Chapter 35: Colloquy

“Forty-three: if your band is split during a harrowing test set by a villain or ambiguous entity, you may safely assume you will next be reunited in some sort of cell or unfolding sacrificial ritual.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

It was a funny thing, perspective. What Hierophant had stolen from Arcadia was a drop in the ocean, a piece of eternity that became something less by being removed from the whole. Looking at it with my own eyes, though, the scale of what he’d wrought was worthy of awe. A kingdom’s worth of badlands, consumed by howling squalls and the aftermaths of sorcery until the very grounds were made barren. I’d walked only the very edge of this land, but it’d been enough to tell me that it would take weeks if not months to go from one end to another. And it would fall on Creation, a cataclysmic doom on Iserre, if anchor was not fashioned before the tipping point. To accomplish that most important of tasks, an army would have been too much but a single person too little. And so, in a pattern nearly as old as the First Dawn, a band of five had been called. Of those chosen few I would not speak of myself, but the others? It was not small names – or Names – that had been assembled to turn back doom.

The Tyrant of Helike, an odd-eyed madman who’d pulled at the strings of nations and tricked an entity older than the city that’d birthed him. Weak of constitution, sickly and feeble, he did not walk with the others but instead leisurely sat a throne held up by a throng of eerily-intelligent animated stone gargoyles. The ornate scepter in his hand was the least of the artifacts at his disposal, though the only visible, for the villain had inherited a veritable trove of lunacy and wealth from the Theodosians of centuries past. And yet, for all that, I suspected the deadliest things remained his tongue and the mind that but purpose to it. As if making of mockery of this entire war, the Tyrant wore not armour but instead kingly brocaded robes in gold and scarlet, match for the ornate ruby-set crown on his brow and his misformed eye even deeper red.

The Grey Pilgrim needed no introduction, I supposed. The oldest living Calernian hero and favourite agent of the Choir of Mercy. There was a terrifying amount of power in that wizened frame, and the crooked staff of ashwood he bore, but it was the Peregrine himself that was the true terror. He was a weaver of stories in dusty grey robes with second sight and a choir’s worth of angels whispering secrets in his ear. He was incorruptible, implacable and while in body he might just be an exhausted old man his deep knowledge of miracles and deeper well of power allowed him a mystifying breadth of capabilities that only strengthened when exercised to save another. Though near a king in the eyes of his people, his shoes were worn leather and he wore not a single adornment save white locks atop his head.

What more need be said of Saint of Swords, after saying she had once cut the fabric of Winter itself? Oh, like the Pilgrim her years were slowing her down but the vitality of her prime had been replaced by the kind of unbroken certainty that in a Named was a hundredfold more dangerous than muscle. I would never like her, but the Saint was a heroine who has faced sword in hand and slain things whose mere sight would put lesser souls to flight. She was one of the finest blades alive, capable of cutting through sorcery and steel and the fabric of Creation with the plain longsword at her hip, and she had tempered her soul and body into a domain whose existence made her halfway unkillable – and explained why she disdained armour in favour of a plain pale tabard over a darker collared tunic.

The last one, the Rogue Sorcerer, was taciturn mystery who’d faced two of the most infamous villains of our age – in all humility, Akua Sahelian and myself – without taking a wound, revealing an aspect or ever being in danger of death. He’d been able to fend off Diabolist’s ritual attempts to find my father, proved capable of guiding armies through a dying shard of Arcadia and was, to my knowledge, the only person not complicit or in my service to have figured out it was a Keter’s Due that filled the sky. That someone so plainly competent was almost unheard of meant the man was being purposefully discreet, and given my teachers I knew how lethal Named who went out of their way to keep their abilities quiet tended to be. The long coat of leather over practical chain mail and less practical silks of many colours was kept close to his frame, though there were shapes to be discerned beneath. Over his shoulder was hung a heavy bag bearing seven mortal crowns, carried on my behalf.

It should have been a formal affair, this journey, something solemn and dignified.

“So is it true you used to knock boots with the Iron Prince?” Kairos cheerfully asked. “I’m not usually one to bring up salacious rumours, but-“

I ignored the bald lie he’d spoken and instead kept a wary eye one the Saint’s sword hand. Which was, unsurprisingly, on the pommel of said sword. That tended to happen whenever the Tyrant talked, though to be fair we’d only just entered this realm and already I was tempted to let her. I glanced at her face, though, and found it wrinkled as usual but also irritated this time. I bet it’s true, I thought. All those late evenings killing ratlings under moonlight? Hasenbach honestly wasn’t much of a looker – though she wasn’t exactly plain either – but her uncle might wear those broad shoulders a little better.

“Black Queen,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “Am I correct in presuming that the broken tower is our destination?”

He was speaking a little too loudly for this to be entirely about him asking me a question. Still, he was pointing in the right direction so I actually followed his finger and nodded after a confirmatory look. The wasteland here was not entirely plains with a few distant mountains, there were other inclines. It was simply hard to see them, sometimes, buried as they were in ash and dust and smoke. Even far out from the great storms as we were, the winds would be slapping great heaps of those at our sides if not for the small glow dangling from the tip of the Pilgrim’s staff like an amulet of solid Light. Unlike the protection Sve Noc had taught me to make, his did not impose a bubble of stillness around us. It… eased the winds into slowing, so that when they reached us they were little more than a warm breeze carrying nothing at all. It was a more elegant solution, though when we’d get to breaching the great storms I suspected my method would be more effective.

“It is,” I said. “I’m impressed you can recognize it as a tower, to be honest.”

If I hadn’t been there earlier with my Hunt in attendance, I would not have. All that was visible of the tower now under a hill’s worth of ash and dust was a square house of stone with a broken tile roof jutting out form the grey. There’d been glass windows on the sides once, but they had not survived the first catastrophe to hit them years ago and even the last sticking bits were like ground-down teeth in an open maw through which the wasteland’s winds poured through.

“The slate tiles and sandstone are not unfamiliar to me,” the hero said. “They were a noticeable feature of Liesse.”

The nicer parts of it, anyway, I mentally corrected.

“You’ve been there before,” I said.

“Once, years ago,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “I had hear that the secret tomes of the Wizard of the West had been found, and were to be auctioned by a Liessen guild.”

Not one of the legal ones, I thought with a snort. Books written on the subject of magic had been heavily restricted under Black and confiscated whenever found, though there’d been monetary compensation so Callowans hadn’t really cared unless they were wizards. In which case they already had greater reasons to be afraid of the Carrion Lord than books, no matter their subject. This, though, a hero’s ancient tomes put up for auction in largest southern Callowan city but also the only one under an Imperial governor? Knowing my teacher like I did, that story could only be headed one way.

“It was a trap,” I said.

“It was a trap,” the Sorcerer sighed. “I nearly died twice fleeing the ‘auction’ and lost a fortune’s worth of…”

He paused.

“No matter,” he said. “Still, the city was a memorable enough sight.”

I glanced at him.

“Did you get one of the books?” I asked.

“I did,” the hero disgruntledly said. “It was only a transcript of some Praesi trial involving tapirs, and to add insult to injury the Warlock wove a tracking enchantment into it.”

I very carefully hid my smile. I had some suspicions as to who had chosen the contents of the book, at least. Regardless, we had arrived. We’d also pulled slightly ahead of the others as we talked, though they caught up quick enough.

“- in a way wouldn’t that make you Cordelia’s aunt?” Kairos enthusiastically said. “You’re practically royalty yourself, Laurence.”

The Saint’s fingers twitched, but sadly I still needed the Tyrant and he was bound to have some contingencies that’d cripple us if he was actually attacked – I doubted he would have agreed to come otherwise, or kept taunting the old zealot so insistently. Gritting my teeth I prepared to step in, but before I could the Grey Pilgrim quietly laughed. The sound had the Saint’s shoulders loosening, though the Sorcerer’s tightened instead.

“I knew your father, Kairos,” the Peregrine quietly said. “Were you aware?”

“You’ve not exactly been chaste in the array of stories you’ll get involved in, Tariq,” the Tyrant amusedly said, flopping a wrist dismissively. “Though I’ll assume that was before the two of us had our pleasant chat on the matter of succession.”

“You remind me of him,” the Pilgrim said. “He, too, felt the need to fill silences at any cost.”

The Tyrant of Helike went still for less than a heartbeat, and was smiling after as if he’d never ceased, but he’d not been quite quick enough to hide the glint of frozen rage that passed through his eyes at the Pilgrim’s words.

