Chapter 7: Fellowship

“Fool me once and it’d best be fatal, for my reply certainly will be.”
– Dread Emperor Vindictive II

“What the fuck was that?” Archer hissed.

They hadn’t fled the marketplace, of course, because big important bird-goddesses like Andronike couldn’t possibly flee – I yelped and slapped her away. If the damned Sisters kept pecking at my head like this I was going to go bald at some point. Fine, they had redeployed away from the mob and the madman feeding it. I looked down at the fist bunching up my cloak in the front, which was Indrani’s.

“You’ll have to be a little more specific,” I said.

She scrutinized my face for a moment, before grimacing and releasing me.

“Well, if you can be a heel you probably still own your mind,” she said. “That was stupid, Catherine. We weren’t even near the crowd and we could still feel it when he got pissed.”

“It was necessary,” I said, brushing down the folds of my cloak.

“Don’t you start with that speech,” Archer growled. “If I got a copper for every time you talked about necessity-”

“You still wouldn’t be able to afford your drinking habits,” I drily interrupted.

The look on her face was thunderous, so I smoothed away the humour from my expression.

“I’m serious,” I said. “I needed to take the measure of him. When someone lets a lion loose in the pen, you don’t pretend it’s not happening – not unless you’re ready to lose the whole flock.”

“That’s what we have Vivi for,” Indrani insisted. “The Jacks-”

“Would have been in that crowd, hollering for blood,” I flatly replied. “You know that. It was a calculated risk, Archer. Since when do –”

I bit down on my tongue. I knew exactly since when she’d started taking issued with those. I was in no danger of ever forgetting the sight of Indrani half-devoured by frost, only hanging on to life by a thread – and, I had recently learned, the preservative properties of ice according to the classical table of elements.

“Finish,” Indrani quietly said.

“Not a conversation we should be having in the middle of an alley in a city under occupation,” I evaded.

Finish,” Indrani repeated, coldly.

“Even Akua is worried, Archer,” I said. “I know you like to handle things on your own, but it’s not getting better.”

“I’m fine,” she told me forcefully. “Or is disagreeing with you a sign of cowardice now?”

“I didn’t say that,” I replied.

A year ago we wouldn’t have been having this conversation, I thought. But then a year ago there’d been fewer defeats to our name, fewer close calls and wounds that would never quite heal. An emotion I couldn’t quite recognize twisted her face, until she winced.

“It doesn’t matter if we’re in an alley, Catherine,” Archer finally said, taking a step back. “Because there’s nothing to talk about.”

I wondered if she even noticed how her fingers were twitching towards the strap at her side where she usually kept a flask. Probably not, I decided. I knew from personal experience that we tended to be blind to the methods we used to bury our fears until they were pointed out to us. Her way, at least, I was familiar with. Some nights I wondered if I might have disappeared all the way at the bottom of the bottle after Second Liesse, if Hakram hadn’t dragged me back. I hesitated under moonlight, a reply on the tip of my tongue. I’d had a talk with Diabolist once, about her mother. About the difference between a person and their title, the way Praesi considered them entirely different entities. I still disagreed with what she’d said, the painful contortion of personhood her people had to put themselves through just to live with what they did to each other, but sometimes I could also see a grain of truth to it. The woman in me wanted to find a quiet place, a safe one, and try to soothe what was eating at one of my closest friends in the world. Even if it meant leaving Rochelant. But the queen knew there was still work to be done tonight, that this business was only half-done, and that what lay within Indrani would keep until morning. The queen won, in the end.

Didn’t she always?

“This isn’t done,” I told Indrani.

“It is for tonight,” she replied.

Getting back atop Zombie’s saddle had the taste of defeat to it. Wouldn’t be the last of those, before this was all done and over with. We pressed on deeper into the city, Named and priestess and a crow-that-wasn’t surrounded by a pack of silent killers.

A kinsman of sorts awaited us.

The place the Tyrant of Helike chose for his lair served as my first glimpse into the man’s mind. There would have been a few places in Rochelant royalty could claim to maintain a semblance of comfort: the official quarters of the appointed ruler of the city, the mansions of the influential and the wealthy, a House of Light to empty and desecrate. Instead, Kairos Theodosian had settled in the shop of a middling money changer. Someone whose very trade was the exchange of one currency for another. The entire city block was crawling with soldiers and much more discreet gargoyles, what must have once been a largely unimportant street turned into the heart of the League’s occupation of Rochelant. There was no military sense to the location, I thought. It was poorly placed to deploy troops or send messengers, not to mention surrounded by very flammable shops. No prestige to such a choice, either, as money changing was not a profession of particularly good repute. This was a villain making a jest that quite possibly no one would ever get, in defiance of more practical choices, simply because he could. My teacher’s lessons, I decided, would not be of great use here. The Tyrant was one face of the coin he’d spent a lifetime melting down so the metal could be put to better use.

