Interlude: Apogee

“It is a bitter truth that in trying to escape the flaws of our parents we inevitably inherit the worst of them.”
– King Pater of Callow, the Unheeding

 

After they entered the second month of hard labour and sleepless nights, Wekesa jested that if he were a god he’s snap his fingers and put them all out of their misery. Neither his husband nor his son graced him with even a perfunctory chuckle, which he found rather cold-blooded of them. Warlock had hoped that even disagreements, after being aired, would lance the wound festering in his family but it had been… overly optimistic of him. Tikoloshe was still furious that Masego had spurned his good intentions so fully, and their son had made it exceedingly clear that he’d be leaving Praes the moment the city was safeguarded and did not intend to return for many years. There’d been no talking him out of that, or even a way to broach the subject of the Black Queen again. His boy had learned to keep his own council, and while the way he’d grown stirred some embers of paternal pride in Wekesa it was also highly inconvenient.  Message came from Ater within the first month, word of the war in the west.

It was not good news.

“He’s not dead,” Warlock told Alaya’s envoy. “I am certain. Beyond that I cannot tell. Wherever he is cannot be scried even through his blood.”

Which meant he was either underground or, more likely, in the presence of priests or heroes. It had slowed the work in Thalassina by a whole week to craft a ritual that would scry even through such distance and natural barriers, setting up relays and contingencies, but there’d been no question of doing otherwise. The silver of Amadeus’ soul in his possession was still called to the remainder of it somewhere in Creation, but aside from determining death that measure was essentially worthless. His old friend’s soul might not even still be inside his body, he knew, though that breed of meddling was rare among heroes. The Saint of Swords might be capable, though. Hye had told him, years ago, that Laurence de Montfort had grown skilled enough to rip a soul from its body with a swing of her sword. Was that what they’d wrought on Amadeus? Was he now a shivering shade in a bottle sealed by some priest’s power? Tikoloshe chided him for the thought.

“You are casting fear as fact,” his husband said.

“We’re not dealing with shepherd boys and rebels anymore,” Wekesa murmured. “I’ve heard things about the Pilgrim, ‘Loshe. The Saint might be the executioner for Above, but he’s something rather more dangerous than that. He… smooths away wrinkles. His is a thinking man’s Role.”

“Scribe will find out the truth of it, and the Empress will put her weight behind the retrieval,” Tikoloshe said. “Worrying any further is without purpose.”

“I could leave,” Wekesa said. “Head out right now.”

“And do what?” his husband gently asked. “Traipse around the Proceran countryside with target painted on your back?”

Warlock sighed. Tikoloshe was right, of course. Moving prematurely was just asking to get into a fight with whatever heroes had not gone north to prepare against the Dead King.

“Gods, why would he wander around the Principate like that?” Wekesa bit out. “We’re not twenty anymore, the wind’s no longer at our back. And there’s at least half a dozen Choirs embroiled in this mess, he was bound to run into someone he couldn’t cope with.”

“Making virtues of one’s flaws does not mean those flaws are gone,” his husband delicately replied.

Warlock sighed and left it at that. The two of them had never gotten along. Amadeus remained, even after over forty years, of the opinion that Tikoloshe was an unnecessary risk that should have long been dispensed with permanently. He was polite enough not to mention it anymore, but the years had not changed his position by an inch. ‘Loshe had frankly admitted that the sheer bleak intensity of Amadeus’ desires, coupled with utter disregard for the incubus’ existence, made him uncomfortable just to be in the presence of. Like putting fingers over a candle: tolerable for a pass, but painful if continued. Masego spent several hours conferring with his comrades in Laure when he was told the news, weaving some particularly vicious protections on his scrying spell. Woe unto whoever tested those, Wekesa had mused. There’d be a few more dead Eyes in the city by the time that conversation was over. Not his issue, regardless. While he recognized that Alaya had right to try eavesdropping on the conversation, his son also had right to privacy. The victor of that skirmish would be theirs to determine, and he saw no need to intervene so long as no harsh feelings were incurred on either side.

They returned to the work with renewed vigor afterwards, but as the weeks passed tensions never fully put to rest reared their ugly heads again. It was not unexpected, truthfully. Long hours of mentally exhausting work with little rest or company save each other – Masego had bluntly refused to attend court again – made small irritations seem large, and when the bottle was uncorked there was no preventing the spill. It was darkly amusing, Wekesa thought, that it was an attempted olive branch from Tikoloshe that’d been the spark to light the fire. His husband made an offer to discuss his time in the Kingdom of Sephirah, should Masego promise not to delve in that branch of research afterwards. Warlock had given it even odds that it would lead to either the beginning of reconciliation or a blowout, but his predictions proved inaccurate. In both cases, he’d believed the impetus would come from their son.

“That won’t be necessary,” Masego simply said.

The three of them had gone to the Maze with dawn, and it was now midmorning. Both mages hung from their spits of coral by leather harnesses, their engraving tools made to hover by their side by a quaint little Taghrebi spell. Tikoloshe was perched atop Wekesa’s own coral, comfortably seated and keeping an eye on their work for mistakes. All of them were under illusion, naturally. High Lord Idriss might have purged the city, but Warlock would not rely on the man’s work when his family’s safety was at stake. Their modifications to Shatha’s Maze would remain hidden until the very last moment.

“It is not the Book of Darkness,” Tikoloshe conceded. “Yet my remembrance is likely more than you’ll ever learn otherwise.”

“I would not be moved even if you offered the Tower’s own text,” Masego replied, placing back his carving knife into the floating set and picking up a chisel.

