Chapter 36: Bid

“Peace is the killer of empire, for when strength is not spent outwards it is instead spent within.”
– Ghislaine of Creusens, twelfth First Princess of Procer

I couldn’t ever remember being afraid of the dark, even as a child. Of what might be lurking in it, sure, but the dark itself? No. Long before I’d acquired patrons whose dominion was night, I’d liked a little shade. The fights at the Pit had often taken place late – even after lining the pockets of the city guard, Booker had been warned to keep her business out of sight – and summer after sundown was where the coin had been best at the Rat’s Nest. Legionary leave did not change no matter the season, but come summer a lot of dockworkers earned a little more coin by fishing in the Silver Lake and a lot of that coin ended up spent on cheap ale. Which was, to my remembrance, the only kind the Rat’s Nest ever stocked.  I wondered what Harrion now… I frowned at the drift of thoughts, unsure how it’d started or where it was headed. Did it even matter? Oh, I was standing surrounded by thick and cloying darkness. And it was soothing, serene. It would have been so pleasant to just… float away, leaning into dreamlike thought. Snow, tears and barren laughter, I suddenly remembered. I’d laid down to die, once and the world had refused to take me.

There would be no takebacks.

“More fruitful than a direct assault would have been,” I acknowledged out loud.

I struck at the ground with my staff, and the dark rippled out. Like a stone tossed into a pond, my will wrinkled the fabric of this half-world outwards in a wave. The span of what surrounded me was endless, I thought, and my act had been little more than a shout echoing in a gargantuan cavern.

“Is that to be your trick?” I asked the dark. “Obscuring the path? It won’t work.”

I cocked my head to the side and pricked my ear. The utter silence of this place was broken only by my own breath, which in this strange stillness seemed almost crassly loud. I was afraid, for a moment, that it would drown out what I was waiting for – but it was an empty worry, more born out of nerves at the calibre of my opponent than grounded thinking. My deliverance came in call harsh and hoarse, a distant cawing. I followed Komena’s echoing caw, and limped forward into the dark. The Youngest Night left as swiftly as she’d appeared, for we’d agreed that she should avoid the Dead King as much as we could afford to. Neshamah would not be as dangerous working through Masego as he would be in person, but Hierophant was plenty dangerous enough on his own – and not without experience in the matter of disciplining lesser gods. My hobbling steps forward felt purposeless, without a destination to behold, but I forced myself to keep moving. If I could not trust the Sisters to guide me in the dark, then who could I trust? And, after what could have been either half an hour or an agonizingly long day, the trust bore fruit. The darkness rippled, and not through my will: I’d made enough progress, it seemed, to warrant refinement of the trap.

I almost stumbled when I my good foot came across a step, but I caught myself on my staff. I felt around cautiously and found out it was the first of what seemed like sprawling stairs going up. If this realm had been the Tyrant’s to shape I would have taken this turn as a petty slight to make my life more difficult on account of my bad leg, but somehow I suspected the Dead King believed himself above that. I made my way up the stairs, observing from careful groping by foot and staff that at least they were broad and lightly sloped, and only halted after a long flight up when I felt this place grow… shallower. Frowning, I slowly raked my fingers through the air and let the fabric of this half-world thinner on my fingers. I exerted a pinprick of will and the small ripples than ensued had less to rippled through – and, more interestingly, they revealed some sort of veil in front of me. The way, as always, had to be forward. I stretched up my arm and tore down the veil, flinching at the wave of sound and light and colour that washed over me. I had, it seemed, exposed a doorway. I took a moment to compose myself, to let my eyes grow accustomed to the change in light, and only then tread through the threshold. Immediately, looking down I felt shaky for the height. I had come to tread over what looked like a gargantuan pane of glass, like a skylight put up through the sky.

Above me the sky was darkened by eclipse, a blinding ring of light with a hollow of night at the heart of it, and the clouds around us were a hazy penumbra of light and shadow. Below, though, thousands of feet below, three great armies were warily observing a truce. The League of Free Cities was milling uncertainly without a camp of its own, its large baggage train spread over the plans and guarded by knots of soldiers from half a dozen different city-states. The Army of Callow and the Legions-in-Exile had retreated back into their camp, though leaning down with a wince – Gods, the ground beneath me felt too slippery for this height – I noted that Juniper hard ordered the siege engines to be turned on the League and the drow to be recalled behind the palisades. It was the armies of the Grand Alliance, though, that found their situation most uncomfortable. Split in two by my own host and the forces of the Free Cities, even after the night’s losses they remained the largest of the armies on the field but also the worst-positioned. The calibre of officers on either side had told, I thought. Many of my commanders were young and fresh to their ranks, but they’d also been trained to lead a professional army. The Dominion’s war leaders were clever and brave, but also clearly outmatched.

“This has been most entertaining.”

My eyes flicked up, and I found I was no longer alone on this expanse of glass. I had expected to be looking upon the King of Death, but what I found instead was Neshamah. In the flesh, as he had been in the long ago days of the Kingdom of Sephirah he’d ruled and ruined. His appearance was from late in his reign, I thought, perhaps as late as that dark day where Keter’s Due had gotten its name. Scholar pale and thin, he was closely-shaved but his dark hair was messy. Full red lips quirked as I met his gaze. Just like I remembered this eyes were a shade of light brown that the glow of the eclipse made into molten amber. On his brow, the copper circlet that was the crown of a kingdom long dead sat high over one of those strange Sephiran tunics: one sleeve long and broad but the other short and tight, the patterned bronze and red cloth sweeping down to his ankles with a broad sash belting it around the waist. He had, I suddenly realized, spoken in Ashkaran – that dead tongue Masego and I had stolen learning of from Arcadian echoes, along with most of what I knew of the Hidden Horror.

“You know I don’t speak that,” I said. “Dead King, we meet again.”

“My apologies,” Neshamah replied in Lower Miezan, lips twitching. “We meet again, Black Queen.”

Staff rapping against the glass-like ground as I moved, I limped in a half-circle around him. I would not be allowed, I suspected, to leave this place before conversation was had. But that hardly meant I had to remain his captive audience, rapt and unmoving.

“Your manoeuvres below were worth the watching,” the Hidden Horror idly told me. “It was an inspired skein of treachery, and a victory deserved.”

“Night’s not over yet,” I said. “Though I have to say, you’re being a great deal more civil than I expected.”

Neshamah idly traipsed across the glass sky, the clouds above him making his eyes shift from gold to bronze like passing seasons set in an ageless face.

“I am a mannerly man, Catherine,” he lightly said. “And you have given me no reason to act otherwise.”

