Chapter 33: Concord

“Ambition without principle is greed, principle without ambition is mediocrity.”
– Clodomir Merovins, ninth First Prince of Procer

“An empty throne, raised over a land of crossroads,” the Grey Pilgrim said, voice wary.

As it should be, I thought. It was not trouble for the faint-hearted that I was proposing to seek. Larat, now huntsman but once a prince of the Winter Court, had in those days schemed to slip the leash holding the fae to Arcadia by binding himself to Creation instead. Seven and one, a pattern that’d echoed around Calernia long enough for it to have the proper form of binding, and behind it the weight of earthly crowns laid at his feet. It’d been a clever enough scheme but also a risky one, not that he’d had much of a choice. As the King of Winter and the Queen of Summer wed and their war abruptly ended, with it changed the landscape of Arcadia: a single court, and with it different stories that meant Larat was running out of time if he ever wanted to wiggle his way out. Desperate measures had seen him lead a ramshackle Wild Hunt – born of nothing, for Spring and Autumn had not come and might never again – to swear itself to my service, and so avoid entanglements in Arcadia. Doubly clever he had been, the once-prince, for it was to a court contained within my frame he had sworn himself and his fellows. Like fish in the sea, the fae had been content to keep swimming in that familiar power until I gathered the crowns I owed and completed Larat’s scheme for him.

Then the Everdark happened and the power running through the veins of the fae had been ripped out, the reborn Night injected instead, and it had all begun to go awry.

At the moment, my Wild Hunt was not fundamentally all that different from Mighty. Oh their tricks and bodies were different – though I suspected that with time and the full settling of Winter within the Night, the Firstborn would begin taking one fae-like traits – but that was just the shape of their mould, so to speak. The material in those moulds was the same for Hunt and Mighty both, namely Night, which meant that Sve Noc could snuff them out at will. As the Sovereign of Moonless Night, I’d leaned on the oaths to get obedience from the fae because I did not have the know-how to use their connection to Winter as a leash. Given a few decades or a century I might have learned, but Larat would have been long rid of my service by then and so of this trouble as well. Sve Noc, though? They had built their apotheosis from scratch, and though the manner and nature of it had been nothing less than horror they had built it nonetheless. They could end the Hunt with a thought, and the fae had suspected that much from the moment they’d felt my surrender to the Sisters. And so they’d kept their oaths to myself and my subjects, even though they were no longer bound by them, for if they became an enemy I might be troubled to look into the practicalities of ending them. A shame for them, and for Larat, that I’d found out anyway.

“Gates, for the proper toll,” I agreed. “Paths through a realm without the… risks of Arcadia, but similar peculiarities. The armies on this field could turn a march of months into weeks instead, and intervene north before the fronts collapse.”

“And you would beget this through the murder of one in your service,” Tariq said, not bothering to hide his distaste. “Could accord not be reached instead?”

There was a sound like someone choking down laughter, which served to inform me Kairos apparently knew a thing or two about the fae.

“That is not in his nature,” I said. “And fae do not change. It is inevitable. Larat who was once the Prince of Nightfall will rise once more, ruler of a court of dusk, and turn on those that raised him. And when that happens-”

“- inevitability,” the Grey Pilgrim echoed. “A band of five, like few this world had seen, to smother that infant god in the cradle.”

The last words had his face going ashen, for some reason. I supposed the scope of what I’d suggested was beginning to sink in. In the interests of diplomacy, I refrained from mentioning I figured if any Choir was going to be in favour of infant-smothering it’d be Mercy. You didn’t get to make a greater good without laying a foundation of lesser evils, and the greater the scale of that good so with the evils that were its bedrock.

“Tariq,” the Saint hoarsely said. “You can’t seriously be considering this.”

She looked, I thought, like someone had upended her world.

“It sees to our every need,” the Peregrine said, and turned rueful eye on me. “How neatly you have tied us with the strings of necessity.”

I met his gaze unblinking.

“Should I apologize,” I said, “for making this a victory for others than myself?”

He turned away at that. Both at what I’d said, and at what was implied: that’d he been so set on being my enemy I’d had to work against him to help him. Silence stretched for a tense moment.

“Black Queen,” the Rogue Sorcerer said, politely inclining his head. “I have questions, if I may?”

Funny how they got all polite when they no longer had the upper hand. No, that was unfair of me. I was in no position to cast stones on the subject of civility. Beneath the swaying leather coat and the practical chain mail beneath, I could not help but notice that the Sorcerer was rather short. Still taller than me, I was forced to admit, but not by much. I’d had a glimpse of what he could do with the intricate casting rod he kept, and it’d been a notch in power and skill above what I’d seen out of any but the most powerful of Praesi warlocks. Fire-based, I’d vaguely remembered, but there must have been more to it than that: his unremarkable brown pupils were discreetly rimmed with colour, one scarlet red and the other verdant green. Akua had fought him while wearing me the once, but like me she’d failed to tease much out of him. Which meant most his tricks were still unknown, and all his aspects. Both Tariq and Kairos would shoot up as threats the moment they became members of our band of five instead of my spent opponents, Creation itself conspiring to make sure they were fit to participate in what followed, but like the Saint they were mostly known quantities.

I knew nothing of the Rogue Sorcerer, save that he’d repeatedly scrapped with adversaries seemingly his superior without ever taking a wound or revealing any of the dangerous tricks mages tended to hoard like magpies. That alone was enough to make him dangerous.

“Ask,” I replied.

“You will need seven crowns, as the price,” the hero said, his Lower Miezan smooth and accentless. “This I understand the logistics of.”

The gaze he flicked at the seven Proceran royals and Adjutant visibly hanging behind us made his point clear.

“It is the one, however that interests me,” he said. “Seven for weight, but the last to shape. It will be, in a sense, the most important aspect of what you propose.”

“The one we’ll bring with us into the deeps,” I said. “To be bestowed only at the heart of it.”

The Rogue Sorcerer’s lips thinned, obviously not considering that to be much of an answer, but in a sense it’d not been him I was speaking to. Tariq and Kairos both cast glances at me: one wary, the other gleeful. Yeah, there were three of us who could still qualify for the ‘one’. Kairos Theodosian was Tyrant of Helike by Name, but king of the same by title. Tariq was, in the eyes of many of his countrymen, the rightful ruler of Levant. And I had more than a few titles to throw around, these days, but the one that mattered most was Queen of Callow.

“As you say,” the hero murmured. “On the subject of roads and tolls-”

“It won’t be like Arcadia,” I admitted. “That is beyond my remit. It’ll take more than a powerful caster with the right tools to access it. We’ll have to raise gates in Creation, and bind them to the realm. After that, though, journey, should be seamless when the tolls are paid.”

“And the nature of said tolls?” the Sorcerer pressed.

“Blood,” the Pilgrim quietly said. “Isn’t it?”

It was Akua’s best guess, yes, and the Sisters were being ambiguous in their answers but implying that might be the case.

“Freely given,” I clarified. “One cut to enter, the other to leave. A sliver of life to sustain the crossroads realm.”

“And anybody could pass the gate,” the Rogue Sorcerer. “But very few would know how to build one.”

I smiled, and did not answer. The Sorcerer might be able to figure it out, I knew, especially if he was at hand when the realm was born. But aside from him? Maybe five people would have the know-how in all of Calernia, and most of them answered to me to some degree.

“We should kill her now,” the Saint of Swords calmly said.

My fingers tightened around my staff, but beyond that I gave no visible reaction. I glanced at Tariq and raised an eyebrow, silently letting him know that Laurence of Montfort was his fucking problem at the moment but that if she became mine he wouldn’t like what followed.

“I understand your worries, Saint-” the Rogue Sorcerer began.

“No, you don’t,” she bluntly said. “Because you’re barely even thirty, and you still think because she compromises once or twice it changes what she is. It doesn’t.”

“I would not swear truce with her beyond the Dead King’s end,” the Rogue Sorcerer replied, tone touched with strained patience, “but to refuse an arrangement right now would be worse than a sin, it would be a mistake.”

“Do you know who the most dangerous villain I’ve ever faces was, boy?” Laurence de Montfort casually said. “There’s a few people would consider the obvious contenders. I fought the first Horned Lord to wake in five centuries to a draw. I crawled in my own blood after a bout with the Lady of the Lake and put down the Drake Knight after his mind went. All of those would have butchered their way through half a legion of soldiers without batting an eye, all were monsters at the peak of their mastery. But the most dangerous villain I ever faced was my first: an alchemist so sickly he could barely hold a sword.”

She was arguing for my death, I was well aware, but this was still rather interesting so she had my full attention for more than one reason. The Jacks hadn’t put together nearly as much as I would have liked on the Saint, which only made sense if she’d spent most of her years wandering around Calernia as a cantankerous armed vagrant.

“I caught him early,” the Saint idly said. “People were going missing, and I looked into it – bandits and criminals, as it turned out, but he was still keeping them in cells and using them for bloody research. Yet it was for antidotes, for ways to end plagues and heal the worst of injuries. He was just the Salutary Alchemist, I thought, and so young. Not some hard-eyed vulture, and his Damnation looked like it was half an accident. Bad methods, but good ends. So I slapped him around some, made him pass his prisoners to the closest city’s gaol and told him he could use animals but not people. Then I let him off with a warning.”

Slowly, the Saint of Swords unsheathed her blade. She tapped it against her shoulder, striding around the Sorcerer but her eyes remaining on the Pilgrim the whole time.

“Gods, but the boy was brilliant,” she said. “Five years later and keeping to the rules, he distilled an essence of life – a potion that kept people alive past their time. When the secant pox hit Valencis he moved there to cure it, and stayed after. I thought, maybe it didn’t have to be a war all the time. That in some places, sometimes, we could have peace. Make exceptions.”

“Salutary,” the Rogue Sorcerer slowly said. “The word can mean beneficial, but the older meaning is health-giving.”

“Aye,” Laurence de Montfort grinned, old yellow teeth bared. “And give them health he did. Let them live past their time. Except he was the only one with the recipe. And it only bought them a few months at a time.”

