Chapter 40: Entreaty

“The priests lie, my friend. A bargain with a devil does not pervert your meanings, or seek to twist your nature. Why would it need to, when the honest desires of men are already so wicked?”
– Kayode Owusu, Warlock under Dread Emperors Vindictive I and Nihilis

When I’d told Tariq that if he wanted to talk about the Saint we’d have to do it while walking, I’d meant it as a way to put him off. Considering we were in a broken ruin of a realm infested with devils, undead and whatever else had might have been summoned and bound, it seemed foolish to have such a conversation when we should be keeping our eyes out on our surroundings instead. How silly of me not to realize that I was dealing with the Grey Pilgrim: he was more than willing to take my words at face value if it got him his way, and I couldn’t even recant. Not without seeming like I was the one out to get the heroine, anyway, which would win me no favours with the heroic three fifths of our party as well as quite possibly turn into a liability down the line. It was one thing if I killed the Saint of Sword in my own defence or that of Masego’s, another if just like when I’d snatched back Black’s body I was baiting her to better take a swing. One would be a tragedy that could be mended, in time, but the other would eat away at the foundation of the alliances I wanted to make. So, when after a few traded whispers with the Peregrine the Saint went on ahead to scout the way through, I sighed but did not object when he fell in at my side. Quite a pair we made, the winded old man and the dusty cripple.

“I had a conversation with your teacher, before his soul was cut out and sealed,” Tariq Fleet-foot suddenly said.

He’d meant to catch me by surprise, which made the way I was just a little too slow in keeping that surprise off my face all the more irritating. My limp faltered, and the way I turned it into a painful longer stride wouldn’t have fooled me – much less an old hand like the Pilgrim.

“Did you?” I blandly replied. “Interesting.”

Like a horse about to bold, there was now no telling where this was headed. If he’d wanted my undivided attention, well, he godsdamned had it.

“He is,” the Pilgrim agreed. “The qualities that steer him could be considered virtues, in a certain light. Had he chosen to serve the cause of Above instead of Below he would have made a great champion.”

My lips quirked, though it was mockery and not amusement that moved them. All I could think of was green eyes burning with something mad, in a little room in Marchford, and that implacable anger that was at the heart of him. Amadeus of the Green Stretch, carrying the banner of the Heavens? No, it would go against every grain of who he was – he was capable of doing great good, he truly was, in that Tariq had grasped him exact. But his disdain for Good was set in the marrow of his bones, and there would be no changing that without changing every other part of him.

“I expect if you told him as much it was not well-received,” I said.

“I believe he made his finest effort to wound me with words alone,” the old man said, sounding unmoved.

I threw an assessing glance at the Grey Pilgrim, finding his tone just a little too blithe. His face was the same, so tranquil I could not help but wonder if it was forced. I’d known Black to twist or break people with but a few calculated sentences, and though the Peregrine would be made of sterner stuff than these he would also have a graveyard’s worth of skeletons in his closet. On the other hand, Black had cultivated his reputation – his legends – into as much of a weapon as the rest of him. It was always hard to discern what he could and could not do, which had always been the way the man liked it.

“Yet his insights, though harshly delivered, have allowed me to shed different light on things I once believed myself to fully understand,” the Pilgrim continued. “In the east, I believe a distinction is drawn between Name and Role.”

“The Book of All Things does to begin with, if you read into certain parts,” I pointed out.

For a beat I sought the exact passage, one of the few I’d actually learned by rote.

“To every soul, great and small, purpose will be tendered,” I quoted. “Through crucible of choice are lives shaped, and one’s mark on Creation defined.”

The passage went on to say some pointed things about villainy being a twisting of that tendered purpose, and so Evil as well as evil, but I’d always taken the Book with a grain of salt. It was a beloved and well-worn story in Callow that some ancient Count of Denier had used that very passage to argue that it was in fact impious not pay taxes promptly and in full. Once words were put to ink, anybody could put them to use and those particular words were so old none could say who’d first written them – more than simply the purposes, I suspected that the words themselves had shifted over the centuries. They couldn’t not have, after all, considering no one in those days had spoken Lower Miezan before said empire came to Calernia and the Callowan manuscripts of the Book were in that language. No translation could be perfect, my expanding repertoire of spoke and written languages had made painfully clear. The Grey Pilgrim’s glance at me was openly amused, which was when I was forced to acknowledge I’d just quoted scripture at a man who rubbed elbows with angels. Ah. Awkward.

“As you say, Queen Catherine,” he said. “I must commend whoever it was that saw to your religious education.”

I wondered how he’d take if I told him I’d drifted through most sermons at the House and only begun studying the Book with any seriousness at the prompting of the wicked servant of the Hellgods better known as the Black Knight. Or, for all that matter, that the only person I’d comprehensively discussed theology with in the last few years was Masego, a man whose main interest in the matter was the practicalities of deicide. In all fairness, I thought, that’s turned out surprisingly pertinent to our lives.

“In Levant, we speak of it simply as Bestowal,” Tariq said. “A gift from Above or a curse from Below. What is done with these is our choice, and the strength of the mark left on Creation is but the illustration of the character of they who were bestowed. One who cultivated customs leading to greatness will leave great legacy behind, deeds worthy of recording. One who allowed mortal failings to remain paramount will be but a line in the ledgers of the Blood, soon forgot.”

“I’d noticed,” I slowly said, “that your nobles – your Blood – seem particularly set in their ways.”

“We seek to emulate admirable people, Queen Catherine, but those people are long gone,” the Pilgrim sadly said. “And their wars, their foes, their disasters are no longer our own. In being inflexible of virtue we have made virtue of inflexibility, often to our detriment. It is a way of thinking, you see, that exalts great deeds done in the name of the Heavens without giving though to their aftermath. Their consequences. At our finest – and make no mistake, for all its flaws the Dominion has rendered great and righteous service for no rewards at all – my people are an assembly of heroes, Bestowed or not. At our worst, we seek glory heedlessly and recklessly kill over matters of honour.”

Which, while a fascinating look into the Dominion from a man who knew it like few others could and likely ever would, had little bearing on the Saint of Swords or even Black that I could see.

“I had thought myself, through the nature events that shaped me, freed of these fetters so common to my people,” the Grey Pilgrim quietly said. “I was, it has become clear, terribly wrong in this.”

After the first surprise he’d sprung on me I’d grown careful to mask my thoughts, but hearing the old man that was arguably the most accomplish hero of our age – and likely a century or two before that – bluntly admit he’d made a grave mistake almost put another stutter to my steps. There was regret in the way the Peregrine had spoken, but mostly it was an honest admission of error. And that was, I thought, why even when he sought to end me it was difficult to hate the man. Because even when he dipped into hypocrisy, even when he dug in his heels long past the point he should, the Grey Pilgrim was trying to do good. And when he failed in that, he looked the truth of it in the eye and owned it.

“I do not regret for a moment my service of the Heavens, Black Queen,” the old man honestly said, “but my blindness to the consequences of it is on my head. In doing merciful work I have sown the seeds of reprisal far and wide and though never once will I bend my head to Evil for fear of contest, more should have been done to prepare Calernia for the storm.”

It sounded, I thought, like he was blaming himself for the Dead King’s stirring. Which seemed backward to me, considering I was fairly sure it was Malicia who’d first opened the gates for his intervention in Creation. Oh, I’d sought to make a bargain as well after receiving envoy from Neshamah but she’d been wearing a body in Keter long before I arrived. If my suspicions were correct and the Dead King avoided intervention save at the invitation of another Evil – to place, in a way, the burden of opposition to Good on another – then it was the Tower’s hand and not any hero’s that was at work. On the other hand, would he have moved if he’d not seen opportunity? I wondered. I doubted an invitation was all it took to secure the aid of the Dead King. Perhaps the Grey Pilgrim was right, and in some eldritch way his works had paved the grounds for the King of Death’s coming. But even so, fuck the idea that the old man was responsible for the slaughter that ensued. I’d stood on the opposite end of the field from the Pilgrim more than once, but I could only praise the vast majority of what he’d done over his many decades of holding a Name.

“You’ve been a helping hand,” I replied. “Sometimes I question the soundness of the causes you’ve helped, but not your intent.”

“That is kind of you,” Tariq said, bowing his head. “And you are not wrong to say I was hand, and mayhaps on occasion a finger on the scale. I was offered chances, you see, to intervene when there was still contest to be had. When the balance had yet to swing.”

He paused.

“Laurence de Montfort was sent forth, for near as many years as I, when there was absolutely nothing left to save,” he gravely said.

And there we were at last, I thought. The song and dance to convince me to stay my hand if a moment came where she turned on me. That the Pilgrim had pressed so hard for this conversation to happen in the first place told me everything I needed to know about the odds of it happening.

“So she’s seen the deep end,” I said, unimpressed.

“No, Queen Catherine, she has swum in it,” the old man sadly said. “When we first spoke in Callow, years ago, you told me you were tired of killing children because they were on the wrong side. Asked me if I was. And I am, Black Queen, Heavens forgive me but I am. Yet mine was still the lighter of the burdens, for even Laurence’s victories have only ever come in the wake of disaster.”

My brows furrowed. If I was following his meaning correctly, he was implying that while his role had been snuffing out disasters before they could fully form while the Saint of Swords had been… well, cutting of limbs when the rot took.

“You see her now, after a life of holding back the darkness, and find only bitterness and distrust,” Tariq said. “I do not expect these to endear her to you, Your Majesty, or even for cordiality to be attained. But I ask that you see her bared fangs for what they are: the scars left behind by a lifetime spent facing down the horrors of Calernia so no one else would have to.”

His voice wasn’t pleading, not exactly, though knowing what I knew about the Peregrine if he thought that tossing aside his pride would save the Saint’s life he would discard it without a second thought. In that sense he was remarkably similar to my own teacher, seeing little worth in personal dignity when it stood in the way of results. But though shy of a plea, there was no denying that a suit was being made.

“I know better than most what it costs someone to tread through ruin,” I acknowledged. “And many of mine were of my own making. But that must be owned, Pilgrim. It does not abnegate responsibility – especially not in the powerful.”

“Those ties got both ways,” the old man said. “There is not a soul on Calernia, Black Queen, that has not benefitted from the toil that clouded Laurence de Montfort. Sword in hand, she has danced with death for the sake of others a hundred times. From the windswept plains of the Chain of Hunger to the silent deeps of the Brocelian Forest: she has drowned plagues that would have killed dozens of thousands in the blood of hundreds, slain beloved heroes who sunk into madness and slaughter, sent scuttling back into the dark all manners of old gods whose hungers grew wicked – though not before they had their taste.”

His blue eyes grew hard as steel, when he met mine.

“All this she has endured, and endured for so long that Creation itself tempered her into something beyond breaking,” the old man said. “I have known souls sworn to Endurance that would weep at having lived half her life – and for this she has asked no reward, no riches nor titles nor honours. Not a single thing, for above all things Laurence de Montfort believes that strength must be put to righteous purpose.”

The Grey Pilgrim let out a long breath.

“She is not kind,” he admitted, “for Creation has burned kindness out of her. She is not forgiving, for there are graves sown across many lands that taught her to cast forgiveness aside. She is not witty or brilliant or fascinating, those traits that so often make the worst of us seem forgivable. She is rough and brusque, mistrusting, and there will never be a day where she does not see you as a seed of the Enemy.”

The Peregrine, old and bent as he was, held himself with the presence of ruler when he so wished. This was not one of those times, for he did not try to tower over me or browbeat into acquiescence. He was asking, as an equal or something close to it.

