Chapter 8: Veracity

“A pleasant lie finds more ears than a sharp truth.”
– Proceran saying

“Seriously?” I said. “I mean, I know you’re with the old guard about this stuff but this is pretty on the nose.”

“The classics became such for a reason,” Kairos stiffly replied.

He sounded a little miffed, I noted.

“I bet you even have a speech, don’t you?” I mused. “Some tortured extended metaphor about the nature of Creation and our role in it.”

The Tyrant of Helike glared at me woefully.

“This rook represents the inherent emptiness of moral philosophy,” I suggested. “Maybe mention something about how Good is prone to stagnation and therefore fundamentally inferior.”

“Do you even know how to play?” he challenged.

I glanced downwards at the shatranj board a pair of his little twisted gargoyles had brought. I picked up a footman and wiggled it a bit.

“This moves diagonally, right?” I beamed.

His eyes closed, even the red one.

“You pain me, Catherine Foundling,” Kairos said. “You pain me deeply.”

I hummed thoughtfully, then took advantage of his distraction to turn the board around. The poor gargoyles it was resting atop squeaked in dismay, though they didn’t flinch.

“I’ll take black,” I said.

I discreetly pocketed the footman from the white side of the board I’d not for a moment intended to give back. His eyes opened just a moment too late to catch me red-handed.

“This is most improper,” the villain protested.

“They don’t call me the White Queen,” I pointed out.

“Are you so bound by what others think of you?” Kairos gallantly tried.

“Point for effort,” I said. “But I’ve had better.”

I opened the game most illegally by pushing forward a footman.

“I had something for this,” the Tyrant muttered. “Give me a moment.”

He didn’t even bother to comment on my open cheating before moving up a knight. Well, it wasn’t like I was going to stop anyway. I was passable at shatranj, but years of being punitively demolished at the game by Vivienne and Hakram had made me aware of my limitations. Vivienne in particular liked to allow me to think I could win before methodically flogging the conceit out of me.

“Weren’t we horse-trading?” I reminded him.

I pulled at my pipe and breathed out, letting the cloud of scented smoke waft up. Another footman went up, propping up my centre. The Tyrant let out a little noise of agreement, then snapped his fingers.

“Exactly,” he agreed. “Imagine, if you would, that you were a deity.”

“Not my cup of tea,” I drily replied.

“Evidently,” Kairos mused, too-sharp eyes flicking across me. “Yet humour me.”

“Done,” I said.

He was being a little too slow to move, so I moved again. The Tyrant of Helike raised an eyebrow, and I painted embarrassed surprise over my face. Like I’d thought he’d already taken his turn, which was clearly the only reason I would keep going on. I withdrew the footman with a contrite smile, but only one square of the two it had moved.

“As a deity,” the Tyrant said, moving up a footman to contest the centre, “though of unfathomable power you find yourself limited. Unlike the likes of us, who can command – Catherine, why is one of my footmen missing?”

“Desertion is an inevitable part of war,” I sagely replied. “So, we can move every piece but the Gods can’t. That the gist of it?”

“You’re taking all the enjoyment out of this,” Kairos complained.

“That is my favourite part,” I revealed.

One of my knights went up, my opponent staring with suspicion at the legal movement. That was fine, I wasn’t going to nudge it up until he was distracted anyway.

“Consider that perhaps one piece in ten can be moved,” the Tyrant said. “Exceptional pieces, to be sure, or at least made to be so. Yet they must be sufficient to both carry out your godly intent and influence the other pieces, which sadly move largely according to their own petty desires.”

A few moves in quick succession as we traded footmen in the centre and I moved up my priest under cover of pretending to put away the pieces I’d taken.

“That sounds like you don’t believe the House of Light is a faithful servant of the Heavens in this earthly world,” I chided. “Which would be heresy, Kairos. For shame.”

“Ah, and so you touch upon the second limitation,” the Tyrant said. “That these disobedient pieces not only have the gall to not directly answer your desires, but they also dare to influence the pieces that do.”

“As a goddess, I am most displeased by this,” I blandly said.

“As well you should be,” Kairos agreed. “Bloody chaos, not at all the orderly matter you had envisioned. Sadly, direct intervention would be costly in more ways than can be easily understood. A more… elegant solution is required.”

“Someone who can dole out the nudges I cannot,” I said.

“The proverbial finger on the scales,” the Tyrant of Helike smiled. “Of course, such an entity would need to be constrained. It is a tool, after all. It would not do for it to get ideas.”

“Bindings,” I said.

The left side of the board was turning into something of a debacle for me, I saw. My dear friend was a fair hand at the game, and I was now down a priest. That was fine, since as the defender of all things Evil I could boast of a certain talent at necromancy – a reasonable explanation for why said priest had mysteriously reappeared on the right side of the board. And all it’d taken was kicking a gargoyle so it would yelp and my opponent would look.

“Three things she always keeps,” Kairos Theodosian lightly said. “She speaks, she sees and she knows stories.”

