Interlude: So We Shot Him

“One hundred and twenty one: it can be wise to make a truce with a villain to deal with greater threat. Never forget, however, that fear does not make someone trustworthy. Merely afraid.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

Captain Elvera could not have drawn her sword even if there was a need, for oaths still bound her and so uncertainty was staying her hand. It had been a very fine line she’d walked these last few weeks, one finer than she was truly comfortable with. Elvera had sworn not to make war on the Black Queen nor her allies for the span of three months, and that span had not yet ended, though Lady Aquiline had made use of her regardless. The letter of the oath had been observed: the prisoners released under oath had never left the reserve or bared blade. Elvera herself did not formally hold command, for that might be impugning her word, though her ‘advice’ was obeyed so faithfully this was mere pretence. The old woman would not pretend the spirit of the oath had not been broken, regardless, or that service of her lady excused the act. Even if the Black Queen had likely expected no better of them, it did not lessen the shame of being so feckless. Yet when duty and honour pulled different ways, which one was to be heeded? Elvera had no answer, and her lady was understanding, so here she was straddling a charade instead of declaring for either.

“Those are the Spears of Stygia, we have confirmed it,” Captain Onaedo grimaced. “Ashen Gods, just when the night was turning around.”

Onaedo, second only to her in years of service to Tartessos, held command of the host in the absence of Lady Aquiline – who was, at the moment, still having her wounds seen to. Along with Razin Tanja, who she’d insisted would be healed at her side. That’d raised more than a few eyebrows, and likely would again in days to come. If they survived that long, Elvera thought. Which given the way reputable armies had taken to appearing out of thin air at their rear was seeming less certain by the moment.

“And they are facing the Procerans,” Elvera slowly said.

The League of Free Cities had struck… oddly. Perhaps in part to obscure its numbers, which were still very much in doubt, but their array was unusual. The Spears of Stygia, perhaps the finest infantry that region had to offer, had appeared and formed up for advance at the back of Lady Aquiline’s command. Not facing the Alavan heavy infantry of Lord Malave to the north, which might be understandable if a swift rout was what was meant to achieved. Yet it was a hardened army of twenty thousand Procerans, an army who’d already fought that same slave-phalanx in the past, that they’d formed up in front of. There’d been much easier meat to prey on, if the Stygians had wished: the famously lightly-armoured warriors of Vaccei, or perhaps the hodgepodge mixture of fantassins and levies that was the northern Proceran contingent. Elvera had seen to it that even while moving to encircle the Black Queen’s camp her lady’s army had not overextended, so theirs was not a weak position to assault. Why, of all places, had the Spears of Stygia been put in front of the largest knot of veteran Proceran soldiery on the field? A rider approached, breaking up her musings, and conferred quietly with Captain Onaedo. She glanced at him, brow raised.

“The Black Queen’s surrender seems to be holding,” he told her.

The Grand Alliance would have folded like parchment if it hadn’t, Elvera grimly admitted to herself. Even now, in the distance, she could see the buckling lines of her lady’s host when it was fighting on a single front – two would have ended them in an hour. The Stygian phalanx was pushing through the Procerans inch by inch, unflinchingly, and with few losses. On the left flank the Bellerophans were being hacked into by eager Tartessos captains, though the enemy’s formations were so dense it was like wrestling with a boulder. Elvera would have spared a moment to be impressed by the way conscripts with only spears and old armour were holding up so well in front of proper warriors if the Bellerophan stubbornness wasn’t in the course of losing her this battle. Delosi forces held the other flank, facing Malagan warbands, and though the scribes themselves were nothing to worry of the mercenaries they’d hired had stiffer spines and sharper blades. The Malagan captains were only barely holding on, and if they broke it would turn into a massacre. The Procerans at the centre would be encircled and choked by the Stygian phalanx while Elvera’s left flank remained stuck and unable to help. Until the centre collapsed as well, anyway, and it was swept through as well.

“We won’t be winning this battle,” Captain Elvera bluntly said. “All we can do is hold and hope for Lord Marave to beat back the rest of the League.”

“What would you advise, then?” Captain Onaeodo asked.

“I’d throw everything we have in reserve at our right flank,” she said. “And pray it’ll hold long enough.”

It wasn’t an order, oath forbade it, but it was treated like one.

“I expect,” Yannu Marave calmly said, “that you come bearing a threat.”

Had they been dealing with a lesser villain, Tariq thought, then the Lord of Alava would have been correct. If there’d ever been a time for the armies of the East to turn on the Grand Alliance, it was now. Debacle was unfolding down south, while a mere mile outside this tent a hard battle was being fought. Helike’s army had swept out of Arcadia like a tide, hammering at the right flank unexpectedly, and even as Lord Yannu redeployed to meet the threat two more blows had come in quick succession: the soldiers of Penthes smashing into the left flank while those of Nicae poured out in the centre. The first half hour had been one sided butchery, for the Alliance’s army had been taken utterly by surprise, but now that it’d had time to form up a brutal stalemate of shield walls had formed. Yet all it would take was for the Army of Callow to resume firing its siege engines at the army, and the battle would be over. Odds were that Catherin Foundling would never again get advantage so heavy and undeniable over the hosts of the Grand Alliance, and if she were a fool then she would have instructed her followers to take advantage of it. The Grey Pilgrim saw no such thing within Vivienne Dartwick, and that brought forth just as much fear as it did relief.

“Queen Catherine offered the surrender in good faith,” the young woman replied just as calmly. “It stands, regardless of circumstance. I have come to discuss terms of ransoming.”

Tariq almost laughed at the audacity of that. Lady Dartwick had ridden into her enemy’s camp with nothing but a cursory escort, unarmed, and sat herself at the table across one of the most powerful men in the west without batting an eye. Like she did not doubt for a moment that she belonged there, though the Pilgrim’s eye told him she was not without doubts. They were not, however, woven into every part of her as they had been the previous year. Instead now there was a pulsing sentiment that split the difference of ambition and yearning, and it had nestled deep at the heart Vivienne Dartwick. The dark-haired woman, Tariq thought, had quite clearly lost her Bestowal. She was the Thief no longer, both his eyes and the whispers of the Ophanim had so ascertained. And yet, in the bargain of that loss, she had gained something altogether more dangerous: belief.

Am I, the Pilgrim thought, looking at your successor, Catherine Foundling?

“Ransoming,” Lord Marave said, tone flat. “You wish to have some of your forces released?”

“I have come to bargain,” Lady Vivienne pleasantly smiled, “for the ransoming of every force that surrendered to the Peregrine.”

Whispers, sharp and urgent. Not because of the woman’s words, for those were no surprise, but for something unfolding. There was, the Ophanim conveyed, to be another great breach between Creation and Arcadia. Soon, and it would be calamitous in some way. The Peregrine closed his eyes, feeling out the miracle he had woven over the sky. It was on the edge of passing, though it would be a natural death: Creation’s true dawn was about to begin, and it would chase away his own conceited mimicry.

“That is not an offer mine to accept,” Yannu Marave said. “But the terms must be interesting, for what you offer to be worth so many soldiers.”

“The aid of said soldiers,” Vivienne Dartwick replied. “Against the League of Free Cities.”

Left to it, Tariq thought, they would keep fencing for some time. Careful and wary both, even as death bloomed out on the fields. Not without reason, but the situation was on the edge of taking a grim turn. The Tyrant of Helike might have been called here by the Black Queen’s ploy, but he suspected even she did not truly understand what she’d unleashed. She’d let the fox into the henhouse, as reckless as ever.

“Lord Yannu,” the Pilgrim quietly asked. “Can this battle be won without their assistance?”

The other man’s lips thinned.

“If our last hand is played,” he said.

