Interlude: And Pay Your Toll

“Oh no, please stop wrecking everything! Like that urn in the corner, with the djinn bound inside. No, the other one, with golden – oh, woeful day, this wanton destruction of priceless artefacts is so inconvenient to me personally and absolutely no one else.”
– Dread Emperor Irritant I, ‘defending’ the palace of the High Lord of Aksum from heroes

Tariq did not reply. He knew hesitation was herald of defeat, in contests such as this, yet he could not hasten to answer. Not with the stakes at play here – he, this army, this entire continent, none of them could afford a misstep here and now. A surrender had been offered, but could still be either accepted or refused.

The Pilgrim’s first and deeper instinct was to accept. If it was a lie she’d offered, a trick being played, then accepting would allow him to turn this spin of the yarn on her. A false surrender, when he still had the forces in motion that he’d sent out? The backlash of such a ploy would be bloody for the villain who’d played it. But that was the wrong way to think about this, he decided, because it assumed that Catherine Foundling was a fool. And she wasn’t, unfortunately. She was reckless often and at times arrogant, but also frightfully prone to learning from her mistakes – those, at least, that were not born from the flaws at the very heart of her. It was possible, he considered, that she’d pit providence against the weight of his broken oath. Wagered that events would not tumble forward in a way that allowed him to uncover the conspiracy, should there be one. Yet it was not a good wager, for her, since taking it at all meant she’d fallen into the role of the Grand Alliance’s villainous adversary. No it was nearly certain that the offer of surrender was genuine, which only made it all the more dangerous.

It would break the pattern of three, if he accepted. A victory for her, in claiming back her teacher’s body through ploy, and then a much greater victory for him this night, in scaring her into surrender – that would be the end of it. It was a draw that would take Tariq where he needed to go, arm him with the only blade left that might still be capable of killing Catherine Foundling should it prove necessary. If she’d opposed him more directly in this battle, even made act of presence, the Pilgrim would have come forward as well and leaned on the weight of their pattern to nudge events towards the certainty of a draw. But she’d remained veiled, hidden and plotting. And she saw right through me, Tariq thought, abashed. For all that he had told himself he had the measure of the Black Queen, evidently he’d been wrong. If he was to avoid compounding his mistakes, he must discard that belief and approach the situation with fresh eyes. Catherine Foundling had caught sight of the pattern of three he’d spent so long arranging, and most likely suspected the importance of it to him. Should this, then, be seen as an olive branch?

She would not allow a foe the power over her Tariq had sought to obtain, yet she understood why he found the need for it. And so a concession was made, surrender unconditional on the field, offering to his old hands the thread that might just untangle the thorny knot that was the confluence in Iserre. A knife bared, his purpose denied but then a lesser prize offered. It fit, as it would not be the first time that the Black Queen dealt with others using that blunt but potent approach.

Like an old mule he’d been approached, and this was the apple dangled: an end to Iserre that would be to the benefit of the Grand Alliance, in matters earthly. With refusal, then, would come the stick that would be used to thrash him. A more provisional offer might have allowed the Pilgrim grounds with which to refuse, but unconditional surrender meant that the burden of consequence had been passed entirely to him. There could, to be put it bluntly, be no better offer. If it were a trick that would not matter, for to be Good was not to be the kind of fool that fell into every trap: even devils could cite the Book for their purposes. But if it was not a trick, as he believed, then by refusing Tariq would be tossing to the side every sacrifice made tonight. Every death that had pressed down on his shoulders so he could bring morning’s light to the sky. Would the miracle wane and die? The Ophanim murmured uncertainly in his ear, even they unknowing. He suspected not, but it would at least be made fragile. Judged hollow by Creation, and so become exactly that. The Black Queen’s answer, the coiling darkness that lay at the heart of her camp and had been carefully woven into a theurgic ritual, would rip through it. Perhaps reverse the situation entire, unleashing her drow anew in the fullness of the might.

The Grey Pilgrim was no leader of warbands but he had known wars and felt the power of the Everdark’s children fill the night. If they struck out again with their strength restored, the battle would resume with her forces at a distinct advantage. A second victory for Catherine Foundling would end the pattern of three just as surely, which meant his choice was now effectively between two different unmakings of a plan that had taken more than a year to carry out. Exasperation welled up at the thought. All that toil, broken within months of her return to the surface as if on a whim. Tariq leaned into the emotion, let it course through his veins and then pass out of him. There was no use to growing angry at being outplayed: on the contrary, that kind of fragility tended to lead Bestowed into a spiral of decline. He’d seen too many times to count. Mind clear again, the Grey Pilgrim considered what the Black Queen wanted him to believe was his choice. Victory for him, on her terms. Likely victory for her, still on her terms. The old man’s brow creased as he considered it. There was something about this… theatricality that rubbed him wrong. For a villain, he thought, Catherine Foundling had always been admirably reluctant to sacrifice soldiers on false pretences.

What she considered those to be was where the villainy began, but that was another story. Ah, Tariq hummed. So there it is. The Black Queen had spent lives in her service, those of the drow, by sending them into the fight suspecting a miracle would snatch away their powers and leave them exposed. Unusual for her, and she would not do it without a reason. So why had the drow been sent, he mused? To force his hand with the bringing of dawn, certainly, but there’d been no need for such a brutal display as what had taken place. Thousands dead, so quickly, was not war: it was a point being made. They had been sent to make an impression. To swat down multitudes like flies and add weight to the choice the Pilgrim must now make. To create, in a word, urgency. Such a thing would only be necessary, he decided, if there was a deception afoot.

“Where is your liege, Hunstman?” the Grey Pilgrim asked.

“Another question was not the answer sought, Peregrine,” the fae languidly replied. “Your verdict?”

She wasn’t in Creation, Tariq grasped then. Admittedly the surrender offered had only been for those under her command and not the Queen of Callow herself so her presence was not strictly required. But if she wasn’t here, how did she expect to bring down dawn should he refuse her surrender? There might be other drow with power enough, but none with the requisite weight to carry it out. If the Hierophant had still been at her side then Tariq would not have considered the matter further, but the boy currently was in the depths of Arcadia making a ruinous altar of his grief. The Wild Hunt could not wield miracles of darkness, and who did that leave? No one but Bestowed or the most powerful of warlocks should be able to weave a working rival to his, leaving the confines of story, and the only place where the Black Queen would have been able to encounter such a helper since her disappearance should be the Everdark. It was, he reflected, deeply unlikely anyone but Catherine Foundling on her side could bring an end to his dawn – her patron murderesses notwithstanding, for should they intervene directly so would the Choir of Mercy. Old mule that he was, he’d been offered the apple and the stick. But it appeared that the stick might be little more than glamour, a shadow on the wall. If he refused, and dawn held, then…

That would be contingent on her failing to return, but her absence was telling: whatever her scheme, it required her to see to something else. Instead of an olive branch extended, he thought, this might instead be the affected nonchalance of a villain raising the stakes on a bad hand. Trying to scare the opposition into retreating by displaying unflinching certainty. The pieces were there, Tariq thought, for this to be the answer. Yet it was not certain, and in assuming that the Black Queen was gambling he would be doing the very same thing. If the only consideration was whether it was possible to obtain a promised victory on Catherine Foundling, then this was the choice to be made. Refusal, and pushing through. That was not, however, the only consideration. He could it be, when Keter was on the march? Could he truly justify, the Grey Pilgrim asked himself countenance refusing such an offer of peace? Refuse it when it delivered all he asked save for a knife at the throat of the very woman offering it – a knife, it must be said, that he now stood little chance of obtaining no matter his decision. The scope of the scales, Tariq thought, were close to beyond his ability to grasp.

The Black Queen that could be would be the end of Calernia. Between the Kingdom of the Dead and the Kingdom of the East, the continent would be made a ruin of endless war. Yet in combating the Black Queen that could be, was he blinding himself to the truth of the Black Queen that was?

Could there be any justification for the tossing away of the only pattern of three he would ever have with Catherine Foundling? There might not be another way to kill her if she further grew beyond Tariq’s means. By staying his hand he might be letting slip an entity he could no longer put down.

In refusing an offer of peace from Callow when the Dead King was on the march, was he not aiding the Hidden Horror regardless of all other concerns?

Innocents were going to die.

Innocents had died, some by his own design.

The Ophanim were at his side, helping his tired old bones stand straight, and though in their whispers there was sorrow there was also something other. Trust. They trusted him, the murmurs said, to make the choice. They had seen as he saw, tread in his wake for the seemingly endless days and night he had been the Peregrine. They’d been at his shoulder for his every mistake, his every bitter triumph, and still they trusted. Sometimes that was the only reason he woke with dawn, the knowledge that hand in hand they could still do more. Sometimes that was the weight that pressed down on his chest and choked his lungs, the strain of that unearthly trust. Tariq had tread with angels in his wake for so long he’d forgot how it had felt before.

“Should you not have answers?” he asked, voice choked. “Are you not the Watchers Kindly, the burning wisdom of many eyes?”

Old friends, he thought, help me. Help me see, for once more I am lost. But they had no answers for him, would not take the burden from his shoulders. But they stood at his side, holding up his tired from, for in the end they were the Choir of Mercy and though they could not save him they would at least share in his suffering. Tariq thought of the city of his birth, suddenly, of that summer so long ago when the plague had choked it with death. In those days where it had all been so simple, when healing could be the sum of him. When he’d not been charged with clawing Creation back out of the darkness’ hands, just to bring a little light into it. Tariq, who had last felt true warmth before the final breath of the woman who’d used to smile as she called him of no import, looked up at the sky and watched the star that shone there. Somewhere along the way, he thought, he had gone from bringing small lights into this world to bringing great ones.

Sometimes he wondered if Creation was truly better for it.

“Do you really,” he murmured, “trust me to make that choice?”

The Ophanim thrummed. Agreement, absolute in that way only angels could be. The Grey Pilgrim turned to the Black Queen’s messenger.

“Tell the Queen of Callow I accept her surrender,” he said.

“This,” the Kairos Theodosian mused, “appears to be a goat.”

Hakram kept a calm look on his face, remaining as dignified as an orc could be while hanging upside down tied by the feet. The Tyrant’s outriders had clapped him in chains and dragged him back to the League’s army in them regardless of his claim to be an envoy from the Queen of Callow, though it wasn’t until the Tyrant himself arrived that Adjutant was forced to watch a procession of gargoyles drag in a tall tripod and trip over each other assembling it for what had to be at least half an hour. He’d then been hung upside down from the centrepiece, and only now had his gag been removed.

“Greetings, Lord Tyrant,” he serenely said. “I am the Adjutant, here as envoy from your ally the Queen of Callow.”

“She wrote some very unkind things about me, Hakram,” the Tyrant accusingly said.

He tapped at the parchment his soldiers had taken from the orc’s affairs along with the goat, the same missive he’d both penned in Catherine’s name and been charged with bringing to the League when given the signal. The process had been more tedious than difficult: the barren plain this corner of Arcadia had been turned into meant he’d been able to see their columns arriving from miles off, though that hadn’t quickened his journey in the slightest.

“I am sure,” Hakram lied, “that they were meant in a spirit of friendship.”

The goat he’d had confiscated looked at him and bleated, which the orc had to admit was fair. It’d been a hard sell. No one seemed to have thought to leash the creature, so it was ambling around this formal war council of the League of Free Cities at will and tracking cheap white paint over the furniture.

“What kind of things?” a tanned woman in dark robes asked, leaning forward with interest.

“Magister Zoe,” the Tyrant gasped. “That is most inappropriate to ask. That man is a known spy, he could be peddling all sorts of calumnies.”

The formal war council of the League of Free Cities, Hakram thought, was about as much as flaming wreck as he’d expected given the fractious nature of that alliance and the general reputation of the Tyrant heading it. The orcs jaw tightened when his suspicion was confirmed and the woman who’d spoken was revealed as a magister of Stygia – what a dignified word for a slaver – thought at least it made placing the others easier. The gangly old man at the very right of the long table who was putting the proceedings to ink was likely to be the representative from Delos, a member of its Secretariat. The young ruler of Nicae, Basileus Leo Trakas, was recognizable as much from the formal apparel as the drawings the Jacks had obtained. The two richly-dressed men glaring daggers at each other should be the rival Exarchs of Penthes, the last two survivors of the shambles the Carrion Lord had made of that city’s ruling class. A middle-aged man in ill-fitting armour was looking rather confused and kept looking over his shoulder like he expected someone to be standing there. The representative from Bellerophon, Hakram suspected. That left only one city without a seat at the table, though someone had nailed what looked like a tome of the Book of All Things to the back of a chair just to the left of the Delosi scribe. Interestingly, the Hierarch himself did not seem to be in attendance.

“Lord Deadhand, it is most uncouth of you to be staring so at the honourable delegate from Atalante,” the Tyrant suddenly chided him.

He was, Hakram realized with horrified fascination, talking about the book.

“I apologize,” Adjutant said. “I have never seen anyone from Atalante before.”

Kairos Theodosian grinned, like he was mischievous boy, and leaned forward before lowering his voice to a conspiratorial pitch.

“It’s actually the Book of All Things nailed to a chair,” the Tyrant of Helike confessed. “I just have a gargoyle read a verse once in a while, I don’t think anyone’s noticed the difference.”

Before a heartbeat had passed, Hakram had decided how to tailor his approach. Like dealing with a drunk Catherine, if the jokes about hanging people who irritated her were actually deadly serious.

“Have you considered having a puppet made?” Adjutant replied in the same tone.

The Tyrant snorted out a giggle, his bad arm trembling under his robes. Hakram kept his distaste off his face: the villain smelled like sickness and crazy, both of the dangerous kind.

“I like you,” Kairos Theodosian smilingly said, but then the smile vanished like mist in morning sun. “Is what I imagine she thought I’d say, anyway.”

Hakram remained calm. The boy was unstable, but not without cunning, and Catherine had already taken the measure of him. She would not have sent him here, at the Tyrant’s mercy, if she thought it would get him killed.

“She does seem to enjoy taking up broken toys, your mistress,” the Tyrant of Helike mused. “A filthy habit that, if you’ll forgive my language.”

The villain cocked his head to the side, his sanguine red eye unblinking.

“But by the looks of you, Hakram, you were debris long before she got her hands on you,” he idly continued. “Magister Zoe, what do you call it again when they just look like a person but lack every other meaningful characteristic of one?”

“Foreigners,” the Stygian drily replied.

The Tyrant of Helike shot Adjutant a friendly, complicit look with a grin that good as whispered see what I have to deal with, like moments earlier the villain hadn’t been feeling for a weakness with his words like water poured on glass in search of fault. This was, Hakram thought, a man as dangerous as he was mad. He smiled back, keeping his fangs hidden by his lips.

“You really are a piece of work,” the Tyrant of Helike admiringly said.

“Pieces, by now,” Hakram replied without missing a beat.