I almost let out an impressed whistle, seeing where she was headed with this.

“The prince was old, and so he was owned,” the Saint derisively said. “And with every passing year someone else was in his debt that was old but also rich and powerful. Or sick in a way priests can’t see to, or wanting to look young or a hundred other paltry fucking things that could be fixed with the right brew. I heard nothing about the people who’d started to go missing again, in Valencis, until I ran into one getting grabbed by the fucking city guard. And when I asked questions they all covered for him, all closed ranks, because he’d gotten his claws in them and what were a few dead nobodies for his research when that research was so useful?”

In Procer, I remembered, they knew the Saint of Swords as the Regicide. For her very public slaying of the Prince of Valencis, many years ago.

“He was a helpful lad, the Salutary Alchemist,” Laurence de Montfort softly said. “Helped with his tonics and philters, when the going got rough for Chosen, never swung at blade at anybody in his life. And if I’d left him to it another decade, he would have owned half of Procer without anyone being the wiser.”

The Saint of Swords pointed her blade at me.

“There can be,” she slowly enunciated, “no truce with the Enemy. Not even when they are reasonable, helpful – especially then, because if you let the rot take even a moment then you will always have to amputate the limb.”

The Tyrant of Helike, never one to let an occasion to be a shit pass him by, enthusiastically clapped at the end of her tirade and called for an encore. I glanced at the other heroes. The Rogue Sorcerer’s face had gone blank, which to me reeked of hesitation. It made sense, didn’t it? Because to me Laurence was a zealous old biddy who regularly tried to kill me and my friends, but to the heroes she was the prickly, unpleasant grandmother they didn’t want but always stepped in when they were in trouble. And sure, she thought with her sword, but most of the time that kind of simplicity paid off for heroes. It lent them strength, got them through the worst villains brought to bear against them and if the Light was anything like the Night then conviction had a lot to do with how well you could use it. The Grey Pilgrim was the one that mattered, though, because where the Saint was respected the Peregrine was trusted. And even when he wasn’t, well, if he made a decision then the rest of the Grand Alliance couldn’t really break it without breaking itself given his pull in the Dominion. And I wasn’t sure Laurence would give a damn about that, given who she was, but I suspected the Rogue Sorcerer was a different story entirely.

And the Pilgrim slowly shook his head.

“I will not break the world that is to spare the world that could be,” the Peregrine said.

“Tariq, how many of these ‘turnabouts’ have you seen over the years?” the Saint hissed. “How many Damned made their apologies, swore they’d never meant to hurt anyone, said that they would help you keep the peace instead.”

“Dozens,” the Pilgrim said.

“And how many kept their word?”

“None,” the old man tiredly said.

“And still you want to make bargain with her? The battle’s not done, Tariq. It’ll get ugly, true enough, and thousands will die. Likely one of us too. But we can still win, and though we’ll be a ruin after we’ll be a ruin that can recover,” the Saint harshly asked. “But if we compromise, here and now? There’ll never be any recovering from that. The taint will be in the cause until it runs its course. So why?”

“Because we are not animals,” Tariq softly replied. “Because we do not shy from compromise simply because it has burned us before. Because if we are willing to break armies for a point of theological purity, then that it is us that deserves the breaking. But most of all, Laurence?”

His eyes were bright as he turned to her, but there was no warmth to them. Only a cold, patient light like the distant radiance of a star.

“Because I will not brook unnecessary suffering,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

The two heroes stared each other down, tension mounting with the silence. The Saint had not sheathed her blade, and though the Peregrine bore no weapon to unsheathe in turn that hardly meant he was unarmed.

“Boo,” the Tyrant called out. “Booo. Just terrible. Bring back the other act.”

“If we bend, we will break,” Laurence de Montfort said.

I breathed out slowly, and though I did not begin to call on Night – that would have drawn attention to me, painted me as the aggressor – I shaped the working in my mind. It would have worked better in Arcadia, but if the Saint turned on me here there’d be no choice but to resort to it in Creation.

“If you still believe that, by morning light, then we will put it to judgement,” Tariq said.

The old woman’s jaw tightened in displeasure, but after a moment she gave a tight nod. She eyed me, spat down in the snow, but then sheathed her blade.

“Lovely,” I drawled. “What a treat you are, Laurence. Shall I take that as agreement on your end, Pilgrim?”

The Rogue Sorcerer glanced at Tariq, who nodded. The other man sighed but did not argue.

“Bargain is struck, Black Queen,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

“Bargain is struck,” I acknowledged, dipping my head.

“That’s nice,” Kairos said. “But here’s something none of you have considered.”

The Tyrant of Helike caught the scepter he’d idly been flipping all this time, and blindly pointed it over his shoulder. Gems incrusted in it began glowing, and an intense beam of fire shot out – before I could so much as move, it burned a hole straight through Rozala Malanza’s forehead.

“Should have sold the villain on the deicide first,” the Tyrant chided me.

I didn’t reply, simply raising an eyebrow, and only then did Kairos’s red eye narrow and he turned to look back over his throne. Where ‘Rozala Malanza’ had dissolved into shadows.

“Ah, the drow,” Kairos mused. “Is there even a single one of them left?”

“What kind of a second-rater do you take me for?” I asked.

Adjutant should be in the my army’s camp right about now, safely escorted there by the Losara Sigil after my Lord of Silent Steps spirited him away and left behind illusion. As for the royals, though, I had other intentions.

“I suppose we should discuss terms, then,” the Tyrant cheerfully said.

“Pilgrim?” I asked.

“I will listen,” the old man said, promising nothing.

“Best you’re going to get,” I told the odd-eyed king.

“It’s all I need,” Kairos Theodosian grinned. “Now, as you all know, I am an ardent proponent of peace.”

I was reluctantly impressed by how confidently he stated what everyone else here knew to be an outright lie.

“This entire little tiff has been nothing but a misunderstanding, I’m certain,” the Tyrant idly continued. “As such, a peace conference would be in all our best interests.”

That part I’d known he wanted for months now. But now he’d lay out what it was he wanted along with the rest of us at the same table, and that I remained deeply worried about.

“But,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Speak up, Theodosian.”

“It seems that an agent currently in the employ of the First Prince of Procer has committed heavy crimes while in the lands of the League of Free Cities,” Kairos smiled. “A complaint was lodged with the Hierarch, who now requires that criminal to stand trial before peace can be discussed.”

My eyes narrowed. No mention of whatever it was Cordelia was dredging out of Lake Artoise? Had that been a red herring, or was this?

“A name,” the Peregrine said.

“I believe he goes by Hanno of Arwad,” Kairos said.

“The White Knight,” the Rogue Sorcerer said in disbelief. “You want to put to trial the chosen of the-”

The Grey Pilgrim raised his hand.

“And if this request is granted, the League of Free Cities will observe a truce until both the trial and the peace conference are at an end?” he asked.

“Of course,” Kairos said. “I am, after all, a man of timid and tender disposition. If not for our beloved Hierarch’s indignation at such brazen offences, this war would never have-”

“For an objection to be lodged with the Hierarch himself, the ruler or representative of one of the member-cities of the League has to do it,” I interrupted. “In this case, who did it?”

“I believe it might have been the representative from Helike,” the Tyrant mused. “What an unlikely coincidence.”

So, Kairos’ play was centered around using the Hierarch against the White Knight then. That gave me something to work with when it came to thwarting him, though I couldn’t do it from here or tonight.

“I am willing to accept that condition,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “on behalf of the Grand Alliance.”

“Oh?” the Tyrant said. “Yet the head of this crusade is Her Most Serene Highness Cordelia Hasenbach. Can you truly speak on her behalf?”

“In this instance I will,” Tariq said. “He would come regardless, Theodosian.”

“That’s reassuring to hear,” Kairos affably replied. “Yet it has been brought to my attention you’ve this nasty habit of breaking oaths, Pilgrim. I will require a guarantor. Now, Catherine, I do remember you promising me in writing that-”

“I lied,” I told him without missing a beat. “You know, while positioning you to overextend in battle and selling you out to the Dead King.”

“That was most unkind of you,” he agreed. “Yet we are, I believe, allies.”

“Of course,” I lied.

“Then I will require you to be guarantor of our greying friend’s oath,” the Tyrant of Helike said, odd-eyed gaze grown cool. “And to kill him personally, should he break it.”

“That’s all?” I frowned.

I didn’t like making empty promises, but this little bastard had been puppeteering half the armies of Calernia into killing each other while the damned Dead King was invading up north for the better part of a year. When we had shared interests, as in against the Wandering Bard, I did not mind working together. Otherwise he was at best a potential threat and more likely an outright enemy. Hells, the Peregrine had tried to kill me a few time and I still considered him to be more of an ally.

“That oath, and yours as guarantor, will have to be taken before every one of importance in all three armies on this field,” the Tyrant casually added. “Proper ceremony and all that.”

Ah, and there we were. Like I’d turned the screws on Razin Tanja a while back, he wanted me to give my word in front of enough people it’d seriously damage my reputation if I broke it afterwards. Of course, killing the Grey Pilgrim regardless of circumstances would sunder the Grand Alliance and most likely sink the Liesse Accords. But if I made and broke an oath before the same people I’d then need to convince to sign those same Accords, I was taking a torch to the worth of my word for those I most needed to believe in it. He truly was a vicious little prick, wasn’t he? I glanced at Tariq, who met my gaze and slowly nodded. He’d realize the trouble inherent to breaking his own word, I thought, but would that stop him if he thought it was necessary to do it? Probably not. But this needs a foundation of trust to work, I thought. And he’d extended it first, even if I had to twist his arm to get there.

“Agreed,” I said.

“Then we are all friends once more,” the Tyrant of Helike said. “And I believe there was some talk of crowns. Shall you have them sent for, Catherine?”

“There’s no need,” I said. “Ivah?”

The illusory curtain of shadows went down, and seven princes and princesses of Procer were revealed to be standing wide-eyed a mere twenty feet to our side. They had, after all, heard the entire conversation from start to finish.

