Interlude: Queen’s Gambit, Declined

“Fifty-nine: it is always better to interrupt a plan than carry one out. Your finest successes will always be the failures of your enemy.”
-‘Two Hundred Heroic Axioms’, author unknown

“You’re in a damned fine mood, for a man who can barely stand,” Ranker muttered.

Most would not have been to pick up on it, Amadeus thought, but the goblin marshal had been his friend for a very long time. Longer than the common understanding of goblin lifespan should allow for, but that was one of the subjects they did not speak of. Ranker had a right to her secrets, as he did his. The Black Knight tightened the woolen blanket draped over his frame, looking up at the night sky with the barest trace of a smile on his face.

“It’s nostalgic, isn’t it?” he said. “The few of us huddling in the dark, surrounded by a realm that would kill us all.”

His detached force numbered two thousand, with Marshal Ranker in overall command as her sappers and scouts would be more valuable to their purposes than regulars or heavies. Cooking fires had been judged too much of a liability to be allowed even after a days of marching under his aspect that should have left any would-be pursuers in the dust: the legionaries had dropped their kits and made their beds on rough ground, not even bothering to raise fortifications beforehand. Ranker’s decision, and one he’d approved of. Their pace was already taking the soldiers dangerously close to their breaking point, aspect or not.

“It hasn’t been like this since the civil war,” Ranker conceded. “The Conquest was orderly campaign, nothing like this one. Feels like we’re making it up as we’re going along.”

“Planning too deep will be seen through by the Augur,” Amadeus reminded her. “We stay a step ahead so long as we make short-term decisions backed by superior pace.”

It was a little more complex than that, in practice. Thrice now the First Prince’s fresh mage order had passed along auguries of where his legions would be headed, though their very interception meant that they were effectively worthless. Prediction and prophecy were different matters, after all. The former was very much avoidable, if known, while the latter tended to be like a sandpit: the harder you struggled, the swifter you drowned. Even those could be broken, of course. Prophecy was only ever the writ of one side of the Great Game, and if outcomes were so absolute there would be no need for Creation at all – according to the Book of All Things, anyway. Still, even the predictions of the Augur were an exceedingly dangerous tool for the opposition. Considering how sparsely it had been used and the recent revelations as to the forces stirring up north, Amadeus suspected that if the Dead King had not been on the move and requiring the soothsayer’s attentions this campaign would have been much more troublesome.

“I’m aware,” she flatly replied. “And I have some fond memories of the old days, do not misunderstand me. But back then we were still young. To our places, to our powers, to our stories. It’s been a long time since we were any of that.”

Sing we of foe,” he softly hummed. “Of victories won, and that first woe, tyranny of the sun.”

“You know I hate that song, Amadeus,” Ranker grunted. “It’s the anthem of old defeats, a ballad of ruin.”

“It was a cold, clear look at what we were when it was written,” the Black Knight said. “We are no longer that, yet I suspect we never truly outgrew the sentiment.”

Like a poisonous old friend, it had been clutched tight even as the fangs sunk in and venom spread. The Tyranny of the Sun, for the most famous verse of the song was the title as well, had been written near the end of the Sixty Years War. Arguably the most brutal slugging match between two sovereign powers in the history of Calernia, and it had left both Callow and Praes smoking ruins in its aftermath, peace coming largely because neither side was still capable of continuing the war. Dread Emperor Nihilis had retreated to the Blessed Isle with his armies and ended it without ever signing formal treaty, but he’d died failing to rebuild the Empire and a hundred years of murderous mediocrity had followed until Praes recovered enough to embark in its disastrous waging of the Secret Wars. In some ways he suspected the Sixty Years War had been more traumatic an experience to Praesi culture than the collapse of Triumphant’s empire a century and a half earlier. Triumphant had known success before meeting her doom. The parade of Emperors and Empresses who’d waged war on Callow for sixty years had known much of the latter and little of the former.

“We,” the goblin chuckled. “There’s a word growing thinner by the year. We are exiles in more way than one, Amadeus. You saw to that after Akua’s Folly.”

“It is not the first time I’ve been told I should have tried to climb the Tower,” the man shrugged. “It will not be the last, I expect. It would have been a self-defeating enterprise to wage civil war in the Wasteland with Procer assembling its armies just across the border.”

“The Clans would have come out for you,” Ranker said. “Most likely the Tribes as well. The Matrons smell weakness, Black, and there’s only ever one way they react to that.”

“I can think of few things more foolish than to underestimate Alaya,” he quietly said. “Even now. She’s never been one to act without a plan, and that we do not understand her moves should be source of fear and not contempt.”

“Odds are she’s the one who made a pact with the Dead King,” Ranker said.

“It could have been Catherine as well,” Amadeus frankly admitted. “She thrives in chaotic situations. It’s led her to the bad habit of creating them knowing it improves her chances of victory even if it significantly increases collateral damage as well.”

“The Black Queen,” the goblin mused. “There’s another trash fire of a situation. One you’ve stepped lightly around.”

“The Conquest was a way to achieve objectives,” Amadeus said. “The annexation was ultimately a consequence, not the purpose itself. I hardly mind surrendering unnecessary gains if the actual objectives are met through the gesture.”

“The arithmetic holds,” Ranker sighed. “It always does with you. But there’s more to this than the numbers, old friend. We made an order of things, and now it’s crumbling.”

“And now you wonder what will replace it,” Amadeus said. “And if in that new order, we will still have a place.”

“Some might say it’s too early to start thinking about after the war,” she said. “You and I know better. No point in even seeking a victory if when achieved it leads nowhere.”

“A better world,” the Black Knight murmured, looking up a stars that were not those he’d been born under. “Oh, I have wondered. What it might mean, what it would look like.”

“We made one,” Ranker said. “It’s on fire now.”

“And who set the flames?” he smiled. “Cordelia Hasenbach. Catherine Foundling. Kairos Theodosian. Children, in our eyes. Yet is it not the right of the younger generation to look at the work of that which came before it and judge it insufficient?”

“So they’re right, and we’ll be swept away like dust by the new age,” Ranker said, sounding distinctly unimpressed.

“I still do not believe,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch murmured, “that I am wrong. That our methods, our works, are to be so easily discarded. If these younglings want to prove themselves worthy of shaping the world, well…”

He bared his teeth.

“Let them come,” he said. “Let them earn it. If they can surpass us, then the sin is ours.”

“And if they can’t?” Ranker asked.

“Then they fall into line, or face destruction, and we fight one last great war,” he said. “The one that will matter.”

The two of them remained silent for a long time, seated at the edge of the camp. In the distance, the barest glimpse of the town of Saudant could be made out. Just a lakeside township, one of hundreds in the region. Amadeus doubted the name of it would be remembered as more than a footnote in histories, for no battle would take place there even if he’d been wrong. Under the light of the stars, the Black Knight pondered Providence and the coward’s wager that was Fate. He did not sleep, even tired as he had become.

With dawn he would know if he had once more cheated the Heavens at dice.

Gauthier Legrand had served as ranking captain of the guard of Iserre for thirty years now. He’d served Prince Merlaux before Prince Amadis ascended the throne and been appointed to his title by the old prince, but there’d been no talk of having him replaced even when the young prince took over and began inserting his own partisans in posts of influence. This he attributed to the fact that he’d carried out his work steadily and honestly, avoiding court politics and the intrigues intrinsic to any of Procer’s royal seats. He was not unaware that his occasional bluntness and refusal to earn favours by offering plum positions to the kin of the influential had led some to consider him simple, though the more polite phrased it as him having ‘a soldier’s spirit’. Gauthier did not mind. As long as they considered him an idiot they would not attempt to involve him in their little schemes, and he rather preferred it that way. Iserre had only grown larger and wealthier under Prince Amadis, but that rise had come with the troubles inevitably associated with a city expanding. Maintaining order and the rule of law was toil without end, especially in a land where both could change face at the whims of the ruling prince.