It almost felt like I was back in the Pit, for a moment, an opponent and I slowly circling as we took each other’s measure. Waiting for an opening, for a weakness. I remained painfully aware that I had a lot more of either than the Hidden Horror.

“No?” I mused. “Yet you called an immortal, when we first met, and well…”

I shrugged, raising an arm in a nonchalant display.

“I’m hardly that, these days,” I said.

The old monster’s face was like a mirror, I thought as I watched him for a reaction. There would be nothing there to see I had not placed there myself.

“Are you not?” he smiled. “High priestess and herald of an apotheosis you ushered into this world by your own hand – would something as base as age or disease take you, Catherine Foundling?”

“The years will kill me, one of these days,” I said. “If nothing else gets around to it first.”

“Ah,” the Dead King smiled. “But how many years would it take?”

I didn’t answer that, for the truth was that I wasn’t sure. My body now was no stronger than it’d been before I came into my Name, not without Night being woven into it anyway. Pain and exhaustion and so many things that’d felt… distant while I was Sovereign of Moonless Nights had been returned to me in full, but I had not taken sick since being proclaimed First Under the Night. As for age, though? It hadn’t been long enough for me to be sure of whether or not my aging had resumed in earnest. It didn’t feel the same way as it had under my Name, when I’d still grown but there had been something contrived about it – like I was matching a vision, not following nature’s writ. And it was absolutely nothing like it’d been after Second Liesse, where I had been frozen and fixed unto myself. My blood was still red, and had not become gray nor dark, so it might be that I did not share the stretched lifespan of the Mighty who partook in Night. On the other hand, I had come into the priesthood of the Sisters after the devouring of Winter: it was unprecedented grounds we were treading.

“Priesthood is not godhood,” I said. “That path you claimed I would walk, I set aside. You are not all-knowing, Dead King.”

“Do you believe the Intercessor’s strength lies in martial might?” he amusedly asked. “Or mine? You traded a power that shackled you for one whose burden and perils others will bear in your stead, while binding them to you in purpose. Winter’s theft earned you regard, however accidental its execution, but it is your work in the Everdark that suggests you could in time be a peer.”

He chuckled.

“Making peace with the dwarves and wheedling an army out of those unruly sisters in the bargain,” he said, tone approving. “You traded that ill-fitting mantle for more than fair price. One of these days we will have to trade secrets, Black Queen. I rather wonder what you traded the Kingdom Under for a stay of invasion.”

My heart skipped a beat. Was he implying I’d made actual peace between the dwarves and the drow? Or rather, was he implying that the Firstborn still held the old Everdark? I hadn’t, though, the overwhelming majority of the drow was marching in exodus towards his own northern borders. Did he not know? It could be a trick, I thought. I only have the smallest slivers of Sve Noc with me, I thought. The rest is with their people. That would allow them to move unseen to most sorcerous means, and it was true that with his armies investing the Principate the Hidden Horror’s attentions might currently be elsewhere. Unless he was lying to me, I thought. But if he wasn’t…

“Agree to disagree,” I warily said.

Anything more elaborate than trite vagueness might get me seen through, given who I was dealing with. I’d rather seem a little slow than tip my hand if he truly didn’t know about the exodus.

“In at least one instance we do agree,” the Hidden Horror said, “The night isn’t over yet, Black Queen.”

Looking into those patient golden eyes I almost shivered. He was speaking of more than the dawn Akua had held back for a few hours. Night was coming for Calernia, the kind that would be followed by no morning if it ever fell.

“Patience has never been my strong suit,” I spoke with false calm. “Even less so when it pertains to my Woe – one of which you’ve gotten your skeletal hands on.”

“It was not I who sought him,” Neshamah demurred. “And what could do I but answer, when my presence was so earnestly petitioned?”

“You’ve had your laugh,” I said. “And while you came close to breaking the armies below, the scheme was outed. There is no point in you lingering, Dead King. Leave him. Leave here. This is not the field where you want this contest to take place.”

“You demand of me what was willingly given,” the Dead King chided. “And offer nothing in return. What reason do I have to grant your wish, save that you wish it?”

“I have forged,” I said, “a band of five.”

“You have botched a band of five,” he replied, amused. “How many do you believe will still serve your purpose, when choices are to be made?”

“Enough,” I said. “I chose them knowingly. I demand nothing from you, and if it was a threat I’d offered I am not known for my subtlety in their speaking. I am stating that you have nothing left to find in this place save defeat, and not even the useful kind.”

“I suppose,” Neshamah mused, “that I should simply snap the Hierophant’s neck and retire, then.”

My fingers tightened around the ebony staff. I’d known going in that he would try that angle. Whether or not he could actually do that was in doubt, but I had a parry anyway. So long as the Grey Pilgrim lived to the end of this, so would Masego. I’d not forgotten the sight of the Peregrine wielding resurrection with but a word at the Battle of the Camps, unmaking the death I’d snatched from my clash against the other heroes. I almost forced a smile, but that would have been a mistake. No, let him see how the prospect of my friend being snuffed out like a candle grieved me. Let him believe I was willing to fight him anyway.

“If that is what it takes,” I roughly said. “Gods forgive me, if that’s what it takes. Too many lives are on the line.”

“Ah,” he smiled. “There we are. One more mooring, snapping for the tide. How many would be needed, before you truly took the plunge?”

Nonchalantly, he waved a hand.

“A conversation for another day,” he said. “We have nothing but time. Let us speak, instead, of lives.”

“Your plan has been outed,” I said.

“One plan,” he said. “One winter. One year. And how many deaths will it have cost you, even should prove the victor here?”

“You speak as if you were the invaded and not the invader,” I said.

“You speak as one who sought to bargain with me,” he mildly said. “For one such invasion.”

I’d fully intended to betray him when offering that pact, though he’d known that from the start. Still, I almost winced. It was an incomplete truth, but still a damning one. I wish I could say that I’d not understood the scope of what I threatened to unleash then, and I supposed I hadn’t. But I’d suspected, even back then, that it would be a horror unlike any other. I’d been willing to bargain with the King of Death to keep the Grand Alliance at bay, and that I’d been outmanoeuvered by Malicia in the attempt was the sole reason I wasn’t my signature on the treaty that let’s the monster out of its lair. And the truth was, looking down at the fragile truce below me, that I still felt I’d been right. Now that there was a greater threat for all to behold, all the petty games of power and story that’d condemned my home to be either a ruin or pack of tributaries had gone by the wayside. Oh, there were still other considerations but it was telling that while I was just as much the Arch-heretic of the East as last year suddenly everyone was willing to cut compromises and deals with me. It was the breathing room I’d needed, an opportunity I would never have had otherwise. If I’d known before leaving Keter that it would all work, even with these horrid costs, would I still have done it?