He eyed my returned priest with a degree of skepticism, forcing me to withdraw it from the board. Time for contingencies, then. My fingers closed around the stolen white footman under my cloak, allowing Night to seep inside drip by drip.

“There’s two sides to a coin,” I said.

The Tyrant conceded to that with a slight inclination of the head.

“Three things she always flees,” he said. “Promised death, direct touch and her heart’s desire.”

Truth, I decided, though cloaked in vagueness. Some things I’d already known – Black had put her in the face of certain death thrice, during the Liesse Rebellion, and she’d been forced to withdraw for a time – other’s I’d only suspected. If ‘direct touch’ really stood for an inability to directly intervene, anyway. It might go a little further than that, though. Vivienne had once mentioned to me she’d never seen the Bard take a wound she was not directly responsible for receiving. As interesting as the Tyrant’s words were was the fact he could speak them at all. Where had he learned all this? Back when I’d still had him on the list of possible invaders of Callow I’d gone through what records the Eyes of the Empire had on him, and Helike as a whole. There’d been persistent rumours that something was kept under that city-state’s palace with oracular abilities, but with the rumour came the restriction of only one question possible. I could think of half a dozen ways to get around that, sure, but if Helike had unrestrained access to that potent a tool they wouldn’t be one of the powers in the League. They would be the League, their banner flying above every rampart in the region.

“Fleeing her heart’s desire,” I casually repeated. “You almost make the role sound like a punishment.”

The Tyrant smiled.

“I have a theory,” he said. “You see, for someone to truly make a mess on this board, they would need certain qualities. Perception, affinity, knowledge. A combination thereof. You understand my meaning, yes?”

“An awareness of patterns,” I said.

“Exactly so,” Kairos replied. “And, plague as I am by a suspicious nature, it occurred to me that these qualities are as rare as they are useful. That neither Above nor Below are prone to waste in such regards.”

My fingers stilled over the rook I’d been about to take in hand. Eyes flicking back up, I studied his face.

“An elegant solution, you called it,” I softly said.

Poison made into remedy. A trap inherent to the lay of Creation. It made, I thought, a horrifying amount of sense.

“Were someone qualified to be trouble,” he echoed. “They would be most qualified to quell it.”

I moved up the rook, took a knight I’d been careful to strip of protection.

“And interesting theory,” I said. “Though we strayed from our purpose. Should such an entity exist, what would it want?”

Kairos’ eyes came to rest on me, unblinking.

“Horse-trading, Catherine,” he said. “Not horse-giving.”

My pipe held nothing but ashes, by now, so I leaned back to empty it on the head of one of the gargoyles. I could have garbed what I had to say in vagueness and a touch of the cryptic, but he’d win out if we played that game. No, best to cough up my part in a way that benefitted me as well. There was as much to learn from questions asked as secrets offered.

“She knew the Dead King while he was still mortal,” I said, after stowing away my pipe. “And watched his rise with great interest, from as close as she could.”

The Tyrant’s lips quirked.

“And what was she looking for?” he asked.

Interesting, I thought. Kairos had understood my meaning earlier when I’d mentioned intercession, and the only individual I’d ever heard call the Bard the ‘Intercessor’ was Neshamah. Considering the Dead King had mentioned the Tyrant had reached out to him when we’d spoken in Keter last year, I’d assumed the information came from there. But it seemed he wasn’t fully aware of the history between those two, if that question was any indication. Not that I could reasonably assume I was, but odds were I knew more about than that most. Including even this damnably well-informed man, looked like.

“How villains are made,” I said.

He was good, I thought, but that red eye gave it away. The triumph he was feeling, like something he’d suspected for years had just been confirmed. So, my eternal friend had encountered an application of that knowledge at some point. I’d heard that entire conversation, including the parts I hadn’t mentioned, so I had a suspicion as to what was important here. I won’t solve the riddle with the tools they gave me, so it seems I must learn craftsmanship of my own, the Bard had said. Her methods were her own, no gift from the Gods. Which meant she was capable of making mistakes. I thought of the madman down in the city, silently recording trials, and wondered if I had not just discovered a very important piece. Kairos had arranged the election of the Hierarch. Kairos had dealt a defeat to the Wandering Bard.

That did not feel like a coincidence.

“Your turn,” I said.

I was talking about more than the game, as we both knew.

“War is a messy business,” the Tyrant of Helike casually said. “Not at all a precise tool. Of course, it is not without its uses. Sometimes when you need something dead, where a dagger will not do a landslide will serve.”

Which begged the question, of course, of what exactly the Wandering Bard had failed to see stabbed. This couldn’t be about the Calamities, it wouldn’t make sense. They might have been a successful outlier in sustained victory for Evil, insofar as my father really cared about waving the banner, but getting rid of them couldn’t be the point of this. I didn’t doubt for a moment that she’d branded Black in the Free Cities just as harshly as I had branded the Lone Swordsman that fateful night in Summerholm, but there would have been no need for a crusade to hammer that nail fully in. The Doom of Liesse had killed the trust between Black and Malicia, which made it just a matter of time until the partnership keeping Praes together collapsed. She didn’t need to start a war, or a Grand Alliance, to send the Dread Empire scuttling back to the old ways.