Amadis had done well by the city, he’d always thought, and the principality as well. Their prince had kept them out of the worst of the Great War with cunning diplomacy and duly reaped the benefits of Iserre’s rising prominence when the steel returned to the sheath. Old Prince Merlaux had shown a better touch with the commons, that much was true, but his son was a much more able administrator. The guard’s funding had swelled under Amadis, and their equipment was now match for many of the fantassin companies out there making a trade of war. It’d seemed an unquestionable boon at the time, but now Captain Gauthier was forced to question. Not a state of affairs to his liking. The principality was under assault by wicked Easterners from the Wasteland, and to everyone’s dismay the general levies that had preceded Prince Amadis going on campaign had bled the land dry of men in fighting fit. Iserre itself was the capital of the eponymous principality, and so had kept a garrison of two thousand professional soldiers, but the guard’s equipment was only marginally inferior and it numbered five thousand.

In principle the defence of the city was the responsibility of the commander of that garrison, Antonine Milenan. In practice, their leader was middle-aged drunk whose entire experience with martial life was a span of three years with a fantassin company that had never left Iserran borders during the Great War. She had, allegedly, commanded a victorious skirmish against bandits. Rumour had it they’d actually been terrified refugees from Salamans but that in her drunken rage she’d refused to see a difference. There was a reason that Antonine had not been given a command in the crusading host, and Gauthier supposed that a few months ago giving her command of a garrison that would never see combat had seemed a discreet way to set aside a cumbersome relative for his prince. Now that the Wastelanders had come, however, it meant that the woman had been quietly placed under guard in the palace where she could make no trouble. An unfortunate measure prompted by a well-lubricated evening where she’d decided to order the garrison of Iserre to sally out and ‘disperse the foreign rabble on the field’.

And so Captain Gauthier Legrand now led the defence of Iserre.

The responsibility alone would have been difficult to bear, but as the effective commander he’d been the one to receive the secret orders from the First Prince of Procer. Penned by a scribe, most likely, and the content would have been decided by her officers – Hasenbach was a well-known oddity, a Lycaonese with little taste or affinity for war. Gauthier saw the cold sense in the letter he’d been delivered. With only two thousand soldiers, his guardsmen and whatever peasantry he could arm and send to stand on the walls his defence of Iserre was a risky enterprise. The easterners might be impious demon-worshippers, but the Legions of Terror were known to be one of the finest armies on the continent and their generals were of high renown. The captain knew himself to be no great tactician, and hardly a soldier besides. He had dwarven engines on the walls, due to his prince’s foresight, but few and few men trained to use them. The devices were well-known to be finicky and prone to breaking anyway, rarely lasting more than five years under regular use. Rough handling might see a few unmade before they could even be properly put to work.

And yet here he was, reading a report stating the Legions were but a day’s march away and considering treason.

There were no two ways about it, disobeying the First Prince’s orders would be high treason. The Principate had declared a crusade, her authority in military matters was absolute. Gauthier was not a soldier, which in different times might have provided him a way out, but as the commander of the city’s defence he was charged to obey any and all orders bearing the seal of Cordelia Hasenbach. The actual text of those was delicate and regretful, but the heart of it a brutal thing: after short defence on the walls, he was to draw the Praesi inside Iserre and set the city on fire around them. His troops were then to evacuate and join the relief forces sent by the Dominion, to fall upon the easterners while they were freshly bloodied. Iserre, as of Prince Milenan’s last royal census, counted over a hundred thousand souls between its walls. Gauthier knew it was more than that, perhaps as much a ten thousand more who were foreigners and so unrecorded or too estranged from the law to want their presence noted in anything as official as a census.

He would not be allowed to evacuate them. Their panic, the letter noted, would prevent the Praesi from pulling out their forces in time by clogging up the streets.

He wrestled with the decision throughout the night. Handpicked men discretely prepared the blazes, for he did not give the order now it would be too late afterwards, and when dawn came Iserre had been turned into a pyre. It was the arithmetic of it that stayed with him. There were, according to reports, perhaps fifteen thousand easterners and not even half that many bandits with them. A host of twenty thousand at most. And his orders were to burn alive five times that many to wound the Praesi. He would be damned in the eyes of the Gods, if he did this. Yet how many more would die in towns and villages, if he did not? Not merely in Iserre, but all over the realm. Duty and faith tugged him different ways. Midmorning saw a Praesi envoy reached the city. The offer made was as brutal as the orders of the First Prince: should Iserre surrender its granaries and treasury, the city would be spared a sack. If it resisted, all armed inside the walls would be put to the sword. Gauthier rode out himself to speak with the envoy, to the gaze of Evil with his own eyes.

The thing across him was green of skin, one of those creatures they called orc. A barbarous monster that ate human flesh and lived only for blood and rapine. There was nothing in its eyes but hunger, Gauthier saw. A small woman with ink-stained hands and the colouring of the Free Cities stood by its side, though she remained silent. Some kind of servant, he suspected.

“The terms will remain as offered,” the orc said. “Negotiation is not on the table.”

“You’re a long way from home, greenskin,” Gauthier said. “Fighting the wars of humans.”

“We go,” the envoy said, “where the banner goes.”

“Your banner has come to the Principality of Iserre, Gods take you all,” the captain said. “We do not bow to foreigners. We do not bow to servants of the Hellgods. If you want your fucking loot, come and take it.”

“A respectable choice,” the orc said. “But you may come to regret it.”

“Tell your masters this is Procer, not one of their slave cities,” he spat out. “Test our walls at your peril. We were there, when the Tower fell. We will be again.”

The words, though defiant, were as ashes in his mouth as he rode back to Iserre. He’d just ensured the city he’d spent his entire life guarding would either suffer fire or a bloody sack. The Legions of Terror arrived past noon, and he watched them spread out from atop the walls. Dwarven engines stolen from other cities and armories were brought to the fore, their shapes changed by the devious goblins – which rumour said were dwarves corrupted into foul form by the touch of the Gods Below. The easterners and their traitor auxiliaries built their camps and only began bombardment under cover of nightfall. The city’s walls had been rebuilt fully early in the Great War, and so they suffered but did not break. Gauthier feared not the stones, only the assault of the steel-clad soldiers. Two more days passed, with only one breach to show for it – quickly filled by sacks of sand and gravel at his order – but time was running out. The assault would come soon, he knew, and the decision he must make with it. Duty or good? Gods forgive him, but as the fourth night fell Captain Gauthier made his decision. Better he be known a traitor than a butcher. When the assault came, he would empty the city and ride to Salia for his trial.

Then dawn came, and with first light came the realization that the Praesi were gone.

“Steady,” Amadeus ordered. “I want no incidents.”

The town of Saudant’s entire defending force had been a sum of thirty militiamen, who immediately folded when they realized how heavily outnumbered they were. There’d been actual soldiers behind them, though, who had fought: the Levantines had left four hundred soldiers to guard the fleet of barges that had ferried them across the lakes at the heart of Procer. None had surrendered, even when such an outcome was offered on rather lenient terms, and five barges had been lost to fire and fighting before they could be eradicated. A regrettable loss, but Amadeus had burned ships himself not a day later. The barges had carried thirty thousand Dominion infantry, while he would at most move twenty thousand soldiers himself. Having no intention of leaving Procer with any ships after he passed, the surplus had been put to the torch.

