Interlude: Heretics

“It is common practice among the lower classes of Praes, who lack surnames, to name their children after themselves in the hopes of confounding any devils coming to collect on debts.”
– Extract from “Horrors and Wonders”, famed travelogue of Anabas the Ashuran

Masego had not missed court.

At least this was not Ater, where a formal session would be held in the Tower with corresponding pageantry, but Thalassina was wealthy enough its ruler was near as indulgent. The floating fountains and illusory interior garden were proof enough of that. High Lord Idriss Kebdana was, he’d been told, an old ally of the Empress. Two years ago that would have made him Masego’s ally as well, but things had since changed. Catherine and Malicia were enemies now, and he’d already had to give thought as to how he would attack the Tower’s vicious set of protections when that enmity finally led to blows. He’d considered killing High Lord Idriss, since he was already here anyway, but he was a guest. It was apparently very different to kill someone on the battlefield compared to killing them in their bed – which was irksome since practically speaking the end result was the same – so he’d eventually decided against it. Still, he’d made a note of the weaknesses in the city’s wards. If the Army of Callow ever had to assault Thalassina, he was confident he could collapse the central array with the right ritual.

“A glass, Lord Hierophant?”

His eyes moved under the cloth to study the pair who’d approached him. Twins. Soninke, or close enough: native Thalassinians tended to be mixed blood, taking in appearance after the last infusion from either side. The man had the Gift, and heavily enchanted robes. An utter waste, he thought with disdain as he took them in. Silk might be costly and take well to sorcery, but it also dispersed it at an unusually high rate. The Yan Tei supposedly had their ways around that, but secrets from across the Tyrian Sea were not easily obtained. Those robes would require regular maintenance just to keep up… warmth, shifting patterns of gold and a lesser illusion anchored in the man’s face? What a waste of the art. Three different workings in this difficult a material: they were throwing away a skilled mage’s time just by owning it. The woman of the pair was offering him a delicate transparent glass filled with wine. His eyes narrowed in on it, finding no poison within. Unusual. They put poison in everything at events like this.

“That won’t be necessary,” Masego replied.

He belatedly remembered to add a slight inclination of the head as thanks, as was polite.

“I would have thought you eager to taste a proper Wasteland vintage, after your years abroad,” the man said with a friendly smile.

“I usually can’t tell where wine is from,” he admitted. “Not without alchemical tools.”

They both laughed, which surprised him. Had someone told a joke? He should pay closer attention to the conversation then. The woman laid a hand on her brother’s arm and leaned forward as she laughed, the elaborate straps of her dress shifting. It was a strange apparel, he thought. Thalassina was known for its seaside breeze, would she not get cold walking outside attired in this way? Maybe it was a dress meant purely for receptions like these.

“Still, it must be pleasing to have returned home,” the woman said. “The provinces are not known for their… comforts.”

She was leaning forward again. Must have a bad back.

“I usually sleep in the Observatory,” Masego noted. “So I wouldn’t know.”

“Ah, the famous Observatory. I have heard much of it, lately,” the man smiled. “Your own work, it is not? Would it be indiscreet to ask how it functions?”

The blind man cocked his head to the side.

“Have you read Serebano’s ten volumes on scrying?” he asked.

There was a heartbeat of silence.

“I have not,” the man said.

“Then there would be no point in telling you,” Masego replied. “You lack the necessary grounding to understand the basic underlying tenets.”

The man’s smile grew stiff, though his twin seemed amused.

“Then I will obtain copies, my lord, and perhaps we can pursue that discussion at a later date,” the other mage said.

“If you’d like,” Masego said. “Although I’ve been told I should kill anyone who tries to figure it out without permission, so that seems counter-productive of you.”

“Is that so?” the male twin blandly said.

His face had gone blank. Ah, I offended him, the mage realized. It must have been that he’d made it clear the man was ignorant. His friends kept telling him it was impolite to do that, though they might as well ask him to stop remarking that the sea was wet. Ignorance was everywhere.

“I am told you’ve never visited Thalassina properly,” the female twin said.

Masego wondered if it was too late to ask for their names. It probably was. Father had provided him a list with names and descriptions, but he’d needed something to wipe an acid stain and he hadn’t felt like getting up to fetch a cloth. That might have been a tactical mistake of sorts, he reluctantly conceded. In his experience, if you asked people their name after conversing with them for more than four sentences they tended to get angry.

“I am uncertain what you mean by properly,” he said. “But I have only ever seen a few streets and parts of this palace.”

“There is much I could show you, then,” she replied smilingly. “It would be a grave sin if I never offered to escort you to the seastone walls or the corals.”

He was uncertain what religion had to do with sightseeing, but Thalassinians were known for their strange practices.

“If my work allows,” he said.

By reputation, the corals were rather beautiful. Also filled with old wards and traps for any seeking invasion through the sea, which to be frank interested him rather more.

“My sisters knows the city well as any native,” the other twin said encouragingly. “And I’ve no doubt the company of your own kind will be a balm after your time amongst the savages.”

“Most legionaries are actually well-behaved,” Masego noted. “And I spent little time with them regardless.”

They laughed again, to his growing confusion. He went over the spoken words carefully. His own kind? He’d thought they meant humans, which was rather odd since as far as he knew the Army of Callow was human in majority. Assuming they were not idiots, which he almost never did in situations such as these, they might have meant ‘his kind’ as Praesi instead. Oh. Was he supposed to be feeling patriotic since the Empire was at war? But then he was technically at war with it, since his friends were, so the logic was not sound. Baffling.

