Chapter 39: Looting

“Thirty-four: it is not graverobbing if it was your destiny to have that artefact, just proactive inheritance.”
– “Two Hundred Heroic Axioms”, author unknown

The Spellblade had taken an awful lot of killing, but he was finished. With the Thief of Stars having tried her hand at stealing something a goddess had her hand on and gotten about what one would expect for the trouble, that left the three of us masters of the field.

And so I was worried.

I had a finer nose for trouble than most, given the amount of times I’d come a hair’s breadth away from death, but it wasn’t a physical threat that had me growing unsettled.  I knew for a fact that the Dead King had more than few Revenants to throw into the breach, so why was it two I’d encountered before that were guarding Hierophant? And that wasn’t even getting into the way that I’d bet rubies to piglets we were going to run into the damned Skein skulking somewhere around here before this was over. No, setting that aside for now why was the King of Death putting up dead Named I had some knowledge of instead of any other from his millennial treasure trove of undead heroes? The Spellblade hadn’t been an easy mark, by any means, and it’s cost us heavy use of exhausting aspects from two aging heroes to put him down, but I didn’t buy that Neshamah didn’t have some Revenant around that wasn’t about as much as a heavy hitter and completely unknown to me. Are you tying off loose ends, Dead King? Sacrificing servants I was familiar with so that knowledge couldn’t be used against him down the line? It seemed wasteful, given the calibre of Revenants used. The elf could probably have torn through a Lycaonese border fortress by himself, and if the Thief of Stars was even half as handy as Vivienne had been when wielding a cousin Name she could easily have wreaked havoc on supply lines.

It was true that the Dead King’s method was, in essence, never to leave an opening that could be exploited no matter what it cost to play it safe. On the other hand, it didn’t feel like a coincidence that I could feasibly make use of both the Revenants we’d encountered today. The Thief of Stars had, back in Keter, wielded an aspect that lit up a constellation above her head that was known in Callow as the King’s Crown. It’d been suppressed by my domain, as Winter could snuff out anything given long enough, but if I went digging in our little friend’s split halves I might be able to seize whatever that’d been. The Spellblade, if Tariq was right, had once been a prince of the Golden Bloom and presumably heir to its throne. Of seven crowns and one, it was perhaps viable to seize the last from either the broken Revenants at our feet. If the Dead King was in Masego’s head – and he had to be, to an extent, to have been able to pass on so many of my secrets to the Tyrant – then he would know of my  recipe to make Larat into something greater. Could I assume that, since he’d since had opportunity to speak with Kairos, he knew of everything I’d revealed so far? Yes, it’ll be safer to, I decided. So he knew I needed one last crown, presumably, and… No, that was the wrong way to think about this. Both the Revenants couldn’t feasibly recent additions to this mess, they must have been here for some time.

So why would the Dead King send a pair of possible crowns into the mess, of all his possible guards to post around Hierophant?

“Black Queen,” the Peregrine interrupted me. “We should not linger.”

“It’s a trap,” I pensively said.

“What is?” the Saint flatly asked.

“I don’t know yet,” I muttered. “But he laid a trap for us.”

The last crown, the ‘one’ of the ‘seven and one’, it was the most important of the eight. As the Rogue Sorcerer had said: seven for weight but the last to shape. Was this the nature of the snare the Dead King had laid? That if we took a shortcut, attempted to bring a crown from outside our little circle rather than surrender one of our own, we’d be giving him a foothold into this place? The Revenants, after all, were of his make now regardless of what they had been while living. It was tenuous thread, to be sure, but given that my opponent was perhaps the finest sorcerer to ever grace Calernia and had more than ten centuries of experience on me in Namelore even that fine thread might be enough. Given the largely unprecedented nature of what I sought to accomplish tonight, there was still much that I did not and perhaps could not know about it. Or is that your trick within the trick, Neshamah? I suddenly thought While I go in circles pondering of stories and deep schemes, you use it as shell to strike a more precise blow. Was he offering me a pair of crowns so I would sour on the use of them out of fear, and so force a loss? The right to rule of one of three would be gone, if so: Tyrant, Pilgrim or Queen. Any of them would result in an opponent of the Dead King losing a measure of earthly influence.

“We cannot withdraw,” the Grey Pilgrim bluntly said. “It would mean the death of three great hosts, and possibly of Iserre itself.”

“Getting afraid, Foundling?” Laurence nastily grinned.

Her, I ignored. We were no longer fighting, which meant she’d gone from massively useful to at least something of a pest and possibly a liability. The Peregrine I needed to keep his eyes on the prize, though, so to him I replied.

“I’m not suggesting withdrawal,” I said. “But the Hidden Horror has a game afoot, let’s all take a moment to acknowledge that. There’s too many coincidences beginning to pile up.”

Tariq was no youngblood, but that had advantages as well as the opposite. His eyes sharpened.

“The Revenant you fought before,” he said, and it was not a question.

“Revenants,” I corrected, flicking a glance at the other mangled corpse.

The old man’s face went stiff. Though not, I understood when he began speaking again, for the reasons I’d expected.

“He must hold you in high esteem,” the Grey Pilgrim blandly said, “for having assumed from inception that it would be your arrangements that would win out and lead us here.”

Yeah, now was not even remotely the time for that. The oddly cordial relationship I had with the foremost monster in Calernian history was not a matter I intended on discussing here –  with Tariq, ever – so I put down my foot as firmly as I could on this before it could lead anywhere.

“Or, more likely, he planned for every eventuality and we’re simply seeing the contingencies related to my intentions,” I said. “You’ll remember that the Tyrant has been feeding him everyone’s secrets for months now – the Dead King’s not the kind of creature to have only one string to his bow.”

“And how are we to be sure, Damned, that you’re not one of those strings?” the Saint said.

“You sure you didn’t speak with him?” I mused, forcing my lips to stretch into a friendly smile. “Because starting a fight within the band seems like exactly the kind of thing a villain would manipulate someone like you into.”

The old woman’s face blanked, the tightening of her features pressing the creases together in a way that made them look like some surreal mask of flesh for a moment. The loathing she glared at me with was bright and burning. I cared little for it, though, since the reminder that by turning on me she might just be advancing the Dead King’s schemes was enough to have her fingers leaving the pommel of her now-sheathed sword. A little heavy-handed, as far as handlings went, but I suspected anything too subtle would be lost on the likes of Laurence de Montfort.

“What is it that you suggest, then?” the Pilgrim calmly asked.

“I’m going to be taking those,” I said, flicking a hand at the two broke Revenants. “In case they might be of use. But the identity of the third Revenant we encounter will tell us how we need to approach the end of our journey.”

“You have met others, then,” Tariq said.

I had. Two more, to be exact. The nightmare that was a Horned Lord with oracular insights, the creature known as the Skein. And one I had not fought at all, and would rather not: a man who’d once been the Good King of Callow, Edward Fairfax the Seventh. If it was the former that was waiting on our path to the Ducal Palace, then Neshamah’s game remained opaque to me. If it was the latter, though? It’d make three crowns that had been set in my way, increasingly obvious ones. It was an almost insultingly blatant bait, which while shedding no light on what decision should be taken at least would make it clear what the crux of the snare was. Assuming, of course, that this was not all governed by whim and the third Revenant wouldn’t either be one I’d never before encountered. Or that there would be no third at all.

“It should be either a rat or a king,” I said. “The rat means we’re in trouble. The king means dice might need to be rolled.”

“A rat,” the Saint slowly said. “Do you mean…”

“Yes,” I interrupted. “Like that one you fought.”

“You’ve fought one of their kind before?” the old woman said, eyes considering.

“I survived it, with the help of others,” I retorted. “Still on the fence as to if whether where we are right now will make it more or less dangerous.”

