Fatalism II

“What is it if not sorcery, that I can tax a single belltower in Salia and set half a dozen cities ablaze?”
– First Princess Anaïs of Cantal, referring to the incident that began the First Liturgical War. Later became the Proceran shorthand of ‘Salian belltower’, referring to a small act carrying disastrous consequences.

As a girl Cordelia had made a deep study of ruling, knowing that she would day inherit Rhenia and intending to serve her people as best she could. Her few journeys south had made her feel the limits of Lycaonese wisdom acutely, and so she had sought answer beyond the traditions of her people: not to simply discard the lessons of her forbears, but to pair them with the learning of other realms. She had looked far, in acquiring tomes. There was little literature of worth out of Callow, save for Jehan the Wise’s sharply-tongued memoirs, but the the Free Cities and the Thalassocracy had borne greater fruit. The Ashurans had led a remarkably stable state for centuries in the face of episodic warfare with Nicae and its allies, and their admittedly dry records were worth the reading if one could stomach the tediousness of the minutia. The islanders, however, had few lessons to offer beyond those touching on the establishment and maintenance of a strong bureaucracy. In matters of ruling philosophy, they either parroted the faraway Baalite Hegemony’s onw sages or lapsed into the mysticism particular to their national cult. The League, on the other hand, was a treasure trove of learning and scholarship.

Of contradictions also, though that was only to be expected of such a fractious people. The asekretis of Delos had bled rivers of ink on the subject of the ideal state, attempting myriad reforms as opposing factions of the ruling Secretariat came to power, and from both failures and success there had been much to learn. Cordelia had modelled the examinations now necessary to enter civil service in Salia on those required to rise higher in the Secretariat, and found them more than adequate a method to root out the highborn parasites who’d infested the city and replace with previously unknown talents. From faraway Penthes, ever bickering with its two closest neighbours and stirring uneasy in the Empire’s shadow, she had learned the value of leveraging gold and treaties where force of arms would fail. By the most famous Tyrants of Helike, Theodosius and his always ambitious brood, Cordelia was taught the art of sowing dissent and fear to humble greater opponents.

She considered herself to have first crossed a line when she’d obtained Praesi works, all of which were illegal to possess within the Principate.

Yet there had been wisdom in those as well. Not in the rants and rambles of the most colourful foolsto climb the Tower, but in the likes of the first Dread Emperor Terribilis and Dread Empress Maleficent the Second. It would only be years later, after she was crowned Prince of Rhenia, that her reach grew long enough to acquire more recent Praesi works. Dread Empress Malicia’s treatise ‘The Death of the Age of Wonders’ had cost her a fortune and over sixty dead to acquire a mere incomplete transcription, and what she’d found had been a chilling read. It’d been a lucid, strategic look at the historical failures of the Dread Empire followed by laying out foreign policy that would prevent such disasters from happening again. The suggested rapprochement with Ashur had been the greatest danger among those put to ink, and the cause of many a sleepless night after Cordelia became First Prince. To her dismay, the Prince of Rhenia had found that much the Empress deemed the path to a better Praes was eerily similar to what she herself intended for the Lycaonese principalities. Strengthened internal trade, central oversight of crucial resources, the establishment of common institutions that would make old regional conflicts irrelevant.

The Evil now dwelling in the Tower was unlike any the Principate had faced before, she’d then understood. She had learned what she could from the enemy, and kept those lessons close. Even in those days she’d known there would be a reckoning with the East.

When she’d grown old enough to undertake the diplomatic missions her mother had always disdained and largely allowed to lapse under her reign, Cordelia had immersed herself in the teachings of broader Procer. There was an old and proud contempt for southern squabbling, among her people, and Lycaonese as a rule paid little heed to the ways of the Alamans and the Arlesites. What did the debates of the Highest Assembly matter to them, they argued, when no matter the ruler no soldiers ever marched north to help hold the passes against the dead and the rats? There was truth in that, but also bitterness that blinded. Beyond the complex tapestry of marriage alliances and shifting interests, Cordelia had found the the heart of Procer’s art of rule had been birthed by two books. The first, and oldest, was the work of Sister Salienta of the House of Light. Once royalty in Salamans, after taking her vows she had spent years penning her life’s work, the Faith of Crowns. One hundred and three pages over which the former princess had attempted to lay out the duties and responsibilities of one ruling over others as a child of the Heavens. It was beautiful prose, in truth, and thought at times it was more liturgy than practical it had very much been intended as manual for blessed rule.

Salienta had been the first to argue that the Right of Iron, the ancient prerogative by which the princes of Procer could war as they wished, was no simple allowance: that regardless of permission, only a just war should ever be waged. She’d spoken of the right of those who toiled over land to own it, of the unholy greed behind taxes serving to enrich instead of serve. It’d been highly contentious at the time, but after open endorsement by the House of Light it had grown wildly popular and the book had since grown to permeate political discourse in Procer. Cordelia herself had drawn on the Faith of Crowns when declaring the Tenth Crusade, qualifying it as a just war according to the third definition laid out by Salienta. Still, as much as the writings had resonated with her it was what had come from them she’d studied closest. How, in essence, the royalty of Procer had found ways to follow its instructions to the letter while violating their spirit. The manufacture of ‘just cause’ to enable wars of expansion, allowing common folk to own the land yet to keep it only for a fee, the complex array of moral pretexts to justify often gouging taxes.

Salienta’s work had always been closely linked with the power of the House of Light, and so in a way it was no surprise that its first written rebuttal was offered after the last of the Liturgical Wars came to a close. None had ever claimed authorship of the small work simply titled On Rule, yet it was an open secret in Procer that its father was Prince Bastien of Arans, the same man who later became the very first of his homeland to be elected First Prince of Procer. Where the Faith of Crowns had been a religious and moral guide to dominion, On Rule was a dispassionate study of the acquisition and preservation of power. To this day, it was considered impious to a copy of the book, for within it Prince Bastien baldly observed that the House of Light was an earthly force like any other, with interests and obligations, and should be treated no differently. The book pragmatically advised that guile and treachery were functional tools, if sparsely used, and that it was usually better to be a victor of ill-repute than a saintly cadaver. Going even further, it argued that moral law was a matter different from a ruler’s interests and on occasion even opposed to them. There were few princes and princess in Procer who would admit to having such a volume.