“You meant Callowans,” he tried.

“I suppose some are barely civilized,” the male twin mused. “They did spend a few decades under our rule, after all. And they are now led by the Carrion’s Lord castoff, no doubt thanking all their Gods for her Praesi education.”

“I was not aware my uncle had cast off anything,” Masego noted. “Except scruples, but he’s always insisted he was born without those.”

Which had led to a thoroughly wasted evening when he’d been nine and trying to find those in his anatomy charts, worried Uncle Amadeus was missing an organ. The woman smiled over the rim of her cup.

“There is no need to be coy, my lord,” she said. “We have kin in the capital. The breach between the two is common knowledge in the right circles.”

Who had Uncle Amadeus been arguing with recently? The Empress, he remembered, but that hardly fit the rest of the conversation. Did they mean Catherine?

“It must have been tedious to humour the fools,” the man drawled. “Yet you did benefit: an unprecedented Name. Your foresight is to be praised.”

Oh, they’d been insulting his friends the whole time. Maybe. He should check to be certain, Hakram had noted it was important.

“By the fools, you mean the Woe,” he asked.

“What greater fools are there?” the woman laughed.

So now the list. They were nobles, since no one else would be allowed here. They weren’t visibly being forced to speak to him. There’d be no collateral damage to innocents. Was it legal? Probably. Callow had some kind of treason law about insulting the queen, didn’t it? It counted.

“Right,” Hierophant smiled, and raised his hand. “Boil.”

Casting without proper incantation had become much easier since his transition, save when he was molding miracles. As a rule Trismegistan sorcery put greater emphasis on precise manipulation of magical energies than the use of mediums like incantations and runes – they were a crutch to visualize and measure, not a requirement – but that same precision made it difficult to actually dispense with those mediums. The acceptable margin of error before collapse in a Trismegistan spell formula was barely a tenth of what it would be in a Petronian equivalent or, Gods forbid, a Jaquinite one. As a result Trismegistan sorcery usually produced superior results for inferior costs while serving the same purpose, but also required greater skill and longer practice from of the mage using it. The portion of practitioners that could transcend those limitations was small, and even among those such transcendence was usually reserved for a few especially well-studied formulas. It was possible to lower the bar so badly any blunderer could tinker with the spell, of course, as the Legions had done with their own arcane roster. But only at the expense of every single boon save flexibility.

Fortunately, Masego’s sensitivity to the forces he manipulated through his will had greatly increased since transition. He’d initially been disinclined to rely on anything as fallible as senses when using magic, but he’d overcome that reluctance after proving he could reproduce that sensitivity through adjusted measuring tools. Indeed, he’d since come to theorize that aside from magical capacity – one’s inborn talent to use sorcery – there might be a second, more discreet aspect to the Gift. Sensitivity to those same energies, which he’d ventured on parchment might be what distinguished mages capable of using High Arcana from those who could not even after a lifetime of dedicated study. It might even finally solve the mystery of why the Taghreb produced fewer mages than Soninke stock but a proportionally higher amount of mages capable of using the higher mysteries. Many Taghreb lines had twined with creatures, after all, wich were said to have a natural grasp of magic humans did not. The paired screams of the twins as their blood boiled in their veins and began to waft out through their eyes and nostrils shook him out of his thoughts. Ah, yes, that was still happening.

The spell had been crude, its formula still fresh and untested, but being able to affect blood without a sympathetic link or a ritual whose sheer power would make the matter irrelevant was excitingly new grounds for him. He paid close attention to the rate at which their blood evaporated, committing the numbers to memory, and was rather irked when they both only died after ten heartbeats. Much too long, it meant part of the heat was being dispersed into the broader body. He’d have to scrap the entire containment vector, and since that was tied into almost every part of the formula that effectively meant scrapping the entire spell and starting from scratch.

“Masego.”

Papa’s tone was chiding, and there had been a time where that would have given Hierophant pause. Before Keter. Before he’d seen Tikoloshe walk the grounds of what had become the single most significant magical phenomenon in Calernian history without speaking a single word of it to his son. Much had been cast into doubt by that revelation. If Papa had been human there might have been uncertainty about his motivations, but unlike humans devils were… direct. Unequivocal in what drove them. There were only two reasons that Tikoloshe would have failed to fulfill Masego’s desire when he so easily could, and both were ugly things. So which are you, father – a stranger or a slave? Either was betrayal, if owned by different pair of hands.

“Father,” he simply replied.

“That was unwise,” Tikoloshe said, eyeing the corpses.

Masego frowned.

“It would have been better to test the spell on animals beforehand,” he conceded. “But pigs are expensive and the physiological differences really are rather minor.”

Whispers spread across the hall in the wake of his words. No doubt they were agreeing with him. Apes were even better for experimentation, admittedly, but those could only be obtained from across the Tyrian Sea and they were ridiculously costly to import. Even the small ones that didn’t know any tricks. He’d asked around. Well, asked Vivienne to, which was basically the same thing. Papa sighed. More than a few nobles flushed at the sight.

“That is not what I meant,” he said. “You should apologize to High Lord Idriss for disrupting his reception.”

Masego’s brow rose. Wasn’t it already enough that he hadn’t killed the man? He’d been very courteous so far.

“Will he apologize for them insulting my friends?” he asked peevishly.

“He is not responsible for their words,” Tikoloshe said.

“Then it has nothing to do with him” Masego said.