There was no Threefold Reflection to spin us around with here, but the Skein wouldn’t be confined to a single room either. It’d had a lot more room to manoeuvre, and freedom in choosing when and where to strike. Given that oracles were agonizingly difficult to deal with even when they weren’t also massive more or less indestructible murder rats, it was not promising grounds either way. I was rather hoping for King Edward even if that path involved the dice having another go. Shit, if it was the Skein then had we been anticipated every step of the way? No, I decided. I knew for a fact that Choirs could affect those sorts of things, and the Pilgrim was sworn to one. Sve Noc would obscure me to most things unless they wished it otherwise, including possibly the Skein’s weakened remnants of a Name, and there was also the very madman that Kairos had been using as a shield this entire campaign: the Hierarch. No, it shouldn’t be possible for the Skein to have followed the entire thread flawlessly given that much interference. It should still have been able to glimpse possibilities, though, which would be dangerous enough on its own.

“The rat has something in common with Cordelia’s cousin,” I delicately said, glancing at Tariq.

The old man’s lips tightened, and he offered me a nod.

“I suspect the both of us will hinder that,” he said. “Though not half as much as Laurence does simply by being who she is.”

I raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“What does she do?” I said. “Cut the future?”

Gods, I immediately thought, please don’t let her cut the future. She was already ridiculously difficult to handle.

“Winter was predictable,” the Peregrine said, “but never, I believe, predicted.”

My brow rose further up, and I glanced at the Saint – who seemed displeased we were trading information to her. I couldn’t honestly blame her for that, since a handful of secrets was often the difference between Named beating all odds or being buried. The Peregrine seemed to be implying that since Laurence had made herself into a domain, more or less, then trying to predict her was the equivalent of having tried to predict my own domain back in the day. So, the Saint would muddle predictions simply by being involved in them. Useful, that, and it went some way in explaining why no one had been able to spring an ambush on her over the years. The Heavens really had shaped a fine executioner, hadn’t they? No one would see the Saint of Swords coming until she was there and by then it would be much, much too late.

“Understood,” I said. “If the two of you would keep an eye out, I’ll clean up these loose ends.”

I dipped my head at the Revenant remains. The Pilgrim’s face flickered with hesitation until he spoke up.

“Your Majesty,” he cautiously said, “you do not intend to eat them, do you?”

I choked.

“Do I –“

What?

“No, I’m not going to eat the fucking corpses,” I hissed. “Why would you even ask that?”

“Drow are known to take from the dead in some manner,” the old man said. “And you are closely allied with orcs and goblins, whose habits are well-documented.”

“Corpse-eating isn’t how the Firstborn do it,” I grunted. “And for the Clans it’s actually a pretty complicated issue that’s been shaped by generations of – you know what, now’s not the time.”

“The goblins?” Laurence de Montfort asked.

She seemed honestly curious, though that didn’t mean she wasn’t also being kind of a prick.

“Goblins will eat anything, Saint,” I tiredly said. “It’s not like corpses are miraculously excluded from that just because it’s distasteful to think about.”

‘Distasteful’ was never a word you wanted to speak when discussing that particular subject, as it happened, if Robber was around. He would be very swift to inform anyone fool enough to do so that human corpses were actually very savory even without being cooked first. And that in Ater you could get that sort of meat rather on the cheap if you knew where to look, from grave-peddlers whose corpses had not been bought by necromancer and were starting to ripen. There was a reason that Black had told me never to buy grilled meat off a stall in the streets of Ater if you hadn’t seen the animal it came from killed and cooked, and it wasn’t just because it was a possible avenue for assassination. Unwilling to participate in that wreck of a conversation any longer, I hobbled my way to the nearest corpse – the Spellblade’s – and knelt. Its flesh felt strange to my touch, not like a human’s at all. Rougher, almost like bark, though I had no notion of whether that was a consequence of elvishness or of being made a Revenant. Regardless, even a glancing touch was enough to tell me there was nothing salvageable in there: none of the three aspects there’d been were in a state to be taken. The one Saint had severed was a ruin, and when I’d used Ban on the undead’s own third it had shattered the former and faded the latter beyond use. Fair enough, I thought. Given that I’d already taken from him once, I wouldn’t have been able to anyway.

The head and leg that’d been cut off I put back in place, though mending those wounds was beyond me save in the most gruesome of ways. I wove Night in a pall over the elf’s still form, and as the veil of darkness thinned and dispersed so the sight of the body disappeared was revealed. I leaned on my staff to rise, feeling the Pilgrim’s patient gaze and the Saint’s belligerent one. The heroine idly strolled up to me as I headed towards the remains of the Thief of Stars.

“Melted it, did you?” she said. “Useful knack.”

It was difficult for her to seem as casual as she clearly thought she was being when she was clearly itching to get at me. I almost looked t Tariq – was this some misguided attempt to insert a little cordiality into this relationship? Go on, Laurence, go up to the Black Queen and say something nice about her wicked and blasphemous powers.

“I’m keeping them in the Night,” I said. “Matters of burial can be addressed when this is all over.”

“So it’s a pocket trick, like a sorcerer,” the Saint unpleasantly smiled. “Like I thought. So why, Foundling, did you make the Rogue Sorcerer carry your crowns?”

Because I needed bait for Kairos, juicy enough to ensure it was the Sorcerer he struck at, I thought. Because the only way I’m getting my father’s soul back from you people without a fight is if I do not, in fact, get it back from you people. So I let out a little noise of surprise, and smiled all regretful and dim at the Saint of Swords. Eyes a little wide, like I was a touch slow but all harmless.

“Oh Hells,” I ruefully said. “It completely slipped my mind.”

“You’re up to something, Foundling,” Laurence de Montfort quietly said. “And I won’t let you get away with it.”

“Right now,” I said, coming by the mangled halves of the second Revenant, “what I’m up to is having my time wasted. Walk it off, Saint.”

I flicked a dismissive hand at her, which from the way she went red in the cheeks was more insult than anyone had tossed her way in a long time. Gods, if they’d had Black around her for weeks or months they must have kept him gagged the whole time: given the ease of her temper and how viciously he could spin a sentence, if they hadn’t the body I’d claimed would have fewer limbs. Another painful crouch and ah, it seemed that the feel of the other one’s skin had been on account of elvishness after all. The Thief of Stars’s flesh was like a fresh corpse’s, which was rather uncomfortable to think about so I did not linger over it. Her I could still take from, I found. One of the aspects tasted like… flight, cold and in the dark. The starlit one? Hard to tell, my senses in this were hardly exact. The second I studied tasted familiar, and I immediately judged it to be what she’d called on in her attempt to use my staff. It felt like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle clicking together, though there was something else. Rarity? Some sort of limit, I thought, though given the way I made of aspects artefacts with a single use that didn’t particularly matter to me. Still, if it was like I suspected and this was a trick that allowed one to use most anything then it didn’t particularly appeal to me. Boots scuffed the ground at my side, but I bit my tongue at the last moment when I caught a glimpse of them and saw it was not the Saint who’d returned but the Pilgrim.

“She wasn’t always like that,” the old man quietly said.

Oh, were we going to have that talk now, under cover my seeing to the body of a fallen foe? I wasn’t interested in being sympathetic to the Saint of Swords, so he was barking up the wrong tree. What Laurence de Montfort might once have been weighed less on the scales than what she now was, and that was trouble. The third aspect, I found, had been ripped out. And the… fabric around it had been almost burned, for lack of better term, perhaps to ensure that not even a speck of what had been there before remained. Interesting, I thought. Neshamah’s work? That implied a much greater degree of control over how Revenants became what they were than I’d assumed he had. And, more intriguingly, that whatever that aspect of the Thief’s had been he’d judged it trouble enough he’d cut it out before making her into one of his undead. That aside, my remaining choice was being the aspect that tasted of running away and the one that felt like well-placed hands. You can never have too many ways to leg it, I decided, and took the first. I leaned forward, allowing my cloak to drape over me and hide the sight of the small carved wishbone the aspect had taken the shape of from the Pilgrim even as I palmed it. My other hand moved to distract him, pulling down a veil of Night over the broken body.