“A lot of people get killed in landslides,” I noted.

“Losses are losses,” Kairos waved away. “I suppose it would be more apt to compare it to a fire being lit. One can do quite a bit with a fire, if one can guide where it burns.”

My brow furrowed, and I barely paid attention to the move I made on the board. If he was implying the Bard had either started – or, more likely, fed and sped up – a continental war to clean up loose ends, then she’d have a finger on both sides. An argument could be made that by screwing with Black she’d given the East a push, since through him she could get at both Malicia and myself. That sounded horribly risky and requiring an amount of insight and foresight that should be fucking impossible, but we were dealing with an entity that even the Dead King claimed to have never won against. I had to at least consider the possibility. It was where she was guiding the Tenth Crusade through that I was having trouble to understand. The Grey Pilgrim had influence in Levant, sure. But the foremost Ashuran hero was the White Knight, who as far as I knew had no real ties to the ruling class of the Thalassocracy. And arguably the most powerful Proceran hero was the Saint of Swords, someone I very much doubted Cordelia fucking Hasenbach would take political advice from. Which made the whole theory fall apart, since the First Prince was the mortar of the Grand Alliance and by far, even now, the most powerful member. And since we were operating under the assumption the Bard couldn’t just walk up to someone not Named and pull the strings, this put all the rest into question.

“Incomplete,” I said. “At the very heart.”

Kairos smiled, and it twisted his face into something barely human.

“She has a cousin, Catherine,” he reminded me.

My fingers clenched. The Augur. Shit, I can’t believe I forgot about the Augur. That was a very dangerous angle. It should be hard to manipulate an oracle, but then what we knew about the Augur’s power – and the Bard’s, for that matter – was limited. Even information about Agnes Hasenbach herself was thin on the ground. It was known, however, that her crowned cousin trusted her a great deal. Why wouldn’t she? The Augur had helped her win the civil war that put her on the throne in the first place. Still, it didn’t mean that the First Prince was in the Wandering Bard’s pocket. Not even close. But it did mean that the Intercessor could get the right words at the right time to end up in Cordelia Hasenbach’s ears. I met the Tyrant’s eyes and found open amusement in them. He was well aware that even if I went to the First Prince with this she’d just see it as me poisoning the well on one of her most effective advisers. A kinswoman, to boot. And you’re pleased, you little shit, because you know that means actually allying with Hasenbach just got a whole lot more risky, I thought.

“Assuming you’re right,” I said, refraining from voicing ‘and not feeding me a well-crafted lie to make this war even more bloody than it already is’, “then a lot of effort has been expended. She has been visible in way she can’t often have been before.”

If she meddled this heavily every few decades, there would be damned records of it. That implied something was forcing her hand here and now, or she was after something worth the risks. The moment word that something like the Wandering Bard was out there pulling strings, a lot of her influence waned. And these weren’t the days of the Kingdom of Sephirah anymore: cleaning up all mentions of her wouldn’t be as easy as it would have been back then. Not unless she had some divinely-gifted aspect for that specific purpose, but I very much doubted that. Sparse as they were, there were records of her existence. Black had found some, and myself others.

“Indeed,” Kairos said. “What makes this age different, I wonder?”

There was no answer following, just me losing my last priest to an unwise trade.

“Yeah yeah, trading and not gifting,” I sighed.

I paused, drumming my fingers on the side of the board. What could I get out of him, by telling him this one?

“On at least one instance, she struck a bargain on the behalf of Below,” I finally said.

His brow rose, and I got the impression he was distinctly unimpressed.

“The bargain was not struck with Named,” I added quietly.

My eyes were on his red one, awaiting a reaction, but I found none. His lips quirked into a smile and I got the distinct impression I’d been played. Had the glint of triumph earlier been a fake out? To hide a lie when I caught it, or to take away my attention this very moment – when something he actually minded me knowing was on the table? Tricky bastard, I thought. Getting a read on him was like trying to paint on smoke. That’d been a risk from the start, though, I conceded. It was the questions that were telling the tale here.

“How was she summoned?” the Tyrant pleasantly asked.

Gotcha, I thought. He hadn’t know that was possible, then. Because this wasn’t about specifics – we both knew that even if I’d learn the specifics of the ritual the Sisters had used to reach out to Below I wouldn’t share them with him – it was about fresh risk introduced to already existing plans. He needed to know if some pious, desperate soul out there could call out to Above and get the Intercessor a foothold instead. Which meant whatever he was up to, the Wandering Bard could still fuck it up if she got an in. So is that why you’ve been sticking to the Hierarch like a leech? I thought. He’s not just your sword, he’s your shield as well?

“She was not sent for,” I said. “She was sent. Audience was bought and paid: desperation, blood and need.”