“Mas-”

Enough,” Hierophant hissed. “Father asked for my help and so I came, but my patience is running thin. I agreed to lend my time, not waste it. There is work to do, and none of it takes place here.”

He could be at the Obervatory right now, plumbing the depths of a hundred Hells. He could be with Catherine, taking apart drow sorcery and learning from ancient secrets. He could be picking at the minds of the Wild Hunt to understand what set them apart from the other fae but no, instead he was at court, talking with blind children who – Masego took a deep breath. He would not get angry. Not over this, when the true source of his anger was other. He would be fair, and hold only the responsible to account. They’d shown him. It was better when the world worked that way. And when it didn’t? You just had to make it.

“Enjoy court, Father,” he said through gritted teeth. “I am done with it.”

Wekesa watch his son stride away in a swirl of dark robes, leaving silence behind him. A few heartbeats and then whispers bloomed, even as servants took away the corpses of the Serali twins. Their father was stuck halfway between terrified and furious, his little gamble to curry favour having proved rather costly. But this was court, in the end, and so the conversations moved on. Lord Hajal Serali’s blunder would be the talk of the city for a few weeks and that would be the end of it. The man was not so influential as to risk taking revenge on a Named, not unless Alaya tacitly allowed it. Which she would not. Warlock had set this as a condition with his old friend before sending for Masego. So long as certain boundaries were observed, the Eyes would disappear anyone even considering raising a hand at his son. Tikoloshe returned to his side, and decades of marriage told him his husband was feeling rather irritated even if his face betrayed none of it. The two of them were given a wide berth after they reunited, the implicit courtesy nothing less than his due. He and his son were the only thing that stood between Thalassina and a sack, after all. Idriss might get snippy about the dead bodies, but he would not forget that.

Wekesa was not above simply leaving if he felt like it, and had made that much abundantly clear.

He was here on Alaya’s behalf, not the High Lord’s, and she knew better than to ask to tedious a favour of him. Wekesa had not thrown away his hours teaching imbeciles when Amadeus had requested it, and he would not do the same fighting this chore of war if he had to watch for knives aimed at his family’s back. Not even for a single battle, however interesting in nature. If Procer and its crusading fellow insisted on testing the Wasteland he’d discipline them appropriately, but what did he care if Nok and Thalassina burned? He had no laboratories or correspondents in either: there was nothing to defend. If Kahtan or Okoro were on the line it would be a different story, but they were too far inland to be threatened by Ashuran raids. Tikoloshe came to stand by his side, almost close enough to touch, and Wekesa idly brushed his fingers against the rune-carved jewels on his belt. The contamination ward bubbled out a heartbeat later.

“He used to be such an obedient child,” his husband mourned.

“He’s an adult now,” Wekesa said. “With the opinions of one. He won’t always agree with us. He’s no longer the little boy that used to chase the hem of our robes.”

The incubus made a moue. It was a wonder, Warlock thought, that even after all these years the sight of that could cause a low stir of desire in his belly. He’d never taken another lover after wedding his husband – how could any mortal man be half as good in bed as a creature born of desire itself? – and still it amazed him he’d never felt the need to seek a partner outside their marriage. It wasn’t like Tikoloshe would have minded, though he’d certainly gotten more possessive over the years. Love, Wekesa thought, was a strange thing. For what else could it be he felt, when other desires failed to move him?

“In public, ‘Kesa?” Tikoloshe said, sounding flattered.

“It’s nothing they’ve not speculated about,” he replied, sliding a hand around his husband’s firm waist and bringing him close for a kiss.

There was little chaste about it, but they did not linger.

“You’re attempting to distract me,” Tikoloshe sighed. “It won’t work. This is more than growing up, Wekesa. He is angry with us. Which one I cannot tell, but-”

“I know,” Warlock admitted. “And while I mislike Foundling, she has done wonders to keep him even-keeled. He would not act so sullen without a reason.”

Amadeus’ apprentice might be a little twerp as arrogant as she was ignorant, but she’d done right by his son. He’d seriously considered asking Alaya to keep her alive just for how she benefited Masego, but the situation was too far gone. It’d become a mess between her and Amadeus, and while those were rare they also tended to get exceedingly nasty. He should have adopted some orphan years ago and settled the paternal urge, Wekesa thought. More than once he’d hinted fatherhood might do his friend some good. He and Alaya acted like they were married half the time, a shared child would only have served to channel that tension more productively.

“Then he’s learned something that angered him,” Tikoloshe said. “While he was abroad.”

And there was the trouble, for while Wekesa knew neither of them had been perfect fathers he was genuinely surprise anything he’d done would wound his son this way. He should have spent more time with Masego when he was younger, instead of studying. That was one of his great regrets, for he’d not truly understood back then that those days would never come again. All those he cared about, save for his husband, were Named. He’d gotten in the habit of treating long partings as being of little import. Yet where would his son have learned to resent this? None of the Woe were close to their parents according to the reports, save for the Thief, and her father hadn’t even known she was moonlighting as an apprentice to a member of the Guild of Thieves. Trust and closeness could be different matters, true, but it was still baffling.

“I cannot think of what would have led to this,” Warlock admitted.

“He’s been to Keter,” Tikoloshe murmured.

“That matter is long buried,” Wekesa frowned.

“The Dead King-”

“Would not deign to indulge in games with a mortal mage, however talented,” Warlock flatly stated.

“Then it might have been the journey,” his husband replied.

