Chapter 41: Ante

“It is the nature of gambling that the scope of one’s victory is proportionate to the scope of all others’ defeat. So is it with empire, and near as subordinate to chance.”
– Dread Emperor Venal

I studied the Rogue Sorcerer closely as he hobbled forward, not out of any great affection for the man but because the state of him was a piece of information that’d allow me to discern the nature of Kairos Theodosian’s game. When the Tyrant had turned on us, had he gone for the kill or for a more amicable form of betrayal? The Sorcerer’s face was a canvas of bruises and scratches and he looked like he’d been sent tumbling down through a thicket of brambles, but aside from that and a wounded knee I could see no great damage inflicted. While the Pilgrim saw to the other hero’s pain, I considered the private conversation that Kairos Theodosian and myself were having through the particulars of the Rogue Sorcerer’s escape and return. If he’d wanted to break with me permanently the Tyrant would have killed the man – or at least made a serious attempt to do so, which did not seem to have been the case – to lure out the Pilgrim’s lone aspect-resurrection. He’d taken the crowns, that much was obvious, and likely whatever artefacts the Sorcerer had been carrying on him. That appeared to include the casting rod, and likely Black’s soul as well. Kairos had deigned to use the opening I’d left for him and done it without burning bridges with myself or with the heroes in a way that could not be overcome down the line. Which meant he was still open to turning on the Dead King in our favour, if we seemed the horse to back at the latest hour. Assuming he didn’t turn on both us and the Hidden Horror in favour of some still-inscrutable aim, which given who we were dealing with was very much possible.

“- he had me thrown off a balcony by gargoyles after declaring that was the last we’d see of me,” the Rogue Sorcerer said, snatching back my attention.

Really, Kairos? That’s a little on the nose even for you, I thought. If the Tyrant was going around throwing heroes off of cliffs then he definitely wasn’t trying to kill anyone. I paused for half a beat and looked the absurdity of what I’d just thought in the eye, though being absurd made it no less true. I tapped the bottom of my staff against a broken pavement, claiming the attention of the returning hero.

“He took the crowns,” I said.

“He did,” the Sorcerer agreed. “And-”

The man flicked a hesitant glance at the Pilgrim, who nodded in allowance.

“- my teacher’s soul,” I finished instead. “That cat’s been out of the bag for some time, wizardling.”

He watched me warily at that, as if the revelation that he’d been going around with my father in a bottle would be enough to have me strike at him out of nowhere. While even these days I relied on being underestimated to get away with gambits, on occasion it was irritating to be taken as this kind of second-stringer. I wasn’t some cackling Dread Emperor from the Age of Wonders, Sisters bless, and even if I’d actually intended on betraying these people I wouldn’t have been an amateur about it.

“He intends to coerce you with it, I suspect,” the Grey Pilgrim solemnly said.

There was sympathy in his gaze I did not particularly deserve or want. Not from the man who’d ordered Black’s soul cut out and bottled for his own manner of coercion. I might hold Tariq in higher esteem than Kairos, but I’d say this for the Tyrant of Helike: when he slid the knife, he did not pretend it was anything but that.

“He’ll try,” I simply said. “Sorcerer, did he speak anything else before throwing you off the cliff?”

“Balcony,” the man corrected.

“She’s right,” the Saint grunted, almost amusedly. “If a villain tossed you down, it’s a cliff in every way that matters.”

I suspected the old killer had been thrown off, or leapt down, more than a few in her time. The dark-haired man cocked a brow but did not argue.

“He loudly lamented your lack of foresight,” he told me. “In some detail.”

So, Kairos had left a message for me. Kind of him.

“In what way specifically?” I asked.

The Grey Pilgrim grimly smiled.

“You think he revealed his plan by monologue,” the old man said.

I think that if he took the bait I offered, it was for a reason, I thought. He just gave me a way to get everything I want the way I want it. He won’t have done that without a reason, and if we’re to continue negotiating through you then he needs to have his counterstroke made known. If the Pilgrim wanted to take that as Kairos making a Name-induced mistake instead of moving through something that had the shape of one, then that was his miscalculation to make. I dipped my head the slightest bit, then silently invited the Sorcerer to keep talking.