Black did not make deals with people like this, did not negotiate. He killed them as quickly as he could to limit the collateral damage, then ripped out what had spawned them root and stem so he wouldn’t have to come back and do it again a decade down the line. That wasn’t an option for me, so I’d have to handle the madman a different way. I led Zombie in a canter down the street, rows of men-at-arms armed to the teeth watching me carefully. Idly pretending to brush back my hair, I gestured for the drow following from the rooftops to stay back. I didn’t know what kind of the defences the Tyrant would have prepared, to know I was coming with the likes of Andronike perched on my shoulder and still feel comfortable allowing me into Rochelant, but it was best not to test them. Archer and the crow-goddess I kept at my side, until a mounted officer approached us at the very edge of the defensive perimeter. She kept her sword sheathed at her side, though by the look on her face she would have preferred otherwise. I halted my horse without needing to be told, my companions following suit.

“Queen Catherine,” she called out in crisp Lower Miezan.

“That would be me,” I said. “And you are?”

“General Basilia,” she said. “You were expected. Safe passage is granted to you by the writ of the Tyrant of Helike.”

Her gaze flicked to Indrani and Andronike.

“To you alone,” she meaningfully said.

“Catherine,” Archer said under her breath. “This is-”

“He needs me alive and on the field,” I mildly replied. “It’s not that kind of trap.”

“You don’t know that for sure,” she insisted.

“Certainty is a luxury I can rarely afford,” I said. “If it goes south, gloat all you’d like. Andronike?”

“Not beyond my reach,” the crow stated, eyeing the changing house.

“Good enough,” I grunted.

Zombie resumed his advance and I entered the dragon’s lair. General Basilia cast me a dark glance as I passed her. Someone wasn’t happy I was being allowed in, evidently. Wasn’t sure why she was being so ornery – I’d had the man her Tyrant had usurped the throne from shot back when I was still the Squire. Surely that should earn me some measure of fondness? Apparently not, I drily thought, feeling her gaze remaining on my back as I rode forward. The heavy and layered wards I could feel washing over my skin with a distinct tingle made it clear that distrust truly was the order of the night. The soldiers parted with silent discipline until I reached the steps of the changing house, leaning on my staff to dismount with a muted curse. A man-at-arms came up to take Zombie’s reins, but I clicked my tongue in disapproval.

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” I said. “He bites.”

A twist of will had my dead horse baring his teeth. The soldier stepped back, a glimmer of fear in her eyes. I’d spent long enough idling, though, so up I went the worn steps and through the already-open door. The inside was lit up with torches and magelights, which almost surprised me. I’d half-expected some innocent soul to be serving as fuel instead. A sweeping glance was enough to give me an idea of the inside: a large common room for trade to be held, with a counter at the back in front of twin doors leading to backrooms. A few tapestries in the manner of the Free Cities had been hung on the walls – most of them about Theodosius the Unconquered – but the room had been largely stripped bare. It only made the fresh additions more glaring: two rows of twisted little gargoyles, some bearing trumpets, were wiggling around and chattering like vermin. Between them a red carpet had been set, leading up to a throne literally resting on the back of a foursome of pitiful-looking gargoyles.

On it was the Tyrant of Helike, Kairos Theodosian.

So frail, I thought. Curly dark brown hair and olive skin made his ancestry clear, but these were by far the least striking parts of the villain. One of his eyes was deep red, as if blood had seeped into it, and his sickly frame looked like it could be blown over by a stiff breeze. Opulent robes in rich purple, covered in part by a long strip of cloth of gold draped over the front, boasted broad sleeves but not quite broad enough to hide that the arm he kept covered was trembling. No crown was set on his brow, but he was casually toying with an ivory scepter ending in a golden roaring lion’s head. I could feel the enchantments wafting off of it even from the other side of the room. The Tyrant took one look at me, good eye widening, and convulsed. For a heartbeat I was worried that the Night had somehow hurt him, but the convulsion erupted into raucous, heartfelt laughter. I blinked, taken aback. I flicked a glance at the nearest gargoyle but it just put out its tongue at me. I discretely kicked it while the Tyrant kept laughing his guts out. Eventually the villain got himself under control, wiping tears out of his eyes with trembling hands.

“Oh, that is a fine jest indeed,” he said, then peeked at the floor. “You never disappoint.”

I cleared my throat.

“I don’t suppose you’d care to share,” I said.

The Tyrant smiled at me in the way of man for whom smiles came easy and meant little.

“You are so short,” Kairos Theodosian said. “It is quite delightful.”

He was a good liar, I decided, but I’d known better. Just by looking at me he’d learned something, and I had no idea what. I set that aside for later consideration.

“Bet I could beat you in a footrace, though,” I said.

The smile broadened into a grin and he sprawled unceremoniously across his throne. Which was, I was only now noticing, outrageously gaudy. And I’d been in the Tower, I damn well knew what gaudy looked like.

“A pair of crowned cripples running through the streets,” he cheerfully mused. “If we charged for seats we could make a killing.”

Suddenly he twitched.

“Ah,” he said. “But where are my manners? Courtiers, announce our guest.”