“And still,” he said, voice growing rough with feeling, “I ask you to see you for what she is: a woman who saw evil preying on the world and took up the sword in its defence. Selflessly, without once grudging what such service would wreak upon her soul.”

And I could see, through the grief in his voice, that there truly was a tragedy there. Because he might be a decent actor, I thought, and perhaps a liar of some skill if there was cause for it, but he had not taken to it the way some of the people I knew had. The tremor in his voice was genuine, coming from someone who’d never learned to fake it so perfectly they’d blurred even to themselves the difference between truth and lies.

“It may be,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “that for the harrowing life she has led Laurence will be given place of honour at the feet of the Gods when death finally takes her. That for greater service greater accolade will be rendered unto her. But that is the debt of the Gods Above, Black Queen, and that realm known only to the just is beyond our mortal understanding.”

His fingers twisted into a symbol I did not recognize, though he did not even seem to notice their movement.

“Those are not the Gods to which you keep, regardless, and so I do not ask you to keep to their ways or their dues,” Tariq said. “I speak to you instead as one of the living. We who still tread Creation, who have benefited from her shattering labours. We who owe better than a shallow grave to this woman. Not for what she might still do, though few are better suited for war on the Hidden Horror, or for the expedience of earthly alliances. We owe it for what she has already done.”

It was, I thought, a touching speech. Well spoken and from the heart. It might just be, too, that every word he had spoken was true. That for all that I’d thrown my castigations in the face of these heroes when the Tenth Crusade came baying at my door for their temerity in coming to offer their salvation more than two decades too late, I’d still lived in the shadow of their protection. That these two old killers had borne the weight of half this continent on their back and these days had nothing but scars and bared swords to show for it. It would have felt right, to follow the course of that thread to the conclusion that what had shaped Laurence de Montfort excused who she’d become. And yet.

“You ask me, in essence,” I said, “to extend the courtesy of a stayed hand because what has sharpened her to a fault was beyond her control.”

“No,” the Pilgrim said, “you mistake me. She made the choice to-“

“I understand you perfectly,” I said. “Just the same as your Blood, her character has led her to this place and this strife. That character is good, and so you ask me to excuse her.”

“How carelessly you reduce a life of doing good to a single sentence,” he said.

“It does weigh on the scales, what you say she did,” I admitted. “But I have to ask, Pilgrim: this courtesy you ask of me, will you extend it in turn?”

The old man blinked in surprise.

“I too have my bevy of broken souls,” I said. “And oh, they’re a vicious lot. No denying that. Savage from their days in the wild, but they’re learning. One step at a time.”

I thought of the Doom, of the same woman who’d let her madness drench the world in blood whispering of the sacrifice she’d made and the woman it’d made her into.

“Some are beyond redemption,” I admitted. “Others…”

Half the world, turned into a prop for the glory of the other half, spoken in a burning whisper. A sardonic smile beneath pale green eyes. And a knife into his ribs, after the Folly, that I could not regret.

“Have declared their own war on despair, and mutilated themselves in pursuit of victory,” I continued. “I’ve gathered them to me, by fate or happenstance, and they’re my responsibility. Even the one high up in the palace, whose grief has sent into a dark not even his eyes can see through.  So I ask you again: when the time comes, and they are to be judged, will you return the courtesy you ask of me?”

Blue eyes in a tanned face assessed me, wondering. He did not reply.

“I thought so,” I replied. “Then were are allies in convenience, Pilgrim, and you earn no courtesy from me. If she bares her blade at Hierophant or myself, I will snuff her out.”

“I had thought,” the old man said, “that agreement could be reached.”

“You didn’t offer an agreement,” I calmly replied. “You asked for a concession.”

“Then a barter,” Tariq said, “though we are both lessened for it.”

And it shamed me just a little when he said. That it’d come to this, but also the entire span – every intrigue I’d woven through and around the Tyrant, every trick I had yet to ply. And this man, I reminded myself, had mere hours been trying to leash me with the threat of death through a pattern of three. Not even a day had passed since we’d been at war, and still the disappointment in his gaze stung just a bit. I’ve disappointed people I love, I thought, meeting his gaze. And that did not stay my hand. Neither will this.

“You are in need of an eight crown,” the Pilgrim said. “To cast down yours now would endanger your efforts, for war is ill-time for succession. Kairos Theodosian will fight you over his to his dying breath, for there is nothing he loves half as much in this world as the legacy he embodies and stripping him of right to rule would rob him of this.”

I inclined my head to the side in silent concession.

“I was once Tariq Isbili, of the Grey Pilgrim’s Blood, Honoured Son under the Seljun of Levant,” the old man said, and his voice rang with quiet authority. “Though stricken from the ledgers I have raised rulers of Levant and I have cast them down. My word has been taken for law, and my honour for the honour of the Dominion. If I took the Tattered Throne, the bloodlines would rally to my banner and acclaim me Seljun by right. That crown I promise you, for the life of Laurence de Montfort.”

My fingers clenched, then unclenched.

“If she kills Masego, I will murder her without hesitation,” I told him, meaning every word.

He grimaced, but he must have understood that there was no concession in his power that would possibly make me effectively concede the right to the Saint to kill one of my dearest friends without consequence.

“If she does not kill the Hierophant,” he said.

“Then we have a bargain,” I said.

We shook on it, amongst the ruins of what had once been a great city. It was not long after that the Saint returned, the Rogue Sorcerer looking harried and bloody as he leant against her. The Tyrant of Helike, he announced, had betrayed us.

Finally, I thought.

224 thoughts on “Chapter 40: Entreaty

      1. Will Discord email me comments? Will Discord hook everything into nice comment chains for me or if it’s been a day and people have moved on would it be weird to suddenly respond to an old comment? Not to put too fine a point in it but Discord kind of sucks. I honestly don’t see why people would want to use it.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          As Liliet said, it’s a different conversational option. The lack of threaded comments on there bugs me, but what it does (text and voice chat, with individuals or groups) it does very well.


    1. Mayowa

      The amount of yoruba names in this webnovel keeps throwing me off……my uncle(Afolabi) and dad(Kayode) names have come up…….waiting for my own


  1. Heh.
    Tariq, stop trying to get something for nothing out of Cat. It’s not going to work … and will weigh against you in the Narrative’s evaluation of you.

    As expected, Kairos has betrayed them. I wonder just how much he got away with from the Rogue Sorcerer.

    Liked by 25 people

    1. JJR

      Betrayal!? Who could have foreseen such a thing?

      Snark aside I doubt he’s actually pulling for the Dead King. Probably going to betray that one next somehow.

      Liked by 26 people

      1. Sparsebeard

        He would probably try to do exactly what Cat wanted to do himself. Raise Larat as a god with the crowns and Black’s soul then somehow co-opt the power, possibly with Hierach’s help. Yes, the plan helpfully supplied by Cat, no way this might backfire, he he.

        Liked by 6 people

      2. Rook

        Crazy theory, but I wonder if the Sorcerer really lost to the Tyrant.

        Considering that no one actually saw the nature of the ‘betrayal’, even if the Sorcerer bested the Tyrant or was even working with him, who’s really going to question it if he pretends otherwise, as if he got beaten black and blue before narrowly escaping? After all, Tariq’s lie detector wouldn’t go off either, all he said was that the Tyrant betrayed them.

        It’d be a brutal twist if it turned out that he was a double agent the whole time, or if he was much more than he initially let on.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. ______

          There are two other possibilities: that Laurence is baiting Cat, and that it’s the Dead King that got the crowns. I’m more inclined for the latter to be the case, since Tyrant couldn’t have possibly missed the bait, and that’s the best way for Neshamah’s to turn the tables during the period the gang was split.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. I don’t think DK can safely take the crowns yet — it’s too early in the story.

            If he takes the crowns now, the party not only gets a fresh new story of “get the crowns back from DK”, but they unify against DK. With the possible exception of Kairos, but if he turns on them then, he becomes a speedbump on the way to DK, and gets replaced posthaste. 😉

            More to the point, Cat just won’t summon Larat until she’s got the crowns back.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. konstantinvoncarstein

          I don’t think that the Sorcerer is a traitor. Tariq knows him for some months and saw nothing. Furthermore, Behold is not a simple lie detector. It can also show emotions and culpability, as seen when Tariq spoke with the man who kill his sister.

          Liked by 4 people

  2. Someguy

    Tariq is a narcissistic bitch for his own martyrdom. “Oh how noble & selfless he is for not taking the Tattered Throne!”, “How sad that he has to kill his surviving nephew to save the lives of others!”, “People have to wash and bare their necks to be killed when he asks it of them because he is O SO HOLY & Right because he is a HERO!”. Bull Shit.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Rook

      Nah. Catherine has the right of it when she holds him in high regard despite every conflict they’ve had and still do have. It’s actually a pretty mature/objective position that she manages to hold there, especially considering that her personal feelings toward the Heroes are anything but positive.

      At the end of the day he’s not great to Villains. But to all the normal people that can’t cut the sky or have goddesses on their shoulder? The same kind of people that Catherine has been trying to hard to help in her own way? He’s the one who watches out for them, more than nearly anyone. He’s not fair or good to Catherine & her Villainous co (or to any Villain, really), and sure he makes major blunders like anyone else. But to hundreds of thousands, even millions of other people? He’s more than fair. He’s gives more than they could possibly repay, not that he asks them to anyway.

      That’s the thing, the Major Heroic Antagonists in this story aren’t one dimensional and they can’t be judged solely by the experience that our favorite protagonists have had with them. Not any more than Catherine can be judged solely her interactions with any one person.

      Being a Hero doesn’t absolve him or the Saint of the mistakes they make or the actions they take, but that cuts both ways. Being a Villain shouldn’t excuse Catherine when she does similar things for similar reasons, as if by virtue of being a Villain a character gets a free pass to be held to no standard at all while everyone else is crucified for not meeting an extremely high standard.

      Liked by 24 people

      1. > Being a Hero doesn’t absolve him or the Saint of the mistakes they make or the actions they take, but that cuts both ways. Being a Villain shouldn’t excuse Catherine when she does similar things for similar reasons, as if by virtue of being a Villain a character gets a free pass to be held to no standard at all while everyone else is crucified for not meeting an extremely high standard.

        This whole comment is fantastic, but this especially YES YES YES.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. shveiran

          I mean… the problem with this is that the setting *does* have a double standard. Earned by a long time of madmen on the villanous side of things, but still.
          We know that both Saint and Pilgrim take extreme measures on a regular basis and embrace a lesser evil approach because in the thick of it there is no other choice. If there was any doubt about Saint, we had confirmation in this post.
          Pilgrim killed his nephew, Saint slays the sick, but Cat gets frowned upon by the world because she crucified mass-murderers to discourage a Third Liesse.
          As Cat said ito Pilgrim n book 4 “when I make this kind of choices, I get called a monster. So why do you get a pass?”

          The point is not to absolve Cat or to condemn Pilgrim and Saint. It’s about acknowledging that they both take the hard choices for the greater good, within their limited abilities to understand what the greater good is. But within the setting, two are revered and one despised solely based on the color of their shirt.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. “Color of their shirt” rather minimizes the historical significance of those particular allegiances. I mean, take another look at the exchange between Saint and Pilgrim before they agreed to work with Cat here. Cat is very far from the first villain to make the right noises about how really they just want to help, so can’t you just give them a chance? But if that’s *actually* what happens then Cat *will* be the first in the *very* extensive experience of Calernia’s two most senior heroes to *not* take the opportunity afforded by a reprieve to commit an atrocity/betrayal.