251 thoughts on “Chapter 33: Concord

        1. “Alas, though I gave oath to kill the Grey Pilgrim if he broke his own oath I am, instead, going to betray the Tyrant, whose plan could very well have seen the Gods(capital G) blow half of Calernia to smithereens. Truly I am a paragon of deceitful betrayal.”

          Liked by 26 people

            1. It would be less of a problem if everyone present for the oath-giving is willing to trust her intentions over her word, and is therefore willing to assure everyone else that no, we were there, we witnessed, she’s trustworthy!

              😀 😀 😀

              Catherine’s building up a potent story here, even if she hasn’t noticed it herself yet.

              Liked by 5 people

        2. Kairos is quite possibly going to try. But given how thoroughly Catherine played him tonight I’m comfortable putting the emphasis on the last word in that sentence. And it’s also quite possible that he really does want the Hierarch to put Hanno on trial; I’m guessing he may be intending to establish in said trial that Hanno delegates all his judgments to the Choir of said, and use that as his opening to indict the Choir itself. Pretty sure Kairos would value that more highly than merely killing the Peregrine or fucking with Catherine; any asshole can kill a hero or dick around their allies, but how many villains get to put an entire angelic Choir on trial?

          Liked by 7 people

      1. Decius

        No, Levant will never accept the Liesse Accords if the Pilgrim is dead. Plus the trial will take a very long time to complete, and being a hero Hanno will find some way to subvert it and be found innocent.

        Or else Pilgrim will sell out a hero to avoid unnecessary suffering.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          I don’t think Kairos would have asked to judge Hanno if it was so easy for him to escape. Hierarch is an outside context problem, capable of scarring goddesses. Said goddesses in the same league as an Angelic Choir.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Cicero

            True, but I suspect that the heroes will underestimate the Hierarch.

            Really only Cat, Kairos, and the Bard have seen him up close enough to understand his power.

            So the only way Hanno fails to appear for his trial is if the Bard convinces him that the Hierarch is too powerful.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. Yeah. I suspect this whole thing would be a Trial, capital T, for Hanno, but ultimately a guaranteed win for him. *If* this were a classic villain gambit. Which to the Pilgrim is what I’m sure this must look like. But what we know, and what Kairos knows, is that the Heirarch is no mere villain. He’s something else, something made of an unwavering mad faith that might even eclipse the White Knight’s. And *that*, I think, might actually threaten the White Knight and his Choir.

            Liked by 6 people

        2. Rook

          I don’t think the verdict, or Hanno for that matter, is actually going to be important as far as the trial goes. He’s all about mortal judgements being flawed and unworthy, so realistically it’s going to be a metaphysical brawl between the choir of Judgment and the Hierarch. The key there at the end of the day will be which of those two supercedes the other in making the judgement, rather than whatever actually happens to Hanno as a result.

          Liked by 5 people

    1. Well, either Cat or Kairos or Tariq will become the one in “seven crowns and one” laid at Larat’s feet. Whoever will get the short end of the stick is likely to die and each death would somehow or other void the oath that was Just taken.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        Tariq would be the less bad outcome. The “and one” crown will shape the new highway. We have the choice between Catherine (the protagonist), Kairos (an old-school/mad/”playful” villain) or Tariq (a well-intentioned extremist hero).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Where is Tariq an extremist? He is, if anything, the most conservative moderate you get around here. Amadeus is a Well-Intentioned Extremist, Tariq is the natural enemy of such. (Including his own nephew)

          Liked by 5 people

            1. Gasp! BREAKING HIS WORD! What a horrifying crime that is… Truly, he is an extremist!

              As for the village, that was horrifying, but nothing beyond the kind of decision military leaders make routinely. It was the hands-on nature of it that made it look differently, but… Is Cordelia an extremist for ordering Iserre (a big city, not a village!) put to torch in order to trap Amadeus in it? Because if everyone’s an extremist, I’m questioning your definitions.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. erebus42

                Murdering civilians for the greater good is an extremist action. I’m not claiming I would or wouldn’t have done the same but its still a monstrous act. Oathbreaking may seem like a relative misdemeanor but it shows that one is not dependable and can’t be trusted enough to work with as at any moment they may decide to turn on you. Tariq has always been arrogant and a touch sanctimonious-thinking he knows better than everyone else .He has of course gotten better as he at least is willing to compromise and work with Cat but only after she left no other option open. While he is obviously better than the saint (who sometimes feels like she’s just there to make Tariq look better in comparison) he still suffers from the same blinders as her- namely that as a “Hero” his crimes are somehow lesser or not as relevant as those around him. Even if you are trying to help in the long run you don’t get to commit heinous acts and still claim to be a hero afterward. The Pilgrim while admittedly partly the product of his skewed universe is still is very much the extremist.

                Liked by 6 people

                  1. erebus42

                    I don’t know, there may have been a better way but that’s always easier to say when you’re not the one who has to find it. Like I said, I don’t know if I would have done much differently from the Pilgrim in his situation. I just would have the good grace not to act so self righteous about it. Really I mainly just have a problem with anyone thinking of themselves as the “good guy” and using that to justify their actions.

                    Liked by 4 people

                1. NerfGlastigUaine

                  Agree with everything except that the Pilgrim has “gotten better”. As someone from a previous chapter pointed out, Pilgrim’s character hasn’t changed – he’s still the same old ruthless extremist, it’s just that this time, as you put it, Cat didn’t leave any other choice. Pilgrim always works for the greater good, it’s only his options that change. Similar to how Amadeus never changed, but his options changed at Liesse and broke his relationship with Cat.

                  Also to note here is that extremist doesn’t always mean bad or wrong, just going further than most would. Cat for instance, had been diving down that extremist slope until the end of Book 4, tho she seems to have come back up now. She does however admit that she’d go full extremist, Triumphant 2.0 even, if she felt she needed to save Callow.

                  Basically, no hero or villain worth their salt will stop at half measures.

                  Liked by 3 people

                    1. The difference is that limiting collateral damage is what Tariq’s plans BOIL DOWN TO, always. And he did reject the redeem-Cat plan when it appeared to be no longer functional )=

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Hmm. I’m told that other countries have a saying about America: “America will do the right thing, when all other options have been exhausted”. That’s what Pilgrim reminds me of.

                      Basically, he gets no points from me for bowing to the inevitable, after it’s rubbed in his face that He and Saint are not actually in charge here, and that Cat in particular has leveled up again, and is now running rings around him.

                      Liked by 1 person

              2. KageLupus

                The lying thing is actually a pretty big deal. He didn’t just lie, he broke the terms of an international agreement. Doing so proves that the Grey Pilgrim will not abide by mortal contracts if he feels there is a need to break them, which essentially makes it impossible to trust him.

                He also speaks for an entire country, and that country is a member of the Grand Alliance. So making a deal with the Grand Alliance is shaky because you can’t guarantee that one of it’s member states won’t break terms because the unofficial leader decided it was necessary.

                None of that actually makes Tariq an extremist, but it also shouldn’t be downplayed as just a lie. His words and actions caused international strife and could be said to have lead to thousands dying in a pointless battle later, because the two sides couldn’t trust each other.

                Liked by 7 people

                1. He does not FORMALLY speak for an entire country. They just listen to every word he says, but technically he doesn’t speak for them :3

                  That makes a large difference specifically where international agreements like that are concerned. He broke his word, not Levant’s.

                  And Tariq having broken his word there msot definitely saved more people than it killed, considering what Amadeus had been busy with.

                  Liked by 2 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  Nah, Extremist is the correct term. Tariq is undoubtedly and undeniably a well-intentioned extremist. Every single one of his “lesser evils for the greater good” confirms it.

                  Liked by 3 people

              3. luminiousblu

                Breaking your word given freely was considered essentially the single highest crime you could actually do for the longest time across most societies on the planet for a reason. Even crimes like patricide, regicide, infidelity, and refusing hospitality were really variants on this because the concept was that these crimes broke implicit oaths.

                You couldn’t refuse someone hospitality because the idea was that literally every single traveller and man who owned a house had an implicit agreement that when one is in need of a safe night to rest, he will be provided one and that in turn he will be ready to provide one when requested and also not overstay his welcome.

                Patricide and regicide both broke implicit bonds of loyalty. You can’t kill your king because in theory you are sworn to your king, even if you never explicit took the oath. Your father raised you and if you kill him you break the implicit oath that his goodwill will be returned.

                Infidelity is breaking the oath of marriage. Depending on the actual customs of the culture, it might not be a big deal or it might be totally unforgivable if it comes to light.

                Oathbreaking is a betrayal of trust on the highest order. There is literally nothing worse. This is why Thorin has to die when he goes back on his word given freely and why Kriemhild was considered a villain by the end of the Nibelungen even though it was she who got wronged. Swearing by oath was a big fucking deal back in the day, and it’s a big deal today although in a different form. After all, trust is the single most valuable commodity a company can have.

                Liked by 7 people

        2. As I’ve said before, Tariq is also primed for a Heroic Sacrifice: (1) old, with hints that his next Shine might well kill him, and (2) in bad odor with the Narrative, thanks to broken oaths.

          The question is whether that can be worked into the Fae Crowning. BTW, Saint is in a similar situation, but she doesn’t have a crown for the “and one”. She might have already paid for her trucebreaking by getting smacked around by the Drow, or might still have some pain coming. She also has a possible throw-down with Pilgrim in her future, but might avoid that.

          Like

        1. Decius

          Catherine could also annex the fae realm into Callow and make Larat the prince of it; that would certainly count as ‘and one (crown)’ and would also have the effect of making it sworn to Callow.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Morgenstern

      As if anyone in the Grand Alliance would truly fault her for *not killing the Pilgrim* and NOT making him uphold an oath to a villain that would damn another Chosen to die a stupid death. Remember, such oaths to Villains need not be upheld. Why the hell should Cat as the guarantor of the fucking Pilgrim uphold the same? Imho, that’s just bullshit “logic” conjuring up a fear that has no basis, not even with all the bullshit Heroes and Alliance did so far, because circumstances. This time, I really don’t see why Cat thinks it would damage her reputation to no uphold an “oath” to a Villain – and AID the Pilgrim…

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Because there are narrative consequences to oathbreaking even if it’s just among Evils. Cat is walking a knife-edge of “officially-a-villain but not really”, and this is part of the oaths binding the party together for their mission. If she breaks this, she goes back to “just another villain, and this one’s dangerous”. Notice how Kairos exploited Pilgrim’s broken oaths to rope in Cat here?