Cordelia had never met any royalty south of Neustria who did not.

Therein lay the dichotomy at the heart of the Principate, she’d thought, and she was hardly the first. To have Salienta’s tongue and Bastien’s hand, the saying went. Spoken like an insult, an implicit accusation of hypocrisy, yet it was observed more scrupulously than many laws among Alamans and Arlesites. And herself as well, she was honest enough to admit. There was beauty in the Faith of Crowns, but it was no shield for the vicious intrigues that thrived in the Highest Assembly. As the years passed, however, the blue-eyed prince had come to look at the treatises differently. Less as exercises of philosophy and more as inheritances from different eras of Procer. One where the House of Light had been entwined with the ruling class of the realm, another where it had stood rival and opponent. Since the year On Rule had been written, the nature of the pillars holding up the Principate had shifted. Though in many ways the victors of the Liturgical Wars, the priests had been estranged from the halls of power just as the once-powerful mages had been. They had kept their wealth, their ancient rights, but their foes had not forgotten the dangers of allowing the House too much influence and so slowly uprooted it from the tallest peaks of Proceran authority. Cordelia had scrupulously observed this habit, save in one matter.

That mistake, she thought, was now coming home to roost.

“Someone organized this,” the First Prince of Procer spoke with deliberate calm. “Of that there can be no doubt. The last recorded conclave involving the full priesthoods of the west dates to Triumphant’s conquest, gentlemen. This is not happenstance.”

Three men shared her solar, this morning, none of them younger than fifty. All were Alamans whose tenure as the heads of the informal triumvirate of largest Proceran spy networks preceded her second crowning. Her eyes lingered on Louis de Sartrons, a skeleton of a man with rapacious features and a bald head. As far as the Principate’s records were concerned, he was a middling official in the lower ranks of Salia’s diplomatic service. In truth man was the highest patron of the Circle of Thorns, an ancient cabal of Salian officials whose charge was to run the foreign spies of Procer. The Circle had a long tradition of abstaining from politics, providing unflinching service no matter who sat the highest throne of Procer: at the height of the Great War, before it had been clear Cordelia would triumph, the man across from her had provided regular briefings to all major contenders without playing favourites. The blonde did not particularly like him, but she could respect his dedication and sharp competence. The depths of his failure in this particular instance was made deeper disappointment for it.

“We were blindsided,” the old man admitted in a rasp. “I’ve had my people in the Thalassocracy and the Dominion scrambling for answers, but as far as we can tell there is no Ashuran committee behind it and we all know the Majilis has not held session in months. Or even informal council, for that matter. It could be the Seljun, Your Highness, but his position remains weak. He should not have the pull or coin to arrange something so far-reaching.”

The Seljun of Levant carried a dozen fantastical titles, though the only one that truly mattered to Levantines themselves was the last: First of the Pilgrim’s Blood. Direct descent from the most revered of the Dominion’s ancient founders made the ruling line of Levant effectively sacrosanct to its people, but that respect did not historically extend to lords and ladies obeying a Seljun’s instructions beyond half-hearted lip service, if even that. The current figurehead ruler of the Dominion, the Most Holy Wazim Isbili, was impotent even by the standards of his predecessors. He was an unlikely culprit in this, Cordelia was inclined to agree. If there was a foreign agent at work, she suspected it would be a committee buried somewhere in the convoluted maze the Ashurans called a government. Still, the failure now at her door was not the Circle of Thorns’ alone. Cordelia’s gaze shifted to Balthazar Serigny, a hirsute bear of a man with a thick black beard and eyebrows almost defiantly large. Balthazar the Bastard, as his subordinates often called him without a speck of fondness, was former fantassin of common birth who’d ruthlessly risen to the top of the Silver Letters by blackmailing and discrediting his every rival.

He’d thrived there, unsurprisingly, as the Silver Letters were a vicious band of thieves and murderers who’d been skilled enough at the work that over a century ago they became the left hand of the rulers of Procer. The Cordelia’s most recent predecessors had used them to keep an eye on the unrulier princes and occasionally sow internal dissent when a faction in the Highest Assembly grew dangerous, though she herself employed them as knives only to remove Eyes of the Empire. Of this shadowy triumvirate, it was Serigny she had the worst relation with. Unlike the Circle, the Silver Letters had taken sides during the Great War and several times tried to assassinate members of her inner circle on Constance of Aisne’s behalf. She’d given serious thought to having him hanged after taking the throne, but it would have antagonized the web of informants she now needed the most to remain in power. Instead she’d made it clear he was on a very thin leash, and that he would immediately begin training the successor she had chosen for him.

“It’s not us, First Prince,” Balthazar the Bastard grunted, unmoved by the unspoken reproach. “I’ve shaken every tree in the Highest Assembly and nothing fell out. The Lanterns almost caused a diplomatic accident when they passed through Orense, so they weren’t expected in the slightest. Been keeping an eye on our own temple rats ever since, but they’re closing ranks. Not a peep out of the priests. They’ve got a hand in this, sure as day.”

“There hasn’t been a word out of the House because your pack of thugs was caught out, you blundering fool,” Simon de Gorgeault hissed. “Do you know how many pointed questions I’ve had to answer?”

The man was in his seventies, closely-cropped silver hair topping an angular face that had been a poor fit when he’d still been named Simone but a reputably popular one after the oversight was corrected. He was a lay brother of the House of Light, and unlike the other two men the organization he oversaw was only one foot in the shadows. The Holy Society was more informal channel to the leadership of the House of Light than true web of spies, an association of nobleborn lay brothers and sisters who facilitated dialogue with the throne and occasionally passed along whispers the priests did not prove willing to surrender on their own. He was diplomat as much as he was a spymaster, and Cordelia had sometimes wondered where the man’s loyalty truly lay. He’d been in her service for only a few years, while his friendships in the House were decades old.