His good eye narrowed.

“And?” he pressed.

“There was a lot to lose,” I said. “You could call it weight.”

Somehow I doubted everyone who slaughtered a priesthood in their own seat of power and prayed got a personal visit from the Bard with terms to offer. Below, the Intercessor had as good as admitted, didn’t want to lose the entire Everdark to a catastrophic blunder by the Twilight Sages. I tossed him that last part as a bone, a reassurance of sorts. It’d take more than a Proceran prince losing his holdings to get the Bard an angle. Of course, with our good friend Neshamah on the march the stakes for our little scuffle had been raised rather high. The Tyrant wasn’t out of the woods yet, and so I smiled pleasantly at him.

“You dropped this, by the way,” I suddenly said.

I tossed him back the footman I’d stolen before the game even began. To my surprise he failed to catch it, and it bounced off his chin and down on the floor. He eyed me with displeasure, and while he bent to pick it up I casually switched the places of my last rook and my queen. That ought to stave off kingtip for a few more turns.

“This has been invested with power to explode,” Kairos amusedly accused when he straightened again.

Ah, so he could sense that. Good to know. The Night wasn’t exactly subtle stuff, but that he could discern the intent I put to it wasn’t something I’d been entirely certain of.

“I’m offended you would even say that,” I said, hand over heart. “I gave this back to you because of my deep and abiding belief in fair play.”

“You really are terrible at this game,” the Tyrant of Helike noted. “I can’t believe even after so much cheating you’re losing this badly.”

“It’s part of the metaphor,” I lied. “Like the whole horse thing.”

“Elegantly done,” Kairos praised. “I believe we were speculating as to the bounty worth the risks being taken.”

I did not reply, half-debating reaching for my pipe again as I watched him.

“There is one element singular to our little war,” the Tyrant idly continued. “A common friend, I believe.”

The Dead King, was it? Wasn’t sure I bought that. Oh, an argument could be made. After the series of disasters that had been the crusades headed into the Kingdom of the Dead, it might have been easier to assemble a coalition of that sort if it was initially headed for Praes instead. But it didn’t fit with Neshamah’s methods. It wasn’t like there’d never before been chaos south of the lakes for him to take advantage of. The Hidden Horror was still kicking around through careful application of the epithet’s first part.

“And?” I said, echoing his earlier rejoinder.

“Quite the stage, isn’t it?” Kairos said. “A crusade turned to the Tower. The might of the west spent, but not broken. The east eating itself alive, to various degrees. Our friend comes rather late to the banquet.”

So that was his story, then. Neshamah had come out to play because he’d been invited, as he had been in the days of Dread Empress Triumphant. The invitation meant he wasn’t the Enemy but instead an enemy. This little continental waltz of death was the Intercessor finally tying up her oldest loose end, having set out her finest bait to draw him out. It was neat and tidy notion, so naturally I distrusted it. It wasn’t that I would but it beyond the Wandering Bard to have engineered this butchery over several decades – if not more – just to put down the King in Keter. I had no doubts she’d be capable of it, whether morally or in actual capacity. But the story felt wrong to me. The Intercessor striking out after the arguably most prominent champion of Below, Kairos beginning his scheme with the Hierarch to kill or cripple her before she could. Sure, that would end up counted as a win for the old crowd. Procer devoured, the arbiter of the godly pissing contest losing an eye in the grand old tradition of Evil and what Good nations managed to survive the wreck would be eclipsed by the Below-aligned powers remaining on Calernia. That was the thing, though.

This was too simple a game.

Which meant the Tyrant of Helike had fed me secrets, armed me with just enough to interfere, and now intended to loose me into the middle of all these delicate plans being laid down. It also meant he was lying to me, or close enough, but I couldn’t find it in me to be offended by that. Might as well blame a fish for swimming.

“Interesting,” I said.

Then I shrugged and tipped my king. It was, after all, just a game. And I’d already gotten what I came from. The Tyrant watched me with a smile as I rose to my feet, leaning on my staff.

“I expect I’ll be seeing you soon,” I said.

“How could I disappoint my closest ally?” Kairos replied.

I only took a few steps before turning, mostly on a whim.

“What would actually happen,” I asked, “if you won?”

The Tyrant laughed, the sound of it strangely honest.

“Ah, Catherine, that’s the entire point,” Kairos Theodosian smiled. “Finding out.”

I waited until I’d left the changing house to snap my fingers. Enough Night had been fed to the piece for the entire set to be shattered in the explosion. I supposed that, in a way, it could be considered my rebuttal.

If the game got out of hand, I wasn’t above breaking the board.