“It is, I think, about to be snapped over the Tyrant’s knee,” Tariq said.

“Then it is not impossible, yet the path is narrow,” the Lord of Alava said.

“Then we have an accord, Vivienne Dartwick,” the Pilgrim said.

There was a flicker of surprise on her face, though she mastered it swiftly.

“There is a mage among my escort,” she said. “If I might be allowed to send a signal?”

“Do so,” Tariq said. “And hurry, for-”

Creation shivered, to a sound like glass breaking had the glass been screamed by a hundred thousand voices. The Grey Pilgrim was on his feet in a heartbeat, leaving his words unfinished even as he raced out of the tent. The Ophanim’s voices rose in a chorus of anger at the thoughtlessness of what had been done, and he could only agree. A breach fractured the plain between the armies fighting, shaped like a thick pane of glass shattered by blow – spinning out in cracks. Through it fell thousands and thousands of horsemen, the very same he had sent into Arcadia. Lady Dartwick came to stand at his side, face gone pale.

“Send your signal,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Before it is too late.”

Cursing his weary bones, the Peregrine straightened his back. First he would need to enlist Laurence, but after that? There was a villain among the rain of soldiers that was being carried down by a swarm of gargoyles. The Rogue Sorcerer should be able to hold him until the two old hands arrived.

Kairos Theodosian had been allowed to run rampant for too long, and an end brought to his scheming was long overdue.

It wasn’t even much of a drop, Hakram thought, but then it hadn’t needed to be.

Ten, twelve feet the orc estimated. He’d seen horses jump half that without hurting themselves, though admittedly not horses in armour and bearing armoured riders. Still, he suspected it’d been the angle of it more than anything else: like the floor dropping off under and entire army. Their return to Creation had been accompanied by a horrifying song. Horses by the thousands screaming for their broken limbs, falling to the side and rolling over soldiers crushed by their weight. Horns and trumpets as the Procerans and Levantines who’d remained unharmed tried and failed to assert order, and all the while Kairos Theodosian laughed convulsively. Rend, the red-eyed boy had ordered Arcadia, and beneath the hooves of the west’s cavalry the earth had been rent asunder. At least the Tyrant seemed half-dead for it, Adjutant thought. The orc had seen higher sorceries of this calibre before, but only once before an aspect destructive on such a scale: the Carrion Lord’s own, when he had wrecked the doomsday fortress made from Liesse. Lord Black had been near killed by the overreach, however, where Kairos Theodosian remained conscious. Feverish, yes, exhausted and drenched in sweat. Yet still very much awake.

“It appears,” Adjutant said, “that you’ve repelled the enemy.”

The Tyrant did not reply, slumped and breathing laboriously. The villain was seated on his throne still, a gaudy thing bejewelled and set on a platform almost as luxurious. The platform itself had been carried down by a swarm of gargoyles, along with the wooden frame holding up Hakram himself. And more, too: Lord Kairos’ personal guard had been held up by pairs of the constructs, slowing their fall by enough the descent did not wound them. It’d allowed Adjutant a read on the amount of gargoyles that existed in whole, which to his eyes was somewhere between three and five thousand – mostly likely on the lower end of that span. It was still a colossal investment of resources to have made so many of the creatures, especially for a city-state, and should they ever be broken Hakram suspected it would be a crippling blow for the villain. Something to pass along, when he returned to Catherine. Lord Kairos did not reply to his comment, instead sending out further swarms of gargoyles with an anemic twitch of the arm. Adjutant’s eyes narrowed. The thousand-strong retinue of Helikean soldiers was making a slaughter of the horsemen in disarray, methodically scything through the wounded and the frightened, but it was not them the constructs had gone after.

“Better than repelled,” Kairos Theodosian rasped out. “Captured.”

Fascinated, Hakram peered at the swarms that were causing such a racket further down the shattered enemy column. There were seven of them, spiriting away seven prisoners. Seven crowned princes and princesses of Procer, he thought, snatched by the gargoyles in the midst of the howling chaos that’d been crashing down onto Creation.

“And now-” Lord Kairos began, but a wet cough tore out of his throat.

The boy’s lips, Hakram saw, were flecked with blood.

“And now,” the Tyrant croaked, “dawn.”

The orc looked up, in time to see the shining star that held back the night wane, and the truth of Creation replace it. The drow were struck down anew, before they could even properly stir.

Akua Sahelian watched dawn rise, a crow on one side and a well on the other.

They had watched it all unfold from the highest point in the camp of the Army of Callow, the graceful dance that’d spanned a night and brought them to this very moment. The shade who’d once been the heiress to Wolof had been taught the arts of treachery since the cradle, and taken to them like few others, so perhaps she was the only person in all of Iserre who could suitably appreciate what Catherine had done. The seamless sequence, born of an understanding of her foes that had been like an astronomer’s prediction of spheres in their orbit. Akua had glimpsed but a fraction of the preparations that arranging the stretch of a single night – no, not even that, barely even a bell in duration – had taken and so what she saw was not the luck of meddler but instead a net whose weaving had begun weeks ago, if  not months.

“O Goddess of Night,” the shade said. “You walk along her thoughts, do you not? How much of it did she truly anticipate?”

“Enough,” the Eldest Night said.

Though the urge to press the matter burned on her tongue, she did not purse. Akua was not Catherine, to chastise and wheedle entities far beyond her ken with that fearlessness that was sister to folly. Even without moving a finger the shade could feel the towering weight of the goddess who had been born to the name of Andronike, the millennia of blood and screams she had woven into apotheosis. It felt like even just an irritated glance from the half of Sve Noc would be enough to make dust in the wind of Akua, for one’s presence was mountain and the other feathers.

“And now I am called on to do my part, leal servant that I am,” the shade murmured.

In the sky a streak of coloured light stretched, the signal from Lady Dartwick that surrender had been turned into effective – if still temporary – alliance.

“No servant of mine,” the goddess said. “You wield, but do not make covenant.”

“Alas, O Goddess, my heart has already been taken,” Akua smiled.

“This is humorous, for you imply romantic feeling when in truth referencing grievous bodily harm,” Andronike said, tone smug. “I have mastered your ways, shade.”

“I am helpless before your guile, Sve Noc,” she replied, tone the slightest hint of dry.

The crow cawed in high-handed agreement.

“There will be need of a word, to bring it forth,” the goddess said. “Have you chosen?”

“I have,” Akua said, lips quirking. “I believe she would approve.”

“Then we begin,” Andronike said.

Her work was not as crude and unpolished as to require physical contact to be wielded: proximity and binding were sufficient. She who had once been the Diabolist allowed herself to sink into the sea of Night, the receptacle she had filled with the might of the Mighty night after night. Akua had known men and women, in Praes, who would have sold half the world to have such power at their fingertips. And it’d been entrusted to her almost as an afterthought, like it was a chore instead of the kind of privilege children would murder their progenitors for without hesitation. No oath stayed her hand, now, and no chain held her so closely that with this in her grasp she could not sever it. She could turn on the woman who’d slain and bound her. She could even bring this entire beautiful house of cards tumbling down on her head simply by doing nothing. Instead, Akua Sahelian opened black-rimmed eyes and bared a smile like a blade of ivory.

“Fall,” she said.

A torrent of darkness shot up in the sky, and from dawn wove an eclipse.

Princess Rozala Malanza woke disoriented, her leg throbbing with pain. She groaned and almost panicked when she realized she could not move her arms or legs – she was bound by rope – but mastered herself before she could scream. She would not give the Enemy the pleasure of her fear before it took her life and sent her back to… No, this was not Cleves. It was Iserre, it was dark, and for reasons unknown she was hanging upside down from a rope.

“Ah,” a familiar voice gravelled. “I thought the prince from Cantal would be first to wake, on account of the thicker skull.”