        And this oath isn’t just between two villains (like the letter which was a lie), it involves several Heroes and it is specifically to be publicized to all four powers (League, Levant, Procer, Callow), including the specific people Catherine will need to deal with in future (or with their heirs). Fortunately, Pilgrim seems amenable to the White Knight facing Heirarch — not quite “bring it on”, but perhaps not as concerned as he should be. That last bit said, if the party finds itself confronting Hierarch. this oath might provide a plot-path for WK to show up as “the cavalry”.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. I think the key detail here is that Catherine looks to Tariq for confirmation there. She is not acting as an independent agent here, she’s with him, and any oathbreaking she does will be the same as his oathbreaking. And I don’t think he’d break an oath unless there was a sufficient heroic reason to do so, nor ask Cat to break hers.

          Catherine is making a leap of faith – that Tariq won’t screw her on this. I AM SURE HOPING FOR THAT

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Well, it’s not completely a leap of faith, so much as “knowing that he knows” he’s on thin ice, and it’s his own damned fault. The most treacherous villain around not only called out the Pilgrim as untrustworthy, but made it stick! That’s gotta hurt, but the worst part is, it can still get worse. That’s what’s holding him to his word.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Pilgrim can screw Cat over on this and put her in a very bad position, or he can take her situation into account and situate everything so that whatever choice he makes it won’t backfire on her.

              Narratively being his guarantor means she trusts him and it’s his responsibility to manage that.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Except that if he screws Cat over, he puts her in a bad position in-story, but his own narrative position becomes disastrous. And frankly, I suspect everyone wants to see this fight. The heroes are confident that their guy will win, the villains are hoping that a hero and/or an angel gets called to judgement for once.

                Liked by 2 people

      2. erebus42

        One as has been said there’s the narrative consequences of the betrayal. Two, they already dont trust Cat and that would give them a precedent to point to for why they can’t trust her-“she’s a villainous oathbreaker why should we trust her! What happens when she gets a better offer?!”. For several of them-especially the Levantines- honor is way more important for them than it is for us modern readers. She needs her word to mean something if she wants to get the Accords off the ground.

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Oshi

      Tyrant has no wiggle room at all. No one believes him so his word means nothing. he can do anything but it also means no one will give a shit about anything done to him,

      Liked by 9 people

  1. Nicely played Cat.

    Heirarch judgy powers versus the Choir of Judgement? That’s something I’d like to see. From a safe distance.

    I realized something the other day when I was starting a reread, Cordelia was told by Augur the “the Tyrant seeks to end Procer”. She, not unreasonably, assumed that meant Malicia … but what if it’s actually supposed to be warning about Kairos?

    Also, something else occurred to me recently – if Tariq really believes that Cat is a story of retribution against Calernia for what Callow had been forced to go through … at what point does doubling down on throwing Callow under the bus/wagon for the benefit of others (aka, the actions drawing retribution) possibly become a good idea?

    Liked by 21 people

      1. At least 50 miles, probably.
        Given there’s the precedent of the Hashmallin mindfucking everyone within 49 miles of their appearance.

        And behind cover.

        Assuming this doesn’t draw enough attention that Above and/or Below get directly involved. Then, I’d like to be the next universe over.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I thought that was kind of the point, kinda. The question is, are the angels actually equivalent to Above? Because the demons don’t act much like Gods Below. They act more like the expression of individual power, rather than beings intent on encouraging it in others. And they don’t seem smart enough to be actively manipulating events. I think it’s likely that both angels and demons/devils are themselves intermediary agents of the true Gods, representing investments by the “teams”: Above goes for sponsoring miracles and guidance, while Below provides powerful but hazardous minions/weapons for those who dare grasp them. Both grant powers to Named, though.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Or rather, Above and Below set up a common framework for Named to get powers. It’s worth considering whether Above or Below actually can withdraw powers once given, or if only offenses against the Narrative can damage Name powers (per Cat’s early difficulties).

            Liked by 2 people

    1. That last part is a good point I hadn’t really noticed. Then again, we all know Tariq’s a hypocrite. It’s practically his defining feature at this point. He’s smart, but often fails to see how what he’s doing is completely unreasonable from perspectives other than his own and take that into account. That trend has repeatedly shot him in the foot over the course of his conflict with Cat.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. taovkool

        Better a hypocrite like Tariq than a fundamentalist like Laurence.

        I mean, everyone in this series – and real life, let’s be honest – has a shred of hypocrisy in their views but the kind of absolutist thought like what Laurence has is the same kind that burned down Liesse, and she chose Procer as a pyre, so fuck that bitch.

        Liked by 10 people

            1. Not exactly.

              His goal is to minimize what he perceives to be *unnecessary* suffering and what he perceives to be *unnecessary* harm to those he considers innocents or otherwise worthy of his protection. But if he thinks it’s necessary? He’ll burn down the orphanage after crucifying half of them to outside of the doors, so the ones inside can’t get the doors open. And then call you a Villain for trying to put out the fire and save the orphans inside. And do his best to stop you.

              The problem is … while Cat called him a long term perspective type hero … Tariq really doesn’t think about or take into consideration how other people view and react to his actions and the consequences of those actions.
              He, mostly, has been shown to look only one or two moves ahead of the one right on front of him. To be fair, that’s further ahead than the average person, or even the average Named (Hero or Villain).

              Liked by 3 people

              1. konstantinvoncarstein

                He does not want to limit unnecessary suffering, he want to limit suffering in general. He committed atrocities, but it was to stop other horrible things to happen.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. No, he’s all about stopping what he believes is unnecessary suffering. If he thinks your suffering is necessary for whatever reason and/or to whatever ends he seeks, then you’re screwed. So incredibly screwed.

                  He himself said – on the very chapter – “I will not brook unnecessary suffering.”
                  He’s

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. NerfGlastigUaine

                      This. People are so caught up by the “unnecessary” part of Tariq’s goal, that they fail to realize everyone in this verse believes that some suffering is necessary or unavoidable so that others won’t suffer. I had an entire rant about it in his first extra chapter.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    2. People keep viewing the Pilgrims morals through the lens of someone in our world. No, sorry.

                      He has no respect for human life or what it means to be human. While he hates suffering, he assigns no value to human life itself. He even mused that one time about how the Lantern philosophy that life not in service to Above has no meaning or value is true.

                      Perfect Gods that literally created you live in the sky and when they tell you to murder a village or commit genocide like some Levantines wanted, you follow that command because you are a dirty worthless mortal whose life is meaningless anyway. You will never have a fraction of their wisdom or power so obedience is the only virtue. The day that Good wins and ends the worlds is the only thing that matters.

                      This is shown when he saves the lives of useful soldiers by murdering civilians. The children didn’t suffer so its alright. The fact that those soldiers he was saving would have wanted to fight to save that village and died defending it don’t matter, just more worthless human emotion. They died for Above, which is all people can hope for anyway.

                      Its no coincidence that the Alchemists great sin was prolonging life, something Above detests because mortality is something humanity was designed to have. A limiter to keep them controllable.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    3. >Perfect Gods that literally created you live in the sky and when they tell you to murder a village or commit genocide like some Levantines wanted, you follow that command because you are a dirty worthless mortal whose life is meaningless anyway.

                      What?

                      Ok so… Gods did not order Pilgrim anything. Gods don’t ever order anyone anything, or we wouldn’t have had the strictly-reminiscent-of-real-world church schism. Angels don’t order him around either, we’ve seen him attempt to get useful input from them recently…

                      >This is shown when he saves the lives of useful soldiers by murdering civilians.

                      What? Where?

                      If you’re talking about Saudant and the plague, Amadeus’s rampage was causing civilian deaths. He was burning fields and granaries!

                      >Its no coincidence that the Alchemists great sin was prolonging life

                      No, it was… human experimentation? Everyone liked him for prolonging life, Chosen considered him an ally, and Laurence thought nothing was wrong until she stumbled upon the city guard kidnapping a person off the street?

                      Liked by 3 people

                    4. ” that they fail to realize everyone in this verse believes that some suffering is necessary or unavoidable so that others won’t suffer. ”

                      Push that argument too far, and you get “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas”. Which is far more ambivalent than most readers think. How much suffering are you “allowed” to shunt onto some people so that others won’t suffer at all… as opposed to everybody suffering at least a little, like in our own world?

                      Liked by 3 people

                    5. Have you forgotten that he dropped a plague on a few thousand civilians that were on his side?
                      And then instead of healing them, sealed them in to die in agony.

                      He’s the sort of person who, if he deems it necessary, will burn the orphanage with all the orphans in it.
                      If you told him fifteen years ago that one of the girls in the orphanage Cat was in would over day become the Squire and be called the Black Queen of Callow, but didn’t know which girl it would be, he would kill all of them.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    6. >Have you forgotten that he dropped a plague on a few thousand civilians that were on his side?
                      >And then instead of healing them, sealed them in to die in agony.

                      It’s a good question why he didn’t heal them, I’m guessing making the plague unhealable was part of making it effective, so he couldn’t.
                      And he didn’t ‘seal them to die in agony’, he specifically went through the town killing them so they won’t suffer in agony.

                      And while I don’t remmeber the exact size of the town, the point is that Amadeus was condemning many, many, many such towns to deaths from starvation and banditry, the total casualties being much bigger – even before you account for the war against the Dead King and the fact that without a solid back it would collapse and doom the entire country to deaths.

                      What do you think Tariq should have done in that situation?

                      Liked by 1 person

                    7. Bioweapons are straight up wrong. There are only a handful of times when bioweapons are potentially acceptable, and none of them involve allied civilians. Using a bioweapon against an enemy such as tyranids or zerg, that’s fine. Against almost any lesser grade of threat? No.
                      Black and the Legions are nowhere near the threshold where bioweapons are on the table to even be considered, much less used.