“I have some questions of my own, Brother Simon,” the First Prince said. “It is somewhat offensive that before arranging a conclave the House would not reach out to me.”

The silver-haired man grimaced.

“I’ve told them as much myself,” he said. “Yet it appears they consider this to be a religious matter, not a political one, and so consider the throne’s involvement to be unnecessary.”

“Which begs the question of what exactly that matter is, Simon,” Louis de Satrons’ reedy voice mused. “It’s customary for a conclave to be proclaimed openly and the subject of debate announced beforehand.”

The leader of the Holy Society sucked at a loose tooth, as if hesitant.

“I am told this is to be a closed session,” Brother Simon said. “By the request of a Chosen.”

Cordelia stilled. One of the heroes? The Chosen had no formal authority over any priesthood, save for those come of it, yet it would be a lie to say they had no influence. And yet none of the Chosen had caused ripples, when they had first gathered in Procer at the eve of the crusade’s first assaults.

“Which one?” the First Prince coldly asked.

“I was refused that knowledge,” the silver-haired man admitted. “And warned any meddling by the throne would be severely censured by all participants.”

The House of Light could be handled, Cordelia thought, and the Speakers were more mystics than political force, but the Lanterns? The Levantine priesthood considered strife to be a holy duty. If prodded too harshly, they would bare blades without hesitation. That would be utter disaster, the kind of diplomatic incident that could begin a breakdown of the Grand Alliance if it was not carefully handled.

“We will set that offered slight aside for now,” she said. “What is the to be the subject of the closed session?”

“Heresy,” Brother Simon said. “As pertaining to Callow.”

Cordelia did not close her eyes or sigh. She was better-mannered than that, and showing weakness in front of these men would bring no good. The temptation remained there, however, even as her mind raced. A lesser conclave in Salia had already declared Catherine Foundling to be an abomination in the eyes of the Heavens for perverting the sacred act of resurrection for the purposes of Below. This was not a minor thing, yet it carried no true legal consequences and was essentially empty censure unless the declaration was also adopted by the House of Light in Callow. Which it had not been.

Unlike its Proceran cousin, the priesthood of Callow was no monolith of shared practices and beliefs. Distant regions of the kingdom stubbornly denied the leadership of the influential cohort of priests in Laure, who had seen said influence sharply decline with the end of House Fairfax. In the latter years of the imperial occupation, the priesthood of the southern half of Callow had effectively become a separate entity from the rest. The Doom of Liesse had shattered that state of affairs, however, leaving behind disparate packs of clergy preaching stances on the Black Queen that were just as disparate. The centre had largely fallen behind her reign, and parts of the east as well – Marchford heart and soul, as she remained wildly popular there, Summerholm more reluctantly and she was mostly spoken of there as a preferable alternative to Praes. The rest was lukewarm of opinion, though many priests in the south had involved themselves with Hakram Deadhand’s care of the refugee tent cities.

Proceran priesthood often spoke of its eastern counterpart as a backwards cousin, considering its refusal to bestow titles to its own greater than Brother or Sister as archaic and its insistence to rely only on the Book of All Things as scripture as rather misguided. Callowan priests were ever quick to remind their western cousins that their practiced dated back to the founding of the kingdom, when the Principate had been nothing but a mess of warring tribes, and did not shy from sharp reminders that faith could only be tainted by involvement in earthly matters. Still, save for the occasional minor squabble the relationship between the priesthoods had been largely cordial over the last two centuries. It helped, Cordelia, had often thought, that Callowans priests were often more interested in arguing with each other than foreigners. Off-hand, she could think of only one thing that would make them band together.

Foreign meddling.

“Dread Empress Malicia is Arch-heretic of the East,” the First Prince carefully said. “Only one person can carry such censure at a time.”

“She is presumptive Arch-heretic, as the woman who holds the Tower,” Brother Simon corrected. “In the absence of a formal declaration, the matter is not writ in stone. And even if it was, the decision of a Proceran lesser conclave would be overturned by a true conclave’s own proclamation.”

The man was not a fool. He’d immediately understood the first measure she would turn to in order to prevent the blunder: rustling up enough Proceran priests to declare the Empress the current Arch-heretic, preventing the same title from being granted to the Black Queen.

“Atalante is a renowned stronghold of faith in the Gods Above,” Cordelia said. “Could such a debate be delayed until representatives from its priesthood arrive?”

They would have to travel by land, the Lycaonese thought, likely through Tenerife. The ruling princess of that principality was a close and trusted ally, who could be counted on to arrange gentle delays. If the First Prince was able to slow down the proceedings, the conclave could still be persuaded to turn aside from this mistake.

“That matter was already settled by secret ballot,” Brother Simon said ruefully. “As the Hierarch of the League is of Bellerophon, a city long in the service of Below, it was determined that the priests of Atalante should be considered lapsing in the faith. The same holds for Delos and Nicae, much less Penthes – which all known to be suborned by the Empire.”

No word was spoken of the Titanomachy, yet Cordelia knew better than to try that particular avenue. Levant had ancestral ties to the Gigantes, while the giants still slew every Proceran to approach their lands. Any approach there by a First Prince would carry great dangers.

“Then the House of Light in Callow should be sent for,” Cordelia said, struggling to sound calm. “To justify its anointing of the warlord Catherine Foundling.”

“That cannot be,” the silver-haired man said quietly. “For I am told the priesthood of Callow is to stand judgement as well, for that very blasphemy.”

Her worst fears in this, confirmed.

“Brother Simon, this is a grave blunder,” the First Prince quietly said. “There are better ways to return Callow to the embrace of the Heavens. This will be seen as an attack, a spiteful blow in the wake of defeats on the field.”

The man stiffened like an angry cat.

“We speak of holy conclave, Your Most Serene Highness,” he woodenly replied. “Servants of the Heavens do not concern themselves with the sentiments of mundane powers, only that their acts are just in the eyes of Above.”