To my horrified fascination, the trumpet-bearing gargoyles raised their instrument and began blowing into it. Which had mixed results, since assuming they even had lungs they would be made of stone. And that most didn’t have lips. After the musical atrocity ended in a whimper, the Tyrant raised his hand regally.

“Black Queen, I welcome you to my humble court,” he announced.

“The honour is mine, Lord Tyrant,” I deadpanned.

“Please, take a seat,” the villain waved away airily.

A waddling gargoyle carrying a plush cushioned seat above its head made its way across the carpet, setting it at my back and bowing with a chittering sound before running away.

“Much appreciated,” I said.

I eyed the seat skeptically. No obvious sorcery to be found. I prodded the cushion with my seat, but it did not seem to be filled with rusty razorblades or poisonous snakes. I glanced back at the Tyrant and found him looking at my staff quite intently. Well, only one way to find out for sure. I settled down and found it a little worn, but otherwise not prone to treacherously turning on me. It was a relief for my bad leg to be seated after this long riding, and I let out a little sigh of comfort.

“I wonder,” the Tyrant of Helike nonchalantly said, “if you’d consider telling me who that’s meant to kill.”

I met his gaze, and wondered if it was just my imagination or the red eye had gotten a little redder.

“No idea what you’re talking about,” I lied.

He chuckled.

“A staff is a sword is a prayer,” the Tyrant grinned. “It’s clever little bit of work. More patient than your reputation would imply.”

I shrugged, keeping away from my face how wary his too-perceptive eyes were making me.

“Well, I did find religion recently,” I said. “I’m told it can be a calming influence.”

“You seem well on your way to beating people to death with it,” he praised.

“You’re one to talk,” I smiled. “Your man down the road’s a lot more dangerous that Night on a stick. I don’t suppose you’d tell me who that’s meant to kill?”

The Tyrant pouted.

“That’d take all the fun out of this,” he said. “And why even bother, if we’re not having a good time?”

“Huh,” I said. “Black must have really wanted to kill you.”

“There’s no need to be so oblique about it,” the Tyrant amusedly said. “He’s alive and in the hands of the Grey Pilgrim. Somewhere in Iserre, last I heard. The man is of little interest to me.”

I had been aiming to wheedle information out of him after broaching the subject, true enough. My eyes narrowed. So why was he offering it to me so freely? Even as I forced myself to remain focused, my pulse quickened. He was alive. Gods, he was alive. I’d known he would be, but it was still a weight off my shoulders. Unless this is cruelty, I thought. Unless he’s lying. I kept my voice steady.

“It’s a little disquieting, being on the other side of the chaos for once,” I said.

“I am but a humble servant of my Lord Hierarch,” the Tyrant piously assured me. “And you need not worry, I would not lie to such a close and beloved friend.”

“I would never doubt you,” I lied. “I think of you as a brother, really.”

Did he know I was an orphan? By the way his lips quirked, yes, he most definitely did.

“As your friend,” I said. “I wondered if you would answer a question for me.”

“Always,” the Tyrant swore, hand over heart.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Are we at war?” I asked. “I’ve been hearing troubling rumours about League soldiers and legionaries.”

“Alas, there have been some slight misunderstandings,” the Tyrant sighed. “Your Marshal of Callow seems to have mistaken our curiosity for a fully armed battalion trying to assassinate her.”

“Mistakes happen,” I said, keeping my voice calm.

It took an effort of will not to clutch my staff so hard it creaked. He’d tried to kill Juniper, the smug little monster. Or he’s trying to put me off-balance, I thought. The Theodosian had a lazy smile on his face, but his eyes had never left me. I had no control here, no real leverage to use against him. That was the misstep, I decided. Trying to remain in control. There would be no winning that sort of game against the likes of the Tyrant of Helike.

“I see only one solution,” I said.

“Do you?” he said, smile expectant.

I smiled back, broad and friendly and just a little bit guileless.

“Would you like to secretly be allies?” I offered.

The smallest flicker of surprise on his face, gone before it could even be fully seen, was the herald of scoring my first blood of the night. His answering grin was gleefully malicious. See? I might have been with only women for the last few years, but I still knew what men liked – you know, shady military alliances that would be discarded at the earliest convenience in favour of wanton betrayal. He twirled his scepter thoughtfully, though that did little to hide the eagerness on his face.

“As your friend,” Kairos Theodosian said. “I feel like I should warn you that rumours have long existed – patently untrue, I assure you – that I am a treacherous blackguard, if you’ll forgive my language.”

I painted surprise over my face.

“You?” I faintly said. “That seems rather unjust. I mean, I had your nephew shot and he seemed like the real villain to me.”

“I did hear about that,” the Tyrant mused. “Wasn’t it under truce banner?”

It hadn’t been, strictly speaking, not that the rumours ever bothered about that.

“In my defence,” I said, “he did call me a witch.”

He seemed amused.

“Oh, Dorian,” the villain fondly said. “You always did have more lungs than wits.”

“I can see why that would make you hesitate, though,” I mused. “So let me reassure you, I have absolutely no intention of sharing our secret treaty with the First Prince to try to force her hand into allying with me and crushing you utterly.”

