Blessings and doesn’t ‘need’ the nudge”, which implies that Bard can and has in the past, before that conversation took place, given such ‘nudges’. A nudge in this metaphor being a Blessing of Above or Below. Why would the Bard give powers out to people, both Good and Bad? Trismegistus also mentioned that both “fortune and misfortune draw {The Bard} like carrion”, and lists a few Kings and Queens, assumedly in times of great strife, as known associates. The Bard, in the beginning, was stirring up action to create great Stories. The Bard hints at this with her light jest:“I have,” she said lightly, “always loved a good story.” If the Bard (with Blessings form both Above and Below) is the Intercessor that both makes stories and also ensures that they stay on track, her OP powers and previously unclear motivations make much more sense.

    I think that Bard was gifted powers by both Above and Below as an instrument that can interfere in the earthly plane to create and maintain stories for the “argument”.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. PotatoMan

    Oh drat I thought of something else. The Dead King implies that immortality in the Guideverse has built-in shackles to prevent the Gods’ usurpation, and that the Fae are bound by such. He also says that mortals are allowed to learn and grow, but that they are bound from usurpation by, ya know, dying. Initially, The Bard had to give out Blessings to foster conflict in the world, but what if there was a way to gain the power of someone else’s narrative achievements if after they were gone, you took their title and declared that you would be acting in the same manner? Such a method would bypass your limited earthly time to build a narrative, allowing you (from your perspective) to gain power. However, Names are bound by the same shackles that immortals are, forcing you to increasingly fall into tropes and stifling growth. One thing we have seen in The Practical Guide is that once you take a Name, you are bound by its’ precepts and begin acting in a manner according to it’s nature, or suffer power loss and Name disassociation. From this perspective, names are little more than shackles, binding you to the will of the story and the fate of that Name. Villainous names are slated to lose, Heroic to win, Villainous to grasp, Heroic to defend. Such a continuity between Names, and the fact that by taking them you act in accordance with the Gods’ plan, could be why the elves of the Golden Bloom only consider talking with Heroes as people, as Heroes have the narrative weight of those before them giving them, in the Elves’ eyes, substance. It should be noted that the Golden Elves consider Villains people too, but that because they support the Gods Below, the Golden Elves consider it their rightful duty to murder them.

    As a side note, everyone in the comment section seems to hate Hanno for being denying responsibility and being a slave of the Heavens. But Akua, had she climbed the Tower, would have embraced her villainy and been no less a slave to it than Hanno to his Choir. Names on both sides are little more than elaborate traps, enticing people to take up Names to gain power and then stopping their wielders from changing.

    Like

    1. Notsteve

      Which also explains why Bard sabotaged the hellgate generator by messing with Black. Names are a trap, and the sabotage kept Cat from ascending to a new Name. Instead she may not have a Name at all at this point, and be a completely free actor with the power of a Name but none of the restrictions.

      Like

  19. Gunslinger

    It’s cool to see The dead king was always a piece of shit. Fascinating but evil proper. I’d have been disappointed if he was good but forced to do this to save his kingdom or something like that.

    We also get confirmation that the Bard’s role is keep the story running and not something altruistic. Though I’m curious why only heroes know about her role and not villains in the current age.

    Could be Triumphant was such a strong play from Below that she’s been working from the heroes side since to balance the scales?

    Also for all his attempts to break the cycle his undead nature means that he doesn’t grow or learn. He’s still yet to achieve his goal but he’s given himself plenty of time for someone to help him so we have an inclination of what the dead king wants from Cat. Scary that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Metrux

      I don’t think it could be Triumphant, unless she is like Cat in nature, because the whole idea is that one side has to win the argument, and if triumphant was a play by Below that worked, there is nothing for the mediator to interfere.

      Like

  20. Thanks for the chapter, here are some nice theories:

    The Dead King indeed managed to attain immortality, but still got shackled by being an undead that has difficulties to learn. If his objective is to get rid of these shackles, it is probably the best opportunity he has ever had. Catherine, as an unbound Fae, is (probably) free of the shackles. Since undeath is one of Winter’s aspects, and more importantly we already know that the undeads raised with its power can learn, it make The Dead King very compatible with it and should appear extremely enticing to him. We also know that Catherine can bestow Fae titles, so she could easily (with the right pivot, of course) make him a Winter Fae and free him from his shackles.

    But it seem unlikely for him to become her de facto servant (even if with Winter, treacherous subordinates are a given), so I can see him try to either usurp her title (which would probably be difficult without the right tools) or… Marry her.
    Arranged marriages are a great way to make political ties and alliances between nations, something she is in dire need (even if she would prefer that no one ever hear of this alliance, but who believe that is going to happen?), and whatever help he would provide her is probably expandable. It also place them as equal instead of subject and sovereign, is a perfect pivot for him to free himself and irrevocably tie him to her narratively (not taking into account that it is a goldmine for the story).
    It would also explain why he didn’t reach out to her before, since he knew she would never treat with him unless cornered, and he needed her sufficiently cornered to agree to this kind of offer.