The madman cackled loudly, and even a few of the others smiled.

“So tell me about this goat,” Kairos Theodosian said, “and why it looks like it was half-heartedly painted just before it was brought here.”

“And in wickedness does Evil sow the seeds of its own defeat,” a gargoyle mewled, staring up at a page of the Book of All Things.

Everyone ignored it.

“Your ignorance is understandable, my lord Tyrant, given the recent isolation of Callow,” Hakram said. “This is not a goat: he is, in fact, a purebred Liessen charger.”

Stares moved to the goat, which bleated fearfully at the sudden spurt of attention and ran under the table – she smeared white paint all over the robes of the Stygian magister before being chased away with a kick, which Adjutant silently approved of.

She has udders,” Basileus Leo patiently said. “Goat udders. Because she is a goat.”

“Leo, you’ll cause a diplomatic incident at this rate,” the Tyrant replied, sounding appalled. “Besides, my dear ally the Queen of Callow has personally sent me a mount. How could it not be a splendid destrier of Callowan stock?”

Interesting, Hakram thought once more. It had been one thing for him to call the Tyrant of Helike an ally, another for the king to admit it. The orc had been under the impression that while there was an elected Hierarch, foreign diplomacy was their strict prerogative and to go against that would be treason. Yet none of the others seemed bothered by the implicit admission in the slightest – which meant either the Tyrant’s plot were known and permitted, or the Hierarch’s authority was a sham and Kairos Theodosian was the true ruler of the League. Something many had suspected, including Hakram himself, but did not align with Catherine’s own impression of their relationship.

“I wash my hands of this,” the Basileus sighed. “Do as you will, Tyrant.”

“So, Catherine wants us to take a crack at the Grand Alliance,” Lord Kairos said, completely ignoring the other ruler in favour of Hakram. “Interesting offer.”

There was a pause.

“I refuse,” he added nonchalantly. “So, now that that’s done with, tell me true: if you had to be drowned, would you prefer it was in wine or in oil?”

“We were afraid you would hesitate to act, given the circumstances,” Hakram amicably said. “No grudge will be held, I assure you.”

“Circumstances,” Lord Kairos mildly repeated. “Such as?”

“The battle ought to be over by now,” Adjutant said. “The Grey Pilgrim will have woven a miraculous star and broken the strength of the Firstborn, forcing my queen’s unconditional surrender.”

A pregnant pause.

“She doesn’t have that much give in her,” the Tyrant said, red eye narrowing.

“My lord,” Hakram grinned, baring his teeth, “I penned the letter for her.”

The villain peered at him closely, as if looking into his soul, and the orc had to refrain from flinching. There was something… discomforting about the intensity of that mismatched gaze.

“It appears someone will have to saddle my goat,” Kairos Theodosian mused, “for we now must ride out in glorious battle.”

355 thoughts on “Interlude: And Pay Your Toll

    • Not really, he’s been consistently the same throughout. This is Catherine reading him perfectly and apparently using the idiot Hierarch/Tyrant to keep them form really winning.

      Liked by 27 people

      • Wait, are you arguing that this isn’t development for Taric? The guy just compromised when there was still a chance he could have come out completely on top, giving up on something he really really wanted. This has never happened in previous chapters, where he gave up something he really wanted that he strictly speaking didn’t have to give up.

        It’d be one thing if he figured she was basically waiting for him to refuse, like he did at first. But then he realized (or decided, not positive if he’s right yet) that she wasn’t around to take advantage of that kind of mistake, so there was a chance he could get away with it. But he decided not to make the gamble. I’m kind of proud of him for it, honestly.

        Liked by 16 people

        • Tariq has always had the greater good as his top priority, whether or not he personally wins is barely even secondary. I don’t know where people keep getting this idea of him a character that puts his own wants or victory first.

          The reason he escalates so hard to win is because he genuinely, down to his very core with no pretence, believes his role is to try saving as much of creation from suffering as possible by working with the Ophanim. It’s not a pretentious excuse, the dude literally believes it. Whether he makes mistakes in hindsight or not trying to do that is another story, and he’s as much as outright admitted that he can and has made mistakes there in the past, during the battle of the camps arc. But for the same reason Catherine couldn’t stop even though she spent the first three volumes doing nothing but leaving smoking craters behind her of everything she was trying to save, he keeps trying anyway because he genuinely believes what he’s doing will eventually create a Better World(TM), just like Catherine.

          Accepting the compromise is exactly in line with the previous character that he’s had before. Above everything, his personal priority is what means the least suffering at the end of it all, and that’s exactly the apple that Catherine dangled in front of him.

          It’s not the pilgrim ‘growing up’ or changing character, the dude has been and still is a genuine selfless Hero since before Catherine & co were even born.

          It’s result of Catherine growing up so much, to the point where she accurately read one of the most dangerous Heroes on the continent, and gave him bait he couldn’t refuse at the cost of her own personal victory.

          Liked by 23 people

          • The type of self-righteousness Pilgrim has is personal wants in every way that matters. Hanno doesn’t make a choice therefore he is just through Choir making choice for him, William got his edgy antiheroics and redemption and pushed his personal agenda every step of the way, and Pilgrim is just the same, he views bites of his conscience as a proof enough that he is fundamentally right. Cat once said “unrepentant villainy”, all heroes are guilty of “unrepentant heroics”. Pilgrim actually believes that just because Ophanim and Gods Above may forgive him he is except from judgement of mortals; he is not bound to ANY treaties made with mortals if they are inconvenient. That’s as unrepentant as you can get.

            >The reason he escalates so hard to win is because he genuinely, down to his very core with no pretence, believes his role is to try saving as much of creation from suffering as possible by working with the Ophanim. It’s not a pretentious excuse, the dude literally believes it.
            It IS a pretentious excuse even if he believes that. He tried to pass his own judgement once, got burned and decided to surrender his freedom of mind completely and utterly. That’s the thing about heroes, they don’t have agency.

            Liked by 6 people

                    • There’s literally an instance of you making a borderline comment two notches up. Claiming it’s a joke doesn’t really hold up to your behaviour for the last few chapters, which I find a shame because dissenting voices are what make discussions interesting. That said you’re not being persecuted, you’re having debates with others readers. If those debates get heated on either side that’s fine, I’ve no intention of being involved so long as people remain broadly civil. To make it clear, if you feel like you’re being harassed then say as much and I’ll step in. But so far you’ve been the one making indirect references to other commenters even when they’re not involved in the conversation, not the other way around, so casting yourself as a victim being chased out isn’t earning much sympathy on my end. People are just as allowed to disagree with you as you are with them.

                      Liked by 17 people

                    • What? No, I meant no such thing. This community is starting to tire me, that’s all. I need to distance myself from the comments. I’m sick of spending hours on clearing up misunderstandings. It’s not fault of anybody in particular, I’ve just decided it will be better for everyone if I disappear for a time. I will not be missed; that’s fine. I don’t come here for approval anyway.


            • So tell me exactly what his personal agenda is then, exactly? Because we know for a fact that his personal agenda involves horrid acts of selfishness such as letting his sisters killer go even if he believes it isn’t justice, and murdering the he loves like his own because he believed preventing the war he’d bring would be a net good on creation.

              It’s not perfect, he admits it. He makes mistakes, he admits it. But we know for a fact – by a literal window into his thoughts by omniscient author-vision – that his real motives always come around to “how will this affect the continent as a whole”. Sorry, where’s the pretence here?

              The fact of the matter is, the Pilgrim gets a lot of flak for the sole purpose of being the antagonist to a popular protagonist. There’s almost nothing you can accuse him of that doesn’t apply in equal measure to Catherine, which is hilarious because the same people that call the Pilgrim a hypocritical ass will bend over backwards to come to the opposite conclusion about Catherine when she does almost the same shit for almost the same reasons.

              Honestly the opinions on the characters are whatever, who cares if you like the pilgrim or hate him. But most of the hypocrisy is in the comments section, not the writing.

              Liked by 15 people

              • >Because we know for a fact that his personal agenda involves horrid acts of selfishness
                That’s exactly that – selfishness. I don’t know how it’s properly called, but it’s a false equation of feeling pain and feeling right about what you have done. Kind of a more narrow argument of “i’m arguing against myself here therefore my position’s stronger” type. Also, people do get joy from being in pain. Like, people in depression do dread sinking deeper and go there anyway, it’s the same mechanism, but for religious folks those feelings get confused with religious feelings.

                Reading the comments it kind of proves Cat’s idea that Pilgrim is Black who was brainwashed by a Choir – where Black would say he is the most selfish person in the world because it’s his personal rebellion against the Creation, half the world being a prop for the other half’s victory, Pilgrim would ask Choir to support him morally, would claim he made sacrifices to prevent tragedies et cetera. Pilgrim would seek justification from the Heavens while Black would shrug and say that he isn’t just to begin with.

                That’s why people in the comments call heroes hypocrites: not because they are antagonists but rather because they are just the same as villains but they get to narratively, but not factually, be proven right. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case when there exist monsters like Dead King, but for every ancient horror there are tens and hundreds Saints of Swords born over horror’s lifespan who are willing to sacrifice entire countries to kill The Enemy.

                >his real motives always come around to “how will this affect the continent as a whole”. Sorry, where’s the pretence here?
                Does he actually consider well-being of, say, orcs and goblins? Regardless of treaties forced on him by Cat. He is protecting the entire continent, after all.

                Liked by 1 person

                • So religious people are masochists?

                  Religion is nothing but a pretense for masochists to self-flagellate themselves?

                  That’s the argument you are going with?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • No, i said was that moral high ground bought with suffering is a very common thing, more common for religious people (christians, or orthodox at least, have a cult of martyrdom), and it’s oftentimes a desirable position to hold. It’s kind of like a hero wishing that villain would break the truce because that would give him, hero, stronger position.

                    Liked by 2 people

            • You’re applying an atheistic worldview to a world where that geniunely doesn’t apply. The Grey Pilgrim is a Gandalf expy, he actually does have the moral license to do things that would be pretty dubious because he has the equivalent of Jesus whispering in his ear.

              Liked by 4 people

                • Read up on some philosophy. It’s impossible for me to discuss this with you when you’ve made up your mind that Tariq is a bad person and don’t even pretend to care to take his point of view.

                  Given that the Ophanim want Greatest Good for the Greatest Number and given that they have a ridiculously massive point of view that no human can match, it makes perfect sense for Tariq to delegate his choice. That IS a choice. Knowing when to acknowledge that someone else knows better is humility and also practicality.

                  >he is except from judgement of mortals; he is not bound to ANY treaties made with mortals if they are inconvenient.
                  That’s not what he says. The judgement of mortals is only ever relevant insofar as you care about them. This is true of all people. Catherine is being judged by people in the Empire and in Procer right this second. Cordelia knows that her uncle will never forgive her for her choices. Both of them still did what they thought was right, because treaties are treated as the scraps of paper they are if their costs outweigh their benefits in this world and in our own.

                  Hanno isn’t a blind fuck puppet, he’s a person who has realised that he doesn’t know the answer, that perhaps humans are incapable of finding a perfect answer, but that there are beings which
                  can see the answers. Hanno didn’t know that fighting some snot-nosed kid would lead to him becoming an abusive father and even when told he didn’t know what he should’ve done. But the Seraphim showed him what he lacked in knowledge and showed him that they knew what he didn’t, so Hanno thinks, “alright, clearly I don’t know enough – I should listen to people who demonstrably know way fucking more than me”. He has made a choice, chosen to give up his choice. Is this the right choice? It doesn’t matter, the fact that he consciously chooses to not judge and consciously chose to go to the Seraphim for guidance is enough to make him anything but a puppet. Their agency is to understand that maybe, for once, they don’t know best. Maybe someone else does.

                  Liked by 5 people

                  • I know Tariq’s point of view and I consciously choose not to care. He believes he’s right, so what? Everybody does. That doesn’t mean anything. Only results matter.

                    I don’t need anybody to tell me what to think. I can manage on my own, and I don’t trust Ophanim to understand good as I do. They think in extremes. It takes one good look at history to see that nothing good ever comes from that.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Nobody was asking if you personally agreed with Tariq and I could not care less whether or not you believe you can manage on your own, it’s just staggering how hypocritical and biased people are when it comes down to it. Tariq is fighting for what he believes in, and believes that angels afforded a wider point of view see more than he does. You might think that the angels don’t actually see more. That’s great, but that has no bearing on how Tariq sees things and therefore no bearing on his morality or on his personality or development or lack thereof.’

                      >it takes one good look at history to see that nothing good ever comes from that,.
                      Let’s make it count, who’re you talking about? Don’t fall for the bait and take the easy out; I’m already giving charity by not nitpicking about your usage of the word ‘good’.

                      >only results matter
                      Correct, and the results aren’t in. The point of the angels is that they see more of the results than you. That’s why Tariq aligns himself with the Ophanim, because they genuinely do see more and can detect suffering when a normal man might not.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • Explain to me then, what is the basis you think I should judge Tariq on? Or maybe I should love him unconditionally?


                    • You should judge a character’s personality without trying to suss out some sort of superior or inferior nature.

                      You should judge a character’s competence on whether or not his actions make internal sense according to his personality as well as according to in-world facts.

                      If you want to judge morality there’s not much to it, judge them based on what they want for the world and what their ultimate goals are.

                      If you want to judge a character’s development you should compare their personality to former versions of themselves as presented.

                      Maybe stop thinking of things in terms of ‘extremes’ and simply look at the character as they are, without trying to pass judgement on every little thing according to the logic of our world instead of their world. You’re the one presenting a false dichotomy here, between judging Tariq according to hypersubjective, illogical standards and simply ‘loving him unconditionally’.

                      Liked by 5 people

                    • “judge them based on what they want for the world”
                      Here’s where you’re wrong. I refuse to see evil as good because it’s done with good intentions. Intentions don’t matter, results do, and the tally of the dead speaks for itself.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • If the results are all that matter then I’m pretty sure that Catherine is the one directly responsible for more deaths than Tariq, at least in the course of the story, considering she started and enabled the entire rebellion arc, by extension Akua, by extension the Crusade, and by extension the Dead King. You’ll object to this. I’ll completely disregard it.

                      If the results that will come to be matter, and so Catherine gets Liesse across, then Tariq arguably stopped Catherine from turning into Winter Queen and also set into motion the Akua Redemption Arc. You need to stop trying to think you see more than the things that canonically, within the story, are shown to see very, very far.

                      Also hold the fuck up, are you actually talking good and evil as in real life? We’re not playing D&D, drop the pretence. You already bailed on giving historical examples, I’ll have you bail on your moral high horse too. Stop being 14.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • I stopped being 14 a long time ago, thank you very much.

                      Catherine is responsible for many deaths and for those she must pay in the end. She shouldn’t, however, be forced to pay for the deaths she is not responsible for. Also, she didn’t cause the rebellion, she merely hastened it.