He let out a loud cackle, arm shaking uncontrollably under his robes.

“Are you lying?” the Tyrant of Helike grinned, revealing a curved stretch of pearly teeth.

I leaned forward.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Am I?”

A heartbeat passed.

“I can’t tell,” he said, sounding deeply pleased.

“A sound foundation for military alliance,” I said.

“The only kind worth making,” the villain cheerfully agreed. “A bargain made, then, Black Queen.”

He gently tapped his scepter against his chin.

“I suppose,” the Tyrant said, “that I should ask you who we’ve allied against.”

I leaned back.

“Intercession, you might say,” I said.

His brow rose.

“Well now,” he murmured. “Someone’s been digging up secrets.”

“Calernia’s full of graves a little more shallow than they should be,” I replied. “And I’ve heard the two of you have scores to settle.”

“She has quite the game afoot,” the Tyrant told me. “Even I know only part of it.”

“I’ve quite a few glimpses of things she’s been up to,” I said, “but no bird’s eye view, so to speak.”

“That sounds,” the villain said, “like a trade worth making.”

I smiled. Dangerous as it might be to tell this man anything he didn’t know, I needed the semblance of a handle on what the Wandering Bard was up to more than words could properly express. Everyone else on the board I could make out at least vague objectives for, but the Intercessor? She was still in many ways an unknown, and one with too many irons in the fire to be left to her own devices. I might not trust the Tyrant of Helike a single drop, but as far as I knew he was the only man alive who’d ever pulled one over the Bard. If anyone could be of use to me, it was him.

“Ah, but before we begin horse-trading,” he said. “As my most trusted ally, I have a suggestion to offer you. If I may, Black Queen?”

“Call me Catherine,” I said. “And by all means.”

“You must call me Kairos, then,” the Tyrant said. “Before you leap into the loving embrace of our dear Cordelia Hasenbach, I would have a look at her little scheme down south. You are not the only one robbing graves, in a manner of speaking.”

“Curious,” I evenly said.

“Something’s being dredged out of Lake Artoise,” Kairos confided, “that might of interest to you.”

“And why would that be?” I asked.

“One does not make war on the same enemy for decades without learning some of their bad habits, Catherine,” the Tyrant said.

That was unfortunate, as I could only think of one person the First Prince had crossed blades with for that long. More worryingly, the most recent mistake I could put to Dread Empress Malicia’s name was the Doom of Liesse. If Cordelia Hasenbach was intent on going down the same road this war was about to get much, much worse. Not that I’d take Kairos’ word for this. Like the fate of my teacher, it was another truth I needed to get my hands on. I fished out my pipe and stuffed it under the Tyrant’s disapproving stare, black flame licking at my fingers just long enough to light it. I shook my hand to get rid of the lingering heat, then inhaled deep. The wakeleaf warmed my throat, and I made myself comfortable. I spewed out a stream of acrid smoke as Kairos wrinkled his nose in distaste.

“Now,” I smiled. “I believe there was some talk of horse-trading.”

When the eye went deeper red, this time, there was no question of whether or not it was my imagination.

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135 thoughts on “Chapter 7: Fellowship

  1. danh3107

    That was interesting to say the least, although now I imagine erratic is going to cut away from what would most likely be an interesting conversation to show us the aftermath.

    Like he’s done for most of the major interactions that would’ve been interesting to see in the entire story, like Cat bargaining with the dead king.

    Oh well

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Argentorum

      This was the interesting part of the conversation though. The rest is going to go like this.

      Kairos: “Bard has been trying to do x y and z”
      Cat: “Oh that’s cool, have you heard what she did to the drow though?”
      Kairos: “I hadn’t old chump, but that’s quite facinating.”
      Cat: “So was yours, same time never?”
      Kairos: “I promise never to stab you in the back, friend.”
      Cat: “I promise never to do it first, pal!”

      And then Cat rides off to go do actually important things.
      Sure more of Cat and Kairos verbally sparring might be fun, but it would also be ultimately meaningless, because this *obviously* isn’t going to be the final confrontation. And while knowing the x y and z the Bard’s been up to would be interesting, there are many more interesting ways to reveal that information.

      And if there’s one thing Erratic does well, it’s letting the characters know things the reader doesn’t

      TL:DR I really don’t see what you’re complaining about.

      Liked by 25 people

      1. danh3107

        You should almost never be in a position where in a first person narrative things are hidden from your perspective. Our perspective is the narrator’s, and not knowing what they’re talking about is incredibly frustrating as a reader. Sure we can infer what the Liesse accords are, but they’re still Cat’s primary motivation and we as the reader have no clue what they’re about besides random snipets we sometimes get.

        It’s incredibly frustrating, because we should have that information there’s almost no reason not to. It creates dissonance between us as readers and Cat as the primary person who shapes our perspective, which is not a good thing when we’re in first person. We have problems relating to and understanding her motivations, which makes it harder to get invested in the story and care about the stakes.