What is this, if not an act of mundane purpose? Cordelia thought. She could not treat with the Black Queen, if she was condemned a heretic by every signatory of the Grand Alliance. Worse, there would be no treating with Callow. The pattern of history there would cut too close to home. After the Fourth Crusade, when a young Principate had turned on Callow after being unceremoniously thrown out of the Wasteland by Dread Emperor Terribilis the Second, there had been attempts to crown one the the slain king’s children as a puppet to ease occupation until the pretence could be safely discarded. Juliana Fairfax had instead cut her own throat at her own coronation, immediately after declaring her rebelling cousin as heir. King Henry Fairfax the Landless had promptly been declared to be Damned by a lesser conclave in Salia, a plot that was deeply reviled in Callow to this day. The recipe here was different, yet too many ingredients were the same: a young ruler who’d fought Praes with distinction, heavy defeat followed by a Salian proclamation of heresy and the perceived collusion of priesthood with an invading force. That the Lanterns and the Speakers joined their voiced to the conclave would change little, she thought. How many Callowans had ever seen an Ashuran or Levantine? The kingdom had been closed, under Praes, and now the only living memory of either people was as a Proceran ally. Even those who despised the Black Queen’s reign would have to bow to popular sentiment and fall in line, lest they be accused of collusion with the Principate. And worse yet…

Woe, Cordelia. Woe to the north and to the south.

“I must urgently address the conclave, Brother Simon,” the First Prince said.

The old man frowned.

“That would be difficult to arrange,” he said.

“Allow me to be perfectly clear,” Cordelia Hasenbach said. “It matters not to me how many favours you must call upon, how many bridges must be burned and quiet threats made. This is no longer a question of diplomacy. It is now a question of survival.”

Brother Simon’s face smoothed out, though not before she read scepticism in the cast of it.

“I understand that the Callowan question of of import to the throne,” he slowly said.

He paused to choose his words carefully, and as as backhanded reminder of who answered to the other Cordelia smoothly placed answer to a reply unfinished.

“There is more to this than the affairs of Callow,” the First Prince said. “See it done, Brother Simon. By evening tomorrow. Or choose the abbey to which you will retire, after designating a successor less prone to dithering.”

She would not allow the Kingdom of Callow to be driven into the arms of Below. She could not.

Not after Agnes had told her the Dead King would be on the march by winter solstice.

88 thoughts on “Fatalism II

      1. No, based on the timing, I’m pretty sure that White Knight is still at the Redflower Vales at this point, with the armies digging out the Vales to reopen the pass to Callow.
        Also … this had to have been pulled off by somebody more subtle than Hanno is. Plus, his whole “moral judgement is fallible and not to be relied upon schtick”.

        Also … the distances and places involved argue against it being White Knight. His last known pre-Crusade location was in the League. I don’t think he would never had the time or reason to arrange a Conclave specifically targeting Cat and the House of Light in Callow.
        Plus, Bard has been MIA since the rise of the Heirarch in the League. Not even the other Heroes knew what she was up to or where she was.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Clinton Orebajo

          I’ll hazard a guess at the Peregrine. We know he fled Callow and all that, ain’t nothing stopping him from returning to Procer and arranging this holy castigation schtick

          PS: I just started this book 3 days ago, and I literally cannot stop. Woe, to us all

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        1. She will likely support the results, or at least won’t oppose them, but she wouldn’t have had the opportunity or means to do so.
          Remember the timing. The results of the Conclave become known only after Cat and company left for Keter.

          Timing and distances indicate that Bard is likely the only one who could’ve gotten all the pieces moving to get them to be in the right place at the right time.

          Also, I doubt that even Laurence would have started the argument that Cat is worse than Malicia or the Calamities, which is what the Conclave ends up saying.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. There is scant few Blessed capable of wielding such an influence. Peregrine comes first to mind, but he is in Callow still at this point. White Knight is not an authority beyond a rooster of Named, and even if he was, he was on the frontlines of fighting at most of the times, simultaniously orchestrating such a conspiracy is frankly beyond his perceived mental capabilities. Regicide can technically count, but come on. That leaves WB, but why the fuck would she do that? It would drive Callow into Below, there are no doubts about it.

      I’m pretty sure that the evildoer will be revealed in due time, likely in the next extra chapter.

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      1. Percula1869

        The Perigrine disappeared from Callow a while ago. I think it’s him. He probably thinks turning Callow will advance the story he started of redemption for Cat that would result in her death.

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    2. Someguy

      I’m thinking Pilgrim. The difference in practice between Levant and Callow regarding the House of Light horrified him because if the Callowan practice was the Orthodox one, he and the western nations would have been engaging in heresy and blasphemy throughout history. This is just pointing the finger ahd hiding the soiled bedsheets to pretend nothing happened.

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      1. Not Pilgrim.
        Remember – this would’ve been happening in between Pilgrim and the army he was with cutting its deal to withdraw in exchange for Pilgrim and Milenan as hostages.
        Arranging it would have needed to happen sooner time before that. While he was either campaigning or before the mages activated the Stairway.
        Also, remember – the results of this Conclave ruin his attempted redemption ploy against Cat.
        Though, he probably could have pulled it off, he had neither opportunity nor reason to do so.

        Similarly, it wasn’t Laurence/Regicide/Saint – neither means nor opportunity. Though she’d probably get behind it as soon as she found out.

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    3. Captain Amazing

      Yep. I think she’s trying to get herself killed by sliding into a villain role. We know her Name makes her life unpleasant whenever she Wanders, and we’ve already seen her try to commit suicide when she drank herself to death after stopping Akua’s assassination. If Fate sees her as a bad guy then she will die regardless of what side she’s on.

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        1. Darkening

          She died after scolding a couple elves into leaving akua alone at the end of book 2. Didn’t really list a cause of death, but I’m not sure what it could be aside from the drinking. She certainly seemed fairly immobile the whole conversation aside from her voice, so she was probably dying the whole time and not something the elves did. Whether that was suicide I feel a bit more skeptical about, I imagine it’s more that that arc of fate was finished, so it was felt dramatically appropriate for her to start fresh herself with a new face for a new pack of heroes, so the gods/angels whoever dictated that she die then.