“Already a little less bored,” Kairos Theodosian grinned. “Not so kindly after all are we, my kindly stranger?”

“If a child pricks his hand picking a rose, it is not maltreatment,” the Grey Pilgrim mildly said. “It is a lesson.”

Considering that unlike the Tyrant I hadn’t just had an old wound prodded at and the wise old man tone was still tiresome to me, that was a sign I needed to step in. I didn’t have much sympathy for Kairos, but it would be preferable if every member of this band at least made it to the antechamber of the peril ahead. It’d just be poor form otherwise.

“We’ve arrived,” I called out.

The old man and the young king kept their gaze on each other for a long moment even after I spoke, and I cleared my throat progressively more loudly until they both looked because it sort of sounded like I was choking.

“Now that I have your attention,” I rasped out.

I raised a finger, then breathed out a little. Though I was high priestess of Night, unlike the rest of these people I didn’t have the ancillary benefits of Name easing my way through this journey. When ash got into my lungs and mouth, I still choked like a mortal. Still didn’t regret that transition in the slightest, mind you. You just couldn’t put a price on enjoying a good cup of wine, and not occasionally going mad with Winter.

“When the Hierophant brought Liesse into this place, it was roughly done,” I said. “Roughly enough that pieces of the city were sown all over this wasteland.”

The Rogue Sorcerer inhaled sharply as he realized where I was headed before the rest. The benefits of having an education in matters magical, I thought, and made note that while the Tyrant’s eyes had narrowed he didn’t seem have figured it out. I was honestly uncertain whether or not the villain was a mage or not, since I’d never actually seen him use sorcery except through artefacts. At the very least, though he was gifted in his understanding I was now fairly sure even if he was a mage he had not reached High Arcana.

“In Creation that wouldn’t mean much, but this place is adrift,” I said. “I won’t get into too much detail, since it’s all very technical-” and even after speaking with Akua twice I still only barley understood what she’d said, “- but given the fluidity of laws this place, and the strength of the story we’re riding, the law of sympathy can be leaned on pretty heavily to provide a shortcut.”

“That is… inspired,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “We came through Creation, but to emerge elsewhere in this realm we would be walking the boundary between it and Arcadia instead.”

I smiled and kept my fingers from clenching. It was a good thing I was intending on remaining on good terms with the Grand Alliance, because if it came down to a fight this one might be too dangerous to keep alive. It’d taken Akua Sahelian, a sorceress that even a one-in-a-century kind of talent like Masego considered brilliant, a direct look at my Lord of Silent Steps using something similar in nature to figure this method out. Ivah had begun something close, that it called ‘skittering’, back in the Everdark and had refined the trick since into a very dangerous tool. The Rogue Sorcerer had figured out from a bastard description in a matter of moments, and though that didn’t mean he’d be able to reproduce the feat that was still a rather nasty knack for comprehending my side’s bag of tricks. I’d wanted the Tyrant in this band of five because of the Sorcerer, but now I was wondering if that was going to be as affective a scheme as I’d believed it would be. Not that this was ever going go be anything but a risky roll of the dice, considering there was no one among my fellows I could truly rely on if things went south. Still there’d been no way but leaving Adjutant behind: I needed both the Tyrant and the Sorcerer among the five, since it both gave me the shape of the former’s inevitable betrayal and allowed me to get around the diplomatic debacle that would be robbing people I needed to be allies with. No matter how badly they deserved to be robbed.

“Foundling,” the Saint of Swords said. “You admitted earlier that your Praesi warlock is possessed by the Hidden Horror, yes?”

“Influenced,” I corrected.

“Bit of downplay, that,” the Tyrant snorted.

“As far as my people have been able to tell, the Dead King isn’t in control most of the time,” I said. “Though there seem to be small bursts where he is, it’s true, but always for less than a quarter hour. Though for simplicity’s sake, it would be best to consider the Hierophant as bewitched.”

“And how do you intend to break that bewitchment?” the Saint bluntly asked.

“I can’t answer that without crippling the chances it’ll actually work,” I replied. “But rest assured, I do have a method.”

“If he’s half as powerful as all,” the Saint gestured at the wasteland around us, “this seems to imply, he needs to die. If the Dead King has a way in, he’ll remain a risk after even if-“

“Laurence,” I interrupted, tone eerily calm, “allow me to be perfectly frank with you: if you so much as scuff his robes, I’ll put you down without batting an eye. It’s not diplomatic, or all that practical, but I do not tolerate rabid animals snapping their jaws at the people I care about.”

She glared at me, eyes burning. I stared back, unblinking. The Saint was exactly the kind of heroine to nip what she saw as a looming threat in the bud by the edge of her sword. The same traits that made her capable of accomplishing that also made her a lot more likely to try it, in my eyes, which was rather the issue with Saint in essence wasn’t it? The moment there was no longer a hand on her leash, the truce went up in smoke.

“Queen Catherine,” the Pilgrim intervened. “The question was not meant as an attack. It needs to be asked: if there is no other way, if your own method has failed, a decision will have to be made.”

My fingers clenched, but I forced them to loosen.

“In that very narrow situation you’ve mentioned, then I’ll take action,” I said. “But let’s be perfectly clear: if any of you use what I just said as a pretext to kill the Hierophant, I will take it as an act of war.”

Gods, it was a heavy-handed approach and I might as well be painting a weakness in bright red for the wolves among this flock but it needed to be said nonetheless. I wasn’t sure either the Saint or the Tyrant would actually have their hand stayed by the threat I’d just made, but the sword I’d just hung above the head of this truce should be enough to have cooler heads intervene instead of stand back and watch if either acted. The Grey Pilgrim, anyway, I grimly thought. I didn’t have a good grasp of the Rogue Sorcerer yet.

“As I was saying,” I began anew after a few beats of silence. “We will be taking an unusual path, whose nature is kin to a threshold. There are advantages to that. Through Hierophant, the Hidden Horror would attempt to strike at us if we approached the city openly. But in that more fluid place we will travel through, I suspect it will lurk as well. Waiting.”

“The first crucible,” the Pilgrim calmly said. “Not one, I think, of arms.”

“When assault the stronghold of a villain,” I said, “watch out for three things: a monster, a trial and a pivot.”

“And you believe this to be the trial,” the old man said.

“I believe that everyone here has a few bodies buried somewhere in their past,” I said, eyes sweeping across the heroes and villain. “And something they want badly enough to listen to the devil when he’ll come calling. And make no mistake, I have encountered the Dead King before. It isn’t with threats and screams he’ll approach. It will be with a pleasant offer for a most reasonable bargain.”

Gods, much as I hated to admit it the Saint of Swords was the one I had most faith in to blow straight through. Even Neshamah would have a hard time cracking open that protective shell of hatred and arrogance. The Pilgrim shouldn’t be an issue, either, but there were a lot more levers to move him than I was comfortable with, especially considering the Dead King was bound to know a thing or two about angels. The Tyrant was going to sell us out, that was a given, but that was fine. I’d planned with the inevitability in mind. Once more, it was the Rogue Sorcerer that was the unknown. I glanced at Tariq and caught his eye, then subtly dipped my head towards the youngest hero. Just as subtly, the Pilgrim nodded. He was either reliable, then, or good enough to fool whatever means of second sight the Peregrine used. Either way, it was too late in the span to do anything about it.

“It was a beautiful speech, Catherine,” Kairos called out. “It greatly raised my spirits.”

I rolled my eyes and limped up the hill of ash and dust until I stood by the side of one of the broken windows. Running a hand across the warm stone by the windowsill, I breathed out and let the Night flow through my veins. The shivering line between realms was no domain of Sve Noc’s, but the darkness within the broken house was a threshold I could use. Night poured out of me like a flood, until I breathed out and withdrew my palm. I turned to them, straightening my back.

“Into the deeps,” I said. “We will meet again on the other side.”

203 thoughts on “Chapter 35: Colloquy

    1. Cicero

      As the only non-named she fits into the story by being the Guide.

      That probably gives her protection until the final confrontation, but also might make her vulnerable afterwards.

      Liked by 16 people

      1. Rook

        Guides do have an unfortunate tendency to make it to the end before making a necessary sacrifice to complete the task, if not necessarily a Heroic one.

        Said sacrifice also tends to happen just when things seem the most bleak, a last minute turnaround at the edge of what looks like inevitable defeat.