It was more damning than anything I’d done that I wasn’t sure what the answer was.

“No such bargain was made,” I said. “I understood what would come of it, if too late, and slew the one who made it. At least one time too few, but how many people can claim to have killed Dread Empress Malicia twice?”

I was not a fool, so I would not admit to such an ugly truth when the Dead King might be displaying this conversation for anyone to see and hear. With the way a grin flickered across his face, gone in the heartbeat it took for his eyes to pass from gold to bronze, I suspected I’d just neatly sidestepped exactly such a trap.

“We were speaking of lives, I believe,” Neshamah said, circling me as I circled him.

His footsteps were a whisper on glass, a contrast to my trudging boots and sharply tapping staff.

“So we were,” I agreed.

“Rhenia has fallen, did you know?” he asked. “Hannoven months ago, but the Lycaonese hold nothing but the last fortress of Twilight’s Pass. After it the heartlands of Bremen will fall, and with them the armies that would defend Neustria. It will be the end of them.”

“They’ve held you back in Cleves and Hainaut,” I said.

“For now,” the Dead King said. “How long can that last? No, the simple truth is that the Principate was not prepared. And then that delightful Theodosian child struck at its allies and its back. Even if you bring Callow to their aid, you but delay the inevitable.”

“Would you say,” I cheerfully replied, “that you are invincible, and your victory is assured?”

“A bold attempt,” the Hidden Horror commented. “Though it makes a poor evasion. Do you disagree with my words, Black Queen?”

“That the Grand Alliance spent a horrendous amount of soldiers etching a bitter stalemate in Callow?” I said. “No. That its loss is written in the stars? Hardly.”

“Imagine what you might do with ten years,” Neshamah idly said. “If my armies withdrew, and truce was observed unfailingly. If you were allowed to truly muster this continent for war, instead of piecing together foes and friends in a broken coalition of mistrust.”

And there it was, I thought. The bargain to be made. And it was quite the prize, wasn’t it? Gods, what I could do with ten years and the promise of a war with Keter at the end. The League could be brought to heel and then into the fold, the Tower brought down on Malicia’s head and the Liesse Accords made to bind even her successor. A decade of recovery for my bruised kingdom who’d known constant war for years now, and once the recalcitrant to the east and the south of the continent were brought into line we’d have a solid, lasting peace – the First Prince would not countenance war where a single soldier might be lost that could instead be sent to hold back the Kingdom of the Dead when it returned. It got me everything I wanted and saved what had to be hundreds of thousands of lives. I’d warned the others that the Hidden Horror would approach us with tantalizing bargains, all the while thinking myself beyond that temptation. And I couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t make a pact with him. But Gods, what a prize it would be.

“Ten years,” he mused. “No, perhaps a decade is too little to move you. Would you like, Catherine Foundling, to purchase a century of truce?”

I flinched. That was a different prize, and perhaps even more tempting.

“If you are truly as a mortal as you insist, then the dead will not trouble Calernia in your lifetime,” Neshamah idly continued.

“And what would you want in exchange, Dead King?” I asked.

“A paltry concession,” he smiled. “I would require the keeping of what lands I have already seized.”

Which would be what? Rhenia, Hannoven, parts of Bremen and Hainaut. The Principate would be losing more than half the Lycaonese principalities, which was a chunk of territory, but to be blunt it was mostly mountains and fortresses assaulted by the ratling warband every spring. Hainaut was more of an issue, since it was a foothold for Keter on the southern shore of the Tomb, but what little word I’d had of that front implied the principality was on the verge of collapse anyway. I’d offered him rights to more than that when I first sought to make a bargain, though admittedly it’d been under false pretences. If the Dead King kept his word, though, the Principate would have a hundred years of peaceful northern border to prepare. If the First Prince agreed, and if it spared her own people annihilation in addition to all the rest I genuinely thought she might accept. And I’d back her, in the aftermath, to the fucking hilt. To expand the Grand Alliance, and then every step of the way.

The two of us, and the Pilgrim if he could be talked into it, we could get Calernia on proper war footing. With ten decades instead of one, the situation with Praes and the Free Cities could be properly seen to instead of hurried. The drow would need a home, but Masego had helpfully ripped a chunk out of Arcadia that could be put to use. This could work, I thought.  Of course, it was possible Neshamah would just let the ratlings pass straight through the northern principalities he’d occupy and disrupt the peace without breaking his word. And there’d be benefits for him as well, I thought, or he would never have made the offer in the first place. I was about to bring up the Chain of Hunger when I realized what I was doing and closed my mouth. I’d been considering the practicalities, working out the details. About to try finding his angle. I had, in essence, already accepted the deal he’d offered.

Gods. I’d known what he was doing from the start, and still here we were.

“We will speak of it again, Black Queen,” the King of Death said. “At this peace conference you hve schemed.”

There was a deafening crack, and the glass floor beneath our feet began to splinter.

“You did not test me,” I said.

The Hidden Horror met my eyes, and for the first time there a flash of irritation in the golden gaze.

“Am I chattel, Black Queen, to be led to the altar with blinders on my eyes?” he said. “Am I to willingly embrace the ways of defeat simply because we are at odds? I think not.”

He leaned forward, face cast harshly.

“This game, as all games, I will play on my terms and only that,” the Dead King said. “I have learned what I wanted from this communion, and when I have taken what I wish from this ruin I will forsake it as well. Not a moment before, Catherine, and petty tricks will not force my hand.”

Neshamah flicked a wrist dismissively.

“Remember that, when we speak again. Youth only earns so many allowances.”

In rain of glass I fell through the floor and passed through air and darkness until I landed in another place. Light was peeking through cracks in a door before me, and I opened it. Above me dark clouds pulsed with rings of sorcery, but beneath my boots were the still-paved streets of the ruins of Liesse. My hands were trembling, I saw. I grit my teeth, and put the inarticulate dread that’d sunk in my guts aside. I still needed to find the others wherever they’d come out in the city.

The night was not yet over, even the monster of monsters agreed.

139 thoughts on “Chapter 36: Bid

  1. danh3107

    Fuck me rough and bloody, his test was exactly what she wanted. She failed it the minute she contemplated taking the truce deal. I’m not saying be a zealot like Saint and refuse all offers, but surely any deal with the dead king is poison.

    Rough waters ahead if my forecast is correct.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. I don’t think she failed it.