                      “Tariq arguably stopped Catherine”
                      VERY arguably.

                      Yes, I’m talking good and evil as in real life because that’s the only good and evil there is. Everything else is just bells and whistles.

                      Finally, I’m under no obligation to explain myself to you and frankly, I don’t give a single fuck about your opinion.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • You’re defending yourself quite vehemently and seem to care quite a bit about expressing your own intellectual superiority, though. Grow up a little. Being an old man on the outside doesn’t make you mature on the inside.

                      Liked by 3 people

                  • To keep it short, you think that voluntary slavery isn’t slavery at all. But the thing is, voluntary slavery leaves a man without free will, being considered a tool, leaves him disposable in a way things are and he is going to be exploited for master’s profit. Voluntary slavery is still slavery..

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • Voluntary slavery isn’t slavery literally by definition, you cannot be owned by someone else if at any point you can decide to take ownership back. You’re leasing yourself to them because you believe in their abilities. By your fucking logic anyone who believes in any cause at all that someone else came up with or who follows a leader they trust is a slave. Hanno trusts that the Seraphim will not make him do things that are wrong. Hakram does whatever the fuck Catherine says because he trusts Catherine to make the right calls at the right time. You can’t just invalidate most of humanity because they’re not the point of view character who the story has made you sympathise with.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • >Voluntary slavery isn’t slavery literally by definition, you cannot be owned by someone else if at any point you can decide to take ownership back.

                      There is no slavery called “voluntary” which allows a slave to freely take ownership back at any point in time. On that note, changing masters doesn’t stop you from being a slave. In any case, “voluntary slavery” was an example, a somewhat or well-known topic of discussion. “Voluntary submission is still submission” doesn’t sound as good.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • luminousblu: That would be true if the slave’s free will was sacrosanct and inviolable. That’s not even true in our real world, let alone a High Fantasy world featuring Speaking, telepathy, magical bomb implants, glamours, story-fu, and of course mind-rotting angels and demons.

                      Once you’ve established control over someone, you can take measures to make sure they don’t just decide to get up and leave. In the Guideverse, the simplest is weaving your own power through their body and soul. Doing that with Corruption may be obvious, but consider that Apathy is less so. Mercy and Judgement may not do such obvious damage, but if someone is permeated with such power, that will affect their personality and their choices.

                      I don’t exempt Catherine here, but now she’s found a patron whose moral background and character is similar to her own — like Catherine, Sve Noc grasped for dark power specifically because of an overwhelming opponent trying to dominate them. For the Foundling, that started with the Conquest — remember how despite Black’s best efforts, by the time he got there the Occupation was already backing her into a corner?

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • Voluntary slavery is an oxymoron.

                      Tariq, Hanno and William weren’t and aren’t slaves. All of them can stop doing what they’re doing any minute. We have WoG that giving up on the “liberating Callow” goal would have broken William mentally – note that there’s nothing in there about angels, it’s the goal he’s inherited from his sister in his anger against Praes and what it drove him to. Hanno literally does whatever the fuck he wants, he doesn’t get any input from the angels even if he wants some – other than yes/no answers to ‘do I kill this person’.

                      As for Tariq, we know several things for a fact about him:
                      – when he deviates from the desires of the Choir of Mercy, they stop talking to him. Simple as that. And he went for ten years like that, when rearing his nephew;
                      – he’s not dependent on the angels for anything, he has his powers, his reputations and his sanity all on his own. Yes, he’s grown reliant on their support, but that’s like accusing a person of being a ‘voluntary slave’ to their dog;
                      – speaking of dogs and other non-verbal animals, we’ve seen who makes the strategic calls in this partnership, and it’s not the Ophanim. Even if Tariq would have preferred otherwise, the responsibility is ultimately on him for everything he does. They’re the pit crew, not the bosses.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Kissaten:
                      >There is no slavery called “voluntary” which allows a slave to freely take ownership back at any point in time.
                      This is a lot like saying “There is no star named Chuck Norris’ Penis which is square and looks like a gay pride flag”. Yes, there’s no voluntary slavery which allows a slave to take back ownership at any point in time. That’s because there’s no such thing as voluntary slavery.

                      >Voluntary submission is still submission doesn’t sound as good
                      Yes, because slavery is a loaded and emotionally charged word that is presumed to be evil by the word’s existence, while submission isn’t because the fact of the matter is that everyone submits to something. Even a Nietzschean ubermensch, an Camusian Absurdist or a Randian objectivist – even an Egoist – isn’t free of submission, and most people can’t even begin to approach the level of independence those guys have. Either most of humanity is ‘voluntarily enslaved’, or the point is moot.

                      Mental Mouse:
                      Free will being sancrosanct and inviolable is something that you can debate but generally speaking, just because you’re influenced by outside factors doesn’t mean you don’t have free will. You either get to say that the world is deterministic and there is, has never been, and never will be free will, or that barring mind control you can’t really rob someone of free will. You can restrict his choices, but each person and all people have their choices restricted from the day they’re born, that’s just how the world is. Human interaction is about restricting the choices of others and making attractive to them the choices you want them to take – even if that choice is as simple as ‘keep talking to this stranger next to me instead of going for another pint and leaving’.

                      Personality being affected by power freely taken and power freely used is still a result of that person’s free will. Someone who decides to march to war and is broken by the experience isn’t somehow without his free will. Someone who’s raised in a culture which controls their personality – let’s use a real life example and go for broke, North Korea (really any country in the world but let’s use that one) – isn’t without free will. Catherine using Winter voluntarily doesn’t mean she has no free will. Free will is, if you simplify it down so we don’t write theses on the question, the exercise of your personality, whatever that might be. Personality is always changing and shaped by outside events, you can’t escape being moulded by your surroundings and the people or things you interact with.

                      The one exception, really, is Speaking. But Speaking is clearly something else entirely, we’ve seen Catherine get Spoke to, it’s not what’s happening with Hanno or even similar. It seems closest to me to having a religious experience or a super moving moment in real life, which, well, I wouldn’t call that removing Hanno’s free will. We can see his thought process. It’s clear. It’s clean. As far as I can tell it’s even perfectly logical once you account for his personal values. He simply thinks the Seraphim really do know best, and follows them for that reason.

                      Liked by 2 people

                  • The Ophanims are paperclip maximizers. Just because their reward function is a bit less dangerous than making paperclips, doesn’t make them not dangerous.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    • All angels are paperclip maximizers, which is why it’s a great relief that they delegate actual decision making to heroes. Who might really wish angels were not paperclip maximizers but wiser mortals instead, like Tariq does here, but are stuck with their own and only their own ability to evaluate when to maximize paperclips and when not to.


                  • The tragedy of all this is that the angels still aren’t helping.

                    Like, I mean, they are, a little. Tariq gets intel, Hanno gets yes/no answers to a very specific kind of yes/no question.

                    But we don’t get well-intentioned agents with the ability to look at the whole board at once evaluating all the factors present and giving explicit directions to their representatives on it.

                    The heroes wish there were some. But there aren’t.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • That has been explained many times before, Above can’t intervene so directly because that would escalate the conflict and let Below intervene in the same manner.

                      Angels make plans and watch a lot of things that are happening, though they don’t know everything (it has been stated many times that not even the Gods are omniscient even if they are vastly more knowledgeable). The thing is, they don’t lay the entire plans to the Heroes and mortals to follow; instead, the Choirs nudge them into action and give specific guidance to a certain part of the plan while moving the rest in the dark or with different pieces of the board. But they never show all the plan to a single person, that would be too much direct intervention.
                      Of course, all of this happens while ultimately giving the final choice and duty of carrying it out to the Named. Heroes are technically still able to refuse, but they have been trained into obedience (like Tariq) or outright brainwashed (like William and Hanno) so in practice it’s almost a certainty they will obey.

                      Liked by 1 person

              • I would argue that the presence of god entities does not necessarily mean they are *right*. It just means they have more power. Both “Good” and “Evil” have positive sides, we’ve seen this. As such, a moral license cannot exist in an absolute state. I don’t hate Grey Pilgrim, but he does *not* have an absolute moral license, he’s merely been given a check by one side(when both sides are flawed).

                Liked by 5 people

              • He doesn’t have a moral license, actually. While it is understandable that he may see the Angels’ presence as confirmation that his choice is correct, that does not make it in fact correct or morally right.
                “The Angels told me to do it”, “It is God’s will”, “The Heavens command it”, and other such phrases are just excuses for morally wrong actions committed by fanatics in search of a justification.
                It’s not applying an atheistic worldview, it’s applying the truth of morals and principles: They don’t change according to who says it. Raping is wrong, no matter if it’s a human, satan or god who orders it. Murdering innocents is wrong, even if the Heavens give you permission to do it.

                It could very well be one of the reasons why Narrative is working against this Crusade and it’s representatives: this Crusade isn’t actually righteous and it’s morally wrong. It started due to earthly matters, it was aimed against the wrong targets due to ambition, and was later refused the chance of peace due to politics, spinning out of control due to fanatism. So Catherine, as the one actually looking for peace without screwing everyone else, is the one with an arguably higher moral ground and is the Hero of this whole mess.

                Now, Pilgrim does the things he does because he genuinely believes them to be for the greater good of alleviating suffering, always trying to look at the long run, that makes him a well-intentioned extremist. The problem with his conflict against Catherine is that he sees the potential threat she represents, so he moves to end it before its too late. While we know that Cat has good intentions and we are willing to bet on her as she is the protagonist, from Pilgrim’s POV she is an unstable child who is one misstep from going full Evil Overlord mode, and despite that being likely a death sentence for her the amount of death she would cause would be tremendous. When he last met her she was struggling against Winter’s influence and now she sold her soul to two goddesses of darkness and murder.
                It is UNDERSTANDABLE why he wants to end Catherine and what he is doing, but that doesn’t make it CORRECT. And he definitely doesn’t have the moral high ground here, the Angels whispering at his shoulders change nothing.

                Liked by 3 people

            • “That’s the thing about heroes, they don’t have agency.”

              “Agency, boy,” the abomination said, sounding amused. “You have discarded yours like a petty bauble and never once considered the cost. Blind faith is such tempting notion, isn’t it? Being able to believe in an answer, in a force, without ever questioning it. Certainty and blindness. I have always wondered at the difference.”

              “Old friends, he thought, help me. Help me see, for once more I am lost. But they had no answers for him, would not take the burden from his shoulders. But they stood at his side

              “Do you really,” he murmured, “trust me to make that choice?”

              The Ophanim thrummed. Agreement, absolute in that way only angels could be”

              Dude, you are basically spouting Black Knight instead of thinking for yourself band actually reading what is written. The irony is so thick.

              Liked by 4 people

              • Ophanim are trusting him as long as he is aligned with them. Before they retracted their support once, and since then he, as he admits himself, can wake at dawn only because they push him up. He is their creature soul and body, how would they not trust him? Compare it to trust Sve Noc has in Cat or Black haD in Malicia.

                >you are basically spouting Black Knight instead of thinking for yourself
                Was he wrong then?

                Liked by 2 people

                • The Black Knight is almost always wrong, though. Even ignoring his ludicrously broken view of the world that revolves around ‘winning’ at life without having a clear definition of what it means to win at all, the Black Knight is wrong in that particular case. It has nothing to do with agency. Hanno has trusted the ‘golden luck of heroes’, a tool which hasn’t failed him before, but the Black Knight has found a way to game the system. Hanno is caught horribly off guard and pays for it. This has nothing to do with agency.

                  Accusing Hanno of lacking agency because he’s decided to rely on a tool which hasn’t failed him before but in doing so made a fatal mistake is a lot like accusing Hardrada of lacking agency for setting up camp instead of fortifying his position even though he had no way of knowing Godwinson was three days ahead of schedule and bearing down on his position. That entire segment was, as far as I could tell, just mockery of Black Knight. It read like him bending over backwards to try and justify his feeble position and make every single action reinforce his nonsensical (as in, internally inconsistent) worldview.

                  >trust Sve Noc has in Cat
                  The ‘trust’ Sve Noc has in Cat is utilitarian in nature, don’t delude yourself otherwise. Catherine needs Sve Noc, and Sve Noc can’t work without Cat.

                  >or Black had in Malicia
                  The trust that was ultimately misplaced and arguably should never have been there at all.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • 100% genuine question here because I’m curious. What judgement are you making about utilitarianism here?

                    “The ‘trust’ Sve Noc has in Cat is utilitarian in nature, don’t delude yourself otherwise. Catherine needs Sve Noc, and Sve Noc can’t work without Cat.”

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • I’m not sure I understand your question. I’m using the word ‘Utilitarian’ in the sense of ‘necessarily useful as opposed to necessarily attractive or ideal’, not as it relates to the philosophy of utilitarianism, which I’m pretty sure Sve Noc doesn’t adhere to in the slightest. So you could reword it as

                      “Sve Noc ‘trusts’ Catherine because she knows Catherine needs Sve Noc, and Sve Noc follows Catherine because she needs Catherine. It has nothing to do with inherent trust, merely knowledge that she’s irreplaceable.”

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Ah, thanks for clarifying your working definition.

                      “It has nothing to do with inherent trust, merely knowledge that she’s irreplaceable.”

                      I think it’s more than the fact that Catherine’s irreplaceable, although that’s part of it. Sve Noc also trusts Catherine because she has thoroughly examined Cat’s memories and motivations. And Cat has shown that she (mostly) understand’s Sve Noc as well. And their interests align sufficiently for them to work together well.

                      This doesn’t add up to the same sort of trust that Hakram has for Cat but it’s still a significant level of mutual trust IMO.

                      Liked by 2 people

                • He might not have been wrong in his actual beliefs, but what he said at its face was absolutely factually inaccurate, much like the Madman speech. Seraphim had 0 input in Hanno’s strategy or decision making here. Their only participation, beyond having armed him with the Name and the purpose in the first place, was confirming his judgement to kill Amadeus during the Nicae battle. Like, that’s the ONLY input they had.

                  Everything else was Hanno having to think for himself and make his own decisions. He literally had no other channel through which to get divine guidance, and we see him figuring out how to do things from his POV in the song interludes.

                  Liked by 1 person

            • Actually, they do have agency, but it’s well-crafted agency. Even if the choirs don’t command, they still choose the big-name Heroes carefully, and groom them to service.

              As Cat has said, she can predict him because he will always do “the right thing” for his goals, given the information he has. And she has made sure Pilgrim doesn’t know she’s mortal again, possibly because she doesn’t know how he’d react to that. So him thinking and acting as though she was still Winter is part of her scheme.

              Liked by 3 people

              • Yes, William “racist terrorist” von Angelsword was definitely a well-crafted big-name hero.

                Alternative theory: angels pick up on potential heroes with a mindset aligned with their assigned virtue, automatically home in on them and form a cheerleading squad / support group / pit crew around them, their values and opinions, mysteriously affirming all the exact things they’re already thinking.