Wekesa did not contradict him. The reflection of Keter in Arcadia must be highly perilous, but he knew little of it. Hye had passed through there once, but getting anything useful out of her was near impossible. It wasn’t that she lied. That would have been of some use, as even boasts and exaggerations would hold a kernel of truth. No, it was the opposite: she was concise to the point of uselessness. I walked through Arcadia and then cut my way out and then I beat up dead people all the way to Hell. That was the whole sum of how she’d described her experience assaulting Keter through the realm of the fae, to Warlock’s despair. Trying to tease more information out of her inevitably ran into the wall of Ranger genuinely believing she’d given him all she needed to and getting irritated if he implied otherwise.

“Perhaps a conversation is in order,” Wekesa finally said.

“Perhaps,” his husband gently mocked.

He grimaced. It would be a delicate matter to approach, even more so if it proved to be a correct guess. Warlock was not unaware that decades of being able to dictate on what terms he interacted with almost everyone else had atrophied some his former social finesse. On the other side of the room, Lady Gharim dropped to the floor screaming and clawing at her face. Her veins had turned dark, thick with rot. Sloppy spellwork.

“People,” the Warlock said loudly enough his voice could be heard by all attendees, “should be aware of their own limitations.”

His gaze lingered on the dead woman, who might still be alive if she hadn’t tried her hand at an eavesdropping spell. Contamination wards were not forgiving.

“I believe we will take our leave, High Lord Idriss,” Tikoloshe smiled. “And let that particular reminder linger in our absence.”

The hall was silent, at least for now. Whispers would resume as soon as they left.

It was not the first death of the night, and it would not be the last.

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129 thoughts on “Interlude: Heretics

    1. stevenneiman

      They’d be stuck there a while. Place has terrible cell reception and I haven’t been able to find any ISPs that offer service out there. Apparently their accountants haven’t figured out how to bill for the relative time or something.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. darkening

          He’s an officer in the army still now that he’s healed, but most of his personality got burned away and left him cold and savage and just not really the same person.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Please give Hakram Berserker Name he has earned it, born from fire, betrayed by his friends, all that is left is rage and serving the Queen. He could almost inherit the Captain name, since it is a Paresi name. Serving a master, relinquishing control over one self to a much more sinister force

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    1. letouriste

      i’m surprised Nauk don’t get more votes. Guys, you already forgot him? i mean, this is one of the most interesting character in this story 😮 my favourite greenskin after robber actually (even now).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        It’s possible, but he is far too important to be simply discarded like that.
        I am of the opinion he was using some trick when the Gray Pilgrim found him, it’s strange how Pilgrim couldn’t feel Black’s Name on him.
        He was also surrounded by an army of dead legionaries from which he could use the corpses, that battle could go in many ways.
        Also, if Black died Catherine would be the first one to notice due to her connection with the Name, she might be very disconnected from the Squire Name, but she still holds it, so the Name of Black Knight would come to her if Amadeus died.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. JackbeThimble

          In reverse order:
          1) Catherine definitely does not hold the Squire Name as has been explicitly stated multiple times, it’s been years since she’s had anything resembling name dreams or anything else and she actively renounced the Black Knight name already.
          2) Black was never particularly good at Necromancy, rarely using it in combat and even if he was as good as Akua, Tariq would almost certainly be the perfect counter to undead. There are avenues that Black could have used to do some serious damage going down- he might have rigged the ship with Goblinfire or possibly used Ranker to spread the Pilgrim’s plague into a Proceran population center- but it’s difficult to think of any that would allow him to actually defeat Pilgrim, Saint and half a dozen other heroes in combat, and if he had the means to escape he presumably could have done so before they’d arrived at the fleet. Black’s own last words indicate that he does not expect to survive.
          3) Black had been abusing his name pretty badly, including temporarily discarding it during the battle in the Red Flower Vales and running himself ragged on the march. It’s true that there are many possible interesting reasons why Pilgrim couldn’t feel Black’s Name but at this point it seems unlikely that the Pilgrim would fall for it if this was simply a ruse.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. 1) Cat definitely does hold the Name of Squire, or rather, what’s left of it. Between Winter and two rejected/failed/broken Transitions from Squire, the Name is pretty much down to the gnawed on bones.

            2) Black is the one who taught Cat Name-based necromancy. Akua was not a necromancer specialist, though she was doubtlessly proficient at it. She had minions for that.
            Though, true, undead are of limited value against a Band of Heroes in a direct engagement, and Black will have had something else up his sleeve.

            3) Pilgrim might not have been looking at Black himself that hard – I think he’d expect something other than Black just waiting for them to have a straight fight with no tricks. Besides, one of Black’s strengths is working with time to plan – whatever you think you see, something else is going on too. Akua never does anything for one reason; Black never has just one plan or one reason.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. JackbeThimble

              Black taught Cat how to raise and control a single zombie at a time. As far as I know we’ve never seen him animate more than one or two corpses at a single time and I don’t recall ever seeing him actually use undead personally combat except as a mount. Even if he did have the skill and wherewithal to animate and control several hundred or thousand undead most of what we’ve seen indicates a) he probably doesn’t have the raw power to do so and b) considering the opposition he’s facing that would probably an extremely inefficient use of his resources.

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              1. caoimhinh

                1) It has always been said that Cat still holds the Name Squire, but she “holds it by a thread” or that “the Name is gnawed on bones”, she has mutilated it due to her transformation into an incomplete Fae, right now she is a contradictory existence, a Villain doing Hero works, a human wielding Fae powers and holding a Fairy Title, and also being Named without having a full connection to her Name.