“He castigated your ignorance of precedent, Black Queen,” the hero almost apologetically said. “And insisted there are reasons people don’t ‘go around pulling swords from stones, if you’ll forgive my language’.”

It took me an embarrassing four heartbeats before I put the pieces together. Shit. Shit, that heinous little bastard. There was no way he should be able to know about – no, Hells, he’d been talking with Neshamah for months now hadn’t he? And Neshamah could pick Masego’s brains whenever he wanted. It was quite possible that the Tyrant knew when I’d pulled the sword from the stone at First Liesse I’d done so while presenting myself as the heiress to the tacit king of Callow of two decades: Amadeus of the Green Stretch. That was a crown, one I’d not considered until now and one I could not afford to lose. If my teacher was inflicted the curse that was losing that ‘right to rule’, who was going to unfuck Praes into a halfway reasonable nation for me? I’d come to trust Akua to an extent I would have thought inconceivable a few years ago, but I couldn’t trust her anywhere near the Tower: it’d be like locking a drunk who’d just begun weaning into a wine cellar. And Malicia, well, regardless of the political considerations that prevented allowing her to remain in that seat if the Empress had wanted this to end in any way but one of our heads on a pike then she shouldn’t have started assassinating my friends. I needed Black as, if not Dread Emperor, then someone in a position to resolve the mess in the Wasteland before the cauldron tipped over and fucked us all over while we were stuck looking north.

“He’s threatening to have Black as the one, to cut the grass under our feet and give Larat his due,” I said. “Possibly in my name, possibly on his own – hard to tell at this point. I shouldn’t need to tell you that’ll be a disaster.”

“You mean the most desirable way for this to end, save you chucking down your own crown,” the Saint of Swords bluntly countered.

“Laurence,” the Pilgrim chided.

He did not, I noted, disagree. Of course he wouldn’t. Tariq had considered Black enough of a threat that he’d been willing to unleash a plague to corner him, even if I was right and he’d gone after my teacher with the deeper intent of baiting a pattern of three between us. The Pilgrim wasn’t the kind of man to resort to those means unless he thought the enemy dangerous enough to require it. The heroes knew my teacher as the Dread Empire’s red right hand, the monster who’d torched the heartlands of Procer to starve an empire into collapse when he’d judged he could not defeat its armies on the field. And he was that, it must be said. But he was also a great deal more: the architect of the Reforms, the lid that’d been put on the worst impulses of the Wasteland for nigh forty years and a stubborn madman who’d fought a bitter, thankless struggle to end the cycle of death that’d bound Callow and Praes for millennia.

If I was to have peace in the east in my lifetime, and the kind of peace that would last beyond my lifetime, then Black was one of the keystones for it. As Warlock had once told me, for all that the man saw himself as a replaceable cog in a great machinery he was in truth the beating heart of the dream for a different Empire. If I lost him, there simply wasn’t anyone else who’d do his work anywhere a well, as comprehensively or as reliably – more than just personal ability, there were his personal relationships to consider. Who else had his pull on the Legions, on the Clans and the Tribes? Had Kairos glimpsed that, I wondered? If so, he was even more dangerous than I’d suspected for he was perhaps the first of my foes to truly understand the world I wanted to make. Or it might be simpler, I thought, a scheme as plain as it was effective: I would want to preserve my father, the heroes would want to cripple him. Conflict would ensue, sure as dawn rising.

“Theodosian can’t be allowed to get his way,” the Rogue Sorcerer spoke up. “Especially if what the Black Queen suggests is true.”

“You walked through the same empty towns as us, boy,” the Saint harshly said. “The further the man who wrought that is from a crown-“

“We do not want the man who schemed that to shape this realm,” the Sorcerer hissed back. “That is the last crown’s purpose, Gods be merciful, and we’d trade what – a petty blow at a woman trying to be our ally for what could be bloody disaster?”

Huh. I’d genuinely not seen that coming.

“Roland,” the Pilgrim intervened, tone calming. “No such decision was made. There is no need for backbiting among us.”

“There is, Peregrine,” the hero furiously said. “I’ve kept my tongue through low ebbs – and there have been a great many of those, since this wretched crusade began – but what sort of black madness is it that the only one here who has attempted to save lives over the last months is the damned Black Queen?”