“Deadhand?” Rozala croaked, her mouth cottony and vision swimming. “You’ve captured me?”

She forced herself to concentrate, and after squinting for a moment saw through the gloom.

“Not exactly,” the Adjutant ruefully replied, just as she realized the orc was hanging upside down a mere foot to the left.

Gods, her throat was parched. Wiggling in her bindings, Rozala saw she was in hallowed company indeed: to her right was Prince Arnaud, and from there a procession of royalty continued. Every prince and princess of Procer in her host was strung up there in a neat row from a raised beam, like venison left to dry.

“Who-” she began, turning to the orc, but then she remembered. “Merciful Gods, the Tyrant. We were thousands and…”

“Shhhh,” a young man called out. “The gallery doesn’t get to talk, Rosalie.”

“Rozala,” the Adjutant said.

“Oh, who cares,” the Tyrant of Helike dismissed. “Proceran royals, eh? There’s so many of them, why even bother? She can complain to Cordovan Hallenban if she feels insulted.”

The Damned, she saw, hadn’t even bothered to turn to address them. He was sprawled on a lumpy throne set atop a platform. Likely for some eldritch reason a goat was standing at his side, allowing herself to be petted while he fed her grass from his palm.

“Cordelia Hasenbach,” Princess Rozala coolly corrected. “First Prince of Procer and Warden of the West.”

Hasenbach was not and never would be bosom friend of hers, but she would not let the elected ruler of the Principate be mocked by a twisted little shit like Tyrant of Helike.

“If Rosalie talks again, my lovelies, eat one of her eyes,” Kairos Theodosian absent-mindedly ordered. “You can choose which.”

Rozala’s blood ran cold when she saw a gargoyle’s animalistic visage peer out over the edge of the beam from which she hand, chittering eagerly. There was a bleat from the goat and the Tyrant snorted.

“No, not you,” the boy said. “You’re a terrible horse.”

Rozala eyed the Adjutant, wondering whether a whispered question was worth the risk of losing an eye, but the orc suddenly stiffened. A heartbeat later, there was a burst of light as a cut was made through thin air and in a gust of stormy wind three silhouettes emerged in front of the Tyrant’s throne. Rozala knew them well, had fought at the side of most.

“Tyrant,” the Grey Pilgrim greeted the villain. “This has gone on for long enough.”

The Damned idly flipped the jeweled scepter in his hand, catching it by the handle.

“Give me a moment,” the Tyrant of Helike said, cocking his head to the side. “I’m trying to think of an answer that involves a goat pun. Just kidding? No, that’s sloppy. I hold myself to higher standards than that.”

“It will be a mercy to put an end to you, lunatic,” the Saint of Swords said.

“I bet you didn’t even make that one on purpose,” the Damned laughed.

“There’s sorcery being used,” the Rogue Sorcerer told the other two. “Still distant, but…”

“Cutting the head of the snake will serve, for a start,” the Peregrine said.

The old man raised his staff, and as the air thickened with the weight of Chosen preparing to battle a small sound ripped through the tension. It was, Rozala realized, a match being struck. Off the ornate helmet Prince Arnaud still wore even unconscious. Nonchalantly lighting her pipe, the Black Queen flicked the spent match down and offered up a sharp-toothed smile.

“So,” Catherine Foundling said, “we’ve got about an hour before everybody here ends up enlisting in the Dead King’s army the hard way.”

She shrugged, and leaned against the Adjutant’s tied form.

“But hey, by all means don’t let me interrupt.”

278 thoughts on “Interlude: So We Shot Him

  1. magesbe

    Top level scheming from pretty much every player here. And so far going as Catherine planned! I have to say, from a scheming standpoint, this is the most impressive battle of the entire series. Not the most epic (I think the fight at the end of book 3 takes that), but the most scheming.

    Liked by 34 people

    1. The Brave Little Muffin

      Masego has yet to make his appearance of course.

      One way or another he leaves the woe. Akua made him redundant re: bard vs the bumbling conjurer

      Liked by 3 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              I’d like this for sure. But not just one person collecting bets. We need a small online prediction market where people can bet for or against very clearly stated predictions.

              Liked by 2 people

      1. ThatOneGuy

        Guess what everybody! I asked the lich to join us in an hour!

        Everyone states at her in disbelief.

        I needed someone to get everyone here to work together or at least not kill each other.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Unless we decides to pull one over on us and we see Abigail in the hot seat for the plan she so effectively executed but which could have been a disaster if the cavalry charge wasn’t approved.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Cicero

        Except it would not have been a disaster.

        It wouldn’t have been as big a victory, but the lost of a hundred goblins to kill 30 binders would have been a good trade.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Kissaten

      Chapter names have a certain rhyme to them:

      West, Ever Pursuing /
      Graves We Have Yet To Fill /

      Trust Is The Wager /
      Death They Cannot Steal /

      And Pay Your Toll /
      When Iron Rests /

      So We Shot Him /
      …/

      There should be a line that ends in “est”? “Right In The Fate”?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. edrey

        no, there are from songs like the girl who climed the tower or the lord of silver spears, etc. there is not rhyme of course because there are from different songs

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Clint

        I’m not sure “fill” and “steal” really rhyme… but taking your premise, I find:
        “– they got a Wizard in the West
        “But no matter how he’s blessed
        “We got a Warlock in the Tower
        “Who’ll use his bones as flour.”

        The first line of that stanza could fit. “Interlude: They Got a Wizard in the West” could wind back slightly and show us what Rogue Sorcerer’s been up to (hiding Black’s soul and leading the cavalry through Arcadia) and what Masego’s been up to, just before both those things come to a head.

        But I’m betting we’re done with interludes and on to a Cat chapter.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. That was a brutal way to break the cavalry. All those horses will need to be put down/mercy-killed.
    Incredibly effective, in the short term, anyways. They’d probably be useful in what comes next.

    Heh. Impressive timing Cat. Just what have you been up to lately?

    This will be entertaining.

    Liked by 19 people

        1. caoimhinh

          “There’s sorcery being used,” the Rogue Sorcerer told the other two. “Still distant, but…”

          “Cutting the head of the snake will serve, for a start,” the Peregrine said.

          That seems like they are talking about Masego and implies that he is on his way.

          Liked by 5 people

            1. caoimhinh

              I considererd that too, but I thought that since what Hierarch does is an Aspect and not sorcery, then the Rogue Sorcerer must be referencing the only confirmed work of sorcery around: Masego in Liesse.

              Liked by 2 people

        1. caoimhinh

          It will be interesting to see Pilgrim’s Behold Kairos at the same time that Tyrant is knowing Tariq’s wish.
          That battle of wits when the two are reading each other will be cool. And only Cat is protected thanks to Sve Noc.

          Liked by 12 people

    1. Isaac Martinez

      It’s a shame that Cat doesn’t practice necromancy anymore. She finally has horses instead of goats, and free of charge.

      But who needs undead explosive horses when you are the first master of lake-o-mancy.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Class ended just in time for me to read this and laugh like a maniac. Excited to see what this magnificent match set with 3 letters becomes. We now know which was the lie, the feint, and the truth and I am excited to see how Catherine goes from here

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Even when Pilgrim admitted she was a high caliber villain just near the end, he still underestimated her (by assuming she had a bad read on Kairos)… or at least so it seems for now.

      Liked by 13 people

        1. erebus42

          Everyone always goes on and on about the arrogance of Evil *which is admittedly fair), but people never mention the arrogance that good is prone to. In this case I guess we could probably blame years of feeling like he has the moral high ground on everyone else and the fact that the universe bends over backwards for heroes in this world.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. And all this time, Cat has been like: “Look, I don’t understand what’s so hard for you to grasp about this. The Dead King is coming. We need to stand together, or He. Will. Destroy. Us.”