        In this case if she’s assuming that role, it’s a double edged knife. She can use that story to cull the herd beforehand to meet the conditions of said sacrifice before feeding the “Black Queen” to Larat. It’d be tricky, but designating someone as critical to the mission (at least on the surface) would actually be a way to mark them for death, considering that the one of the defining marks of a truly desperate situation is one where you’ve lost the most important piece.

        The most Noble Souls tragically perishing for the sake of the mission isn’t exactly rare either. Theoretically she could murder the Saint by kissing her ass until it sounds like she really is a saint.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. The Brave Little Muffin

          I’m honestly surprised she didn’t end up with a Name like Dark Priestess. That’s bound to be storyworthy, and the apotheosis of the everdark is probably an event worth getting a name over.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Clint

            She’s taken steps to avoid that — she snarks at Sve Noc like a rebellious teenager, never like a worshipper and she never preaches their teachings.

            Now, if she starts telling people that All is Night and speaking respectfully to the crows…

            Liked by 8 people

            1. Hmm, I hadn’t thought of her snarking at Sve Noc that way; good thing that attitude comes naturally to her. The Everdark certainly doesn’t have the traditions to support such a Name, but then she’s not in the Everdark anymore, any more than Hakram was among the similarly denuded (de-nominated?) orc tribes when he gained his Name.

              But if she’s the Guide, she doesn’t need to be killed to leave the rest of the group bereft… just separated from them.

              Liked by 3 people

          2. Remember how undefined aspects in heroes tend to emerge at the most crucial of moments? Cat might be able to transition into a Name at such a moment. She has a lot of weight behind her as First under the Night and Black Queen of Callow. Also she is leading a band of five of which she is arguably the weakest in raw strength (Night is only granted to her) like her teacher once did. And the Black Knight always had a plan and a hidden trump card.
            Also, Cat plans to lay down her crown at the end of this anyway, getting another Name would not even be a problem for her under the Liesse Accords.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Dragrath

              To be honest since her goal is to end named rulers through the accords it wouldn’t make much sense for her to gain a name as others have said her greatest advantage is her lack of a name.
              Which too honest it is interesting that no one has noticed she is unnamed while I suspect it is fully on purpose its interesting that even Pilgrim’s angels haven’t noticed something is wrong those sisters really know their stuff

              Liked by 1 person

          3. KageLupus

            You have to think of Names more as roles to be filled, or grooves in the world to fall into.

            Something like Rumena could maybe become a Dark Priest because it actually cares about the religion. But Cat clearly doesn’t and treats it like a partnership. Lopsided as hell, true, but still different from a normal religious relationship.

            The fact that she is also the Black Queen is probably holding her back from a Name right now as well. Basically Cat doesn’t readily fit into any normal story so there’s no good Name for her to have. Which is also something that makes her dangerous.

            She has more power than a typical non-Named, all of the experience with stories that let’s her manipulate them, and enough weight as First under Night to affect the story without quite being as locked in as your typical hero or villain.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. Tai

              Exactly this. People think of having a Name as being a good thing, but the truth is that having a Name, while bestowing you power that you wouldn’t ordinarily have, also forces you to lock into patterns. The patterns themselves aren’t dangerous for the majority of heroes, especially when they’re just starting out, but for veterans of Cat’s level who’re playing games against the Pilgrim, not having a name is actually an advantage, not a weakness.

              Liked by 1 person

          4. Sir Pantsalot

            Personally I’m not super clear on the conditions that distinguish Named from titles, but I didn’t get that feeling myself. We’ve already seen her avoid a new Name in Black Queen, and that one had something of a buildup before it came to the pivot. First Under Night kinda came out of nowhere and didn’t have any cultural momentum to support it–it’s almost the other way around, with her trying to reshape the drow into something less self-destructive.

            Like

  1. This sounds like she’s planning to use Kairos as the “and one” after his inevitable betrayal.

    Intriguing.
    The Rogue Sorcerer is a conundrum.

    I look forward to Kairos and Laurence dying. They’re both just too annoying as characters, and Kairos has long since burned through the leeway being entertaining bought.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. JJR

      But then it turns out he knows this and his betrayal is to NOT betray the party like everyone expected. And then they have to scramble around fixing the plans that he just ruined with his friendship.

      Liked by 18 people

      1. Hitogami

        If I was him that’s exactly what I’d do, but as much as I’d appreciate the plot twist I don’t think he can fight his nature enough to do that

        Liked by 10 people

      2. RoflCat

        No no no, that would only betray their expectations.

        First he betray the party, as it is proper

        Then he betray the one he betrayed the party to, because Reformed Villain hijinks

        THEN he betray the party once more by stealing the prize

        Because it ain’t Traitorous if there’s only one betrayal in store.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. IDKWhoitis

      Unfortunately, you don’t kill the Comic relief first. I suspect that’s why Kairos is being a little shit, he is essentially wearing plot armor while he is making fun of or hounding something. I would guess Saint or Grey take the first shot, maybe surviving it.

      I heavily suspect the Rogue Sorcerer to be a Dead King simulacrum or other tool of betrayal, he is just too unknown. Kairos will probably surprise us by not being the first to betray, but almost certainly will do so after someone else has started the shitshow.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. JJR

        Rouge Sorcerer is interesting to say the least. One eye rimmed in red the other in green, and when they were setting up this concord back in the chapter Concord he said an interesting thing. That refusing an arrangement would be, “would be worse than a sin, it would be a mistake.” The emphasis he put on mistake, it made me wonder if he was maybe keeping Black soul very close to his own to better keep track of it. The saying does tell us to, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”. And you can’t get much closer than tying your souls together.

        Would not explain why the other eye is rimmed red though.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. SITB

          The Rogue Sorcerer shoulders also stiffen when the Grey Pilgrim laughed (while Laurence relaxed).

          Something funky is going on, even if it will turn out to be a misdirection at the end.

          Liked by 9 people

        2. Yeah, even before holding Amadeus’s soul, he looked like a discreet Power In Waiting. But that comment might well have been a signal from Amadeus that he’s not being quite as passive as you’d expect from a disembodied soul. If RS is actually conversing with Amadeus, then he potentially has his own significant powers, joined to Amadeus’s strategic and tactical genius.

          Did he have those eyes when he was fighting Cat &co. before? If so, it’s probably just a feature or indicator of his Name.

          Liked by 2 people

      2. Rook

        I think there’s chance that Amadeus might seize control of him at some point, whether by his own machinations or outside influence. One potential landmine we know of already is that his soul is in the Rogue Sorcerer’s hands, and we just had strong foreshadowing about how much rage Amadeus has towards the Pilgrim.

        It would also be quite a good way to tie up that old loose end in terms of Catherine and Amadeus’ relationship. If he ever gets an opportunity to get back at the Pilgrim, it’d put him at odds with Catherine’s own goals. At that point Catherine’s ultimatum to him from their last face-to-face meeting since second Liesse would come to fruition; “make yourself into a man that deserves to live in that (better) world, or you’re just another corpse I step over on my way there”

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Decius

          Amadeus would not let his rage, however great, cause him to make a mistake on the level of attacking the Pilgrim without first guaranteeing a draw.

          Liked by 4 people

  2. antoninjohn

    I wonder if the they will see each others trials, that would be pretty bad for the Pilgrim to have the Tyrant know that he is a blood traitor who killed his own son in his sleep to keep hold of his power in Levant

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Tariq killed his brother openly and killed his nephew (sister’s son) in his sleep, because said nephew wanted to wage a war of vengeance over his mother’s murder by a Proceran Prince and Tariq hasn’t changed his mind.

      I dislike Tariq but he didn’t kill his nephew for personal power.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. Clint

        Tariq had a belief about what policy the Dominion should follow.

        The lawful ruler of the Dominion disagreed — and was winning the political game of persuading the rest of the Lords of the Dominion.

        So Tariq killed the lawful ruler of the Dominion.

        Now, every Lord of the Dominion looks to Tariq, rather than to their lawful ruler, when big-picture decisions are to be made.

        It’s true that Tariq didn’t kill his nephew to take a crown and open power, but he did do it to see his will imposed on the Dominion and to increase his own influence over future decisions. That’s personal power.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Neel

          I feel that there’s an ENORMOUS difference between making a decision to impose your own will because you think you’re right, and making a decision to impose your will because you’re on a power trip.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. Rook

          That’s stretching the truth so far that it puts dental floss to shame.