            I don’t *agree* with this assessment of Cat; I think she genuinely is poised to be someone who breaks the mold and actually changes how things work on Calernia even beyond just being different herself. But when you’re basing your differing assessments of the people on different sides on decades of personal experience and literally millenia of history, I’m not sure you call that a “double standard” so much as “being aware of context”.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Wry Warudo

    >I have known souls sworn to Endurance that would weep at having lived half her life – and for this she has asked no reward, no riches nor titles nor honours.

    I suppose you could say Saint never took a cut

    Liked by 17 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    [monotone] Oh no, Tyrant betrayed us.

    I was betting on later, but oh well, I guess the game is afoot. Maybe the sorcerer Isn’t The Sorcerer? Or Kairos figured he would get it out of the way first…

    Liked by 9 people

          1. Caerulea

            Ratface mentioned, when Catherine asked, that a Dread Emperor Traitorous betrayed a villain called the Betrayer. One of the quotes in the chapter headings is Traitorous speaking to Betrayer. Therefore, he is in the past.

            Liked by 2 people

  5. erebus42

    Damn it Tariq! You were so fucking close! But nooooo, you can’t come at things as an equal and deal reciprocally can you? I guess that will always be one of your fatal flaws. Oh well, let’s get this shit show started!

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        I disagree. My impression was that what Cat wanted wasn’t an even trade. She said:

        > “I too have my bevy of broken souls,” I said. “And oh, they’re a vicious lot. No denying that. Savage from their days in the wild, but they’re learning. One step at a time.”

        and later

        > “I’ve gathered them to me, by fate or happenstance, and they’re my responsibility. Even the one high up in the palace, whose grief has sent into a dark not even his eyes can see through. So I ask you again: when the time comes, and they are to be judged, will you return the courtesy you ask of me?”

        It seemed to me like Cat wanted the safety of her whole party in exchange for the life of Laurence.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. “Safety” is a vague thing here. Tariq conceded to Catherine still planning on killing Laurence IF she kills Masego. “When the time comes and they are to be judged” what the fuck does that even mean? How likely are the Woe + Amadeus to be in Tariq’s power WITH him having a reason to do bad things to him in the first place?

          If Tariq wants an alliance with Catherine, which he SHOULD, agreeing he doesn’t have ill intent towards her&hers seems like a rather basic step.

          Liked by 5 people

        2. I see it more as Tariq was asking Cat not to judge Laurence too harshly and to take into account the circumstances that shaped her in the judging of her and when deciding what to do with her.
          Cat asked if he’d be willing to reciprocate when it came to the folks following her … and he declined.

          Liked by 8 people

      2. Rynjin

        I think his thought process is that he has no control over Laurence. She’s not his dog on a leash, however many times the story likens her to a hound she’s still her own person. A very stubborn and single-minded person at that.

        Tariq couldn’t stop her from killing Masego any more than Cat could force Archer to do anything she really didn’t want to.

        Liked by 4 people

  6. Calling it now

    Observations: Tariq doesn’t keep his oaths. Saint has death flags and Dominion references galore.

    Predictions: Saint will murder Masego and Catherine will kill Saint (seems directly stated in chapter here). Pilgrim will Forgive Masego for the Greater Good. Catherine will collect Saint’s Crown. Masego will learn Forgive and level up.

    Liked by 5 people

        1. Ah, interesting.

          I, huh, do think this is a good interpretation. They still wouldn’t count for this though IMHO, because Larat specifically wants “mortal crowns”, “crowns of mortal rulers”, because he wants a foothold in Creation. Domains are explicitly NOT Creation, and are a common thing among fae already.

          Liked by 7 people

          1. Doesn’t matter what Larat thinks he needs to get what he wants. Seven-and-one makes eight in total… with one nit quite like the others. Saint’s claim to a domain is rulership — by a Hero who is still mortal enough to grow old and die.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Rook

              If you want to look at it that way, every goat on the continent has just as much of a claim to rulership. They rule over their own hooves and horns after all.

              What the Pilgrim, Tyrant, and Catherine’s right to rule provide as the one is a foundation in creation that precedes and outlasts the person. The position of rulership in helike, callow, or levant all have existed before and can exist and after the people that hold the title are long dead and gone. Winter too in a way, but Winter had no basis in Creation and had Catherine as the creational anchor, not the other way around, making it useless for that purpose since Larat wanted a foothold in Creation rather than in Arcadia.

              Saint’s personal domain doesn’t give them the foothold they need. There’s no foundation behind it. It didn’t exist before the Saint and it’ll die when she does, it will pass to no one and no one will acknowledge the authority of it even if it does.

              Liked by 5 people

              1. As Cat has proved a few times… domains, aspects, Names and Roles can be passed down, stolen or taken. Much as crowns and kingdoms can be.

                What makes Saint’s domain different from a goat’s hooves is 1) what it has done in narrative terms, 2) what it has touched and affected with its power and/or symbolic resonance and 3) how established in #s 1 & 2 it is. Crowns aren’t just crowns; swords are important heirlooms denoting rule, too.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Rook

                  You know what else can be important heirlooms denoting rule? Literally anything. Like a carved goats horn, for example.

                  A particular sword can be a symbol rule, not all swords are. Saints isn’t. It has nothing to do with rule and there’s no precedent for it being passed down or holding authority.

                  Saint’s domain is just an extreme hardening of who she is after going through horribly rough shit ten thousand times. It’s nothing at all like Catherine’s old domain, which before her forefathers ever drew breath was a symbol of rule over half of creation beta.

                  Liked by 3 people

          2. The original wording clearly suggests that the “and one” crown doesn’t necessarily have to be mortal. But I don’t think personal domains count, they don’t imply ruling anything but that domain itself. Otherwise half the wizards of Calernia would qualify, not to mention fae and whatnot.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Quibbler

              1. Bullocks. Laurence is the ONLY person in story referenced to have Dominion other than Cat. It is repeatedly signposted as unique and important.

              2. The features of the land of crossroads (e.g., requires a blood cut to open the door to allow armies to travel faster to the Dead King) are Saintly.

              3. Per Amadeus, Saint is a major part of the reason Dead King can walk. And he didn’t even know her role in the Crusade. She has karmic responsibility that this would repay.

              4. Cat doesn’t need Saint to willingly give up the crown. If her soul is her Dominion, Can can pilfer it post-mortem.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. >Laurence is the ONLY person in story referenced to have Dominion other than Cat.

                oh, and also every single Levantine Champion?

                (Unconquered Champion who once drew Black into his, Rafaella the Valiant Champion with her arena)

                Liked by 1 person

            2. Quibbler

              1. Bullocks. Laurence is the ONLY person in story referenced to have Dominion other than Cat. It is repeatedly signposted as unique and important.

              2. The features of the land of crossroads (e.g., requires a blood cut to open the door to allow armies to travel faster to the Dead King) are Saintly.

              3. Per Amadeus, Saint is a major part of the reason Dead King can walk. And he didn’t even know her role in the Crusade. She has karmic responsibility that this would repay.

              4. Cat doesn’t need Saint to willingly give up the crown. If her soul is her Dominion, Can can pilfer it post-mortem.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. IIRC the original wording was “the crowns of seven mortal rulers and one”. If you’re suggesting that the “and one” doesn’t have to be mortal because it comes after the specification of “seven mortal rulers” I would very strongly disagree with that. The sentence construction follows an archaic syntax (because it sounds more portentous and that’s fae for you), but the “and one” is in fact necessarily still in reference to the earlier “crowns of mortal rulers”. You can tell because otherwise you could just as easily claim “aha, the ‘and one’ doesn’t specify what it has to be one *of* just like it doesn’t specify it has to be mortal! ergo, it can be the crowns of seven mortal rulers and one apple.” Which I think is pretty blatantly not plausible once you look at it like that.

              Liked by 3 people

        1. I mean, she has a domain called Decree. Regardless of what she uses it for, that’s divine right of rulership right there. In fact, I’m being there’s no way she didn’t get an Aspect like that without being offered mortal rulership of some form or another.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. True, but that is my only issue with the prediction. I think the One crown will result from Kairos actions (possibly he’ll be put down and his crown claimed, or maybe something weird will pop up after his next betrayal), but the climax between Cat, Tariq, Saint and Masego could go down along those lines. Especially if the sword-that-is-a-prayer somehow makes it impossible to Forgive Saint.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Also, Saint might find murdering Masego to be… not so easy.

      >Masego, a man whose main interest in the matter was the practicalities of deicide. In all fairness, I thought, that’s turned out surprisingly pertinent to our lives.

      I also rather liked someone’s idea (DDG has failed me) of Masego responding to her with “a sword does not think. a sword has no arms or legs” *snap*.

      BTW, I’ve become fairly sure that DK himself won’t kill Masego himself no matter what. Because he knows that as a young immortal, Cat’s story is still forming its core, to be solidified and built upon over time. And he really doesn’t want “nemesis to the Dead King” to be part of Cat’s core identity.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. > BTW, I’ve become fairly sure that DK himself won’t kill Masego himself no matter what. [and etc., I don’t want to quote the whole paragraph]

        That’s a really interesting take. I mean he certainly seemed sincere enough when he was threatening that, but then he would wouldn’t he? After all Neshamah is blatantly both highly capable and quite willing to run a bluff when it suits him, and merely *threatening* to kill someone’s loved ones is less an unforgivable provocation than it is practically a form of teasing when it’s between villains. I think you’re probably right: he won’t try (at least not seriously) to kill any of Cat’s loved ones until/unless he’s at a point where he both intends and considers himself imminently capable of snuffing Cat herself out at the same time. And these circumstances don’t really favor that degree of success for him, I’d say.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Well… I could be wrong. If DK figures Cat can’t take him out, he may figure “eh, she’ll get over it in a hundred years or so”. He might even be right… but on the other hand, he is known for playing it safe, even if it costs him resources and/or time. And Cat did just stare down Pilgrim on the point, not to mention having a specific countermeasure handy for Saint. I note that Cat didn’t seem all that worried — she didn’t even bother to return the threat.

          Liked by 3 people

  7. Decius

    Well, that went from Tariq demanding a concession to granting one.

    Cat wasn’t going to kill her without provocation anyway: The Saint of Swords is just too valuable an ally against the Dead King and Empress, and if turned against those foes will either win or die.

    Cat doesn’t care who kills her enemies, even if she does care who kills her friends.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. magesbe

      It’s a bit of a concession on Taylor’s part. What this means is, unless Saint actually kills Masego, she’s not going to go for the kill. Rather than just putting Saint down the moment she turns on one of them.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. Rook

        Taylor? I see someone’s been re-reading Worm

        I think it’s really just a fair barter, although the Pilgrim did start off by begging for a concession instead. Catherine planned to kill the Saint anyway, since she’s such a liability to her, and the Pilgrim had no reason to particularly be against the Saint trying to kill Masego.

        Now Catherine has to leave the liability hanging and stay her hand if the Saint honestly cooperates + doesn’t hurt Masego, and the Pilgrim has to do his utmost to hold back the Saint and work in Catherine’s interests.

        Honestly I think it’s a big step forward, even if it isn’t quite where they ideally want to get to. The foremost Hero of his generation and the foremost Villain of her generation just came to rational, mutually agreeable terms without even requiring ten chapters of Named pissing matches to set it up.