    And maybe the glowing orb from book three’s epilogue wasn’t Malicia contacting The Dead King like we all assumed, but some sort of artefact made to detect the existence of an unbound immortal, since it happen just after Second Liesse, when Catherine embraced her Mantle. And maybe it didn’t glow since Triumphant’s days because she was the last one to qualify.

    Like

  21. Multiple people are saying, “Cat has the power of Winter and she breaks stories…” and “She’s totally free from influence…”

    No, no she’s not.

    We’ve seen that the more she uses Winter, the more it binds her. She has to specifically stop using it to “clear her mind of its influence”, etc. She is not a free Winter-user, she’s a “I’m only using a bit here and there and not even coming close to using the full might of Winter because I don’t want to be bound like that” Winter-user.

    And she explicitly won that Winter power by finding a story (with a little forgery) that supported her Story.

    We’ve clearly seen that the more power people like her get, the more they’re bound into their Roles.

    Liked by 3 people

  22. This is why Ranger is so neutral. Ranger gets to exist, and gets to continue amassing power, as long as she remains neutral and doesn’t get involved. She’s either trapped in her role and now can’t escape, or she’s hoping to quietly gain enough experience to make it matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Azure

      No Ranger is the Gods (both above and below) Enforcer. She’s there to keep everyone in line by force, if they are attempting to break the story. Look at the whole taking the Winter King’s eye. We know that Winter was discontent with the repeating story, and wow look at that Ranger takes his eye. He was clearly plotting shenanigans and had to be pulled back in line. You can’t kill an immortal, but you can diminish them, and that’s what Ranger did. And the Summer Queen was likely very close to breaking out of Arcadia, when Ranger stepped in and stopped her, inadvertently saving Catherine in the process. And we know Ranger prowls the lands of the Dead King, hoping for a shot at him. He’s clearly broken the rules of the story and she needs to take him out, but he’s obviously planned for this and has made it difficult for her. Ranger is Enforcer Supreme and is tasked with keeping all the pieces in line. If anything I’d say she’s going to be the biggest problem for Catherine at some stage, and also sets up an angsty confrontation with Black and Ranger, if he steps in to save his protege.

      Like

    2. Metrux

      She’s ver much bound, like I said previously in the comments of this chapter, think of her reaction when she first met Cat. She said she was almost unable to control herself and stop from killing Cat.

      Like

  23. Luis

    I think people are making a misunderstanding about cats body and think winter has granted her some kind of fae “immortality”. That is not the case. She is is as mortal as any Named on the side of Below, the most striking difference is that she earned a boat load of power and doesn’t have a fixed physical form anymore. Her form changing while she was unconscious kinda backs my point up.

    She’s like clay in a sense. She can mold her shape when she is conscious about it, but it isn’t something she is aware of now or desires to do.

    Her current form is a psychological representation of how she sees herself.
    Kind of what being named does to people, but only more so.

    The reason why she she hasn’t changed much appearance wise is that she was totally human until just recently and still thinks like a full Normie, and she does not think about herself physically all that much.

    The immortality thing is off I think too.
    She usurped a title, and some power. Which changed her physical form and has influenced her, but I don’t think it has granted her fae “immortality”.

    Fae are creatures stuck in a kind of temporal loop. They have always and will forever cycle through the same shape of stories. It seems like something had changed from our perspective with the unification of winter and summer, but that is a blink of an eye change of events in an immortal view point and only seen through one lens out of I don’t know how many.. few chapters ago it was explained that the winter and summer we see is not all the winters and summers that exists in what I assume is a proto reality created by the gods before creation was formed.

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    1. Metrux

      Well, I agree with Cat’s part but not with the fae part. This is a change big enough to be the main plan of one of those incomparably ancient immortals, so it has to be something new and at least make a pronounced change in the big eternity that he knows. Which, in the end, means that for at least the fae involved, things have TRULLY changed.

      Like

    2. She didn’t usurp. She was legitimately bestowed with Winter as a reward/blessing/curse by the one entity who could hand Winter titles out at the time — before Winter ceased to function normally in Acadia, even. The Winter King had played things so that a chunk of Winter was tied to Cat, come what may, the second he took her heart and shoved a construct in its place.

      Cat didn’t ask for that boon/bane. She got given.

      Like

  24. Hey, uh, I couldn’t help but notice that neither the Bard nor the to-be Dead King mentioned undead or necromancy in this chapter. And that the Dead King seems suspiciously unconcerned by the fact that undead are limited and have diminished capacity to grow, something I’d really, really think he’d be concerned about or at least thinking about.