                2) Black has been shown using Necromancy in all his fights, manipulating undead to disguise as himself, to attack at range, to pretend to be a hostage and actually having bombs inside, etc. so while he might not have the power to use hundreds and thousands at the same time, he definitely can use them and can even see through their eyes. Also, he doesn’t need to defeat the heroes there, he just needs to escape/survive, and for that purpose there are many things he could do.

                3) It might be a meat puppet like last time, or it could be that Black is exhausted from using the corpses to spread the plague on Procer, we don’t know yet what plan he has prepared. Black didn’t lose his name temporarily, he ran out of power like a mage running out of mana for spells.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. From Pilgrims perspective, I think Black is worth more alive than dead. Well, alive but captured rather. He’s seen Catherine’s modus operandi and could be expecting that she’d try to negotiate once more. What better way to swing the pendulum your way during the negotiations than having something your opponent desperately wants.

            From Black’s perspective, after reading your comment, I think he got inspired by Catherine losing her Name. It doesn’t make much sense to me that Black would feel that much weaker by using his name. If anything, he should feel more powerful. After all, he’s made it clear as far as the first book he’s not exactly a typical Black Knight and seeing what happened to Catherine when she contradicted her name, it stands to reason Black has weak powers only because he isn’t using them correctly. He was during his march, so why would he feel weaker?

            I believe he was intentionally leading them into a trap. I mean, what else could you expect but death when you march all over Procer without any plan or reinforcements. Maybe he wasn’t aware what kind of a trap it was, but it didn’t really matter. A Black Knight leading his army into what he knew would be death? Why, that’s reason enough to strip him off his Name. And when his army died, his Name died therefore with it, making him nameless. It could be what he referred to when he said he “wanted to trick the heaven’s dice”.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Now, that’s an interesting theory, I’m not sure how it could work but if he loses and gains his Name again he’s going to become OP.

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        2. FactualInsanity

          Not only did Pilgrim not feel a Name on Black, the text itself referred to him as Amadeus of the Green Stretch, instead of Black Knight for the first time in ever. I think that’s pretty telling.

          Don’t get me wrong, I want him to be alive, but I highly doubt it. Realistically the best we could hope for, in my opinion anyway, is that he managed to leave a mark after all.

          And I’m curious where you got that about Catherine becoming Black Knight if he dies. Or her still holding the Squire Name, even.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. FactualInsanity

              I know that Cat’s fae powers are heavily influenced by her preceeding Name powers, but I can’t recall any bit of text that actually explicitly states she still has a Name. Given that she’s more or less an actual fae now and it was heavily implied that fae can’t be Named, because fae are more or less anthropomorphic Names themselves, I just don’t see it.

              I’m open to being wrong, but I don’t think there’s enough actual evidence to suggest that I am. :/

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              1. It hasn’t been mentioned in text recently, but the last time it was talked about, it was after Cat was the Sovereign of Moonless Nights, and she described her Name of Squire as being gnawed on bones. Slightly different wording of course.

                And at one point in the comments – no idea where offhand – EE dropped some Word Of Author, and mentioned the two failed/rejected/broken Transitions from Squire having damaged/ weakened the Name of Squire in Cat.

                Cat having the Name of Squire is really more of a technicality at this point, since she’s using her Winter and Fae powers for basically everything the Name could have given her and more.
                Basically, the only thing that the Name still gives her is that she has the Name and so nobody else can become the Squire until/unless she dies, gets a new Name, or otherwise releases her possession of the Name of Squire. Probably makes opening the door to a new Name a little easier than it would be for a non-Named.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. FactualInsanity

                  Fair enough on the WoE. I have only really paid attention to comments after catching up with the story and that was pretty recently chapter-wise.

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              2. Rook

                I think it’s also up for debate whether she’s still considered the successor of the Black Knight. Which is imo an entirely different issue than whether she’s still the successor of Amadeus of the green stretch.

                In many senses she’s still Amadeus’s successor, regardless how miffed she is at him right now. Stabbing someone once does little to change that when you do it while declaring you still love them as a kind of surrogate parent, and continue to derive nearly all your fundamental tactics and strategies from their teachings. Said stabee didn’t really mind it too much in the first place, which further takes wind out of the dramatic sails.

                Her role in the the story though, has shifted far enough away from being the Squire of the Black Knight that it’s highly debatable whether that’s still the transition. Or if there even will be a transition in the traditional sense. The effect of a major Fae mantle on the process is also pretty poorly understood as well, considering there’s zero known precedent for it.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. When Cat stabbed Black without killing him, she short-circuited the automatic Transition from Squire to Black Knight.
                  That damaged/weakened the Squire Name in Cat, but it also released Black from the Narrative Doom of having a Chosen Successor/Heir/Student.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Rook

                    Again, still highly debatable considering her transition was left a hanging thread and how she still holds onto the bones of the Name.

                    We know for a fact that in extreme circumstances, the Name will readily abandon her if the connection to it is thin and a better candidate exists. It already happened once.

                    The fact that no one else has claimed or even attempted to claim the Name – despite her relation to it being a bare thread – speaks volumes when discussing whether she’s still considered Amadeus’ successor in any practical sense.

                    Liked by 1 person

                1. FactualInsanity

                  Right, I was clearly factually incorrect in my statement, however upon rereading the end of that chapter, I feel like it kind of reinforces my point.