        Liked by 11 people

        1. From a rational, objective standpoint, sure, it’s a step forward.

          But don’t forget what Pilgrim just said “Then a barter, though we are both lessened for it.”
          That was in response to Cat pointing out and declining that he was just asking her for a unilateral concession on her part. And her refusal to give him something fairly large for nothing.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Rook

            I mean, it’s a little shameless but I don’t know how much you can hold it against the guy for asking. He rolled over pretty much immediately when Catherine refused anyway.

            The gall of it is irritating but that’s about the extent of it. Literally one chapter ago Catherine blatantly lied to the Saints face about why she had the Sorcerer carry the seven crowns, which is about equally shameless considering that (hilariously enough) the Saint was completely correct when she suspected Catherine was up to something.

            Liked by 7 people

            1. You’re missing the key point.
              Tariq said “Then a barter, though we are both lessened for it.”

              In other words, he considers negotiations distasteful, demeaning to all involved, and otherwise bad/ungood.

              Plus, he can’t be relied upon to keep his end of any deal reached. Based on both past behavior/actions and his own statements to that effect.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Rook

                You’re the one missing the key point. The fact that they’re acquiescing to negotiations despite finding it distasteful should be considered respectable, if anything, because it’s even more clear proof that the actual good of everyone is taking precedence over personal feelings. On both sides.

                Seems like some pretty petty grasping at straws to try taking away from the progress being made, just because they weren’t overjoyed by it. “Yeah they’re breaking new grounds and trying to set aside Good vs Evil conflicts that have lasted so long that they’ve worn permanent grooves into be fabric of reality… but they’re not entirely happy about it!”. Oh woe, how unbearably awful.

                Sure, he’s an oath breaker. That’s fair. There’s also centuries of precedent, several of them that the Pilgrim has personally lived through, where making deals with Villains almost always results in betrayal. Asking for negotiations to be made with a Villain of Catherine’s caliber is asking for a leap of faith in the first place, considering the context.

                You do remember how this band was forged in the first place, right? The Saint didn’t want to work together due to (if her words are to be believed) having tried it countless times with countless villains before and having been burned for it every time *without a single exception*. The pilgrim decided to try again anyway, with Catherine. Don’t see why Catherine can’t take a small leap as well, after having been burned what, Once? Twice? Instead of dozens of times?

                Source: Chapter 33, Concord

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

                “Dozens,” the Pilgrim said.

                “And how many kept their word?”

                “None,” the old man tiredly said. …”

                Liked by 8 people

                1. You’re ignoring the point that I’m trying to make.
                  It’s not as much a step forward as one would like it to be.
                  Tariq is being forced by circumstances to negotiate with Cat – he is negotiating with Cat only because it is currently his best option to get what he wants while acting in accordance with his values. But his first choice is demanding unilateral concessions from Cat, not making a deal.

                  Part of being a Hero (at least, most varieties thereof) includes being willing to give someone a chance to prove you wrong about them.
                  Certainly the kind of Hero Tariq alleges himself to be includes the offering of a second chance.
                  He’s more or less required by being the kind of Hero he is to give Cat a chance … especially now that she’s leveraged him into not being able to kill her easily after he aborted his attempt to redeem her.

                  Just because other Villains have lied about things before doesn’t give Tariq (or any Hero) a free pass on breaking his word to someone who kept their word to him. Nor does it give Laurence a pass for attacking someone while under a truce banner.

                  Liked by 5 people

                  1. Rook

                    See, that kind of mentality reeks of hypocrisy and double standards.

                    Tariq isn’t the only one forced to negotiate by circumstances. The main reason Catherine is resorting to negotiating first instead of attempting to kill him is because the reaction from Levant by killing him is crippling to her plans. That one is outright stated by her, by the way. It’s not because she’s a very nice girl.

                    And what, Heroic opposition gets held to the highest standard and Villains get a free pass to be held to no standard? Tariq continuing to try playing ball after being burned dozens of times is expected of him, but Catherine playing ball after being burned once is going unthinkably above and beyond?

                    Poppycock. If you’re going to hold the Heroes to that much higher of a standard than the Villains, then I guess the Heroes do indeed have innate moral superiority. They’re certainly being judged as if they actually do.

                    The wall between Heroes and Villains was built up over millennia. There’s also centuries of personal experiences that make trust a near impossibility and circumstance that makes stakes high enough that the trust is even harder to put forward. This is absolutely, objectively a huge step, and quibbling about the enthusiasm of either party for it is just worthless pride talking.

                    Liked by 9 people

                    1. Yes, the Heroes are held to a higher standard, at least by me.

                      They claim to be better than Villains.
                      They claim to be just, virtuous and GOOD.
                      The world acts like this is truth. It’s the reason no one trusts villains and most trust heroes.

                      If they are NOT held to a higher standard, then those assumptions are “poppycock”: either Above’s mandate demands you to be better than a murderhobo with radiant powers, or William is no longer an exception to the Hero standard and Heroes have no place being regarded as anything more than superpowered individual.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Again, you’re missing my point.
                      Tariq views bartering, aka negotiating, as a “lessening”.
                      That doesn’t bode well for sustained major negotiations not held under the threat of overwhelming force … such as will likely be required to get the Liesse Accords up and running.

                      Have you forgotten that Cat’s first interaction with Crusade forces, and the Pilgrim specifically, was to negotiate? That she offered to gate the Crusaders to the Tower, that she tried to join the Alliance? That she did all of that from a position of relative strength over the Crusaders and every time she reached out with an offer, it’s been refused, with the sole exception of the “no mistreating prisoners and no angels/demons/devils” deal?

                      Cat’s trying to negotiate, has been trying to negotiate. Killing Tariq was never actually something that Cat wanted to do, just something that she would have done on an active battlefield if necessary. However, Tariq’s position as regards Levant, makes him one of those critical mission objectives – like when in strategy games you sometimes have special/unique units that if killed result in autofailing the mission. Tariq’s one of those. And everybody hates escort missions.
                      Plus, he’s basically the biggest Hero around, and probably the most likely to be able to swing undecided Heroes and Good-aligned non-Named into supporting the Accords.

                      Heroes, by virtue of being Heroes, are expected and supposed to keep their word when they give it.
                      Everybody expects a Villain to be potentially untrustworthy … but Heroes are supposed to be absolutely trustworthy when they give their word on something.
                      It’s a built in Narrative expectation -Villains don’t lose by being trustworthy and honorable, but Heroes lose by being untrustworthy and dishonorable … because those are Villainous Narrative attributes, not Heroic ones.

                      Liked by 3 people

                2. How many Damned have put their butts on the line for their citizens? Or offered up front to ban demon summoning? Or redeemed (okay, half-redeemed) an entire species? Or given up immortality? Cat has acted very differently from pretty much any villain before her, following Black’s trail and taking it further than he did. She’s not given to empty promises (Kairos excepted, and that’s part of dealing with him) or shallow apologies, either.

                  Cat has earned her bona fides, and Pilgrim has been slow to recognize that.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Rook

                    But that’s the thing, Cat has earned her bona fides and the Pilgrim IS recognizing that now, albeit slowly. On his reluctance we agree there, it definitely exists, although I don’t think it’s wholly unjustified or beyond understanding.

                    That’s why he decided not to gamble and refuse her surrender. That’s why he decided to go against the Saints judgement and work with her in the band of five. That’s why the agreement they just came to happened very simply after a brief, mostly civil, discussion.

                    There is such a large gulf there that reconciling between Villains and Heroes is nearly impossible. Even Malicia herself failed at it, and she’s touted as the greatest political mover and shaker of her generation bar no one.

                    The fact that Catherine has managed to get even this far with a Hero – and not even a minor one, but one of the oldest and the scariest – speaks volumes about how much effort she’s put in and how all that work is finally bearing fruit.

                    Liked by 3 people

              2. It’s not about negotiations being distasteful in principle, it’s about this particular kind of negotiation.

                Both of the things they’ve “exchanged” in this barter are something that should have been true by default. If they’d been an actually coherent party, there wouldn’t be a need to negotiate for this, and I actually think higher of Tariq for recognizing that.

                His crown is the one that’s of no immediate worth, either tactical or strategic, he never intended to cash in his claim in the first place. If he and Catherine were genuine allies, there wouldn’t be a question of which crown gets given up – the one they don’t need, obviously.

                And Catherine… well I actually think she didn’t give anything up here that she wanted in the first place -_- She JUST remarked how she could not afford leaving a narrative impression of being after Saint – what Pilgrim asks her not to do is something she never intended in the first place. Oh sure, in the extremely narrow scenario that Saint turns on Catherine/Masego and Catherine has the opportunity to either disable her nonlethally or kill her Catherine is now obligated to go for the first option, but Catherine’s still going to act in defense of herself and her friend, and she did not even sell away her right to revenge if she fails.

                The real thing lost here is the opportunity for Catherine to rack up narrative points by not killing Saint for turning on her down the line without a specific bargain made for it. I mourn that a little, and as I said, I respect Tariq all the more for having had the same hope there as I did in the first place.

                It’s like saying “let’s make a bargain: you don’t spit in my food and I don’t spit in yours”. BOTH LESSENED FOR IT INDEED

                Liked by 8 people

                1. I think Cat is making a concession here: that she will try to put Saint down without killing her if she goes for her or Masego. She is not exactly tying her hands, that much I’ll grant, but there is a concession.

                  I disagree with the “both lessened for it” argument, however.
                  Or rather, I find it distasteful that it was voiced by the party that first made an impassionate speech to ask for a favor, and flat out admitted he wouldn’t return it toward Cat.
                  Granted, Saint’s actions may be more easily justified than some of the folks on Cat’s side, but the fact remain that this is the same attitude Tariq defaulted to back in their first meeting, when discussing angel and demonic interventions in the coming battles. Cat’s words were something like “this doesn’t work if your bargaining position is that we fold when yours don’t”.

                  We are still there.

                  Pilgrim is asking for a concession. Which, you know, if FINE. Nothing wrong with that.
                  But it’s not like he has ever done anything for her that she didn’t have to extort from him kicking and screaming, and it’s not like he doesn’t know a list of things that would make her life a lot easier.
                  I feel if you are trying to move past “allies of convenience”, you may want to open with a concession, a no-string-attached gift, not ask for the other person to spare someone out for their blood and fully capable of taking it. Especially not without any inclination to either extend the same courtesy to the other’s loved ones or in any way even the scale without being prompted.
                  Or, you know, if you did AT LEAST not act like the other’s refusal is distasteful.
                  It’s not a mortal sin nor anything, but jeez, in my opinion he really doesn’t have the moral high ground making that request.

                  Liked by 2 people

                    1. Shveiran

                      It’s more the “A banter, then”, for me. I read it as “Ok, sure, if you have to be that way, I guess we can do this distasteful thing instead. Since you can’t step up to the right one.”

                      Liked by 1 person

            2. > Literally one chapter ago Catherine blatantly lied to the Saints face about why she had the Sorcerer carry the seven crowns,

              Saint was probing for tactical information. A “lie” of that blatancy isn’t an attempt at deception, it’s a flat “none of your business”.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Rook

                Uh, the fact that she deliberately chose to set the sorcerer up as a target by making him carry the crowns is a deception to start with, and every action taken to hide that intent is just as much of a deception.