                      What Tariq should have done? Arrange to have Black cut off or intercepted, either at the village Black was boarding his troops at, or at his destination, with an actual army.
                      Or, actually no. What Tariq truly *should* have done was kept his word and stayed in Laure. And/or taken Cat up one of her offers.

                      Remember – Black decided to turn around. He doesn’t want the Dead King winning any more than any of the Heroes do. He knows full well that the Dead King is not a neighbor you want to have.
                      Admittedly, Black wouldn’t mind the 10th Crusade redirecting itself away from Callow and Praes and expending itself on the Dead King.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    8. >Bioweapons are straight up wrong. There are only a handful of times when bioweapons are potentially acceptable, and none of them involve allied civilians.

                      Why?

                      >What Tariq should have done? Arrange to have Black cut off or intercepted, either at the village Black was boarding his troops at, or at his destination, with an actual army.

                      That was impossible because of his mobility advantage. Armies move much slower than parties of Named.

                      >Remember – Black decided to turn around.

                      L M A O

                      As a fan of Amadeus who considers him a hero and dearly wishes he HAD decided to do the right thing here…

                      No.

                      No, that did not happen.

                      >“Then the entire north is about to be hip-deep in dead men,” Grem bluntly said. “I can’t think of another reason for Hasenbach to pull out.
                      > […]
                      >“That is my assessment as well,” Amadeus said. “And it means our horizons have just expanded a great deal.”
                      >[…]

                      >“Have you decided where we’ll be headed, after?” Ranker asked.
                      >“Still a matter of debate,” Amadeus admitted. “Segovia would allow us to finalize our savaging of the First Prince’s opposition, properly damaging her position.”
                      >“But you’re thinking of Salia,” the goblin said knowingly.
                      >“We can’t take the capital,” he said, stating the obvious. “Even arming a third of that hive would allow her to drown us in numbers. But if we torch our way through its outlying territories, the sheer loss of prestige might see her unseated.”

                      Amadeus’s reaction to “oh the Dead King is attacking” was “sweet, that gives us an opportunity to plunder more”.

                      Had Tariq decided to stay in Laure… well, Catherine’s side of the conflict would have changed significantly, but Procer would be pretty much unsalvageable.

                      Liked by 2 people

            2. Clint

              Sure. His goals have never been a bad thing — it’s his willingness to do really, really bad things right now in the uncertain hope of a future greater good that makes him a horror.

              In a world where perfect rationality made it possible to accurately calculate the expected future suffering resulting from each possible choice, his fundamentalist Utilitarianism would be good.

              In his actual world, even with a Choir and his Behold aspect, he keeps choosing to create actual suffering right now in the belief that it might create much less suffering down the road — and guessing wrong.

              Like the thousands he sent to die to power up his miracle to break the drow and create a Draw, giving him the Pattern of Three he needed to kill Catherine. Those thousands died for nothing, because the future good never came — the Pattern of Three was broken.

              Heck, he’s going to be forced to return Black to Cat soon — and then all the innocent civilians who died of plague at Pilgrim’s hand will also have died for nothing. (He sacrificed them to gain a hostage he could use to maneuver Cat into that same Pattern of Three.)

              >“I will not break the world that is to spare the world that could be,” the Peregrine said.

              This is a huge, huge change from the Peregrine who turned Cat down after Camps.

              It will be interesting to see whether the Choir of Mercy is willing to go along with a version of Utilitarianism that weights suffering/happiness by proximity and certainty of the prediction.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. konstantinvoncarstein

                He did horrible things, and many mistakes, it is true. But some of them were perfectly reasonable. He stopped by himself (and help if the Ophanim) a war which would have killed thousands.

                If he managed to survive this long and be so respected, he must have be quite good at anticipating correctly the consequences of his decisions. Everyone makes mistakes (ok, his are pretty big, but my point still stand).

                Liked by 2 people

              2. >Those thousands died for nothing, because the future good never came — the Pattern of Three was broken.

                Inaccurate.

                It’s the pattern of three taking shape that forced Catherine into making the deal as sweet as it is – a surrender, a formal victory for the Grand Alliance. She “twisted Tariq’s arm into agreeing” by making the deal too good for him to refuse.

                That’s not dying for nothing.

                >Heck, he’s going to be forced to return Black to Cat soon — and then all the innocent civilians who died of plague at Pilgrim’s hand will also have died for nothing. (He sacrificed them to gain a hostage he could use to maneuver Cat into that same Pattern of Three.)

                Inaccurate.

                He sacrificed them in order to stop Amadeus’s rampage through Proceran provinces, burning farmland and granaries, spreading impending starvation and banditry. That goal was achieved regardless of secondary gamble on what he can do with Amadeus once he captured him. Hell, when he made the plague decision, he couldn’t even know for certain Amadeus could be captured alive. The real goal was just stopping him, and that was successfully achieved.

                >>“I will not break the world that is to spare the world that could be,” the Peregrine said.

                >This is a huge, huge change from the Peregrine who turned Cat down after Camps.

                This is literally the exact same logic he used to turn down Cat. He will not break the world that is [the Grand Alliance] to spare the world that could be [Catherine’s plans].

                Liked by 4 people

                  1. Catherine did have to be forced into surrendering. When she was talkign with Rozala earlier, her logic was that she couldn’t allow herself to be beaten in the field because half of her authority rested on that never happening. She ended up deciding to give up that advantage, because the Pilgrim was too cunning an opponent to not have to give up something in order to get what she wanted.

                    Liked by 3 people

        1. Someguy

          A hypocrite like Tariq can be manipulated via their hypocrisy once you grasp the core of what they desire as Cat shown last chapter.

          Sword Bitch just needs to be slapped around every time she acts up…Someone call Rumena!

          Liked by 4 people

      2. Raiseth

        Ooooh. I see, I think. If I am correct, the one additional crown she will sacrifice is the crown of Callow.
        That’s the reason she already named a heir apparent. One of them, I mean.
        And I think this is also a scheme to completely break the Naming pattern of the Good Kings of Callow. I dunno how many of them were the Good Kings, but I’d guess a lot, considering the Praesi across the river.
        Well, let’s see if I’m right.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. luminiousblu

        That’s not really hypocrisy. Hypocrisy asking others to do as he says but not as he does, which isn’t really what’s happening. Tariq does exactly what he says and says exactly what he does. Just because others find it unreasonable doesn’t make him a hypocrite.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Morgenstern

      “…if Tariq really believes that Cat is a story of retribution against Calernia for what Callow had been forced to go through … at what point does doubling down on throwing Callow under the bus/wagon for the benefit of others (aka, the actions drawing retribution) possibly become a good idea?”

      At the point where you still think you can stop the retribution story in its tracks and kill the infant (story) in the cradle, because it seems necessary to hold the rest of the continent together against a MUCH larger threat. It’s sad but has to be done to avoid unnecessary suffering that would be larger than the continuing unnecessary suffering of Callow, just as it has in the past. Greater good trumps lesser evils blahblah. 😉

      Liked by 3 people

      1. And since when does attempting that kind of forestalling/delaying retribution/consequences *ever* work out well for somebody?

        “Kill all the male infants less than a year old in this area”
        Fifteen- twenty years later you find out you missed the one baby you actually needed to kill. And guess what? Said former baby opens a can of whup-ass on you and destroys all you hold dear.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Different kind of infant. This is the “We have to stop the evil now while he’s still vulnerable or he’ll become a full fledged god” kind of infant killing. A race against the clock to destroy the ascending bad while it’s still destroyable. That story tends to succeed one of three ways A: They do it in the nick of time before he gets full invincibility. or B. The god is created but he has a vulnerability that leaves him killable after all. There’s also C. Can’t kill it? Fine, but you can seal/trap/contain it! Obviously they are aiming for B.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. That isn’t a story of retribution/consequences for past actions/inaction coming home to roost.

            That ascension story you’re talking about is Akua’s old story as Heiress/Diabolist … not Cat’s story as being the embodiment of retribution for the shit Callow’s been through.
            Cat’s story as being embodied retribution? That’s easily framed as the child that’s destined/prophesied to bring down your kingdom for your bullshit. And trying to head that off by killing the child *never* works.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              It’s not. It’s a shift to an entirely new story. Which is exactly what Cat wants. This story is entirely circumvented by the new emergent “We must stop the new Fae King” story. She’s making a new infant to kill. Because that greater good thing is fine for a villian for whom you regret things didn’t go differently with, but somebody you fought with for the greater good? That kind of betrayl might work for Saint, but it doesn’t work so well for Tariq. Not when he’s already made that whole “Won’t sacrifice the world that is” speech. Cat is acting in good faith and he has no reason to believe she’ll go back on her word. Fucking her over now in the name of killing the infant is what he’s already been trying to do. He doesn’t get to go back to it now unless she gives him damn good reason to change his mind. And he’s already said it: She’s not that stupid.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. As per the Pesach tale that some in our own world celebrated just last week: “Pharoah, let my people go…”

          Notice that in this sort of story, the kid gets just enough exposure to abuse to pick up a grudge without being actually broken by it, but also learns local ways well enough to hide among the populace until their awakening. In the Guide, Amadeus was clearly on the watch for this sort of tale, and in Cat he turned the story from rebellion into (the next generation of) revolution.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Coopting a potential Chosen One is still an entirely different kind of story from murdering them in their sleep.
            And, if we go with the Moses analogy, Black was more or less planning to release them when Cat was ready, albeit with some (honestly not that onerous) conditions. And it mostly would have worked.
            Except Malicia and Akua fucked things up.

            And that’s still a massively different approach to forestalling consequences, vengeance, and/or retribution from the one that Tariq is using … which is more or less the standard “kill everyone who fits the details we have” method, that never, ever works.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. The thing is, Black was manipulating this story, and in this case he actually switched roles. At first he was killing heroes in the crib and otherwise maintaining the Rule of Praes, but even he could see that was unsustainable, and that Praesi rule was not in fact gaining any legitimacy. So he essentially stepped in to play “Pharoah’s daughter” himself, leaving the Pharoah role to Malicia.