        I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, that’s why I’m complaining.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I understand why you (and others) could find it frustrating. I suggest not projecting your feelings onto all readers though. I don’t share your concern at all. I dislike novels that spell out every little detail because it slows the pace too much. I also prefer it when I put in the mental effort and am rewarded when I figure out an aspect of the story before it’s revealed in text.

          Liked by 13 people

        2. Wry Warudo

          I dunno, I kind of prefer it when we don’t have all the details. For example, moments like when Thief showed up and stole the Sun or Cat’s plans at First Liesse wouldn’t have the same impact if we knew all her plans ahead of time.

          Liked by 14 people

        3. luminiousblu

          I presume the reason that we’re not told what the Liesse Accords are is that it’ll never actually come to fruition and just fall apart at the drop of a hat, or else just be completely worthless.
          The Liesse Accords is like trying to get the USSR and the USA to sign a wide-ranging treaty, then actually abide by said treaty, and then force all of their vassal and allied states to do the same. It’s inherently not feasible and unless EE has a really decent reason why it works this time I’ll be sorely disappointed if it doesn’t blow up in Cat’s face.

          Like

          1. RanVor

            I kind of get your point that it’s not feasible (although I vehemently disagree), but if it’s not going to work, that’s all the more reason to talk about it in great detail. The failure wouldn’t be even half as impactful if it wasn’t properly established what was actually lost.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            Not really, it’s more along the lines of “This is a legal document that’s many pages long, so these are the generalities of what it says and the important bits of its objectives” it would be impossible and unadvisable for EE to actually show us the specific content of the Liesse Accords, given that they are bound to be a long document full of legal terminology.

            Besides, the Accords right now are just Catherine’s version of them, once negotiation with other leaders starts, there will be some modifications, although Cat has already said that many of the things there are not open to negotiation, like the banning of the use of Demons.

            Liked by 4 people

        4. It’s not third person narration though. It’s third person limited omniscient with a primary focus and cutaways to secondary focuses. Like, this is *exactly* the narration style you use when you want to take advantage of a disconnect in knowledge between the reader and a primary focus character. The goal of a narration style like this is to make the reader *think* about what’s going on inside the head of the primary focus character, to see and be shown their motivations and thoughts rather than be told them.

          If that’s not what you prefer in your stories that’s fine. If you want to complain about that on the grounds that you’d personally prefer the story another way … well I don’t see the point, it’s far too late for erratic to change the narration style now, the most effect you can hope to have is demotivating erratic and that’s kind of a dick move. Like, you can? I guess? Just don’t be surprised when the people who don’t share your frustrations are vocal disagree with you.

          Liked by 4 people

        5. There are quite a number of reasons why a first person narration may not reveal all there is to be seen — indeed, a number of classic author’s tricks depend on exactly that. The classic, of course is the Unreliable Narrator, but even “well-meaning” narrators may miss things due to their own bias or perspective.

          More generally, such elisions are often key to pacing the plot and avoiding distractions from the story. They can be also be used for more exotic purposes; ISTR that Agatha Christie wrote one mystery where the murderer turned out to be… the narrator.

          Like

      2. SpeckofStardust

        True, after all I think we the readers already know everything both sides here know about bard, and while it be interesting to watch all the interactions we got the truly important stuff out of the way.

        Still this chapter has me honestly be considering Catherine X Kairos Which is the first time I have been considering her showing something close to interest in a guy.

        The fact that this.
        “See? I might have been with only women for the last few years, but I still knew what men liked”
        Is basically a jab at her never showing any interest in men so far in this story has me amused.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Skaddix

          I mean she really wanted to bang Warlock and they don’t like each other at all. So she has shown interest in guys before. Her getting wet for Warlock actually suggest she wouldn’t go for Kairos lol.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Death Knight

      That is his MO. He does something similar with awesome battles too, such as Ranger vs The Summer Queen or how exactly the Heroes managed to capture Black.

      Truthfully it is kind of annoying but I don’t write the story so “thems the grapes luv”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Argentorum

        I can see missing the Ranger vs Summer Queen fight being annoying. But that serves the purpose of building both characters up. We didn’t know how strong either of them really were going into the rest of the Second Liesse arc, which raised tension. In addition, we *still* don’t know how strong Lady Ranger is, which help paves the way for us not knowing how to evaluate her eventual conflict with Cat (because you know it’s coming).

        As for the heroes vs black… Not really? He was literally nameless at that point, as was confirmed later by the Bard. The fight between him and half a dozen heroes, including the old monsters of Saint and Pilgrim? There’s not a fight. Either of those two could have beaten Black as he was on one leg with a wrinkly arm tied behind their back. And was Pilgrim really going to let one of the younger heroes attempt to handle black and risk his own plan either by Black getting himself killed or somehow beating up on a novice hero? Given the amount of care they showed around transporting Black later, I highly doubt it.

        So here’s how the fight went. Black charges, Pilgrim smacks him once with the stick, they tie him up and cart him away.

        Really, I’m confused about the people who are constantly crowing “show this, show that!” when it is almost painfully obvious that nothing of actual importance would have occurred during those scenes. That Erratic is skipping over boring filler scenes, legal jargon, and nothing of value, for the parts that actually do matter.