“If you insist on having this conversation,” I said, “let’s have it on the move. I’m done here.”

161 thoughts on “Chapter 39: Looting

  1. Big Brother

    Ooh, funny it’s a wishbone. For what is a Prayer, but a Wish. Perfect for the Staff that is Not a Staff, but a Sword, and the Sword that is Not a Sword, but a Prayer.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. SilentWatcher

      Why not harvest their experiences? 1000 Year old Elf Revenant fighting experience would have been great. Cant she harvest them or did she chose not to?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. werafdsaew

        This is not an RPG. If she didn’t harvest something, then she probably can’t, especially since the text never made it clear what can or cannot be harvested.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Qwormuli

            But that is because, IIRC, the actual knowledge in already tied into the night, so it comes with partaking in it. That is a corpse without a massacre ritual carved into it.

            Liked by 2 people

        1. Rook

          I’d bet the text is intentionally vague for things like that. This is, at the end of the day, a genre-savvy web serial where one of the main selling points is subverting many worn-out fantasy tropes or at least using them in unexpected ways.

          The tricks she can use are allowed to be flexible enough that the story can concentrate on its major premises, but for that same reason it’ll never allow for any story-breaking powerups.

          Liked by 5 people

      2. Dragrath

        To take into the night that which is owned by the Hidden Horror is to invite the hidden horror inside. I doubt any amount of experience and power able to be gained from those revenants could be worth that risk….

        Liked by 1 person

    1. byzantine279

      Possibly. But I suspect that aspect was related to Freedom in some way. Something that would allow the Revenant to escape his control, which he cannot ever allow.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. stevenneiman

        It could also have been something to assess a mark, which he was worried Cat would be able to use to see through whatever his scheme is. It might also have been something which would allow her to successfully steal the staff. It was pretty obvious that the revenants he threw at them were going to die, so he would be easily willing to reduce the effectiveness of one of them in exchange for removing a confounding variable from this specific scheme.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. nick012000

          The Dead King took the Aspect from her before he turned her into a Revenant. That would have been years before the story started; probably before Cat was even born. There’s no way he did it just to spite Cat.

          I’m guessing the “aspect was probably related to Freedom” guess was the correct one, myself.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. stevenneiman

            Cat seems to think that it was removed before, but I wouldn’t trust her to be able to tell if Neshamah had removed the Aspect earlier and didn’t want to let her tell.

            Liked by 2 people

        1. Qwormuli

          Three aspects shouldn’t have any direct correlation to a cycle of three, nor do the amount of limbs in a body, that are not the left leg.

          Okay, this might be too snarky(no direct offence, Someguy) and I might even be wrong, but goddamnit I’m getting tired of the cycle of three being invented as the reason and motive to every, single, thing, that could or would happen.

          Liked by 3 people

  2. stevenneiman

    The Saint seems like someone who’s very effective at what she’s good for but is increasingly the wrong tool for the job in the world as it is now. She only has any real idea how to deal with one sort of villain, the sort who can pretend to be decent people convincingly enough but do so as a pure ruse. She doesn’t understand the clever and shameless modern Wastelanders or a genuinely benevolent villain like Cat, and the price of getting so good at dealing with one kind of villain was that she had to make her mind to rigid to adapt to new realities.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Rook

      Honestly have to disagree about the wastelander villains. Akua wasn’t exactly small beans, and Malicia wasn’t exactly an innocent little angel in enabling her. We also know for a fact that Warlock is pretty much an old school Villain that was kept in check by his own desires as well as being tied to Black.

      The Saint, nasty piece of work that she is, would’ve done a hell of a lot of good (capital or lowercase g) if she’d been around the east in the earlier volumes. Second Liesse probably would’ve been three chapters long, with Liesse not becoming a giant graveyard and the Saint unceremoniously beheading Akua & co.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. talenel

        But she wasn’t there, was she? That’s the kind of machinations that Praesi villains are good at. Controlling what is happening. Malicia and the Calamities have been around for quite a long time for villains, yet Pilgrim and Saint never got over to Callow/Praes for a reason.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Rook

          If by “Praesi Villains” you mean only Malicia and Black, who are a once-in-several-centuries exception from the norm, sure?

          As for literally every other Praesi villain that has existed since the dawn of the empire in Triumphant’s time, they’ve all managed to control the situation into abject ruin. Theyre the exact kind of blight that headsmen like the Saint were made to put down.

          It makes very little sense to act like Black and Malicia are the norm for eastern villainy, any more than it makes sense to act like the Pilgrim is the norm for western heroics. We all know that the majority of Villains are Akua-esque pests the same way that the majority of Heroes are William-esque idiots.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. talenel

            I include Akua as well. Akua was the main villain of Liesse. While you can certainly say that Malicia helped enable her, she also did quite a bit of work to get her schemes to succeed and stay hidden.

            Furthermore, in regards to Malicia, while she has been influenced by Black, I wouldn’t say she’s the most paradigm-shifting Praesi. A lot of her behavior and plans seem much closer to traditional Prasi villainy. I would even argue that without Black that’s exactly who she would be. Taken to it utmost in terms of treachery and skillful manipulation, and without some of the crazed quirks of other Dread Emperors, but very much a Praesi villain. Remember, when it came down to it, she believed that a flying super fortress of doom is what Praes needed.

            While I don’t disagree that certain archetypes of Praesi villainy would probably be easy prey for Saint (Wekesa comes to my mind), Saint doesn’t do well with the sort of subtlety of other Praesi archetypes.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Rook

              I don’t know, I feel like the subtle or politically clever type of villains are the perfect prey for the Saint. She’s the kind of bulldozer that will cut a straight line through every machination and turn a deaf ear to attempts to sway her. She exists to essentially ignore all their strengths and strike at their weaknesses.

              I think kind that the Saint is ill-equipped for are rather the metagaming type (Catherine, Black, Tyrant, etc…), or Villains that are outright powerful enough to outmatch her (Ranger, the Forever King)

              It’s probably why the Saint and the Pilgrim have a history in the first place. The Pilgrim is lacking in brute force but is narratively savvy and has the role of a helper to boot. The Saint is nearly unstoppable in a brawl but doesn’t appear to have the same awareness for stories that the Pilgrim does.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Caerulea

                “The pilgrim is lacking in brute force…”

                What? No he is not. He is one of the most powerful named on the continent. Beating the aspect of a dead elf after he turned night into day?

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Rook

                  He’s quite weak in brute force for a Hero of his weight class, he’s a helper that occasionally becomes more effective when there’s someone to help.

                  It pretty much exhausted him to throw out a single spell that the Warlock and Witch both threw around like common pebbles in their fight. A REAL brawler like the Saint can cut through wards strong enough to contain demons without even bothering to use an aspect.

                  If all he had were his light shows he’d barely be a second rate Hero. He’s ‘powerful’ because he’s well suited to craft narratives that will cause creation to tip the scales or pile on coincidences to make him the victor.

                  Liked by 1 person

          2. ” the same way that the majority of Heroes are William-esque idiots.”

            Erratic has actually specifically pointed out that William is a major exception to the rule in his own way, which is why Catherine wasn’t able to properly predict him.

            If you want an average hero, imho you should look to Hanno and his band. I suspect that’s half the reason they were given so much focus: to show us what typical looks like.