        That said… IIRC, we still don’t know the actual terms of Malicia’s deal with DK.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Dainpdf

          Defeating the DK only to have another form at his backyard would have accomplished nothing, though.

          In a way, it’s the same with Cat risking Laurence dying and taking with her their best chance to end the DK.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. “accomplished nothing”?

            The Dead King was and is an immortal power who killed and animated a nation just to get started (and has since ravaged Calernia several times).

            Catherine was an immortal who had, at considerable pain to herself and her forces, fought against devils and demons, never using them herself, and had put her life on the line battling the latest monster to emerge from the Praesi Empire. She was also has been remarkably agreeable in negotiations, given that Pilgrim’s consistent demand has been for her to abandon all she held dear and preferably die for good measure.

            Trading Dead King for Cat at her worst would have been be a major accomplishment.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Dainpdf

              He even explained the shape of the story around her. Heck, Cat or Sve Noc were about to fall into said story until Cat turned mortal again and in doing so recovered the perspective to turn it around.

              Like

  4. fbt

    i luv cat! 🙂 so awesome!
    some of the earlier bits, like everything written from the pov of the procerans and all the other crazies, was too full indirection (nicknames, rotating titles, flowery descriptions); it was unclear enough I started skimming. One name for one entity, when you have this many in play. It’s trivially easy to write unclearly. It’s harder to be clear. Just imho, but i’ve been skipping more and more of the alt POV’s lately due to this issue.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dainpdf

      What do you mean? What has confused you? It seems most characters have at most a name and a Name or title. The worst offender would be the Pilgrim, but he’s been with us for a while.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. G

      Examples of what you found confusing? was it just the POV sections from people we hadn’t seen before? I rather enjoyed getting further insight into the thoughts and motivations of the other actors on the field.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. Not paying attention snowballs =x of course you’ll be finding it increasingly hard to keep up with a subplot you’re skimming. I recommend that you reread alt povs in the Northern Crusade arc and in Book 5 =x

      Liked by 7 people

    4. Clint

      I think I agree — it’s the Dominion forces that confuse me. Half the time the lords are referred to by name (e.g. Razin Tanja) and half the time by lordship (Lord Malaga) with a scattering of Blood (the Binder’s Blood). Trying to remember whether Lady Aquiline is the one in command of the Tarterossi troops on one flank takes a moment.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That can be annoying, but it’s fairly standard practice in fantasy, and not uncommon elsewhere. It’s a matter of writing style, you don’t want a drumbeat of the repeating name when the character is active and/or under discussion. Also, sometimes one or another reference is more relevant.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Clint

          Totally agree. And in a standard novel, I’d have no trouble remembering. It’s now that I’m caught up and reading a new chapter every couple of days that I could use a refresher — like using both the first time in the chapter (“Lady Aquiline’s Tartarossi were holding the left flank…”) before going back to switching them up.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Charles

    I declare this series of interludes absolute torture. Over and over, I have thought we would be at the end of them and ready to see what Cat’s been up to, and over and over again there has been a little bit more. Wonderful things, delights abounding, and yet still leaving me wanting the main course. I’m so glad Cat’s reentered the picture. What’s been happening?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Kissaten

    So, Bellerophan interpretation of Isabelle the Mad texts is, in fact, superior to the original. Even if there was a mistake of reading it wrong, mind you, something The People never do.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Nairne .01

    Muchas gracias EE.

    I wonder what the Tyrant’s goal here is. Is Cat right about it all? God, that would be satisfying, yet I think not everything will go as she wants.

    Liked by 5 people

          1. Caerulea

            I assumed that to be related to Maesago. After all, it was forshadowed somewhat in the set of interludes at whatever that port city was (I don’t recall right now) and makes the most sense. Also the Tyrant has been dropping hints in that direction.

            Liked by 2 people

  8. IDKWhoitis

    So what are the betting odds on Saint dying before this is over?
    Or the Rogue Sorcerer?

    I firmly believe Kairos and Grey are surviving this enduring shit show, but one of those two others probably aren’t.

    There are 7 crowns and one, but the Fae are nowhere to be seen, and neither has Masego unloaded. Cat has a lot of cards remaining, and the Heroes have few to none.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Personally, I think Kairos at well survive, but Grey is going down. We saw how that <b<Shine took it out of him, and at his age, he’s totally primed for an Awesome Death Scene. Angel vs. Dead King’s minions, perhaps? Saint of Swords still has a doom awaiting her, but maybe she’ll let the Dead King have it. Or try to, given Cat knows about those Named Revenants. Interesting how the Rogue Sorcerer seems to have rejoined Pilgrim on his own, but my bet is he manages to weave his way through the disasters. Starting with giving Cat that soul so she doesn’t have to take it.

      As far as those seven crowns and one… that just got ambiguous, because there are at least two extra crowns in the room: Kairos’s and Cat’s.

      I like the glimpse of how the non-Villian Rozala sees the gargoyles, as compared to Catherine’s amused dismissal and Hakram’s calm accounting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. fireinsideincites

        There are technically three crowns at play: Cat, the Tyrant, and The Grey Pilgrim. He rightfully belongs on the tattered throne as the ruler of Levant. If he is weakening and is at the end of his rope as it seems, I could see his last act is offering himself in place of Cat and being the and one crown offered

        Liked by 2 people

          1. fireinsideincites

            Which gives greater weight to his being the “and one”. He is not a crowned ruler or heir, but he is, for all intents and purposes, another ruler and viewed the de facto leader since every Levantine leader defers to him (EE even hints to this power dynamic with Captain Elvera in this chapter). His nephew only won power because of him and lost it because of him. He is not one of the seven crowns but he is the only one who truly fits the “and one” moniker out of the people in the tent.

            Liked by 2 people

  9. Kissaten

    “I have come to bargain,” Lady Vivienne pleasantly smiled, “for the ransoming of every force that surrendered to the Peregrine.”

    Black’s soul as well, eh? How cunning

    Liked by 8 people

      1. ATRDCI

        Yes, but it’s important to set it up as GP can hardly afford to be an oathbreaker again in regards to Cat. Especially since he was forced to give up the metaphorical knife with her earlier surrender

        Liked by 7 people

      1. John

        I don’t think airing out the full details of how the Gray Pilgrim eliminated the Black Knight’s army in order to capture him alive despite determined resistance would be the direction Tariq would want to take things, either narratively or politically.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Indeed, but notice how Cat is suddenly in arm’s reach of the Rogue Sorcerer, the one Hero tasked with keeping Amadeus’s soul out of reach and therefore went into hiding before all of this. And Cat seems to be ready to pull out some more of her callowan diplomacy: put a sword and horrible wine on the table and make everyone admit that drinking that swill is better than getting stabbed in the throat.
        In conclusion: Amadeus might be on his way back.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Gunslinger

      I think it’s a testament to Ee’s skill that Akua went from a character I thoroughly thoroughly despise to absolutely love. But like I’m torn. What would be the name of the Akua Catherine ship?

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Their relationship is healthy in the sense that a Praesi warlock whose figured out how to stop their stitched together abomination’s immune system from tearing itself apart has made a ‘healthy’ creature.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I was saying the ship was healthy, as in, well-fed with material.

            I call it ‘reverse mutual crush’ – they’ve both got Some Sort Of Emotion but they’re so absolutely mismatched it only makes the situation worse

            delicious om nom nom

            Liked by 2 people

  10. Novice

    “This is humorous, for you imply romantic feeling when in truth referencing grievous bodily harm,” Andronike said, tone smug. “I have mastered your ways, shade.”