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            1. Flameburst

              We know for a fact WB takes over bodies of the recently deceased. Iirc though, she did not die at all after meeting the elves. She merely took a new face as that story had ended and a new one begun

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                  1. Jane

                    Properly speaking, I don’t think we were told exactly where her bodies come from; it could be a “I was always this person who appeared fully-formed five minutes ago, what are you talking about?” deal, a “I take over and erase the mind of a suitable vessel” deal, a “I’m borrowing this body for a moment, hope you don’t mind” deal, or a “Oh, this person just died, I might as well use it” kind of deal.

                    From the second Epilogue, we know that she becomes different people when she dies, but we haven’t actually heard about whether those people even existed before she needed to “jump”, let alone anything else about them, so far as I’m aware.

                    Liked by 5 people

            2. Darkening

              The bit with her talking to the elves literally ends with, “She finished the bottle, and died.” So… Yeah, she died, probably left a corpse behind even when she jumped into her new body. And there’s no mention of the elves doing anything to her. Like, one stabs the rock next to her to try and intimidate her, but that’s it.

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    4. ______

      Pilgrim was told (by the angels, presumably) about the details of Catherine’s encounter with the Stalwart Paladin. He could have used the same way to contact the priests.
      He also didn’t actually promise at any point to help in making peace with the Grand Alliance and to assist Callow in turning against the Dread Empire. Catherine thought a redemption plot was implied, but we know that in a given story Creation doesn’t go for the same plot twice, and that Akua is the one going for redemption now.
      Did anyone pay attention to the timetable? I want to understand when Tariq might have called together the conclave: ather negotiations in chapter 8, after the ones in the wake of Battle of Camps (whenh he effectively threw Cordelia under the bus), or after she came to him when the Dead King invited her?

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      1. He couldn’t have.
        Remember – the results of the Conclave become known only after Cat has left for Keter, which suggests it took place while Pilgrim was a hostage/ observer in Callow, after the initial invasion through the Stairway was driven off. The fact that Cordelia says it will be viewed as petty retribution for defeats on the battlefield support that timing.
        And before that, he would have had no reason to want to tag Cat the Arch-heretic of the East and label the House of Light in Callow fallen.

        It’s something he could have arranged if he had the motive and opportunity to do so, but he had neither. Or rather, at any point when he could have done it, he had no motive, and indeed, every reason not to, since it was before the Crusade had its setbacks.

        Timing and distances involved (plus it screwing with his attempt to set Cat up for a redemption of some kind) argue against it being Pilgrim, or basically anyone whose location we know about.
        Thus, Bard.

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        1. ______

          The priests were implied to have organized this through some channel three different networks of spies have missed. The only Named that demonstrated anything similar so far was the Grey Pilgrim, who was told about the final of the altercation between Catherine and Stalwart Paladin by the angels she defied. He could used the same means to call for the conclave to be assembled after he saw that Cat went to treat with the Dead King.

          As for the reason to do so, I suspect it’s the same that made him proceed with the hostage plan that caused Cordelia to start losing support with her allies in the Highest Assembly. Now her only way to keep control is to stick to the role of a crusading First Prince, making her decisions justifiable by the needs of the Crusade.

          Similarly, we know he negotiated with Akua about an opportunity for resurrection, and while that particular talk ended in nothing, she’s now on her path to redemption. Catherine thinks it’s her who he tried to redeem, but she doesn’t realize that Fate doesn’t repeat the same story twice for a given Named. If he’s aiming to turn Diabolist, and deliberately set things up in such a way that Catherine would miss it, that means he was planning for Callow to eventually be attacked again by the Crusaders, for which he’d need to up the ante. Catherine’s game was to present herself as the lesser evil every step of the way, so he had to make her be viewed as the greater evil, simultaneously removing her only possible ally on the side of crusaders.

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          1. That sound decent, but why on earth WB can’t be a channel capable of fooling three spy networks? Angel intervention on that scale is Heavens putting a hand on a scale, and hard. I call bullshit. That seems too improbable and not-Peregrine like. Besides, when did he tried to kickstart redemption story for Diabolist?

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          2. I don’t recall any indication of Grey Pilgrim doing anything with Akua to set up a redemption arc for her. Nor any reason he would go for Akua when Cat is the one in charge of Callow and leading it into Damnation. In fact, there’s no reason to think he knew he had any sort of dealings with Akua at all – and what he did have was Akua fighting the Heroes with Winter.

            Also, again, timing, distance, and travel times dictate against it being Pilgrim, unless he set it up before entering Callow.

            In addition, he only vanished after Malicia’s round of assassinations – which was after the news about Cat being declared Arch-heretic had broken.

            Unless you’re going to argue that he invoked Angelic Intervention to either reach back through time to set it up or to somehow speed travel times for the priests traveling to Salia from Levant and Ashur to get them moving at to Salia in less than a week and nobody noticed that they violated the hell out of transportation times.
            Plus, there’s no reason to think he knew where Cat was going.

            I submit that it is far more reasonable to think that Wandering Bard is up to something, barring explicit indications that Pilgrim was involved instead. Especially since we know that Bard has been up to something since her talk with Heirarch.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Two primary reasons it’s not Malicia.
              One, it is highly improbable that she could have the necessary pull inside the churches of Levant, Ashur, and Procer to set it up at all, far less without the slightest warning to Cordelia and her spymasters.
              Two, it is explicitly stated that this is happening at the behest of a Chosen – aka Hero. Thus, unless Malicia is working with or somehow fooled a hero into doing this by proxy, Malicia had nothing to do with it.

              Third, timing, again.