                I mean I enjoy her antics as much as anyone else but it seems a bit extreme to try turning black into white just because she’s a very likeable character. Being shameless and being delusional are two very different things.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. The thing is, the divisions within the party aren’t simple. In particular, Kairos and Saint are both loose cannons, with Cat and Pilgrim respectively as their “keepers”. That leaves RS — he’s a hero, but there was that little hint at the conclave, of Black’s soul (and mind) being still in play, and so Cat’s willing to accept him as a fulcrum. Yeah she can’t be sure of Black’s influence, but what else is new? And the heroes don’t seem to know as much as they’d like about RS either.

                  Cat couldn’t keep the crowns because even if it was her plan to begin with, the heroes wouldn’t have trusted her with them. Similarly, the villains wouldn’t have trusted Pilgrim (and AFAICT he doesn’t have a domain anyway). Nobody would have trusted Kairos or Saint with them, except on a basis of “I can take those back when I need to”. So: Rogue Sorcerer, possibly (hopefully) paired with Black.

                  Which all comes down to that Saint’s accusation was basically shit-stirring, and Cat’s response was entirely justified. Yes, Cat’s being tricky. But so is Pilgrim, he’s just more used to getting a pass on it.

                  Liked by 2 people

  8. Xinci

    A beautiful thing this. To see the sides and their interactions. To hear the scraping of Good as it toils alont becoming more set in its purpose the longer it goes, evem as it is ripped and rent into a more effecient tool. Its nice to understand more of what made Saint a blade. It puts more connections up to see why she views the death of systems like she does. Truly a beautifully made tradgedy but Creation is a wheel greased with blood, so it goes.

    Also good to hear Catherines side…or Evils I suppose. To hear her spesk of her disparate responsibility over he savage few gave a nice feeling of dichotomy. I wonder if its often like that, the Villains shepherding the outcast and the disparate, moulding them to their system. Gave a heavy feeling of regulation and responsibility which is I suppose part of why no clause could be gotten. Villains doing so at Cats scale of doing so seems rare but I wonder if she could make it more common with regulation. Losing the royalness might hurt Pilgrims role and influence as a helper but I do suppose such a tragic sacrafice is neccessary if Cat is to suceed.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Jim

        It was stated earlier that dropping a crown and continuing to hold power would cause a sort of blight over the kingdom of that ruler… Tariq is basically agreeing to stop being the Grey Pilgrim with storyline consequences if he doesn’t… Set up for heroic sacrifice is likely

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Jim

            “Though the earthly crown will not be taken from your brow, save if you yourself do so, you will have lost the authority of a ruler in the eyes of the Heavens,” the Grey Pilgrim said. “Lingering in that role after discarding it before Gods and men can only bring calamity.”

            “I figure it’d be subtle at first,” I said. “Small nudges. Crops get a little worse, people listen a little less. If you keep holding, though, then it’s a different story.”

            “Disease and strife,” the Peregrine said, “and they will only grow, so long as authority is kept.”

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Truly, that is a greatest achievement of your life. All your efforts and struggles were not pointless – for they led you to that point, a true summary of your toils. How does it feel, to reach a summit of your existence, knowing it all will go downhill from there? I, too, called it, btw, after some deliberation. Though I cited more selfish reasons for him giving up his crown, namely wrestling any connection to newly build highway from the side of Evil and also Cat. A Hero from Above sacrificed his own right to rule for our sake, it only follows that the ones with control over a new realm will be those who are also Heroes from Above. RIGHT?

        Liked by 6 people

        1. Soma

          Solid call. I suspect the Pilgrim always has more to his game so I’m waiting for multiple hammers on this deal to come. And it’s been on the downhill for a while now, why else would I be in the comments?

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Too waste time and energy in pointless speculations about the made up world instead of going out and doing something in the real one. Well this is my reason for comments, anyhow.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. Soma

        Ayyyy, hey, you could still be right, honestly. There is time for a last minute twist, so I might be premature in ‘calling it’, but I think things will go along these lines.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. True, we might both be right in both possibilities being A Thing in the narrative!

          But at the very least I was wrong about Cat potentially blindsiding the Pilgrim by giving up her crown, because he pretty much pointed that out as her alternative to the bargain with him.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Author Unknown

            I’m curious if the Rouge Sorcer is carrying around Black’s soul. Because everything Tariq said about his crown applies to Black and his claim to the tower. Meaning, Black could pop out and give up his crown, becoming the one that shapes the whole mess. There are all kinds of things he could do with that kind of opportunity.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. > Because everything Tariq said about his crown applies to Black and his claim to the tower.

              Sorta? I mean, it’s not that you’re wrong as such exactly, it’s that Praes =/= Levant. Tariq seems to be leveraging the *legitimacy* of his claim as much as his *practical power* to effect such a claim. Both ingredients are in there, that’s why he both touches on “I could claim power” *and* touches on “I’m an Isbili”. Amadeus has just as much *practical power* to take rulership of Praes as Tariq does to take rulership of Levant – meaningful power brokers would rally to him, etc. – but he can’t be said to have a legitimate claim to rulership of Praes precisely because Praes doesn’t recognize the concept of an *illegitimate* claim to rulership. If you can take it, then you have the right to. But if you haven’t taken it yet, then you haven’t proven that you can.

              Also, on a more meta/strategic level Cat *really* doesn’t want Amadeus to give up his right to rule Praes since that’s pretty much the sum total of her long-term strategy for dealing with Praes. She doesn’t want to conquer and rule Praes (much to Akua’s chagrin/disbelief), leaving Malicia in power is unacceptable, and pretty much every non-Amadeus non-Malicia Praesi with a viable chance at claiming power is a High Lord/Lady with all of Malicia’s vices and none of her virtues. She *needs* Amadeus to take over Praes and turn it into a country Callow can prosperously coexist with.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. gyndroid

                All fair points, but Catherine bullied a Resurrection from an angel in part because Black was the defacto “Ruler” of Callow, at the time, and she his chosen heir. If that defacto was crownly enough for angels, it might be crownly enough here.

                Liked by 6 people

                1. That’s now *was* the defacto “Ruler” of Callow though, as in the past tense form of that. Cat is no longer his heir, she’s his successor. You can’t still claim a right to rule somewhere after you’ve *already* handed over your right to rule to someone else. Either way though Cat would still want him to not since ruling Praes herself is next to the last thing she wants to do and there’s no other acceptable internal candidate for rule within Praes.

                  Liked by 3 people

                    1. Hmm, interesting counterpoint, I honestly hadn’t contrasted it on that basis. I think I would still disagree on the grounds that the Fairfaxes were the last “legitimate” dynasty to rule Callow and Cat has explicitly acknowledged that the legitimacy of her own regime is the “legitimacy” of a successful warlord which is to say thin at best, so in theory a Fairfax who never properly died could still be said to have a legitimate claim to rule – probably not while *currently* a puppet of the Dead King but it’s been established that resurrections are A Thing so King Ed could be said to have a legitimately possible potential right to rule that could be meaningfully surrendered.

                      Whereas Amadeus’ right to rule was always based on Praes ruling Callow and him being the designated Praesi overlord-in-chief; Praes explicitly no longer rules Callow, which means Amadeus has the legitimacy to claim rule of Callow of a successfully expelled warlord, which is to say none at all. It’s true that in theory Amadeus/Praes might be able to conquer Callow again, but if that was all it took then literally anybody with an army could claim a “right to rule” literally anywhere in Creation, which clearly isn’t the standard being followed.

                      So tl;dr I still disagree but that’s a legitimate point to raise, so thank you for bringing that up!

                      Liked by 4 people

                    2. gyndroid

                      But I feel like there’s enough commonalities Black shares with all the confirmed or textually suspected crowns that it can’t be easily written off. Black was basically the ruler of Callow, as functionally confirmed by Angels. He could potentially be the ruler of the Empire, as Tariq could potentially be the ruler of Levant. That he has a claim to ruling Callow only as a warlord is exactly Catherine’s claim. He was once ruler, but no longer–just like Edward. And he never, technically, actually “abdicated” Callow to Catherine. Arguably, then, he still has a claim–if a *broadly* unsupported one.

                      To be clear, I’m not fully behind the idea that Black’s Maybe-Extant crown will come into play *at all*, but I’m not convinced it doesn’t exist, narratively speaking. If nothing else, we don’t know what Name Black might be claimant of, right? IF he followed the Bard’s prodding (huge if), that name could well be “Dread Emperor”.

                      Liked by 4 people

                    3. WordPress appears to have shat itself and is no longer offering the option to reply to stuff this far down the comment chain. So, this is actually a reply to the comment containing the quoted bit.

                      > That he has a claim to ruling Callow only as a warlord is exactly Catherine’s claim.

                      Yes, exactly. And it has been explicitly noted, by Catherine herself, that a warlord only has a legitimate claim to power so long as they are undefeated. Amadeus’ claim on Callow was that he conquered Callow for Praes, and now he’s ruling it as the designated Praesi overlord. In other words, his legitimacy was always based on the Praesi Conquest. Amadeus may not have been personally defeated, but Praes is demonstrably no longer ruling Callow. To reuse a line I employed elsewhere, a king in exile is still a king, but a warlord who’s been defeated is just a loser. Amadeus may not have been personally defeated, but Praes is demonstrably no longer ruling Callow, which means the premise of his claim to legitimacy has been invalidated. There was no abdication per se involved in that transfer of power, but when you’re kicking out a conqueror there’s really none required.

                      As far as Praes goes, honestly I feel like we’re re-treading the same ground there. Amadeus may have the ability to claim power in Praes, but he has no special claim to a legitimate right to do so. Tariq has both the ability to claim power in Levant and a special claim to legitimacy, so Amadeus would need both to be equivalent. And regardless, Cat very badly wants him to not give up that right since the only other acceptable resolution to Praes is *her* taking over and she REALLY does not want to have to be a Dread Empress. If it comes up at all, I think it’ll be in the form of Amadeus bringing it up and Cat talking him down from it.

                      Also btw, given the Liesse Accords’ stated stipulation that Named not rule countries my personal theory is that Amadeus will reject the Bard’s prodding but still take power to become the first un-Named Dread Emperor of Praes.

                      Liked by 4 people

              2. > he can’t be said to have a legitimate claim to rulership of Praes precisely because Praes doesn’t recognize the concept of an *illegitimate* claim to rulership. If you can take it, then you have the right to. But if you haven’t taken it yet, then you haven’t proven that you can.

                That is a good point. Black still does have status as a prior ruler of Callow, though. Regarding your last paragraph: even without Black, Cat could still be “drafted” into taking the Tower, especially if Malicia can’t back off and leave Callow alone.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. > Black still does have status as a prior ruler of Callow, though.

                  True, but I think I pointed out elsewhere that it’s a fundamentally different type of status from (for instance) King Ed. A king in exile is still a king. A warlord who’s been defeated is just a loser. Amadeus’ claim on Callow was always that he/Praes conquered it and now he’s in charge as the designated Praesi overlord-in-chief. Amadeus personally wasn’t defeated as such, but Praes is demonstrably no longer ruling Callow.

                  Liked by 2 people

                    1. Not following you there tbh. As I read it the angel-mugging was predicated off of cleverly framing the facts on the ground – I don’t think the fact of doing so actually altered any of them (aside from, y’know, Cat and William swapping sides on the corpse spectrum). Cat’s own legitimacy has been explicitly and repeatedly noted to be no more than the legitimacy of a warlord – if she didn’t legitimize *herself* by that maneuver it’s hard to see how it would have done that for Amadeus.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. She might have started out as a warlord, but at this point, she is very much a Queen, with soldiers, citizenry, and other polities recognizing her crown. If she’s illegitimate solely because she’s not descended from the last dynasty, how can anyone be a legitimate ruler of Callow? Remember, Black wiped out the royal line!