      I think it would have been much worse if she’d just gone the ‘lalala I’m not listening’ route. That just opens you to getting fucked over by the thought you cannot think later. It’s better to think it through, and reject while understanding fully what it is that you’re rejecting.

      Catherine would have passed, which is exactly why Neshamah did not wait for her answer – delaying it gives him another opportunity for a strike later, as this one has already failed.

      Any deal with the Dead King is poison. Knowing that, it’s better to know what exactly he’s offering and how it works.

      Catherine did not win this confrontation, as Neshamah does not give openings, but she did not lose, and she did not put herself in a worse position for later. Not worse than it would otherwise have been.

      Oh, she might be thinking otherwise, at the moment, herself – if you go too meta, you lose automatically, after all. It’s object level that heroes ride out on, and Catherine needs to hold on to that above anything else, here.

      God, I love this chapter.

      Liked by 12 people

  2. Damn, he’s good. Of course, he’d have to be.

    Besides, a century would be, in fact, too long a peace – it would be out of living memory for basically all non-Named humans, and they’d turn against each other for personal gain. For that matter, even most current Named would be dead too – Heroes still age, only Villains get to avoid aging.
    Not that this would be allowed to happen anyways – Saint would absolutely kill anyone who went for it. Though I could maybe see where Pilgrim could perhaps be convinced to go along with it, but I’d expect that the Ophanim would exercise their influence against it.

    Liked by 23 people

    1. Skaddix

      That is the biggest issue right there the Villains get 100 Free Years. Heroes die maybe the Witch has enough magic to extend her life but the rest dead and replaced. And without Pilgrim around the hold on Levant is weak.

      I am glad she noticed that the Ratlings would get some free attacks.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Anony

        Named don’t age to, if only evil named for perpetuity, how does Ranger make sense?
        They could still die, sure, but with a story like this in the making I highly doubt any important characters would bite it before the war even starts.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Heroes age, Villains don’t.

          Ranger is explained by being a Villain (technically), and also by being a Half-Elf, and so likely incredibly long-lived even without the Name giving her immunity to aging.

          Liked by 6 people

    2. Decius

      By offering a century, he revealed his gambit: He won’t attack after ten years, or a hundred. He’s going to wait until the army arrayed against him disbands, turns to another purpose, or grows fat and lazy, even if that takes two centuries.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. That’s… a fantastic point indeed.

        If Catherine took this deal, the correct action for her would be to break it immediately afterwards, as soon as she managed to line up everyone on roughly the same side.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Dainpdf

          Sure, but who would really side with her, go for an invasion of the Kingdom of the Dead, when they have a guaranteed truce for decades to come? Plus, starting a war by breaking a truce is not a story you want to be in…

          Liked by 5 people

            1. Dainpdf

              That is some serious *if*. Cordelia would certainly take a hit to her position having lost her main support base, and Malicia is bound to start harassing everyone…

              Would the Grand Assembly really vote to go fight for Cordelia’s homeland like that?

              I am not sure Levant would move if the Pilgrim were no longer around, and Ashur is also doubtful if Magon Hadast is no longer alive.

              Liked by 3 people

                1. *If* the Dead King has a place at the peace conference Cat intends to call and leverage the Liesse Accords into existence at …

                  I’m fairly certain that he won’t have a seat at the table. For one thing, such a conference can only happen after he’s no longer invading, which means that the drow are camping the gate to Serenity. Probably in conjunction with Alliance/other forces, because of their issues with sunlight and sunrise.

                  However, let’s be realistic.
                  Laurence would murder the hell out of anybody who tried to accept a deal with the Dead King.
                  Even Tariq likely wouldn’t approve (plus the Ophanim almost certainly veto) – Tariq is sometimes wearing blinders about what could be, but there’s no outcome from making a deal with the Dead King that truly reduces unnecessary suffering – sure, stopping the fighting stops immediate suffering, but I’m pretty sure Tariq would consider the suffering involved in fighting the Dead King to be necessary suffering. And, to be honest, he’s probably right about that. Or at least, not wrong.
                  Cordelia wouldn’t accept it, and probably the same goes for anyone with experience fighting the Dead King and familiar with politics.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. I mean honestly this getting broadcast is if anything in Catherine’s favor.

                    Her temptation being peace, and the argument between the two of them being lives, speaks volumes on whose side she’s on in this war.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Dainpdf

                      Most would just look and see her considering making a deal with Neshamah where she gives away part of Procer in exchange for a truce until she’s no longer around to fight.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. ‘most’ out of who?

                      Keep in mind how fucking low expectations are, here. Like most Procerans probably expect her to not be fighting DK on their behalf at all, yeah?

                      Like

              1. Th crusade is a holy war launched against a terrible evil with magical wmds. It was a almost just war in the eyes of the heaven a defensive offensive maneuver.

                The crusades power is uniting multiple heroic names along with regular troops to face said evil. While narratives are weakened for heroes they are still offered moments of triumph against forces of greater power. Queen of winter or dead king with the possibility of success.

                Launching a truce under a truce with the purpose to just reclaim land would be a mistake. While that type of war could be launched against humans. It is not heroic or even villainous to fight for land. It just selfish it has no purpose and nearly impossible to frame it as such.

                Worst case scenario dead king is embraced as a hero defending his peaceful lands from foreign invaders. Which has a lot of ramifications.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Dainpdf

                  Small note to remind that technically the Crusade was launched on Praes, not the Queen of Winter. She just happen to be in the way, a villain, and her lands very appealing to Procer.

                  Like

      1. She already said she was impatient and that is all the dead king needed. Her impatience.

        A being who can match wits with the wandering bard, a being who literally breeds humans like livestock, hordes heroes like playing cards, controls a gate to hell, puppets the greatest mage in all of Praes like a car rental. He is playing games beyond games, and all you want is 100 years, disappointing. He understands that humans/orcs/goblins do not have the fortitude of will that he has, a force of will that has persisted for thousands of years.

        I think that is why he was so impressed with her trip to the under dark, she was able to create a peaceful situation where all parties benefited from a society that breathes murder and another that committed whole sale genocide because of a threat. She pacified the dwarves.

        His conversation where he complimented Cathrine on her godhood is an example of how she is still thinking small. She does not understand her own powers still and it appears he is getting tired already of holding her hand. I bet it was almost hysterical looking at Catherine having to juggle the grand alliance while he was simultaneously slaughtering the Prinicpate. Whereas he is just above this mess, similar to the bard. Time for humans is precious because they have a limit(Pilgrim, Black, first Prince) they mus achieve as much as they can in there time frame or risk it all crumbling over time.