                  The Interlude refers to him as Amadeus of the Green Stretch at that point, because, as he himself points out a sentence or two after that, the Black Knight fell at the hands of the White Knight. He chose to put most of his Name somehwere else in order to cheat the story. At the end of Queen’s Gambit, Declined the implication is the opposite (before going into details about what sort of benefit could be derived from willingly discarding his Name in the face of a whole band of Heroes).
                  Also, a notable difference is that Sing We Of Rage, shortly refers to him as Black Knight again, whereas Queen’s Gambit, Declined closes on him as Amadeus, not Black. The only way I could see him alive, is if for some reason one of the Heroes gets it in their head, that having him as a hostage would be of some use against Cat. Which is a horrible idea on many levels, but would gel nicely with the theory that the Interlude Arc was about the Heroes’ fall from grace.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. RanVor

                    There’s so much bullshit in this reasoning I can’t even. Hakram is referred to as Hakram all the time and nobody screams he’s not the Adjutant anymore. The only difference is that Hakram doesn’t have a fancy nickname. No, wait, he has. He’s obviously losing his Name, so where’s the outrage?

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. FactualInsanity

                      That is exactly the thing though. Hakram is referred to as Hakram by the text constantly. It is not significant. Black is very rarely referred to as Amadeus, even in dialogue. When the narrative text refers to him with his full name (not Name), literary sence implies that has significance.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. RanVor

                      I dunno, last time it was rather insignificant. Sure, people were freaking out over it like no tomorrow, but it ultimately amounted to nothing. I’m pretty confident it’s still the case this time around.

                      Honestly though, if Black died now, I wouldn’t even be sad. I’d be just disappointed. It would be such a waste, still he has so much to do in the plot. This is not even the climax of the storyline of any real importance. It’s the middle of an insignificant subplot with little meaning in context of the overall plot. The most dangerous villain of the generation should go out with a bang, not disperse quietly like a fart in the air.

                      EE has never disappointed me before, and I’m sure as hell he won’t do it now.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    3. FactualInsanity

                      (I didn’t even know there was a reply limit.)
                      I disagree with the first bit. I think it was significant, just not in the way the people that freaked out assumed. It showed how and why his story-screwing worked. (And really given that like I said he’s back to being Black Knight within a few sentences at that point, jumping to “ohmigodheslosingName” seems a tad premature.)

                      I tend to agree that if Black is to remain in the story he has the potential to achieve a lot more, but I take the opposite view on whether he should stay in the story after his meeting with the Pilgrim and his merry bunch under these cirumstances. If he had never fallen in the Heroes trap, sure. But he was legitimatelly outplayed. If he survives this, while implicitly being stripped of everything he usually relies on, it would destroy what was great about his character for me. That he wasn’t infallible.

                      In my opinion, and I can’t stress enough that it is simply my opinion, the best “bang” for him would be if the next time Pilgrim is on stage, his pack of Heroes is permanently missing several of them.

                      Like

                    4. RanVor

                      It’s as if you didn’t know Black at all. He always knows more than he lets on. The last part of that interlude was from Pilgrim’s POV specifically not to show whatever Amadeus might keep in reserve for the occasion. Black comes off as outplayed because Pilgrim assumes him to be. But Pilgrim doesn’t really know him, does he?

                      Anyway, I could be inclined to agree with you if not for the fact that Black’s death would leave at least two plotlines much more important than this silly little raid unresolved. It would be bad for the story, and I wholeheartedly believe EE to be beyond this kind of mistakes.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    5. Black had the better part of a week to expect inbound Heroes, and to make plans and preparations.

                      Sure, it looks like they trapped him. But never back a Villain (or any Named, really) into a corner – bad things happen when you do that.
                      Also, Black is really good away making plans and contingencies within contingencies. He had plenty of time to set all kinds of things up.

                      For that matter, he could have left an avatar to face the Heroes and set off the stocks of goblin munitions, while he took off in a boat and a couple undead oarsmen.

                      Besides, unless the Heroes somehow beat Black before he even sees it coming, there’s goblin munitions to blow up the boat and make sure that there’s no body to see, find, and recover – no body and a “certain death/no way somebody could survive being in the middle of that” type event means they aren’t dead, just escaped somehow.

                      The plague was not in Black’s plans when he left shore. But he had several days to rework existing plans and to make new ones.
                      He has plans for the situation he wound up in. And there’s no way he’s going too go out quietly.
                      Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s too important to just get offscreened like Captain, who while likeable, was not personally all that important in her own right.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    6. caoimhinh

                      FactualInsanity, Black has been called ‘Amadeus’ and ‘Amadeus of the Green Stretch’ by the narrative many times before, not as many as ‘Black’ but still many times, during his conversations with Malicia, during his fight with Hanno, during Catherine’s Name Dreams, etc.
                      And it has also been said many times that Catherine still holds the Name of Squire, but not in a significant proportion, she has described it as the Name being “at the bones” and “connected by a thread to her”. Remember that Catherine is a singularity in many aspects, a paradox of sorts, as she holds the power of Fae but it’s not a Fae, and she holds the Name of Squire without being tied by it, both her soul and the Name are mutilated by her actions, so she is doing what should be impossible.
                      As for the fight between Black and the Heroes (Pilgrim, Sword Saint, and co) he doesn’t need to win, he just needs to survive, and there are many ways that battle could go for it to happen, keep in mind they are in the middle of a river, one of the favorites escape routes in stories along with precipices, and given how Amadeus left in good terms with the villagers while Pilgrim massacred them, Black has a decent chance at twisting things to his favor to at least survive.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    7. Loud Buzzing

                      @caoimhinh
                      I mean that’s more or less the thing though. Alaya talks to Amadeus, but the Dread Empress talks to the Black Knight. Amadeus is separate from the Black Knight, because Amadeus of Green Stretch basically refers to the kid watching the stars that the Black Knight once was. It’s the person behind the role.