    How can an evil, murderous Goddess born of millennia of scheming and bloodshed be so adorable?! Look what you’ve done, Cat!

    Liked by 16 people

  11. Akua invoking Cat’s old aspect, I wonder if there isn’t more to it than just irony. It’s not entirely clear how separated she and cat are at this point but it also seems like a step towards eventually stealing her Name, if she gets another one.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. carrier

      Probably from Three Hills

      [blockquote]
      He was a prince and a handsome lad
      On a pretty white horse, all iron-clad
      His lance was silver but his heart gold
      A peerless champion, or so we’re told
      Oh! The Lord of the Silver Spears!

      So he cornered us on a muddy hill
      His knights were up and eager to kill
      But he said halt! We need not fight!
      Only the she-witch will die tonight!
      Oh! The Lord of the Silver Spears!

      He rode up to us and rang his horn
      Called out the Boss with all his scorn
      Then sat there idle, proud as all Hells
      Waiting while she bid her farewells
      Oh! The Lord of the Silver Spears!

      [b]So we shot him[/b], right through the throat
      So much for that armour and all the gloat
      So learn the lesson from that sad day –
      Fuck with the Fifteenth and you’ll pay
      Oh! Poor Lord of the Silver Spears!
      [/blockquote]

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Kissaten

    And so Pilgrim just shrugs off ENORMOUS exhaustion from creating the greatest miracle of his life and just goes at Kairos like he is not 80 years old. Heroes aren’t cheaters, eh? It just looks like false pretense at this point, how he easily jumps to his feet at the tiniest hint that there’s danger to him. Sacrifices don’t matter, exhaustion neither, that’s straight up cheating.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Novice

      Kairos did the same thing, bantering with the heroes looking all-smug and confident after breaking through Arcadia; a feat that Hakram noted to be more impressive than Black destroying the Liesse superweapon.

      If Pilgrim is cheating, then so is Tyrant.

      I would argue that both of them, though incredibly exhausted, are putting up a front at this point.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. Kissaten

        Kairos has 3k to 5k gargoyles in reserve, unknown artifacts prepared for the occasion, thousand strong elite retinue and one more untapped aspect. Heroes come in having NO preparations at all, being narratively and physically exhausted from other fights, all aspects tapped (only Rogue Sorcerer’s weren’t, and Forgive isn’t a battle aspect), and they still expect to win. Like, come on. Tyrant did non-narrative hard work, Pilgrim has nothing in his sleeves except Providence.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Novice

          “Pilgrim has nothing in his sleeves except Providence.”
          Which, I would like to point out, Pilgrim has spent DECADES crafting with his own story. And what did Kairos do to earn said resources? A mere inheritance, just because he’s a prince.

          You’re implying that Kairos got all of these fair and square. Like, come on.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Kissaten

            Let me reprhrase your statement.

            “Brute forcing your way to the head villain when everything is going south is both a smart thing to do a result of decades of mastering the plot armor powers”

            >And what did Kairos do to earn said resources?

            Killed a lot of people, for one, maybe traded for sorcerers across the League and Praes to craft himself gargoyles. Then he maneuvered Hierarch into position so ridiculous that even gods can’t reach him. You are basically saying that putting all your eggs in a basket for a final encounter is somehow equivalent to methodical accruement of means and tricks to one’s arsenal. Sure, maybe both are cheating, but even infinities can be larger and smaller than one another. 1, 2, 3… is smaller to 2, 4, 6…, for an example, and Pilgrim shrugging off consequences of his own sacrifices is a cheating instanteous, more straining than Kairos’ growing arsenal of tricks bought with cheats that might as well didn’t happen.

            On that note, Kairos has at least one more unseen power yet not in play, Atalanta forces haven’t participated in a fight yet, and Hierarch is nowhere to be seen. What Pilgrim have planned in case he would be swarmed with 3k gargoyles, some kind of Atalanta trap and goat power? Well, except for hoping in Providence, that is.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Novice

              “Sure, maybe both are cheating”

              That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear from you. I’m not saying none of this BS. I’m saying that both of them are BS. At least compared to Cat, who sacrificed so much to get where she is right now.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. Micke

              That situation leads to heroic victory in 99% or more of all books I’ve ever read, not to mention your standard Hollywood action flick. Pilgrim is probably pretty sure he has the story on his side here.

              Liked by 2 people

            3. From his POV, Pilgrim’s Choir of Mercy is basically holding him upright at this point. Not actually shrugging off the exhaustion, but hiding it for the moment. And while he might or might not be able to Forgive his own mortal wound, I would not bet on that fending off death from “power exhaustion complicated by old age”. (It might let him leave a good-looking corpse. 😉 .)

              Liked by 1 person

            4. Ultimate_procrastinator

              “Brute forcing your way to the head villain when everything is going south is both a smart thing to do a result of decades of mastering the plot armor powers”

              Actually, for a hero, in terms of the narrative, being exhausted, outnumbered, and desperate is exactly when you are most likely to win, so I could honestly see this as being exactly as smart as you sarcastically described

              Liked by 1 person

    2. As I said elsewhere, at this point Pilgrim is primed for a Heroic Sacrifice. I had been thinking a Crowning Moment of Awesome too, but it occurs to me that as far as the outside world is concerned, he already had that. Only a few Named know what he lost in the surrender.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. caoimhinh

    Kairos’ Aspects (Rule, Wish, Rend) are very interesting and powerful. Truly befitting a Tyrant, his power affects the area around him and the people around him, just like a ruler governing and having control of his domain and being in contact with the subjects within it.

    All the players are in position, seven crowns and one in the room with all the Named in Iserre gathered and Cat has finally appeared. Is this the end of the Interludes? Is Kairos going to die? Will Larat live after getting his due? Will Laurence get killed out her own stubbornness refusing Catherine’s peace? Will Amadeus be whole again? When will they meet Masego?

    Let’s find out!

    *Sets alarm for 47 hours later*

    Typos found:
    -what was meant to achieved / what was meant to be achieved
    -Catherin / Catherine
    -the heart Vivienne / the heart of Vivienne
    -the beam from which she hand / the beam from which she hanged

    Liked by 4 people

      1. caoimhinh

        An important thing to keep in mind is that some of those Aspects have already been used and likely can’t be used again for some time, perhaps an entire day (unless it’s like William’s Rise counter of three uses that got renewed with each dawn).
        I think Wish is more likely a match for Behold, as both are Aspects that enable to know other people’s feelings and intentions.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Novice

          You know, seeing you talk about direct counters has got me wondering. Tyrant’s Rend is the exact opposite of Heirarch’s Mend. Also, one could argue that Wish and Receive are also opposites.

          This smells story shenanigans, no?

          Liked by 7 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Oh, yeah. Those two are bound by some heavy story shenanigans since a long time ago.
            An important thing is also that while both are “ruler” type of Names and they are currently allied, Anaxares the Hierarch is a sworn enemy of foreign olligarchs and oppression of people, which is the definition of what being a Tyrant is about XD.

            Liked by 4 people

              1. Oshi

                Oh he did more then that. He created for Creation his end and then twisted it so his end would never kill him because he has no authority to only the people do 😛 Fucking mad little Tyrant looped out of creations play and since it worked is probably going to attempt to leave the entire game and set up his own play outside Creations net with the Fae.

                Liked by 1 person

  14. Andrew Mitchell

    Loved, loved this chapter.

    – Viv’s command of the negotiations with Yannu and Pilgrim. Pilgrim putting aside all the usual BS and agreeing immediately.
    – Rend used to reunite all the major forces at play here. (Poor horses!!)
    – Seeing Rozala again, I like her and I expect her to be a character in the final book.t
    – Akua delivering on what she was asked to do even though she did not have to. And her interaction with Andronike of course.
    – Karios’ interaction with his goathorse and trying to find a good pun.
    – Cat’s entrance and reveal that the Dead King is on his way. (I assume this is through Arcadia.)