                      Pulling the Sword in the Stone may have been initially based on “pulling a fast one”, but succeeding (and surviving) that amounted to recognition by the Heavens. And thus she was established as the heir to the (then-)reigning king (by “right of conquest”) of Callow, namely Black.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    3. Replying here because WordPress won’t let me reply below.

                      > She might have started out as a warlord, but at this point, she is very much a Queen, with soldiers, citizenry, and other polities recognizing her crown.

                      No other polities have recognized her right to rule IIRC. There was a whole thing about it back during the negotiations around the Battle of the Camps, and I don’t think anyone’s official stance on that has changed. Soldiers supporting your rule is included in the definition of a warlord, so there’s definitely no distinction to be drawn there. You have a better case when referring to popular support from a modern perspective, but on Calernia the only example of governmental legitimacy being based on popular support is Bellerophon. Callow has always operated on feudal rules, and Cat is still just a commoner with an army under typical rules of feudal legitimacy since those are pretty heavily based on blood right.

                      Also, I’m pretty skeptical that Cat could claim to have been recognized by the Heavens as a legitimate ruler of Callow given they’ve been throwing heroes at her to try to murder her back off that throne from day 1.

                      It is all a somewhat moot point since Cat’s long-term plan involves sidestepping issues of whether she’s legitimately Queen by just abdicating so it no longer matters, but it does have present implications as far as how she’s viewed by other parties. Cat has repeatedly explicitly assessed herself as someone who’s viewed as a warlord; it’s not impossible she’s wrong about that, but the evidence of how she’s treated/regarded by others seems to support it so far.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    4. Even if she’s a legitimate ruler, she’s still a Villain ruler, which is why heroes come after her, just as villains try to overthrow Good rulers. And as Amadeus noted, both sides have gotten dangerously good at suppressing those would be rebels.

                      Other polities may be trying to conquer Callow (again), but she’s the one they negotiate with regarding Callow.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    5. > Other polities may be trying to conquer Callow (again), but she’s the one they negotiate with regarding Callow.

                      Because they have to, but they’re pointedly refused to acknowledge her as actually legitimate while doing so. Again, see the whole “Queen of Callow” vs. “Queen in Callow” thing during the negotiations around the Battle of the Camps. Here, I’ll pull up a relevant quote from Bk IV Ch 20 (

                      “negotiations were now being held between the Queen in Callow and the mandated expeditionary force of the First Prince. Aisha had tried for Queen of Callow, but they’d gotten out of that by pointing out that unless the Highest Assembly passed a motion or Hasenbach recognized it by decree, they couldn’t legally recognize Callow as a sovereign state with me as its ruler.”

                      Neither of those two things has happened.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    6. OK Fayhem, you’ve convinced me that she’s basically a warlord… but she and the others clearly think that’s enough to count here: Pilgrim was explicit that he was offering his crown in lieu of hers, specifically to avoid her abdication.

                      Also, re:
                      > I hope this doesn’t come off as rude…

                      I will never take offense at simple disagreement, and you’ve been entirely civil in this interchange, even when (as you pointed out) I was well off-base from the text. It’s been a pleasure debating such points with you (and that goes also for Liliet and the others who’ve similarly engaged me).

                      Liked by 3 people

                    7. > you’ve convinced me that she’s basically a warlord… but she and the others clearly think that’s enough to count here: Pilgrim was explicit that he was offering his crown in lieu of hers, specifically to avoid her abdication.

                      And I don’t disagree that Cat herself does qualify! My point was that the legitimacy of a warlord differs on a qualitative basis from the legitimacy of a, eh, let’s say more “conventionally acceptable” King/Queen. And if Cat doesn’t have a higher degree of legitimacy than “warlord” despite being actually Callowan, having the backing of Callowan nobility, and at least carrying the title of Queen even if it isn’t properly recognized outside Callow itself, then Amadeus *certainly* doesn’t and never has. Which means that for any claim that Amadeus currently has legitimacy you have to consider that a warlord essentially has legitimacy to rule for exactly as long as nobody is *successfully* disputing that right. Praes has for all intents and purposes been *successfully* expelled from the rule of Callow, so my argument is that the legitimacy of a Praesi warlord is *at this point* effectively null and void for these purposes.

                      > I will never take offense at simple disagreement, and you’ve been entirely civil in this interchange, even when (as you pointed out) I was well off-base from the text. It’s been a pleasure debating such points with you (and that goes also for Liliet and the others who’ve similarly engaged me).

                      Aww. Please, consider the sentiment reciprocated!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    8. Ayyy lmao, clearly I should have read the current chapter *before* continuing to argue that Amadeus wouldn’t qualify and the sword-in-the-stone trick didn’t count for that. You called it!

                      Liked by 3 people

                2. > Regarding your last paragraph: even without Black, Cat could still be “drafted” into taking the Tower, especially if Malicia can’t back off and leave Callow alone.

                  Augh, I meant to put this in the same reply. D’oh. Anyway, my point wasn’t that she *couldn’t* be dragged into taking the Tower it’s that she really really really doesn’t *want* to be effectively cornered into ruling Praes. And Amadeus taking over instead is the only feasible/realistic alternative to her having to do that: Malicia staying in power is a non-option and a High Lord/Lady being the one to take over for her instead of Amadeus or Cat would be even worse.

                  Liked by 3 people

                    1. Right. And Cat doesn’t want to have to do that. That’s always been my point. I hope this doesn’t come off as rude because that’s not what I mean, but I feel like either my original point must not have been clear or I must not be understanding what you’re getting at now. Because it looks like you’re just re-stating the premise of my original point and I’m not sure what the point of doing that is.

                      Liked by 3 people

                    2. I’m not sure where you get the idea that Cat doesn’t want to abdicate!

                      Her abdication has been teased since (iirc) before she was officially Queen, she made preparations for it before the surrender, she’s taken up a competing commitment in her priesthood, and she’d get a major payoff for doing it now.

                      Liked by 2 people

  9. Briskly

    The Grey Pilgrim is super deep into the groove of his role this chapter. I wonder how much of this was him consciously acting as if cat was a Hero instead of a Villain.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. This is a fucking great question and I suspect “all of it”. He’s spotted her groove being that already, he and Laurence discussed it at Battle of Camps. She dismissed it as not evidence of anything, he’s GOING FOR IT 😀

      Liked by 5 people

  10. caoimhinh

    So there’s an ancient Warlock with Owu in their name, eh?
    The evilness of UwU is confirmed hahaha.

    Nice chapter.

    Tariq is still hypocritically thinking that only Evil has to make concessions in a bargain and that Good has every right to it while calling Cat a bad person for not asking his side to also make concessions.
    Good to see he is staying in character.

    So now Kairos betrayed them and robbed Rogue Sorcerer from the Seven Crowns and probably Amadeus’ soul too. That means Catherine gets to beat him and steal that from him. Cool.
    Now, their band of 5 is broken, but there’s a certain disciple of the Lady of the Lake that was sent to search for Masego months ago and has a knack for appearing dramatically when they need her. Hopefully we’ll get to see her here and save Masego.
    Or it could be that the Band of Five against Larat will be with Masego in it. There are plenty of possibilities.

    P.S: Amadeus’ words really hurt Tariq, eh?

    Typos found:

    -giving though to their aftermath / giving thought to their aftermath
    -the most accomplish hero / the most accomplished hero
    -ties got both ways / ties go both ways
    -I ask you to see you for what she is / I ask you to see her for what she is
    -had mere hours been trying / had mere hours ago been trying

    Liked by 3 people

    1. While it may be misinterpreted by less bright that Tyrant is betraying them, he really just manevering himself to be in the position to better help the rest of the band (whom all are his most treasured, not friends, but brothers and sisters, and it is well known how he cherishes his family, a true example of loyalty and trustworthiness. He will later sacrifice himswlf for his comrades and redeem himself, and become a Hero Calernia deserves, just you see!

      Liked by 11 people

      1. werafdsaew

        I actually think that there might be some truth to this, in that Kairos is maneuvering himself to betray the Dead King, because he’s not getting another chance. He has to betray *EVERYBODY*, and that includes the Dead King.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. medailyfun

      Tariq actually thinks Villains have relative standings towards the good not absolute, thus Villains making concessions would bring _both_ parties closer to goodness, while making a bargain would be a step away for both as well

      Liked by 3 people

    3. >while calling Cat a bad person for not asking his side to also make concessions

      I don’t see him calling Cat a bad person there. He says “we are both lessened for this”, and I don’t think he means it in the sense of “I am upset and you’re a bad person”. I think he means “an opportunity lost for a connection forged”. I am not seeing him be judgy @ Cat here at all, if anything he’s giving her a lot of credit in addressing her as someone who values all the same things he does.

      >P.S: Amadeus’ words really hurt Tariq, eh?

      I love Catherine going “???” @ the suggestion Tariq’s to blame for the Dead King there ❤ ❤ ❤

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, Amadeus made a real impression there, and Tariq might actually be growing personally. Cat couldn’t completely reproduce his reasoning, but I’m sure he’ll explain it later.

        As far as “we are both lessened”… you don’t always get an easy cooperation, where both sides get their stake back with interest. Sometimes you need to instead share a loss, just to keep the relationship going. By Cat’s standards this one is small potatoes, but Tariq isn’t used to negotiations where he actually has to concede an opponent’s goals. He’s fine with working together for common benefit, or trading tactical position, but he always had a fallback to “if you will not renounce your evil purposes, then we must do battle!”. Actually letting the other party achieve their own goals that he’d been opposing — that’s new to him.

        That said, he’s still not very good at it. As we’ve been noting, he wasn’t using that crown anyway — in fact, it arguably handicapped him in his early negotiations with Cat. For the flip side, he’s asking that Cat refrain from killing someone who has repeatedly insulted, threatened, and otherwise menaced her, recently. Not that she as a Villain hasn’t stayed her hand on enemies before… but Pilgrim wanted it unconditional, even at the cost of Cat’s original purpose for taking this mission. He simply wasn’t going to get that.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Rook

          To be fair, ‘the other party’s own goals’ when dealing with Villains is typically the horrific kind, not continental peace. Catherine is the exception, not the rule.

          I mean consider it, how many Villains have there been in this story that are halfway decent enough that even Catherine would feel comfortable letting them get their way (at least, among the ones outside her own band). The Tyrant? Malicia? Akua? The Calamities? The closest would be either Ranger, who even Black doesn’t view as a true Villain, or Black himself, who she ended up stabbing and issuing an ultimatum to, declaring that he needs to change or become a corpse.

          He’s not used to the consequence of the other party getting their way resulting in the Liesse Accords. He’s used to the consequence being Second Liesse.

          Liked by 4 people

        2. On consideration, I’m going to walk back the bit about “Pilgrim wasn’t using his crown” — that is after all why he’s not just another big hero like Hanno. It was still a handicap in his early dealings with Cat, precisely because of that.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. On the other hand, he was taking a step in inviting Catherine to explicitly stand on his side in this. He was inviting her to stand even closer to him than Laurence, in having this conversation behind her back – “well you know how she is, but you and I are reasonable people and we can forgive that, right?”

          Imagine the story of it: Laurence attacking Catherine, and Catherine defending herself yet sparing her life, for no other reason than that Tariq had pled for it.

          “Because I’m asking” is a damn heavy reason, story-wise.