                      Liked by 1 person

        3. maresther23

          The other Named that died an understated death was the Ashen Priestess, when Bard used her death to get narrative weight to break Black. Black learned. He may or may not be dead, but his weight is still impacting the story.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        I’m more convinced then ever he’s alive. Remember what he said about Warlock himself? If he was dead, he’d know? I think that flows both ways. Warlock and Black appeared to know immediately when Captain was taken out. The fact that Warlock is this chill and acting like his friend is alive means his friend is alive. I’m not saying he’s happy, or in anything like a good condition right now, but he’s not dead. Which is plausible, Pilgrim asked for his surrender for a reason. You don’t take a narrative hijacker like Cat and give her something like a dead father to work with on top of everything else.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Quite Possibly A Cat

      No, he clearly should have tried the spell on a pig first. Gosh, he must have come across as such a villain there. The best part is he was relatively justified. They were enemies, evil and insulting his friends! That’s like triple the justification a hero would need.

      Vote Masego for hero… umm… what year is it again?

      Liked by 1 person

    1. ______

      Yeah, Masego doesn’t take the peculiarities of the situation into account. There could be anything, from the backlash altering the bindings to Tikoloshe making the mistake of crossing into Dead King’s domain.

      Like

  1. SpeckofStardust

    Those 2 decided to insult a mage’s friends to said mage’s face…
    A mage that had been raised by the a top tier villain.
    Lets be honest the pigs are actually intelligent enough to moon a goddam dragon equivalent.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Being fair, they probably assumed that Masego was more like them, ie, traditionally Praesi, than he has ever been in his entire life.
      Unfortunately for them, they ran into the ultra literal, socially uninformed and indifferent, probably mildly autistic, and incredibly loyal to his friends and comrades, Masego.

      This indicates that they didn’t know a damned thing about his longstanding personality traits that would have been apparent at all the Praesi social events he had been dragged to as a child. Somebody failed to do their research before sending the twins in.
      Though, he probably wouldn’t have killed anyone for talking to him as a child.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Decius

        It’s Praes. The twins had either instructions or encouragement to annoy Masego, from somebody who wanted them dead but couldn’t do it themselves for some reason. Or possibly they were just expendable assets being used to find out which buttons work.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. RandomFan

            Warlock may humor the motions of the court, but I doubt he is the best informed on the matter. He could be right, he could be wrong.

            It would not surprise me if this is an example of the folly of youth and nothing more, abet particularly dangerous folly. It would not surprise me if Warlock is correct- I suspect not all praesi have had the chance to observe enough to reach the right conclusions, and it isn’t likely to be public knowledge- or shared with potential enemies without cost. It would not surprise me if it was an assassination attempt that succeeded. It could be multiple of the above, even.

            Like

  2. Ah, Masego, never change.
    Only you could get distracted from the fact that you just killed someone before they finished dying.
    And consider smiting the city when you leave for Callow.

    It seems Warlock doesn’t know about Tikoloshe’s connections to the origins of the Dead King and the Doom of Keter.
    Wonder how he’ll react when he finds out.

    Hmmm.
    Going by Warlock’s thoughts, he might not avenge Malicia if Cat managed to take her out before Warlock got involved in that fight, if he bothers to become involved, which he might not, if only for Masego’s sake.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Drunken Dwarf

      From the text it seems like Warlock does know, but only from what Tikoloshe’s told him. And I do agree, seems like Warlock isn’t really interested in involving himself with the fight between Malicia and Catherine. For some reason I feel like she is gonna betray him anyways.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Letouriste

      The best part is probably they were BOILING from the inside JUST BEFORE him and he still completely forgot about it in two seconds…until the too loud screams comes out and rudely distract him from his superior musing xD

      Like

    3. Dainpdf

      The Red Skies interlude indicates that he does know. He was told about Tikoloshe’s summoning by the Queen of the People of the Wolf. If Masego could get from there to his presence at the Fall, then so could Wekesa.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Soronel Haetir

      Warlock was never a supporter of Malicia for her own sake, it was always Black who brought him (and Ranger and maybe even Assassin for that matter) along.

      Like

    5. Byzantine

      Warlock knows, but I suspect he only knows a bit. I don’t think anyone really knows more than a bit. The Gods stamped that knowledge down *hard*.

      Like

    1. His dads are not wrong; the Woe have helped their lad no end. He now quips properly before murder, and everything. Sure, he doesn’t quite realise how the wit is witty, but it’s a vast improvement of not doing either the quipping or the murder in court at all.

      Liked by 5 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    Im really curious about what Warlock would feel about Archer liking Masego. Like would he be chill? Would he find the concept of having Ranger as a co parent in law horrifying?

    Like I don’t think he would do anything to push for or against the relationship, but I wonder what his opinion of her would be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. JackbeThimble

      From what I’ve seen of Warlock I’m not certain that he would recognize an asexual/platonic relationship as an actual thing. Like not that he would be angry or disapproving or whatever just that he wouldn’t understand the concept. This is a guy who can literally only define love as ‘I don’t want to fuck anyone else’.

      Like

      1. WuseMajor

        Eh, I think he could get it as “Archer wants to fuck Masego, but Masego isn’t interested, which causes her to have some weird behavior.”