              Also, again, Bard hasn’t been seen or heard from since her talk with Heirarch, until her chatwith the Dead King. She’s been up to something, and this seems to be the best/ only thing or could have been.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Micke

                The Heroes are all fanatics and thus far the Pilgrim is the only one not described as lobotomised; it would only take a few whispered words from one of Malicia’s many sleeper agents to convince a Proceran Hero of the righteousness of a cause he’d very much want to be righteous. After the disastrous invasion attempt the Hero would easily convince the Church fanatics in turn. As with the strike against the Callowan bureaucracy, this could have been set up well in advance, leaving the timing to a single scrying session.
                There’d really be no reason for the Augur to warn Cordelia about one of presumably many contingency plans Malicia made to deal with the likely treachery of one of her own subjects.

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                1. Unless the Hero is entirely in Malicia’s pocket, in which case they aren’t much of a Hero, I do not believe that Malicia could have set up something like this to trigger at a time of Malicia’s choosing, and without the slightest hint of warning.

                  Remember, travel times are also a factor.
                  This would’ve needed to be set up and in motion before the Crusade suffered defeats – way before Malicia could have known that she’d be free and need to work on Cat and Callow.
                  The assassinations could have been set from when she first let Cat have power in Callow.

                  I can perhaps be persuaded that Augur wouldn’t provide warning about an attempt by Malicia to backstab Cat and Callow, though the Conclave would be far more than just that if it were Malicia’s work. I do not believe that most Heroes could set up the Conclave without any warning, and those that could are also the ones least likely to have been manipulated by Malicia into doing exactly what she wants at the exact time she wants by intermediaries.
                  Malicia is pretty good at the manipulation game, sure, but she’s not good enough to do this.
                  Plus – this doesn’t actually help Malicia any.
                  She stops the Crusade with the Dead King. She stops Cat from going after her between the assassinations and the Dead King.

                  Plus … Cat being the Arch-heretic of the East means that she has no reason to not climb the Tower/ go for Dread Empress.
                  It would also be a waste of Malicia’s resources.

                  In addition, I doubt that most Heroes see Cat as more dangerous than Malicia and the Calamities.
                  Most Heroes have no motive to name Cat Arch-heretic of the East over Malicia, far less paint all of the Callowan House of Light as heretics.
                  Bard does – Cat is also the heir to the Practical Evil that would change the game.

                  The only viable suspect with means, motive, and opportunity is Bard.
                  Pilgrim probably has the means, but neither motive nor opportunity.
                  Laurence probably has the means, but not without any sort of warning, and also no opportunity, though Laurence might have motive, though since she, presumably, knows that Grey Pilgrim is working on Cat, probably would let him work instead of stepping on his toes like this, and she probably views Malicia, Black, and the Calamities as worse than Cat.
                  Hanno perhaps has the means, though not without warning, but no opportunity, and probably no motive. I feel like we’ll see him flipping his coin when it comes to Cat.

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    5. Decius

      Hero? We never heard that. Chosen was the word used.

      Scribe, trying to protect Black by destroying Cat? Someone new, loyal to the Empress? The Empress?

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    6. Anony

      Why would you think a hero did this?
      That would be assuming the outcome of strengthening callow to be a blunder.

      I find it much more likely this is the tyrant.
      It’s exactly the kind of twisted logic that fits his character perfectly.

      Like

      1. For one reason, it is explicitly said that it is happening at the behest of a Chosen.
        Chosen=Hero.

        For another, I very much doubt that any Villain has the necessary connections to get the Lanterns, the House of Light in Ashur, and the Proceran House of Light, all to do what they want. Especially without leaving a trace, and doing something so certain to make it harder to bring Callow back into the Light. Plus, making Cat the Arch-heretic of the East instead of Malicia is a rather significant act.

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        1. Anony

          It only states that it being a closed session is at the behest of a hero.

          There are plenty of heros around who are probably susceptible to being manipulated into doing it.

          The tyrant is outside procer and pretty much central to all nation’s that are involved in this. He seems the most likely to have agents in all the places they would be needed.

          Also I seem to remember there was a chapter that mentioned all of cordelias spies in helike going silent too, so he obviously has some talent, maybe even an aspect related to this kind of thing.

          On top of that, this is exactly his M-O, remeber how he manipulated Anaxares and with him basically the whole of the free cities.

          His only goal seems to be to have a good time making a good vs. evil story, this furthers that goal more than anything else.

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          1. Your argument is seriously that the Tyrant of Helike manipluated a Hero by proxy (because no way he could have done it in person) into manipulating the Lanterns of Levant, Sage-priests of Ashur, and Proceran House of Light, into declaring Cat Arch-heretic of the East, the Callowan House of Light fallen into blasphemy and heresy, as well as the Good-aligned League members having fallen?

            Instead of Wandering Bard having done it?
            When we know that the Tyrant had been sending soldiers through the Waning Woods, possibly in an attempt to outflank Tenerife, and his target on the Evil side of things has been Black, and probably Malicia, considering without them, pragmatic Evil wouldn’t be a thing, and it’s Malicia that declared the Age of Wonders dead.
            When we know that Bard has been Up To Something she deemed more important than either active battlefront ever since her talk with Heirarch until her talk with the Dead King when she told him to “eat the baby”.

            The Tyrant is nuts, sure. But while he may have motive, if one stretches, I do not believe that he would have had means or opportunity.
            Bard, however, has means, motive, and opportunity.

            Bard being at the root of the Conclave seems like a far more viable theory, especially since one should need to come up with an alternative for what/where Bard had been doing.

            Maybe we’ll find additional information, but at present, I firmly believe that Bard is the only viable suspect.

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        1. The name is a dead giveaway. As is context. I feel like an ignoramus.

          Also, your comment is mildly disturbing. “Politic is a continuation of a war”. Are you sure you are not a Villain?

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          1. Yotz

            On your first point, more or less – I manglequoted von Clausewitz. In his original text war is not an independent phenomenon. Just a continuation of politics by other means.
            I deem the reverse being true as well.

            As for your second point – let’s say, I have plenty of cookies. >^_^<

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            1. Not really. War is a tool. It is as much a continuation of politics as sword is a continuation of an arm for a swordsman. But reverse is not neccesarilly true. I understand that you played on words, but still, to presume that politics only serve to further the war is disturbing, to say the least.