“Surely you don’t mean to bargain with the Dead King,” Tikoloshe frowned.

“Unnecessary,” their son said. “I’ve already harvested sufficient knowledge from his echoes.”

“Pardon me,” Wekesa said. “Did you say his echoes?”

“His apotheosis left a reflection in Arcadia, yes,” Masego replied absent-mindedly. “I took from him twice, at a pivot and later from his final moments as mortal. Vivienne was displeased about the delay on our trip back, admittedly, but the Hunt would not move without all of us.”

There was a soft sound as he angled the chisel against an accumulation rune, bringing down his hammer to connect it with the fresh additions. The only sound for a long moment was the waves around them.

“You stole memories from the Dead King’s reflection,” Tikoloshe quietly summarized. “Child, have you gone mad?”

“Debatable,” Masego mused. “I am not certain if operating on a different set of logic should truly be called that.”

“Don’t you give me lip like this is some trifle,” ‘Loshe snarled. “Get rid of them this instant. It’s an infection.”

It went downhill from there. Wekesa could not stay out of it, for he shared some of his husband’s worries in this, but he could not serve as a mediator if he was also arguing. That proved to be a mistake. Tikoloshe had become emotional. That never worked well with their son. It was bad enough they ceased working for the day, walking back to the shore in fuming silence. Warlock ran into a wall when he tried to tease out details during the afternoon, Masego stubbornly refusing to speak more of the matter. Against his better judgement, he offered his son a concession: he’d get to participate in the ritual from inside the Maze instead of the city, if the subject was opened again. It worked, or close enough. Masego remained vague on details, but it was clear his son could probably transcribe half the Kabbalis Book of Darkness from memory if he were so inclined – and that was the least of it. It was not the diluted knowledge put to ink he’d gotten his hands on but the thoughts of the Dead King himself. Secrets known only to one, until now.

“Take it out,” his husband said later that night, when they were alone in their room. “By force if need be.”

“I’m not going to fight him, ‘Loshe,” Wekesa replied with genuine surprise. “Obviously we need to reconsider our approach, but-”

“You don’t get it,” Tikoloshe said quietly. “It’s a trap. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve seen the lay of it over the years and…”

“You’ve never spoken of this before,” Warlock softly said.

“I don’t know for sure,” his husband repeated. “And it was never an issue, with the mere fragments of his work Praesi possess. But I think he’s been killed before, ‘Kesa. The Dead King. With that many heroes having fought him over the years? At least once, one will have slain him.”

Wekesa was not without cleverness, and he’d been married to the man for a very long time. The implication was not difficult to divine.

“You think the Book is a lure,” he said. “And anyone that follows its teachings deep enough…”

“He can inhabit different bodies, he could even as a mortal,” Tikoloshe said. “But how useful would it really be to wear some farmer’s skin? No, he’d need mages. Talented, ambitious, well-trained in the use of their powers. And to ensure they made their way to him, seeds were sown.”

“Never the complete book, because then they might realize the purpose of it,” Warlock murmured. “There’d be risks, ‘Loshe. If Amadeus is right about the Wandering Bard-”

“Black isn’t even a hundred years old,” his husband hissed. “And he thinks he can grasp the nature something like the Bard? Last time he followed that conceit Sabah was killed. Do we need to lose our son to his pride as well?”

“Peace,” Wekesa said. “You’ve said it yourself, this is only a theory.”

“I will not gamble with his safety, Wekesa, hear me well,” Tikoloshe said. “Not when the stakes are this high.”

“If I raise my hand against him, we lose him for good,” he replied. “Think about this clearly.”

“We lose him deeper still, if we do nothing,” his husband said.

Gods, what a mess this had become. Maybe if memories were modified… No, he’d find out eventually. Masego had been taught to assess the state of his own mind before he’d even reached puberty, he’d notice sooner or later. It was only pushing the issue back by a few months or years. Part of him insisted this was only a theory, but he could not refrain from considering it. ‘Loshe would not be this incensed if he did not genuinely believe in what he’d said, and he knew better than to dismiss the thoughts of his husband out of hand. It would be easier if he was wrong, but he could not put weight on something simply because it would be more convenient were it false.

“Tell me everything you know about this,” Wekesa said. “Every single detail, no matter how insignificant.”

Tikoloshe’s eyes met his.

“And if you agree I’m right?”

Warlock grimaced, but went on.

“Alaya has made inquiries about putting him under house arrest until this Callowan mess is over with,” Wekesa admitted. “I might have to take her up on them, until we’ve found a permanent solution.”

“After the Ashurans are dispersed, then,” Tikoloshe said.

Warlock reluctantly nodded. He’d need at least that long to prepare, if it was to be painless.

It’d been easier when Catherine had been there to provide ice. Winter-forged substance had a keen affinity to scrying spells, especially those involving the Observatory. Less than surprising, given that she’d provided quite a bit of the power involved in the raising of it. Without her around, Masego had been forced to rely on the more traditional methods of a water-filled bowl. The link was rather solid, given the distances and likely interferences involved, which warmed his heart. His work in Laure had proved fruitful. The waters shivered and a pair of silhouettes greeted him, both familiar. They must have been standing in front of one of the pools, he thought. Hakram looked exhausted, his face tight and the ridges around his eyes standing out – the orc equivalent of dark circles in a human. Vivienne, on the other hand, was flushed with good health. She’d grown out her hair, Masego noted. It suited her, made her seem almost regal.

“Hierophant,” Hakram said, showing just enough teeth to be respectful.

There was a pause as Masego’s eyes took in all of him.