81 thoughts on “Chapter 8: Veracity

  1. First update of the month, which means extra chapter in the Extra Chapters tab. This is one is a continuation of the last, titled “Peregrine III” and from the POV of the young Grey Pilgrim. For those wondering, there’s one last of those left before we end that storyline.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. caoimhinh

    You know, EE? An international team of avid readers was about to illegally cross a few countries to go on a quest to make sure you were fine.
    When the most punctual person in the world is suddenly late, we get worried XD

    Liked by 20 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      Tyrant is similar to Black without the worry for what happens in the Aftermath. Both of them want to make the point, but only Black cares if Calernia is still standing in the end. Tyrant might believe the universe will screech into non existence, but doesnt care.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. A little more about Black-given our new understanding of the Bard as a role, I believe Bard might be trying to get out of this “trap” by pushing Black into it-first she refers to him as a claimant, and also notes how adept he at understanding stories. I think we’ll see this developed more as the story goes on. Finally, I know a couple of other readers referred to Cat calling Black her “father.” Its possible Cat is beginning to accept Black as that, but I think stories themselves might be at play. In the same way Cat could gain real advantages against the Duke in the Winter arc by pretending she was his descendant, stories may have begun molding Cat into Black’s daughter.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. ______

      > I discreetly pocketed the footman from the white side of the board I’d not for a moment intended to give back.

      > I opened the game most illegally by pushing forward a footman.

      > Another footman went up, propping up my centre.

      >He was being a little too slow to move, so I moved again. The Tyrant of Helike raised an eyebrow, and I painted embarrassed surprise over my face. I withdrew the footman with a contrite smile, but only one square of the two it had moved.

      > A few moves in quick succession as we traded footmen in the centre and I moved up my priest under cover of pretending to put away the pieces I’d taken.

      > The left side of the board was turning into something of a debacle for me, I saw. My dear friend was a fair hand at the game, and I was now down a priest. That was fine, since as the defender of all things Evil I could boast of a certain talent at necromancy – a reasonable explanation for why said priest had mysteriously reappeared on the right side of the board.

      > He eyed my returned priest with a degree of skepticism, forcing me to withdraw it from the board. Time for contingencies, then. My fingers closed around the stolen white footman under my cloak, allowing Night to seep inside drip by drip.

      > I moved up the rook, took a knight I’d been careful to strip of protection.

      > I tossed him back the footman I’d stolen before the game even began. To my surprise he failed to catch it, and it bounced off his chin and down on the floor. He eyed me with displeasure, and while he bent to pick it up I casually switched the places of my last rook and my queen. That ought to stave off kingtip for a few more turns.

      > “This has been invested with power to explode,” Kairos amusedly accused when he straightened again.

      I have this nagging feeling that this whole game is an extended metaphor for Cat’s journey, but I can’t quite map it out. Is the beginning her rigging William to blow up in everyone’s face?

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Vortex

        I am not sure it is Kat’s Entire journey that was in metaphor, but I figured the room and queen swapping positions was when she sent back thief and adjutant to run the kingdom while she chased the drop around.

        Liked by 5 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    “Masterful play”, by both parties.

    The Chess, The Performance, and the Power.

    I would enjoy Cat and Tyrant interacting again before they try to brutally murder each other.

    Liked by 14 people

  4. taovkool

    Maybe breaking the board was the entire point?

    I mean the Wandering Bard sounded like she was up to a lot of game-breaking shenanigans back in her days and got herself stuck in the Intercessor role for it. Now, she wanted out of it, maybe?

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Cicero

      Yes it seemed clear to me that Cat is a potential replacement for the Wandering Bard, which might be why Above, Below, and even the Wandering Bard have not targeted her for elimination.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The only thing I can think of that’s noticeably different now on a Named level is the sustained success of Black’s school of Pragmatic Evil.

    On the other hand, Bard didn’t start moving yesterday – she’s all about the long game, so she likely started moving years ago – probably before it was apparent that Black’s plan in Callow was quite so successful in having Cat being Callowan Named loyal to him.

    Kairos is up to something … still not much idea of what it could be.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. caoimhinh

      For me, it’s clear that “the thing the Bard failed to stab, so has to bury under a landslide” is Catherine, or more exactly Amadeus’ legacy of Practical Evil, that much was shown in the few chapters that have been in Intercessor’s POV.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Hmm, true.
          Still, the point stands. She outright stated that now that Contrition (William the Lone Swordsman) had failed maybe Judgement(Hanno the White Knight) would do the trick.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. well now I gotta reread

            …ok i havent even gotten to Bard’s POV but god
            “It was an unusually poetic thought for Amadeus, a man not particularly prone to sentiment outside of some very defined boundaries.”
            AMADEUS OH MY GOD
            a natural 1 on self-insight roll ;u;

            …ok rereading that is fascinating and made me remember that I like Bard a lot actually 0.-
            anyway
            “Keeping the bottle, if not the cup, she strode out into the sun. The White Knight was bound to be close, or she wouldn’t be there. Contrition, in the end, had not done the trick.