The sailors and captains to which they belonged had been furious, but they were not armed and so in no position to contest his orders. The First Prince had assembled this fleet by requisitioning merchant trade, not building warships, and considering piracy was night-inexistent in Proceran waters the merchant sailors had rarely carried anything larger than a knife. They were also less than eager to die for the sake of the Lycaonese ruling Salia who’d pressed them into service, which meant his assurances that the sailors would be released unharmed after ferrying his own troops where he wished had been received with more gratitude than hostility. Amadeus had taken pains to be accommodating with them, as Praesi were poor sailor as a rule and the Legions largely unfit for sailing ships. Some Thalassinans in the ranks had middling experience at sea, but too few and those few had too little practical experience to properly captain barges. It might be possible to proceed without the sailors, but only at a snail’s pace – which would rather defeat the purpose of acquiring the fleet in the first place.

The legionaries he’d called out after nodded at his order, moderating the language they used when speaking at the locals loading the ships. Finding out there were still supplies in the town meant for the already-departed Levantine army had been a pleasant surprise, implying he’d caught the very end of the enemy supply train without meaning to do so. He was not a fool, of course, and so he’d checked the grain and foodstuffs for poison. Hasenbach might have grown desperate enough for such a stratagem, even if the Levantines were not. None had been found, and he’d been pleased enough at the discovery to dole out a portion to the inhabitants of Saudant as incentive to load the rest more quickly. Barely more than a thousand people overall, and so easily appeased by the notion of being assured of plentiful stories throughout winter. Sadly the general levy by the prince of Iserre had meant few capable of hard labour remained, but he’d assigned a few legionary companies to help matters along.

Leaving the docks – and the friendly shore around them, where lack of space had dictated most barges would actually end up – Amadeus found Ranker awaiting him at the nearby tavern he’d appropriated as temporary headquarters.

“They have fishing boats,” the goblin marshal informed him immediately. “At least a dozen.”

“Not enough to ferry a significant amount of men,” the Black Knight noted. “Sinking them brings little profit and antagonizes the locals. Leave them be.”

“At least order them beach for a few weeks,” Ranker said. “Otherwise some enterprising soul might try to find out where we’re headed.”

He nodded after a moment, though in truth he doubted their destination would be much of a mystery. Even if the Augur did not divine it, the strategic situation would make it obvious. By now Grem and Scribe should have lifted their ‘siege’ of Iserre, having remained there long enough to draw in whatever forces had been sent to relieve it. They’d hurry towards the nearest shore, where the fleet Amadeus has just seized would be awaiting them. From there, they could leave their pursuers to stew impotently on the wrong side of the Principate while they struck at easier targets.

“Have you decided where we’ll be headed, after?” Ranker asked.

“Still a matter of debate,” Amadeus admitted. “Segovia would allow us to finalize our savaging of the First Prince’s opposition, properly damaging her position.”

“But you’re thinking of Salia,” the goblin said knowingly.

“We can’t take the capital,” he said, stating the obvious. “Even arming a third of that hive would allow her to drown us in numbers. But if we torch our way through its outlying territories, the sheer loss of prestige might see her unseated.”

“Grem will call it risky,” Ranker predicted. “I don’t disagree.”

“And so it remains a matter of debate,” the Black Knight said. “We will discuss in depth when reunited with him and Eudokia.”

There was a beat, during which the goblin studied him thoughtfully and openly.

“It’s been two days since you last used an aspect,” she said. “I expected you to be in better shape by now.”

“I drew deeper than I have in decades,” he candidly admitted. “And you know my well is shallower than most. I expect within a fortnight I’ll have recuperated.”

She nodded, after a beat.

“Gods, at least it worked,” she sighed. “I half-expected a band of heroes to be awaiting.”

“There are over a hundred thousand souls in Iserre,” Amadeus said, avoiding even the slightest hint of smugness. “Souls at risk of slaughter, if left unprotected. So long as we were willing to carry out that ugly work, it was possible to dictate where the heroic intervention would take place. I expect Grem found the place swarming with their like. It would have been a beacon lit for every sword of the Heavens not gone north to fight the Dead King.”

“There’s no need to get smug,” Ranker told him, eyes squinting.

Alas, sometimes there was no winning a battle. By the fourth day, they’d departed the charming little town of Saudant on surprisingly good terms with the locals. Legionaries were spread too thinly across the fleet for Amadeus’ tastes, but there were enough mages along that any sailors with notions of patriotic resistance would be forced into restraint by their more fearful fellows. The fleet made good pace, for the first three days.

Then the sickness started.

It showed in the sailors first. Fever, sweat, weakness of the limbs and after twelve hours they were dead. Amadeus ordered any with the symptoms thrown overboard as soon as he first saw the disease. It was too clean and too sudden: there had been no sign at all before the fevers, the sailors being in perfect health. It was not a natural disease. Reluctantly, he ordered every Proceran sailor disposed of after the first legionary showed symptoms. It was too late, by then.

On the sixth day, Amadeus of the Green Stretch found he was the only person left alive of the entire fleet.

Tariq let out a panting breath when the last of the victims died.

There were Choirs, he knew, that treated their relationships with heroes as a sort of subjugation. The Hashmallim of Contrition, in particular, were known to be heavy-handed – though to this day he was uncertain whether it was because they bestowed upon only the desperate, or because such was their nature. As a young man, the Pilgrim had found that the Choir of Mercy demanded nothing of him. He’d simply been found to be of a like mind with the Ophanim, and so found them at his side. As if they had been there all along. They were more like old friends than patrons, never far from his thoughts. Always there with a whisper of comfort in hard times, a reassurance when the world seemed dark. They shared, after all, the same mandate.

The alleviation of suffering.

Tariq had no longer been a young man when he’d understood the frightful depths of that simple sentence. He’d thought, as mortals often did, that angels saw through his eyes. Understood his thoughts, his beliefs and his choices. The first, he thought, was perhaps true. The rest was not. The Ophanim were absolute, in nature and mandate. There were no shades to their perspectives, and while they might fondly tolerate them in one sworn to the Choir of Mercy that indulgence should never be confused for approval. The Grey Pilgrim had first understood this when he’d smothered his young nephew in his sleep, knowing the boy was charismatic enough to unite the Dominion and lead to war against Procer. He’d tried, first, to reason with him. To show him the pursuit of old grudges through blood could not redeem a single thing.

The young never listened, he’d learned. And so old fools like him had to smooth out the sharp edges of Creation.

Praesi, he’d been told, believed that Good only came in certain shapes. That it must obey strict boundaries and rules, that it must rely on little tricks like Providence or angelic intervention. An understandable misunderstanding. For all that the raving Tyrants who climbed the Tower liked to style themselves anathema to all children of the Heavens, they’d rarely fought opponents beyond Callow – where heroism was so deeply linked to war that a villain waging one was now seen as good. Praesi had learned to bury and defeat a certain breed of stories, after millennia of butting heads against them. But oh, that was such a shallow understanding. The world was large, and so few ever saw more than a speck of it. There were as many stories as there were peoples, and to build one’s understanding on but a fraction was to raise a tower on quicksand. The Black Knight, Tariq thought, was not a stupid man. But he’d been arrogant enough to think he saw all the rules of his world, and arrogance was ever the death of villains.