“You seem to be missing a hand,” the mage observed.

Vivienne snorted.

“Literally the first thing,” she said. “I told you he’d skip right over greetings.”

“Already was when we last spoke, the bowl simply did not show it. And I still have the one,” Hakram told him, ignoring the Callowan. “It serves well enough.”

“Two would objectively serve better,” he pointed out.

“If we’re to have this conversation, it will be in person,” the orc said. “And over drinks.”

Ah, one of those complicated matters then. It should prove a learning experience.

“Youève made contact days before I next expected you,” Masego said. “I take it something happened?”

“You could say that,” Vivienne grimaced. “The Empress’ envoy sung us a pretty song, and we need to pick your brains over it.”

“I do not know much of singing,” he admitted.

“I mean-” she sighed. “Never mind. Look, we were made privy to the full content of Malicia’s pact with the Dead King.”

“Does it matter?” Masego asked, mildly surprised. “I was under the impression we would oppose both regardless of the technicalities involved.”

“I believed that as well,” Hakram gravelled. “Before he finished speaking. She effectively sold out most of Calernia.”

“Which seems ill-mannered, considering she does not own it,” Masego offered.

“The definition of ‘most’ is what matters, as it happens,” Vivienne said. “There’s a clause that exempts Praes and Callow from his attentions.”

“Which is good,” he tried.

“Somewhat,” she said. “Unfortunately, it only applies so long as she’s alive.”

Huh. Which was not good, because Catherine had admitted some months ago she would most likely have to kill the Empress before the war was over.

“We’ve asked some of our mages, but it’s not their specialty,” Hakram said. “We need to confirm – is it theoretically possible for a magical contract to have a clause like that?”

“It is exceedingly dangerous, but yes,” Masego replied.

Shit,” Vivienne said, with feeling.

“I do not see the issue,” he admitted. “Considering we were planning war against the Dead King regardless we have lost nothing.”

“She’s kept it secret for now, but it’s likely she’ll make the terms openly known when she judges the situation ripe for it,” Hakram said. “That’s going to make a mess.”

Masego’s brows rose. Would it? He failed to see how.

“Public opinion, Zeze,” Vivienne said. “It’d be bad enough if we came out on Procer’s side after they took a swing at us, but if on top of that we have a guarantee Callow will stay safe? War will be highly unpopular. Even war against Praes, if the Empress stays quiet from now on, and she’s too clever not to.”

Ah, politics. Hardly his specialty.

“If you could provide me the exact terms, I’ll study them for weaknesses,” he offered.

“We will,” Hakram said. “But there might not be a point. There’s no guarantee she gave us the real phrasing. And if she has, she’ll have had every good diabolist in her employ look it over first.”

“I have time during the evenings,” Masego shrugged. “And without my library and my laboratory, only so much to spend it on.”

“There’s nothing to lose in trying, at least,” Hakram said.

He nodded.

“If I may ask, do you have news of Uncle Amadeus?”

Vivienne wiggled her hand in a manner that presumably had meaning, though he was not certain what it was.

“Getting word from the Jacks quickly has been harder since the Vales were shut,” she said. “The best I can give you is that Hasenbach’s agents from her internal spy network are out in force in Salia. Turning over every vaguely suspicious stone. I’ve had to recall quite a few of my people.”

She frowned.

“Still, if she’s cleaning up the capital that thoroughly it adds weight to the Empress’ take in my eyes,” she continued. “They might be bringing in the Carrion Lord for a good spot of jeering and rock-throwing. Gods know he’s been hated like poison there ever since he started setting fire to everything.”

It was a relief to hear it, and Masego felt a knot in his shoulders loosen. He’d lost enough family to wars already. If Uncle Amadeus had followed Aunt Sabah into the grave so quickly… No, it couldn’t be allowed to happen.

“Which is worrying,” Hakram said. “They have to know if he’s kept prisoner there will be rescue attempts. If he’s not dead it is for a reason.”

“It does not matter what they want,” Hierophant calmly said. “They will not keep him. Catherine will agree with me on this. So will Father and the Empress. We will lack no resources for the rescue.”

“My precise worry,” Hakram replied. “Procer cannot afford war on two fronts if one of those fronts is Keter. To execute Lord Black and break his legions makes sense, but to capture him? I can think of only one reason for that.”

It took a moment, but he came to the conclusion.

“Bait,” Masego slowly said.

“It neatly takes care of what they fear most about Cat, namely her ability to gate anywhere with an army,” Vivienne said.

“More than that,” Hakram said. “They’ll be dragging the Woe and the remaining Calamities onto their chosen grounds. The full villainy of the east where they want it, when they want it. They’re clearing house before turning their full efforts to the north.”

“It has the Peregrine’s fingers all over it,” Vivienne darkly said. “The man’s dangerous enough on the field, but if he has a few months to prepare? It’s going to get ugly, Masego.”

“She’ll have a plan,” he said. “She always does.”

“Well, we haven’t run out of lakes yet,” Vivienne half-smiled. “So there’s always that.”

Masego’s lips quirked in answer.

“Still no word from her?” he asked.

“None,” Hakram said. “But she’d have returned by now if she wasn’t making gains, it’s been near five months.”

Or she could be dead, Masego thought but did not say. Precious little was known of what would await their friend in the Everdark.

“And on your front?” Vivienne asked. “No sign of the Ashuran fleet?”

“They’ve either found countermeasures to scrying or they keep priests on their ships,” he said. “It makes finding their whereabouts difficult. The raids have not ceased, but Father says they’d have to be fools to give that obvious a sign they were about to strike. There’s no telling when they’ll attack until they’re visible from the coast.”