            Maybe Judgement would.”
            she does not specify what exactly the trick was -_-
            (my suspicion is flipping, not killing. redemption. contrition tried to force redemption on Cat and it didn’t work. there was a potential redemption story for her in Liesse if William had not been that much of an idiot about opposing her while she was doing lowercase good, that’s my read)

            Liked by 1 person

            1. ______

              Considering that Contrition led more than half of the Crusades, I think Bard was indeed angling for a hike to Keter. Not everything has to revolve around the protagonist.

              Besides, she knew what the Hierarch was about and still invited Neshamah into Creation. Whatever is going on, she believes her duties will allow her not to enforce the rules he keeps breaking, at least this time.

              Liked by 3 people

      1. randodude

        i am not so sure anymore,
        that was the old bard talking to William , while she was bound to what was then a local story,
        she tailored herself into something the lone swordsman can understand, into a certain narrative.
        i don’t doubt that the legacy of Practical Evil, is one of the pieces on the board, but i don’t think that this is what the bard is aiming at, i think it is more of a consequence of the endgame state of Calernia, or perhaps an enabler of her true goal.

        Liked by 9 people

  6. Over Due

    Did anyone else notice that Cat referred to Black as her father? Did I misread that, or did I miss something in an earlier chapter? Is she being literal or figurative?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love how it’s still “Black” most of the time, so every time she drops the f-word is jarring af.

      She’s been doing that with increasing frequency. The first was when she was doing a sick burn on Talbot for asking that she pick a different last name (‘the closest thing i have to a father’), the second (and the first direct&explicit one) was when she broke up with Killian and came to his tent for comfort, the third (sort of) was the acknowledgement of the fae patricide story involving him between them, the fourth was “angry at my father” when talking to Andronike, and in these latest chapters it’s been happening more and more.

      Sounds like Cat’s coming to terms with it 🙂

      Liked by 5 people

      1. ninegardens

        So… possibly stupid, but is it stated whether of not Cat knows if she is being metaphorical or literal on that one.

        She’s died a whole bunch of times and got mixed up in story juice, and I can see her losing track of such a detail….. and it just seems weird to somehow just start using that term without noticing (heck, I know how long it took me to start applying it to a step-dad, and that was with a whole lot of time, and a marriage, and me making an actual DECISION involved… not just accidentally thinking that way).

        I guess what I mean is that the “Mistake” seems off somehow. Like important plot point kind of off.

        Like

        1. I think Catherine is not being either ‘metaphorical’ or ‘literal’ about it. He’s her adopted father. That’s a fact in her eyes, becuase he acts like one and she thinks of him as one, and they’ve both acknowledged that to each other during the post-Liesse discussion. She doesn’t think he’s her bio father, but that doesn’t matter any more than the fact Masego isn’t biologically related to either of his fathers, too. Adoption overrides biology.

          I actually just found the first time this was brought up in the last numbered chapter of Book 2:

          ““I was not criticizing you,” my teacher said, lips twitching. “Quite the contrary.”

          I might still have to kill you, one day, I thought as my cheeks warmed. The longer I knew the man, the more complicated my relationship with him grew. I’d thought, when I first became the Squire, that I would have to fight him tooth and nail for every scrap of power. Instead he’d had my back every step of the way, battering down doors I couldn’t open on my own. I loved him a little bit for that. For seeing something in me I’d always believed was there, but that no one else had ever acknowledged. I also hated him for it, because I could no longer think of him as the enemy. Warlock had said that one day I would have to make a choice, and I believed him. And when that day came, when the knife was in my hand, I knew that if I killed him I’d miss him. As a teacher, as a mentor, as perhaps the closest thing to a father figure I’d ever had.”

          Then in Book 3 in Reunion, the pre-Liesse conversation they had:

          ““Oh there’s still a few years left in this hide, if I avoid the right mistakes,” he said. “There will be dangers in facing Diabolist, to be sure, but I am aware of the stories I must sidestep.”

          Gods but I was glad to hear that. Because there was a picture that could be painted in Liesse, one that involved my mentor and my rival and the bloody succession that had been the way of villains since the First Dawn. I wasn’t… Fuck, I knew Black was a risk. That as long as he lived there would always be limits to how far I could push things with the Tower. But I wasn’t ready for him to die. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be. It wasn’t even just that I felt safer with him, the hazy memory of a warm cloak around my shoulders threaded with the bone-deep certainty there was not a line he wouldn’t cross to keep me alive. I worried my lip. It’d been easy to tell Grandmaster Talbot that the monster in front of me was the closest thing I’d ever have to a father, when he was so very far away. It was harder to do it now that he was here with me. It would have been breaking a pane of glass we’d always been careful to keep there, even if sometimes our hands pressed against that divide close enough to feel the other’s warmth. The hard girl with a distant father figure, I thought mockingly. When did I become such a hackneyed banality?”

          No mistakes were involved.

          Cat’s made a choice, and she’s leaning into it on purpose. Because fuck stuffing affection into a box.

          This IS a plot point, in itself.

          Like

          1. ninegardens

            Yeah, I know she’s thought of him as a father figure in the past….
            but that’s the THING, yeah… in all those past cases, she’s used the phrase “Father figure”, and now she isn’t, and there IS a difference.
            And yeah, I see the thing with adoption and all that jazz… but…. but those too are different situations.