Crafting the plague had been easy as snapping his fingers, and mayhaps that was the most distressing part of it. The Enemy delighted in displaying its power, raising massive contraptions or weaving elaborate schemes to praise its own cunning and cleverness. Like it was the only side capable of doing those things, like it wasn’t a choice to turn away from the unsightly means of the Gods Below. The Grey Pilgrim could have birthed diseases and disasters that would raise the hair on the Warlock’s neck, if he so wished. But power had to used responsibly, turned to moral purpose, else it could only ever be a form of tyranny. And so Tariq had wept, and asked for the guidance of the Ophanim to create a disease that would undo the Black Knight and all his murderous designs. It was not so far removed from healing, to make someone’s body turn on itself. To allow it to spread had required learning deeper than his, but as always the Choir had provided.

At a small price, a reminder of what he wrought. He would feel the agony of all taken by the disease.

He’d come to Saudant a stranger on a dark night, and seeded this foul miracle in a single man before taking his leave. Ten days and ten nights it would wait, before beginning to kill. That the Black Knight would come to the sleepy little town had never been in doubt. By the man’s perspective, heroes could only go to Iserre. He was making sport of decency by forcing their hand with a threat before stealing away a fleet to spread even more death. Where was it written, Tariq had thought then, that Evil will have monopoly on ruthlessness? He’d awaited close, with Laurence and four other heroes for company. Far enough such a small party would not be noticed, close enough he could ensure none of the sick would leave Saudant and spread the sickness to the rest of Procer. The Praesi had came, the Praesi had gone, and he’d followed in their wake. Laurence, in her own kind way, had offered to purge the town for him. He’d refused, and offered the Last Mercy himself.

This would be his own sin, from beginning to end.

They followed the villain after, taking fishing boats. No need for anything a gaudy as a barge, when they were only a handful. It was not difficult to find the Black Knight. He was at the centre of a fleet of dead men, a ring of ships adrift in the lake. Tariq was the first to climb aboard, though Laurence was not far behind, and they found him awaiting on the deck. Standing straight-backed, armoured in old plate without having bothered with a helmet. He watched them approach in silence, pale green eyes emotionless.

“We finally meet, Black Knight,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

The man did not reply. He was eyeing the others, gaze lingering on armaments and armour. Guessing at Names, guessing at powers. Already planning the span of his last stand. Yet Tariq felt no power coming from him, no presence. As if his Name had been snuffed out. It might very well have been, the old man thought. The Gods Below reserved only one fate for a lame horse.

“Surrender,” the Pilgrim said. “This will not end well for you.”

“It was never going to end well,” the green-eye man smiled. “That was rather the point.”

His sword cleared the scabbard with a ringing sound.

“Let’s see,” Amadeus of the Green Stretch said, “if I can at least leave a mark.”

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333 thoughts on “Interlude: Queen’s Gambit, Declined

  1. JD

    So, I’m quite impressed by Grey Pilgrim’s plan here, but is it possible that this is another fetch of the Black Knight? Similar to how he fooled the White Knight?

    Like seriously, what are the odds that Ranker was the traitor (arranged for the killing of the generals at the end of Book 3), and so when Black saw the potential for this plot he took his “surplus” marshall, enough troops to spring the trap, and sent a fetch that Ranker didn’t know about?

    Like

    1. No, my money is on Malicia for the killings of the generals at Liesse.
      It weakened Black and the Legions, preventing them from carrying out the final purging of the High Lords. In addition, Malicia was planning on capturing Diabolist’s work intact and useable, if more limited, by Warlock. She expected Liesse to become her nuclear weapon/enforcer of peace through superior firepower/superweapons/Hellgate generator, rendering the Legions (and Black) irrelevant to the strategic security of Praes.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Cat as a suspect is a ridiculous hypothesis. On so many levels. I’m not even sure where to start.

          I must therefore assume that you’re trying to be funny for some reason, and must inform you that your attempt at humor has failed rather miserably.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Except nobody who could’ve done it is dumb enough to try to frame Cat for it. Especially when an obvious suspect like Akua is available. For that matter, Akua would’ve been the prime suspect and stayed the only real suspect without the break between Malicia and Black.
              Hell, framing Cat for it just makes it obvious that somebody deliberately assassinated Istrid and the others and wants to point blame somewhere, instead of it being the misfortunes of combat.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Author Unknown

    It was stated in an earlier chapter that Grey Pilgrim has never lost a fight, and here we see why: He is perfectly in tune with his choir, not letting mortal morality color his actions.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Outsomniac

      There’s nothing above loves more than a very high body count.

      How can Tariq claim any kind of moral highground when neck deep in a diseased swamp like this without realising “well I didn’t murder many innocents” and “I’ll feel everyone’s suffering” just don’t cut it?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Dancer

        Is he really trying to claim a moral highground? That’s Black’s conception of the world- a narrow and simplistic one, as suggested this chapter.

        He’s the “Grey” Pilgrim.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. edrey

    i would rather l8ke see cat saving him with the power of night, after all the middle of a lake is perfect for the queen winter but that doesnt look likely, that should be the reason for malicia envoy to callow

    Liked by 1 person

  4. SilentWatcher

    Assuming Black dies, what are the consequences? a whole lot of angry villains like
    Cat, Ranger, Sribe, Warlock maybe even Malicia. This could lead to a “Lone Swordsmen Truce” between Cat and Malicia and lets not forget the Curse of the dying Breath when a villain dies. They would doom themselves with killing Black.

    Still i hope he fights an epic Battle and escape to Grem and Scribe. His Chances should be good, because hes facing 5 heroes (“Heroes” which sacrifice a Town to kill an enemy LOL)

    Liked by 3 people

        1. ArkhCthuul

          Likely.

          I mean that was so much anticlimax for black its almost insulting.

          And Grey. A pilgrim is the more. Ruthless and deadly of the 2. And Sword Saint the kind one.
          Ouch. Choir of mercy….

          Like

    1. Metrux

      cat and Malicia won’t make peace especially with his death, both will be blaming the other for what happened after the doomsday device. And if the curse was trully that powerfull both the Pilgrim and the Saint would be dead already, they have killed plenty of Villains.

      But more than that, being a Hero in this setting is merely conforming with Above, it really doesn’t matter anything else. They only like to say they are better people.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Fern

      oh shit, I never thought about that. If the hated enementor kills Black he’s probably going to have a hopped up and pissed of Ranger on his tail

      on that note, could the Saint take on Ranger? I remember Cat mentioning that her power reminded her of Ranger’s, but I don’t know if that was guesswork or if they’re actually in the same league.

      Like

      1. Cat called Saint just like Ranger, except with a somewhat more socially acceptable reason for killing and a shinier coat of paint/ better PR. And as such, the was no point talking to her. It was one of the parley attempts. I think either the one before the first battle, or the one after Cat woke back up.