              On your second point. “Dark side is dark ane full of cookies”. I wonder whom does it make a Cookie Monster.

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              1. RanVor

                I think what the quote really means is that politics and war are different means to the same end. In this context, the reverse is indeed true.

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                1. Yotz

                  Indeed.
                  War and politics are interchangeable terms in the big picture, and a single inkblot on the piece of stamped paper can claim more lives in more horrifying ways than even most devious and cruel weapon can hope to accomplish. Warfire, be it conventional (hot) or psychological (cold), economics, memetic ideology, cultural pressure – just an assortment of tools in the endless strife for resources. And/or self-aggrandizement, I suppose. Chemical gelding or silk garrote can be considered more civilized and humane ways to solve disputes than letting bamboo to grow thought the body of your still alive political opponents – but the outcome, just as the endgoal of the act, remains the same – midway goals and outcomes notwithstanding.

                  Disturbing? Villainous?.. Maybe. But I’ve always found people’s willingness to believe in something they wish to be true or afraid of it being true instead of more grounded in reality concepts… a tad strange, so to speak.
                  Then again, being knurd most of the time may have something to do with that particular kink of my worldview.

                  Like

    1. Yeah. Although parallel is a little obscured. Milan was a part of HRE still at that time, was it not? Personally, I love how all references are not hamfisteted. No Archpope leading the House, no Emperors of Holy Roman Procer. I especially love how Levant is basically Al-Andaluse. Such a unique inclusion of Muslims into a story.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ______

        > all references are not hamfisteted

        Really? I love the story, but I’m also glad its bulk isn’t set in the Principate, since I’d stumble over familiar names constantly. Not to mention that there are polities named Titanomachy and Bellerophon.

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        1. Define familar names. I mean the some references are not subtle, and Bellerophon (also, Atalanta, founded by a Heroine of all things, and pretty much every single Free City). Stillthere’s a difference between heavyhanded reference and just a reference.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. ______

            I mean that many of the cities in Procer are named after HRE constituents, plus there’s stuff like an ancient Proceran dynasty of Merovins. It took me some time to get used to the fact that on Calernia Hannover is to the north of Bremen.

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            1. Yeah, and major cities of LEVANT are named after Iberian ones. Not to mention that all principalities near Dominion named after Spanish ones. But I won’t call it hamfisting. How many ppl outside Germany know about names of HRE princes? Their respective locations? I would’ve more miffed by Roman expy, than by the fact that Wolof is an actual kingdom that existed east of Mali. The only reason I know all those things is cause I’ve played some obscure strategy games. If it’s not common knowledge, a glaringly common knowledge, like Romans, I’d hesitate calling it hamfisted.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. raimn

                Let me guess, Europa Universalis IV? Though I would call that one obscure, but that might be just me having played that game some 900 odd hours. IMHO, one of Guides many charmes is its references to the real world mostly from late antiquity to very early renaissance timewise. I would not call hamefisted, some are maybe a little clearer/obvious than others but all in all I think it adds more to the story than it “subtracts”.

                Like

              2. Micke

                > How many ppl outside Germany know about names of HRE princes?
                History is a compulsory subject in every country that has ruled parts of the HRE or been ruled in part by its princes.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Not to mention if you do C17th and C18th European History as an A-Level in Commonwealth countries. You will not escape Enlightened Despotism. Joseph II of Austria will you do (not to mention Maria Theresa, Frederick the Great and Catherine the Great as very direct contrasts to him and his aftermath).

                  You get to meet a lot of the not-Holy, not-Roman and not-Empire as a consequence. :/

                  Frankly, it beats having to the not-Honourable-in-the-slightest East India Company and the very “South Seas” “Company” (are you really sure you’re not a debt mill/scam, rather?) in British History. That lot is way more depressing to read in a lot of ways. <_<

                  Like

        1. Morgenstern

          And yeah, second that about overly familiar names of countries, cities, and ruling people/families. One could call it somewhat hamfisted, if one does not like references (which sure can be nice to evoke certain diffuse sentiments/ideas without having to explain overmuch about the background in-story first), I’d say. *shrugs

          I guess it’s more a matter of preference, though.

          Like

  1. This put Cord in a different perspective. I was under impression that such condemnation was not a relly big deal, and that she allowed it without really understanding why conclave had gathered. And learned the reason only after it happened. Make sence in retrospect, that she will try to learn the reason before. But that she will activelly try to oppose this and fail? This is another matter, entirely. Can’t wait for the next month.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. You can’t really rule or lead otherwise. Confidence is an obligatory quality. And I personally disagree with what you said about Cordelia too. She is willing to listen and treat with a known Villain, and as we see here, to work against the servants of Gods themselves. She posseses many doubts.

          Like

    1. No reason pointing out typos. They’ll all be edited out when EE’ll get around publishing Guide. Can’t wait for that actually, those series deserve so much more.

      Like

  2. Darkening

    Interesting spin that Cordelia actually knew the Augur was referring to the dead king and had an expected date. I mean, it’s an easy assumption to make from that prophecy, but she seemed so shocked when Cat told her I assumed she wasn’t very confident in the conclusion. Maybe it’s just a lot sooner than she predicted? I’m not completely certain what time of year it is, so… Well. Gotta wonder at Bard’s plan here, unite Callow against the foreigners, encourage the dead king to go all out, she seems to be trying to screw Procer over really hard. Maaaaybe she’s trying to play a similar card to her sacrifice of the Ashen Priestess, and wants to sacrifice Procer in order to get the metaphysical weight to end Praes forever? Hm. I dunno how this’ll play out and I kinda love that. I do love seeing things spin further out of control for Cordelia, yes she has good intentions, but she just rubs me the wrong way every time she shows up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Letouriste

      Yeah Cordelia couldn’t fake her reaction before cat and was clearly taken aback. We have seen her POV and she was really terrified and surprised… the fact she know beforehand is hard to understand:/ the timing could be different or maybe the fact that’s malicia who allied to the dead king, opposed to him attacking alone.