          And Catherine’s reply was that she will only take that step if she gets to take her whole party with her, giving Tariq an obligation to defend them even if they make “”mistakes”” of that caliber in turn.

          And they’re not quite there yet.

          Liked by 2 people

    4. I’m guessing Kairos got the seven crowns, but not Amadeus’ soul. (I’ll admit, seeing Black trying to manipulate Kairos would be fun.) And yeah, if Kairos has shown his cards, there’s a slot open for a replacement. Archer would be really fun — she’s something of a loose cannon herself, and generally a better counterpart to Saint. Downside: For the heroes, she’d be coming clear out of left field. That’s kind of the point of a “brick joke”, but it would be awkward at the moment. She would be more plausible showing up in the endgame with the Power of Love card.

      The other question is, do the heroes have their own brick in flight? Hanno hasn’t been seen in a while, and he makes a good brick. :-p Probably not a worldhopper on his own, though. The Witch Of The Woods would be a more plausible arrival.

      Liked by 3 people

  11. Valkyria

    I hope the Sorcerer isn’t that badly wounded and still able to fight.
    We know almost nothing about him and in the last chapters Cat herself thought him the biggest uncertainty in her plans and trickery. That seemed like some sort of foreshadowing.
    Would be kind of anticlimatic for him to be mostly out of the picture already.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m glad the sorcerer is wounded. He’d been practically untouched before and Cat was really worried about his potential. Now that Sorcerer and Tyrant have blunted each other a bit they might actually stand a chance against the Dead King.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Agreed, that “never took a wound” thing was a bit too uncanny to stand. And yeah, he’ll be able to fight. I assume more details will be forthcoming tomorrow; my wild guess is that they met Skein and Kairos booked it with the seven crowns and probably Black’s soul (if RS still has that last, Cat’s plans have gone seriously awry). This is nothing to panic over, remember Cat doesn’t have to summon Larat until our party reclaims the crowns.

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Ein

    I’ve got a theory I’ve been throwing around in my head for a while. IIRC the current “meta” of Heroes vs Villains is based on stories. Who is the teller of stories? The Bard. We dont know much, but she is older than dirt, and has had her hand on the scales for millennia. I think there is an assumption that she is a pawn in the great game. What if this chicken came before the egg?

    Most stories of gods irl have an ancient war in which gods slug it out for dominance. The greeks/romans had the titan war, judeo christians had the war of heavens and the fall of Lucifer, etc. These are often described as cataclysmic wars in which the very fabric of reality was changed.

    Now enters a storyteller. Maybe a primitive tribe’s shaman, elder, etc. The people of the land are stuck in the middle of an apocalyptic war in which the gods are throwing haymakers at each other. She comes up with a treaty: The war will forever be fought in story and allegory. Heroes and villains can fight for dominace, but will always be balanced out by the flow of the narritive. There will never be total victory on either side, but creation will not get wiped out in the process.

    This woman is the arbitrator of this narrative balance. The storyteller. The Bard.

    Millennia later, another lady, an orphan by birth, loyal to a polity beset by above and below, and trained in the art of of the narrative, sees her current world as an unknowing microcosm of the previous god war and wants to de-escalate the situation further and thus we got the PGtE. I think at the end of things, Cat will usurp the bards role via a new treaty in the vein of the liess accords while breaking the old pact (which could cause some awesome god battles in the last book).

    My 2 cents. Had to get it off my chest.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Ein

      Another theory:

      The rogue sorcerer IS the dead.king, or an avatar thereof. Now in control of Black’s soul, he will be raised as a revenant and she will have to make the classic choice of whom to save: her father or her dearest friend.

      I expect her to take the third route, but she has been doing too well not to have the pendulum swing back at her.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. To make a Revenant out of Black, DK would first have to get hold of his body. (That said, he might be able to manage a spectre or suchlike.) But Cat could certainly take his soul and make him a Night-shade like Akua.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I do want to note that Bard strikes me as a de-escalator rather than escalator, here, too.

      And I, too, like the idea of Catherine taking over her role as an enforcer of HER order, now – a better one than the previous version.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        > I do want to note that Bard strikes me as a de-escalator rather than escalator, here, too.

        How so? My impression was that the Bard gave the Dead King permission to “eat the baby”. That’s a massive escalation.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Plus, I’m pretty sure that we’re pretty sure that Bard was helping Saint organize the Conclave that got Cat declared Arch-heretic of the East.

          I don’t see how that can possibly be construed as anything other than an escalation.

          Liked by 5 people

        2. My impression was that she doesn’t get to give people permission or not.

          She invited him to do something he was already going to do, and what exactly the marginal effects of her also saying that were, we don’t know yet.

          Do distinguish short-term from long-term, and do keep in mind that the more the Dead King overextends, the more harshly he gets to be slapped down.

          Liked by 2 people

  13. So, to tally up the ways this chapter fucked with me personally:

    – Kairos did, in fact, follow up on Catherine’s expectations of him – thank god, thank god and thank god. This is the one pessimistic expectation of mine that got dashed -_-

    – aaaaaaaaaaaugh. Of course Catherine doesn’t get the easy ‘dash heroic expectations and prove yourself good’ story. Like they’re all not wrong that abdicating here would be kind of a bad idea, but meta speaking the narrative would have had nowhere to go but up from there >x> I wanted the simple…

    – at the same time, part of the reason she didn’t get to dash heroic expectations here is that the heroic expectations aren’t that low already. Another reminder for everyone that to say Tariq and Laurence don’t see eye to eye on this is like saying Catherine has a mild dislike of Akua’s actions. She doesn’t get to convince Laurence the way I hoped she might (fat chance @ me), but she doesn’t need to convince Tariq – he knows, or at least, he hopes and is betting on it;

    – I see you erratic, I see you reassuring everyone that Amadeus definitely totally under no circumstances could be a Hero – or at least, that Catherine thinks so 🙂 Everyone who thought so already will pat themselves on the head and can feel free to do so – at the very least, we do learn that Catherine is certain of it. I’m just over here like… my theory rests on dashing expectations in the first place, that’s the joke 🙂 it remains exactly as crack as it ever was, this could be build up for it or against it with equal grace;

    – I genuinely did not see how Tariq’s “crown” could come into play here. Should have known better after Catherine brought it up, it wouldn’t have been left dangling with no payoff. Nice;

    – this is not exactly the ‘fucking with my predictions’ kind of reaction, but: I like Tariq’s description of Kairos. This is the kind of empathethic shit a person with Behold SHOULD get to dish out;

    – aww @ the entirety of Cat’s reactions here. God fucking bless her everything;

    – the fucking Book of All Things quote and everything about it ;u;

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m still half-expecting Cat and Pilgrim to at least squabble over the check before this is done. With a definite chance for Kairos to grab it, even if that ends up with the League being cursed. Kairos might even survive awhile as a true King of Misrule.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. As cliche as it sounds, I’m expecting Indrani to come in at the crucial moment and save Masego with the Power of Love. Imo, this is all a big distraction from Cat and the main purpose is to deal with Larat and fulfill the crown bargain.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. ->“When we first spoke in Callow, years ago, you told me you were tired of killing children because they were on the wrong side.”
    wait how long has it been since the beginning of book 4? i thought itd only been about a year, not multiple

    Liked by 3 people

    1. darkening

      The trip to Keter was very long to get there, and didn’t instantly start after the battle of camps, and ever dark was many months, but yeah, I would’ve put it about a year more than multiple

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I actually had an estimate pretty close to yours, but now that we’ve gotten an in-universe statement to the contrary I do see a few time-increasing factors that aren’t included in your tally. One, IIRC it was stated that the trip/march from Laure up to the Battle of the Camps was at least a month or maybe two even with the fae gates, so the trip back would have been at least as long and quite likely longer even if they used the fae gates to get back, given all the wounded they had at that point. And I don’t remember either way on this point, but if it wasn’t specified it would at least be plausible that they wouldn’t use the fae gates at all given all the aforementioned wounded – yes they’re faster, but even with safe passage from the Monarchs of Arcadia if you parade your wounded around there’s no guarantee you won’t attract the attention of something nasty that doesn’t answer to them so why risk losses when there’s no longer a rush (Cat might not have wanted to give Pilgrim any more of an up-close look at her gates than necessary either). If so, then since the fae gates are a multiplier for movement rate it would be at least 3-4 months coming back down.

        Two, the trip to Keter was indeed quite quite long, but the trip to the Everdark wasn’t short either.

        Three, Cat’s adventures in the Everdark did indeed take quite a while, but IIRC it was at least a few months of off-camera shaking things out and getting plans set before she led the expeditionary force out of the Everdark – and again, marching halfway across the continent takes an amount of time measured in months even with gates. And then it was I think at least a month or so of marching around Procer trying to find where the fuck everybody is before the action started kicking off.

        I would honestly still be dubious of it being anything more than a couple of years since that still feels like an outside estimate to me, but technically two is enough to use the plural.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. SpeckofStardust

    The whole this bargain lessens both of us, as other people has mention is that the fact that this agreement needs to be made at all instead of it being a thing that would end up being true anyway. Like really this is a its just sad that we have to agree not to punch each other in the face instead of simply not doing so anyway.

    Liked by 7 people

  17. Berder

    That was a good speech by Tariq, but I’m confused as to the outcome. What promise did Tariq actually secure? The only circumstances under which Cat was likely to kill the Saint, was if the Saint attacked Heirophant or Cat. And it is acknowledged that Cat will kill the Saint to defend Heirophant. Is Cat promising that she will not defend herself if the Saint decides to try to kill her?

    It would be quite a tall order for Cat to defend herself *non-lethally* against a thing like the Saint. Did Cat just agree to be murdered?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the promise is that she will make a good faith attempt at sparing her unless she kills Masego.
      That includes trying to stop her non-lethally if she attacks her or Masego (and it is possible) rather than using the chance to take care of a liability she wants removed.
      It’s not a “I swear I’ll never kill her even if it kills me”, but a “I’ll really try not to, rather than go out of my way to find a clean way to get rid of her”.

      Though when I think about it, I wonder if Cat will end up letting Saint kill her could be how this ends.
      You know, showing she can keep to her word and rely on Tariw to Forgive her back on her feet. I could see that happening.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Actually, I’d say that between story-fu and OP powers, Cat is probably one of the few people who could conceivably manage to take Saint down without killing her. Even Rumena could hold his own against Saint, and Cat could potentially “Take” Saint’s domain! (I imagine Pilgrim could help with putting it back afterwards.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shveiran

        She could, I agree. But it would be both harder AND not what she wants, especially because the understanding is that Saint won’t stop trying.
        Which is why it’s a big concession, I’d wager.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Precisely. Cat has been remarkably restrained, mostly for the sake of not offending Pilgrim (and keeping Saint’s firepower). And we’re not just talking about “Praesi honor” (heh) here.

          If Saint wasn’t literally a holy terror, even the stuff she’s said to Cat’s face, would have “normal folks” (in any of the party’s various nations) assuming they needed to kill her before she killed them.

          Liked by 2 people

  18. Aotrs Commander

    Sorry, I’ll just be over here snorting with incredulous laughter that Saint is getting praised for massecring sick people. THAT’S Above’s solutions to plague?

    Not to beat a zombie horse here, but isn’t “burn the infected” usually the resort of the crazy military angaonists? Or the sort of thing made a joke about completely murder-hobo players of RPGs?