I wondered what it said about me, that instead of being touched by that I was immediately suspicious. If you sat in a high seat long enough, I thought, trust sickened and died until all that was left was the strange kin to it that Malicia has famously coined: trusting people to act according to their nature. And I did not know enough of the nature of the Rogue Sorcerer – Roland, to hear Tariq put a name to him– to trust anything coming from his lips. Gods, though, even if he might be playing me it was nice to hear someone say it.

“She’s playing you, Sorcerer,” the Saint told him.

The echo, I thought, was ironic in all the worst ways. My father would have laughed of it until tears came and muscles ached.

“I don’t care, Saint,” the hero said. “This is… this is beneath us. All of us. That even in the face of doom we take each other as foes instead of a having a single forthright conversation to protect the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who put their lives in our hands.”

“There is a conversation to be had,” the Pilgrim tiredly conceded. “Yet now is not the time for it.”

“Respectfully, Peregrine, I disagree,” the Rogue Sorcerer said.

Though his knee had been healed by the Pilgrim along his bruises, it must still have been tender by the way he was careful when turning towards me.

“You have a plan,” the dark-haired man said. “This has been evident since you cowed two armies into truce and stripped rule from a third of the Highest Assembly. What is it that you need done, Queen Catherine, and how can I help?”

And it might be, I thought, that he was honest. That the was speaking from a place of genuine disgust for the way cloak and dagger struggles were still being had even when, as he had said, hundreds of thousands of lives hung in the balance. If that was true, if the Rogue Sorcerer really was as appalled by it as the glimmer in his eyes said he was, then this was the first breath of the newborn Liesse Accords. An agreement, however implicit, that there were some monstrosities that even foes should and would band against. That a form of restraint could be enforced, by the fear of utter opposition from all others if nothing else. It was something I longed to hear, more than any praised or recognition of my bitter efforts to avoid bloodshed, and so damned as I was I distrusted it immediately. Because I’d seen him hobble back to us, leaning against the Saint in quit conversation. Because I knew near nothing of the man under that sweep of dark curls, and if I was trying to trick Catherine Foundling I would have done it just like this. Splitting with the others on root of principle, not for sympathy of the villain but contempt at the actions of my own side. That he’d been a little too castigating, a little too bitter, only made it all the more believable: I’d learned from High Lords that anything too smooth was likely to be false. It might be, I thought, that this was all play by the heroes to get a better glimpse the lay of my intentions.

Does it matter? I thought, taking a cold-eyed look at the practicalities of it. I was, in the end, surrendering little I would not have to reveal down the line. And if I was wrong, if this was an earnest tirade, then that early surrender was well worth the price of encouragement. I breathed out, slowly, and then slipped two fingers to my lip to whistle. The shrill cry sounded loud and far, followed by silence and veiled gazes.

“I need a company to tear through the Ducal Palace’s front door, loud and hard and drawing attention from the dagger,” I said. “Which will slip in through a hidden path, to get at the Hierophant directly and pry him awake from the Dead King’s influence.”

“I tread close to the palace,” the Rogue Sorcerer said. “It’s a fortress of wards and enchantments. Brute force will flounder, but I have ways to finesse the locks.”

“Good,” I said, inclining my head. “I’ll be there, as the moment we’re in we’ll need to move on the Tyrant and I’ve some notion of how to deal with him.”

“This dagger you speak of,” the Grey Pilgrim said, “if you do not guide it through the hidden path, how will it know of it?”

“Who do you think told her about that to begin with?”

Saint’s blade had cleared the scabbard before the end of the first word and even the Peregrine shifted his footing to have an easier time slinging Light if it came to a fight – which seemed, if anything, to amuse Indrani all the more. To have come so soon after I whistled, she must have been shadowing us from even closer than I’d thought. Archer’s long leather coat whispered against the ground as she moved to lean against a half-broken pillar, hazelnut eyes bright in the gloom of this city she’d seen both breaking and broken. The way her fingers rested on the handle of her long knives was too casual to be a threat, but there was not a hint of fear in her bearing at the thought of tangling with any of the heroes.

“Archer,” the Pilgrim said, inclining his head in greeting. “How long have you been trailing us, I wonder?”

Indrani grinned, sharp and unpleasant.

“I’m just here to guide you poor lost souls through this nightmare of a city,” she said. “Nothing to read into.”