    As others have said, there’s a lot more to play out here with Amadeus’ soul, cat’s staffswordprayer, the Drow now that they are empowered again, the Hunt, seven crowns and one, Masego, and of course the Dead King.

    Absolutely superb work by EE with this chapter.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I don’t think Cat’s words meant that the Dead King is on his way to Iserre, more like that whatever Masego is doing is going to kill them all (her joke is that by being dead, they are from the Dead King’s army by default).

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Nairne .01

        Please consider what Warlock said about the Dead King and learning the mysteries related to him (including his take on magic) and what Masego may be doing.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Andrew Mitchell

        Yeah, you could well be right there. That part of Arcadia was going to “come into Creation” wasn’t it. That’s certainly going to be bad for anyone in the way.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I don’t think the Dead King is personally on his way, though his sorcery / plan / reach may be.

      I absolutely love Akua being ??? @ Cat casually trusting her with power, and also the ‘my heart was taken’ joke interplay with Andronike – and I love how Andronike took the obvious ‘grievous bodily harm’ joke out of subtext and into text, leaving subtext to turn around and lennyface

      Poor horses )=

      I love Rozala considering whether trying to talk to Adjutant might be straight up worth the loss of an eye, though I guess in a world where healing miracles are rampant this is much less of a horrible certainity than in ours.

      I love Pilgrim just being resigned to Catherine being genuinely helpful here and actually fearful of it, god bless ❤

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Yeah, I was thinking his influence/minions rather than in person. Sorry I wasn’t clear enough. 🙂

        Getting personally involved isn’t the Dead King’s style. He wants to avoid any opportunity for story shenanigans as much as possible.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yep.

          And I’m thinking it’s still possible that Cat is being flowery about “we’re all going to die and the Dead King will be getting the last laugh” rather than the problem being directly his ploy.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Remember that Neshamah has access to multiple values of “in person”. When we had that POV from the viewpoint of that Pappenheim who was left to command in the north, the Dead King came out “in person” to talk to him before the final stronghold in the city fell. Except that the body that he was wearing was not the same as the one that Cat saw in Keter, which IIRC has been alluded to as not actually being whatever the fuck the Dead King actually is. So he can inhabit bodies that he can presumably abandon (an assumption but given his overall level of caution I think a small one), which I think changes the calculus for whether it’s worth showing up “in person” and how risky it actually is to him to do so.

          Also, I’m with the people suggesting that Masego’s thing in Arcadia with Liesse and the Dead King showing up are not two separate factors. I think this is where the teases from the Thalassina interludes about the Kabbalis (sp?) Book of the Dead being a sneaky backdoor method for the Dead King to take over the minds of capable mages pay off (where it was established that Masego knows basically at least 80% or something of the whole Book thanks to harvesting Neshamah’s reflection, and where his parents died before actually sharing that warning with him like they planned to). I think Masego’s trying to pull some high-grade mystical bullshit with a city-sized artifact while 90% out of his mind with grief and trauma, I think he’s using at least large portions of said Book of the Dead to do it, and I think that if he gets to the point of pulling the trigger on whatever ritual he’s been building it’s going to backfire catastrophically, kill everyone in a radius of [x] miles, and give the Dead King a new host body with the power of the Hierophant and the knowledge of the Dead King that’s sitting on top of a fresh army of the dead made out of the corpses of the only force that could hope to stop such an army right in the middle of the Proceran heartlands.

          So, you know. It *might* be a threat significant enough to actually get everyone involved to play along with Cat’s scheme. Given the parties involved, we’ll see!

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Even Malicia can body-hop, as we saw well before Keter. Also: Masego probably isn’t “90% our of his mind”, but he’s certainly distraught. His bringing Liesse to Arcadia suggests that he’s not completely disregarding collateral damage, at least. The other thing is that even if DK tried to take over Masego, he might not have that all his own way.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. > Even Malicia can body-hop, as we saw well before Keter.

              And Black as well, yeah, so that’s also a good point. I’d be willing to bet that DK needs to put a lot less effort in to create/prepare a vessel for himself, but that’s just speculation.

              > Masego probably isn’t “90% our of his mind”, but he’s certainly distraught.

              Eh, insufficient data. Could be either (we’ll likely find out soon enough), but my money is on he’s more than just distraught.

              > His bringing Liesse to Arcadia suggests that he’s not completely disregarding collateral damage, at least.

              Or it means that’s the environment he needed to pull off whatever ritual he’s got working on. Again, we run into the “insufficient data for certainty” problem, but given that he didn’t just bring Liesse into Arcadia he then cut that chunk of Arcadia off and it’s now crashing into Creation in the middle of the Proceran heartland I think there’s a lot *more* support for “Masego dgaf about collateral damage right now”.

              > The other thing is that even if DK tried to take over Masego, he might not have that all his own way.

              If he tried to brute-force his way in I’d at least potentially agree, at least that it would be risky/difficult enough that someone as cautious as Neshamah wouldn’t roll the dice on it even if he thought they favored him more than not. But the specific concern about the Book of the Dead is that it was a backdoor/trojan type of attack. The entire point of that kind of attack is that your defenses don’t mean jack against an enemy you’ve invited inside. But in this as in the rest we should see soon enough.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Trojans are nasty, but not unstoppable… especially if you’re already suspicious. Masego is in the top tier of human wizards, and his parents had warned him about just such an attack shortly before their death. Even given his skepticism at the time, I don’t think he’d be getting caught that way so soon.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Andrew Mitchell

                  They’re good points and IMO this could still go either way. Masego could have been slightly less cautious due to his emotional turmoil. And the Dead King has had centuries of opportunities to refine his techniques.

                  Like

                2. > his parents had warned him about just such an attack shortly before their death.

                  They didn’t, though. I just re-read the sequence of interludes to make sure I wasn’t mis-remembering and they never actually shared that specific concern with Masego before dying. Roughly, the sequence went:

                  Arguing about Tikoloshe keeping secrets from Masego
                  Warlock giving Masego his spiel about a Dread Emperor Revenant/Cat as Sovereign of Moonless Nights type entity being just a copy and not really the same person
                  Masego flat-out rejecting that analysis, both to Warlock and Tikoloshe’s faces and later implicitly while speaking to Hakram and Vivienne through scrying
                  Tikoloshe and Warlock speak privately later and Tikoloshe shares his concerns over the Book of the Dead being a trojan for the Dead King, Warlock is persuaded by this discussion (along with a couple other factors that are extraneous to the purpose of this rendition of events) that after the defense of Thalassina is over with they should bind Masego’s powers, tell him why (i.e., explain the “it’s a trojan” theory/analysis), and just wait for however many decades it takes for him to cool down because villains don’t age and in the end they’re family
                  There is no “after the defense of Thalassina” for them because they both die, and Masego wakes up in a sea of corpses with both his fathers dead, walks through the magical equivalent of Hiroshima that Warlock turned Thalassina into with his final blow, and heads straight to Liesse there to begin we know not what exactly except that it’s magical as fuck and incredibly dangerous.

                  Masego was never warned, and before Tikoloshe brought it up to Warlock even he hadn’t considered the possibility since he showed he was surprised by it, which means it was never covered in Masego’s general magical education. Masego would thus be unlikely to be prepared for that eventuality even if he was in the best of mental states since he has himself explicitly alluded to not yet being his father’s equal in matters magical, so if even Warlock wasn’t prepared to consider that possibility before it was explicitly raised to him… plus, as I’ve mentioned I think it is unlikely Masego is even especially stable right now, much less “in the best of mental states”. He would be at very great risk to that kind of trojan if Tikoloshe was right, which I’m betting he is/was since that’s where the story logic is pointing at this stage of things.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Ugh holy shit that formatting is ugly when it’s compressed into a column like that. Sorry about that, I swear it was way easier to read when it was in the comment box but I should probably have anticipated that it would get compressed like that and it would drastically change how it looked.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Andrew Mitchell

                      Great contribution which I learnt a lot from. Don’t worry about the formatting. We all struggle at times with how much the wordpress comment system sucks.