              Also, when has Tariq tried that sort of broad cull? His situation is indeed different; as he himself eventually realized, not just Praes but also Procer and Levant are owed retribution for the way they’ve fought over Callow. (q.v. the Long Price). And Tariq started the Guide very much in the position of “Yet Another” agent of foreign powers, squabbling over Callow as a prize without even considering them as a stakeholder. Only now has he begun to grasp his mistake in dismissing his opponents with “they must be wrong, because they’re not obeying me”.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. That’s kind of my point.
                Black was killing Heroes off for long enough to get to the point where he could pull off finding a suitable candidate to coopt. It took him a while – Cat was born after the Conquest and grew up during the Occupation.
                On the other hand, Black was actually doing far more than just kill off Heroes/potential Heroes, he was actually treating the average Callowan reasonably well and giving decent governance and enforcing the laws more or less equally. The only thing drawing those Heroes was the fact that Black’s a Villain who had managed to conquer Callow – his behavior and treatment of Callow during the Occupation very much was not a driving factor in Hero-spawning.
                Honestly? I think Black ultimately intended to bring in Callow and use an integrated Callow to help him complete the purge of the Praesi High Lords.

                Tariq is/was trying to forestall consequences/vengeance/retribution by killing those he believed would be most responsible for delivering it/the one he believed was the embodiment of that retribution, without doing a thing about changing the conditions that inspired the consequences/vengeance/retribution in the first place. Trying to kill the one chosen/destined/prophesized/etc to embody/be the instrument/deliverer of consequences/vengeance/retribution, and doubling down on the kind of behavior that inspired those consequences/vengeance/retribution the way Tariq is/was … that’s not something that ends well.

                Tariq murdered thousands of (allied) civilians in cold blood just to get a chance of having a shot at Black.
                He straight up murdered his brother (admittedly for murdering their sister), and then murdered his beloved nephew in cold blood.
                He is the sort of person that if he considers your suffering necessary, he will do whatever it takes to ensure that you cannot avoid it.
                If one went back in time fifteen years and told Tariq that one of the girls from the orphanage Cat was in would grow up to be the Black Knight’s chosen Squire, leader of a Named Band of Five, nicknamed the Black Queen of Callow, by Callowans, he would absolutely burn the orphanage down with all the orphans inside of it. Or, well, to be fair, maybe he wouldn’t actually use fire, maybe he’d drop some sort of plague on the place. But all those orphan girls would be dead. Except Cat, because when you massacre an orphanage to kill someone when you don’t know exactly who your target is supposed to be, your actual target always survives.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. That second paragraph, did Saint get at it? So many slashes… 😉

                  Yes, Black intended to permanently incorporate Callow, which would have given him and Malicia the time and slack to finish reforming the Praesi nobility. His treatment of the country was the first layer of hero-proofing, cutting their numbers to where he could deal with the rest individually.

                  But he also knows that old song “you can’t always get what you want… but if you try some times, you’ll get what you need.” Cat in turn picked up on his basic goals, but jumped the tracks on his original plan. Since she was doing better for Callow than Amadeus had been, he left her to that and turned to other projects, like trying to convince Procer they had better things to do with their armies than going after Callow.

                  He didn’t really win that last one though, because instead of redeploying armies they sent a Named to take him down. I suspect that once Cat has Amadeus’ body and sould recombined, the very first thing she’ll do is slap him upside the head for running a “buddy movie” story, the sort where the protagonists inevitably die at the end.

                  And It didn’t help the big picture that in Cat’s absence, his own capture drew Callow’s Legions to Procer, where they were stranded by ongoing developments. and enmired by Kairos and DK’s plotting.

                  Liked by 2 people

                2. Insanenoodlyguy

                  Nah, he’d actually probably pull a black and go pick her out. And so in 15 years the White Squire would have emerged, the woman chosen for destiny by her Uncle Tariq (He’d be smart enough to avoid raising or training her directly but would enough of her life to be foully regarded) to go and reclaim her homeland.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Based on what, exactly?
                    Everything we know about him and what he’s previously done indicates that he’d kill all the orphans and let the Gods sort them out.

                    He might pay for a nice memorial service and say he feels bad about it afterwards, but the orphans would all be dead.

                    Liked by 1 person

    3. Kissaten

      It’d only a Choir. IIRC one of Dread Emperors waged war and conquered one of them? Also Dead King stole a He’ll and is *fine*, I don’t think choirs are so fundamentally different, it’ll at most lose it’s blessing from Above and stop doing anything.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. devildragon777

    Kairos needs to be dead, and soon. Whatever he’s playing at, it ain’t good.
    (Also, he’s absolutely going to try and do something that makes the Pergrine break his oath)

    Liked by 10 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Followed by Hierarch. He is trying to judge a Choir trough its heroe. If I want to know what will happen if it is found guilty, I don’t want to see the consequences for the world. Even if presently it is unsavory, Mercy had do much good throughout the centuries.

      The only good things with that would be that it is a suicide move. Absolutely all heroes on the continent, or even on the world, would come to kill Hierarch, and Bard would story-fu him to death.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        I would imagine the beginning of the trial would be establishing the “Heavens told me to do it”. Then a trial and judgement would follow that would either clip the Angels wings or exile them from Creation.

        There’s little the Gods can do, outside of appealing or just trying to ignore the verdict, but I imagine meta-schenaigns ensue.

        Liked by 9 people

    2. caoimhinh

      They need to find a way to stop the oath-making to happen at all. For example: going through this business of making Larat a god and killing him to make the Highway to Keter before sweating the oaths.

      However, Kairos is mad but not an idiot, so I doubt he would go through with this so easily, he likely will want the oaths done as soon as possible.
      Then again, they only have about an hour to carry out the plan, so they might still bullshit him to wait and then going back to their words. Pilgrim already has done that, after all.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. Keming, WordPress has it(*). I can’t be arsed to fiddle with the fonts, but bumping the text size up a notch seems to help.

          (*) https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Keming

          Like

    3. The problem is, Kairos’ Role is a Trickster role, and includes the usual “improbable survival”. He’s the spider that you set the house afire trying to destroy, and then as you’re fleeing the flames, you see him and his friends scuttling across your lawn.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. IDKWhoitis

        While they may not love the idea, everyone present who matters should be smart enough to realize that obstacles to peace will be listed as “battle casualties” on the official record.

        Liked by 9 people

      2. Skaddix

        I mean Pilgrim is the highest ranking Hero in the field and the defacto rule of Levant ergo without Cordelia or her Uncle present he probably is the highest ranked official in the Grand Alliance.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. erebus42

    Well, that is a nasty little trap; plenty of ways to screw over everyone. Definitely a very Kairos move.
    Also, awesome as always to see Ivah get out there and get shit done. I posted in a previous chapter about the distinct lack of Trickster named running around, and while Ivah certainly lacks the mischievous nature and overall wildcardness of the archetype, its illusion skills are coming along quite nicely. I could definitely see it developing into this role for Catherine in the future if not an outright name.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    Malz is going to fear Cat for the foreseeable future. Predicting every move in a three part play, from start to finish, and bringing everyone to their very knees.

    While technically surrendering.

    Like how the fuck do you plot against such a monster? How do you fight it? Can it even be killed?

    The strongest, brightest, and wisest heroes just effectively gave up. The twisted Tyrant couldn’t shake her. The monster has been smoking and not surprised once.

    Malz will remember this for the foreseeable future. And boy do I wish she replaces Cordelia in the long run. She’s the one that has stared all the true horrors in the face, and has proven very competent.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. She’s one of the seven crowns. Not sure what’s going to happen to them but if I understand it correctly, it involves their deaths. So if Rosalie is going to be afraid of the Black Queen, she’ll do it as a ghost.

      Liked by 2 people

              1. Insanenoodlyguy

                It’s the second one even if that’s not needed, though it surely increases the weight of the act in the way stories like. They had a royal order that was very clear. If they stop fighting the Black Queen and work with her instead, their crowns are forefit. Effectively going along with this plan means they lose their thrones. Might get them back later, but this will definitely be the prince’s graveyard.

                Liked by 3 people

      1. Agent J

        If it involved their deaths the Heroes would never have gone for it. That wouldn’t get written off as casualties of war. That would be nothing short of blood sacrifice which is capital ‘E’ Evil.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Cordelia is damn great too, let’s not forget her play against Malicia to end the civil war.

      And I’m hoping for Malanza actually coming around on Cat like “wait, she can do THIS, and what she chooses to do with it is help us? I’ll take ten please and thank you”

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Clint

        Cordelia has certainly been given a huge lesson in “Heroes aren’t your friends.”

        Cat’s Lesser Evil probably looks a lot more palatable than Saint’s Greater Good.

        Liked by 7 people

  5. ruduen

    “’The one we’ll bring with us into the deeps,’ I said. ‘To be bestowed only at the heart of it.'”

    Hm. It’s the “bring” part that throws me off. Otherwise, my money would be on Cat attempting to kill the bit of the Dead King in Masago to qualify.

    I wonder if there’s an appropriate loophole available, or if Cat would bother lying about that bit?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dhael

      I think she going to sacrifice Saint. Cat’s wording through this has been pushing Saint into a role as the Blind Extremist. She gave nearly everyone a chance, to chime in on the deal; while constantly picking at Saint, forcing her into a more and more extreme stance. And these kind of world ending scenarios the Extremist is always the one to die near the end.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Speculation about the plot

          Saint is not one of the obvious options to the Rogue Sorcerer, but she does hold Dominion. It could be that the foundation of Dominion is very privately held knowledge that only Cat and Saint actually know. I think Cat was spelling out his thought process rather than indicating that Saint was really off the table for this. It would neatly tie up so many loose ends and even fits with needing a cut to open the Gate. Saint would be making a very useful artifact. Saint’s Dominion stands distinct from earthly Creation, but is invokable in Creation and was heavily referenced in her last POV. Saint has indicated if she lives until the morning she will kill Catherine. Saint was groomed by the Bard to accelerate the war that released the Dead King. Saint has had visions of being in a Band of Five one last time. Saint is old / two days away from retirement. Saint has been racking up negative story karma like gangbusters. Saint has no clear value story-wise at this point since she’s just the brawn working under Pilgrim. I predict Pilgrim will be the one to deliver her to Larat as a way to protect Cat and the future she envisions. I think Ivah is the actual fifth member of the Band for Story purposes after Saint’s sacrifice, and the events are how he comes into a Name.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Catherine commented that she was pretty much talking past him to Kairos and Tariq.