“Should I be appalled that even after all this you had yet another card up your sleeve?” the old man said, glancing at me. “How many more are left, Your Majesty?”

“One more, Tariq,” I said, lips quirking. “That’s the trick: always one more.”

“Spare me,” the Saint of Swords said. “Fine, if you need warm bodies for a dagger crew then I’ll bite.”

“You’ll be a lot more useful in the assault crew,” I politely replied. “The Pilgrim would be a better fit.”

“We don’t trust you not to cut our boy’s throat at first occasion, ‘cause you’re vicious old bat,” Indrani cheerfully translated. “You’re not going anywhere near him without Cat to keep an eye on you, get me?”

I glanced at the Pilgrim. We had, after all, struck a bargain. The reason for which he might hesitate to leave the Saint alone with me – she’d try to end me and run headlong into grounds I’d prepared to kill her – should be seen to now.

“I am sure young Archer will prove sufficient muscle for the pair of us,” Tariq agreeably said. “We both know, Laurence, that your talents are best suited to less subtle tasks.”

“Getting your way in all of it, are you?” the Saint darkly said, matching gaze.

“Wouldn’t have to, if your way wasn’t so godsawful,” I replied.

“You might be the single worst ally we’ve ever had,” Indrani told her, sounding kind of impressed. “And I’m counting secret Malicia in there, since at least she had panache when batting us around.”

“Secret Malicia doesn’t count, she was just impersonating an ally,” I said without missing a beat.

“So that’s the Woe,” the Saint said, eyes flicking between us and her lips quirked into a hard and unimpressed smile. “Murderers and sowers of ruin, but that’s all right because you’re clever and you’re droll. Like that’s not just a fig leaf on the obscenity of what you are.”

“Gods Above, Regicide,” the Sorcerer said, “how much time must we lose to incivility in the face of cataclysm?”

“You want civil tongue, boy?” she snorted. “Fine. Foundling, what has you so convinced that the dusty vagrant you just revealed can do a single damned thing to ‘wake’ the Hierophant? What is she going to do, put an arrow in him in a friendly way?”

Hardly that. There was a story between the two of them that was old and worn and could be put to purpose, but it would have been stripping bare something of Indrani in front of strangers that were still half foes. I saw no need to sate the curiosity of Laurence de Montfort at the expense of one of mine.

“There’s a method,” I flatly said. “You don’t need to-“

“There’s two people close enough to Masego to pull him back from the brink,” Archer interrupted me without hesitation, “and of the two I’m the one in love with him.”

Ah. Well. I kept a wary eye on the Saint, for if she laughed now I thought that Indrani might very well try to kill her. She was proud, my friend, and to have something so fragile mocked would sting all the more. Instead the old woman silently nodded, face shuttering closed.

“For the dagger to have chance at making it into the deeps without running into entrenched resistance, the assault crew will have to wreak the kind of havoc that simply can’t be ignored,” I said, passing over the discomfort with forced composure. “Sorcerer, you said you have a method to pass through wards?”

“I can bring them down,” the hero agreed.

“Then, given who it is that’s going to be making up this crew, I’d say the time for subtle has passed,” I frankly said. “Let’s smash through the front door and pick every fight there is to be picked.”

It would, as an additional boon, attract the Tyrant the way honey would flies. He’d never be able to let pass an opportunity to meddle in that kind of a brawl, not even if it was to his advantage, and he and I still had a conversation to conclude. I’d put out the crowns and the soul though the Sorcerer, and he’d claimed that. That was the seed of a story, Kairos betraying us and my recovering crown and father from his grasp when we fought. He’d offered the mordant rejoinder of taking them but making it clear he was ready to spend them all before I could reclaim anything. If he’d genuinely meant to go through with that, though, I wouldn’t have received a warning. Which meant he was, in his own way, inviting me to make a counteroffer when we next met. Which gave me until then to figure out what it was that the Dead King had offered him – besides the pleasure of betraying us – and beating that with an offer of my own.

“Now you’re talking my language, Black Queen,” the Saint of Swords said, crooked teeth bared. “Into the breach we go, blade high and let the dark cower at the coming it.”