                      Liked by 1 person

    1. So are we taking bets that Kairos is actually covertly feeding his new Liessen charger alchemical ingredients to turn it into an exploding goat before gifting it back to his dear ally the Black Queen? Because I consider it a stone cold fact that he’d find that both hilarious and a perfect example of the kind of Villainous Symmetry he loves, so the only uncertainty to me is whether he would think of it (probably) and whether he actually has the necessary ingredients (no idea).

      Liked by 1 person

  15. AL

    I’m not sure how wordpress works exactly but I wanted to ask whether it was possible to add a “Next Chapter” and “Previous Chapter” button at the top of each chapter as well.
    I mostly read from phone in Read Mode so I don’t have the links and I need to reload the page and scroll down to the end of the chapter, often I overshoot because the comments are also loaded immediately after.
    In general having the button at the top as well would make traversal of the chapters much easier.

    Another thing is at the home page where the summary of APGTE is, it could really use a link at the bottom for the prologue, like “Want to start reading? Click here!”
    Right now I believe people need to access the table of content to find the prologue, or worse they could simply scroll down to read the latest released chapter instead of the propogue.

    That said I was laughing maniacally in all the sections with the Tyrant in the last chapters, the goat thing is so damn funny.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Cat has finally reached the level of Black. All of her enemies are exhausted, her army didn’t suffer many losses (though it is encircled) and she has a metaphysical advantage due to the eclipse. It did turn out more or less how she predicted: Procer and the League spent their strength on each other and afterwards, she’s swooped in to get the seven princes and one. Obviously it’ll go to shit now but good job anyway.

    I’m guessing whatever is occurring in Arcadia will be a bigger threat that will make them all band together. Add in the power of friendship + lying through your teeth as a form of banter and you’ve got yourself a new Grand Alliance, now with more gargoyles and evil. Aces in the hole left: Masego, Hierarch, whatever is being summoned by Cordelia.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Akua referenced Cat’s old Aspect, which was incredibly adorable of her. “So I’ve got a great opportunity to take this power to myself… or betray her… or just fuck up her plans by not doing what I was asked… Yeah, let’s be real, I’m a fangirl / devout and loyal follower and will act like one. With a little dramatic exaggeration to make it seem like I’m still in control of the situation, which I’m not but anyway”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Joshua

        That was actually a part that made me pity her. It almost felt like I could hear Akua screaming to betray Cat in her head while Creation took over and forced her to help. Cat told her that she was going to be redeemed whether she liked it or not, and this confirms it. Does anyone have free will in this story?

        Regardless, terrifying punishment indeed to not be able to do anything but be exploited by your mortal enemy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Oshi

          I think you’re misinterpreting things. It is Akua who has been making the choices that lead to her redemption. What was it she said about what’s more important? The act or the conviction. Akua has chosen and she is doing exactly what she chooses.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. See this is the fun part: I don’t think Creation can override people’s choices like that. When Cat’s free will was compromised by story post-First Summerholm it warped her own thoughts, not her actions independently of her body.

          Akua cannot even assert that she’s being puppeted, the poor dear. No choice for her but to accept that she’s doing this willingly 🙂

          and tbh it makes me feel the exact opposite of pity – I’m genuinely happy for her. She’s growing a conscience back from seedlings that had been thoroughly stomped into the ground, she’s exercising her capacity to care about people and causes both and to follow through with decisions she’s committed to. Redemption willingly walked to despite the price is not something to pity.

          Akua is recovering from what had been done to her as a child. No story can force her but that she weaves herself, and she cannot even claim to be blindsided by this – Catherine has literally had a discussion with her about this.

          Oh, Akua’s Wasteland upbringing is screaming in her head to betray Cat. But she has a bone to pick with that one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s ignoring that voice in the back of her head largely out of spite for her mother’s teachings.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. What is this “redemption” here? Lest we forget, she’s still wielding dark sorceries, albeit now in service to Cat, who’s likely one of the top five or ten Villains on the continent.

            The thing is, I don’t think she’s actually gained much morality, so much as being reconciled to her place. She’s made her vile mark upon Creation (and hey, it’s still making waves!), and got duly vanquished, now she’s settling into her somewhat unexpected afterlife as a bound spirit, happy that she still gets to exploit her own strengths and borrow some unique powers.

            And sure, she’s probably built up some affection for Cat, what with living and working together so long, and Cat proving her power and competence. Doesn’t mean she might not backstab Cat someday, but she’d need an actual reason to do it. 😉

            Liked by 2 people

            1. The fun part is she HAS one. Has has one all along. Cat made no secret out of intending to kill her painfully down the line. And still she stuck along.

              Also do you remember that chapter where Akua suddenly got upset at Cat saying kindness was alient to Wastelanders and telling the story of her uncle? Which didn’t really support any part of her point other than “we are people too and there’s a reason I’m like this”… which suggests she suddenly values being kind as a positive thing, mm? 🙂

              I wouldn’t really call this redemption so much as recovery. I’m reading Akua as a highly empathetic and selfless person, who got that twisted into serving her mother’s purposes / her society’s expectations, p much killing off all her ‘care’ nerve endings, including about herself. She’s unsettled Cat with that before.

              Akua is turning into a good person in an odd mixture of willingly and unwillingly: it’s an inevitable and somewhat unintended consequence of dutifully trying to follow Cat’s rules: you have to figure out what they are like and think along those lines to follow them, after all. And while she didn’t see this consequence coming, she’s still walking into it with her eyes open, especially now that Cat has pointed out where it’s going in Acts.

              This is a very very very fun arc she’s having 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

            2. Honestly I think with Akua’s emotional intelligence and ethical understanding she was only ever one single decision away from redemption, anyway.

              She made that decision in the Everdark, and Catherine has been subtly pushing her towards reinforcing that decision since. Pushing her as in applying more and more pressure – so you’re still sticking with this even if I point out that I’m going to kill you? So you’re still sticking with this even if you’re not bound anymore? So you’re still sticking with this even if I straight up point out to you that this will lead to you accepting your own death willingly? So you’re still sticking with this even if I afterwards entrust you with a great amount of power with no oversight?

              Every time Akua chooses to stay, she invests more and more into this path she’s chosen 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

  17. Draconic

    “he suspected even she did not truly understand what she’d unleashed”
    Really, Tariq? What SHE unleashed? You were the one who set this whole thing into motion, but please, by all means, pretend that you have nothing to do with this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have observed a certain annoying amount of Tariq thinking in cliches, like right in his internal narration. He’s not wise so much as he substitutes ‘wisdom of ages’ for it, and rides by on that + Behold + intelligence from angels.

      It’s the cached thought – that she doesn’t understand what she’s unleashed. Never mind that it was never leashed to begin with, and that this confrontation actually happening is a far better scenario than if Kairos kept dancing around them… doing the Dead King’s work indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Andrew Mitchell

    Honestly, I can’t see Karios & Hierarch becoming part of the Accords and/or the Grand Alliance (or whatever those two agreements morph into). No one can trust Karios to do anything except continue to be an unrepentant Villain. And Hierarch wouldn’t work with any Wicked Foreign Oligarchs.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ehh…
      Heirarch, or rather, Anaxares, might be able to be swayed to find the Accords worthwhile.
      If one can manage to get him to actually listen when you talk to him about them.