                And then it either works out, or not, depending on how good at their job the chosen hero turns out to be.

                Liked by 3 people

                • That’s basically what I’m saying. Equipping someone with ongoing angelic voices in their head is the equivalent of how cults surround newbies (and each other, for that matter) with established members, to teach the new guy how they should act, speak, think. For more established members, that keeps people from “drifting” — that is, developing in other directions, or starting to doubt the cult tenets. And it tries to displace any connections to outside the cult, fending off reality checks.

                  William is a classic case: The angels could make sure he never got the idea that he could ever be forgiven, or that he could ever feel worthy of a normal life. So eventually he came up with (or was subtly fed) this scheme to make everyone within 49 miles, including a major city, feel just as horrible as he did….

                  Liked by 2 people

          • People equate Tariq with the Black Knight even though they’re basically polar opposites. The way they operate seems to be similar – extremely practical, no-nonsense, capable of both incredible charity and incredible ruthlessness – but Tariq does it because he believes in the cause, the Black Knight does it almost literally to prove he can.

            Liked by 1 person

              • Which impression?
                When I say ‘to prove he can’, I am accusing him of being Chaotic Evil. I’m not, however, accusing him of being Chaotic Retarded or Stupid Evil. Black doesn’t really have a goal in mind, as far as I can tell, or at least not one that’s been expressed or shown in story. He acts preemptively on the tactical and strategic level but on a metaphysical level he’s almost reactive in nature. Catherine wants to keep Callow safe and to maintain some sort of independent nature, and to that end she’s willing to do a ton of other stuff. Tariq wants to minimise human suffering. Laurence wants to destroy Evil, being in essence a Paladin of the ‘stick up the arse and a smite-happy greatsword’ variety. What does Black want? Does anyone know? Does even Black know? Because I’m not convinced he cares too much about Praes, his actions don’t work for that as best I can tell post-Crusade.


                • >Black doesn’t really have a goal in mind, as far as I can tell, or at least not one that’s been expressed or shown in story


                  Remember when Cat asked him that and he gave her a book of Praesi fairy tales and a journal with the numbers on population/land/reign?

                  And then she informed him that she didn’t believe that his goals were Good or that he was a patriot, and so he went on a bullshit “victory for Evil” speech that convinced her like the angry teenager she was.

                  Moving on to what the actual accurate answer he gave her first was, though,

                  >The point isn’t to make Callow a pack of plundered provinces, it has never been that. It’s to ensure we never again destroy ourselves invading that country. Are we so enamoured with that kingdom’s crown we cannot allow anyone else to wear it? We win by slipping the noose, not moving the border. By breaking the pattern that has whipped us ever since Maleficent made an empire out of Praes. It is irrelevant who actually rules Callow so long as we no longer need to invade to avoid starving. From that moment on, we start to grow. To change. To be anything but a snake cursed to eat its own tail and choke. Anything less than that is defeat. Anything more than that is expendable.

                  (Epilogue III, Amadeus yelling at Alaya)

                  >“Legionaries,” he called, a bone-deep shiver giving answer. “Look atop those walls and know you face a millennium of blood and arrogance staring down at you. You know that banner. Your fathers and mothers fought under it, against it. Under that standard Callow was bled a hundred times. Under that standard, Praes tore itself apart at the whims of the mad and the vicious. Are you not tired? I am.”

                  >He laughed, a thing of dark and bitter anger.

                  >“I have fought this war since I was a boy,” he said. “And so have you, in every shop and field and pit there is to be found in this empire. There is no peace with this foe, only struggle from dawn to dusk.”

                  >His voice rose.

                  >“Legionaries,” he called. “You of Praes and Callow, of Steppes and Eyries, you have fought this war before and won it. Forty years ago, we broke the spine of the High Lords. Yet here they stand before us, fangs bared. Will you let this challenge go unanswered?”

                  (Book 3 Chapter 59: Anakrusis, the pre-Liesse speech)

                  Amadeus is a farmer’s son who rebelled against the inane and abusive ruling class of his country, uniting the oppressed underclass around him. He would have slaughtered all of them if he’d had his way, but was convinced by his best friend to act otherwise, and instead spent 40 years undermining their power and excising their influence. When it turned out this was insufficient to prevent them from harming those he made himself responsible for, he switched his plan back to physically exterminating them.

                  He wants a better world. He wants justice and fairness, and he hates Evil.

                  >“It is worse than inconvenient,” Black said. “It is flawed. The Wasteland has made a religion out of mutilating itself. We speak of it with pride. Gods, iron sharpens iron? We have grown so enamoured with bleeding our own we have sayings about it. Centuries ago, field sacrifices were a way to fend off starvation. Now they are a staple of our way of life, so deeply ingrained we cling to them given alternative. Alaya, we consistently blunder so badly we need to rely on demons to stay off destruction. We would rather irreparably damage the fabric of Creation than admit we can be wrong. There is nothing holy about our culture, it needs to be ripped out root and stem as matter of bare survival. Forty years I have been trying to prove success can be achieved without utter raving madness, and what comes at the end?”

                  (also Epilogue III)

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

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

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

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

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

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

                  (Queen’s Gambit: Declined)

                  Amadeus cares, hilariously enough, about greater good and doing the right thing. No, seriously. That’s his objective. He’s a utilitarian; a patriotic utilitarian who wants to make the world better by making his country better because he loves it and cares about it most.

                  His country also sucks and he can’t make a difference without making himself into that which he hates most.

                  So he ends up with big, bright and blatant suicidal ideation, considering himself a bad person, a selfish person and also a crutch that needs to be discarded for Empire to move on.

                  (Source for the above three: Book 3 Chapter Curtains, Book 2 Chapter Council, and Book 3 Chapter Reunion)

                  Laurence is a smite-happy overzealous paladin.

                  Amadeus is a revolutionary.

                  Liked by 8 people

                  • Thanks for compiling all that evidence. It’s compelling and correct IMO.

                    You said “… and he hates Evil.” and I agree. I think he hates Good too. ‘Stupid’ Evil and Good both keep the cycle of violence going and, as such, hamper his efforts towards the greater good.

                    Liked by 4 people

                    • I honestly actually think he doesn’t.

                      Here’s the worst of what he has to say about Good:

                      > A band of Named had come after him, girded with Light and wearing the grim rictuses of individuals carrying out a necessary evil – always without the capital, of course, and preferably phrased as the ‘greater good’ instead.

                      (hypocrisy and refusing to properly name what they are doing)

                      (Epilogue IV)

                      >“There’s nothing righteous about martyrdom,” Black spoke, tone thick with distaste. “How gloriously they die on their pyres, those blessed few who think themselves above all of… this. And yet what do they really accomplish? Refusing to accept reality for what it is instead of what you think it should be is not being high-minded, it is cowardice. I take no guidance from someone whose crowning achievement is their own death. Sacrifice solves nothing on its own. It is no substitute for the labour needed to change things, just an easy way out.”

                      (inefficiency and going for morality good feeling points instead of actual results)

                      (Book 2 Chapter 15 Council)

                      and my favorite crowning jewel:

                      >“It doesn’t matter how flawless the scheme was, how impregnable the fortress or powerful the magical weapon,” he said. “It always ends with a band of adolescents shouting utter platitudes as they tear it all down. The game is rigged so that we lose, every single time.”

                      (Book 2 Chapter 36 Madman)

                      Why is it my favorite, you ask? Why, I’ll answer with another quote:

                      >“The things Heiress knows, you can learn. You will learn. But that indignation you’ve got boiling under your skin? That’s not something that can be taught. And it’s exactly why you’ll beat her, when the time comes.”

                      (Book 1 Chapter 10 Menace)

                      Hates Good? He has a detailed argument for why he doesn’t take guidance from it (and that one clearly imho relates to the kid heroes he’s been killing for 20 years). Its most defining characteristic, one that he had a whole speech about hating, he at another time expressed as the reason he wants Catherine as his student and not Akua.

                      And don’t get it wrong, he’s not doing it out of coldly calculated “I don’t like it but it works”.

                      >“I chose you,” he mused, “because I remember what it’s like, that feeling in your stomach when you look at the world around you and you know you could do better. That if you had the authority and the power, you wouldn’t make the mistakes you see the people who have it make.”

                      He chose Catherine and bet on her because that’s how he himself is.

                      Oh, he’s a couple of steps removed from Good per se, himself. He still identifies with Below as his side, and he’s been sliding down the slippery slope of necessary evil out of sheer sloppiness and exhaustion: he hasn’t been minimizing harm as much as he possibly could and going for easier (but worse) solutions instead.


                      (No, I really don’t think he hates the kids he’s been killing. I think they weigh on him, and I think he’s been deliberately learning things about them and getting to know them so they won’t stop doing so. He told Catherine about himself and Scribe debating their guesses at her intentions on the way to Laure, and he did not have the idea to make her his student until he’s already met her, as described in Epilogue I. These deaths weigh even on Sabah, and she’s grateful to Amadeus that he’s taken the darkest parts on himself)

                      Liked by 4 people

                    • Big thanks to Liliet to compiling all of those quotes.

                      It doesn’t seem so to me that he hates Evil, well, not any more than he hates Good. The very word “villain” is a repurposed word originally meant for those of lower class, peasants who rented land from lords (and we for a fact know that etymology for english words actually works in Guideverse, “inflammable”). It kind of fits with his Duni heritage, i think, with them being colonists or maybe legionaries who wrestled land from natives coming from Miezan stock, who were both slavers and quite possibly on the Good side since Duni worship Above IIRC. They brought chains and branded those of lower classes villainous, and Miezans were notoriously good at making brands stick, what’s that with orcs having only one Name in over a millenia. It may be just that for Praesi as a whole – Good guys coming and forcing them into villainous roles, maybe just because they were pricks, maybe because it made putting down rebellions easier given how heroes are promised victories over villains. It is narratively quite easy to put suicidal and crazy villains such as those into position of ones who were abused.

                      Come to think of it, nazi elves must have come with Miezans as allies or advisors or the guys who gave them means to cross the ocean. What’s that with land stealing, genocides and their cousins on other continent.

                      Liked by 4 people

                    • Amadeus hates the self-mutilating stupidity of Evil and the self-righteous hypocrisy of Good, and he also detests the arrogance of both.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • Once again Lilliet, thanks for your amazing effort to bring so much good evidence to our discussions. I truly appreciate it.

                      I think we’re all (@Lilliet @Kissaten @caoimhinh) __largely__ in agreement here. My point was not that he hates the heroes as Good individuals. He hates their stupidity (and yes, hypocrisy) that means they don’t actually make progress towards the greater good.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • @caoimnh I am seeing a rather different degree of “hate” there.

                      Amadeus aches for the self-righteous hypocrisy of Good and really wishes people who embody it would know better and do better. He’d wholeheartedly cheer for any hero who managed to be more effective in fulfilling their objectives, even if said hero was also going against him in the process.

                      Amadeus would set the Wasteland nobles on fire and cackle to their screams as they burn.

                      Very good point re: origin of “villain” @Kissaten, but that meaning has mutated to the exact opposte in the context of Praes. Praesi villainy is specifically the ruling class, and while they’re making something of a point of being egalitarian, the part that truly keeps the Evil going, the part that Amadeus hates, is specifically nobles with their game of thrones and their field sacrifices and their pride in “iron sharpens iron”. He’s not looking at origins here, he’s looking at what is right in front of him.

                      He dismissed Akua as her mother’s messenger and nothing more, even though Akua was a mutilated child hating her mother and ready to rebel against her. Amadeus is not seeing as deeply as you are / as we are into this.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @Andrew Mitchell yep he hates the reasons that heroes lose, he has compassion for them as individuals.

                      He has 0 compassion for villains as individuals. Including himself.

                      For all his empathy Amadeus is a damn harsh person, much more so than Catherine, and much more radical in his idealism.

                      Liked by 3 people

        • That is literally Tariq. Tariq isn’t someone who stays the course when there’s nothing for him. His logic is that he has very little to gain by refusing and a lot to lose. On the other hand, by accepting, he plays into Catherine’s hands, but at the very least he does obtain a victory and most of his goals. He’s extraordinarily clear-minded.

          Liked by 9 people

    • It’s good to see Hakrams inner workings again. That absolute faith in Catherines decisions.

      Also, are we to find only Catherine alone in Arcadia to make the surrender? Because I’m beginning to suspect that while Cat and Tariq exchange curses and discussions of great importance, I don’t actually think the battle will stop meanwhile.

      And then the league arrives.

      It’s like inviting your archenemy into your home, offering them a seat and a glass of wine, and waiting until your frenemy throws a molotov cocktail through the window. In the ensuing chaos, no one wins, but more importantly, they lost more.

      Liked by 11 people

      • I’m wondering what Tariq’s potential interaction with the Tyrant might be. His past smothering of a young king would hold parallels with the Tyrant’s state. While a new Pattern of Three seems unlikely given the Tyrant’s entrance to this battle as a molotov cocktail (well put), the result may not be so chaotic as is typical for Catherine’s plans. Especially given that Hakram was uniquely placed as having known of both plots (Catherine’s surrender and the notice to the Tyrant), meaning not only that the Tyrant will now unexpectedly engage, but that it is intentionally due to the surrender. This forces a new story thread more than chaos. But whether that is due to Catherine’s maturity as a character to rely less on chaos, or the current circumstances with the dead King, remains to be seen. Perhaps both are the same.

        Liked by 2 people

      • > It’s like inviting your archenemy into your home, offering them a seat and a glass of wine, and waiting until your frenemy throws a molotov cocktail through the window.

        Also known as a Praesi Tuesday. 😉 Really, that’s just how this crowd rolls.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. Tyrant: Don’t be ridiculous Catherine Foundling would never purposefully surrender. It would hurt her in any peace deal she tried to make.

    Hakram: But what if it hurt you more?

    Tyrant: Shit you’re right.

    Liked by 40 people

  2. Well Cat had arranged this beforehand.
    “I want prisoners well treated, even Praesi and greenskins,” I said. “Neither beaten, tortured nor otherwise harmed. I’ll extend the same treatment to anyone I capture. I’m also willing to arrange regular prisoner exchanges when the campaign allows.”

    “There are evils I have been forced to make peace with,” the Pilgrim said with iron in his voice. “Torture is not one of them. You may be certain I will allow no such thing so long as I draw breath.
    “No killing of anyone offering surrender,” I proposed.

    “So long as that surrender is genuine, and no attempt at treachery is made,”

    Liked by 20 people

      • Of course, if Cat doesn’t intend to support Pilgrim against Kairos this scheme would constitute treachery on her part as well.

        Of course, Cat has 0 motivation to not turn on Kairos here 😀

        Liked by 1 person

          • IIRC she surrendered “her armies and all she commands” or something to that effect. She did not surrender herself and I think Tariq noted that during his consideration of her offer.