243 thoughts on “Chapter 41: Ante

  1. Gyndroid

    I think I’m allowed to be a little pleased with myself, here. 😀

    Dammit all, though. I really want Rogue to genuinely be feeling positive towards Catherine, but her instincts are so on the money about trusting people telling her what she wants to hear. Still, it’d be awesome if she managed to seduce another sneaky type to her side, though Viv would feel a bit threatened.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. stevenneiman

      Nice. It would appear that you totally called it. Kind of makes me sad there’s no way to make that one Malicia’s. Not only would someone willing to make whatever allies are necessary, it would also mean that Malicia would be forced to step down or guarantee that her ultimate goal of a sustainable Praes fails.
      I personally suspect that the Rogue Sorcerer is genuine. He’s old and smart enough to recognize that Cat is trying to shape a story where she keeps things from going to shit for all involved, but between being younger and more of a loner he hasn’t been burned nearly as hard as the big two have been on trusting villains. Experienced enough to see the truth but not so jaded as to dismiss it as trickery.

      Liked by 13 people

      1. Orpheus

        I think that may be a bad idea anyway, because the final crown shapes the realm. If Pilgrim’s crown creates a realm of necessary sacrifices in the name of the greater good, I don’t know if Malicia’s crown would create a very useful realm. It would kinda waste the whole ritual at best, and at worst would be focused around treachery and a complete lack of scruples, possibly even being usable by the Dead King.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Someguy

          Does it have to be a crown? The vow was for 7 crowns & One right? No specifics as to that One is? Could be 7 crowns and a dirty sock would still work?

          Liked by 4 people

      2. Rook

        I’m honestly hoping against hope that he actually is genuine and that he actually does help push the plan along success.

        What I can’t help expecting, is some other shoe to drop, whether he’s genuine or not. The way that his help is suspiciously convenient but too good to pass up on almost parallels the way Catherine baited the Pilgrim with her surrender. A deal too good to refuse.

        Maybe his method of bypassing the wards is already known to the Dead King and it’ll just be used to set off a trap. Maybe the path that Archer found was one that was intentionally created, in order to bait Catherine into Splitting The Party, and he was just used as a catalyst to push it along. Who knows.

        After all, an well-meaning support character accidentally carrying the seed of disaster isn’t exactly a rare trope.

        Liked by 10 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          I agree, all is happening according to plan, which means that nothing is going according to plan. They are trying a classical heroic story against Neshamah, who is bound to have several counters for it.

          The attitude of the Sorcerer is too convenient, but if it is genuine he will become my favorite hero so far.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. I think it’s important to not overthink this.

            They aren’t going to be able to blindside Neshamah with this, but who tf needs a hidden dagger when they have a tank? Like, on an object level that’s a dagger but on narrative level that’s a tank Cat’s got there and Neshamah just has to get out of the way as gracefully as he can. And he knows this, and is just trying to milk the situation for all he can before the inevitable ‘curse you, heroes! this is not the last you’ve seen of me!’ retreat

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Justin

              Could Rogue Sorcerer be Neshamah or an agent of his? He was near when Cat got her first message from the Dead King and he’s the one who just baited out her plan

              Liked by 2 people

          2. Aside from Liliet’s points, they are mixing up heroic with villainous stories, which falls under Cat’s usual pattern of creating chaos in order to exploit it. Neshamah will surely get some objectives (not necessarily known to us at this time), but he probably won’t get to lay waste to Iserre (at least not this way), and I doubt he’ll get to keep (or kill) Masego. However, the crossroads scheme is surely up for grabs!

            Liked by 3 people

      3. shveiran

        It is a possibilities, and I’d love for him to be genuine, but I’m afraid the RS has too little narrative weight to begin the building of bridges between sides. Which I am with dk and bet on him actually being Black-possessed. Blacksed?

        Liked by 3 people

          1. shveiran

            You can call it a fulcrum if you prefer, but I still don’t see him being the pebble that starts a landslide. Still, could be he’s just the last drop in the bucket… but I’m not convinced, not yet.

            Liked by 3 people

        1. Maddie changed a bit after his visit from Intercessor. I’ve been wondering whether we were going to see a new name or how that would fall narratively. Possession seems out of his wheelhouse but the way Rogue came around is a bit suspicious.

          Liked by 3 people

    2. Cicero

      He might be lying while at the same time partially believing it. A half truth is always easier to make a lie out of.