            Liked by 4 people

          3. Agent J

            Do we? Do we know that? What was Terribilis II, but a liberator for his people, choking under the tyranny of Western Crusader States?

            And Triumphant herself was certainly no ‘pest’. She dominated the continent splendidly and skillfully.

            And if I had to bet on Akua or Laurence, I’d bet Akua. Akua and Pilgrim? Probably Pilgrim. But Laurence is too dumb by half.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Rook

              Yeah we do know it for a fact. On account of even the Below side of the line agreeing that they’re godsdamned awful. Black and the Calamities made a career out of exterminating pests like Terriblis. Praes follows mention of even Triumphant’s name with “May she never return”. She’s literally famous for irreparably damaging the fabric of Creation.

              Praes.

              PRAES. The nation whose core cultural values all revolve around murdering each other.

              If you’re so intent on trying to win an argument that you try to twist the dread emperors and empresses as ‘not so bad’, and then fail at it as the best you can come up with to justify them is saying they were “splendid and skillful”, that really says everything that needs to be said.

              Liked by 1 person

      2. Shveiran

        Akua, sure. But the others…

        Malicia may have crossed the boundary between “necessary evil” and “existential threat” in her quest for a nuclear deterrent, but the fact remains she was a juggler balancing three dozens pots on the verge of the boiling point. I see her early treaties as a sign she was determined to establish sustainable relationship with foreign powers, and that it was the refusal of the good nations, precisely on the grounds of “Evil is Evil” that pushed her to seek out more extreme measures.
        Sure, Malicia is evil, but she is not a tyrant of the old breed. She may have tries to destroy Procer, but messing with a foreign state for the gains of their own country is not something any ruler of the Guideverse, good or otherwise, is refraining from doing.
        Though they are different characters, there are strong similarities between her arc and Cat: she would not have gone to such extremes if all other directions had not been crossed off by her enemies.

        I feel like Saint’s MO is not a solution, but a cause. If you leave someone no option but total war and extermination of the loser, that someone is going to escalate as much as needed to win the conflict. And sure, we can condemn the extremes someone reaches and say they should have just surrendered and met their fate rather than risk endangering the fabric of creation, but that is an harsh choice to face. When you are faced with extinction, a lot of things begin to sound reasonable.

        As for Warlock, all he wanted was to study and enjoy his pleasures.
        We know that was not common for Warlocks of old; Akua mentions in Book 3 that the name is meant to reach ever deeper, to build wanders, to craft miracles just to prove you can. Warlock was evil, disturbing and cruel. But he was not a scourge on creation. When not in a war, I doubt he caused more loss of lives than your average corrupt noble whose ineptitude leaves poor families to starve. And if you focus on his war crimes, we come back to the point I made above: slay the monster is a fine rallying cry, but you should factor in that if the monster feel threatened, he is going to lash out. And maybe you should be spending that energy fixing smaller problems that cause more damage, rather than risk an escalation that is not really warranted by the current damage.

        Saint was a perfect match for Emperors or warlocks of old, and still is for someone like the Tyrant. They are a source of grief that will keep getting worse if you let them off the hook.

        Warlock and the Empress though? I am not convinced.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Rook

          You can’t just wave away or excuse the awful things Malicia did because she was having a hard time negotiating. That’s not a justification. Catherine had quite a bit of trouble with Cordelia and the crusade too, but even while young and inexperienced she quite easily avoided the “minor” slippery slope of intentionally creating a weapon that could end all life on the continent.

          As for the Heroes and ‘good’ nations not being cooperative? Even Malicia wasn’t stubborn enough to blame them for it. She herself laid the blame for that squarely on the previous madmen in the tower, having burned all bridges so thoroughly over hundreds of years that even her level of political acumen couldn’t provide a short term solution. Praes has been a source of Stupid Evil villainy for tens of generations; you can’t blame everyone else for not sticking their hand into that dumpster fire just because someone assures you that *this* particular one isnt hot, even though all the fires in the past – without exception – have been.

          Warlock? Still waters was Warlock’s own creation. And the fact that he didn’t have a particular vendetta against anyone doesn’t change the fact that he had an utter disregard for human life, his experiments were often horrific, and often provided results that could permanently scar the face of the continent.

          As interesting as their characters are, at the end of the day most of the Calamities are definitely evil, in both the capital and lowercase E sense. The things they do on a routine basis would cause a common criminal to be instantly hanged with no sympathy, they shouldn’t get a pass just because they’re witty and have more power.

          The Saint IS fully justified in wanting to behead them all, although it would make for a very poor story to read if she were allowed to do so. The fact that neither she nor the Pilgrim are perfect doesn’t change the moralistic grounds, and the fact that the Heroes are the antagonists in the story doesn’t automatically make every action and intention on their end foolish nonsense.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Shveiran

            You argue that Malicia and the Calamities are evil, capitalization or no. I agree. Full stop.

            You argue that the Saint is justified in her attitude. And you know, for a certain degree of “justified”, I can agree with you there too.

            What I am saying is simply that as soon as one side chooses “no compromise with the other side ever, only extermination”, you create the monsters you wish to vanquish.
            This has nothing to do with the fact that they are likable as characters.
            If peace is not an option, no matter the compromise put on the table, can you expect the other side not to be willing to step ever lower, especially if your threat grow more dire? Military escalation or captulation are the only possibilities.
            Cat went to Keter willing to let out the DK, for all her contingencies and the fact that in the end it was Malicia that got the deal; and she was willing to take that step, fully aware of how likely she was to be tricked by the Uber Villain, because she had no other choice.
            My point is not that Cordelia or Pilgrim were soulless idiots to have that stance; my point is that as soon as you leave the other guy no option but to be a monster or die, you share the blame for what that person feels pushed to do because of that.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Rook

              The point is fair, but the premise behind it I still disagree with. The implication with your argument is that even Villains like Malicia or Warlock are only “villain” or “evil” because they were pushed into it by Good. For many villains, including Malicia and Warlock, that’s not remotely true. Even if it were, it doesn’t resolve them of responsibility for their actions, it just makes them half a tragedy instead of fully a horror show.

              There often are other choices than “be a monster or die”. They’re just harder, and it’s easier to pretend they don’t exist if you didn’t take that road to push responsibility away. Now, that doesn’t change the fact that their circumstances aren’t fair. They’re not. It doesn’t change the fact that not being extraordinary enough to take the harder road is fully understandable, most anyone would turn out similar. But it doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for or consequences of their actions.

              The Heroes don’t shoulder ANY of the blame for the Villains actions either, any more than a cop shoulders the blame for the crimes of someone they arrest. Not helping them more when they were young was a failing of the Heroes that makes them imperfect, but it’s not as if the Pilgrim or the Saint created the circumstances that birthed Villains like the Warlock or Malicia, and it’s not as if they can just turn a blind eye to everything they do because it’s understandable or possible to empathize with.

              Understandable is not the same thing as innocent.

              Liked by 2 people

          2. Agent J

            Catherine had quite a bit of trouble with Cordelia and the crusade too, but even while young and inexperienced she quite easily avoided the “minor” slippery slope of intentionally creating a weapon that could end all life on the continent.

            ———

            False. Catherine accepted the Doomsday Device by Malicia’s reasoning and also battled her for the right to make treaty with the Hidden Horror, thereby ushering in the Zombie Apocalypse.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Someguy

      Saint is at her core the blade of a Guillotine no matter how she Decree herself a sword. I think Kairos is setting her up to become Heirach’s attack dog.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. konstantinvoncarstein

        It is impossible. Saint is a hero, and stubbornly on the side of Good. Hierarch is a Villain, willing to put a Choir on trial. She will more likely try to kill him.