          Tariq killed his nephew because the limited foresight of his choir showed him exactly how much human suffering would come as a result of the war that the boy was preparing to wage.

          Tariq wouldn’t give a shit if the entirety of the dominion were to forget that he exists, or if the dominion pursued a policy revolving around spaghetti and candycanes. Him and his choir only really care about minimizing suffering as much as possible, and whatever power he wields – physical, magical, or political – are all just disposable tools to that end.

          It’s like claiming that people buy bread because they want to chew things. Well it’s not like they’d be against chewing things, it’s kind of a necessity, but that’s not the actual goal.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. Decius

        Still familicide, and he did it to cause policy changes.

        But just like the practical Villains don’t have a problem performing good acts in the name of Greater Evil like (almost) fully funding orphanages, the practical Heroes don’t have a problem performing evil acts (like murder) in the pursuit of the Greater Good.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. yeah, being after specific policy changes is very much ethically distinct from being after personal power

          also, Amadeus + Greater Evil = LMAO
          (this is a man who justifies all his decisions internally in terms of greater good he expects them to eventually lead to, and is trying to smother all sources of actual evil – racism, inequality, starvation, war, power abuse, diabolism, blood sacrifice – in his country)
          (I mean if you squint just the right way you can totally justify how this is what should be called Greater Evil, and Amadeus would undoubtedly do just that if asked…)

          Liked by 2 people

          1. luminiousblu

            I’d argue that it’s pretty debatable that any of those things are ‘sources of actual Evil’, besides starvation since we’re canonically told that one is a problem. All of the rest are fundamentally just things that you or I find evil (and I don’t find all of them evil).

            Liked by 1 person

                1. OH THAT’S BETTER THANK YOU

                  anyway we well know that Amadeus disapproves of those things also; he would have banned diabolism if it were feasible [source: Book 1 chapters Rise/Fall], and he had a whole rant @ Malicia about how blood sacrifices were supposed to be a necessary evil, not a staple of their culture viewed positively [source: Epilogue III], and he has indicated many times that he views war as a necessary evil as well, one that he would rather have the least amount of that he can manage [I don’t even how how to point to a source for this one, he is rather consistent in this view?…]; also not sure how to even point to his dislike of racism given how diffused it is throughout the text… remember Chapter Aspect in Book 1 when Catherine was surprised at the idea of learning the orc language and he lectured her about it? Amadeus is a greenskin rights activist, that’s one of the basic points that like everyone in Praes knows about him nd judges him on.

                  Liked by 1 person

              1. luminiousblu

                Andrew’s got it.
                Good nations canonically were once upon a time slave states which means inequality (not necessarily racism, no, Americans, slavery is older than and not inherently tied to racism), so it’s clearly not fundamentally Evil.

                Liked by 2 people

                  1. luminiousblu

                    It…doesn’t really work that way? “Bad”, by definition, is subjective. If it’s subjective then it can’t be fundamental, unless you accord that there are values that are objective and built-into the world.
                    Amadeus acts on his own values. He doesn’t particularly strike me as someone who believes them to be objectively true, or if he does he’s just a hypocrite

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Values aren’t objective, but cause-effect relationships are. Given that you want X, then you can pretty damn objectively derive what’s “good” and “bad” for achieving that goal.

                      There are X’s that mortals universally want: food, security, companionship, etc. That part is hard-wired into their brains, and while there can be exceptions, it’s an objective fact that statistically speaking, the majority does want these things.

                      Given these X’s, it’s a matter of studying objectively existent cause-effect relationships to find out what serves these goals and what doesn’t (which we label “good” and “bad”). Eating a rock doesn’t make you full. Killing everyone you meet doesn’t fulfill your companionship need. Summoning a demon that blights the land isn’t good for your prospects of finding food down the line. Racism gets in the way of building a society that maximizes its gains out of the resources it has available.

                      It’s not fundamental because it’s more complex than that. There are no ethical rules written on a tablet in the middle of the universe, humans have to actually figure those out – much like they have to figure out math and agricultural calendar and how to make computers.

                      Amadeus acts on the basic values of “dying of hunger is bad”, “dying in war is bad”, “actually just dying period kind of sucks” and extends those to other people – he wants to ensure the prosperity of the entire population of Praes, not just his own.

                      He boldly assumes that the entire population of Praes would rather have food than starve, would rather win a war than lose it, would rather have dignity than be treated as cattle, would rather have opportunities for social rising than be eternally under the boot of High Lords.

                      He, yes, believes those facts to be objectively true. Mighty hypocritical of him?

                      All of the above aren’t ethical values. Ethical values are when you want those things not just for yourself but also for other people. Ethical values are caring for other people, period, and ethical rules are heuristics for how to achieve your objectives in that while not being either omniscient or omnipotent.

                      Amadeus believes it to be ethically bad that he moves other people as pawns on a chessboard in order to achieve his objectives. He does it anyway because he believes the loss to be balanced out by the future gains, but he cares about the loss, too. Because he believes that objectively it’s a fact that other people subjectively value free will, making their own decisions, and so on.

                      It’s not contradictory.

                      Like

        1. Dainpdf

          That necessitates qualification, when talking about blood. And considering, as has been stated by others, that the rest of the statement is false.

          Liked by 6 people

  3. magesbe

    Not a lot happened, but some necessary setup and a better introduction into the Rogue Sorcerer. So he’s apparently not a mid-tier scrub like I had initially assumed. Maybe only two levels below the Pilgrim then, I’m guessing. One level below I’d put the White Knight.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Depends: she’s a stereotypical Fighter. Awesome damage-dealer in encounters… awful at haggling with the merchant and/or employer later. And, whatever you do, don’t ask the Fighter to abuse that Cha score by trying to talk the Silver Dragon down. Nothing but Bad Things™.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Oshi

            In terms of power lets set a baseline. Compare the power levels directly and exclude all factors of indirect power. (The Scribes a nightmare because she will smother you before you can even hurt her but not a direct power)

            Saint
            Pilgrim
            Sorcerer
            Tyrant
            and way down last is Catherine at the moment.

            Liked by 3 people

    1. Lucas

      I think the White Knight would have had to use a few tricks to fight Cat. He had to use a lot to fight the black Knight and he isn’t all that strong.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Rook

      I think the role of the sorcerer here is to be an unexpected variable rather than a powerhouse though. Although the former might mean he affects the story like the latter anyway. There’s just SO much emphasis on how mysterious he is and how much of an unknown quantity that he is.

      Realistically he’s currently a convenient trap card that EE has the option to flip over whenever he wants to defy reader expectations, which makes him exceedingly dangerous regardless what his actual power level really is.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Yes. So the important question becomes “what does RS actually care about?” If we knew that, we’d have a shot at guessing where he’s going to stand in what’s coming. But we just don’t know yet.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Or he might not even be “below” the Pilgrim, at least in mystical power. He’s certainly someone that Pilgrim and Saint consider a peer, but as with Cat’s crew and Masego, even they might not know his limits.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Dainpdf

      TBF there wasn’t much substance here. Mostly prolonged the cliffhanger from last chapter. I mean, we spent an entire extended sequence with Cat reintroducing the already well established characters.

      The necessities of serial fiction…

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Rook

        I feel like the introduction may not have been useless. It honestly could be part of in-story preparations to kill someone, not just an author tool to hype up the party.

        For example, notice she emphasized the Saint being ‘near unkillable’ and disdaining heavier armors as a result. That kind of absolute quality being attributed to a major character is, ironically enough, often a death flag. Unkillable, indestructible, undefeated. Breaking that myth of invincibility is often used as a tool to emphasize something else – severity of a situation, hype for a protagonist or antagonist, etc…, and we know for a fact that this trend isn’t unknown in the guide verse either. It was brought up between Black and Malicia during one of their squabbles, how dangerous Black’s own successful track record could be to himself.

        Emphasizing that kind of quality whenever possible – and preferably without the rest of the band noticing, which would be the hard part – can open doors to them being ironically slain instead. The fact that the first trial can be taken individually might also be an important point to note. It’s an opportunity to start rigging the story in your favor (especially considering that flashbacks to defining moments of a character’s life are such a strong story mechanism), and the narrative itself would allow the moves made there to be sworn to secrecy.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Dainpdf

          I don’t think Creation takes internal monologues into account – if this first person narration is even diagetic.

          And I didn’t say it was useless. Just majorly unnecessary if we were dealing with a single-tome work, albeit understandable given the demands of serial fiction.