      But that is not something I really expect or plan for, plus, his judgy domain aspect (whatever it is called) is probably too problematic to leave him alive. Not counting whatever plans Kairos has for him.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > If one can manage to get him to actually listen when you talk to him about them.

        Yeah, that’s the difficult (or impossible?) part.

        Like

  19. erebus42

    You know, for all the fuckery that Catherine and other named get up to, I’m surprised we’ve never met any real Trickster named. The closest we’ve gotten was Thief and in certain aspects The Wandering Bard. I know it’s a little late in the game now but still, the archetype appears in pretty much every real world culture in some form or another.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was mentioned in the way back when, by Black, that the Taghreb used to have the “Red Fox”, who was usually a thief and always clever. Before the Miezans crushed the local Names.

      The Goblins probably have multiple Trickster type names.

      But also, the best tricksters? They tend to ride the line a lot of the time and are in a gray area. They’re usually not black and white, Good and Evil types.

      Think about the big name tricksters in real life mythology.
      You’ve got Coyote, Loki, Odin, Ananszi(spelling?), the Monkey King, probably Hermes/Mercury, Odysseus/Ulysses, and I know there’s Celtic tricksters, but I’m having a brain fart and drawing a blank on their names right now. Plus the tricksters in various other mythologies that don’t have the same kind of name recognition with most people.
      A lot of them have pulled some pretty malicious stuff, and that’s not even counting the fact that Loki is responsible for Ragnarok.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. erebus42

        That’s why it would have made things interesting. We already know morally ambiguous Names exist so it wouldn’t be like they’d have to choose. Admittedly with kairos filling the role of the guy “will probably betray me later” there would be an admitted redundancy.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Draconic

      There were some Dread Emperors who fit the role pretty well, mainly Treacherous and Irritant. But it’s true that we haven’t met any in person, even if they have been mentioned quite a few times.

      Liked by 3 people

    3. Alegio

      There used to be a “Traitor” or “Betrayer” named (who funnily enough got betrayed by Traitorous himself) so there definitely are names of that kind, they have just not been present in the story.

      Liked by 3 people

  20. The thing is, the Trickster theme also has a lot of range, and often combines with other archetypes. By itself, it would probably be a non-martial, but perhaps magical, Name.

    Cat and Tyros may not be named as tricksters, but trickster kings/queens are totally a thing. Kairos has it in his persona, and Cat’s scheming has often been mischievous. Aside from them, the Bumbling Sorcerer is a trickster type, it’s just self-directed. Rogue Sorcerer might be a trickster as well, but we’ve barely bet him.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Alegio

    Ok damn, this was completely awesome. Now let’s wait for the Hierarch and Masego to make their own “surprise” appearances, maybe even the Dead King and the Bard will visit!

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Joshua

    Cat is getting closer and closer to becoming the bard. Dropping in on a climatic scene between heroes and villains with a quippy one liner and annoying vice.

    I wonder, is she intending to oust the bard? Does the bard want to be ousted and set it up? Where is the bard while all this is going on. This is Big Deal territory and instead of the bard its cat pulling the strings.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      We’ve seen the Bard work for both Above and Below. She’s been in her role for a loooooooong time and I have the impression that she does want it to end. My take is that her Role is to keep the game between Above and Below going on, forever if possible, so getting out may be hard or impossible. In that Role she’s not working to improve the lives of the common people so I don’t think Cat is going to replace her.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Kissaten

        Her Role is definitely to make stories happen. All the times she interfered it was to make sure noone stopped a story dead. Elves interfering to kill Akua? She stopped them, helping a villain. There is a known herokiller Black, and Lone Swordsman is an idiot that will certainly die if he faces even Wekesa on his own? She interferes again, helping a hero now. She even thanked the Hierarch for letting her to avoid the cost of saving White Knight and Champion, at such a point in time there already was a pull towards creating heroic band with them two, Witch of the Woods, Saint of Swords and either a Rogue Sorcerer or Grey Pilgrim.

        Preventing the Everdark from dying out is, however, something different. I guess since the Below doesn’t interact directly with their servants and doesn’t employ the likes of angels to force desired outcome they have to use a closest thing to angel there is instead.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. A heroic band from that list would certainly feature Pilgrim rather than the Rogue Sorcerer. The Witch of the Woods is a sorcerer who could throw down with Warlock, so RS would be redundant, while Pilgrim would provide information, healing, and diplomacy.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. > Preventing the Everdark from dying out is, however, something different. I guess since the Below doesn’t interact directly with their servants and doesn’t employ the likes of angels to force desired outcome they have to use a closest thing to angel there is instead.

          You mean Cat? 😉 IIRC, the Bard didn’t (and couldn’t) actually interfere with Sve Noc’s original bargain, despite being horrified by it. And I don’t think she showed up during Cat’s Everdark tour.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. >In that Role she’s not working to improve the lives of the common people

        I think she is.

        I think that even if it’s contradictory / parallel to what Below and Above want out of her, she is.

        That’s the impression I got off her in her POV: someone who did not give up.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. We don’t really have enough information on this. I’m going with the assumption she is because it’s the one I like, and hey, it turned out to be true for Amadeus!

            There’s nothing in the text that proves she ISN’T working for common good, and hints of her lines / from her POV suggest she’s sympathetic to Good and also good and dislikes Evil and also evil. Even if she formally has to work for both.

            I’m pretty much just assuming that, as Named are prone to doing, she’s actually acting on her preferences 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I’ve just reread her POV and I couldn’t see anything that suggests she’s looking out for the common people. Everything seemed to point to her wanting/needing to keep her stories going in the direction she wants them to. Was there anything specific you can point me to?

          Interesting to see that the elves call her the “Keeper of Stories” and that rings 100% true for me. She keeps the stories going and that’s it.

          The elves do identify her as a Hero so that’s a point in favour of being Good aligned. Also I think there is evidence that she’s working more for Above than Below because most of what we’ve seen her do is supporting the side of the Heroes comparted with only one example (Sve Noc) of her doing Below’s bidding.

          So, evidence of Good alignment but, as far as I can see, not actually working towards improving the lives of common people.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I don’t think her supporting heroes is actually indicative of Good alignment, I suspect it’s just a reflection of Evil being on the rise lately and her balancing job putting her on the other side.

            “Looking out for common people” is mostly a guess / deduction based on the attitude she’s expressed towards villains and heroes – namely, she likes the latter and dislikes the former. Being Named, it’s an entirely natural assumption that job or not, she’d act on her preference towards Good/good, in the long term plan position.

            Also, that’s my read on her Hierarch + League of Free Cities scheme. Uniting Good and Evil polities into a league / binding them by a treaty is an intuitive solution towards less strife / less warfare / less toll taken on the common people. It’s very much a parallel to what Cat is trying to do IMHO. Bard was disappointed by its ineffectiveness over time, so what would the effect have been? My guess is reduction of conflict, and reduction of suffering of common people.

            I mean, it’s… it’s pretty common for Guide characters to care about that. All heroes do, and even a few villains. It’s an intuitive thing to care about, and most IRL people care about it too?

            And Bard is in position to act on that…

            Liked by 1 person

      1. At least, he’s almost certainly not getting what he wanted in the manner he wanted with the outcome/results that he wanted. Or, rather, he might technically get what he asked for, but get it in a manner and/or condition that precludes him from getting what he actually wanted out of it.

        As an analogy, he asked for a cup of water and a packet of cocoa mix because he wants to make himself a hot chocolate.
        He might get the packet of cocoa mix, but the cup of water, instead of being at/near boiling, it is instead completely frozen.
        He got what he asked for (technically), but he’s not getting the hot chocolate he wanted.

        Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s