        And I don’t think a sword can be influenced by the Aspect of the Hierarch based on revolting. Furthermore, he will not be able to see her come.
        She seems to be perfectly adapted to kill him, what a coincidence…

        Liked by 7 people

        1. > I don’t think a sword can be influenced by the Aspect of the Hierarch based on revolting.

          A sword does not act on its own; it is wielded by someone else. Saint does describe having adventures on her own long ago, but as Pilgrim comments, “she wasn’t always like this”. In the Guide, she’s been way too easy to manipulate even allowing for Cat’s skill.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Rook

      Part of the trap might actually be the idea that it has to be either or, rather than both. As scary as the Skein is, Edward is the one with enough weight in Cats story to potentially do serious damage to her.

      I’m thinking the Skein will be sent out just to provide an opening before Edward is used as the real dagger, to narratively wound Catherine right after (or during) that harrowing ordeal, when they’re exhausted and weak.

      Liked by 8 people

  3. Soma

    I’m looking to more cross cultural fun time with the heroes. The halfway civil conversations are always the best ones. Moments like ‘you gonna eat that corpse?’ are so precious.

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Rook

      I want to see it as harmless curiosity but can’t help but wonder if it’s the Pilgrim setting up a narrative on his end.

      Has Tariq ever addressed Catherine as ‘your majesty ‘ before? Who the one crown will be is still up in the air, and that kind of ridiculous question would be a pretty good way to distract from a narrative prompt.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Tibstrike

      Since she became the Night Pope. It’s the Secret Harvesting part of Night.

      Her ability to harvest aspects is a blend of Take, Winter crystalization, Night Harvesting, and soul knowledge from Akua.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. Rook

        Sve Noc is very convenient as a setting device that way. You could technically give Cat the ability to do, well, anything; and explain it away with millenniums of expertise in murder magic from the crows.

        Liked by 8 people

    2. Morgenstern

      Since having had Winter. She first started making trinkets out of aspects of fallen foes (or rather her being able to do so was revealed) in one of the chapters about how she had to stop a lot of heroes coming into and trying to make a mess in Callow since her takeover as ruler there.

      Liked by 7 people

    3. caoimhinh

      Last chapter she said that this is a use of the Night.

      However, she used Winter for doing the same with Akua’s Diabolist Aspect ‘Call’ in Book 3. It turned into a whistle and Cat used it to summon the Wild Hunt in Keter to save Vivienne in Book 4.

      Liked by 7 people

            1. caoimhinh

              Above: She took from the Angels! Well, our team can’t be seen as a lesser thing, so from now on, she can take from any creature of that level of power and below!

              Below: *Watches their new piece getting OP* Alright, and she will do it even if she needs to borrow external powers.

              Above: But to do it, she has to feel pain or otherwise feel uncomfortable!

              Below: *Shrugs* Whatever, dude. No pain, no gain.

              Above: And she has to give monologues!

              Below: Don’t you fucking dare.

              Above: Meh, worth the shot. So we got a deal?
              Below: Deal.

              And thus the groove on Fate was made and Cat story as a Taker from Creation and beyond was settled. 😆

              Liked by 6 people

        1. I’d say it’s Cat’s favorite trick that she then manages to recreate from whatever power base she has at the moment.

          Note that the tactical power-stealing level is a pale reflection of what she does strategically. “One always loses more in a bargain with fae than they gain” “then it’s a good thing I stole so much of their shit”; “hmmm there’s a brilliant tactician who is definitely 100% better than me… how do I recruit her?”; the fucking angel corpse being used for resurrecting herself; drawing both Ranker and Kegan into her own campaign as a means of deescalating matters between them; recruiting an ex-hero into her own band…

          “She will use what she cannot break and break what she cannot use” (c) don’t remember who

          Liked by 4 people

    4. Darkening

      She could do it as Winter Cat too, she used one of Diabolist’s aspects to summon the wild hunt to Keter. Still wondering what the hell happened to the ones she took from all the heroes during the time skip, but maybe sve noc ate all those with winter or something.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Morgenstern

    Hmm… or he just cut the third one out recently, because it would’ve been too much trouble if Cat got her hands on it, not when he first made a revenant out of the Thief of Stars.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. Morgenstern

    The “Next” link to this chapter here is missing at the last chapter before this one, EE.(Thankfully, the link was there in the border chapter list, though.)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Morgenstern

    Scrap that about “Next” missing – seems to have been some individual browser trouble. When I skipped back to add it in that chapter where it’s missing, too, it now was there after all.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Huh.
    Interesting. Also, Saint is very inflexible.

    On the one hand, I want to see more of King Edward. On the other, I don’t want Cat to have to kill him.
    On the flip side, Skein would be a hell of a fight. And they just had one and are definitely going to have at least one more, not counting betrayals/ infighting.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Cat implied that Kairos might be aiming at Rogue Sorcerer, so Cat could steal the crowns and Amadeus’ soul from Kairos and avoid a diplomatic issue if she stole it from the Heroes.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Kissaten

    Maybe revenantization requires butchered Name. How easily, remember, Cat managed to get zombified after William killed her. Apart from somehow being connected to zombies in her Name Vision she is also called lucky by Neshamah. Maybe she just almost heroically stumbled upon the truth of making revenants, and she is being herded towards being eighth crown herself

    Liked by 4 people

    1. erebus42

      That would be hilarious. Almost as hilarious as if he had disguised himself as a Hero and joined a Heroic band bent on bringing him down all Ainz Ooal Gown/Momon style

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Digitize27

    It seems improbable that Nehsamah knows of her ability to re-forge aspects into artifacts, but aside from the suggestion that the Thief of Stars’ third aspect was removed because it may have given her a chance of escaping his necromancy, it also seems possible that Neshamah wants Cat to take an aspect, but thought the Thief’s third would have been an advantage, rather than a trap.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It seems EXTREMELY probable to me that Neshamah knows that.

      – one of her Aspects having been Take is common knowledge, or if not quite common Malicia would definitely know and I’m fairly certain she fed Neshamah info on her;

      – Catherine literally used the Call whistle – one she’d made out of Akua’s Aspect – IN KETER. What point do you think Neshamah had for organizing that whole showdown if not getting a good read on her capabilities?

      – Night is ABOUT stealing power. Even without the above Catherine was extremely likely to end up with tricks relating to it.

      So… even in the absence of hard knowledge, even if he can’t plumb Masego’s mind for all the info it has, it makes no sense that he wouldn’t GUESS.

      Liked by 6 people

  10. Darkening

    Well, that’s two revenants with only 2 living aspects. If we get a third, I’m prepared to declare that a rule of making revenants. Should be interesting to see who we get, the skein was a fun fight, and Saint’s history with the rats would probably come up a bit which could be interesting, but seeing the King sounds like it’d be a great scene. I mean, his name by definition is his right to rule, hard to get more obvious a crown than that. I doubt Cat will be willing to use any revenant’s crown for this, but the temptation should be interesting.

    Liked by 6 people

  11. Dimensional

    So. Musing on the natures of the various Stories and patterns that seem to be converging here.

    1. Seven crowns and One. obviously Important and the ‘One’ Crown is the Pivot that swings the whole thing – All parties seem to be trying to influence this one.

    2. Heroic band confronts a new/old Evil – Cat,Pilgrim, Saint and co. theoretically aimed at Larat post seven crowns, but also at Dead King/Masego? who is betraying who and who they end up in ‘Final’ Showdown also affect pretty much everything.

    3. Hero allies with their enemies to bargain for here father/ mentor’s soul. Cat’s end game involves getting Black’s Soul back – Depending on how Cat manages to frame this may protect her from retaliation.

    4. – This is Cat’s third trip to This city, each time previously she lost, then managed to turn that to victory and ‘gain’ some sort of apotheosis (Died/ resurrected, Bound/ Winter unfettered). Is this a pattern? and if so can it be manipulated?