        That said … while Saint could, perhaps, hold her own, at least briefly, against Ranger in a straight swordfight, if Ranger goes after Saint for vengeance for killing Black, it’s not going to be a straight fight, it’s probably going to be more akin to an assassination/execution. Plus, Saint is old, and no longer in her prime – she doesn’t have the endurance to last long against Ranger, even with a heroic second wind. Heroes don’t get the non-aging benefits that come with a Villain Name.
        Ranger is both a Villain, so she doesn’t age, and she’s a half-elf, with literally centuries of experience, and remember Ranger’s Aspects – Learn, Perfect, and Transcend.
        Saint is good, sure, and has Hero-cheats, but if Ranger wants Saint dead for serious, rather than just a good fight, Saint is dead meat waiting to happen.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. NerfGlaistigUaine

    Outplayed. That was the only way it was going to end, eventually, for Black and he knew it. I thought this might happen when the dice metaphors came in – you can only beat the odds so many times after all. I only wish Black had managed to take a bigger chunk out of Procer before biting it as one final F*** you to the Heavens

    Like

  6. I feel like this whole plague thing might be a mistake. Especially considering the grey Pilgrim doesn’t actually control it.

    Black: Sends infected zombies underwater to major Proceran cities.
    Dead King: “Oh, hey. Free plague.”

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Greg

      That seems like a fitting last “screw you” from the chief Calamity, “forcing” the heroes to give him a tool to murder a country with.

      Bonus points for his last words being something that throws Tariq’s musings on how Above is just as good at being ruthless back in his teeth. “You finally showed your true colors … pity you forgot how much more practice than you we have at swimming in the deep end.”

      I hope this isn’t actually Black’s end, but if it is, well, they provided him the power his Name lacked to make a fitting dying curse.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. werafdsaew

        Thief’s admonition of Lone Swordsman in Book 2 comes to mind:
        you cannot win by fighting Evil with evil because Evil is a lot better at it than Good, and Good wins by being the underdog anyways.

        Like

    1. Itaywex

      I’m not much of a chess master, but I did read a bit about this specific state.

      The Queen gambit has been offered by the first Prince (presumably taking that city), and has been declined by the black Knight via trying to manouver around.

      If it is indeed a chess move allegory it means that now it is Black’s move with the black Knight between a white Bishop and the black queen.

      If the black Knight moves out of the way, the Bishop can take the queen. But if he doesn’t, the Bishop takes the black Knight, but will be taken by a pawn a turn after that.

      It seems like black is allowing himself to be taken. So does it mean he has a plan for the rest of his armies to hurt the first Prince (or the grey pilgrim’s group) another way? Or does he have another (mundane) tool up his sleeve that can count as a pawn that would take out the grey pilgrim and his group?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Dainsleif

        Mind you that the Black Knight is suposedly guarding the Black Queen in the chess move, funny how despite his “Let the younger ones try” comment earlier, he would (i assume) rather see to his own death than let Cat fail. Fucking Amadeus, bitch all you want about how adressing the parental relationship between you two would be bad, youre an awesome father to the fucking end.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Morgenstern

        I wonder if the sickness GP send can actually take him and the other heroes, too…. if that’s truly according to those chess moves. Which would still be rather disappoiting imho. I’ve come to much to hope for seeing Black living out some mundane remaining years, aging to an old man, peacefully, after Cat has turned over the whole board.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. The Queen’s Gambit Declined is so early in the game that the bishop and knight aren’t developed yet, so the answer is basically ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

      Although Wikipedia does list one common variation of QGD that ends with a white bishop taking a black knight and then getting captured in turn.

      Like

    1. KageLupus

      That was honestly the hardest part of this whole chapter for me. Ranker had been through so much and lived so much longer than any goblin should have. Then she doesn’t even get mentioned by name when she dies, just lumped in with everyone else who wasn’t Black.

      This chapter is also a really good example of how the forces of Good are not actually good or nice. Everything about the Pilgrim shows him to be a tool for things that do not care about humanity at all. Infecting even a small town with a plague just because it is convenient sounds very much like something that the other team would get condemned for, but since the Pilgrim felt bad about it is ends up just being a ruthless necessity.

      It really is no wonder that Black and Cat are both so jaded and disgusted by the whole system. The “good” guys get to do the same things that the bad guys get called out for, but they do it without half the effort and still think they are on the moral high ground.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Passing_Through

        It’s not coincidence that the other half of the chapter is about an average Joe refusing to do the same thing. You could point out that the exact numbers are different, that Legrand refuses to burn a major city to damage the army while the Pilgrim infects a small village to destroy it, but it’s still quite explicitly described as a decision between the right choice and the arithmetically prudent choice.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Decius

          It’s a victory for Evil that the order to burn the city was given.

          It’s a greater victory for evil that the plague was used.

          It will be a victory for Black when the heroes learn that the order to burn the city was given, and that a village was given to the plague to infect the army. Maximum points if, the day after the siege is lifted, the presence of the preparations to burn the city is revealed (either by an accidental fire or by a fire marshal who isn’t in on the order).

          Like

        2. Dancer

          It’s almost as if it’s not Heroes vs Villains – it’s free people vs the people taking the easy route to power.

          TLDR: I’m on Cordelia/Procer’s side, and have been for a while.

          Like

      2. John Galt

        In the initial introduction, the Book of All Things states that the fundamental disagreement between the gods is whether mortals should be allowed to govern themselves/dictate their own actions. Quick hint: Evil/the gods below are the pro-freedom/choice camp. The heavens want automatons (just like their angels). “Good” and “Evil” are just the names that get assigned. That’s right boys and girls, for those of you that haven’t already realized it, “Good” is pro-slavery.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Decius

            The strong are always free to do what they want to the weak. That’s what being strong and weak actually are.

            Freedom is the right of the weak to try to oppose the strong; to rebel against their slaveowners and climb the tower.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dylan Tullos

              Decius:

              “Climbing the Tower” simply means setting yourself up as the new tyrant. The oppressed become the oppressors, the subject becomes the master, but the Tower remains the same.

              Evil basically involves worshiping individual “freedom” to the point that you become more important than anyone and everyone else. Good is not Good, but let’s not pretend that Evil isn’t evil.

              Liked by 3 people

        1. Morgenstern

          Me, too. If Ranker really shoulnd’t get some continuation / fade-out in another chapter, revealing more of the background to the last situation in this chapter.

          Like

    2. James

      We don’t know if Ranker is dead. It’s confirmed that she has lived longer then a goblin’s lifespan. So could be a goblin with a Name…since they don’t does from old age.

      Like

    3. werafdsaew

      We haven’t seen her corpse yet, and there’s no indication that she boarded the same ship as Black, or that she boarded any ship at all. There’s still hope.

      Like

  7. I don’t think the Black Knight is going to die here. This is him cheating the heavens again with an Assassin clone and a small sacrifice of troops. We’ve seen this tactic from them multiple times already and it’s in line with the narrative.

    This is just like the Black Knight–taking a tactical loss for a bigger strategic gain. Grem’s instincts were tingling before the attack on Iserre and it would be disappointing if Amadeus, a person known for his craftiness, dies by ignoring his most decorated general’s intuition. This should have been obvious to him from where he stood.

    The title of the chapter is also a clue. This is a gambit and the Black Knight is declining a major confrontation and is concentrating on the bigger picture.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amoonymous

      Agreed. The lack of name power coming from him could be as he said (running dry), or he could be playing another body-double style trick. It was also said Black wasn’t using his Aspects for 2 days, so that’s 2 days of time he could have slipped out.