          Liked by 6 people

            1. Dainpdf

              Sure, but then we’re back to “this whole extended monologue is basically reintroducing characters we are very familiar with.”

              I’m not saying it’s bad, necessarily, but it likely wouldn’t be present if this were a single tome published and I thought it interesting to note that.

              The medium shaping the text is a very interesting phenomenon, to me.

              Liked by 3 people

        2. luminiousblu

          Problem is that the concept of invincible, therefore worfbait isn’t actually that common a theme; if anything, it’s her advanced age that poses the danger. Sometimes invincible is actually just invincible, especially since the Saint hasn’t boasted of being invincible. If she outright said ‘nothing you do can scratch me’ then yeah she’s killing herself there, but she isn’t, and the reputation she has of being ‘invincible’ is merely a direct result of her actually being mostly invincible.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Cicero

    I’d be more worried about the Saint, Cat.

    Sure, she’s likely to be unaffected by temptation, but that immunity suggest to me that her trail will be different from everyone else. Instead of a temptation she will be faced with a trick. In which that which appears evil will actually be good.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. stevenneiman

      Good point. I’m now expecting that her trial will either be fighting one of the others cloaked in illusion, or one of the others being tricked into saying something that sounds incriminating enough that she’ll attack them.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Except this Evil has spent millennia taking the tools people give him and turning them into his.

        I think he knows what to do with swords by now. Saint is not Ranger. Neshamah rather… likes… Ranger; Saint is a bastard copy he could practice on.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Dainpdf

          I would not put Ranger and Saint on the same category. Ranger is a sport hunter; Saint is a bloodhound.

          And that’s the thing with both of them: they’re too simple to really fool.

          Liked by 4 people

      2. Rook

        She’ll pass the trial without a doubt, but the real trap is likely how it affects her actions afterwards. I highly doubt Neshamah is unaware that a first trial is going to stop absolutely no one, so the game should be about how to extract some benefit even as the band passes the trial anyway.

        She’s already inclined to try killing Cat or Masego to nip a potential threat in the bud, and she herself is very aware that she’s a member of the old guard whose story should be close to ending. She doesn’t have much to lose.

        I suspect it’ll be just a little push, to incentivize her to stab the Villainous members of the party in the back at a critical moment. Maybe a memory of a time when she got burned by working with a villain. Maybe the memory of whichever straw it was that broke the camel’s back, when she became as jaded as she is now. Just a very slight helping hand for a bias that she already has – “Catherine Foundling and the Woe are too dangerous to be left alive”.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. Dainpdf

          It comes from the Enemy. Saint will give zero shits. As Cat herself said, she’ll be hard to influence due to her stubbornness and hatred of all Evil.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Rook

            The problem is that doesn’t make her omniscient and infallible, just stubborn and strong.

            Those types are near impossible to influence in terms of conversion or changing their mind, but they sure as hell can be lead by the nose if someone is crafty enough. A crafty someone like, say, a major Villain who predates every kingdom on the surface of the continent and has knowledge and intelligence to play the game on the level of the Intercessor.

            Generally if someone will fight against you no matter what out of principle, one of the easiest ways to get what you want is to hide a larger lie by revealing a smaller one and lead them push ‘back’ in a direction that suits you.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Dainpdf

              Right. That’s what Cat did, earlier. But while you can bait Saint into attacking *you*, getting her to attack her sorta-allies-for-now is unlikely. She does have decades of experience, on one side, and on the other… you try to argue the sword falling towards your head into attacking someone else. I don’t think it will work.

              Liked by 3 people

          2. WuseMajor

            I dunno. Saint…. I think Saint might be playing a more Subtle game here than anyone suspects. Granted, she’s still a thug, but she was working with the Bard to have the Dead King destroy this nation, possibly this entire pathetic little continent, just to “purify” it by getting rid of the unworthy elements because Good Always Triumphs in the End and a Shining Kingdom would rise from the ashes.

            I had thought the Pilgrim was part of that plan, but, from everything we’ve been learning about him, I honestly don’t think he’d go for it. I suspect he might agree that, in theory, removing the jerk ass nobility might be a good thing for everyone, but he’d do it surgically with a minimum of pain. Destroying an entire end of the continent in a war for survival…. there’s no way he could see that amount of suffering as “a necessary evil.” Whereas that’s exactly the kind of thing I’d expect the Saint, with her Old Testament values, to jump on.

            So…. I dunno. I think the Saint might be the one who stabs the Pilgrim in the back here.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Oshi

              I’ve been seeing this brought up a lot. We don’t know what Saint’s plan with the Bard is. I’d rather hold off on ascribing that much scope. It might just have been as much as a Crusade has been called and the fucking mortal rulers are messing about. The Bard tells her Cut them down Saint and I’ll give you a shot at the Dead king. It really wouldn’t take much for her to take the bait.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. I think Bard doesn’t even make that kind of bargains, not unless she’s acting as an emissary directly. She just affirms what people already believe, and Saint already believed that nobility is corrupt and in the way.

                I’m betting her so-called “plan” is just a certainity that destruction will happen regardless and so the best they can do is make sure to take as much of the Enemy as they can down with them.

                Liked by 6 people

            2. caoimhinh

              Recent chapters have made start to wonder if Pilgrim will be the one to kill Saint once he realizes that she is going too far (causing too much suffering) in her pursuit of purifying Calernia.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Or as WuseMajor suggested, she might turn on him. That said, they’ve been working together for a long time, and that comment about “putting it to judgement” by morning’s light indicates that they do have a routine for conflict resolution. But then, they’d have to; they’re two of the strongest Names and personalities on the continent, if they didn’t have some way to settle arguments between themselves, they wouldn’t still be working together, they’d have gone to war long ago. Note that the specific method hardly matters, though arm-wrestling or such seems unlikely: They could play 7 rounds of poker, seek a House of Light and ask the priests for a counseling session, or whatever. Heck, with Pilgrim’s phrasing it’s entirely possible that their method is “go talk to Hanno”.

                Liked by 2 people

            3. Dainpdf

              That is not exactly what she was doing. She was destroying the possibility of compromise, so that the Crusade would fight all Evil at once, and accepting Procer as a casualty of that process. That’s very different from planning its destruction.

              Liked by 4 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  That mistakes a fate accepted as the cost and the actual objective.

                  Saint wanted no compromise with evil. As Cat said, the moment Tariq is out of the picture she’ll likely turn on them. She did not have an elaborate scheme for the destruction and substitution of Procer des the Good hegemon.

                  Liked by 3 people

        2. >and she herself is very aware that she’s a member of the old guard whose story should be close to ending. She doesn’t have much to lose.

          This is the kind of logic that applies to someone who fights for themselves. Saint is a heroine; being close to death herself does not affect her decision making process on a strategic scale.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. RandomFan

            Not entirely true? If you’re acting as a perfectly rational pursuer of some higher goal, doing things that will make meaningful progress for your goal but will kill you increase in “expected profit” as you get closer to death, since the expected value of “staying alive to continue doing good” decreases with time.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Hmm, that particular thing, yes.

              “Has little to lose” just doesn’t sound right to me – has little to lose in dying earlier, true, but has still a lot of other things to lose in the world outside herself.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. Duke

        With all the narrativium around it’d be sure to happen… I mean, we all know that such “one in a million” things happen nine out of ten times… XD

        Liked by 4 people

    1. No, I think ‘very narrow situation’ is actually the exact right phrasing that doesn’t make it inevitable. She’s not questioning the likelihood, merely the ability of everyone else present to identify it with certainity, making a claim that it might look like she’s lost while she actually hasn’t.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. caoimhinh

      I think she meant it more as “that specific scenario” rather than “that unlikely scenario”. She’s very careful with her actions and words right now, I doubt she would make that blunder now.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tithin

    I’m trying to figure out what sort of name and aspects the rogue sorceror would carry, it doesn’t seem like the sort of name that would lend itself well to a band of 5.

    Seems more like William’s, a strong name for solo levelling.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Dainpdf

      It’s pretty normal for a band of five to have the one loner. Although, to be honest, the only people here who know how to work in a group are Tariq and Cat. Outside that we have the Loose Cannon (Saint) and Starscream (Tyrant), neither of which is a team player.