    5. The other band of 5. Cat’s Here, Archer is looking for Masego (and thus i’m assuming is here somehow and somewhere, If Adjutant and Vivienne sneak in somehow – you have a second band of 5 – and a story where 4 come together to restore their friend who has been captured.

    Any others?

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Yes, I can’t wait to see what happens when the Hierarch reappears.

        Also, why haven’t we seen or heard from the Wandering Bard for so long? Her absence troubles me.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. raimn

          Well the Hierarch f***ed her over pretty good when he went to court with her so she probably can’t or won’t come close to him as it might endanger her name. I think she had her hands or a finger in the Saint pushing Cordelia during the conclave thing and Cordelia going fishing for whatever is in that lake kind of has her fingerprints all over it. At least that what it feels like to me as she should be able to influence Cordelias cousin in her current role as “messenger” from Above.

          Liked by 3 people

      2. Indeed, Vivienne is no more the Thief. Now she’s the heir-designate to Callow. Wouldn’t it annoy Pilgrim if she supplies the eighth crown? Cat would still have Abigail as backup heir, and Viv could still be Abigail’s (lower-case) chancellor.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          I think Catherine will provide the eighth crown. Vivienne is her best possible successor. Abigail is not suited to reign, even if she could make a good general.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. Probably, I just liked imagining Pilgrim’s response. And Cat is justifiably wary of shortcuts for the last crown — as per the text for this chapter, she knows that the core story is “one of these three shall lose their crown”, and if she twists that, DK gets to respond in kind.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Not to mention all the political/narrative PR value Cat can get out of a willing sacrifice on that scale.

              And the part where Callow is suddenly no longer led by a villain and the Grand Alliance has no valid reasons left to aggress it.

              And the part where she breaks the story Tariq is worried about her representing, the “revenge on Good for failing her country” once and for all.

              Even beyond all the tactical reasons to do it, strategic benefits Catherine would get out of an abdication are immense.

              Of course, then there’s the tactical setback of the army going “excuse me what” and Vivienne having a new problem to handle in that, and the strategic setback if she doesn’t quite manage to.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. > the army going “excuse me what”

                A real concern, but if Cat does physically return, she can directly support Viv to the army.

                Also, she could potentially serve as Marshal for a transition period (risky business, but Cat’s used to that). She already set up the Iserre adventure as a pretext for demoting Juniper, and given Cat would be taking a demotion herself, Juniper might not be too unhappy. Or once Black gets reassembled, he could be Marshall, while Cat goes off to take care of the Drow, and “prepare a place” for Sve Noc.

                I’ll respond to your other comment once I’m properly caffeinated. 😉

                Liked by 2 people

  12. > … that left the three of us masters of the field. And so I was worried.

    That’s how Cat’s story goes. I note that these three are (belatedly) watching their words as if DK might be listening.

    Speaking of listening, looks like EE’s still reading the comments. 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Are you, too, falling prey to the “narrative questions heavily built up to have been addressed right after the comment section started discussing them; clearly this means the writer used the comment section as a source, and not built up to it because they intended to write it like this all along” weird reasoning trap?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s a fair question whether he’s reading us, or we’re “reading” him. ;-), But there have been a lot of chapters where he addresses the specific issues we brought up, usually early in the chapter. That said, in some of those cases, we’ve basically been covering all the possibilities we could see, and in this one (and some previous chapters), EE also tosses out a few points we hadn’t considered.

        He’s clearly too smart (and/or busy) to actually negotiate the plot with us in the comment section, but I see no problem with the idea of him reading our analyses and taking advantage of them, without being bound thereby.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’d put my money on busy. The rate of his typos suggest that he is getting tired. Also bear in mind that this is a beta version, not an actual book, when it comes down to it (EE already mentioned that he prefer no ebook made, since there’s planned to be an actual publication). That also explains that, on my memory, he edited only first two books (which coincided with him making more frequent updates) according the typos found in comments. He also emntioned that he tryes to read almost all comments, though answers arguably much rarer and more about some lore and worldbuilding questions, not plot ones.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. I just keep seeing characters bring up the obvious points they were inevitably supposed to consider, and then everyone goes OOOH HE’S REACTING TO US. I don’t think Guide sans comment section would lack those musings, and I find myself kind of annoyed with the repeated suggestions it would =x

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Agreed.
            I find it much more likely that it merely seems EE is reacting to the comments because we comment about the topics each update brings up or build up to. A good writer will try to guess what kind of questions a certain chapter would instil in the reader, and either answer them in the following chapter or “hang a lantern” on it to promise an answer will come ina satisfying spot.
            We discuss those points, but my guess is EE has already decided whether or not he’ll include a certain item in the following chapter whenever he posts.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. >A good writer will try to guess what kind of questions a certain chapter would instil in the reader

              Not even this.

              A good writer MANIPULATES the questions a story raises in the reader, deliberately. A good writer RAISES the questions through their story, BECAUSE they want to answer them later.

              It’s kind of how foreshadowing actually properly works -_-

              So, like… yeah.

              Like

          2. Maybe, maybe not. I’ve done a fair bit of work on various wikis over the years, and I’ve sometimes been deeply impressed at the power of such collaboration. Even where there’s a “primary” editor for a given page, others can bring in key points or fill in neglected details. I’ve also seen several webcomics where the cartoonist(s) were an active part of their own commenting community, and occasionally did take suggestions or ideas from the comments. I know that the SF author Larry Niven has at least twice responded to fans pointing out issues, by fixing them in later volumes. (The orbital stability of the Ringworld, and the anatomy of his Moties.)

            This serial isn’t openly interactive, but still, it doesn’t emerge from a vacuum. ErraticErrata is an actual person, who shares my own given name. As I write this, he might be working at a day job, sitting at the computer, having a snack, working out at the gym, or anything else people do. He’s entirely capable of seeing a comment and thinking “didn’t I cover that? Maybe not”, or even “hey good idea”. Or for that matter “Where is that guy coming from, did they actually read what I wrote?” 😉 By reading the comments, he has the option to pick among the fruits of our creativity and insight, and maybe add some of them to his own.

            The fun part about being the author, is that he gets to decide whether and how to respond. Personally, I think he’s being smart to keep any in-story responses “deniable”, rather than going back and-forth with us in the comments. Because that does leave it open for us to get a sense of collaboration. Whether or not it’s actually all in our heads, it’s still fun! (And either way, he doesn’t have to engage with pestering.)

            Liked by 2 people

            1. It’s just really not fun for me to imagine a world where the questions raised by the narrative that we discuss in the comment were raised by ACCIDENT and not deliberately. It doesn’t make sense with how tight erratic’s plotting is 0.o

              Collaborations in the sense of him fixing what he gets wrong are great and productive, but this is just… 0.o

              Liked by 1 person

              1. The thing is, “at this level of play” it gets increasingly difficult for one person to really keep track of everything. Steven Brust has said that he’s depended on a fan chronology to help keep his world straight, and I doubt he’s the only one.

                All this gets even trickier when the world mechanics go meta, as with the Guide’s “story” as an in-world mechanic; story tradition simply isn’t the work of a single person Even the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson had forebears, and they didn’t capture the whole of their mileus either. Looking at how the readers respond to the Story So Far, and what stories *they* recognize, is just sensible research.

                Liked by 1 person

  13. erebus42

    “You do not intend to eat them, do you?”
    That one had me laughing. Given what he said about what they know or think they know about her allies and subordinates it wasn’t that crazy of a question but it just came out of left field and got me.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Well, Cat’s mrvelously optimistic here. Rat or king? Why not both, and throw some un6known Revenant just to spice things up! And since Hierophant is nearby, why not him too?