            I’m not saying you’re wrong here, just… that something has changed, and its weird, and hasn’t been fully explained.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Oh, the moment of change was explicit.

              Chapter 57: Revolve

              > I found my feet taking me back to camp instead of the bonfire, where I knew Hakram would be. I had no taste for the conversation that awaited there, would not for a long time. Instead I found a tent, still lit with magelight even at this hour, and let the wards wash over me as I entered. Black was seated on one of his rickety stools, his thin shirt for only armour as he poured over papers arrayed before him. He took one look at me, then let out a breath that was almost a sigh.

              > He leant back to claim a cup from his bedside and filled it with the wine at his table, pressing it into my hands. I could have sat across from him, but instead I went on his bed. I folded my knees against my chest and cradled the cup. I barely remembered what it had felt like, to be a child, but it must have been something like this. He did not speak, but neither did his eyes return to the papers.

              > […]

              > The last part I remembered of that night was my father’s hands putting a blanket over me.

              That’s the moment of change and the moment of choice.

              Of course, immediately after it got buried under the whole “you did WHAT” of Liesse and of him trying to get her to kill him, Winter numbness freezing that development in place until Cat shook it off.

              But the decision, the change, it was already there.

              Liked by 1 person

                1. omg

                  I mean… he didn’t lose the Name of Black Knight until Queen’s Gambit, and you can’t hold two Names at the same time, but…

                  hey, Cat was called the Black Queen before she was ready to transition from Squire, too 😀

                  Like

  7. Rook

    I think the bard might actually want the same thing as Kairos, despite what she’s obligated to attempt accomplishing.

    He said it himself, she flees from three things. When she fled from the Hierarch when he refused to pick a side, which one of those was present? I think the only one that can truly apply is the desire of her heart.

    Catherine, I believe, is so busy looking elsewhere for the Bard’s game that she’s missing the clue right under her nose. What if Catherine can’t find the the key piece in the Bard’s plan because she is the key piece? A piece that cant outplay the bard – no one can – but she can break that board on which she can’t lose, no matter how much she wants to.

    It would also very neatly wrap up why Amadeus is actually important in the big picture, despite his goals being focused on the mundane smaller picture. “Father” is what she just called him in her little monologue. He’s not the billiard ball, he’s cue. That’s why she nudged him directly, he’s the tool to indirectly move the piece that she’d otherwise be obligated to sabotage, this late in the game.

    It’s why everything she’s done points to weakening all sides on the board, not breaking them. So that when the Bard’s infantry-piece bomb goes off, everyone is too worn out to stop it.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. Rook

      *the cue

      The other two contextual clues come together as well.

      Why some ordinary teenage kid from some backwater town with no extraordinary talents has been toppling ancient powers as old as the continent left and right. How she grew so quickly and gained exactly what she needed at exactly the right times. If she was fed, intentionally grown – just like that infantry piece – by the oldest and scariest monster, it makes perfect sense.

      It makes sense what the Bard mentioned before. About how she created the Hierarch, of all things, back before she knew better. Why she created something that goes against everything she is. He’s a failed precious attempt. The hands-on direct influence that her fetters forced her to sabotage, that couldn’t win against her as a result.

      Catherine is just MK II. Or III. Or V. Or however long this has been going on.

      Maybe the real reason Kairos has taken such an interest in Catherine is precisely because he can tell what she was created for.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. ChillyPepper

        `Why some ordinary teenage kid from some backwater town with no extraordinary talents has been toppling ancient powers as old as the continent left and right.`

        The parallel realities flashback thingies she has before kneeling before Diabolist indicate that she is anything but ordinary. Just wanted to point this out.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Rook

          Sure, not exactly some random pauper, but every parallel was well within traditionally human limits.

          Her flashbacks were things like a mob boss, a hero, a general. Achievements at the end of a long life. Impressive beyond a doubt, but not something that boggles the mind when you hear those types of people could have started out from nothing. It doesn’t invite disbelief to think that a person could reach those heights mostly on their own merits.

          Some of the things she’s been doing the last few volumes though, they defy all common sense. Devouring an entire half of creation beta and becoming something akin to a god at the ripe old age of, uh, 19? I don’t remember the exact age, we know she barely got out of high school age just recently. Or using that to create a literal deity and reviving a race out of some mangled ruin that predates the history of the nation that spawned her? The scale is a bit off

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Sylwoos

          And given that the world revolve around story trope, ordinary teenage kids from some backwater town toppling great power is probably the norm. How many Dread Emperor have fallen to such heros?