      Liked by 10 people

          1. After reviewing the TVTropes article: What you say is true enough, but (1) Kairos is isn’t actually Cat’s underling to begin with (just an ally of convenience and arm-twisting), and (2) taking control of the party is simply not an option, and he knows it. Cat is the only thing standing between Kairos and a 3-on-1 beatdown from some of the most powerful heroes on the continent. (3) He’s not really an underling of DK either, nor in the league to take him on (especially since DK can out-backstab him any day of the week).

            So, not a Starscream. His CBD could certainly screw over the party and/or the mission, just not under that particular trope.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dainpdf

              You’re right. I just didn’t have a better trope for “treacherous underling” (which I’d argue he kind of is for the moment, since she is the de facto leader) and the idea of Kairos speaking like Starscream amuses me.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        He seems more specialised in magic than is rogue things. The idea had merit🙂, but I think that “rogue” means “independant”, or “not used to work in group”.

        Liked by 3 people

  6. IDKWhoitis

    I imagine we might see Black or John or Nauk again, something that’s going to be really hurtful for Cat.

    Or alternatively, the Dead King will sit down and have another “chat” with Cat. Most likely making fun of her for losing her Apoptosis.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. > making fun of her for losing her Apoptosis

      To which she can snark “easy come, easy go”, or just mock him in turn for being a pawn of the Bard.

      Or, she can point out that Sve Noc was able not only to absorb Winter entirely, but to resurrect Cat as a mortal human, which is a traditional “Below can’t do that!”. And hint that he himself might not be as safe or as independent as he’d thought.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. caoimhinh

    And to the deeps they go, it will be quite a plot twist if Kairos actually DOESN’T betray them.
    Hopefully we will get to see more of the Rogue Sorcerer’s abilities later.

    So they have to beat Masego possessed by Dead King before they give the crowns to Larat and only then can they go to kill god-mode King Larat?

    Interesting, that’s gonna be a long journey.

    Typos found:
    making of mockery / making a mockery
    lonsword / longsword
    a wary eye one the Saint / a wary eye on the Saint
    I had hear / I had heard
    barley / barely
    laws this place / laws in this place
    as affective a scheme / as effective a scheme
    going go be / going to be

    Liked by 3 people

    1. SITB

      damn it i meant to add it to the type thread

      remained his tongue and the mind that but purpose to it / remained his tongue and the mind that put purpose to it

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Oh woe is us, the Tyrant has betrayed us. Now we are facing three villains! I totally had a plan for this unfortunately it involved having a band of five and we are only four. Were could we possibly find a fifth member while we are in the middle of enemy territory? Oh well I guess the world will end and everyone we love will die. If only we a had another person. It wouldn’t even have to be a live person, since I have this nifty cloak that can grant disembodied souls pseudo-life. Where could we find a extra soul? Oh wait, Rogue Sorcerer, don’t you have a extra one of those lying around?

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Jason Ipswich

      No, no, no. It’s more like, oh no, Tyrant has betrayed us. Where o where, between here and our goal of murdering a newborn god to save the world from evil, could we find a fifth member of our band? If only there were some old friend at hand who could join us…

      What’s that, you say, my dear friend the Heirophant is right here, but not in his right mind? If only there was a holy man, wise and skilled in healing who could return him to himself that he might make our band of Heroes Five again…

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hmm, the problem is that that would mean Pilgrim adding another powerful villain to the scene. Pilgrim would likely prefer a redemption arc for Masego, and might not be up to a direct conflict with DK anyway.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Soma

    I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the idea it’s Catherine who loses her ‘right to rule’ though it seems kinda likely. Barring something from left field where cat has an extra crown up her sleeve somewhere, between her, Tariq and Kairos she’s the most likely to give something up, in part because Tariq would like to force her to.

    Part of the reason I don’t like it is that it feels like Catherine abdication feels too sudden right now. She’s just now started speculating that Vivi can replace her, and her abdication felt like a major part of the leverage that she’d use to get the Liesse Accords through, but if she’s forced out on this, poof. That leverage is gone. And it kinda feels like the big thing that could make the Liesse Accords happen is Cat being able to say ‘It’s the accords or Triumphant 2.0 reigning forever, your choice,’ a la classic bad wine and a blade diplomacy.

    It fits for this particular story in book 5 that Cat is the one who gives up her right to rule forever, but for the story of the guide as a whole it feels a little off? I guess it just feels off because the accords are such a large thing and the only leverage Cat has on that scale is how dangerous she is, and if she gives up the most massive leverage she has by neutering herself a bit. I know if that happens she’ll gain new leverage, but for like 2 books now her rulership has been built up as her leverage in negotiations, so it would feel kind of weird to just have it go poof here.

    If it happens that way, I do look forward to EE changing my mind, as they are wont to do, with the rest of the story though.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. WuseMajor

      Yeah, but EE has been pretty good about pullting twists out of left field. I mean, I agree with you that Cat’s crown is important and it kinda has to be lost in one of the two situations you’ve said, but she’s not the only one here with a “right to rule.”

      Thinking on it, she might try to leverage the One against the Rogue Sorcerer, by forcing him to restore Amadeus so that he can give up his “right to rule” against Callow and Praes.

      Alternately, maybe the Black Queen gives up her right to rule Callow….but not her status as First Under Night, High Priestess of the Dark. Which is arguably a much more dangerous title. Accepting the Accords might be the only way to keep the High Priestess in check.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Well certainly she’d keep the her priestly status, that’s just not on the negotiating table unless Sve Noc themselves is actually at the table. Which would probably be enough to clear the room immediately. 😉 So Cat losing her crown wouldn’t get rid of her, just establish her as an independent power beholden to none. At which point the other big Names and surviving crowns start buying their preferred stomach remedies in bulk.

        Another possibility is that the Rogue Sorcerer is himself a secret King or Prince, which would fit his “hidden power” teases.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Catherine doesn’t actually need that much leverage for the Accords. She just needs to convince everyone else that they’re a good idea; if anything, not having leverage to push them through / not using leverage she has, might make it more convincing.

      And of course her biggest leverage remain the drow 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. soma

        Maybe? Just thematically Catherine’s thing is leverage to force the powerful to act as they should. That’s her whole ‘people in power won’t be fair unless you make them’ lesson thing from Laure under Mazus. And yeah, there have been adjustments to that, but thematically leverage is still Catherine’s deal, so, to me, it feels weird for her to give up her biggest lever for an intermediate step. And I say it’s her biggest lever because that’s what the heroes care about. They don’t care so much that the Drow are powerful, or their evil enemies are powerful, what gets their hackles up is that there is a villain ruling a previously Good nation and successfully holding onto it. They reeeeeeeaaaally want that previously good nation to not be below aligned. I don’t think they’d care so much if Cat ruled just over the Drow since they were below aligned already.

        I’m open to the idea I’m being unreasonable here, but I think taking away the threat of Catherine’s ability to rule is her largest lever. She becomes much less scary for the heroes if she can’t be a ruler, and yeah, maybe that’d make them easier to convince if they were normal people, but they’re heroes. They are unreasonable. That was what the whole ‘ “Should I apologize,” I said, “for making this a victory for others than myself,” ‘ thing was about. I just see the rulership ability thing as being something Cat would probably take lightning quick directly for the Liesse Accords, but for a very very far out intermediate step, it’s a little weird. Like I would expect a little more directly getting vivi ready to rule on screen and dealing with all attending issues on screen if Cat’s abdication was imminent. It’s what makes me think maybe, maaaaaybe there is something come out of left field, but I don’t know.

        Having read the Peers chapter, I could see that as building up Tariq for something that might otherwise be out of character. Giving Evil a sort of win by giving up his ability to rule and helping Catherine out, leaving Callow ruled by a villain for now, while they fight the dead king. That way the balance is tilted a little more away from evil because the last evil polity isn’t in an immediate threat to it’s existence and there are two ‘evil’ polities. Callow nominally evil, and Praes capital EVIL. From what black said we might think this would make the fight against the dead king easier sparing massive suffering and making this something Tariq would do. Versus normally turning the screws on Cat.

        The above is some pretty serious wild mass guessing, based on the assumption that someone other than Cat gives up the crown though.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Do note that Catherine is currently non-Named, so Liesse Accords would not actually preclude her ability to rule.

          The drow are a much more immediate kind of leverage: do you want help against Dead King, or do you want another threat on your territory? Hm? Hmmmm???

          Catherine’s as good as given up on that approach with the surrender manoeuver, though.