            Liked by 2 people

            • For reference:

              > “in the spirit of our close and cordial alliance, I offer my support for the demand that will be made by the League of Free Cities in exchange for its acquiescence to a peace conference. That support will have the full weight of my force and influence behind it.”

              “Naturally, this is contingent on your own support in extricating the Army of Callow and its allies from their current difficulties,” I said. “Should you refuse, I will be forced to withdraw from Procer entirely and begin preparing the east for the wars that will come in the wake of the Principate’s destruction.”

              That said… how is it treachery? It’s sneaky, but calling for help from an ally before you surrender isn’t actually breaking an oath, nor even disloyalty. Offering Kairos an open favor is risky, but remember, Kairos’ chaotic style fits well with Cat’s own tactics of exploiting chaos. Odds are good that the demand will be something Cat can work with, and if not, well “the full weight of my force and influence” is somewhat diminished since she’s abdicated and surrendered her forces.

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      • That’s the thing — naifs and fools make exact plans for the long range. Real schemers make specific plans for the short range, and general plans for the long range… and in between those, they prepare the ground and set up contingency plans.

        Liked by 6 people

            • She took a gamble, and it paid off. That’s sort of a theme with her.

              I would hardly say Pilgrim was the least realistic of the two. He has been operating in his way for decades. She wants to do something that most people consider inconceivable.

              Liked by 3 people

              • Tariq may have been been operating for decades, but Amadeus and Cat had already been changing the rules on him. Even by Liesse, he was acutely aware that he’d seriously underestimated Amadeus. But even as he decided “I’d better make sure of this one”, he failed to consider the hazards of trying a full confrontation and losing.

                So now she’s back badder (and smarter) than ever. But instead of brooding uselessly over past defeats like a proper villain :), she’s lost some character flaws, and picked up a whole new powerset, complete with deadly allies. Got even better at story-fu, for sauce. And Pilgrim still tries for full confrontation, the dumbass. Cat learned and improved herself, Pilgrim didn’t.

                Liked by 3 people

                • They’ve been changing the rules on him? You seem to forget Pilgrim straight up outplayed Amadeus. And what do you mean “by Liesse”? I don’t recall the Pilgrim being involved in either of the debacles by that name.

                  And yeah, Cat has improved. Which is why the Pilgrim just changed tacks.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • “by Liesse”, I mean by the time he was discussing the Liesse Accords with her.

                    And Pilgrim didn’t “outplay” Amadeus, he took a plague to a sword fight, with angelic assistance and raw power. And Amadeus was already on a downslide — stranded on the wrong side of a mountain range, rampaging through Procer with no obvious end point, stretching his Name’s power to breaking point. And then as soon as Cat’s out of the Everdark, here she is trying to get him back (more effectively than the Legions were), and I’ll bet burgers to steaks she ends up back in power and even stronger.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • That sounds like trying to talk around the sin of defeat. If it were Cat doing the same maneuver it would be an outplay. In the hands of the Pilgrim it’s cheating.

                      Oh, and Amadeus wasn’t on the downslide, exactly. He’d chosen to be on the other side, and he’d been running laps around the Procerans. Felt pretty confident, too, right up until people started dropping dead around him.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    • @Daindpf I agree re: Tariq outplaying him, but the downslide bit is also correct. Amadeus has himself admitted that their “invasion” of Procer is a glorified raid, and that they’re stranded there with no way back and no endgame other than “piss in Hasenbach’s porridge as much as they can, then gloriously perish”. There’s a reason his reply to Tariq telling him that fighting won’t end well for him was “that was always rather the point” 😡

                      Liked by 2 people

        • Not to mention, he would be acting honorably *in defense of others* which has been shown is the single biggest key to unlocking his full powers. Laurence is an asshole, a fanatic, and a long-term idiot, but she isn’t a short-term idiot. She might threaten but if Tariq made it clear it would be a fight between them over this I think she’d back down – she might take a swing at the prisoners just to test his will (see: she’s an asshole), but she wouldn’t push it past the point of no return I don’t think.

          Liked by 4 people

      • I mean the Saint (and the Pilgrim since it’s most probably his plan) already practices pseudo-necromancy what with severing Black’s soul. Torture is probably only a half-step away.

        We’ve already seen what happened with the Saint when she outright disrespected the sanctity of a truce so I assume Pilgrim can hold her leash if he really wants to.

        Liked by 3 people

          • Definitely yes. Black never surrendered, never agreed to stay in custody and never stopped being aggressive in the way he could i.e. verbally. Remember how he plotted to either run or take a sharp rock and try to kill one of the heroes with it while he had a chance? It was his prerogative, but it was in return their prerogative to do with him as they saw necessary. Cutting out his soul was wrong only in the sense of “can you do that to anyone under any circumstances” because if it’s permissible under any, these are those.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Possibly, but Tariq does exactly this: he evaluates the genuine nature of the surrender before accepting. I’m not sure Cat would expect that of him, given how much he’s turned on previous agreements. I think the stronger case is the simpler one: a true truce works better for both of them, even if it leaves Tariq no longer able to kill Cat.

      Liked by 3 people

      • To second Liliet here, Yep.
        Further more he seemed to reject the idea that she could fully counter him if he said no, I mean that would end the pattern of 3 as well in that case. The fact that accepting was his gut reaction and final decision reminds me why he’s in the top 3 favorite Good characters.
        (not counting the badasses that die in a single chapter mind you)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Gods Below and Above! Cat’s playing them all so well. So predicted the Pilgrim’s move, then penned the letter to break the pattern of three, only to use the Tyrant as a way to wiggle out of actually following through on the surrender. Especially because if she is no longer of the material plan than she cannot actually follow through with her surrender until after the Tyrant will have turned back the tide, making the surrender unnecessary and placing her on better grounds in the peace talks to come with all sides.

    Except for the fact that everyone will be cross with her after her schemes of course.

    Liked by 3 people

    • She’s the arch-vile of the west. There was no version of this where she wasn’t sitting down at a table of people very cross with her. And Tyrant is ready to betray her even though she’s his best friend, so also really no change. The cost here in personal credit/trust is very low.

      Liked by 11 people

      • Realistically the tyrant is going to betray someone, the only variable is who. What Catherine just did is the equivalent of losing the lead in Mario Kart to make someone else eat the blue shell.

        Liked by 11 people

      • Kairos is honour-bound to stab the would be winner in the back. The beauty of it is that Levantines and Procerans don’t even want to win, and that is literally and figuratively what will stab them in the back in form of a League who doesn’t want a win either. Pilgrim will get his draw. Against entirely different opponent, but still.

        Liked by 5 people

        • Kairos? Honor? Sorry, that does not parse.

          But yeah, his scheme requires fighting and stalemates, which Cat just doused. So he must commit his own forces to that objective.

          Liked by 5 people

          • How dare you! Slander! Liable! Calumny! *cough*

            Kairos actually has a brand of honour to him: to be the Biggest Bad he can be, he’ll do the dirtiest deed available while maniacally mugging at the rafters. You can take that to the bank… after properly screening it, checking it for malware and dipping it in peroxide.

            Liked by 3 people

            • Exactly. Kairois is Dirk Dastardly with a crown, and like that man, proud of it. He doesn’t even want a clean victory if one were obtainable, they could offer him everything he wants at the peace table and he’d still have to stab somebody’s back or the whole day’s been a failure.

              Liked by 3 people

        • Except he doesn’t have a direct loss against Kairos — I don’t think he was even with the troops that got chased through the gate. The big risk here is that Kairos gets Amadeus’s soul, which he probably just learned about through his Wish aspect.

          Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure the surrender isn’t going to be followed up on. As Tariq has pointed out, if it’s just a petty scheme it dunks her narratively, while a legitimate surrender not only gives her moral high ground – which she badly badly needs to keep her head above the water in this clusterfuck – but also doesn’t actually go against any of her objectives. It’s not like she wanted to fight the Grand Alliance.

      If the surrender is real, what she loses is some of the bargaining power.

      If the surrender is fake, what she loses is trust and narrative momentum.

      I think she’s setting up Kairos for a backstab from her own armies / the Wild Hunt. He’s not a friend to her and she’s not going to treat him like one.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I might be starting to get where Cat is going.

      With her baiting the Tyrant in action and abandoning the crown to Vivienne, The League, The Alliance and The Legions are about to take a swing at each other in a tri-way battle. Meanwhile, the Drows and her will pull out of the conflict as agreed by her surrender and become a fourth, uninvolved party to the current conflict.

      Then, when Arcadia is ripped apart and all hell are let loose (because of course it will), who’ll be in the perfect position to mediate between the three side, force them to the negotiation table and form a new alliance under her neutral guidance to handle the new threat? Catherine Fucking Foundling.

      Once again, she’s playing everybody and keep switching hat to stop others from pinning her down. Taric is trying to trap the Black Queen in a story, but she have already traded the warlord role for a priest one, First Under the Night. Now she’s a perfect position to be the representative of the Evil side, while Taric is already the representative of Good and there’s a threat looming that will force Good and Evil to join hand.

      Deal will be struck and a new alliance to preserve Calernia will be born, with Cat and Taric co-leading it.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Wonder if Book of all Things (and a gargoyle) playing a role of Atalante’s general counts in the same vein as a honorary citizenship of Below in the Bellerophon

    Liked by 7 people

  5. So that’s it, it is? Tyrant literally just can’t help sticking his hand in this cookie jar now that he knows there’s some kind of unexpected scheme going on. He’s not even sure if he wants to help or disrupt it yet, but he knows he’s gotta be part of it.

    Liked by 12 people

    • Nope, it’s more specific and straightforward than that. Cat has figured out what he is trying to do and hit directly at that. He wants a standoff between her and the Grand Alliance; if the two sides miraculously mold into one, he loses. It’s a bad move for him to interfere here, but if he doesn’t, he’s already lost.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Who knows what he could do, given his aspects…. Continually renewing and dazzling white whitewash, growing to the size of an average horse, double-speed and the ability to camel spit? Adhesive saddle (prepare to use that jumping ability, why not?)?

          However he boosts that goat, he’ll probably take care to retain the goatiest nanny goat whoever goated.

          And if that doesn’t scare people, they’ve never faced an angry goat with a list of opinions about your continued upright existence.

          Liked by 2 people

            • It depends on whether the Name is martial. I don’t think Scribe or Augur have any physical feats baked into their Roles, and I suspect for Tyrant it would vary person by person – and for Kairos, it’s really not a part of who he is. Evil Roles sharpen strengths, not cover weaknesses.

              Liked by 1 person

                • I think Heiress gets a little bit of everything? This is all speculation, we never saw Akua in a proper fight as Heiress IIRC, other than at First Liesse end, and that was a very special kind of story clusterfuck

                  Liked by 1 person

              • “Evil Roles sharpen strengths, not cover weaknesses.” Up to a point, but infirm or physically helpless villains don’t make very good stories! Catherine certainly used her power to cover for her injuries even as Squire, notably that leg.

                IIRC, we haven’t had POV from Scribe or Augur, but I’l note that those are traditionally non martial roles — who ever heard of a scribe or soothsayer going into combat? In contrast, Tyrant is a very flexible role, and Kairos has demonstrated that he’s leaning into it and well able to exploit any technicalities he comes across; not to mention that if he can set whole fortresses flying, he should certainly be able to do something about his physical infirmities. And the sickly and/or deformed villain who’s not actually limited much by their condition, is a trope in itself, from Gollum to Emperor Palpatine.


                • Catherine had an entirely different Role. Physical disability is actually bog standard for mastermind-type villains.

                  And tbh I think physical disability that does not actually disallow anything specific is straight up bad writing. There have to be tangible limitations, like Catherine’s relief when she sits down and absolute disinclination to walk any longer than she has to.

                  Liked by 1 person

  6. “It appears someone will have to saddle my goat,” Kairos Theodosian mused, “for we now must ride out in glorious battle.”

    ….Someone has to illustrate THIS scene of GLORY!

    Liked by 24 people

  7. I wonder, what’s the odds that there’s goblin munitions in that goat?

    It’s just such a random thing to include in a package to a madman. Playing into the randomness does seem to be the best way to approach Kairos, so it makes sense in that regard. But then you figure there’s a good chance he’ll reciprocate and ride the thing, so why not trap it. Plus putting munitions inside animals is one of Cat’s signature moves, along with getting blamed for fires and dying upwards.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, we were pretty sure from what Cat saw. The question is still exactly what he’s doing… and whether he’ll intervene in the current fight. IIRC, Masego hasn’t actually met Kairos, but I doubt he’d appreciate the Tyrant’s style.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hmmm.

      Actually I think it’s a fairly standard outcome for surrender to fuck over the people who are being surrendered to. It’s the same category of thing as Malicia sending refugees over to Cat’s border: here, have stuff I’ve got! What, it’s more of a resource drain than a resource gain? Well that’s not my problem any longer 😀

      Remember how Cat was wondering what to do with the Helikean cataphracts because her army could not manage that many prisoners? The same dilemma.

      Surrender is always lose-lose, both sides suffering a blow. It’s just that most of the time it fucks over the surrendering side more than the side receiving the surrender. So the key to making surrender an effective ploy is not sharpening the blow to the other side, it’s cushioning the blow to yours.

      Although Catherine has certainly sharpened the blow here, too 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Like putting into game theory terms… war is a negative sum game

        a standard situation that forces surrender for one of the sides is like
        battle: -5/-10 (aka certain defeat)
        surrender: -1/-5 (aka you’re still defeated but at least you lose less)
        (and the difference goes from -5 in favor of the other side to -4 in favor of the other side, at that)
        (and the other side accepts this tradeoff because The Ethical Rules Governing Warfare dictate that you look at the total sum too / because it’s an iterated prisoner’s dilemma kind of thing / because they care about the losses to their side more than the losses to the enemy’s side)
        (or it doesn’t and the surrender doesn’t work, alas)

        or even
        battle: -5/-10
        surrender: -1/-2
        …if you have a good solid guarantee that your forces will be treated well and don’t lose on any objectives other than prestige/convenience, which is our situation here…

        …and Catherine’s situation is like
        at face value:
        battle: -5/-5 (a bloody draw)
        surrender: -1/-2 (Catherine’s loss, but a much smaller total loss)

        or including the narrative part it’s more like
        battle: -5/-15 (a draw with a promise of certain loss down the line)
        surrender: -1/-2
        …the difference going from -10 to -1 in an overwhelming meta-victory for Catherine

        Liked by 2 people

        • Note that the “iterated” part of the game is the original way to include prior behavior and (with tournaments) reputation; game theory has in fact turned out to be the mathematical model applying to ethics and morality; the key concept for the situations represented by the IPD is trust). In the Guideverse, ethics and morality are also baked into the world rules, with direct penalties for certain offenses.