        I, for one, have not missed a single scene that Erratic has ‘skipped’ and I enjoy greatly the lack of those filler scenes that do nothing to advance the story like we get in so many Fanfics and similar works that never reach the end of book one (let alone book 4) because the authors get bogged down in trying to show every little thing…

        Liked by 4 people

        1. actually fun fact! we DO know how that fight went, sort of, and you’re almost 100% correct

          “Unless the Saint of Swords was intent on confessing her deep affections for him – unlikely, since she took great relish in punching him unconscious before enchantments were laid”

          Saint’s the one who punched him out ;u;

          Liked by 2 people

        2. caoimhinh

          Agree. But there were 2 scenes of importance that I wanted to see and yet they were skipped:

          -Sabah’s death, as the last she was shown she had beaten the Valiant Champion to a bloody pulp of broken bones and even exhausted her Aspects before the domain shattered.

          -Ratface’s death. He was (along a bunch of characters including Anne Kendal) killed off-screen and we found out when Cat walked into the room and received the news of the assassination of key members of Callow’s government.

          Both would have made very emotional or meaningful scenes.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Eh… in both cases, I think the reaction of the survivors was more important. Showing Sabah’s death would have been a matter of EE making up power-exchanges that would have been ultimately irrelevant (because she was fundamentally killed by Plot), while Ratface was not a POV character to begin with.

            Like

  2. Hmmm.
    Kairos probably noticed the lack of Winter and whatever Cat’s current Name-related status is. And possibly something to do with noticing her links to Night.

    Kairos attempted to kill Juniper? That’s not going to be forgotten or forgiven. Be it in Callow or by many of us who like Juniper.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Big I

      If you’re talking about why he started laughing it’s probably because of him using his Wish aspect, which let’s him know a person’s desires. It is pretty ironic that Catherine is motivated by a sincere desire for peace

      Liked by 21 people

      1. Rook

        It’s also incredibly ironic that Amadeus’ successor is turning out to be the exact same type of Villain that he spent his entire life trying to rip out from the face of creation.

        You’d expect his spawn to be a sharper collection of gears wrapped in steel, and instead what walked through his door is a priestess madwoman with a mind like goblin munitions being set off inside a cave.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Wolper

          I’d say they’re not quite the same at all. Him and her have very similar goals – not identical, but similar, and the same sort of.. simultaneous disdain for, but skillful use of, the Narrative. They use it as a tool but try to avoid full-heartedly embracing it like the Tyrant, which leads to great power but also paralyzes you and restricts your options. Their methods are different, sure, but ultimately the thing that matters is Evil is a tool for them, not a goal, and one that they’d gladly throw in the trash if they found something better.

          Liked by 15 people

          1. Dainpdf

            Cat is quite pragmatic as well. Or, one might also say, practical.

            …it has just occurred to me that Black is practical and has been Cat’s guide in her journey. He’s her Practical Guide to Evil.

            Liked by 14 people

        2. The joke is that Kairos is as pragmatic as Black is, in his own way. He just chooses different tools for the job.

          It’s something of a blind spot that Amadeus has, that the tools he disdains as impractical are in fact practical, just for a different purpose. I think if he realized earlier in his career that the reason he’s so fundamentally opposed to Kairos’s type is because he thinks like a hero and has a hero’s goals his mind would legitimately implode lmao. The idea that Evil borrowing Good’s methods is only pragmatic if it borrowed Good’s goals first is just… so blatantly obvious as to be completely unnoticable.

          It’s not the madness that Black took issue with, it’s the villain aesthetic matching the aesthetic of the Wasteland eating itself. The joke is that his issue with it is that he cares and takes offence.

          Catherine being this exact sort of madwoman in thinking, but aimed at the same goals and ideals and principles he shares? Yep, suddenly turns out he approves of the mindset and the results it produces deeply 😀

          Liked by 12 people

    1. The most fun anyone’s had in this narrative since Akua got to rip Cat’s heart out of her chest right back in the name of friendship.

      That was admittedly fairy recently and I do love the frequency here

      Liked by 7 people

  3. This interaction was everything I ever wanted it to be. This marks the first time Cat has been on the playing field with someone in her weight-class who shares her preference for buckwild out-of-left-field chaos. This whole conflict is going to come down to getting resolved through shenanigans.

    Liked by 22 people

  4. Does she even have a name?

    I mean she doesn’t even have an aspect. To me she appears to be similar to the house of light clerics, who are empowered by there religion allowing them to heal with miracles without knowing what they are doing but through faith. She is just another priest, insult intended. Still she was able to brave the Heirarch’s control and trade wits with the tyrant, so maybe having a name is not all it’s cracked up to be.

    Still linking each aspect to character growth was exciting to say the least. Whenever a character used an aspect it would remind me about the life changing moments that caused the aspect or cause me to question what they went through. Even unknown characters could have there unknown stories through the aspects they used in battle.

    I still have hopes for new names, I still look for bold lettering in each chapter to rekindle something that may have been lost.