“I’ll spare no tears for that lot if you manage to bruise them,” she said. “But be careful, Zeze. Don’t risk yourself for a Praesi city.”

He decided, diplomatically, not to mention his agreed-on position when the Ashurans would come.

“And it’s going well with your fathers?” Hakram asked. “I know what you found in Arcadia shook you.”

“It has been… difficult,” Masego admitted. “There have been arguments.”

Vivienne’s eyes went sharp.

“Do you need a way out?”

He shook his head.

“I suppose you could call it a religious disagreement,” he said.

“Coming from the average Praesi, that would worry me,” Hakram mildly said. “Coming from you, I will confess to something sharper.”

“It will pass,” Masego said. “They simply need to accept I will not forever live on their terms.”

His friend shared a look, but did not comment. He licked his lips.

“Hakram,” he said. “Before Catherine left…”

He trailed off.

“Yes?” the orc encouraged.

The mage folded his arms together.

“No,” he finally said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Adjutant’s keen eyes appraised him.

“Are you certain?”

“Faith,” Masego mused. “It is had or it is not. There is no middle ground.”

“So I’ve heard,” Vivienne murmured, eyeing the orc at her side.

“Then let’s cut this short before the Empress succeeds at listening in,” Hakram said. “I’ll scry you again in an hour with the text we’ve received, Masego.”

“I will be here,” he honestly replied.

A round of farewells, and then he was looking down at simple water. A strange sadness lingered in the room, and he turned towards Indrani to comment on it before realizing she was not here. Masego frowned, brushing back a braid. It was not the first time he’d made the mistake, and he was growing increasingly uncomfortable over it. The sooner he was rid of this city and its trouble, the better.

In the end, however, it would be another month before the Ashurans attacked.

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95 thoughts on “Interlude: Apogee

    1. Dainpdf

      Gee. This is the hardest one for me, yet. The Bard is such a mysterious antagonist, but Sabah is so complex with her empathetic and wild sides…

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  1. SpeckofStardust

    Its sad that we know the dead king cant be inside of creation fully without a agreement.

    Otherwise the idea that he left everything behind to trap people into becoming his means for returning would hold a lot more merit.

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    1. Gunslinger

      They could be contingencies or maybe it gives him a new body but shunts it back to his personal hell. I really like this theory as it answers the question question of how he’s managed to survive this long.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. SpeckofStardust

        True, still I think the idea of the dead king being perfect (along with bard for that matter) in terms of setting up to never leave an opening fails hard, Bard has once failed in story (aka she set up the lone swordman) and got F-over at another point (Hierarch) The dead king for all his power, is still below bards level (going by his conversation with her) his reach is not wide enough to have done major workings in arcadia, just for the off chance of it paying off when someone might travel though it at some unspecific point in the future when they’re going to meet him.
        Considering it all he could simply full control every body he has ever raised into undeath, including all the people that followed him into his control of hell….
        ohhhh.
        Shit.
        He went off and did his own thing in an out of the way place to gain unimaginable power bound to his oaths. How is that any different to what Cat is doing?
        He became a king of death just like cat became a queen of winter. Why has nobody pointed out the additional common points between the 2 yet? They didn’t just become gods they are doing the same things they did after achieving it. Of course if cat was doing the same thing she likely would have gone after the Fae which likely would have ended up with her being trapped their like they are… New, a new twist to an old game.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. ______

          Not to mention the staggering parallels between Neshamah’s avoidance of story openings by goading the invaders into doing the dirty work for him, and Catherine’s own takeover of the Everdark being propelled by the dwarves, up to and including creating a narrative alignment through granting powers without much personal investment into the results.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. ???

            The thing I find interesting is threefold.

            1.) The Dead King thinks Catherine is interesting. An ‘Immortal’ like him and the Bard. Yet, as we know, all Villains are ‘immortal’. What’s special about Catherine’s state as a pseudo-fae? Is it simply her Domain? Or is it perhaps… the fact that she’s a ‘villain’ with no name….

            2.) The Everdark and the Drow are an entire culture that’s been empowered by the Sve of Night’s Domain. Meaning it’s entirely possible to grant power through a Domain to unrelated people. And judging by the Sve’s personality it’s likely possible to manipulate the way that power is gained.

            3.) Doesn’t the above sound an awful lot like Names? We know the Wandering Bard has some manner of attachment to the Narrative. What if Narrative is her Domain, and Names are simply the way to gain power within that Domain? What if the reason Cat is interesting…. is because she’s gained power of her own, OUTSIDE of being a Named, and thus the Bards/Narratives plaything?

            Liked by 2 people

    2. My guess is that either
      1) he gets “pushed” back into his domain if he escapes this way, so he can take the body, but has to return to his domain right away
      2) there is some text that isn’t being shared in that agreement allowing him to take a vessel of his choice…something that would cause untold amounts of rage from warlock, necessitating he be taken out during, say, a random high ritual to destroy a ward array that has only been defeated by treachery and has kept the city safe for a very long time (thus there being no real reason for it to be used in this way)?

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    3. Byzantine

      >Its sad that we know the dead king cant be inside of creation fully without a agreement.

      Do we? He isn’t willing to be, but Catherine had the thought that it was part of a Story: He’s ensuring he is never the big bad, because there is always someone else that let him out. The monster can survive the story, if it plays things smart.