          Liked by 2 people

      • In the longer term, there’s also the classic trick of absorbing a conquering people over time. In our own world, China has done that repeatedly, most spectacularly with the Mongols (They came in, took over… and a few generations later, you couldn’t tell the difference.) In the Guideverse, that’s one interpretation of what Callow is doing.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Oh yes that is definitely what’s happening.

          And I would argue that this is what Amadeus was deliberately going for, because Callow is much closer to what he wants Praes to be than actual Praes is, in all their non-blood-sacrificing glory. He wanted Catherine to eventually climb the Tower. It’s not Praes assimilating Callow that he wanted 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  8. Freaking took you long enough to get to the point of realizing you were getting tunnel vision on what Cat could become instead of what she is currently and what she’s offering.
    Fuck’s sake, you knew (or could/should have known through your Behold Aspect/the Ophanim looking at her) that she was genuinely willing to help you kick over the Tower and join the Alliance and help against the Dead King.
    Instead you had to reject her offers of helping and signing onboard, blowing up your redemption play (that she was offering to cooperate with), leading her between a hostile Grand Alliance and a hostile Praes. How did you not expect things to turn against you? How did you expect her to do anything but become more dangerous and take greater risks for power to protect and defend Callow(and herself)?

    I’m not sure what’s going on with the League and Kairos’s plans.
    But his arrival should be interesting.
    Even more interesting will be the Alliance reaction to the League’s arrival.

    I wonder how Alliance armies(and Heros) are going to react to Cat’s surrender and Tariq’s acceptance of it. And how he’s going to stop the fighting.

    Also interesting will be the reaction to the letter to Viv.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Bit of a Pascal’s Wager there. In that he had to prevent the small-probability case that was infinitely bad. And in that it’s not exactly sound logic anymore… we hope.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Thing is, that’s not exactly true.
        The story possibility was there, yes, but he has an Aspect – Behold – that lets him see the inner truth of people.
        He *knew* that Cat genuinely wanted peace. He knew what her offer was, and Behold would have let him *know* it was made in good faith.
        He even had her willing to cooperate with a redemption play.

        Liked by 1 person

        • He saw there was possibility she would fall to alienation or to the shapes of the stories around her. There still is.

          The possibility was small, but it was there. Cat has always played with corrupting influences for power. I mean, she took Black’s dagger, she forced an aspect in the presence of a demon…

          And that’s all fine and dandy when the one at risk is her, but when it’s all of Calernia? And she was risking falling on that path.

          She’s at that risk anymore, really, but now Pilgrim can’t Behold her. So he was working on old, faulty info. Which has been a component in him repeatedly getting played.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Except that his very action is accentuating that risk. And when Cat offered to abdicate and redeem herself, and thus vastly reducing the risk, he refused! If she really was that much of a risk then when an opportunity to vastly reduce that risk is offered, you take it.

            Liked by 3 people

            • Did that offer really reduce the risk, especially with the conditions she had outlined?

              She’d still be immortal, with the alienation and power of an entire court behind her, and she’d still be something of an avatar of Callowan spite. She’d still be there as a cultural influence, and ready to take over the moment she thought Callow was being mistreated.

              Liked by 5 people

              • Once she abdicates, she no longer has access to Callow’s resources, making her a lot less dangerous. And without the duties of a Queen, she has a lot less reason to draw on Winter. And then there’s the redemption angle.

                Liked by 2 people

                • A redemption angle which would lose a lot of momentum with her abdication, while still leaving her immortal, with great influence over Callow, and alienated.

                  Oh, and which would require the Pilgrim to break the Grand Alliance in half.

                  Liked by 2 people

                    • No. He judged that handling Cat was more important than all the people who would die in that conflict. Back then.

                      Right now, he chose the opposite. Partly because of the dead king, and partly because Cat has changed. She’s mortal again.

                      Liked by 2 people

          • You’re missing my point.
            Sure, the story/Narrative possibilities were there for Cat to go really bad.

            On the other hand, Tariq *knows* that she genuinely wants peace and can see her attempting actions and making offers to help your side, even to join your side. And Tariq has the ability to find out that she’s making those offers genuinely and on good faith.

            Liked by 3 people

            • Her intent mattered little when the possibility is considered – at least in the utilitarian ethics Tariq seems to operate. Cat presented a risk of utter destruction, so that risk must be ended.

              Liked by 3 people

                • You mean after the Battle of Camps? He maneuvered her into that one, and soon after went to see the dead king, who (due to Malicia, but Cat would have done a similar deal) forced the Pilgrim’s hand into binning that plot. Also Black.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  • She went to Pilgrim and got rejected (again!) before going to Keter.

                    And if he had kept his word and stayed in Callow, he’d still have the redemption play on Cat, and by extension, at least the possibility of one on Sve Noc.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • He couldn’t possibly have known that Cat would still be open to a redemption play after she came back. She more or less gave him an ultimatum of “either you help me here or fuck your redemption”.

                      Cat fucked up this game as much as he did, in pretending to be more dangerous / unstable / hostile than she really was.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • No, there fuckup isn’t Cat’s it’s basically all on Tariq (and Cordelia).
                      He had Cat willing to cooperate with his redemption play if he were willing to give even a tiny bit on Cat’s desires for protecting Callow from his supposed allies.

                      He refused on purely worldly concerns – the consequences to Procer if Callow suddenly wasn’t an enemy to be conquered and divided up in the aftermath.

                      It’s part of why Cat is so pissed at him – it wasn’t the Ophanim exercising veto power to reject her offer, it was all Tariq and he said as much to her face.

                      If he was so worried about what Below could do with the leverage of Cat’s desires to protect Callow (from everybody), he should have thought a bit more about what happens next when he refuses to help her on that front.
                      If he, with his redemption story on her, refuses to help her protect her people/country when she asks him to … where else does she have to turn to for help?

                      I mean, I get why Cordelia was worried about possible negative side effects to Procer and her own position, but (a) she’s not a Hero, and (b) that’s kind of in her job description. It would been nice if she’d been willing to try a smaller ask when Cat nixed her first counteroffer.
                      But at least Cordelia wasn’t self-righteous about it.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • – Catherine could have had a frank conversation with him about the effects of Winter on her and what she was doing to mitigate that (refusing to go deeper into it, oaths, specifically Vivienne’s killswitch)

                      – Catherine could have briefed him fully on the situation in Praes and Callow, including Black’s plan and her own

                      – Catherine could have discussed the Accords with him in detail, bringing him in on the plan and requestiong/accepting his input

                      To sum up, Catherine could and should have treated him as a mentor/advisor, not as a captured enemy / liaison. Tariq would have been obligated to help, to go along with the redemption narrative; Catherine should have leaned into that to guide it along the lines she wanted it to go, not treat it as enemy action. She could have explained to him why she wanted to keep the Evil Name/affiliation, for that matter. It’s not like he didn’t fully share all her ultimate goals; the only thing that differed were the specific priorities wrt Callow vs Grand Alliance, and they both wanted peace there anyway. She should have brought him in on her talks with Cordelia, at that; alone, neither of them could give her what she wanted, but together? It’s entirely possible that if Cordelia knew she’d have Pilgrim’s full support in backing Cat’s offer, she could have chanced it.

                      It was the lack of trust that fucked them over there, and Cat could have extended it first.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Cat was literally and figuratively in a fight for survival for both herself and for Callow.

                      Remember, he made it very clear that he was more concerned about protecting the internal status quo of Procer and the Grand Alliance than protecting Callow from Procer if Cat+Callow flipped sides.

                      And he was in the middle of trying to kill her.
                      Giving information on your abilities, weaknesses and contingencies to an enemy that’s trying to kill you is a dubious plan at the best of times.

                      Maybe Cat should have thrown in a “if I can get Cordelia/Pilgrim to agree are you willing to agree” to Pilgrim/Cordelia, but she honestly shouldn’t have needed to with Tariq. Plus, it’s not like negotiations have ever really been one of her strengths.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Diplomacy has always been Cat’s biggest strength actually.

                      And yes, I get why she didn’t do these things, much like how I get why Tariq acted the way he did. It’s just that, again much like him, if she’d acted otherwise she would have gotten a better outcome.

                      Well, relatively better. It’s hard to beat Everdark ;u;

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Would that have even worked? You’re assuming that the reason Tariq couldn’t help her is because he lacked relevant details, but I see their differences as more fundamental.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • It’s not that he couldn’t help her, it’s that he *chose* not to help her protect Callow from Procer in a peace deal and alliance, because Procer was more important than Callow to him.

                      And it’s since predictably gone south on him.

                      I’m still firmly of the opinion that if the Alliance is so fragile that it is incapable of surviving someone they thought was an enemy wanting to be and being allowed to be ally instead of an enemy to be conquered and divided as the spoils of war, the Alliance doesn’t deserve to survive.
                      For that matter, such an Alliance not only doesn’t deserve to survive, it will inevitably create its own enemies and downfall. And the delayed yet inevitable collapse will be far worse than if it goes down now over letting someone become an ally instead of conquering and looting them.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Re your last reply at the edge: It’s significant that Good here is the blinkered, paranoid nationalist, while Evil is the “humanist”, except she supports the non-human races as well. (I wonder if she’ll get around to restoring the Ratling civilization? Maybe in book VI.)

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @werafdsaev what fundamental differences are you thinking about? They understand each other perfectly, pursue the exact same goals and have the same view on means – Catherine has compared Tariq to Amadeus for a reason.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @Javvies that is an existing point of view in-universe – Saint thinks exactly that.

                      I, however, follow Tariq’s/Cat’s/Amadeus’s logic in looking less at what is “inevitable” and “deserved” and more at minimizing splash damage. Tariq has been trying to minimize splash damage the entire time, starting with first going to negotiate with the Black Queen (a complete mystery to him, at that point). The situation kept changing on him, but the worst case scenarios he’s been after preventing / not causing still haven’t happened.

                      Well, an entirely different kind of catastrophe happened, but I very much understand how&why he did not see the “and then the Dead King attacked” option in the field of possibilities. From the point of view of Good, that was rather out of left field; even Amadeus was surprised.

                      Liked by 1 person

            • Nobody cares what her intention was. Intent has no bearing on what actually happens. Scipio didn’t intend for Carthage to get burned to the ground and Martin Luther never wanted to split the Catholic world in half. It happened anyway.

              Liked by 4 people

              • Yes and no.
                Intent doesn’t have much impact when it comes to past actions. Well, depends on the actions and their results, to be honest.

                On the other hand, if somebody (a) genuinely wants peace, (b) is willing to ally with you and join your alliance of Good guys, and (c) was willing to do that before you invaded their country and is still willing to do so after kicking your invasion force back out of their country … their intentions and desires kinda do matter.
                At least, if you’re willing to let them stop being an enemy.

                Honestly, the only thing that Tariq could gain by pushing for his Narratively enforced redemption play over accepting Cat’s initial offer (probably after some more negotiations on the practical details) is that if it’s Cat’s idea first, she doesn’t get Narratively locked into probably dying to achieve redemption.

                The initial offer would’ve cut out a lot of fighting and dying, plus, with the Grand Alliance and Callow invading Praes, Malicia probably wouldn’t have been able to spend the time necessary to make a deal with the Dead King – she’d be too busy dealing with the invasion and would risk a coup (or the conquest of Ater and the Tower) if she wasn’t playing close enough attention.
                By rejecting it, Tariq guaranteed bloodshed (a lot of it) and either wins on the battlefield or loses on the battlefield; if he loses on the battlefield that results in either a hardening of Cat’s position as a Villain or significantly worsens the Alliance position in negotiations for her assistance (and maybe there’s a chance for him to set Cat up for a redemption play).

                He definitively gained nothing of value by rejecting Cat’s offers. He ultimately rejected Cat’s offer over purely political(worldly) grounds.
                Cordelia at least had a decent reason for worrying about the political ramifications.

                Liked by 2 people

                • The problem, as he stated, is what cat is going to be.

                  He did believe Cat was willing to abdicate and go for a voluntary redemption story NOW.

                  But what does she look like 50 years from now? When narrative forces inevitably put her down that path anyway? He was scared of that cat not having something to stop her.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • She’d be on the side of Good/Above, so anything pushing her out of retirement would be the actions of someone Evil.

                    Also, there’d have been plenty of time for Above to grow themselves a Hero designed to take her down.

                    Cat’s apothesis would not result in another wasteland like Keter – she already has the power, its simply a matter of figuring out how to use it.
                    Besides, the only threats likely to push her into needing more power than she already had would be a particularly powerful Dread Emperor/Black Knight/Warlock of Praes or the Dead King coming out and Callow being called upon to help resist his invasion. And if Amadeus got put in charge of Praes, even with supervision, he’d take Praes off the table as a potential threat.

                    Again, think about what Good/Above could do with Cat’s potential voluntarily turned to its ends.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • You misunderstood me. If she indeed kept on the redemption path, he’d love to keep her alive, yes. But since that story line is kaput, he is not willing to assume that just because she was willing to go down redemption at that moment, that this is still the outcome she’s headed towards. By his own actions she’s off that path, admittedly, but now that she’s off it, he does not believe she’ll get back on it any other way. So he assumes that 50 years from now events will have made her a nightmare.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Sure, his redemption play is shot *now*.
                      It wasn’t when they were in Callow and he was refusing her.

                      Hell, he shot down Cat’s attempt to voluntarily flip sides, and then when he had her lined up in a Narratively enforced redemption play, and she was offering to go along with it and not try to dodge it, he refused her offer again.

                      Liked by 1 person

          • You’re giving Pilgrim too much credit. I know he’s well liked, but you’re still forgetting a key component. The Princes. Catherine offered up nigh everything the Pilgrim wanted, up to and including her own abdication and to aid him against the Dread Empire.

            Tariq didn’t refuse “because she still posed a danger he needed to eliminate”, he hadn’t even come to that conclusion yet. He refused because there were “other considerations” in play. He refused because the one thing Cat asked for in exchange for literally everything he wants was to respect and preserve Callowan sovereignty. But that would be in direct contention with what the Princes wanted and would cause problems for the Crusade.

            This is why people don’t give two shits about him when he whines about how dangerous Cat has become. Because he had the opportunity to reduce or eliminate that danger and he chose carving up Callow instead. Not to reduce suffering, not to further the agenda of Gods, but to give the princelings a bone and a pat on the head for their good work. Politics not piety led him to this situation and so he gets no sympathy from me.

            In short, he fucked up.

            Liked by 4 people

            • Uh…

              Cat being a danger *was* the other consideration. That and the dangers posed by Malicia.

              You talk about the Pilgrim like he wanted to give Procer a payout, when he’s Levantine. That country was Proceran colony same as Callow, and he has personal reason to hate their nobles.

              The Pilgrim just couldn’t accept the compromise because, while it took Cat’s queenship, it did nothing to avert her from the path of becoming a Callowan evil deity.