    Speacking of elves. I do like me some foreshadowing, but anyone else is a little exited/scared for Forever King? I do like me some foreshadowing, but his name was in the summmary from the very beginning, and he is yet to do anything meaningful. I wonder what our Chekhov’s elf will do, but from the sheer amount of unexpected twists, I bet we will ally with DK to fight the the army of crazy murderous elves, after they usurp Arcadia or something equally disturbing. I mean I was rereading Keter Ark, and this Liesse/Arcadia was foreshadowed way back when they traveled echo of tge making of Kingdom of dead in Arcadia, and it was mentioned in passing that Liesse will leave the same mark on Arcadia.EE doesn’t leave any gun unfired.

    So, had DK already captured Archer anyway, or will she come at the last moment, saving the day? Will it finally resolve their ark with Masego? Will Cat finally taste human flesh? Stay tuned and learn all that – and more.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      I had forgotten the presence of the Forever King in the intro. I think he will see the Dead King weakened, and try his luck. But it will cause problems with the Deoraithe.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Everyone did. Ain’t that suspicious? He is mentioned in a brief number of chapters, and his actual presence in the story amounts to sending two elves to kill Aqua, and later NOPEing out of Creation.

        Liked by 2 people

  15. By the way, how many crowns we no have, that are kimda sorta qualofied to be the One?

    Cat and Callow; Tariq and Levant; Kairos and Helike;Thief and her constellation; Spellsword and Golden Bloom; would not be suprised if Rogue Sorcerer is some princeling in disguise; Saint is most certainly a nobility, and if she is indeed a reference to Simon de Montfort (older one, not the one who rebelled and installed a constitutional monarchy and reformed the Parlament – now there’s the horrifying thought – though both crusaded) she might even be somewhat royal, but taking the name of her not royal parent for example, or being bastard child; there is still a Hierophant nearby – a ruler of League, I wonder who he will react tot he act of reaping of crowns; King Edward the Seventh – Callow; Skein can techincally be considered a figure of influence among Ratlings – insofar as he is to tough to be food and possesses a modicum of intelligence; Balck is here too, both a (former) king of Callow and a claimant to Tower; don’t forg6et the Dead King; oh and I think that’s about it. Would agree with Hierophant – too much crowns flying around.

    Cat giving her own crow will be predictable and expected – too predictable, so I expect EE to pull through again, and give us yet another twist. Doubt it would be anyone from the band either, and it would not be a Black nor a DK, Thief is extremely improbable, elf wouldn’t cut it, as wouldn’t Skein. Probably it is someone I didn’t see coming, like Cat – because I did not expected her since she is to expectable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Cat has commented that going outside the band would be problematic story-wise. As I wrote above:
      > she knows that the core story is “one of these three shall lose their crown”, and if she twists that, DK gets to respond in kind.

      She really doesn’t want to give the Dead King an entry to this story, and any hijinks with the last crown would do so.

      Also, some of your options are almost certainly invalid, in two groups:

      Saint of Swords, Rogue Sorcerer, Skein, and Thief Of Stars would each require an authorial ass-pull, because they have not previously been cited as royal — and in the first two cases they should have been, at the conclave. (Thankfully, EE isn’t prone to pulling stuff out of his ass.)

      Black and King Edward VII share a different disqualification: Neither has a right to rule anymore, because each has been replaced by a valid successor! (Come to think of it, the late Spellblade probably would have had a similar problem.) Cat owns that crown now… and she’s actually willing to give it up. Her abdication has been teased since before she was officially Queen, she’s made appropriate preparations so as not to leave Callow in the lurch, and this is a perfectly good occasion. (It would also be a nice thumb in the eye to Pilgrim, but that’s just candy. 🙂 ) About the only drawback is that it would probably scotch Liliet’s Queen Under The Mountain idea.

      If somebody else pops up to donate a crown, that would actually be an attack on Cat’s plans. The Hierophant is the primary contender to pull that stunt, but as I’ve noted previously, that could be trouble: If the realm is shaped by that final crown, Heirophant’s influence would presumably make it hostile to rulers and even commanders. That would be a problem when trying to take armies through it! On the other hand, DK would be fine with that, as it would shut out his enemies, while he’s probably strong enough to take whatever the realm throws at him.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yeah, I think the One will be one of the 3+1 candidates (Cat, Tariq and Kairos, plus possibly Black if the possessed Rogue Sorcerer theory becomes canon).
        EE is great with twists, but there has to be some foreshadowing for a twist to feel awesome, and introducing a new option at this point may feel forced. There has been some foreshadowing that RS may be Black-influenced, and we know he is a claimant to the title of Emperor… but him giving up that makes for a very ugly pot in Praes. I don’t see anyone but him and possibly Cat dragging Praes away from a return to the Golden Age of Villainy.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Remember, Black’s consent isn’t actually required — whether or not he’s influencing RS, he’s currently a disembodied soul.

          The thing is, if it’s Black, he can’t take the Tower… but Cat can, which would be the culmination of his plans. Any Drow that stick with her (as opposed to joining the Keter guard) would fit right in, and even help keep the nobles in line.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. Actually, I’d say you have to pick one: if Cat giving up her crown would scratch the “Queen Under The Mountain” story (note that a story does not need to match up well in all the specific details: Black was never crowned King of Callow, yet the Sword in the Stone story worked), then King Edward, to fulfill this same role through still being thought of as “a king”, if one who no longer rules, would still be holding his “crown”.

        I would say in fact it’s possible for both to be true: it’s possible that King Edward’s claim to ‘a crown’ is still strong enough to actualize his ‘right to rule’ into something usable here, AND that Catherine giving up the actual ‘right to rule’ would not scratch out her narrative role as ‘a queen of yore’ if she abdicates immediately and at no point rules without having a right to do so (which would overwrite the narrative with a very bad story, for her).

        I’m not saying that I’m certain in either of these, much less in both at once… actually scratch that. Catherine has SAID it would be possible to use King Edward’s crown. I’m damn well certain she knows what she says.

        As far as I understand the metaphysical concept of “crown” that is at issue here, the “right to rule” is something all mortals have by default, per se: the Heavens don’t metaphysically protest against anyone seizing the throne no matter by what means they do so. If you’re not fae, you have this right until/unless you give it up specifically, like here. It’s a… slot. It’s a slot of “I have a claim to the crown of X”, where X is empty by default, and can be filled/emptied/overwritten any number of times as long as the slot is still there.

        For Thief of Stars, this slot is in fact actually filled with the constellation: she’s not an earthly ruler per se, but a crown she has, and the power in it is enough to give substance to Larat’s claim (which is what the bargain is for in the first place: cobble together seven and one mortal ‘slots’ to make one for him where he would not normally have one). For the Spellblade, this claim is filled with his status as the Forever King’s successor – Catherine is only presuming it works like that for elves, but given he’s a Forever King and not a Forever President, I think it’s a fair guess. And just because he died doesn’t mean his role in the story changed from “a prince” – if he were to be suddenly resurrected and the Forever King to suddenly die, he’d have the crown. And when Catherine says that’s a sufficient claim, I believe her. After all, Princes and Princesses of Procer only have claims to individual principalities, too, which I would say is inherently weaker than a crown of a whole independent polity. For King Edward, the claim is no longer substantiate-able: I doubt that if he were resurrected and came back to Callow he’d miraculously be in the line of succession… although, come to think of it, it’s probably a fair guess that he’d be next after Vivienne: not overriding the current rulers, but a non-zero advantage over ‘pick any random noble’. So it’s a very real claim in potentia, not to mention the part where it has been substantiated enough that he gets referred to as King, right now.

        The question of “would Catherine be able to fulfill a Queen story role that did not require her to be actually currently ruling after giving up her right to rule” is open, I’d say. Neither a certain yes nor a certain no.