      I’m honestly like 50/50 on which happened and suppose we’ll find out later. I’d be surprised if it’s revealed next chapter; this seems like the kind of cliffhanger where it’s only revealed in like 15-20 chapters whether he actually died or survived.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. JackbeThimble

      I think Black probably does die, but not without a parting fuck-you to the heroes. Either they’re all about to go up in Goblinfire (who would have expected Black to take Triumphant’s way out?) or he sent Ranker off with some plague samples and she’s going to poison Salia’s water supply or something similar.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dainpdf

    You know, when I read this my first thought was “oh man, this is going to complicate the truce between Cat and Procer.”
    Because Black was like a dad to her.
    Then I thought “Oh man, Scribe is going to have a fit over this. I hope dear Pilgrim is prepared for an angry Eudokia.”
    Because she is to Black what Page was to the Exiled Prince, in a way.
    Then I remembered Warlock, and oh man all the shit in the Dark Day protocol. Pilgrim thinks his plague is bad, wait until Wekesa gets started.
    I mean, he was ready to throw Cat’s soul into some sort of timeless abyss if she betrayed the man.
    And that was it for a while. I went about my day.
    Just now, though, a single thought crossed my mind. “Oh shit, Ranger.”
    Farewell, Pilgrim. I shall remember you, everyone you love, your country, and the surrounding areas fondly.
    PS: Poor Ranker and One Eye. They deserved better than to die offscreen. Or did I misinterpret and they escaped?

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Dainpdf

        Yeah, I wasn’t sure if they had rejoined Black by then. Well, maybe they get to come back and rescue Amadeus =)
        …yeah right. None of them are heroes, and Pilgrim has a full retinue. No such luck.

        Like

  9. Yeah, what a good idea to use an uncontrollable plague in the middle of allied territory.
    We know the Dead King is experienced with them and he could probably easily make use of it, but it may also be a trap from the Wandering Bard against him. I doubt she didn’t know the Grey Pilgrim was planning it, and remember, she has her greasy hands everywhere.

    Anyway, if I where Black, I would reanimate as much undeads as I can and send them in every directions (ok, maybe not into Callow’s direction) to spread it. Remember, the Grey pilgrim did not feel any power from him even thought he had some time to recover, so he had to use it before they came.

    Like

    1. The Pilgrim’s monologue specifically mentions that he kept the other heroes close to the town, so that anyone who left would be caught before they could spread the plague further. He has a plan to keep it contained.

      Like

      1. Amoonymous

        Black also threw a lot of corpses and living infected off the ship. Who knows where the currents will take them, or if when the numbers started dwindling he made zombies from the infected and sent them out (as frolamiz said).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, they cleaned the town to prevent spreading. The thing is that Black has left it for days and the lake is really big. Around the size of a principality. And in the scenario I spoke of, Black would send undeads from his fleet, not the town.

        Like

    2. Dylan Tullos

      frolamiz:

      Praes has tried to use magical plagues as weapons before.

      It never works because priests have supernatural healing powers granted by the Gods Above, and they can simply cure the disease. Black’s Legions were only vulnerable to the plague because they have no healing priests.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Metrux

        Actually, I don’t think this applies in this case. There has been countries destroyed by natural plagues before, only the ones made by Bellow have ben stopped by priests. And this one was made by divine intervention, Pilgrim himself said he needed the choirs help. I don’t think the priests can stop this if they wanted to, which is why Pilgrim had a containment prepared. I mean, he has priestly powers, he could’ve cleansed them after the boats left, if it was that easy.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. ketura

        This one has no symptoms until you keel over ten hours after exposure. I’m not sure that Procer has enough priests to be able to just heal every single person as a matter of course.

        Like

  10. SMHF

    Losing all your men and being surrounded by a band of heroes; two of which are Pilgrim and Saint; when you’ve ran out of Name juice (is that the correct term?) is scary!

    But what I find more scary is giving Black six days to plan…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I still don’t see why Pilgrim and Saint are dumb enough to push this fight. A weaken villain surrounded by heroes is the story of the villain escaping and most likely taking one of the stronger heroes out first.

      Like

  11. Letouriste

    Uh what? I can’t believe that wasn’t part of black plan all along. I don’t Think he will die, not to the hands of these guys at least. Storywise, i expect him to die after taking revenge for Captain or against someone like the white knight who has fate with him. The Grey pilgrim and the saint of stupidity are outsiders to any story related to him and I seriously doubt black can be brought down without a story. I expect the whole fleet to be a trick,that’s a little too big and flashy by black standards…maybe that’s not black but Assassin? Scribe never leave his side after all and she is with grem

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      The whole point of everything he’s been doing since at least when he met Cat was getting her ready to stand on her own once he was out of the picture, and it’s pretty well-established that he regards his own life as a lower priority than his goals. If he’s nearing his endgame it’s entirely likely that he would arrange to sacrifice himself in exchange for doing something useful with the Grey Pilgrim, the Saint of Swords and their three cronies. That thing he does to them might be taking them with him, or planting a crippling weakness that Cat can exploit later, or even planting an idea that will manipulate their future behavior, but I’m sure he’s up to something.
      Also, I’d say that the Grey Pligrim is his closest equivalent, and he safely discharged whatever fate he had with Hanno with the “cheat providence at dice” showdown. Of note, the Queen’s Gambit Declined is a move in which Black starts a slugging match at the center rather than ceding control to develop the rest of the board. Considering Cat’s nickname, it would fit the analogy as well as the situation that it’s to her advantage to clear off blocking pieces to give her greater personal freedom.

      Like

  12. Letouriste

    Black tricked them there. That was part of his plan, i’m sure of it. Weird we got to see that from his perspective tho.
    I really hope ranker is alive and well and….UNHOLY SHIT I GOT IT, black said he drew way deeper than he did for decades on his pool of power and i think he could have used it on something else than raising the troops speed and stamina…yeah, just a theory but maybe the whole army who stole the boats is fake? Some shadow power than black can only use in war situation, when all his aspects are in full burst!
    …or maybe only the officers are protected

    Like

    1. stevenneiman

      My personal bet is goblinfire. Once they’re all grouped up he sets off a mess of the stuff, and possibly arranges things such that Tariq has to choose between saving himself and protecting the three minor characters. To keep with his own story, he has to make a sacrifice, and even for someone with his skill and experience, goblinfire means even an unavoidable mistake means death. Of course, Black himself would go down in the blaze, but if it meant bringing down the two heroes who can match Cat’s power AND forcing Levant out of the alliance (basically starting a chain reaction which will disintegrate the whole Crusade), I think Amadeus would happily take that trade. Assuming he wants something like the Liesse Accords, this (plus Cat returning to the surface with Drow fae troops, her cut of the Svae Noctis’ power, and the partial support of the dwarves, will mean that she has the power to dictate them.

      Like

  13. Hastien

    Welcome to Uncle Maddy’s Pleasure Cruise, the most restful ferry this side of Salia. Entertainment lurks in every cargo hold, and our attentive staff of repurposed corpses will never be far. We have the best fireworks displays of the Grey Eyries brought to you when you least expect it. Be sure to try our one of a kind Goblinfire Baked Alaska, and end your days in our luxurious cabins at the bottom of the lake.

    It might just be that I refuse to consider the alternative but I’m fairly confident we’ll see Black rowing away from a flaming wreck with a donkey and jug of wine. If not could we at least have a on-screen death? A chapter of our merry band of heroes being brutalized by whatever he prepared for them would make me feel a little better about losing such an excellent character.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Feanor

    Gray Pilgrim just went full retard. What could possibly possess a man to literally hand a heaven sent biological weapon of mass destruction to THE CARRION LORD of all people? The Black Knight’s whole point of invading Procer was to destabilize and wreak havoc inside the borders of the Principate. I think an unstoppable plague might just accomplish that better than an army of 20,000 legionaries. And it’s pretty telling that one Ranker wasn’t mentioned. She’s probably leading a small group of barges to shore to unleash the Gray Pilgrim’s Folly. And two, the quote at the top says wait for your enemy to lay a plan and then just throw a spanner in the works as every hero somehow innately knows how. But the Gray Pilgrim was without a doubt not the hero in this chapter.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I just realized his name has fucking “carrion” in it.
      Ahahahahah, the GP is such a fucking retard. Sure, this worked, but at what cost?