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Fayhem

        Bard didn’t create *this* Hierarch; that was Tyrant’s play. Bard was referring to creating the Name of Hierarch itself, that in this manifestation of the Name Anaxares wound up assuming through Tyrant’s manipulations.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. caoimhinh

      I’m re-reading the Guide, and something was brought to my attention. This is what Hakram told Cat just before the Battle of Second Liesse against Akua:

      “We’re winning,” he said. “Just by standing here, we’re winning. Because they only rule us only as long as we let them, and the moment that truth bleeds it dies. They can kill every last one of us and it won’t matter, because as long as the banner’s been raised once someone will rise to carry it again.” Baring fangs, he met my eyes.

      “They wouldn’t let us have a seat at the table, so we broke it,” Hakram said, and there was a savage satisfaction to him. “That will not go quietly into the night, no matter what happens today.”

      And a few paragraphs later he said this:

      “That’s the thing with eras, Catherine,” Adjutant said, hard-eyed and proud. “They come to an end. So let’s bury it together, the two of us – this fucking Age of Wonders they built on our backs.”

      So it’s all coming to that, one way or another, a lot of Players are getting closer to the point of contemplating the breaking of the board, and thus the Game is coming to an end.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. And so, Catherine’s favorite metaphor for war is shatranj played improperly.

    Pieces that don’t obey with Duchess Kegan.

    Several boards that people are playing on without knowing they are different with Pilgrim.

    And now it comes to a fucking culmination and I love her.

    Liked by 7 people

  9. caoimhinh

    This was a very interesting and funny chapter, thanks.
    Some revelations, lots of speculations. Time to start looking for the Legions and plan Amadeus’ rescue!

    “a successful outlier in sustained victory for Evil, insofar as my father really cared about waving the banner”
    Aaaww Cat is so cute calling Amadeus father more frequently.

    “what exactly the Wandering Bard had failed to see stabbed”
    You, of course, Cat. As the heiress of Practical Evil. Of course, taking down Neshamah might be in the cards, but it’s never a single-layered game, there are always multiple objectives and possible paths of action.

    Typos found / how it should be:

    plague as I am by a suspicious nature / plagued
    knew more about than that most / about that than most
    I would but it beyond the Wandering Bard / put it beyond
    gotten what I came from / what I came for

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for the chapter!
    This part of the monologue was the most precise representation of the series,
    [ “You really are terrible at this game,” the Tyrant of Helike noted. “I can’t believe even after so much cheating you’re losing this badly.”]
    I don’t usually comment but this particular part just sums up Cat through the whole series, she has done so much and was ready to sacrifice even more but in the end she lost more than she won.
    Truly EE is a prodigy among the writers. Thanks you so much for this amazing series.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. edrey

    the thing the bard failed to stab are practical evils, they are a new kind of evil she doesnt know how to deal, one or two are find but more? i dont thing so, first the hashmalin then the wars, lets not forget that the plan of amadeus was to trascend the pattern of callow and praes, a new evil nation of practical villians

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SINISTAR

      I don’t quite think that’s it. While Black and Co’s methodology is relatively new, and arguably a threat, keep in mind Cat’s concluded the story the Bard is building is contrary to taking out individuals who are much more dangerous. There’s some pieces on the board we don’t know of yet.

      … I suspect at least *one* of those pieces is Triumphant.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. SINISTAR

      It’s a subtle, quiet thing, Cat and Black have had this relationship feeling for a while, but they’ve always suppressed it. However, in losing Winter, Cat has been forced to do some soul searching. Simply, Cat has chosen, on some level, to accept what her feelings for her father figure are, in spite of any other misgivings, where before there was always a fine line in between them.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. This subplot first culminated at Second Liesse (“neither of us spoke the word patricide”), but that ended with such an unholy mess with Cat so badly traumatized, she kind of put off processing it until Winter fell off.

        At which point she apparently rapidly decided that the issue does not deserve any further consideration and fuck the fine line ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Andrew Mitchell

    Wow, just… Wow. I am so impressed by this chapter. Humour and subtlety both in abundance.

    TBH I didn’t get 75% of the subtle interplay between Kairos and Cat. I’m looking forward to reading the existing 30+ comments because I’m sure others will have seen more deeply than me.

    Cat’s cheating, and Kairos’ reaction (or lack of) were the absolute highlight for me.

    Loved this chapter so much.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Digitize27

    It can’t just be me that sees a lot of similarities between the proposed reason that the Bard is as she is (She was uniquely good at fucking up the Gods’ plans so was re-purposed to facilitate them) and Catherine herself.
    Is Bard grooming a successor? Engineering a situation where she is forced to lose in order to prove that Cat is better at this game than her and is therefore more worthy of her punishment?

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Aotrs Commander

    I love how Cat appears to be the only person that can even get to and exasperate even KAIROS, who has pretty much otherwise spent his whole time being such a easy-going manic.

    Liked by 6 people

  15. WuseMajor

    The qualities he described Bard as having are pretty similar to Cat’s strengths. What if the Bard wants to die permanently, but to do that, she needs to find a replacement?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Randelman

    Is there anything preventing Catherine from claiming a Name now? I know she couldn’t when she was all fae but surely that isn’t stopping her anymore.

    Like

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