      In that case, Cat might still have a chance with him.

      Liked by 7 people

    3. dk

      I think that she’s misreading the person who’d been “a little too castigating, a little too bitter”. I think that she’s misreading him as a hero when in fact he is *Black*.

      I predict that Rogue had a magic item that held somebody else’s soul, but Amadeus was trapped in his eyeball (or otherwise secured). Kairos stole a decoy phylactery, and now Black is getting to speak directly to Cat.

      Since Cat hasn’t seen through Black’s disguise, she doesn’t recognize the genuine offer of support because it’s coming from the body of the Rogue Sorcerer.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Someguy

          Or that the Original Black died in Heir’s hands back during the Praesi Civil War and Assassin has taken over his identity & playing his Role ever since.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. No. Black has been using his Aspects since then, so unless you’re also going to argue that Assassin can somehow emulate Black’s Aspects (plus his character and decision making) so perfectly as to fool those who knew Black since before the Conquest on a long term basis …

            Also… the rest of the Calamities and Scribe would have known instantly. And they would have been pissed that Malicia’s scheming with Akua got Black killed at Akua’s hands.

            Also, while Assassin could disguise himself as Black well enough to fool Akua, I doubt he could do the same with Tariq.

            Plus we’ve had PoVs from Amadeus. Recently even.

            Amadeus is not dead.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. RandomFan

              While you’re not wrong, this theory is talking about the Heir before Akua killing Black; I.E. “Assassin was Black for each and every scene of canon”, excluding, possibly, some name dreams and some bonus chapters. “Since before Book 1’s prologue”, not “Since book 3” Just wanted to clear that up!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. It was Squire, whom tangled with Heir, not the Black Knight. So that would mean, that there never was a black Knight, only the Assasin, which kinda kills the point. I mean, if you have an Assassin sitha Name Black Knight, being able to use all aspects of Black Knight, he is not an Assassin.

                Liked by 2 people

          1. It would need to be really minor influence for Tariq to not notice.

            Like, “they had conversations and Rogue Sorcerer ended up with thoughts to chew on and new speech quirks”, not “RS has entirely new motivations now”

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Decius

        Suggesting that Kairos has the Roland’s soul, meaning that when Cat gets it back she will have saved a hero, albeit an incompetent one that allowed Black to posses him when the entire soul removal was precisely to avoid allowing him to influence anyone in any manner.

        That would improve Saint and Regicide’s attitude by one step, to ‘murderous’ and ‘obstructionist’ respectively.

        Liked by 2 people

    4. Insanenoodlyguy

      I think Viv wouldn’t feel threatened in fact. Not after Hakram and the hand incident. She’s no longer part of a band of five named, she’s the heir apparent of Callow. She’s got a whole new deal that doesn’t require her in the same place anymore.

      The problem here is Rouge Sorcerer is the magic. Hierophant is the Magic. I’m worried that at the very least in order to keep Rogue he’s going to at least remain out of commission for a while.

      Also, I now ship Roland and Cat. Also since he’s still acting this way even without Black’s soul in there, I also now throw out the semi-crack theory: Roland is Amadeus’ son. He’s the story Cat guessed at way back at the beginning: He did in fact have a kid he intentionally had nothing to do with in order to keep him out of all this, and that failed utterly because stories. That “It’s not too late to save your family” line that he wasn’t able to get out wasn’t a mere bluff, it was an ironic truth.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. Shveiran

          A new father/son relationship for Maddie, this late in the game? I don’t think that’s where we’re headed, it would mud the waters between the protagonist and her mentor

          Liked by 1 person

      1. JRogue

        I hear what you are saying about RS and Hierophant being the ‘Magic, but Viv is no longer the ‘Sneaky’ of the Woe and Rogue Sorceror sounds like a ‘Sneaky’ name that uses magic to achieve those ends. He even talks about having a way to get through those wards around the Ducal Palace. While I think he can fill a combat wizard Role when needed, I think he is more of Rogue trope. His story of trying to get books that used to belong to The Wizard of the West and barely getting away kinda leads me to think he was trying to steal them, not buy them.

        Viv becomes what Malicia was to the Calamities and Rogue Sorceror takes on the ‘Sneaky’ Role that Viv used to fill.