      I suspect they are wrong simply because the Dead King wouldn’t leave it up to others to unintentionally copy him, especially when there is a risk they could find a weakness in what he left behind and use that to trick him into a broken shell. No, I suspect the Dead King handled things in a much simpler manner: The Hell he invaded is the one his soul is destined for (It explains both the invasion and Hell and why he chose *that* particular hell). Killing him accomplishes nothing but sending him back there, at which point he just calls a spare body he probably keeps lying around.

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  2. Hmmm.
    Depending on the definition of “Alive” in use … that could go very poorly for Malicia. There are states of being where dead would be preferable to alive. Ie, that Hall of Screams in the Tower. Or Akua, before Cat started letting her out for walks.

    Another month before Masego is at risk. Good, hopefully Cat is back by then.

    The fragments of Book that the Dead King let loose might well be a trap of sorts. But I don’t think the impressions in Arcadia are – those would probably have been an unplanned side effect.
    Also, I’m not sure that Tikoloshe is right when he says that the Dead King must have been killed before by a Hero. Besides … even if Tikoloshe is right, it’d be far more likely that the Dead King would have a breeding program to provide suitable hosts in Keter/his private Hell, rather than being dependent on finding one when he needs one somewhere in the rest of Calernia.

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      1. If he’s trapped in Keter/the attached Hell without an invitation, as many seem to think, how could he have done so?

        At any rate, I’m inclined to say that the impressions in Arcadia are far less likely to be an intentional trap, and even if they were, they’d likely be easier to notice (at least for Heirophant/Masego), than the known fragments of his Book.

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        1. Quite Possibly A Cat

          I was under the impression that Dead King wasn’t trapped, but he didn’t like leaving Hell without an invitation. If he has an invitation there is another big villain to be defeated. He’s being used like a scary weapon and the “real” villain gets stepped on by Above. Malacia is being used as a lightning rod or fall girl essentially. And when Heaven squishes her, he goes screaming back down to Hell.

          I might be totally wrong though. Of course, that the clause were the protection goes away if Malacia dies doesn’t really matter. If Malacia dies the Dead King goes screaming back to Hell.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. SpeckofStardust

            Reread the conversation between Him and bard in Interlude: Empires it is from his point of view and these lines confirm it.

            “Neshamah’s foot scuffed the stone.
            Such a slight sound, barely more than a whisper. He’d not heard it in a very, very long time.”
            and
            ““It has been too long,” he said, voice pensive. “The Serenity remains a lacking imitation. There is a… taste to Creation. A skilled pupil I may be, yet a pupil still.””
            Or at least he needs conditions for him to even be outside of Serenity or even be in keter fully, and they are rare to happen.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dainpdf

              Nowhere does it say that he needs an invitation. Only that he doesn’t come out without one (or at least still only comes out very very rarely).

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        2. Dainpdf

          Mayhap. We do know he has gone outside a few times, however, and he could always have done it through agents. He has plenty of those.
          Heck, maybe he got Triumphant to do it as part of that pact they had. Who knows?
          Neshamah is millenia old and he either invented or advanced trimegistan sorcery beyond what was previously conceived back when the continent didn’t even know what Arcadia was, exactly. He might have the expertise to pull a fast one over Masego when the latter examines a phenomenon he hasn’t encountered before (or at least, not frequently).

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      2. ______

        That may actually be the reason he invited them, knowing Catherine would go through Arcadia. Especially since he provided them with instructions on how to reach Keter, which would presumably include the shards he needed.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          He also seemed to have been interested in providing Cat with a small bit of guidance – basically a safe bet she’ll be a lit sharper on the Bard’s backyard.

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    1. luminiousblu

      We already know that you can rip out a person’s soul without killing them, that’s the loophole Cat used to get at Akua’s retainers after First Liesse.

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      1. Richard Gallivan

        I suddenly realize this could end with Akua in Malicia’s body. Cat doesn’t climb the tower, she stands atop it’s rulers shoulders.

        I mean, this could work. Akua has to serve cat same as she always had. But she’s in charge, and since she’s a puppeted puppeter even if some high lord gets the knife in she rolls her eyes and turns his blood to ice. Iron finds itself shattering against steel. Ivah rules the Drow, Akua rules Praes (which she really was born to do, and so in wonderful villian narrative she gets everything she wanted, just not the way she wanted it), and both bend the knee, for the Soverign of Moonless nights and Dread Empress still must serve the Black Queen, a name delayed that re-emerges far more powerful for it’s delay.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Dainpdf

    Interesting. So Revenant’s loss of self may be more from the Dead King’s method being tainted than any actual problem with Apotheosis. Interestingly, Cat did something kind of similar with weaving herself into Winter for Akua to bring back.
    This might mean Cat is not Fakerine, after all… Though really, when has Creation not gone with the “screw Cat” option? Also the Gods sound like the sort of people that would have made mortals incapable of surviving apotheosis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Gunslinger

      Ohh I like the connection between Cat weaving her soul into Winter. So does this mean that the Dead King did the equivalent for undeath? Bonded his soul with necromantic energy in the fullest so any powerful use of it brings him back

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ______

        His mantle may have been the thing Catherine felt she was touching when she first learned necromancy. It didn’t feel unnatural, just alien.

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        1. I think that might have been a temporal echo of Winter-yet-to-come.
          Remember, when she beat the Duke of Violent Squalls, her victory terms made it so that she had always had the signet ring – making her always the his Heir and thus always touched by a Winter Title.
          Wouldn’t have worked anywhere but Arcadia, but Arcadia doesn’t have all the same rules as Creation, and especially cheats when it comes to Time.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Byzantine

            Which explains why her necromancy was always… different. Including being able to do things it shouldn’t, like help her control her own body.