          What I’m thinking wrt her rule and Accords is that her abdicating might be a prerequisite for anyone being willing to listen to her, not leverage.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Oshi

    “Still there’d been no way but leaving Adjutant behind: I needed both the Tyrant and the Sorcerer among the five, since it both gave me the shape of the former’s inevitable betrayal and allowed me to get around the diplomatic debacle that would be robbing people I needed to be allies with. No matter how badly they deserved to be robbed.”

    How has no one noted that Cat’s plan is out for us to see. She’s stealing something. Any bets on what?

    I’m gonna guess it’s not the obvious thing. She just spent a couple of chapters noting how good a schemer she is. What the eff is she gonna steal now 😛

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Isi Arnott-Campbell

      I’m pretty sure we’ve never seen the Bard possess a man, only a series of women. If she’s gender-locked then he’s… well, not “safe,” but not WB in disguise.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Galvador

    So she wants to steal her daddy back during this adventure.
    Worst case scenario seems to be the dead king corrupting the soul when the rogue sorcerer is by himself and placing black as a sleeper agent. A lich king style Black wouldnt be that shabby tbf.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Draconic

    I wouldn’t be so certain about the Saint. Sure if the Dead King wants to tempt her with something, it won’t go anywhere, but in a way, she is the easiest to manipulate here. Put a villain in front of her, and she will kill them, no what the circumstances are.
    Just imagine having her walk in on the Tyrant making a deal with the Dead King…

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Andrew Mitchell

    The Rogue Sorcerer is a very interesting character but quite opaque so far. He doesn’t strike me as Good in the same obsessed way that Tariq and the Grey Pilgrim are. That gives me hope that he’ll turn out to be a true ally of Cat because he’s working towards the good of the common people.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Well, he’s a Hero, but clearly not one of the direct Angelic agents. I suspect his Name would be one of the possible paths for the Apprentice name. Come to think of it… I don’t think we’ve ever found out his personal name, only his Name.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Andrew Mitchell

    This chapter seemed to me like the sort of chapter I’ve seen in some fantasy book series where the opening chapter of the latest book summaries the situation and characters.

    Did anyone else get that feeling?

    Is there a chance that EE is planning for the final book to start here? (When the Guide is published, not for this WordPress version.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Not the start of a book, it’s not providing enough background for that. Probably the start of a new section within that book. The start of our Book V is about right for the print book too: Immediately after Cat emerges from the Everdark, so there’s no need to describe or flesh out the Everdark, and then the various battles give opportunity to re-introduce the places and players of surface Calernia before we get… here.

      But this is the start of a major arc, and warrants a brief recap of the personae dramatis.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Is it? Looks to me like we’re right in the middle of one.

        Guide books traditionally have three main arcs, of increasing intensity. We seem to be in the middle of Book 5’s second arc.

        The way I’d classify it is:

        Book 1: Laure, Summerholm I, War College
        Book 2: Summerholm II, Marchford, Liesse I
        Book 3: Winter, Summer, Liesse II
        Book 4: Stairway, Keter, Everdark
        Book 5: Sarcella, Liesse III, ???

        There can be divisions within the arcs, of course. For example, the Summer arc had a split between the Arcadia and Dormer parts, marked by the series of Free Cities interludes where Captain died. There’s been a definite shift in the current arc from “Callow, Grand Alliance, and League fight each other” to “all three sides team up to go deal with the Arcadia shard”, but I’d say that better fits the point where we moved from the recent interlude series back to Cat’s POV. (Interludes are often useful in determining this sort of thing.) So I wouldn’t even call this a new sub-arc so much as a new scene within the sub-arc?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. We’re only four numbered chapters into the Liesse III arc, and only just reached the building which will (with some magical work) let the party get to Liesse proper. I’d consider that pretty near the beginning. I like your breakdown, though.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. We are 18 numbered chapters into the Liesse III arc. Although “Prince’s Graveyard” is probably a better name for it than “Liesse III”. Whatever we call it, we’re still in the arc that started with “Chapter 18: Fable”.

            The Liesse II arc started with “Chapter 47: Offers”, and took quite a while to actually get to Liesse. Although that one did have more overall focus on Liesse. It’ll be easier to name this arc once we actually finish it, I’m sure.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. See, thare’s where we differ. I’d consider the first arc to include all the battles, at least up to Cat’s surrender and Viv’s ransom of their troops. After that our POV rapidly switches to “negotiation” in small rooms, and thence to the current mission.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. The negotiation isn’t downtime, though. Things aren’t calming down like they did after Sarcella, just changing direction. A pivot, you could say. That’s why there was room for a not-in-the-same-place-as-Cat interlude after Sarcella, but it wouldn’t have made sense to have one here.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Right, that’s what I’m saying. The surrender and ransom wraps up the battle arc, and the physical fighting. Then the new arc begins, say, with Hakram hanging around in Kairos’s camp.
                  From this point on, the POV stays there as the other characters gather, and there’s a change of tone: Threats and staredowns aside, the physical fighting is almost over: Kairos’ shot at Rozela gets summarily noped, and when Arnaud kills Princess Bertille, it’s almost a shock to us, let alone the royals.

                  Liked by 2 people

        2. I would say Sarcella did not have enough of a peak to end the arc. I’d separate “The Iserre Clusterfuck” and “The Adventure”, myself, making this indeed the beginning of a second arc.

          (I also separate Book I differently: Laure as something of a pre-arc that’s technically an arc but doesn’t really have enough of a climax for one; but War College as consisting of two arcs for two major victories Catherine got there)

          Liked by 2 people

          1. I really don’t think The Adventure will go on long enough to constitute a full arc, but I could be wrong. I see it as like Cat and Black’s foray into Liesse at the end of Book 3: a quest within a larger arc.

            “Doesn’t have enough of a climax to be a full arc” isn’t unusual for first arcs. I’d say Sarcella fits in fine compared to Laure and Summerholm II, while only Battle of the Camps really feels like a “normal” arc. (Winter is somewhere between the categories.)

            I still say War College is best considered one arc with two sub-arcs. There’s two battles, but they’re basically back-to-back with no real downtime, two parts of “Cat leads Rat Company in mock battles against Juniper”. I think that’s like splitting Five Armies and One from Dormer.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Summerholm II was a major milestone in Catherine showing that she can keep up with other Named – figure out the heroes’ trick, delay them long enough for Warlock to recover, then actually save Breagach’s life by convincing the Warlock to do the bloodline ritual Black had asked for. It changed who she was based on what she proved capable of, and that’s my criterion.

              Laure was not Catherine proving her capability of anything, only willingness. Meanwhile the two mock battles in War College were radically different in what they were about. The first one changed Cat’s status from a loner to someone who fit in with the War College kids, to a capable commander who could actually surprise Amadeus with her achievements. The second one was barely about commanding at all – it was about diplomacy and intrigue from start to end, and established Catherine’s skill at gathering followers. Her relationship with the Rat Company progressed towards “do what I say and don’t complain and you won’t be disappointed”, and she successfully recruited the person she knew she could not outsmart. Both of those were radically new.

              Sarcella, here, was not Catherine proving her capabilities, just showing off her powers. Sure, there was cleverness and leadership in there, but those had already been established before. It was setting the stage, somewhat like Laure, with Catherine staying fairly static through it. There was not a major change in her role, in how other players & the audience both perceived her, between pre-Sarcella and post-Sarcella.

              The Weaver;Woven bookend climax has already established Catherine as something else altogether: a player capable of stepping back and calmly moving armies around like pieces on a board, her own and others’ both. I expected, pre-Sarcella, that Catherine would be able to swing a battle around like she did; while I would not have called specific details, not a single thing she did surprised me.

              I was damn fucking surprised by this.

              And this accomplishment is already established. Even if this quest ends in disaster/queef a la Keter (which I strongly do not think it will, but regardless), the knot in Iserre is already cut, her army is already allied with the Grand Alliance, the Dead King’s and Kairos’s plan for making everybody else fight each other is already made visible to everyone.

              This was a large leap in establishing Catherine’s large-scale strategic/diplomatic/political capability. Now we’re back to small-scale tactical Named shenanigans, with specific tropes not just serving as the players’ motivations but actually actively allowing prediction. It will be a new milestone when Catherine gets through this, as distinct from the knot in Iserre as Winter was from Summer in Book 3 (which by the way had a similar scope shift: from a small group of Named at Winter Court to managing the whole country against Summer).