        The only thing that limits beings who have reached apotheosis (Cat, Sve Noc, Dead King, Bard) is there imagination and force of will. Catherine did not/or worse could not comprehend what game they were playing. How the dead king would have no problem giving her 12 or even 100 years if he was given “divine permission” to eat the baby once again, by the priestess of night no less. Her debating such a meaningless favor is a sign that she is still not ready for the big games yet, he knows her measure.

        Love how he was like “Oh cool you made a god that’s a neat trick tell em about it some time, maybe I will tell you about the day I took control of a hell gate over hot chocolate”.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. She understood just fine, it just took her a moment. First Sight and Third Thoughts for the win, or at least the standoff.

          Also, I’ll note that “I called it” on her dubious mortality, at least according to DK (and assuming he wouldn’t bother lying here). That raises a question of whether her crown is still valid… but it also occurs to me now that the original price was “seven mortal crowns and one”, setting the last apart from the mortal crowns So if Cat’s crown can be the one, so could Dead King’s.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Addendum: Browsing recent comments, I note that Isi Arnott-Campbell beat me to my last point above, by two chapters: https://practicalguidetoevil.wordpress.com/2019/05/01/chapter-34-seven/comment-page-1/#comment-40988

            Liked by 2 people

        2. I don’t think the word “apotheosis” is applicable here, or if it is, Catherine isn’t there yet.

          But yes, it’s a great deal for Neshamah that he’d offered and in truth a terrible deal for what Catherine has to protect.

          And yeah lmao re: your last paragraph

          Liked by 2 people

        3. luminiousblu

          Catherine doesn’t particularly want to understand since she has a weird attachment to being human, while also missing the fact that if you’re ‘just’ human then you can’t really face an inhuman foe. Neshamah has reached the point where he’s not an enemy so much as a boogeyman, he might be a villain but the setting is going to protect him because he’s an inherent part of the setting. He’s been in the background for so long that he’s the inherent demon that nobody wants to touch, even as other villains rise and fall and millions of character arcs are concluded. It’s like Satan really, you can’t ‘beat’ Satan because that’s the end of the story.

          Which I suppose is Catherine’s goal, but then, Satan isn’t defeated by mortal means, Ragnorak kills everyone except for a few gods and a pair of humans hiding in a tree, the Aztec cycles destroy absolutely everything and start it all over again. The only real way you can ‘safely’ remove Neshamah is if you decide to not be human.

          Also I refuse to believe that Akua couldn’t have added taste to Cat’s fae senses, it’s ultimately an illusion. Catherine herself probably could’ve added the sense of taste by duping reality if she wanted.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. Dainpdf

      That, plus the fact that Neshamah can play the long game. Any war that ends with permanent territory acquisition, and at a low price, is a good one.

      Also? “Lands he’s laid claim to” just might include a little piece of Arcadia…

      Liked by 9 people

      1. WuseMajor

        If he always exchanges Peace (from him) for a specified interval, however long, for “minor” territory concessions, and everyone always takes him up on it, because he’s impossible to destroy, he’ll wind up owning the continent in the end. Which is all that really matters to him, I think.

        No human nation can stay on a war footing indefinitely. And, even if you had a giant clock that counted down until doomsday, the nations of the world would probably just treat it as another excuse to party, instead of an imminent threat.

        Liked by 5 people

    1. I understand it as aging slower, and I’m guessing it’d get slower and slower with time – with her being a wizened old crone for centuries upon centuries upon centuries without noticable change. That’s the trope / mixture of tropes I’m seeing here 😀

      And Pilgrim works by Forgiving. There’s no restriction on who he can Forgive, I’m pretty sure, as long as he’s genuinely willing himself – and I do imagine he’d have no justification for refusing, here.

      Liked by 7 people

          1. Dainpdf

            I’d rather not use a technical term less people would understand, or one which would get others to ask “asymptotic to what?”

            After all, a function can be asymptotic to another, non-constant one. Now, calling it a “bound, strictly increasing function” would also work, but does nothing to avoid unnecessary jargon.

            Liked by 4 people

                1. I remember what an asymptote is because it’s a very great and useful concept applicable to many things outside of geometry – like this here.

                  And if you don’t understand a limit at infinity, looking at a graph for archtangent isn’t going to help you.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Dainpdf

                    You can see it’s a curve that always increases (something an asymptote does not guarantee), that it is bound from above (something an asymptote also does not guarantee), and that it seems to approach a finite value (something an asymptote does not guarantee either).

                    So saying “arctangent” explains what kind of curve I am talking about and provides a picture, while the term “asymptotic (to a constant)” is weaker than what I need while also making it harder to understand.

                    Liked by 1 person

      1. Not so sure about the Pilgrim. It’s stated that he is taking souls directly from Heaven when he resurrects people. If Villain souls go anywhere, it would be the Hells. He might not be able t reach down there.

        Also Resurrection has consequences. It mentally scars people, changing their personality. I imagine it would be worse for a Villain too. Lastly he might not want to resurrect the Hierophant, as that seems like a good way to empower him with his own resurrection powers.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Catherine has been resurrected by Above’s powers already, and she’s fine. Do you think this would be the worst thing to happen to Masego’s mental state in the last couple of months? 😐 I’m not sure it’d make the top three, all in all.

          Good point about potentially not wanting to resurrect the Hierophant, but:

          1) does he actually have the information about how Masego gets miracle powers from observation? It’s not exactly stamped on his forehead and it never came up directly during the Northern Crusade. It’s worth remembering that Catherine wasn’t even sure he was backed by a Choir until the first attempt at a peace conference – characters have a lot less of a bird’s eye view on each other than we the readers do;

          2) Narratively, it would be bad as hell for Pilgrim to fuck over Catherine here by refusing to resurrect her friend. She is not technically wrong when she says Masego had been put in danger by trying to find out a way to kill the Dead King, and technically correct is a very potent kind of correct when it comes to this kind of thing. Masego dying here would be a victory for Neshamah in his idle side-quest of ‘unmooring’ Catherine (which she might just tell Tariq about to secure his cooperation in avoiding that), and it would be a loss for the side of the Grander Alliance here – he’s a powerful mage who is going to fight on their side as long as Catherine is on their side, too.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. luminiousblu

        Age doesn’t actually kill anyone, or at least if it does we don’t know how it actually works.
        If Catherine is totally immune to disease or accidents but still aging then she’s going to end up with the eternity without youth curse.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Stormblessed

    Yeah I agree with the other commentators. The ten year deal is WAY better than the hundred year deal, but the Dead King sidestepped the worse deal only to suggest the better one as if he was doing Cat a favor by offering a superior deal for nothing in return. Ten years is just long enough to hold the coalition together in the name of the greater evil. In 100 years the deal will be forgotten.