        It would suck if these two predictions of mine ended up being mutually exclusive, but that’s life -_-

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Let’s narrow candidates down, shall we? Cat, Tariq, Tyrant, Hierarch, DK, Revenants. DK is out, Hierarch is not palatable, Revenants will probably give DK a thread to resurrect Larat after he’s killed, Tyrant won’t give his title up wothout screwing everyone even worse (there is a chance the crown will affect whom Larat will become after ascending), so there are two real unwilling candidates, Tariq and Cat. Both don’t want to rule, though one does out of nessessity. I would argue that Tariq WANTS to give up his crown for this, as it will give the realm into the hands of the Above somewhat, and more importantly, estrange big Black Queen from the story (by the way, I just realised you can call Catherine “Cat the BBQ”).

          Also I wonder, can Cat give up only her Winter title and keep eartly ones (one a grounds that Catherin from Laure and Sovereign of Moonless Nights are two separate entities, given one tended to corrupt the other and that Sovereign was arguably immortal replica of Cat, rather than Cat herself (as per Warlock)) so that not she gives up her right to rule, but the Sovereign of Moonless Nights? Also, she can give up her right to rule, die, get resurrected (tx Pilly) and pretend the Cat that gave her “right” is not her. I mean there are many ways to flip the story if you get creative enough.

          Can you make Archer Queen of Callow (after adapting her as an ugly but still beloved daughter) and make her give up her right to rule, abdicating in favor of Cat again? Possibilities are endless.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Addressing your last few paragraphs: (1) Per the conclave, Cat giving up her Winter title would leave her mortal title cursed. (2) The problem with shoving the bill onto Archer like you suggest is that there’s no way to notify Callow’s people of her abrupt abdication (in favor of someone other than the designated heir that she did give proper notice for). (3) Given that Cat was the Black Queen before, during, and after Winter, a quick death and resurrection isn’t going to change anything.

            Expanding on that last: As I’ve commented before, in a world where this sort of thing is possible, the definition of “real identity” becomes a political question: Will this person maintain all the obligations, roles, and relationships they had before they were killed+revived, transmuted, ensorcelled, etc.? If so, they count as the same person. (And that trick would specifically violate that rule!)

            However, I can easily believe that Cat and Pilgrim might end up “fighting for the bill”. 😉 It would be a “nice” twist if Kairos grabs it, but I doubt that will happen, for all the obvious reasons.

            Like

          2. >I would argue that Tariq WANTS to give up his crown for this, as it will give the realm into the hands of the Above somewhat, and more importantly, estrange big Black Queen from the story

            not to spoiler from the future, but 😀

            >(by the way, I just realised you can call Catherine “Cat the BBQ”).

            ilu

            >Also I wonder, can Cat give up only her Winter title and keep eartly ones

            She already did: she laid down her crown as Sovereign of Moonless Nights at Sve Noc’s feet.

            Also in my understanding of how the crowns work here it wouldn’t have satisfied the bargain anyway: Larat needed MORTAL crowns.

            Like

        2. Hmm. Looking back, Catherine does indeed consider the Thief of Stars and King Edward as options as well as Spellblade… but note that even she wasn’t really sure. She does note that DK is presenting three potential crowns to match her three solid ones (Pilgrim is least certain, but the conclave seemed to agree that he counts.)

          Interestingly, if King Edward counts, then so does Amadeus, as the Sword In The Stone incident implied and confirmed that he counts as a king of Callow. (World rules seem to be that if you get away with something once, it sets a precedent.) And Amadeus has fewer liabilities… not a creature of DK, sane (scarily so 😉 ) and he’d be happy to defer to Cat.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Which also raises an interesting question: Does the Dead King know that Amadeus’s soul is on the table?
            1) The soul was taken in a camp full of Heroes, who might well have been able to hide the business.
            2) It was then carried by the weirdly-powerful and mysterious Rogue Sorcerer.
            3) It was discussed briefly between Pilgrim and Cat, both of whom have some ability to fend off DK’s scrying…
            4) … and then conspicuously not mentioned at the conclave, nor (iirc) since.
            5) Masego wouldn’t know, because he was gone before Cat emerged from the Everdark.
            6) Even Archer, if she’s been captured, likewise left before Cat found out. So he couldn’t learn it from them.
            7) Black’s soul has also been carried with the party from the beginning, by the same guy who’s carrying the “mortal” seven crowns. 😉

            +1) So, there’s a very real possibility that Cat will have access to a valid crown that the Dead King doesn’t know about. Amadeus, Lord of the Crossroads?

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Not if he donates his crown… OK, a lot of folks wouldn’t mind Praes being cursed, at least until they realize that leads to him being replaced by some other Dread Emperor/Empress who might not be as… restrained.

                Liked by 1 person

          2. I think it could have worked WHILE Amadeus was “king in all but name”, but since he no longer is AND in name he never was, the train has sailed & it’d be too much of a stretch. Now, if Tariq’s potential claim to the throne of Levant counts, Amadeus’s potential claim to Dread Emperor might count. Though, Tariq’s claim is founded BOTH on Levant’s willingness to accept him as a ruler AND a lawful claim through inheritnace, while Amadeus only has the former, so it might not be enough… but if it did count, Amadeus and Cat might potentially end up having an amusing conversation where Cat wants him as a ruler of Praes while he doesn’t want to be one ;u;

            Like

      1. Simon de Montfort is one of leaders of Crusade that is most infamous for saying (actually not saying) “Kill them all, let God sort them out” also infamlus for being brutal crusader who didn’t really spare anyone. I mean, there is literally a province named Brabant here (among others), EE is not one for subtle historical references.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Aston

    I’m still waiting for Cat to pull out higher level tech to resolve the issue.

    Like a railgun.

    Borrowed from the Gnomes.

    Good chapter but aren’t we due for a series of Interludes..?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. While I’d not look forward to a series of them, an interlude showing the coming conversation from Pilgrim’s POV may be interesting. I’d enjoy seeing the recent developments framed through his perspective.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Also, exactly what issue here would a railgun solve? Especially since the possessed guy Cat’s trying to rescue is the same guy who’s already got the magical equivalent! Cat has learned better than to answer big guns by reaching for a bigger gun.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Aston

    What would be really funny is the Dead King actually has an advanced technology society hidden in his personal Hells and thus undetectable by the Dwarves and Gnomes.

    Using time acceleration or some such.

    At least beyond bows and swords.

    Let me just equip a few hundred dead with rifles etc.

    Whatever he’s hiding in his Hells is the trump card.

    Above Driven society?

    Captive Choirs?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. And this is one of the few places he could possibly pull them out without facing immediate war from the gnomes. That said, there’s been no hint whatsoever that he’s playing in that territory, while DK has been established as being supreme in other, more familiar modes.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Nah, dear Neshi plays it safe. Having Red Letter tier technology is NOT safe. Why not wait a few thousand years instead and see if gnomes collapse into nothingness instead?

      Liked by 2 people

  18. Why does no one believe me

    Saint’s domain has literally been mentioned like 500 times, along with her death flags. In what sense is she NOT a perfect “plot twist” (foreshadowed as hell) And One candidate???

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Berder

    I guarantee you that the aspect Cat just took is a trap. If she uses it, it’s going to send her to Keter or something equally awful. The Dead King is no fool, to just give Cat an easily defeated foe from which she can take something useful. I bet the Thief of Stars’ third aspect was excised *recently* specifically so that Cat would be guided to take the escape aspect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Berder

      Or it may be a more subtle story trap: the Dead King anticipates a situation from which it will be very tempting for Cat to escape, but, if she does, it will turn the story against her.

      Liked by 2 people

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