            Like

  4. Skaddix

    I mean Malicia is smart enough to leave the obvious holes that Akua left but the Dead King has been in the game for a long time.

    Oh the Archer and Masego relationship might actually go somewhere and does Masego lines imply he actually gets to sit in the center of the fleet now.

    I am inclined to trust are resident Incubus it seems weird to me the Dead King runs into a powerful mage and doesn’t talk shop directly at all. Increasing your power by taking control of others does make a degree of sense to me.

    I suppose though the Calamities and Woe should wait for the rescue attempt, Ranger needs time to fully recover and Cat needs time to get back with Archer and the new recruits sadly the Drow takeaway the element of surprise for her if she uses them to help save Black. Even if this gives the Heroes time to prep it should mark the meeting between Cat and Hanno though and I am interesting to see how that goes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dainpdf

      Terribly gauche to leave a second comment, but I came upon two ideas I hadn’t before…
      First, Warlock did not think he could alter Masego’s memories without him noticing within a few months… How long can Cat alter Diabolist’s? It has been five months. Though I guess her indirect method might food those who expect sorcerous shenanigans, it’s still a cautionary point.
      Second: so the Dead King (allegedly) takes over someone when he dies – specifically mages who have studied and performed rituals he deliberately leaked. That is, in a way, similar to the Bard. It raises the question of what opens one to it in her case. Is it inborn? I wonder if she takes over other Bardic names? Here you are, random Bard, suddenly you’re the Intercessor.
      Might explain why Neshamah and Cat’s bodies are simulacra while the Bard’s doesn’t seem to be – he takes over undead, Cat takes over Fae, the Intercessor takes over Named.
      …or maybe she just springs fully formed from Nowhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As for the memories front … Warlock would be removing memories outright, and not insignificant chunks of memories, but extended periods of time.
        Also, it’s only a matter of time before someone who knows what Masego did asks if he has made progress.

        Cat’s not so much removing as blurring/obscuring relatively short periods of time with similar content.

        Warlock is deleting the entire playlist, Cat is switching out one song for a similar one (different group covering the same song).
        Or, in other words, Warlock is removing all the Pink Floyd, whereas Cat is replacing one Pink Floyd song with a Brit Floyd version of the song.
        So to speak.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Jane

    Given that Hierophant harvested the Dead King’s thoughts as well as his words, wouldn’t he be the best informed as to whether it’s a trap or not? I don’t deny that the Dead King may have laid an exceedingly careful trap for someone like Hierophant, carefully editing his own thoughts to hide his intent, but it seems less likely to me. I mean, even if he was capable of such a thing, wouldn’t the fragments of the tainted book be enough for his contingency?

    I can’t dismiss the idea out of hand, and Masego should be informed of the possible danger either way, but I think Masego would be the better judge here, despite his inexperience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Skaddix

      Hard to tell we don’t know enough about the Magic System. But I think the idea of the book is not to posses people persay but to bring people to the Dead King. Beyond that the Dead King probably only tries to take over the best of the best. If Masego or Akua read the book they are worth taking. If the standard Imperial mage reads the book, I doubt the Dead King cares.

      As for memory manipulation, Dead King has what 3 Millennium of Experience, Masego has a dozen or so years? It could also be the Dead King cannot actively use his possession unless he is allowed to move freely on the Material World ie until the he made a deal with the Empress he was contained.

      Like

    2. ______

      Well, so did Catherine, and she didn’t know about the mind bleedover beforehand. It might have been an unintended consequence, like being trapped in hell.
      Speaking of Catherine, is this a foreshadowing as to what will happen when she’ll try to transfer her title? I though the idea of making the Souvereign of Moonless Night an item was weird and came out of nowhere, but considering that Neshamah had been called a lich before, and phylacteries are a thing, this starts looking more familiar.

      Like

      1. lennymaster

        Making the title into an object actually makes a lot of sense. For example a crown.
        Imagine it, the crown of Callow, or maybe a sword, throne, staff, orb, the very mantle she is wearing, simply handed over to the next in lline after a predefined span of time that actually turns the (legitimate) owner into the holder of the title.

        Like

    3. WuseMajor

      Yeah, I’m inclined to think that a frank discussion with Masego about this theory is probably a better idea than trying to trap him somewhere and extract the knowledge. Masego is not as above emotion as he thinks but he usually reacts better to a logical argument than …well anything else.

      Like

      1. SilentWatcher

        Finally someone who speaks my mind. Masego was only angry with his fathers for denying the knoweledge whitout even involving him. Now they try it again? Did they learn nothing? That is the start of a story where Masego becomes his enemy.
        I doubt the memories Masego harvested are trapped. Firstly he needed an Aspect (Witness) to even acess the Echo so tampering of the echo is probably out, second when the Dead King created the Kingdom of the Dead, he couldnt have concentrated on a Trap for someone else, because the ritual seemed highly complicated.
        The Book of Darkness on the other hand could very well be a Trap, as its highly suspicious Neshama would record his Ritual, which gave him so much power.

        Like

    1. Skaddix

      I mean the Pilgrim made the plague and it has an incubation period so it seems weird that Black could pull a fast one on the Pilgrim with his own plague.

      Like

  6. Damn, this Fathers-Son argument is really coming to a head. Masego will not take this lying down – whatever happens it will permanently burn bridges. Whether Wekesa and Tikoloshe succeed in detaining Masego and excising his memory and whether Masego will cut ties entirely with them remains to be seen.