    Liked by 13 people

  4. erebus42

    It was a good attempt on Cat’s part. Impressively, this promises to be even more of a shit show than previously suggested. Possibly even a clusterfuck if it goes sufficiently more south.

    Liked by 7 people

  5. Andrew Mitchell

    My estimation of the Dead King just went up a couple of notches.

    He knows that Cat knows Ashkaran and how she learnt it because Masego knows and DK is in Masego. He knows that Cat can be tempted.

    I wonder what ELSE he learned from this encounter?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. ______

      He knew the former back in Keter (because he invited the Woe to pass through the reflections in Arcadia, as it happens), and the latter isn’t exactly hard to guess.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. I think she passed, to the degree that Neshamah was willing to make this a test at all. That’s why he didn’t wait to hear the result – she fully thought the offered bargain through, not offering him obvious openings in bringing it up later on, and weighing the potential benefits against the fact that it’s him offering, came to the conclusion not in his favor – and so he retreated, not allowing her to seize the advantage that actually saying “no” would give her both psychologically and story-wise.

      Liked by 10 people

    2. werafdsaew

      You did not test me.

      There was no trial. She failed because the DK learned some information from this exchange, not because she failed the trial.

      Liked by 6 people

          1. Actually, we have a pretty good guess: Assuming that his perceptions beats her poker face, he now knows that the Drow aren’t just sitting around in the Everdark, and given that he can figure out they’re coming after him.

            Liked by 5 people

        1. Sylwoos

          She was about to pass, but the DK preemptively cut the conversation short to not give her a win story-wise. That’s why she complained about not being tested. DK wield story like Cat and Black, but have century of experience behind him.

          Liked by 4 people

  6. antoninjohn

    If they turn on each other once they have a temporary truce with the Dead King then the Dead King wins if they don’t then they when, Cat will just have to have trust and it will all work out fine

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Relyt

      Trust it all works out fine? Perhaps Cordelia, Pilgrem, and Cat could bring Malicia to heel, deal with the Tyrant (because there’s no way he’d stick to this truce), and muster Calernia to war in ten years. Maybe. That’s assuming that nothing goes wrong, and very few stories let you sit back and eco for a decade.

      If it’s 100 years? No amount of trust would make it work. In a few decades, Procer gets a new generation of princes, princes whose ambition isn’t tempered by memories of the Dead King. Heroes only live so long. The Ophanim have granted Pilgrim a longer life, but I doubt he’d get another full century, so now Levant’s ties to the cause are in question. 100 years is long enough that half a dozen Praesi are going to pull some Stupid Evil shenanigans. Hell, unless Cat either remains queen or keeps her successors on a tight leash, then even Callow might go AWOL. A hundred year truce sounds great in theory, but falls to pieces in practice.

      All of that is ignoring the most important thing – the Dead King is immortal. What does he care about 100 years? He’d trade that for a single fort, let alone entire principalities. Because a hundred years lster, he can just make this deal again. And again and again, until he’s annexed all of Calernia. There’s no reason to believe that they’d be any more successful than past crusades in killing the Dead King, so one must assume they won’t and plan accordingly. Any permanent concessions are too high a price, let alone for something as fragile as hundred years for the Grand Alliance to turn on itself.

      One last note – signing a truce with the Dead King with the expectation that he’ll invade at the end could be, if you squint at it, an legitimization of his efforts. Almost like they agreed to a showdown. “Crusade vs abominable invasion” is a much better story for the heroes than “Pistols at dawn, 10 years from now.”

      Liked by 13 people

      1. Decius

        The expectation that he will invade after 10 years is worse than legitimizing his efforts.It’s wasting your own.

        Because in ten years the new border will be just as unassailable as the old border was, and there will be no invading army to fight.

        You wake up early, clean and ready your pistol, and march to the dueling ground, where you die of old age waiting for the showdown.

        Liked by 8 people

      2. I believe the same almost makes you wonder how many heroes has he made this deal with. If this current invasion isn’t going according to plan. I mean he literally had a monk and former white knight guarding his throne room. He probably agreed to stop attacking there troops/ allowing troops to retreat in return for there lives along with 25 year peace treaty.

        The Bard tries to balance creation the dead king seeks to unbalance it. They chat they laugh then use heroes like pawns. The means and man power really do not matter, especially since the dead king has made his own empire with humans who can also assume names. If he takes enough territory can he affect the alignment of the whole continent. Will heroes become villains since they are seeking retribution against the heavenly dead king.

        With enough time the dead king can poison the well of creation.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. > “Crusade vs abominable invasion” is a much better story for the heroes than “Pistols at dawn, 10 years from now.”

        Yeah. It’s important to realize that “on the face of things”, DK is flatly unbeatable: An immortal, with overwhelming power both military and magical, and his own private realm to draw on or retreat to as needed. Even if the mortals come up with a weapon that destroys all undead within 99 miles, he also has a human population to make armies out of, and who can tell how large that population is by now. Or what resources they can extract from their converted Hell, e.g.: “I’ll see your goblin steel and match it with spell-wrought demon bone and scale. As for your goblinfire, I have the original: genuine hellfire.”

        The only thing that can contain him, much less drive him back, is Story.

        Liked by 3 people

  7. superkeaton

    Old Monsters are old for a reason Cat, and The Dead King is about as old as they get without being straight from Below. He’s played this game with the Bard for a very long time and they are very good at it. You’ll have to do better if you want to score a meaningful win.

    Liked by 10 people

    1. Neshamah doesn’t allow openings for victories against him, only not-losses. I would say Cat did not lose here, as much as was physically possible against someone like him.

      Good job on her part :3

      Liked by 4 people

      1. It like in poker it does not really matter what cards she is playing with but the mindset behind the card player. It is why the Black Knight is the oldest villain not his power but his mind. I think that is what she understands the dead king was no probing for information about petty fights between humans about heroic stuff. He does not care about that. He was looking at an individual who he had regarded as a peer. He was looking at her state of mind.

        She clearly has her head in the clouds and is so focused on petty squabbles, in his view she has let herself get dragged down by these lesser beings. In effect she is still at the table, but clearly an amateur.

        Liked by 5 people

  8. Heathen

    A truce would be a terrible deal for the living, because Keter doesn’t have to attack at the end of it. Right now, the living are in the position of being invaded by an endless horde of undead – which is a story that really only goes one way.