      Also, pretty sure Ranker is dead. No one escaped the plague.

      Like

  15. LuL

    Was there anything stopping them from going to the land and spreading the disease to Procer out of petty revenge?

    Cause this seems like the obvious next step;
    Take those that are still ok to the land.
    Use Blacks aspect to make them march faster and split them into small forces.
    Make each small group find a village and blend in and live normally, make a few other teams dress up as civilians and make them rush into big cities and spread it.
    Sit back and enjoy the apocalypse.

    Hey if that’s not possible resurrect their corpses as undead give those undead to the few mages still alive and make them attack villages and cities instead, contact with diseased corpses would still doom Procer.

    Like

    1. That’s probably how they take the capital.

      Send in infected soldiers or zombies, and let the infection spread to the general populace. The priests can’t stop it because it’s an act of the choir of Mercy

      Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Tohron:

      Black’s Legions burn crops and granaries everywhere they go.

      He’s already killed thousands of peasants through famine. If he was allowed to reach central Procer, that number would grow to the tens of thousands, if not hundreds.

      Like

      1. Goobinator

        AFAIK, Procer was already playing with fire by conscripting so many able bodied peasants to begin with. It was already predicted that Procer would suffer food shortages because they went all in with the Tenth Crusade, thinking it would be a relatively easy and short term affair. Starvation was already going to happen, regardless of Black’s actions.

        Like

        1. Dylan Tullos

          Goobinator:

          You are correct. Black’s actions were meant to make the situation much worse, turning a major food shortage into a famine.

          If his Legions weren’t stopped, they would have burned their way across Procer and left hundreds of thousands to starve. Grey Pilgrim’s decision to sacrifice one town makes sense when we consider the alternative.

          Like

  16. Anony

    I’m gonna have to press X to doubt on this one. Black is slippery as fuck. He fooled White Knight with a distraction, seems likely he would pull the same ploy again. Especially with the whole Pilgrim not feeling any power from him thing.
    What I find weird is that Grey is just going in there seemingly convinced he has won. Unless his contingencies are only to be revealed later I guess, but that’s a bit cheap considering this was his pov.
    If Black really dies here that will be seriously disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Cthulhu

    Hi, I’ve spent the last three decades cheating against The Powers that Be, and then there’s a fast-acting plague which kills my troops in 10 days and leaves me with no options and I can’t do anything to try to escape.

    I don’t try to use my mages to call any of my allies or even people who will help me.
    I don’t try to contact Scribe. who could get a message to anyone almost immediately.
    I don’t trap the boats and blow everyone up.
    I don’t scatter my forces so that the disease hits everywhere.
    I don’t just try to flee.

    Nope, instead I calmly split my forces, sail myself into a dead end, take no steps to protect myself, don’t get help from any of the Calamities, and then try to kill six heros one-on-one.

    This is a shit ending for Black. I hope there’s an explanation.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. More like “don’t give Amadeus a good six-to-eight days of warning as the symptoms showed up during which he can plot”.

      Sure, Pilgrim might kill the guy. Maybe. But… his game won’t have finished playing out.

      Like

  18. Alivaril

    I actually think Black is going to die here, barring that being a decoy (which is itself likely), but I certainly hope he at least spreads the plague if he does go down. Leaves a mark, as it were. I assume priests only have so much power to burn, and a disease with a longer incubation time means more carriers and more time to spread before it’s noticed.

    To quote the Dead King, plagues are not a valid strategy.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. d0m1n1c

    Pilgrim enacts overtly villainous plot that kills a city in order to get the black knight alone, then ambushes him with four other heroes.

    If this is something that can work for “Heroes,” then “Villains” shouldn’t exist; why hasn’t the pilgrim released a plague on the tower, or to prevent Callow from turning evil.

    I think the pilgrim has grown a little big headed, and his choir is using Black to clean house.

    Like

    1. Anony

      Personally I’m hoping it spreads and Pilgrim gets functionally crippled by it as millions die in procer.
      You know, the exact think that would happen if a villain unleashed an OP plague with such an obvious drawback.

      Like

  20. grzecho2222

    So nobody will talk about that even if Black dies, there is Someone Who Will Return and who says that She will return alone and not with something like Every Praesi Dead Villain Ever

    Like

      1. grzecho2222

        Not working under Her, but more like “Hey guys there is nice Hellgate over there, who wants to escape Hells and wreack havoc?”. Less like one army, more like horde of them.

        Like

        1. Dylan Tullos

          grzecho2222:

          A group of Heroes is called a “band”. A group of Villains is called a “murder”.

          Most Villains murder each other in endless power struggles, even when they’re supposed to be fighting Good. It’s probably the single biggest reason why Praes practically always lost to Callow.

          Like

  21. Pantasy

    I hate to say it, I love Amadeus of the Green Stretch, but I think that’s the end of the Black Knight. Pilgrim didn’t use a story to enact his plan – just cunning and god-given gifts. It’s as much a subversion of story as the previous Black Knights dying in anti-climactic ways.

    It bothers me, because it feels like a prelude to the way the characters I/we’ve come to cherish are likely to go. Ratface died in the night of knives, Nauk’s buddy died in ordinary fighting – sometimes Named die in a storyline, and sometimes they are just ended. The same goes for other named characters we like.

    T_T

    Goodbye, Black.

    Like

    1. Except there is a story here. The story of a weaken villain confronted by a band of overconfident heroes. The kind of story that ends with the villain escaping and taking out one of the stronger heroes, most likely the wise old hero aka Pilgrim.

      Like

  22. Stuart Bernholc

    If this is the end, it’s too stupid for Black.

    That’s what this boils down to. He had tons of time to plan. He had mages that can scry. He can swim. He can raise the dead. There are all sorts of things he could have done to get away. It does’t even require him to be that smart. He realized that this plague wasn’t natural. If he’s just one more in a sea of thrown-overboard victims, how are they gonna check every body.

    There are hundreds of ways he could get away, put up a good fight, or both with his capabilities, even not knowing what’s coming. This is too stupid a death.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. warriormonk19

        You’re not wrong, but Black is far from invincible and he knows it. He knew that he would likely die in the hands of a hero, and very few heroes are as well traveled and versed in the ways of the Game as the Grey Pilgrim.

        Also, Black has been exhausted this whole time, having had to stretch out his aspect over 15,000 freaking soldiers and prancing around Procer wreaking havoc on one of the greatest empires on the surface of Calernia singlehandedly. Necromancy at any scale that may have mattered may be beyond him at this point, and him getting caught in the plan of the Grey Pilgrim may have damaged his favor with the Gods Below, which in turn may have damaged his ability to draw on his Role or Name, as described by the Grey Pilgrim himself.

        I will also be sad to see Black go, if he does. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

        Thanks for the great chapter erratic!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. What’s the point though? Even if he scries his allies, they’ll just get infected by the plague. Even if he runs away, they’ll just catch up.

      They fucking got him. Might as well stay where he is and blow literally everything up.