              Liked by 1 person

              • The fear of Cat’s deification did not begin until after the Battle of Camps. Before it, everyone thought she was a pushover. It’s why they were all so dismissive of her in their initial interactions. They knew she was a dangerous villain sure, but one that’ll be steamrolled in the face of a full crusade on it’s way to Praes.

                The fear at the time Cat offered her abdication was that her rule of Callow was pushing it further and further away from the Light. This was Pilgrim’s issue in the their first meeting together. That Procer, already tasked with holding back the Chain of Hunger and the Dead King, would crumble under the strain if an Evil Callow was added to the list.

                It was Catherine’s influence on Callow, not Catherine hersef, that was unacceptable. Or as he said,


                “All of this rests on the fact that it is you who rules,” the old man said.

                “And if I abdicate, can you guarantee that Callow will be left untouched?” I asked. “Will you swear on your Gods that if Procer tries to annex it, you will turn your sword on whoever is trying? Or even that you’ll stay out of my way and let me take care of them?”

                “I do not rule Procer,” the Grey Pilgrim softly said. “And if I take the field against them, too many would follow. It would birth a war as dangerous as this one, in many ways.”


                Yes, Levant has been on the wrong end of the warmongering Procerans boundless avarice, but he still considers them vital to Calernia’s wellbeing and is not willing to start a war with them for something he gives almost no fucks about, like ensuring Callowan sovereignty.

                Because, again, this was before Catherine proved herself as a force to be reckoned with. Pilgrim was under the impression that he could simply conquer Callow outright. Negotiated peace against the interests of the princelings would have made for a far more complicated affair. Better to simply break her at the Camps.

                He didn’t break her. Black ravaged Procer, indirectly killing way more people than his marauding army ever could have. Oh, and Ol’ King Nessie’s back out in force. The North is in apocalypse mode, Procer is teetering on collapse, and the fate of the entire continent hangs in the balance.

                In short, he fucked up.

                Liked by 1 person

                • He was appalled by what Cat had become from the get-go.

                  And yes, there was also the situation with Procer. Can you imagine what would have happened if Procer and Levante were at war when Malicia released the Dead King (as she had already planned to, from months earlier)?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Yes. Appalled, but did not consider her a continent ending threat as he does now. That came after she dropped a lake, slapped around a half dozen heroes, and danced around arguably the strongest hero alive.

                    As for Procer and Levant warring during a Dead Invasion, that wouldn’t happen until after the war with Malicia. Y’know, since the point of contention is the fate of Callow after the war. And Cat would also be helping them during the war as she’d pledged to, so even if Malicia still got Nessie involved, they would have the full might of Procer, Levant, and Callow to throw against him without any of this “slaughtering our way to peace” bullshit we’re engaged in now.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • You think Procer and Levant would have stayed together until Praes was dealt with and then air their grievances? The moment the Pilgrim got Levant to up and decide to leave Callow alone there would have been war.

                      As for Cat’s danger level… I am unsure.

                      Liked by 2 people

            • >Not to reduce suffering, not to further the agenda of Gods, but to give the princelings a bone and a pat on the head for their good work.

              Nope. That’s not what the situation was like.

              The option he had there was not “help Catherine and upset the Princes by doing so”, it was “forcibly seize power in Levant, possibly provoking a civil war, and openly break it away from the Grand Alliance, possibly provoking a war between Procer and Levant. And help Catherine by doing that”.

              Liked by 1 person

              • No, Tariq refused over the worldly consequences to Procer, not Levant. He wouldn’t need seize power in Levant to pull them with him in any deal he supported. His word in support and verifying her sincerity and good faith is all that Levant would require.

                And again, if the Grand Alliance is truly so fragile that someone they originally thought was an enemy turned out to want to, and was *allowed* to, be an ally instead of an enemy to be conquered and divided in the aftermath is to tear it apart, it doesn’t deserve to survive.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Anyway, Tariq has said as much in the pre-Camps negotiation: “if I were to take the field against them, too many would follow”. You’re correct that he would not need to forcibly seize power in Levant to get them to support him; that’s the problem, because Levant at war with Procer is among the worst case scenarios from where he’s standing.

                  Yes, the Grand Alliance is fragile. That’s WHY it’s precious to him: Cordelia is trying to make something new and necessary, something that will hopefully grow strong and stay for generations, ensuring peace in the future.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • If the Alliance is truly so fragile that someone they thought was an enemy actually turned out to want to be, and was allowed to be, an ally instead of an enemy to be conquered, looted, and divided in the aftermath, would break it, not only does it not deserve to survive, but it will also evolve into something far worse, spawning more enemies and its own downfall, and in so rotting and collapsing will have far worse consequences than the Alliance falling apart now over not being allowed to conquer, loot, and partition Callow.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • “Will evolve into something far worse” is the only part of this that’s relevant to Pilgrim’s POV on what’s going on.

                      So, would you elaborate on this hypothesis?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I’d argue that delaying the fall but worsening the fall is also relevant.
                      Or is Pilgrim just about delaying bad things from happening now, even if it causes worse things to happen later?

                      Look at what we know about what happened the last time Procer occupied Callow.
                      And Procer’s imperial ambitions and tendencies – it’s domestically safer to push for expansion and conquest, and giving Procer a successful taste of conquest will tempt them into seeking more.

                      This, of course, ignores the practical realities that if Procer (or Levant) seeks to occupy Callow, they’re going to need a heavy investment of military force to maintain any semblence of control on top of the forces needed to deter Praesi incursion. And its a good bet that the Alliance occupation forces would be less restrained than the Legions under Black. Black wanted to slowly convert Callow, the Alliance will have a lot of people looking to punish and exploit Callow, and they’ll have less holding them back than the Praesi Imperial Governors.

                      As for my position that if allowed to continue, it’ll grow into something terrible … Cordelia Hasenbach is an anomaly, and her successor will most likely be a return to past Proceran norms.
                      Just think about it – if the leaders of the Alliance refuse to allow someone who they thought was an enemy to become the ally it actually wants to be instead of being conquered, looted, and partitioned, for the low price of not conquering, looting, partitioning it, what happens when the leadership is less united, less focused on the actual big Evils that exist? And the precedent has already been set – and endorsed by Heroes during a Crusade – that conquering, looting, and partitioning those who want to be allies and Alliance member is okay to do.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • As far as I’m reading, Cordelia’s plan was as follows:

                      – lead the Crusade to a smashing victory under her brilliant guidance;
                      – low key grind the expansionist faction into pulp in the process;
                      – divide Callow into several kingdoms ruled by native Callowan nobility
                      – estalbish good relationships with them / bring them into the Grand Alliance, officially outlawing war against them on any of its other parts;
                      – strengthen the ties between the countries of the Grand Alliance and ramp up incentives for staying in it;
                      – have Grand Alliance stand as a whole bulwark of Good against inffectual divided Evil.

                      She failed step 1, but Pilgrim was hoping to hold up the rest of them (save step 3 if he managed to bring Catherine around) anyway.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • >Cordelia Hasenbach is an anomaly, and her successor will most likely be a return to past Proceran norms.

                      Only if she fails to secure her succession / strengthen her legacy to the degree that her successor will be best served following the plan she outlined.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @Liliet – that’s a solid outline of Cordelia’s plans IMO and it reminds me that Catherine and Cordelia have similar aims in some significant respects. Maybe even enough that they’ll be able to find common ground in the next book.

                      Your point that Cordelia wants to “– divide Callow into several kingdoms ruled by native Callowan nobility” is new to me. Is that supported by the text somewhere?

                      Regarding “Only if she fails to secure her succession / strengthen her legacy to the degree that her successor will be best served following the plan she outlined.” That’s a really huge IF in my opinion because an outcome like that would be contrary to the entire history of Procer.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @Andrew Mitchell – yes, it is. I don’t remember where exactly but Cordelia states that much explicitly – let me look, fuck, it’s a big and important point I’m going off here.

                      GOD THIS TOOK ME LIKE AN HOUR

                      Extra Chapter Fatalism I

                      >Setting aside that any occupation of Callowan land would turn into a brutal grind of constant banditry and rebellions – they were, for the Heavens’ sake, a people that prided themselves on inheriting grudges from generation to generation – Cordelia had absolutely no intention of annexing any part of Callow. Would she split it into several kingdoms? Absolutely. It was necessary to ensure that the Black Queen’s surviving partisans would not be able to mount any significant bid for power until her memory had faded among the populace and could no longer serve as an effective rallying cry. There were already separatist currents within the region, anyway. The northern baronies were near a kingdom of their own, the Duchy of Daoine was independent even when it bothered to pretend otherwise, and most the south had remained under aristocratic rule until mere years ago: the people there, unlike those who’d lived for decades under Imperial governors, had never entirely abandoned the old Callowan way of life.

                      That’s my source.

                      As for the fragility of the idea of changing the entire mode of operations of Procer – it’s no more or less ambitious than what Black and Malicia have been trying in Praes. It is, now that I’m looking at it, actually more or less the same thing. Cordelia’s a pissed-off Lycaonese taking power, the representative of the part of the Principate that had been holding the wall this entire time out to bring the whole rest of it back in on the effort. Drag them towards Good and away from petty rivalries and territorial ambitions, in a mirror of Amadeus dragging Praes away from Evil and towards civil prosperity and a stable foreign policy.

                      And honestly I’d been expecting Cordelia and Catherine to get along since the start of Book 4. They never quite managed to, to my ongoing disappointment, but at least Cordelia has something of Catherine’s measure and a foundation for trust in the future. HERE’S FUCKING HOPING,

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • *Cordelia* doesn’t want to annex Callow. Most of the rest of Procer’s Princes(ses) do.
                      Cordelia is an anomaly amongst Procerans. Once that is unlikely to make lasting changes in the patterns of behavior of the Princes and Princesses of Procer.
                      Her grip on power is not so strong that she would be able to ignore and override a more or less united Assembly that wanted to claim Callow.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • “Once that is unlikely to make lasting changes in the patterns of behavior of the Princes and Princesses of Procer.
                      Her grip on power is not so strong that she would be able to ignore and override a more or less united Assembly that wanted to claim Callow.”

                      It was before Cat&Amadeus wrecked her advance on Callow.

                      It’s a whole subplot about how Cordelia had Procer in hand and was well-positioned to change the way things are done there… until she ran into Callow and its defenders.

                      And even after Amadeus’s atrocious raid, she is still the First Prince and still has enough power behind the title to order Rozala around. If Catherine and Pilgrim lend her strength, it’s fully possible for her to recover yet and repair the Grand Alliance into what she wanted it to be in the first place – with the Liesse Accords attached, as I’m pretty sure she’s going to approve of those.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • @Liliet – thank you. I’m sorry that it took you an hour to find it but I really do appreciate your effort. I’m now fully on-board with your understanding of Cordelia’s plans. I think she’s going to have to modify them to actually get along with Catherine. But your views have helped cement my view that Cordelia and Catherine are going to be working together on their aligned interests, in the final book.


                    • @javvies

                      I think there’s still certainly a risk that Cordelia won’t be able to reshape Procer as much as she wants to… But I have some level of confidence based on the skill she’s shown in politics and intrigue so far.


                • He wouldn’t need to do shit in Levant to start that civil war. If he did agree to her oath (I abdicate, you fight for Callow if it comes to that), and Procer did anything, the second Levant heard the Grey Pilgrim was honor-bound to fight Procer, everybody would be jumping to say “And we’ll help him!” and start targeting procer in general in his name. He wouldn’t have to seize power, in fact this is exactly what he wouldn’t want, but it’s not like Levant would need that much prompting to fight procer in these circumstances. And a few heroes would jump in as well, to fight the “Empire that lost their way.”, again, not so much by Grey’s influence as in his name. Taking that stance would almost certainly mean the war would happen, he wasn’t wrong about that.

                  Liked by 2 people

        • Ah but remember Behold doesn’t work on Catherine anymore with Sve Noc blocking it.

          He still knows about the desire for peace he saw in her before she went to the Everdark, but she’s since bound herself to horrific deities whose power is rooted on murder and betrayal. He doesn’t know if that has changed her goals, but the risk is certainly there.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Behold doesn’t work on Cat *now*, sure. But that doesn’t matter to my point.

            Behold was damned well still working on Cat back when the two of them were still in Callow and she was offering to join the Grand Alliance and help them and got nothing but refusals and rejections. And was cooperating with Tariq’s redemption play against her.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Agreed, complete utilitarianism is basically the core of both the choirs Mercy and the Pilgrim.

              This is the same guy who smothered the kid he loved like a son because the war he’d bring by surviving would be even worse as far as the continent is concerned.

              Mercy basically doesn’t give a shit whether a verdict is just, whether someone is genuine, or even whether the an action is necessarily good or evil in itself, as long as you get the Greatest Good in the long run.

              The Pilgrim is obviously not at the level of the ophanim, but his decisionmaking is essentially along those lines.

              Liked by 5 people

        • We had a whole chapter about it.

          >The thought that the man could have conceived of me as a nascent Dead King was ludicrous, he’d been able to see into my fucking soul. I wasn’t… Gods, I’d done some dark things and not always for reasons as good as I would have wished but there were lines I’d always refused to cross. That I would have kept to. This can’t be personal, I told myself, and put aside the horrifying thought that a truth teller might have genuinely believed I had the potential to become the likes of Neshamah.


          > What mattered was that I’d come into a Name as the manifestation of what Tariq had called the sin of our indolence returned to haunt us, the first time we’d ever spoken. That was important, that informed what I considered the Black Queen to be. She was a form of retribution by Creation, by the story, for a failure on the side of Good. Catherine Foundling, as an entity, was inherently dangerous to the Heavens.

          > […]

          > I make the reasonable offer of this very dangerous person abdicating the crown and allowing others settle the kingdom she’s slowly turning to Evil by simple virtue of ruling it, but mortal considerations prevent her from accepting. This is a good sign, because it means she still has good intentions. This is a bad sign, because her attachment to Callow is the kind of narrative leverage Below will use in a heartbeat to make a full monster of her.

          > […]

          > Then the backlash makes her fall into some sort of state – Diabolist taking the reins of the body, though I might not know that – and she faces down the entire heroic contingent simultaneously before snapping out of the fugue state and forcing a truce on the battlefield. Catherine Foundling has now proved dangerous, exceedingly hard to kill and mentally unstable. Given that she’s running around with an entire fairy court’s worth of power, good intentions or not she needs to be removed.

          And there you have it. Behold isn’t ominscience.

          Catherine saw the same risks he did and was in a much better position to handle them than he was. If she’d been open with him about it, they might have cooperated and forged better solutions together: just Tariq knowing about Vivienne’s killswitch might have put his worries to rest. But she wasn’t and he had no better way of knowing than just vague “good intentions” feeling off her. He reads hearts and feelings, not competence and plans.