            And I’m pretty sure Cat plans to abdicate, here and now, as the last crown. She’s just not saying it in advance because that’s not how the story is properly told (and she needs this story to be properly told to milk it for all it’s worth).

            Liked by 2 people

          2. > Saint has indicated if she lives until the morning she will kill Catherine.

            Not quite:
            > “If you still believe that, by morning light, then we will put it to judgement,” Tariq said.

            For starters, that’s presumably next morning, as it is currently just past dawn (though eclipsed). At any rate, it will be after the whole 7+1 thing. We don’t actually know what he means by “judgement”, but I can easily believe these two old companions have worked up a routine to handle disagreements between them. It may or may not involve angels.

            Liked by 3 people

      1. Decius

        Saint is going to die in battle against the Dead King’s Dragon, or against the Dead King directly, in a manner that redeems her brand of extremism.

        Possibly it will be as a result of the Dead King paralyzing everyone with tales of their compromises; because Saint never compromised her position even for advantage, she will be immune to such talk.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Well, it‘s a rather wild guess, since I do not know what will happen to the „plus one“ but maybe she means the soul of Amadeus that the Sorcerer carries. He is after all a Emperor that could have been but never was. That carries it‘s own weight in a story about a god and court that will never rise.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. caoimhinh

        And he was King of Callow in all but name for over 20 years, a major reason Catherine managed to ascend to the throne is that she was his successor.
        Besides, we have already seen this “Amadeus is king of callow” excuse to be used successfully before, when Cat used it to claim the sword in the stone at Liesse in her last fight against William.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. There’s no way Cat plans to, or signs off on, sacrificing Amadeus. She wants her father *back*, not dead.

        The “and one” is more likely to be Kairos or Laurence.
        Unless she pulls the trigger on knocking off Akua, but I don’t see that happening yet.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. medailyfun

          WTF? Why do you think it should involve a life sacrifice? After all, they are not going to actually kill the princes for the crowns, so it means the one crown should be just given/taken with the narrative weight behind, and the most obvious candidate is Cat herself with her long-planned and long-prepared abdication.

          Liked by 4 people

            1. I don’t think she could give her crown to Viv and have it count as such, but *technically* she declared Vivienne her successor *before* going to do the sacrifice of crowns or however precisely this is going to work. If Cat sacrifices her crown without explicitly saying she’s just giving it to somebody else then the government of Callow will still go to it’s default “hey we don’t have a ruler” protocol of “let’s check our line of succession, oh hey look it just got clarified and we have a heir apparent, isn’t that handy”. It’s very technicality-based rules lawyering, but finding a loophole and driving a freight train through it is kind of 90% of Cat’s MO (the rest is stabbing and goblinfire).

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Oh, and another 50% of Cat’s MO is sass. Yes, that’s more than 100%. That’s because that’s how much sass she has. Her sass is so concentrated it violates the laws of logic and reality. A sassgularity, if you will.

                Liked by 3 people

    3. Kissaten

      Well, there’s a Black who is a claimant to something. Maybe they can bestow him with the proper title, he was very White Knight’y when it all started, with the girl abducted by evil Emperor and making a band of Calamities, it’s not entirely above him to be a rightful heir to something.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. He might give up on his potential to gain a new name, the crowns he chose to never hold and the Creation he has always tried to save…

        And become the curator of the Shard; guarantor of the Accords, a Courtless not-King among the Fae.

        While laughing at the irony the whole way.

        Liked by 4 people

  6. Fahri Agam

    Excuse my ignorance, but of the seven princes and “one”, who is the “one?”. And if Larat is the “one”, why would he ever agree to work with Cat?

    Amazing chapter as usual – Absolutely loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. ethericsentinel

        No, it’s “seven mortal rulers and one.” The one is not included in the “mortal rulers.” Implicitly a ruler, though, especially since s/he is giving up a crown!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. caoimhinh

    That’s also a heroic tool, you know? Having the conversation with the enemy-villain transmitted live to other people (especially those of importance) while the enemy is unaware of this and thus reveals their true nature.

    Catherine has with this shown herself as the most level-minded person in the field, the one who has a plan and also the one who is looking for peace.
    Exposing the murderous nature and total disregard for lives that the Saint has, showing the Pilgrim bending in acceptance to her plan (and passing over the authority of Cordelia) due to his unshakeable desire to keep suffering at minimum, and also proving once more that Kairos is a crazy bastard who can’t be trusted. Right in front of seven of the Princes of Procer, including a couple of the most influential and a representative of the First Prince herself.
    All of this, as part of her plan, all of this while being in control of the situation the whole time and even predicting the seemingly unpredictable actions of the Tyrant of Helike.

    They will fear her for this.

    A lot.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. On the other hand, “villain revealing an unpleasant truth at an inconvenient time to sow discord among the forces of Good” is also a trope.

      Catherine needs to be very, very careful with this.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Well. This will change the shape of Calernia for all time. Introducing a whole second landscape on which armies can maneuver and deploy and a network of quick-travel portals through which trade can flow is going to alter *everything*. So much of these nations’ positioning depends on geography. A century from now, not a single mainland border will remain unchanged.

    Furthermore, aside from Catherine personally being especially well suited to build these portals, this new realm seems much easier for villains to exploit than heroes. The “villain gets the first move” trope synergizes very well with these travel gates, and in particular Praesi villains are going to have a much easier time figuring out how to make and break gates.

    Yet the Pilgrim is willing to back this idea with almost no arguing (they decided to go for a plan with centuries-spanning consequences in under an hour, that counts as almost no arguing), to shave off a month or two of the travel time necessary to get a hundred thousand and change soldiers and a handful of heavyweight names to the Dead King’s battlefield (the Pilgrim’s still not fully aware of just how *much* power the drow promise to bring to that fight, nor that this force is merely their vanguard).

    Holy fuck. I think my threat estimate for the Dead King just ticked up *another* notch.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. It’s not *just* to get everybody up north to face the Dead King.
      It’s also because the alternatives for what’s going on with Masego and this chunk of Acradia are so much worse – option one is to let Masego (currently possessed by or otherwise under the influence of the Dead King) proceed unhindered, option two is to let Heirarch and Tyrant’s plan proceed(the one that Cat warned the Dead King about), or option three which is Cat’s plan.

      Sometimes there are no good choices, only varying degrees of bad to pick from.

      Liked by 9 people

    1. Clint

      His whole play in Iserre has been to swear alliance and friendship with each and every side while betraying all of them in spectacular fashion.

      You could argue that it’s not really a betrayal since no one believed his promises, but it’s definitely reason to think they were all correct in not trusting his word.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Kissaten

        All his alliances always were secret. The only legal dealings he has are within the league and are curated by Hierarch. Same goes for his enemies, not a single one of them dealt with him in good faith. I don’t think it counts as an oath if neither side was willing to see it through

        Liked by 2 people

  9. konstantinvoncarstein

    What would have happened if Catherine had not stolen the princes? There would have 2 plan left for this shard of Arcadia, Neshama´s and Kairos, but the former is aware of and can stop the later. It would have been a bad thing for everyone.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Well, their titles are dead. Their administrative personas within the body politic have just acquired headstones.

      And, they have witnessed Pilgrim helping to dig the graves without consulting any of Procer’s checks and balances within their Ebb and Flow. Because they have just had underscored what many of them have been noticing for weeks: the Alliance cares nothing for the sovereignty or cultural identities of people or countries.

      And, thus, they witness what they did to Callow.

      Liked by 6 people

  10. Stevedave

    Calling it now; the Rogue Sorcerer is the dead king in disguise. He doesn’t fit into the weight class as the rest of the party. In addition, Larat never uses his Name, only calling him “a sorcerer of roguish inclinations”. He might have gotten himself taken over by reading the dead kings naughty book.
    I reckon Masego will be the real 5th in the party, taking the place of the sorcerer archetype.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. We haven’t seen much of him, but Cat noted that he does fight with the big guys, and never gets hurt or pulls out a nuke. He’s in the right weight class all right, but with a different mode than Warlock, Heirophant, WoW, etc. Probably he has a Luck aspect of some sort.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Clint

      My theory is that Cat and Tyrant have both managed to counter Bard’s aspect that makes her a witness to every significant story event.

      Tyrant managed this when Hierarch accused her — in what I think was the birth of his third aspect. If she shows up anywhere where Hierarch’s law holds, then she’s subject to being put on trial for her crimes. She is preemptively banished by the mortal danger of an aspect-driven mob trial.

      More speculatively, I think Cat has used Sve Noc to manage keep her aspect from detecting those pivotal events — the same way they countered Pilgrim’s Behold aspect. It’s certainly the case that Sve Noc know, fear, and hate the bard, so it seems likely that they’ve worked out a counter.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Interesting theories, and both are plausible. Let me suggest a third: when Kairos broke down the Bard for Catherine, he mentioned that one of her rules was that she was always bound to flee/run from what she most desired. When she ran from Hierarch it was specifically *when he was talking about putting the Gods themselves on trial*. Now, isn’t that interesting, in light of her being compelled to run *from what she most wants*? And in light of how it was alluded to/intimated that Bard got locked into her not-actually-that-fun Role seemingly for all eternity as a *punishment*, with the implication (IIRC) that it was a punishment for mucking with some of the Gods’ designs?

        Maybe Bard can’t show up because she’s afraid of Hierarch. Or maybe it’s because when the Gods created her Name they got a little too clever for their own good, and now she can’t show up to interfere with what Cat is doing on behalf of the Gods because Bard knows this could lead towards (in some way, not sure precisely how yet but I suspect it ties into Cat’s plans to subvert the very nature of the Good v. Evil conflict on Calernia) what she most wants and the Gods bound the necessity to run from the presence of that into the very fabric of her Name?