    Loving the interludes and all the important revelations, theories, and developments, but really hoping you get back to Cat’s perspective. You left us on something of a cliffhanger after all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The next time we see Catherine, she may be coming back out to the surface already. It’s been 5 months according to this chapter and the way the last Catherine chapter went, it’s very easy to imagine the whole of Lotow fell under Catherine’s control.

      I mean, I want to know what will happen between her and the Sve Noc but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets skipped and story just gets told later.

      Like

      1. If there’s a timeskip in the middle of annexing the drow, I think we’d still see Cat and Sve of Night’s initial encounter/discussion, even if we didn’t see the how the whole thing went and ended.

        Like

      1. Ah, but who will he be in need of rescue from? Warlock/Malicia? Or Unexpected Heroes?

        Also, there’s already an inevitable Rescue Black/Amadeus.

        Is Cat going to be forced to choose who to rescue? To save Masego or to save Black? Presumably with dire consequences for the one she doesn’t save first.
        That’s totally a Heroic story arc, not a Villainous one.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Nafram

      He probably refers to the fact that he told Cat that Wekesa wouldn’t act against him, even at the behest of the empress. He is essentially saying that he either has faith in Wekesa or he does not.

      Like

  7. Nafram

    Again, they make the same mistake. Masego is not a fool, if they shared their misgivings and that theory, then perhaps Masego would listen. But instead they choose to act behind his back and decide his fate without consulting him.
    And the worst part about it is that if they go through with it, then they lose Masego one way or the other.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. burdi

    its still big chance you now, that black getting caught is part of his plan to end the empire.
    when on red vale war he said to grim that the empire not worth saving, and in this chapter wekesa pretty much wondering why black wandering in proceran land. black not care about his life as long his goal obtained.

    Like

  9. Seabornia

    Am I the only one to think Tikoloshe is a traitor? It seems suspicious that he was with The Witch, who indirectly helped DK come to power – if DK doesn’t leave openings, he should have controlled it. Hence, now he can be trying to protect his initial master knowledge – it doesn’t mean the books aren’t a trap, but I doubt anyone could hack aspect before it came to power

    Like

  10. Azure

    So Masego is seeing Vivienne as almost regal. Interesting. I think that might have some interesting implications for her name.
    I miss the rest of the Woe. I hope they aren’t separated from Catherine for too much longer.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “He can inhabit different bodies, he could even as a mortal,” Tikoloshe said. “But how useful would it really be to wear some farmer’s skin? No, he’d need mages. Talented, ambitious, well-trained in the use of their powers. And to ensure they made their way to him, seeds were sown.”

    The year is 2018. We finally got a character who is a literal meme.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Michael

    In the earlier chapters people always make a fuss about how bad it would be for the Fae to gain a foothold in Creation. Cat, in her conversation with Ubua even compared giving them that foothold with summoning Demons. Why is that?

    Like

  13. Dylan Tullos

    Impossible stupidity confirmed!

    Instead of killing Black, they’ve decided to use him in an overcomplicated trap that everyone sees coming. There’s no possible way for that to go wrong.

    Like

        1. It’s story stupid when fighting a Hero, or, someone playing a Heroic Role.
          They’re fighting Villains. And don’t realize or are disregarding Cat’s tendency to utilize Heroic Roles in the Narrative.

          The Story slants things towards Heroes, not Villains, and most never step into the Roles of the other side.

          When it comes to Villains, the Story won’t give them an edge against superior tactics the way it would a Hero.

          So as far as the Heroes are concerned/thinking, the tactical value for them (Heroes, so significant) exceeds the Story value for the Calamities and the Woe (Villains, so minor at best).

          The thing is, they should not be disregarding Cat’s usage of Heroic Roles and Stories so lightly, they should know about it and be terrified about what they’re calling down on themselves. Ignoring the fact that they (and everyone else) should be fucking terrified that Cat has been MIA for months.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            I wonder if Catherine being MIA was a factor that influenced their decision of letting Black live and set a trap.
            The unknown is a scary thing when making plans, and when Cat reappears with an army of Drow they will shit themselves in panic and disbelief.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Maybe for Pilgrim. He might have wanted Black alive as leverage against Cat/Callow/Praes/etc.
              Cordelia Hasenbach is probably similar in outlook here (plus she likely doesn’t want the repercussions of killing Black being tied to her).

              But Saint (and Bard) apparently don’t give a fuck and want to burn the board and start over. It’s possible that they want Black as a prisoner solely for the sake of drawing out Cat, in order to get rid of them both before starting over. On the other hand, Bard, at least, should know better than to rely solely on the Heroes vs Villains Narrative when it comes to Cat.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Eh, it’s not exactly a bad idea, objectively speaking.
      The point is to draw in the Woe, remaining Calamities, and whatever other Praesi resources they can manage, into attacking on ground prepared for them. And preferably leverage news of an execution or something into bringing them on at a known time frame.
      Unfortunately, this really is more of a Villainous ploy than a Heroic one. That probably won’t matter for the Calamities and whatever Praesi resources they bring. That’s a Villain vs Villain story at worst for the “Heroes”, and Creation won’t help the Calamities, turning it into a question of who prepared better, and they’re on the Heroes chosen and prepared ground.
      But against the Woe? And Cat – who has a habit of riding the line between Heroics and Villainy? Who has repeatedly taken on Heroic Roles? And considers Black a Mentor/Father figure? The plan to use Black as a Hostage is automatically Doomed against Cat and the Woe.
      The Heroes likely discount Cat and the Woe playing the Roles of Heroes and the attendant hazards of that in this story as far as Creation is concerned because they’re Villains and nominally on the side of Evil. Though Pilgrim and Saint really should know better based on what happened with Cat in the Battle of the Camps.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, this is going to backfire horribly to Wekesa, and burn the bridge between him and his son.