    But if they sign a truce, and build their armies and alliances for ten, twenty, a hundred years… at the end of it, Neshameh can still just sit inside Keter and wait. His invitation outside the Kingdom will still be good (because it was a truce, not a peace), and eventually one of two things will happen. Either the armies of the living invade Keter (which is a guaranteed defeat), or he simply waits until they turn back to petty squabbling and infighting before invading again. It puts the narrative on his side, which is essential if he’s actually going to win, here.

    He can wait an eternity, if he has to. He’s immortal.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. luminiousblu

      >Right now, the living are in the position of being invaded by an endless horde of undead – which is a story that really only goes one way.
      I mean
      Depends on the story. There’s a lot of stories where the dead just end up winning. They generally won’t wipe out humanity wholesale, no, but obliterating a single kingdom? No, that’s actually standard fare. It’s totally reasonable for Neshamah to eat the baby. That’s what marks the invasion of the dead as a legitimate threat for the rest of the story, and therefore heroes and rallied and called to arms to stop the tide of death.

      Unless obviously Neshamah just doesn’t keep invading and doesn’t even keep the land. If I were him I’d just kill everyone there as soon as I took it and have them stripmine/stripchop the place, salt the earth, then leave at the last minute. Procer is the most populous state and likely one of the biggest producers of food, so whatever refugees make it to Callow are just going to obliterate the economy there for lack of shit to eat. Recolonizing an area the size of Procer just doesn’t happen if it’s super infertile, not short-term, and if the Dead King waits two centuries before trying again Procer won’t put up a fight.

      The shape of THAT story is the one where kings wave their hands and go ‘eh, it was a weak state, we’re in no danger’. Then Neshamah gets to eat another baby.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. edrey

    he looked in her soul right? to gain information, even with sve noc protetion, he should have a way to do it.
    well masego should be saved by archer, no other way here, its her story to snap her fear.
    for the hundred years of peace, the heroes and the kingdom under would kill her before the decade is over, if a villain lose momentum its dead for sure.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Who needs soul-vision to manipulate someone when you have thousands of years of practice, a completely unknown spy network spread across the land, the greatest sorcery the continent has ever known, and a direct line to their friend’s brain?

      Liked by 10 people

    2. What sengachi said. Soul-vision is a crutch for those incapable of accounting for other people’s moves without it. Catherine doesn’t have it, and look how she plays the game :3

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I have always wondered how some aspects reveal the crutches of the name. Sort of like indicators of where they are most weak. Reliance on your aspect rather than working on yourself individually so you are not as dependent on it can only end up in failure later down the line.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I’d say less of the Name and more of the individual. Heroes get Aspects to prop them up where they would fail on their own, making them less hyperspecialized glass cannons the way villains are and more sturdy jacks-of-all-trades. See also: Laurence’s Listen, William’s Triumph, Hanno’s Recall, the Mirror Knight’s Dawn,

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Tyckspoon

          I’ve always been kind of impressed at Ranger’s aspects for this reason. Learn, Perfect, Transcend. It speaks of somebody who will not tolerate having weaknesses, and if you think you’ve identified a weakness you had better kill her with it – the next time you meet her she’ll probably kill you with the new talent she forged out of that weakness.

          Liked by 4 people

  10. caoimhinh

    It’s interesting how Cat kept trying to bait the Dead King into falling to the tropes of classical villainy and he kept saying to her ‘Am I a joke to you? I am not an idiot to fall for that’.
    Also, this particular exchange seemed very important:
    “You did not test me.”
    “…Am I to willingly embrace the ways of defeat simply because we are at odds? I think not.”
    That sounds like implying that if they actually entered a confrontation, they would trigger a Pattern of Three, and given how in this particular situation the Dead King was pretty much bound to lose (since Cat would definitely pass the test), Neshamah decided to avoid it at all.
    That has interesting implications, but also means that he could cut his losses when it came to this fight for Masego and make a victim out of him.
    I hope Masego can be back home soon.

    P.S: this came to my mind when Dead King said to Cat that she was just delaying the inevitable, sorry I couldn’t help it :v

    Neshamah: I am the King of Death, I am inevitable.
    Catherine: And I am the Black Queen.

    Typos found:
    when I my good foot / when my good foot
    spread over the plans / spread over the plains
    Juniper hard ordered / Juniper had ordered
    you called an immortal / you called me an immortal
    I wasn’t my signature / it wasn’t my signature
    you hve schemed / you have schemed
    there a flash / there was a flash

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Something to add:
      I know that losing first in a Pattern of Three means a victory in the end, but the point is that entering into a Pattern of Three at all means that he would need to get actually invested, right? That would leave him vulnerable to the others, even if he was guaranteed a Win against Cat in the end, Heroes would still be able to get him if he overreaches, so Neshamah is avoiding ever getting really involving too deep in anything.
      At least that’s what I think, he is too careful and wary to take risks to get petty victories. In fact, he might not even want to win, but merely live. Everything else would be either a step taken in that direction or an expendable thing for that goal.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Relyt

      I read that “you did not test me exchange” more as the Dead King saying “Do you really think I’ll just lean into the tropes that make villains lose?”

      Liked by 9 people

        1. I think “stronghold of a villain” is something of an inevitable thing here, or it wouldn’t be such a staple. It’s genuinely the best universal basic setup for a villain to make, it’s just that you can refine it beyond that by countering the opponents you know more directly – like how Akua baited Catherine into retreating to Arcadia where she could be bound. Neshamah offers, I imagine, the test to all others, but he can wriggle out of settling into a losing pattern by doing so by not offering the test to one of them, which is enough of a deviation to throw off the story without compromising the basic integrity of the winning scheme.

          Villains do things that way because when they do things any other way they lose even more definitely and easily.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Qwormuli

          He is what he has always been: a stage hazard. He isn’t the BBEG to be taken down at the end of the story(at least, until now), he’s the passive thing or area that the story’s heroes should stay well away from, lest it turn into a cautionary tale.

          (to op)The pattern of three is also not a thing that would work here, even if it’s somehow suspected as the motivation for everything ranging from the resolution of the story to a broken sole in Cat’s shoe. First: there’s really no precedent of dualistic rivalry here. Second: If that proposed loss clause would begin with bony boi here, it would end in Neshamah’s victory at the end, which would make him jump for it in less time, than a description about his eye colour flashing would take(really, it was pretty much half of this chapter). Except even he(it?) would know it to be wobbly at best and expose him to the said loss at worst. Third: He has little losses to cut, as he hasn’t exerted himself yet in any meaningful manner. He just throws his bait to the pond every few decades and watches for a bite. A few worms won’t hurt, if he has a whole hell as a backyard to dig them from.