              Liesse, by contrast, was two halves of a whole, the same game played simultaneously on two chessboards. It was answering one question: how well has Catherine prepared for this? Are her resources and capabilities sufficient for beating her nemesis who broadly knew both and prepared to meet her head to head? It was sequential only in the sense that first Catherine prepared the pieces and then moved them forward; she did not first obtain a victory on the battlefield and then in the fortress, or vice versa. Only one question was being answered, there.

              This? This is going to be answering two rather distinct ones. As did the mock battles.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Laure was an arc: The Call To Adventure. It ended with her getting what she’d been seeking since she opened the story: Entry to the War College. As the larger story progresses, the stakes for each arc mostly get higher.

                Also, “queef”? I just checked my prior understanding of that term with the Urban Dictionary, and I have to ask, was that really what you were trying to say? 😉

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Which raises a point: IIRC, Cat hasn’t actually been to any of the Hells, has she? As understand it, a traditional Epic Journey may or may not pass through Heaven (which she has more-or-less done), but it always includes a visit to Hell. What with the Dead King as antagonist and world-hopping already in play, that may be coming in this arc.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. I think Book 4 solidly counted, with Keter and Everdark both – particularly Keter. While Catherine hasn’t visited the physical location classified as ‘a hell’, thematically Keter fit to a T, including the King Under The Mountain there. The belly of the whale was definitely Book 4 latter two arcs.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Meh. Both were hostile and of dubious relation to Creation, but so was Arcadia, and that’s clearly not a hell. I’d grant them “belly of the beast” status (“belly of the whale” is a distinctly different reference), but I’d say they were at best trial runs for a real Hell-passage.

                      More importantly, when the milieu includes places that are not only called Hells, but inhabited by demons and devils (and explicitly can be traveled to and from), I’m inclined to accept no substitutes. 😉 Especially given that at the other extreme, she has actually confronted angels in their own realm.

                      Liked by 2 people

  15. Aotrs Commander

    Kairos, setting the tone for this adventure right away, there…

    The image of Cat coughing ever more loudly and debilerately to interupt Kairos and Pilgrim was just adorable.

    Liked by 5 people

  16. wonder

    i just gotta ask this question, the pieces are in motion, but i cant see one thing,; the gallowborne. Where are the gallowborne? Are they with Archer?

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Observations and Predictions

    Every time Saint has come up in the past several chapters there has been an explicit and extended reference to her Dominion, to her immediate mortality, and to a situation (e.g., hurting Masego) in which Cat has a pretext to slay her with a SwordStaffPrayer. This, plus the earlier, prophetic taunt “You will make useful artifacts” spoken by a fae, makes me think Saint is on track to make an artifact in Arcadia, that to use requires a voluntary cut.

    I think Masego will be the 5th in the Band, and that Saint will be the Plus One. Her sword and the other knives/swords and armor/helmets are going to give King Larat a majorly violent resource base. I think it is possible he will kill Tariq easily and immediately, that Cat is going to be immobilized by some clever use of Night by Larat since she does not own it but only wields it, and that it will be the Rogue Sorcerer who puts him down. Masego will be tangling with Kairos, Heirarch, and the priests.

    Kairos is a bit too clever to betray Cat superficially in a handout to the Dead King when he can destroy his ally more thoroughly simply by not betraying her, but rather betraying her low expectations for him. The meta-betrayal is not only only a more refined meal of ally-sabotage, but sets up more plot armor for him. He won’t die in this arc, there is no real closure-granting narrative benefit to him dying now, and we haven’t seen several of his plans materialize. He’s the safest in the party after Cat.

    But, I think Kairos has set up things so that Hierarch and the priests will arrive at an inconvenient moment regarding King Larat, and will attack both him and Heirophant as the two evil tyrants of this realm. This functions enough like a betrayal for narrative to check that box for Kairos’s expectations, but since the ball was thrown blindly in the air earlier, Kairos will not have to pay. Heirophant will have been weakened by the Dead King but will Witness something important in the battle.

    I do not see Amadeus’s soul being brought into play in a major way until after the battle. Neshamah might try something with it, but he is the only character who might. Cat has learned to be patient, and there are two gods and a Saint to kill. Black is ever calculating, and will not kill Pilgrim when he would be dooming the world to the Dead King and old conventional stories by doing so. Instead, I see Hierarch learning a bit about Resurrection and Forgiving Black, from the lips of a dying Pilgrim or from some Arcadian echo thereof.

    If Pilgrim dies when he goes into a battle featuring the Black Queen, she gets blamed for it. If Saint and Pilgrim are dead, then the Rogue Sorcerer is the highest ranking Hero in the south, and Levant just declared permanent war on Callow, making their joint war against the Dead King infeasible. The Rogue Sorcerer is being heavy-handedly introduced as a potential next Big Bad and events here might set things up for a two-front rather than united-front war. And, maybe the battle with Masego here is enough to cork the Dead King and the battle to the North is unnecessary. Arcadia is magically sympathetic.

    And, if the Rogue Sorcerer has the key to the gate, and the only wars are to the East not the North, I can easily imagine him using it to attack Callow and/or Praes.

    I predict the Rogue Sorcerer eventually will break both Akua and Masego. I strongly suspect he will transition into the next Wizard of the West. That ghost of a Name is far too often referenced to never materialize in-story. It also makes sense for that name to materialize after he takes the Wizard’s materials being stored in the Tower. I think it is pretty obvious Malicia is no longer the Big Bad and will get a shot at redeeming herself in Amadeus’s eyes. Bringing down the Tower to prevent the next Wizard, and failing, is one tonally consistent possible narrative.

    Amadeus, Vivian and Cat will get new Names that will be neutral in the way Adjutant and Hierophant. Cat’s current role is a learning experience and sets her up to match Tariq, but that relationship to Sve Noc is on loan and the drow are due to Keter. Cat’s going to obtain a final boon from them, but her final arc’s source of power will be based on her own conviction and fit a groove she cut for herself in Creation, not the handmaiden of eldritch evils introduced halfway through the story whose main value was teaching The Power of Friendship.

    I wonder what Amadeus’s future Role will be, but am 100% sure it is something that can end the Bard.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Barrendur

    Cat’s turned very pompous recently, hasn’t she? Never say something succinctly if you can draw it out into a melodramatic PRONOUNCEMENT instead? Of course, that might just be the narrative influence of Being In A Story… but I doubt it. Cat’s always had a tendency to grandstand, and to be smug when she thinks she’s been clever….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      In this case, she is🙂 And concerning the melodrama, she is probably making fun of the fact that she (an Evil character) have an heroic band with another villain and 2 heroes who wanted her dead not a day ago.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Cat has been far more than “clever” here; as Liliet points out, she’s gone from measuring her power against various other combatants, to being recognized as a full peer to the most powerful Named on the continent, and more: Not just one of the players shaping her world, but a leader among those players — and currently in the driver’s seat. I’d say she’s earned the right to a bit of smugness, especially as she knows better than to revel in it for too long. And if she’s pompous, well, she’s been dealing with a lot of pompous people, so she’s just fitting in. Arnaud was smart enough to recognize that if Procer tried to stand athwart the flood, they would simply be swept away… so he re-positioned the royals as a group to respect Cat &co. not as interfering busybodies or even saviors, but as a force of nature.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. I suddenly have a sinking feeling that Cat is going to bite the big one at the end of all this, and in so doing will shift the land out of the grooves in Creation, effectively side-lining both Above & Below. As Apprentice said way back; ‘everyone is focused on the other prisoners, when you should be looking at the bars of the prison itself’.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. It occurs to me that everyone so far has focused on either Cat’s trial or Saint’s. The thing is, if temptation is DK’s game, there’s another party member who might be far more vulnerable.

    Suppose DK gives Pilgrim a tour of the Serenity? A whole world of people who are safely protected from the vicissitudes of Creation, with devils reduced to beasts of burder, all willingly obedient to their god….

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I think Tariq is smart enough to assume their existence. Utilitarians aren’t idiots, even if the simplified version of utilitarianism that is commonly proclaimed is in itself fairly idiotic.

          Liked by 2 people

  21. Dizzy Rabbit

    I think it’s funny that all the jousting for control of the “meta-narrative”, weaponization of tropes has turned us all into “contenders” co-creating the story alongside the characters. It’s our interest or disinterest and desire for a good story that impacts the characters in the story. It’s symbiotic: our interest in one character or another gives them the “narrative weight” to survive and thrive, and in turn, the story affects us emotionally and compels us to invest in the story.

    Liked by 2 people

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