      Worst thing is, Warlock will probably weep like a father that was abandoned by his beloved son, and not realize he actually did a stupid thing based on personal fears and assumptions.
      It’s their own damn fault that Masego is getting further away from them.

      Like

  14. A very interesting chapter overall with plenty of reactions making me wonder how many heads are going to roll to accomplish these objectives…

    The more I hear Wekesa and Tikoloshe speak, the more I am convinced the two survival in Creation was entirely due to Black making them avoid the major pitfalls. Amadeus would have known the possible neutralisation of Masego was a monumental bad idea both narratively and strategically and shouted NO! the moment after it was proposed. Sabah would have also likely objected. But there’s only Warlock now, with Malicia as his ally.
    Sabah is dead. Hye is implied to be heavily wounded after battling the Summer Queen. We don’t know where Assassin is and he never fought in the open. Scribe was never considered to be a ‘real Calamity.
    There are no heroes and Wekesa is overconfident. Moreover, he’s taking the position of danger while he has himself agreed the times are past for his generation.
    This is a lot of death flags, especially as Malicia has made this battle a pivot for the entire war.

    I am wondering: if Warlock dies, is Trikoloshe banished from Creation too?

    Malicia selling Procer and almost all of Calernia is not something I saw coming. Half of Procer was already bad, and Cat was definitely right she could afford to bid more, but why give the Dead King everything save Praes and Callow? There’s something fishy going on…

    Cat has been gone for five months? Well, a lot of people must have very bad nights, thinking where she might have gone…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Selling out all of the rest of Calernia is a way to protect herself. Especially if she doesn’t further attack the rest of Calernia and just digs in and fortifies what she’s got.
      After all, the Dead King has been making minions out of Heroes who attacked him for centuries, if not millennia.
      It would turn the Dead King and Keter into an active Hero Magnet, rather than Heroes going after the Tower.
      If her gambit works, I think she gets a functionally quiescent border. After all, even the Lycaonese aren’t trying to flip on the offensive against the Ratlings, and certainly no Heroes are spawning to do so either.
      By promoting the Dead King to Active Big Bad status, the Tower drops in the priority for Above, and doesn’t need to deal with a Crusade or as many (if any) Heroes being focused on it.

      Or she’s got some other plan going on.
      Or she lied about the terms she made with the Dead King.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. One, Hakram brings up the possibility of a magical contract. A magical contact likely has magical means of enforcement, or magically enforced repercussions for breaking it. In other words, either it cannot be broken, and/or bad things happen if you somehow do.

          Two, I’m not sure she thinks he’ll succeed to that extent before Above starts raining Heroes on him.
          Besides, if he gets too close to succeeding, it’s likely that Bard would try to bring in the Titanomachy and/or the Elves, if not people from beyond Calernia.
          Also, at that point, the Dwarves might get involved, since if he expands beyond Keter on the surface, their plan to contain him is worthless. No point blocking off the subsurface of Keter if he owns Procer too.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. Cicero

    Something I thought of.

    Doesn’t Cat’s ability to Speak suggest that she is in fact still alive as Cat after apotheosis?

    Since Speaking is an ability she gets from her gnawed on Squire Name, and does not come from Winter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lennymaster

      My opinion is that Cat is Cat, that apothesis demanded its price from her, but that it did not change fundamentally enough to make her stop being the same person, or one that developed from her instead of merly being a slightly imperfect mirage.
      Nontheless, there is nothing that suggests that Speaking is not merly an expression of power and or mindset. Or perhaps a skill she developed and intintivly figured out how to use by merly reaching for a different source as fuel.

      Like

    1. Oh, I don’t know about that.

      Remember, Warlock links to Hells that rain hellfire and burning rock. Instead of burning down below bedrock, he might resurface with a few hundred feet of precipitate from those Hells.

      Masego … not enough info to work with, though he might cooperate with Cat to pull a Fimbulwinter instead.

      Like

  16. Snowfire1224

    Something I just noticed, Masego mentions that Vivienne has grown her hair out and that it makes her look more regal. Perhaps she’s going to tranaition into a name related to nobility of some sort?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      I thought about that ever since she first mentioned that her hair was still growing while for any other Named it would have stopped. Vivienne believed it was due to her approaching to losing her Name, so she was scared and stressed over it, but I believe it’s fairly possible that she is in a transition to another Name, due to both her desire to be stronger and her new role as something bigger than a mere thief, let’s keep in mind that Names change their holder’s appearance to match how they see themselves deep down.
      Whether her new name has something to do with stealing is unknown (though chances are that it does) but it will be very interesting and she will finally get rid of her inferiority complex. I really look forward to it.

      Like

  17. hikiller123

    stupid questions. What is the difference between a Name and Fey Title. Dose the Fey Title Kat has “contain the squire Name”. So if there is a Squire candidate do they have to kill her and if she gets a Name dose it need to be baced on the Squire Name (i.e Knight of some form) or is it like having no Name. Lastly dose the Fey Title prevent/supersede/subsume a Name if it is upptained

    Like

  18. DocTao

    Are we all forgetting what the Saint said? The heroic plan is not to win, it is to reshape Procer. What is the intended shape and how does this fit?

    Like

    1. It’s not to reshape Procer, it’s to burn the whole thing (continent) down and start over from zero.

      I think the plan is to turn all of Good-aligned Calernia into something like the Lycaonese and/or Pre-Conquest Callow.

      Like

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