          Liked by 1 person

    • > should have known through your Behold Aspect/the Ophanim looking at her…

      Except that Sri Noc shut them out, precisely to keep him from shortcutting Cat’s plans. As she herself has noted, Pilgrim will always do “the right thing”, based on the information he has at the moment. But that makes him predictable, and leaves him vulnerable when he doesn’t have correct (and current) information.

      Also, regarding Mercy’s refusal to make the choice to him, EE’s clearly still reading the comments. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

        • Which is enterally irrelevant because the deal Cat was offering back then would have brocken the grand alliance. Cat is not worth an mult-national alliance between all the definitive Good nations on the continent.

          Liked by 3 people

          • If the Grand Alliance is/was really so fragile that it would break apart because someone they originally thought was an enemy wanted to be their ally and was allowed to become their ally and they weren’t going to get to partition Callow up in the aftermath or exterminate the greenskins … the Alliance is already doomed to failure and doesn’t deserve to continue.
            And Cat and Callow being on board with the Alliance would lessen the damage when it ultimately falls apart anyways.

            At worst, I think Cordelia would be at risk of losing the position of First Prince and Procer has a succession crisis. On the other hand, Cordelia has Augur on her pocket, and even if Procer has a succession crisis, they do (or should) know how to pull together against a clear and obvious outside enemy (the League). Plus, there would be Heroes available to expedite the succession process.
            Besides, depending on the terms, other Grand Alliance members might be required to help Cordelia maintain control of Procer, which Cat would have been able to make a whole lot easier.

            Cat doesn’t get backed into a corner where all her options are terrible (for the side of Good/Above).
            Malicia, maybe she gets backed into a corner where she still tries to make a deal with the Dead King, but in that scenario, the Alliance is probably still intact with Cordelia in charge of Procer, plus Cat has joined the Alliance, and can get everybody back to Procer in a hurry, and at worst Praes (or at least the High Lords) are significantly wrecked that they’re not an immediate threat, or more likely, the Alliance has taken Ater, even if they haven’t destroyed the Tower, and if you’re lucky, you can go with Cat’s idea to have Black impose his “fixes” on Praes and abdicate in a few years (or not, because he isn’t interested in conquest for conquest’s sake and can probably keep a lid on Praes for long enough.

            The potential worldly consequences for Cordelia Hasenbach’s control of Procer are, or should be, unimportant in the larger long term scheme of things between Above and Below.
            They matter, quite reasonably, to *Cordelia’s* reaction to Cat’s offer … but they shouldn’t matter to Tariq.

            Besides … if Tariq is right about Cat’s long term threat potential and apothesis … just think about what Good could do with that potential on its side.

            Liked by 3 people

            • It’s all good and sound, but the Good side doesn’t need any justification for invading supposedly Evil nations because, you know, they are Evil. Even when Black Queen ascended to the throne and actually made life better for callowans without screwing praesi (common folk, at least) heroes continued to attack her, ignoring any kind of diplomatic solution.

              Liked by 2 people

  9. “But if she wasn’t here, how did she expect to bring down dawn should he refuse her surrender? There might be other drow with power enough, but none with the requisite weight to carry it out. If the Hierophant had still been at her side then Tariq would not have considered the matter further, but the boy currently was in the depths of Arcadia making a ruinous altar of his grief. The Wild Hunt could not wield miracles of darkness, and who did that leave?”

    *Surely* some no-name like Advisor Kivule wouldn’t have the magical expertise or the dramatic weight to pull it off, had the Pilgrim turned down the surrender. What a play by the Black Queen!

    Liked by 15 people

  10. The Leaders of the League of Free Cities never fail to entertain. I keep thinking “Okay they can’t get any more ridiculous” but they just keep one upping themselves. It’s like watching a nation being lead by a Monty Python sketch.

    (Looking back at the previous chapters, it does seem that the differences between the Guideverse’s Bible nailed to a chair and the delegate of Atlante are largely superficial.)

    Liked by 16 people

  11. So, the Pilgrim sang about the Peregrine, saying “His stride rebellion and stirring ember.”

    Now he’s going to meet the Hierarch in battle, who actually is what he sang of. I think that’s going to be an interesting meeting.

    Liked by 4 people

        • Except there isn’t bourgeoisie, in modern terms, in Calernia, is there? I guess maybe in Mercantis?

          This is more of a Russian/French revolution deal, where it’s a revolt against the ancien régime in the name of equality but then it’s Oops! All Tyranny!

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hierarch was infuriated by Hanno claiming that he, Hanno, brings justice, that angels on his shoulders can judge. This claim was sooo against the laws of Most Glorious Republic that Hierarch finally chose a side. I assume Hierarch wants all heroes on the trial by people, kings and princes (and maybe even gods) are just collateral in this particular case.

            And nah, traders are not bourgeoisie, bourgeoisie owns and produces stuff, merchants are not that.

            Liked by 3 people

            • Checking WP, merchants do indeed count as bourgeoisie. Apparently Marx did distinguish between “administrators of the means of production” and “rentiers”, but the general term basically marks urban property-owners and capitalists, as opposed to laborers. They’re also explicitly commoners (Third Estate), rather than nobles (First Estate) or priests (Second Estate).

              Liked by 3 people

  12. Just imagine what is being written down in that Delosi’s scrolls. Basileus and magister are so tired of dealing with bs Tyrant brings forward that they deadpan back any attempt at a joke, and the only person who will actually consider anything said seriously (and he is forced to, anyway, he writes the chronicles) is that Delosi. When it all ends this paper will be more Mad than Isabelle the Mad, and Kairos will burn it just for giggles so that no one actually knows just how Mad it was.

    Liked by 7 people

  13. LMAO Irritant, at least be subtle when directing an opponent. Though, I suppose being so blatant makes it oddly effective. “A blunt but potent approach” as Tariq would put it, hahaha.

    “The Ophanim murmured uncertainly in his ear, even they unknowing” Wow, that’s unexpected, the Angels actually admitted they didn’t know. I would have expected them to just remain silent (which would imply it) but such honest admission is interesting.

    And now Kairos and the League ride to battle to ensure the Army of Callow’s safe retreat while Cat goes to save Masego, who the Grey Pilgrim just confirmed was indeed the one messing up that corner of Arcadia.

    It will be interesting to see the reaction of the different forces in the armies.

    Typos found:
    -the stakes at play hereL he, this army / the stakes at play here. He, this army
    -No it was nearly certain / No, it was nearly certain
    -If he was avoid / If he was to avoid
    -to be put it bluntly/ to put it bluntly
    -the fullness of the might/ the fullness of their might
    -He’d seen too many times to count / He’d seen it too many times to count
    -He could it be, when Keter was on the march? / How could it be, when Keter was on the march?
    -Could he truly justify, the Grey Pilgrim asked himself countenance / Could he truly justify, the Grey Pilgrim asked himself, countenance
    -The Black Queen that could be would be the end of Calernia / The Black Queen that could be, would be the end of Calernia
    -his tired from / his tired form
    -Tariq though of the city / Tariq thought of the city
    -The orcs jaw tightened / The orc’s jaw tightened

    Liked by 3 people

    • Regarding typos, That “hereL” is surely a fat-finger for “here:” (at least on an American keyboard).

      And the angels couldn’t remain silent, because they’ve established silence is its own message (‘you done screwed up”). It seems that the rules of the game require the mortals gamepieces to make their own decisions, albeit after Above and Below place the pieces.

      Liked by 3 people

    • >Wow, that’s unexpected, the Angels actually admitted they didn’t know. I would have expected them to just remain silent (which would imply it) but such honest admission is interesting.

      I am not surprised 🙂

      I continue to be incredibly unsurprised by anything to do with Tariq and his angels here; it’s so lovely of Erratic to actually deign to explicitly provide the information that could previously only be indirectly inferred 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

        • Au contraire… even when Cat was in fact a goddess, one thing Hakram didn’t do was actually worship her. (Of course, she never really explored the implications of divinity.) IIRC, orcs call the Gods Below collectively the Gobbler (while the goblins call them the Hungry Gods, or maybe that’s the other way around). I suppose “may you be eaten last” qualifies as a Dark blessing. 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • The Gobbler is the Goblins’ patron deity, while Hungry Gods, Merciless Gods, Ashen Gods, Burning Gods, and other such names are used by all the cultures in Calernia. The Orcs seemed to have some minor gods with them back in the day (Captain killed one of them, the one that helped the Orcs gain control over the Red Rage).

            Liked by 2 people

  14. “I, Catherine Foundling, first anointed Queen of Callow of my name,” I said, “formally offer the unconditional surrender of all forces under my command to the Grey Pilgrim, Tariq of Levant, also known as the Peregrine. Let there be no further bloodshed between your armies and mine, and through that surrender peace be obtained for us all.”

    Cat then goes out of her way to specifically avoid offering any sort of command to Vivienne and by proxy Juniper, and those two command the Pro-Callow forces in the battle while Cat rides into Arcadia with the Wild Hunt. Do the forces under Cat’s command technically consist of anything more than the Wild Hunt at the time her surrender is delivered?

    Liked by 5 people

    • I think that depends on what she ends up needing.

      This could be plausibly interpreted in either direction – either it matters that she could command if she tried, and making their own decisions was at her command in the first place. This is what matters narratively – Catherine’s armies are Catherine’s armies, if she’s to play out the story of genuine surrender she needs to hold to the spirit of the agreement above the letter of it.

      Or the story of genuine surrender might not work out, in which case she’s got the technicality contingency that will salvage the situation on the formal level. This would require a pretty big narrative fuckup by Tariq and Co though, to make this not as narratively bad for Catherine as Tariq points out it would be on its face.

      Catherine is keeping the reins of the situation, not making a leap of faith so much as a controlled rope swing of faith – if it doesn’t work out, she’ll just swing back 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This scene felt like the Mad Teaparty, from Alice in Wonderland.
    Everyone talking about stuff while nobody is really making much sense but in the end they all reach some sort of agreement what to do next.

    Also, I do love the goat. I sure hope she get’s a special place of honor somewhere, after she finishes her duties.
    I wonder how small Kairos is or how big the goat since he plans to ride her into battle …

    Liked by 11 people

    • Well, we are talking about Kairos here. If he can’t successfully ride a goat into battle that is physically smaller than he should be able to ride then he’ll either aspect it up and Rule that it is possible or just do the thing where you walk above something small and pretend that you’re riding it. Either way, you can be sure that her will be 100% committed to the bit.

      Liked by 3 people

  16. Ahahahahahahahahaha!

    Cat’s so good at it, even the fricking CHOIRS are at the point of throwing their hands up in the air and going “fuck, I don’t know, mate!”

    Kairos and Hackram seem to be getting along well!

    (Told you, Kairos is privately delighted isn’t he? Look, he’s even taking his goat into battle!)

    While normally I don’t point out the typos, since other folk do a bang-up job, But “the Hierarch’s authority was a shame” *probably* was intended to be “sham,” I couldn’t help but giggle, because it’s not entirely innacurate the way it is..

    Liked by 7 people

        • Yeah, I noticed THAT three seconds after hitting “post” as well… But elected not to make a third comment in a row. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who generally only catches the typos on the second pass myself and thus always too late on something I can’t edit… (Rare is the post i make elsewhere that doesn’t require at least one edit.)

          Liked by 2 people

  17. Alright, so we were told that Catherine’s three messages were a “knife”, a “bet”, and a “lie”. I now have a guess as to which was which.

    The “knife”: I’m thinking this is her message to Pilgrim – as we saw here, it forces him to abandon his original plan and choose between two less-desirable options. This make the message a way to harm Tariq’s position.

    The “bet”: It seems to me that the bet was that Kairos couldn’t let the other sides make peace without him, so the message to him was a bet that he would accept the offer it contained.

    The “lie”: Here I’m going out on more of a limb. The message to the Callowan leadership was to read up on Theodosius’ dilemma, which I’m assuming pertains to how Isabella fed all her leaders different battle plans on the eve of the Maddened Fields. Given how Catherine is deliberately keeping her subordinates in the dark, it seems to me that the “lie” is the impression she’s giving that she has some sort of complicated scheme based on getting everyone else to engage in specific behavior based on information she feeds them, an intricate Xanatos Gambit.

    The thing is, she learned in Keter about all the problems with intricate, interlocking schemes, so instead, I think she’s just using the incomplete information to give the impression of an intricate scheme to anyone mind-reading her subordinates, thus ensuring they’ll have to limit the complexity of their own plans on account of the complicated gambit that doesn’t actually exist.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Except that as she pointed out to her own people, the three parts don’t actually depend on each other — any one of them can play out by itself. On the other hand, if two, or all three, of them do work, they combine and Cat can win really big..

      Liked by 2 people

    • Kairos letter appears to me to be the thing that brings surest result, while Pilgrim may do anything (in the realm of probability) as a result. Surrender may be a lie even, given that all other letters kind of violate Pilgrim’s letter’s uncoditional surrender. Also, Cat hasn’t yet showed Pilgrim what would happen for daring to take a swing at her, and surrender can’t be the that, even thousands dead to drow onslaught aren’t enough to dissuade Pilgrim from attempting something again.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The surrender can’t be a lie, as Tariq has pointed out – it’s too bad/stupid a move in itself. Tariq doesn’t need to know what kind of scheme Catherine could use to work around it, he looks at the meta situation and concludes that she has to mean it, in order to not come out the loser.

        * she has to mean it in the event that it is genuinely accepted at face value and with no intent of treachery on Pilgrim’s side, which is something she can’t quite count on from her side, hence the contingencies allowing her to back out of it if it ends up biting her in the ass

        It’s a Prisoner’s Dilemma where sides can change their decision after seeing that of the other person 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • All three letters are contingency plans in to nudge events into needed direction. Letter to Pilgrim in conjuction with letter to Kairos always make Kairos to attack. Cat commits meta-narrative suicide – Kairos attacks, Cat actually surrenders – Kairos attacks, Pilgrim commits meta-narrative suicide – Kairos still attacks, maybe he will attack Cat in this case, though. Letter to Pilgrim doesn’t need to bet on anything, it can be a total lie and still do it’s job, that’s what i meant.

          Liked by 2 people

          • If the job you think it needs to do is getting Kairos to attack, sure.

            But the more important job it’s doing is shifting the meta-narrative in Catherine’s favor. And it needs to be in good faith for that to work.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Swords are weapons to be wielded and therefore so is Laurence de Montfort. I think she’ll follow Tariq’s lead in the end, even if there is some push back. Some swords need to draw blood before they are sheathed again, even if it’s the weilder’s.

        Of course taking this sword talk to it’s logical conclusion. Swords are stored in scabbards, and so is Laurence de Montfort. Robber will let her out later, maybe.

        Liked by 3 people

  18. “And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.”
    “They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.”

    /toasts the Pilgrim


  19. I really love the Tyrant.

    And wow, that part about the Book-of-all-things being read by a gargoyle is so funny! xD

    “no one noticed the difference” – he hinted.


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