    This post turned into something else.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Rook

      I think she’s at the point of growing beyond a Name by now, it would almost be a few steps backwards to get one. Having a Name makes you strong but also rigid. It defines what you are and intensifies your strengths but also emphasizes your weaknesses. Being rigidly defined means your opposition has your measure from the start; it means they can use that against you and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

      Although I wouldn’t put it past her to yell out an aspect-like catchphrase as a distraction before stabbing someone. You might see some bold letters yet.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Ben Serreau-Raskin

        To me it feels like she’s kind of in the same boat as Black, ironically enough. She doesn’t have a name, but the way she lost it was through sacrifice rather than going against it. She lost Squire when she fully embraced Winter, but the Fae are so story focused she didn’t lose any narrative momentum (and in fact gained some along with power). Even after giving it up, she’s still at the center of things both politically and narratively.

        I’ve been thinking for a while that the fact that certain tropes emerge in the life of a Named, even without being perpetrated by another Name (the way people react to them, their backstories mattering for the purposes of character growth, etc) means that even people without Names can benefit from their stories if they position themselves right to take advantage of the tropes as the form.

        Cat’s Name is gone but the ripples of her story are still moving outwards and since she’s still moving to reinforce them it seems like both prevents her from getting a new Name. She still has the same will to change a broken world, as evidenced by being able to shrug of the big H’s trial fever last chapter. And since all her power now is basically stored off-site, she doesn’t have any metaphysical barriers to becoming something new, like any other mortal.

        I’m rambling a bit now but the Tl:Dr is that Cat to me feels like she’s closer to a new Name than she has been since second Liese and whatever come next seems like it will have less strings attached, given that it’s not being filtered through the tint of weaponized magical depression.

        Liked by 11 people

            1. I don’t think she’s THAT unique. Like no more than all Named are. Depending on her moves from now on, she is likely to hit a mixture of existing cultural grooves, which as I understand is how new Names ar made if you hit them hard enough.

              And if anyone has story weight to single-handedly burn an entirely new groove where one wasn’t before, it’s Cat.

              Liked by 3 people

        1. medailyfun

          > even people without Names can benefit from their stories if they position themselves right to take advantage of the tropes as the form.

          same thing in our reality, bro, that’s why the book is important to me

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Dragrath

      Conceptually I don’t see her having a name as that would require ties to above or below. Remember her deal with Sve Noc and the appeal towards the shared element of being pawns for the gods. Cat wants both above and below to loose for having used Callow as a plaything so lacking a name seems symbolic.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Dainpdf

      Pattern of three. She refused a Queen name the first time she was in Liesse, had the possibility of one taken from her by Black the second. Third time she’ll get one and it’ll stick.

      Liked by 9 people

        1. Skaddix

          I like but also I think Cat really underestimates the impact of personal charisma and trust. If she wants the Liesse Accords to work and not force signings at the point of the sword she needs the major players to trust her and her leadership. Abdicating and handing over Callow to someone else is not going to work if she is downgrading to not being in Charge of some country. Cause well the players signed the deal with her not with anyone else. So are they really going to trust and/or fear whoever Cat picks as successor somehow I doubt that. I just don’t see when its time to sign this treaty various powers being down for her abdicating. I especially don’t see Sve Noc signing off on Cat leaving.

          Liked by 1 person

    4. A Name is just a role in the story assigned according to the kind of awesome that you already are. It comes with some amplification, sure, but as Cat has mused wrt Indrani recently, the key is always the person’s own essence.

      Cat doesn’t have a Name and it makes no bloody difference because she’s still her. If anything, there’s now no distraction of the Squire story that she bucked so hard it landed in the next country over.

      If what she is now coalesces into a coherent story role that fits Calernia’s cultural understanding, she’ll get a new Name. But at the level she’s slugging at, it’ll barely make any difference. Just another thread to weave into the tapestry.

      I do think we’ll see new Names, though. Not everyone is Cat 😀

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Sure we’ll get new Names. New Heroes will hove into view, all freshly-minted, not even with their second or third aspect… And, it will take them several goes at floundering against the fact that Cat simply has no aspects they can counter by growing a brand spanking new one as the plot would like to demand before Above will have to admit it needs to come up with a different tactic. 😛

        Liked by 5 people

            1. I’m curious what your prediction is actually. Do you think he’s going to stay non-Named until the end of the story? Or do you just mean he’ll get a pre-existing Name and not a new one? (not what I meant by ‘new Names’ but maybe that’s not clear)

              Like

            1. AH
              SHOULD HAVE READ THE NEXT COMMENT

              😀 😀 😀

              you got so used to arguing with my theory you didn’t even notice I wasn’t talking about it? XD

              (btw I actually now think its 50/50 Amadeus isn’t getting a new Name at all)

              Like

  5. Skaddix

    I expect a cutaway since that usually occurs when terms matter. Cat and Dead King didn’t get a cut cause Dead King was always taking Malicia’s Deal

    I am still waiting for the Masego Bomb. And interesting Tyrant did provoke Callow somehow.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. IDKWhoitis

    Good to see Cat can still get under the skin of even the most tricky of opponents.