    Talk about “where you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

    I mean, it’s not EVEN like we know magic can’t work on disese, since we literally saw Pilgrim straight-up murder and entire settlement of his own side via biological warfare, so yeah, I’m *totally* convinced Above can’t use minions to magically cure plagues, in the same way that i’m completely *shocked* Kairos betrayed everyone.

    So I can only gape in astonishment at both that and Pilgrim’s “look, she murdered hundreds of people because they got sick (which would obviously include children and the elderly), so like, don’t hurt her when she goes out and kills all your friends and probably you, yo?”

    I am honestly kind of gobsmacked at that level of… Just… WOW.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Magic and miracle can certainly deal with natural disease because there it’s unopposed. Even there, it might well need to be cured on a case-by-case basis, which is a bit tough when the numbers go up. Magical plagues would be a different story.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Yeah, what Mental Mouse said. Literally Pilgrim’s origin story starts with his home city being ravaged by a plague that was incredibly difficult to stop once it got started. Also, why is the example used of how easy it supposedly would be to stop a plague an example of *creating* a plague that then couldn’t be stopped except by, oh what was it, oh yeah by killing everyone who had been exposed? Plagues spread themselves, that’s kind of a defining feature. Cures don’t. If you’re suggesting some sort of “fight fire with fire” scenario instead, trying to fight a plague with a plague is how you wind up with two plagues.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shveiran

        True enough, but I think what he’s coming from is “how can these Heroes be both this used to extreme measures, hard choices and lesser evils and STILL have these white-and-black worldview?

        Liked by 2 people

  19. Morgenstern

    Really? Giving The Saint free right to murder *anyone but* Masego? If that’s not idiocy coming to bite Cat in the ass, I don’t know what is…

    Liked by 2 people

  20. So, Pilly gives up his tatered crown to Tattered Throne in exchange to, what, Cat not killing Saint without a solid reason? Seems like exactly the type of a deal you will do witha Villain. Both the heroic sacrifice for a comrade, and underlying expectation that Cat is really just another murderous lunatic. Nice to see, that even when Piligrim TRYES to act towards Cat as though she is a human being, he’s just, like, can’t.

    I am alsp a little uncertain whether she should take that bargain. Killing Saint aside, it seems that the narrative here is “A former Villain allies herself with Heroes against a Big Bad”. In that narrative, regardless of what Cat wants or considers fair, she has to prove herself to be actually trustworthy. And for that she has to give up something, very implicitly. GP giving her a way out of proving herself to be Good, does not work well for her, narratively. Because if she doesn’t need that crown as much as she claims, it is a very neat pattern, for her to give up her crown here, it gives her various upsides, with probale backsides only being unrest in Callow, but then, she is not going in there, next one on the menu is DK, and when she will return, she can make it official. She got the time frame for it, not like she is forbidden from leading, so she can still be in the position of power. I don’t see a reason NOT to abdicate, frankly.

    I am officially dissapointed with Tyrant. He is expected by Cat to betray them – pretty blatantly, I might add, so best betrayal for him would be not to betray her at all. I still hope this is l just a huge misunderstanding, and he is not, ya know, actually willing to betray them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually on reread I realize that what Pilgrim is asking is for Catherine to spare Laurence if she attacks her. Like, the scenario he’s asking is one in which Cat tries her best to avoid killing her in self-defense.

      Which also puts in stark relief why he refused Cat asking for the same for her entire party lmao

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Eric Steel

    ‘She is not witty or brilliant or fascinating, those traits that so often make the worst of us seem forgivable.’

    Pretty much sums up most comments disliking the Saint. Why doesn’t the Saint like the main character, who is the high priestess of two twin gods of bloodshed and strife, who keeps in her service psychopaths and murderers, when she’s so witty and funny?

    Just look at her willingness to use the shade and keep a cordial relationship with her, a person who killed droves of her own people. Why? Because the shade is funny.

    Masego just seems like a dangerous character to enable and give power to when he’s shows so little empathy for other people. Who also appears to have gone crazy cause people he actually cared about dies, so now he’s off to try and kill who knows how many.

    But nah, the life of a hero who dedicated her life to destroy evil is worth the same as a psychopath’s/sociopath’s or whatever would be the right term for Masego.

    On another note; great novel! I look forward to seeing more.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Mmm, you’re mixing at least three different viewpoints there. Pilgrim is explicitly defending Saint. Your first paragraph is Saint’s perspective, your second probably would be if Saint actually knew about Akua, which she probably doesn’t. Likewise, for your third: Saint doesn’t know Masego at all, to her he’s just the successor to Warlock as the top Evil mage.

      We commenters more or less reached consensus that Masego seems to be what we’d call a high-functioning autistic. (He does lack the usual sensory-overload vulnerability, but that seems a natural candidate for compensating with magic — with extra magical senses, even normal mages would probably need something in that vein) He’s also Praesi born and bred, with their usual disdain for human life. That said, autistic folks famously tend not to completely absorb the mores and customs of their society, and Masego doesn’t seem to have any actual viciousness in him. (Admittedly, combined with what he does have of Praesi attitudes, that arguably makes him scarier!)

      Even with this “breakdown”, note that he hasn’t been laying waste to the vicinity; the shard would have done so without intervention, if he didn’t do anything to stop it… but we have no idea what he was planning, and Iserre seems an odd target for vengeance. It seems quite likely to me that he was thinking in terms of making his own world and pulling it in around him, using Liesse largely to attain apotheosis (by Neshamah’s method) and perhaps for cosmic engineering.

      One point I don’t think we’ve brought up, is that by now, or at least by the time the party reaches him, he probably has achieved immortality, at least on the level of Emperor Nefarious. Cat’s example might well inspire him to reconsider that, and if so, Pilgrim might be able to do something about it. We also don’t know how much of the original looming shard situation represents the Dead King’s meddling with Masego’s original plan.

      This gives me a thought on the story arc: Given that the Forever King was foreshadowed from the beginning but has not yet appeared, Book VI might well be his book. Given that… this book may well culminate with the final end of the Dead King!

      Consider the sheer power in play: The freshly-immortal Masego, Son Of The Red Skies, at the helm of Liesse. An almost as newly-risen pair of Dark Goddesses, with the Black Queen herself as their priestess and channel. Joined by three of the most powerful Heroes on the continent. Plus two more exceptionally crazed and powerful Villains. And for salt, the former Black Knight, the most sophisticated schemer of his generation, is, um, “present in spirit”. Just maybe, they could pull it off….

      Liked by 2 people

  22. Kissaten

    So, two villains having false secret alliance with each other is the one true way to defeat all heroes. As long as two villains are enemies to each other and can take turns playing lesser evil to the heroic side they are basically invincible. All their plot power will be destroyed the moment they are revealed to have a secret alliance, however, so they actually have to be enemies to each other, otherwise it wouldn’t work.

    Kind of surprising only Kairos and Cat used something like that in Guideverse consciously. There were villains who acted like that, but they weren’t conscious of the narrative side of this thing, Black with Malicia and possibly Dead King with Triumphant.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > As long as two villains are enemies to each other and can take turns playing lesser evil to the heroic side

      Yeah, but that part went by the wayside at the conclave. Nobody thought Kairos was the lesser evil, he’s lucky they even let him play.

      Liked by 2 people

  23. gyndroid

    Wait. How many “and one” crowns are in play, now?

    Tariq, Catherine, Tyrant, that’s three definite ones.
    Maybe Thief of Stars. Maybe Spellsword. Maybe, soon enough, Edward Not-Fairfax. 3 more, suspected by Catherine.
    Maybe Black, depending on whether his position as basically successor to Malicia, and former ruler of Callow count (and if former ruler counts for Edward, as Catherine suspects it might, then I don’t see why it wouldn’t really count for Black either. He was enough of a ruler in Callow that Catherine, being his successor, got to use it to claim a sword and bully a Resurrection). And we know she can store bodies in Night so there’s no reason she can’t have stored Black, too.
    *Maybe* Skein, depending on how literal the lord part of “Horned Lords” are. Probably not though. I can’t remember though. If Catherine ignored it, I’m not inclined to count it.
    Maybe Dead King. That technically counts, though it’s…hard to imagine a circumstance in which he gives up his crown.

    That’s…7(or 8) possible “and one” crowns. Maybe not all of mortal realms, but…
    It’s probably just a coincidence though.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’d say forget Skein (and Saint!).

      That leaves:
      1) Three living crowns from Cat’s party.
      2) If Eddie-7 shows up, that would make three undead crowns from DK, otherwise two.
      3) Black’s soul is Cat’s joker.
      4) The Hierarch might turn out to be another joker, but per the text, he’s currently shielding Kairos from scrying/precog.
      5) DK himself is presumably eligible, but I’m pretty sure that ain’t gonna happen. 😉

      Of course, Cat’s immediate response to the undead crowns was literally “it’s a trap”, and she’s probably right. “Get thee behind me tempter… no on second thought, stay right where I can see you”. 😉

      I suspect that the Dead King might snaffle Hierarch somehow; as I’ve noted before, using Hierarch might make the travel realm unusable for mortal armies, but DK could probably make at least some use of it anyway.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          Yes. I’ve got this vision of King Edward somehow managing to escape from the Dead King’s control through some amazing heroic effort (and maybe some help from Cat).

          A M A Z I N G

          Liked by 2 people

  24. shveiran

    Hello, could someone please help me out?
    I’ve only recently started to join the discussion, and when I do a tag always shows saying my comment is “awaiting moderation”.
    But I think I left 3-4 comments here yesterday, and now they have disappeared.
    Is there some requisite to comment freely I’m unaware of?

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Captain Amazing

    The Dead King is trying to create his own 7 and 1.

    1-4 The four princes/princesses that carried Catherine’s palanquin to Keter with their crowns nailed to their heads.
    5 the Rat King known as the Skein
    6 the Crown of Stars taken from the Thief of Stars
    7 the Forever Kong’s son, likely crowned in his own right
    8 Good King Edward Fairfax 7th

    Whichever crown she used as the “one” likely has a corresponding shape he could counter with. He made a point of showing them to her to make the resulting story stronger. The Crown of Stars probably covers any fae or supernatural crown she could lead with.

    I think the Hierarch’s crown also counts as 7 and 1 for the seven cities of the League and one for himself. He’s going to throw his hat in, muddy up the waters, save the day, and somehow transform the League into a democracy with him still in charge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Eh. As noted before, Skein is dubious. More to the point, Cat almost certainly won’t summon Larat until she has all her pieces ready. (And probably, after Masego has been sorted out.)

      Once Larat has ascended, the crown business is over and done with, then the task is to kill the new god. Which just has to be “easier said than done”, especially given how smoothly things have been going so far. Hmm, it occurs to me that if this scheme doesn’t have any wheels come off it, that would practically be proof that Cat really is playing by Heroic rules now.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. shveiran

      True, but I don’t think that will be an issue: context matters.

      This isn’t the Fae, but two prospective allies striking a deal in good faith: the meaning behind their words is clear, if Tariq tried to slip out of his obligations that way he’d be hearning bad karma story-wise AND earn Cat’s enmity for good, with no real gain. I mean, he probably would like getting rid of Masego as he is a dangerous liability, but with all that is happening? Trying to rules-lawyering the deal this way really feels both out of character and short-sighted.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. yeah

        and I mean their deal is basically “if Saint is still alive at the end of this you get a crown for it” “cool but be aware I have a line that if she steps over I’m going to say fuck your crown”

        this ain’t an obligation on Cat’s part this is a condition she’s unilaterally informing him of

        Liked by 2 people

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