          Liked by 5 people

        3. luminiousblu

          If Neshamah doesn’t actively fight the party and just kills Masego or even just lets him go, the fact is that the only person who legitimately cares is Catherine. Unfortunately for Catherine’s revenge, she’s
          1. Weaker than Neshamah
          2. This would fit the Evil turns on Evil story, which obliterates the Liesse Accords
          3. The fact that Neshamah refused to test her means that he actually hasn’t done anything to make him entangled with her.
          Neshamah isn’t really an enemy to be beaten, as Qworm said. He’s someone to be avoided because you’ll lose if you tangle with him.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. Wolpertinger

      A pattern of three starts with a loss on the side of the eventual victor – Cat ‘losing’ here hasn’t necessarily broken that, though it was a loss of a battle wits, so it might only end up being usable to win a battle of wits.

      Cat winning here could have made a pattern of three against her, but I think the ‘ways of defeat’ he’s avoiding is something else entirely. What I think he’s avoiding here is the actions of a villain in the story of the band of five that slays the dark lord, where invading their lair involves a test – by making a weak test or avoiding one at all (depending on how the narrative views what just happened) he’s weakening the story of the band of five by not having the story follow such a well-worn (and doomed) groove. The moment he starts doing what he’s supposed to as a villain in his fortress, the more he sets up his own defeat.

      By trying to redirect the story into something else where the heroes are much more likely to lose, he can destroy them much more easily.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. luminiousblu

        Depending on how you look at it, Neshamah talking so openly with the members of the party could easily force the story where one member of the party was conspiring with the villain all along. Assuming Catherine promised to talk with him later about it, for example, Neshamah would’ve been all but guaranteed to survive.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah, he definitely wanted to force her into this kind of story – the one where she’s the traitor of the party.

          He failed, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t get anything out of messing with her anyway 🙂

          Like

    4. I agree with Relyt, I don’t think a Pattern of Three would even be possible here, Cat’s too small a fish for that. Her role is that of a fly irritating him, not that of a fully fledged rival.

      And for her to be less sucessful as a fly, he has to not commit indeed.

      Liked by 2 people

    5. Not exactly a typo, but: “Full red lips quirked as I met his gaze. Just like I remembered they were a shade of light brown that the glow of the eclipse made into molten amber. ”

      EE should have kept “eyes” instead of “gaze”; since the latter is singular, the referent for “they” is lost.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, I don’t think so. That was the opening move, and considering the caliber of the opponent – Catherine did not win, but she did not lose either. It’ll take far more buildup before she can truly make a dent, and this went about as well as it could have.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. I’d definitely have liked to see his conversation with the others. Maybe not the Saint, but I bet him and the Rogue Sorcerer might have exchanged some pointers, and certainly the Tyrant would be a hoot, as always.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Yeah, a single Interlude showing us the conversations of the Dead King with the others would have been great and fitting here.
      Saint’s would likely be a short test or perhaps displaying Catherine and Kairos’ conversation with Neshamah, the conversation with Tyrant would definitely be hilarious, and the meeting between Pilgrim and Dead King would be very interesting, with Rogue Sorcerer’s test or conversation granting insight about him.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I think it would be far too much of a digression, both tone-wise and narrative-wise. It would need to assume buildup that wasn’t actually shown, the past history of the heroes that we’re not privy to and just know exists. We do know enough about the Tyrant for it to make at least a good extra chapter, but the heroes? Maybe, again, as an extra chapter showing both the conversation itself and, before it, the history leading up to it. Which is to say, a full extra chapter for each hero, to fit sufficient buildup.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          We don’t need to know their backstories and background to have their POV, and it’s not necessary to have a build up to show their conversations with the Dead King either.
          In fact, from the Heroes, the only one we know next to nothing about is the Rogue Sorcerer.
          See for example that we even saw things from the Saint’s POV during her fight against Rumena, it doesn’t require a built up and backstory to show someone’s POV and their reactions to a particular event.

          Liked by 2 people

  12. Ein

    Cat did not do well here. But by trying to avoid the tropes, the dead king has fallen into another. He sees peace between the drow and dwarf, he does not understand the depth of the forces against him. Every nation on the continent (save the elves, but who knows with them) above and below (literally and figuratively) is aligned against him. It’s the Triumphant Trap in which he is only beatable when everyone gets together to kick his arse.

    He also doesn’t know that by taking peace, Cat betrays her word to the twin goddesses and her now-mobile army of over half a million. I will bookmark the chapter when the gates open on the undead army and the drow come through in totality.

    That and the gobsmacked face of everyone when she clarifies that she brought ALL the drow to the surface. That’s the next milestone after the prince’s graveyard for me.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. I think they both did well here. They’re both limited in their moves, and out of all available, I think they both chose the best ones.

      This is a draw, and that’s I think the best result Catherine could have hoped for here.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Anony

    Named don’t age m8.
    They could still die, sure, but with a story like this in the making I highly doubt any important characters would bite it before the war even starts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Only Villain Named don’t age.
      Heroes still age, and don’t benefit from a beyond-human lifespan.
      Admittedly, Heroes who die of natural causes (and not evil-Name-swamp-Cat’s sword called natural causes) tend to have natural lifespans at the upper bounds of human normal, and tend towards high quality of life as well, getting to ignore most diseases and likely age more gracefully than a regular human.

      Liked by 4 people

  14. notQ

    To take his deal is to unleash him fully. His bargain to Malisia unmade he would have no shackles to hold him back and he gets to have his continent wide war. A hundred years or a thousand it doesn’t matter to him. If he makes this deal he gets exactly what he wants.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Catherine 😀

      The best heroic sacrifice is one of something you never intended to keep in the first place – Cat can get quite a bit of bang for her buck in choosing this place&time to abdicate. Sure it will cost her in immediate logistical issues, but here and now it will have a proportional gain in the heroes’ trust/respect and narrative credit.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Wait, Akua? She was never a queen. Admittedly Night could probably get her here, but I wouldn’t even bet on her as a replacement party member; one of the defining features of this party is that no two of them are completely at ease with each other. Rogue Sorcerer and Pilgrim are a possible exception, but RS has that hidden-depths thing going, and we saw hints at the concord that they’re not necessarily on the same page.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. Smoloney

    You know I’ll be honest I was worried when the dead king was brought into this story as an actual character and not just a menacing future enemy I was worried he wouldn’t live up to the hype but every single time he’s been on screen has been awesome it’s fantastic

    Liked by 6 people

  16. Unmaker

    “A paltry concession,” he smiled. “I would require the keeping of what lands I have already seized.”

    Including the chunk of Arcadia. Which could be used to do all sorts of nasty things that didn’t count as an end to the truce.

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