    Are we going to see a repeat of Book 1? Betray Ally 1 to Ally 2, for Ally 3 to stab 2, then wipe out a weakened big bad?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Skaddix

    Anyway looks like Cordelia is probably trying to raise an Angel interesting how she plans to do that with no Hero besides the Auger. Tyrant wants to steal it since we know he has been laying a trap for an Angel. Could be some sort of lesser god I suppose since Sve Noc has made it clear they don’t want to alert any ancient powers to their presence or ascension. So you figure that will come into play eventually.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. ______

      I keep seeing people thinking it’s an angel. Wasn’t the Liessen one large enough to have the entire city built on top of it’s personal sublayer of Creation. Not something you can actually dredge out.

      Liked by 3 people

          1. ““In a manner of speaking,” the Dead King said. “Praesi have slain and tricked them into falling, as have I. Yet the Choirs stand, for their existence is fixed. A dead angel does not detract from the whole. It remains as it ever was.”

            “They have to play by the rules,” I said.

            “Oh yes,” Neshamah murmured. “And they will pay for that, in time. That delightful child in Helike wove a trap for them right under the Intercessor’s nose. I expect the end of that play to be nothing less than magnificent.””
            Book 4 Chapter 35: Stroll

            Liked by 7 people

                    1. Dainpdf

                      I had thought he was older than that. In any case, being an adult is more about absolute age and frame of mind than relative age.

                      Like

                    2. RanVor

                      He was sixteen at the point of his introduction. He should be somewhere between eighteen and nineteen by now. That said, he certainly isn’t very mature.

                      Liked by 6 people

  8. magesbe

    Ironically, I don’t think any of the information he gave Catherine was a lie. Funny that.

    And the chances of him being behind the Observatory’s silence have increased by magnitudes.

    Liked by 13 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Each city of the League has their own take on insanity.

      Atalante is full of emotional people, religious fanatics and also love debates like ancient Athens but never actually convince each other of anything, so they are stubborn in their beliefs.

      Helike is a bunch of Tyrant fans who love conquest and war in Hell-like slaughter.

      Bellerophon has the brainwashed Communist-like in their fake democracy.

      The Secretariat of Delos is bureaucracy gone mad.

      The Magisters of Stygia are slavers and think themselves above everyone. thinking that anyone besides the Magisters is mere cattle to be used until death.

      Penthes has five idiots fighting over the title of Exarch and until one of them triumphs the city is paralyzed.

      I don’t know yet what madness Nicae has, but odds are that it has one.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I think Nicae has to play the straight man. They do have the power to request things of the Hierarch.

        However, they do love to fight over Naval shipping lanes like Venice, even if they have failed 4 of the last 5 times. They only won this one time because Warlock nuked the other half of Ashur’s ships.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Oh, I didn’t remember that…
          Well, good for them, they got rid of three idiotic politicians that only were quarrelling instead of doing something for the good of their country. That’s progress XD

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Skaddix

    I wonder is Masego and Indrani will go all Bonnie and Clyde and go off on a killing spree for awhile. Since they both seem to be in very bad moods post Vol 4. Masego cause his parents got killed and Indrani cause Sve Noc almost killed her. Indrani and Cat seem to be having issues and the sex probably didn’t help matters. Plus Indrani and Masego are not like Viv and Hakram, they don’t really care about the overall mission or the Liesse Accords. They hang with Cat cause she is fun and they get to see new things and learn new things and get new challenges. But mostly they care about getting stronger Ranger in the Martial Arts and Hierophant in the Mystic Arts.

    I do wonder what the Tyrant is going to do with an Angel.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Skaddix

      Crap I mean Archer but she is Ranger’s daughter. She simply worse cause she lacks those Half Elf stats but her Name can eventually compensate the difference. Really need to boost magic resistance, I am guessing Elves have way better Magic Resistance.

      Like

    2. magesbe

      They hang out with Catherine because she’s there friend. I refer you to Indrani’s speech to Catherine in Book 4 where she told Catherine that the Woe was loyal to her because of who she was and how she treated them, like family.

      That said, even if they see Catherine like family, it’s not 100% out of the picture for them to take a hiatus to get their own shit together.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Skaddix

        I think Cat is fun follows under the Friend part. But yeah they are friends but their missions are different. Indrani and Masego want to ascend to greatness at their chosen disciplines. Cat wants a better World. Viv wants Callow better which ties into Cat’s mission and Hakram at leas says he wants to make things better for Orcs. Callow has a broad mission while they have personal missions.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      It is late, by almost an hour already.
      Let’s hope it gets released in the next few minutes, there’s also an Extra Chapter, the continuation of Pilgrim story; that might be a reason for the delay.

      Hopefully EE is alright and can deliver the chapter soon.

      Liked by 2 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            There seem to be more and more weather extremes all around the world. My home town in Australia has just had it’s hottest January EVER… We’re f*ing the climate up for sure.

            Liked by 1 person

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