        There’s not enough evidence to confirm that so I’m very much not sure yet, but if that turns out to be true I might literally die laughing.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Gunslinger

      Maybe cause too many people know her game already that it’s easier to move the stories in shadows. Or this is what she wanted already so she doesn’t have to appear

      Liked by 2 people

    3. She’s forbidden direct touch. Even just appearing before these people would explode the entire situation right off the rails as they’d probably talk about her instead of what they were already going to talk about. Ergo, she can’t be here.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Not to mention there’s at least two Named with “mind-reading” aspects, who might leand more than she wants. (Be cool for us, though.) Not to mention Sve Noc (IIRC the crows aren’t currently present, but Mighty and Cat are), who might be able to do worse: Not only read her, but maybe even pin her in place. Or at least provide a god’s analysis of her disappearing trick.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. werafdsaew

          Komena might be present:

          Every time I’d sat with Komena on my shoulder, watching them face the crossroads and knowing if the wrong choice was made all that was left would be the hardest of measures.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. Me Axel

    “`There would be a time, after the war turned here and the Red Flower Vales broke, where the Heavens would assemble their sharpest blade. The ancient forms would be observed. Five heroes, sent into the breach to quell the howling dark.“` from Book 4, Kaleidoscope II

    “`“- inevitability,” the Grey Pilgrim echoed. “A band of five, like few this world had seen, to smother that infant god in the cradle.”

    The last words had his face going ashen, for some reason.““

    Tariq just understood that the promised “heroic band” might not be all that heroic.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Looking back there, his lineup included himself and Saint, but he didn’t even get the Rogue Sorcerer (he thought Witch of the Woods), and of course the other heroes (WK and Champion) are replaced by villains. I have to conclude that he was calculating rather than foreseeing, unless Cat’s Everdark adventures actually voided prophecy!

      An aside: From that chapter, I also see:
      > All the others had warmed to Tariq, after Laurence acted as offensively in councils as she could. Offered him trust, treated him as the man of reason holding back the reckless Saint of Swords. All of them save Prince Arnaud of Cantal.

      In other words, at least sometimes they’re purposely playing “good cop/bad cop”! (Also, look for trouble from Arnaud.)

      Liked by 2 people

  12. ninegardens

    So… I just gotta put it out there:
    Pilgrim is my favourite character in these whole stories.
    Okay, maybe also Tyrant and Anarexes.
    But lets talk about Pilgrim, and why he is great for the story.

    The arrival of Pilgrim on stage basically heralded that start of Cat playing diplomacy. I know this was cats choice, but just by existing, by being both reasonable and desperate enough, Pilgrim makes the story so much more interesting.

    Books one and two were Vs Akua and William, and both those were enemies which… pretty much just had to be beaten. Even in a 3 way game, the goal was winning.

    But Pilgrim makes things interesting, and even though people might give him crap as a hypocrit etc etc etc… basically he seems like a desperate fearful dude trying to make the best of a bad situation, with incomplete information, a history of every villain betraying them (as mentioned this chapt), and a lot of blood on his hands no matter what decision he makes. Not a fun job.

    And the part that really gets me is… if this oath gets somehow broken, and Cat if forced to kill him, it is very very easy to imagine him giving the order that the Dominion must forgive her… because she is only holding up her end of an oath, an oath required to end a war.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Aotrs Commander

    Well, at least Pllgrim and Kairos are smart enough to know when they’ve been outplayed.

    If left to Saint’s methods, one imagines the continent would be entirely under the Dead King’s control inside five minutes on the basis that there would be no-one left you actually, y’know, fight him.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. Tom

    Cat has had a lot of things go her way lately… which can only be cause for suspicion! The longer things go her way without major setbacks, the bigger the eventual cost will be for her. Maybe giving up her own crown as the +1 would be enough, but I’m suspicious that the Pilgrim will sacrifice himself heroically, probably in the process of killing Divine Baby Larat, because Cat giving up her crown could still be “things going according to plan”, whereas she keeps saying it would be impossible to get the Liesse Accords signed if he dies. And what is a more appropriate obstacle for Cat than something “impossible”? 🙂

    Plus the Pilgrim’s change of stance smells like a redemption story:

    > “It sees to our every need,” the Peregrine said, and turned rueful eye on me. “How neatly you have tied us with the strings of necessity.”

    > I met his gaze unblinking.

    > “Should I apologize,” I said, “for making this a victory for others than myself?”

    > He turned away at that. Both at what I’d said, and at what was implied: that’d he been so set on being my enemy I’d had to work against him to help him. Silence stretched for a tense moment.

    To fit with Cat’s tagline (“and then it got worse”): Pilgrim sacrifices himself, Saint gets red in the face and starts screaming “I told you so!” while flailing at Cat, Cat puts her down with her staff-sword-story, the Rogue Sorcerer vanishes to go tell Grand Alliance people of Cat’s “betrayal”, Kairos cackles and finally unveils a scheme that Cat hadn’t predicted. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. JRogue

    Question. Grey Pilgrim stated that it would be; “A band of five, like few this world had seen, to smother that infant god in the cradle.”

    How can Cat be part of this “band of five” if she does not have a Name? I would think that it would be a requirement for this “band of five” to have narrative weight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kissaten

      Gods give Names to Roles, Names aren’t a requirement for anything by themselves alone. While playing a Role people get everything required to see the story done, sometimes it requires a Name.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. JRogue

        That is kind of my point. She herself does not have a Name and she has not found that “rut” in creation for a Role either. I believe she is actively avoiding that. She has the ability to manipulate (masterfully) those with Names and Roles to get the ends she wants, which being outside of the Name and Role narrative helps her, and once again something I believe she is avoiding on purpose. The thing is if she is included in a Band of Five wouldn’t that lack of Name and Role be a detriment? Something that works against the idea? A Band of Five are people with Names and Roles needed to fix a bad situation, she has all the know-how, with none of the narrative weight. I mean, that lack of Name did not prevent GP from pulling her into a Rule of Three situation, but that has been happening for a long time. I don’t know. Just pondering.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Cat is *carving* a Role into Creation, and perhaps other worlds as well. Heck, one of her followers inaugurated a new Name! As Priestess of Night, leading three Heroes and a Villain, she has indeed formed a band “like few this world had seen” (if any, ever). She may not have taken a Name, but I’d bet that upon her death the Name of Black Queen will be taking applicants in her mold. With an orc adjutant included in the package.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. I think it’s a bit the other way round: Names are something you can get as a reward for fitting into this kind of story. So you fit the story first and get a Name on top of it, not the other way round. It’s not more contradictory than Evil Squire Catherine pulling a Sword out of the Stone and getting an angelic resurrection.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Agent J

        “-she has all the know-how, with none of the narrative weight.“

        Oh. Evidently, you are. Dude, we’re literally reading her story right now. There isn’t a single other person in-universe with half as much narrative weight as Catherine Fucking Foundling.

        Besides, you mentioned it yourself, if she can be roped into a Rule of Three, she can be part of a Five Man Band.

        Besides, she’s got many Names. Black Queen and First Under the Night chief among them. They may not be aspect granting Names, but they have weight and the latter has power backed by Goddesses.

        … honestly, I think people are too married to the concept of Names and Aspects. They are related to, but not requirements for story weight.

        Liked by 3 people

  16. Barrendur

    I like Larat a great deal; he’s the classical archetype of the Fae. He amuses and intrigues me… plus, I have to admit, I have rather a crush on him. I really resent Cat’s high-handed dismissal of him as anything more than an “ingrediant” for her planned Gate network.

    “Oh no,” says Cat, Black Queen and Mistress of the Double-Standard; “Larat is Fae and cannot change, so I have to break the oath I made to him as his sovereign and murder him. Shucks; sucks to be him.”

    I would very much enjoy seeing a typically Fae response from Larat to Cat’s proposed ‘disposing’ of him; something vicious, clever and completely unanticipated. I think Cat has it coming, and Larat has a narrative bonus against her. Cat hasn’t given sufficient consideration to Larat and his nature; she’s received his oath of fealty but broken her oath to *him* as his sovereign, and this was all conducted within *Creation*, not Arcadia… where Larat is subject to the limitations and benefits of NARRATIVE.

    So sing, O Muse, of a Fae lord betrayed by an oath-breaking sovereign, who means to murder him in a ritual of darkest magic… and tell me which one of them has more narrative weight.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. On the contrary — she is keeping her oath, which releases him from service. At which point he’s an unbound fae and she owes him nothing.

      As far as narrative weight, Larat has been shirking his duties and staying out of sight, and acting only under direct orders… rather than doing stuff that would give him narrative weight. He is strictly a side character, who has (by SOP) been scheming to increase his power, but has not properly considered his role under the terms of Creation.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. As Catherine has pointed out to Tariq, in the timeline she’s constructing, assembling a band of five against Larat comes after his sudden yet inevitable betrayal. Just because she considers it an inevitability doesn’t mean the cause-effect link is going to be broken: if he doesn’t betray her, he’ll be fine!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Mind mage

    So did anyone else notice the Rogue Sorcerer use the former Black knights signature phrase?
    ( Im on my phone and can’t spell his name).
    It’s even said the same way and I can’t think of anyone else whom has said it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Interesting. It’s not said the same way. IIRC Amadeus always seemed to say it as a sentence “Mistake.”

      But it IS said with emphasis; so perhaps it is signalling something important. Maybe the Rogue Sorcerer has been talking with Amadeus? Maybe they have made a deal? Maybe Amadeus is possessing him in some manner?

      All this is unlikely IMO and the last idea is almost certainly wrong. But it’s always fun to speculate!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. And that gives me another idea, even nastier. Suppose Pilgrim ends up on the Mantle of Woe? Cat would effectively have a shoulder angel to go with her shoulder demon. 😉 But poor Pilgrim, gone from Light to Night!

          Liked by 2 people

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