      Like

      1. WuseMajor

        It might be that she was expecting an attack by the forces of the Dead King and then Cat confirmed that the Dead King himself was going to take the field on Malicia’s behalf. That would scare anyone.

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        1. WuseMajor

          Alternately, the time table above means that she thinks she prolly has like six months to prep. Finding out that she has more like a week would scare anyone. Especially with Black rampaging through Procer’s heartland.

          Like

      2. Yeah, it’s a bit weird, especially since we know this chapter happens at least a week before Cat arrives in Keter (in CH36 she finds out the morning after arriving that she’s been declared Arch-Heretic). Perhaps Cordelia’s surprise/terror was the idea that the Black Queen might’ve allied with the Dead King?

        Like

        1. Unless someone (ie, whichever Chosen *coughBardcough*) somehow convinces her that the Augur’s foresight was misinterpreted by thinking “Woe in the North” meant the Dead King invading, and it should mean something else – perhaps an invasion through the Stairway/ portals through Arcadia to rip up northern Procer while Black tears into the south. Or the drow or ratlings. Our something else entirely.
          Of course … that only works if it wasn’t Augur who said “Woe to the North” meant the Dead King.
          Then again, after Cat warns Cordelia, there’s this bit:
          “The darkness went away, and the First Prince of Procer was left with nothing but fury and fear. Doom to the north, Agnes had said.
          “She was never wrong.”

          Perhaps Cordelia is left with fury and fear and says Augur is never wrong, because the Chosen/Bard lied to her and convinced her (and the Conclave) that Augur’s “Woe to the North” had been wrong or misinterpreted.
          That would seem to me to be grounds for anger and fear.

          Like

  3. Nihilant

    grammar/spelling mistakes:
    knowing that she would day – knowing that she would one day
    Baalite Hegemony’s onw sages – Baalite Hegemony’s own sages
    foolsto – fools to
    considered impious to a copy of the book – considered impious to own a copy of the book
    the Callowan question of of import to the throne – the Callowan question is of import to the throne
    and as as backhanded reminder – and as a backhanded reminder

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  4. Jane

    You know, I get the feeling that, had Malicia and Cordelia been born in the same kingdom, they would have ended up as the closest of allies (possibly after a rather contentious struggle to determine who would be Empress/Queen/Prince/whatever). Or even if they had been born to neighboring kingdoms not on opposite sides of the good/evil divide. A pity (though a narratively necessary one) that they had to be enemies.

    And that must be why the Bard is trying to kill them both – history can’t keep rhyming if Malicia or Cordelia upend the system, and replace it with one that won’t keep making old mistakes. Bury Procer (and Cordelia with it) with the Dead King, use the backlash to tear down the Tower again, and you have a clear enough slate to restart things. Now with a bigger Dead King in the middle, but they can still Crusade around that.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Someguy

    Also great irony, Faith of Crowns will have her prioritize saving her people against the Doom of the Dead King in the north. On Rule will have her prioritize preserving her power against the Doom of House of Light from the south. She cannot have it both ways.

    Like

  6. Oh Cordelia misses the point so badly when she says she drew on the Faith Of Crowns when justifying the 10th Crusade. It never even occurred to her, did it, that maybe she should have consulted the Faith Of Crowns before deciding on whether or not to crusade.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Xinci

    Could not this simply be one of the Gods Above’s plans to pivot a new story into the curret matrix? Why does the specific chosen used matter, beyond if they will get involved or not? Could they not simple hop from chosen/bestowed/hero to hero til they have all the pieces in exactly the correct places to enact the event to start it? They see all threads of realities and must constantly change for each new interation of a event/pivot after all, though unsure how competent they are in getting a good end result in a case such as this, since the larger scale effect of their style often arent shown whenever our villanous heroes get a win.

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  8. Darkening

    Y’know, it occurs to me that the doom to the south bit could refer to the Titanomachy coming to take revenge against Procer while they’re weak. If Cat manages to bring the drow into the fight, that would leave only the chain of hunger for forces on the continent not involved in the conflict, with the elves vanished off to arcadia. I’d enjoy seeing what the giants could do after seeing what the Witch of the Woods could do against Warlock with just a pale imitation of their spellcraft.

    Like

  9. CantAffordPatreon

    What? What what what?

    This is definitely Pilgrim. Who’s saying it’s not? Why? The timeline DOES matchup. Cats group HAS COMPLETED THEIR TIME in Keter. DONE. FINISHED. OVER. Meaning MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME has passed for the Pilgrim to set all this off. I’m only hearing about this conclave now. I recall no indication about this entire thing previously. I don’t have a great memory to be honest. But at least back it up with quotes and the chapters they’re from if you’re gonna say stuff like the timeline doesn’t match up. If you don’t, then we can’t have a real argument about a fictional universe where nothing matters that effects no one.

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    1. The results of the Conclave were first mentioned in Chapter 36, while Cat and Company were in Keter. At that time, the news and aftermath in Callow had started spreading as of 8 days previous.

      According to Juniper in Chapter 48, Pilgrim disappeared after the assassinations.

      In addition … Cat being declared the Arch-heretic of the East makes Pilgrim’s attempt to set Cat up for redemption or otherwise work on her far more difficult, if not nigh impossible. Thus Pilgrim lacks an apparent motive.

      Timing, locations, and thus distances and travel times required to arrange the Conclave leave Bard as the only known viable suspect.
      Especially since there’s a massive lack of information about what Bard had been up to in the time between her talk with Hierarch and her talk with the Dead King. She’s been up to something that she deemed more important than either of the combat zones.

      Barring explicit indications to the contrary, I see Bard as the only known viable suspect, and Pilgrim firmly in the clear.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. patrar

    I now believe the Augur’s prophecy just means the Woe divided with Black Queen in Drowlands and others in Callow and Praes. It wasn’t metaphoric at all.in the end. The southern woe doesn’t make much sense otherwise.

    Like

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