    … how sure are we that necromancy existed before the Dead King?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ______

      I wonder if she did the same thing she’d done for Exiled Prince and Lone Swordsman, reframing the narrative to set up a pivot she can’t intervene with by presenting the Named in question with the information that has an implied choice in it. See, she calls him King of Death, and while it may be a side effect of the translation from Ashkaran not fully settling in Cat’s head, I wonder whether “Dead King” sounds the same in that language. That would allow her to get the last laugh, since if Keter’s Due warping the city and killing him was unforeseen, then she just framed this situation in a way that would turn one of her most cunning opponents stagnant. All because of a single conversation where, after realizing he didn’t see death as anything significant she turned that against him, by destroying his seat of power through a backlash he knew nothing about, trapping him in a hell and crippling his ability to learn.

      Like

  25. aew3

    What is going to be interesting is why the Dead King is bound to his kingdom and why he is essentially powerless to interfere with the world outside specific criteria. Intercessor is a little more clear in her purpose, although the question of whether she, as a person, aims to maintain or destroy the cycle she is forced to maintain is in question. The reason that the Dead King is bound as he is and why both he and Intercessor are in conflict is perhaps the most insightful answer to the many questions this whole situation raises. The conflict between the two implies different goals. It seems possible that Intercessor would fight against the balance she maintains, but how does one reconcile a goal irreconcilable with ones role whilst maintaining that role? Both She and the Dead King must be then bound to their nature and are unable to separate their Id from their role.

    Can we assume the role of Intercessor/Wandering Bard/whatever is neutral? Her whole role is to maintain balance, or perhaps more correctly to maintain the patterns of repetition (which the Gods use to ensure the entropy of creation and to prevent their own usurpation. Which in turn, also begs the question of why the need to create names/roles/blessed. Supposedly, this allows them more agency from their own nature, but why do they want/need agency?). The name Intercessor itself implies she acts as a mediator between above and below and that is neutral with and of itself. Is it possible to obtain a neutral role, given that doing so would break with the patterns of repetition? One would suppose that her role must be especially created for her, perhaps being the first role? Is she even mortal in origin?

    Like

    1. Metrux

      She sayd herself she is mortal in original, so we shouldn’t put that in doubt, she never lied, only made you see things differently from her words. But you seem to think the objective here is this world’s existance. It is not. The objective is to learn or prove something, which needs the mortals changeable ways to do, thus she is not someone who works “for the balance”, she is someone who works “for the rules”, much like a judge in a football game, he won’t press for both teams to be equal, but for both to follow the rules.

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  26. ericwinter

    So how bad would it be if I mentioned that I literally saw all of this coming from at least halfway through book two, if not earlier? Because honestly, it was the only way the story could have gone.In a world where every great tale has already been told time and again by a never-ending cycle, the only story worth telling is escaping that cycle. The only question is whether Cat allies with Bard to do so, or makes her own way entirely.
    On the subject of Winter and Cat’s immortality, the way I read it is this: As the only titled member of Winter, since all the others kind of fucked off into Arcadia generic, she ascended to Queen and became tied to its existence, and it to hers. At the moment, that means if she dies, it dies. Giving out another title, however, would turn Winter into a fully present concept again, possibly start Summer as well to match, and begin a whole new cycle of birth and rebirth whith her as Queen of Winter, thereby making her immortal. So at the moment, yes, she is moretal, but at any point that could change if she started handing out titles. Then again, this is all just my understanding, which could be utterly wrong. Take it as you will.

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  27. caoimhinh

    This was an awesome chapter with very interesting references and points worth of analysis.
    1) The ancient kingdom (Sephirah) is based on the Jewish people, in the Kabbalah Sephiroth are the 10 emanations of God, from which the first is Keter (the crown).
    2) The name of the Dead King, Neshamah, means “soul” in Hebrew.
    3) “The Garden was a failure” references the Garden of Eden.
    4) The Splendid, immortals bound to repetition, the Fae, who remained bound to the stories until just recently when the Winter King managed to use Catherine to break the pattern and cycle of the war between the 2 sides of Arcadia.
    5) there is one thing most people have been saying in the comments, that the Wandering Bard wants to die, but I actually think it’s the opposite, she wants to live. Remember that she goes to “nowhere” when she is not influencing the stories, it was shown in that the reason she drinks so much is to feel alive.
    But that doesn’t mean she is necessarily plotting to make Catherine into the want to break her free of it, keep in mind that she is a prisoner of her duty as Intercessor of the Gods into Creation, ensuring the Game continues, that’s why she is actively trying to kill Black, Malicia and Catherine, because that legacy of Practical Evil is a game changer, even a game breaker in Catherine’s case.

    I personally believe that the Bard is trapped between those 2 urges: the desire to witness a great story developing as it’s always been in the cycle created by the Gods, and the desire to once again be free to live as a human. She is a complex character, let’s see what we will find out later on.

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