        Like

  4. Andrew Mitchell

    Loved this chapter. Brilliant characterisation of Masego when he made sure to check his list before casually biking the couple’s blood and using it as a learning opportunity. I laughed out loud.

    Like

    1. That was never seriously considered, I think. Any assassination attempt (successful or otherwise) against Masego would have Warlock seriously pissed off and ripping apart souls to find the responsible party and turning the section of Calernia within several miles of them into a brand new lava and hellfire filled crater. And then he’d get brutal. There is no sufficient term to adequately describe the kind of overkill Warlock would unleash on someone for assassinating his son.
      Far more likely is some sort of attempt to keep Masego from returning to Callow, the Woe, and Cat. Whether that’s by Malicia’s hand or Warlock’s is still an open option, though nothing here suggests that Warlock is planning anything that could be construed as involving himself in the Cat vs Malicia fight, indeed everything here suggests he wants no part of that particular fight if he can avoid it.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. GabrielTosh

        Without a stupid amount of story behind you, like already being fated to kill Warlock, whoever kills Maseago will be obliterated, possibly including any nearby settlements. The amount of story behind that spell would make even people like Grey Pilgrim stay dead.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Insanenoodlyguy

        I’m thinking it’s an observation of her friendship with Warlock. Whatever Malicia is planning (and it’s obvious it involves Cat being dead, since Warlock considered asking her to do otherwise), it’s happening reasonably soon, as i doubt a few assassinations of Cats people coordinated to happen at once would be anything more then the opening of her larger plan. Whatever it is, there’s enough risk of collateral damage that Masego could end up getting some of it, and/or being an obstacle to it. So, she lets Warlock know it’s a good time to have his son be a bit closer to home, and here we are. No fuss, no muss, no insanely powerful forces of magic being aimed at your tower because your childless magic friend doesn’t think your friends anymore.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Alternative hypothesis:

        Warlock is too much a friend of Black, therefore Dread Empress Malicia wants him gone, does not want to hit the Warlock and miss the Hierophant lest she get laked, so she has arranged to have both of them in the one ground zero.

        Story logic implies both the Warlock and Hierophant will survive, and shortly afterwards Praes will need to build a replacement Tower again.

        Like

    1. letouriste

      no effects you mean. Actually, many men would also not be affected at all. This is a cliché treating men as virgin young boys and don’t reflect the reality. Of course there is many people out there liking breasts to an unhealthy degree but they represent just a low percentage of the grown up men. Most would just look out of reflex because the woman put them in evidence and we have an animal part of our brain picking up details when they are moving or put in front. That doesn’t mean interest tho.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        She wasn’t just showing some cleavage. She was very strongly suggesting they go do something alone. She was sending out signals an “average” man would have picked up on. And yes, while most of us keep from becoming drooling morons every time we see a hot girl, a hot girl who’s making it very clear she wants to have sex with you? That can leave you a bit more discombobulated.

        Like

  5. Metalshop

    I love this look at Praesi party life. Really brings home what a society run by villains would truly be like.

    “Ah, yes, that was still happening.”=My new favorite line.

    Like

    1. Dainpdf

      Gotta remember his specialty is in wards. If any of the current Calamities can put her down it’s Warlock.
      …that feels like I’m underestimating Assassin and Black.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Redlaw

        Neither black nor assassin can kill cat. At least not directly. After all black was never the strongest but those he put down…
        as for warlock. I don’t doubt he could kill the current cat with enough preparation, ward and trap but if he go and underestimated her(like many many dead villain hero drow and fae ).. well he will only live because he is the father of zeke

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Eh. Careful about Black and Assassin. Assassin’s whole Name is about killing people, and Black has a history of killing way more powerful people he has no business killing.
          As for Warlock, yeah, mages do better with preparation and his kind of magic is especially inclined to it. But if you recall, out of Cat’s three most recent losses (controlled at Second Liesse, Pilgrim cutting the portal, getting boxed at Keter), two were at the hands of mages.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Dainpdf

    I wonder how Catherine would react to Masego’s parents (well, parent – we don’t get to see inside the devil) thinking she’s been a stabilizing influence on him. Enough that Warlock, of all people, would want her to stick around him.
    This somewhat flies in the face of that whole “corruption by association” bit… Not by much, of course, since Masego was already deeply associated with the Calamities, but still.
    By the way, I 100% expect the finished version of the “Boil” spell being “Twig”.

    Like

  7. Snowfire1224

    Masego is the best at parties and small talk.

    I find it funny that Warlock thinks it would have been good for Black to adopt a child with Malicia to raise platonically. I don’t know why but the notion amuses me.

    Like

      1. Snowfire1224

        So then if Black is the Dad and Malicia the step mom, then practical guide to evil is just a revamped version of Cinderella in which Cat is forced to clean up Malicia’s messes with ample amounts of Goblin Fire. Additionally Akua would be the step sister and the Winter King is her Fairy GodMother.

        Liked by 8 people

  8. Mike E.

    And another example of how OP/badass Ranger is:

    “I walked through Arcadia and then cut my way out and then I beat up dead people all the way to Hell” That was the whole sum of how she’d described her experience assaulting Keter through the realm of the fae…

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Zaver SaintCloud

    I’m actually on chapter 25, but wanted to post here in the latest one. Somebody linked this in the Dwarf Fortress reddit, and I just wanted to say how thoroughly I’m enjoying this story. The quotes at the beginning are especially amusing. Any chance there is a handy PDF available?

    Like

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