      Like

      1. Cthulhu

        No, I don’t think so. Scry W. Say, “Hello Old Friend? I’ve gotten hit with some sort of fucking plague. No, I’m OK, just worn out, but everyone else is going to die and I need to get the fuck out of here. Could you please come get me”

        It cannot be that disease is a trump card that no one on the Evil side can cure. If that was the case, the Empire would have fallen ages ago. Hell, the mages were able to cure Cat with blood magic when she got stabbed. Sure, its not as clean as “divine” healing, but it works well enough.

        Like

        1. I have a feeling Praes is the type of place to burn the whole city to the ground to stop the spread of the plague.

          And yeah, that might work, but Warlock is pretty preoccupied, otherwise he’d be with Black anyways.
          Also, what’s the point of leaving if the only thing left is Black?

          Like

  23. Jarthon1

    Sve of night lay broken before her, power oozing and coiling like a snake. Cathrine turned and began to walk away. That power could be used, taken if she wanted, but the cost of dealing with the gods below was never cheap.
    As she began to step down the delicately carved passageway a shudder ran through the world and it hit her harder than the corpse behind her ever could have. Black was dead.
    Not believing it, even as she felt it in what passed for her soul, she whirled around, world moving for her rather than she for it. Night was ripped away from the corpse and woven into her mantle in a heartbeat. She barely felt it.
    Half an eternity spanned the second that it took her to open a portal. Archer was calling out to her, but words were meaningless now. A giant hand of ice and glamor grabbed her companion and dragged her into Arcadia with her. The ice that should be locking her mind to that of a fay burned away in the face of her rage. The queen of winter demanded that her domain obey, and obey it did. Leagues fell away like footsteps and in seconds the gate was ripped open once more.
    There he lay. There were heroes around him, and dangerous ones at that, but she could see nothing. Nothing but the face of the closest thing she had ever had to a father, cold and slack upon a boat deck. She sunk to the ground and cradled that face.
    “I’m sorry child, but it had to be done.” Said the gray pilgrim in a weary tone. “You shouldn’t have come here. Now his fate must be yours as well. Grace is so often a heavy burden”
    She whispered something to the wind.
    “What did you say, child?” he asked
    “Don’t you know?” She whispered, voice horse “There is only one sin . . . One grace . . . And what I do today shall be nothing but grace”
    Then she rose, and every body that had ever sunk to the bottom of this lake rose with her, eyes burning cold and blue.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Skeptical Silver

    I don’t think Black is getting out of this one.

    There’s tons of foreshadowing that it’s the end for Black, no matter how much we liked him. The quote at the beginning hints the best way to take down a villain is to interrupt their plan (exactly what Pilgrim did). Black tells One Eye and Co. he wants to “roll the dice one last time” (emphasis on last). There’s also the talk with Ranker about how the “Tyranny of the Sun” song doesn’t apply to them anymore. Lastly there is all this talk about how the “children” like Cordelia and Catherine will succeed them.

    While it is possible its another Assassin clone, I just don’t see it happening…using the same trick every time is lazy storywriting. Finally, I definitely don’t see either Grey Pilgrim or Saint dying from this encounter-they have a much more important role in the larger story, hinted at several chapters before, where they will fight in one big conflict with the side of Good being led by the White Knight. Storywise, they can’t die here. However unsatisfying this may be, its likely the end of the Black Knight, even named may not get satisfying deaths-just look at Captain.

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      1. I kinda hate to say it, but Pilgrim is surviving this one – he still needs to have a reckoning with Cat for violating their deal and the oaths he swore.
        Also, there will need to be some sort of internal reckoning amongst the Heroes/Crusaders – those who would prefer to win and by extension preserve the current status quo/Procer and “liberate” Callow from Evil, and those who want to set fire to the board and go for a Heavens-induced reset of Calernian power structures however far down the line it takes to get out from under the Dead King like Laurence and apparently Bard. Pilgrim will probably be needed for that too, since he claims to want to preserve Procer and the status quo.

        That said, there are a number of unidentified Heroes with Saint and Pilgrim – those guys are in serious trouble. Although, since Pilgrim can resurrect them, they might not stay down permanently.

        Plus … Black would have had more than enough time to rig the ship he’s on to blow with goblin munitions.
        I expect that there’ll be a couple bodies (unnamed Heroes), but Saint, Pilgrim, and Black will either survive outright or be missing presumed dead (and therefore definitively alive somewhere) after the inevitable explosion.

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  25. Goobinator

    I don’t think anyone should panic yet, I can’t put a finger on it but this encounter doesn’t *feel* right. I don’t think Black is going to die here. Even if he does, I doubt his killers would have the last laugh.

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  26. Kel the Seer

    Ten will get you twenty that the “envoy” was Black in disguise. Why else would Scribe be standing next to him silently during that exchange?

    After all, baiting all the heroes to one location gaurantees that the Heavens will smash a meaty fist on the scales to get their way. Hence Black actually being at the supposed distraction in case the Choirs get wise and have one of their heroes there try to take out the army. Grem is good, but pitting him and half the army against almost all the heroes isn’t a winning plan.

    Putting Ranker, a likely traitor with the group that will draw the Heavens wrath is just two birds with one stone.

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  27. Komploding

    I’m sure it’s significant that he hasn’t been able call on his name for days and at the very end he is referred to as Amadeus of the Green stretch rather than the Black Knight, of what I don’t know, it suggests that he’s lost his name but we’ve been given no examples of that happen ending anywhere, other than when cat brought herself back from the dead, that seems unlike as it was lost due to the battle royale between claimants to that name, here it suggests either that below has abandoned him and he has been stripped of his name or that Amadeus and Black are two different entities

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    1. Komploding

      Something possibly relevant could be when Winter king was transformed due to the story, but that was more of a metamorphosis, and Amadeus was not referred to as a different name just Amadeus and his place of origin

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  28. Jim

    It never said Ranker was with him. It says they departed after 4 days and the legion is spread thin among the ships. The Black knight has made it a point to manipulate the story itself to create circumstances with which he can win. Alone on a boat faced down with by heroes aspect having possibly abandoned him (or one of his clones that his power allows him to create) is exactly the kind of Gambit that would allow a villain to triumph killing the old heroes off (the ones that have done things to fall from grace) and wounding the other heroes that they have to retreat and come back later. I would also like to point out we have heard nothing of Masego and Wakesa. How better for the powers from below to put their hand to the scale than a sudden intervention by the heirophant AND the sovereign of the red skies to show up at an opportune moment?

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  29. Ironic. The Black Knight was killed using the most valuable lesson he taught cat. When she asked how do you beat someone who’s better at the game then you while she was trying to beat Juniper and he responded with something along the lines of don’t play by the same rules. Here the Black Knight set up the game and rules for his pilliaging of Procer and everyone played by the same rules until the Grey Pilgrim decided to cheat. If you know you can’t beat someone in a straight up contest but you need to win, Cheat, Lie, Change the nature of the game. This was the Black Knights most valuable lesson to cat. And it’s the same one that killed him.

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  30. Black dumped all the dead bodies overboard, where they infected the fish. A week from now, all the fish will die and the lake will turn into a stinking morass of dead things. Far more people will die because of the resulting famine.

    Meanwhile, just as he’s about to die, Black will jump overboard. His body will never be recovered and he’ll be a Boogeyman for Procer for the next hundred years.

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  31. Aotrs Commander

    Grey dead man walking; you ain’t good, sunshine, no matter what lies you and your equally not-even-remotely-good bosses tell yourselves.

    Somebody really needs to go invade a few heavens and raze them conceptually to the ground.

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