        That’s all based on him siding with Cat, and his offer being legit, which, if PGtE has taught us anything, its don’t trust them… any of them.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. so does that make Roland a quarter elf or are you saying Amadeus deliberately slept with someone he wasnt attracted to just to have a kid or

        I need to know more details of this scenario

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Probably one of those stupid things, where he got drunk at one of his more melancholy moments, and there was some girl at the bar, and the next day it was clearly a mistake but thanks to narrative fuckery the damage was already done. Kids even a hero because of course he is.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You really think Black would have gotten drunk and slept with a stranger?
            No, I don’t buy that. It’d be wildly out of character for him.
            Besides … Black would most likely have been near constantly accompanied by one or more of his friends/allies/associates. I don’t see any of them letting Black drunkenly wander off with anyone other than Ranger (they all like living too much).

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              In my addmittedly still crack speculation here, this happened just after Callow. The love of his life left him, he’s kinda miserable, and his friends just hoped a night with somebody would do something for him. It didn’t of course, and it likely never happened again.

              As for Ranger, I really doubt she’s the monogamous type. At least in the sense of caring what he does when she’s not around and has specifically even said she’s out. Though I imagine her number of partners has been fairly small to non-existent over the same period of time, this is less because of any faithfulness and more because there would have literally been nobody who impressed her enough to bother.


            1. Insanenoodlyguy

              And when she turned him down, he was out there, miserable, drunk, she was interested, he said “fuck it” and there you go. I mean, gay guys have had children. It’s no less possible for a demi. I don’t disagree with you about him, if this crack theroy somehow turns out to be true, it certainly wasn’t love (unless we find out he’s a quarter elf, and SHE’s the one who gave him up etc. etc.), but you don’t need love to have a kid.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Gay guys have had kids, but I somehow doubt it was commonly a one night stand scenario 0.o

                not to mention the part where Amadeus doesn’t drink on campaign and doesn’t swear, he’s like an adorable middle school teacher

                Liked by 1 person

                    1. Insanenoodlyguy

                      Okay fine. He’s not the father of the Rouge Sorcerer.

                      *puts on his Irritant hat*

                      He’s the mother of the Rogue Sorcerer.

                      Liked by 1 person


      And my call here? My call here is that this is it and this is true. That this is the real pivot of Catherine’s effort breaking through, and that the test she’s facing is not flinching from success. We’ve had a whole treatise on the topic of trust, last book.

      And the key that makes me think this is real is what Catherine concludes at the end: that it doesn’t matter whether she can trust this, because she stands to lose little and stands to gain much, and so the gamble is worth it.

      That whole internal monologue was mirror at least in part to Tariq’s inner monologue during the recent set of interludes. Does it matter if the Black Queen truly has a hidden dagger or is just bluffing? Is it still the right thing to accept her surrender, regardless?

      Honestly, I’ve been expecting SOME dissenting opinions among western heroes since mid book 4. About time that gun fired :3

      Liked by 5 people

      1. shveiran

        I agree, but… I don’t know, I don’t see RS filling that role. Too little screen time, too little knowledge over his thought process. I expected an overture from Melanza which started an avalanche.
        But hey, EE surprises me often and I love them for it. So maybe he is genuine and I don’t yet realize that makes for the best story.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Malanza is already on Catherine’s side.

          Honestly the avalanche kind of started with Cordelia realizing that the best way to bait Cat is to appeal to her non-mass-murdering sensibilities, and has been going, real slow, ever since.

          Rozala Malanza trying to actually ask Catherine to lose to them so they can resolve the situation, and then giving up her crown willingly for Cat’s plan.

          Tariq deciding that he cannot conscience continuing to oppose Catherine even if she IS bluffing and has no hidden dagger if he refuses to accept the surrender.

          And now a random hero we know nothing about just saying it the way he sees it, which is in Catherine’s favor because yooooo THAT IS IN FACT WHAT IS GOING ON.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. shveiran

            It is a way to see it, but a lot of that wasn’t really about Cat.
            Last time they talked, I got the feeling Melanza didn’t much change her opinion on Cat and still considered her a monster; she simply got to meet Tyrant and DK (sort of) and realized there are worse things out there. It isn’t really about changing idea on the Black Queen, but on the rest of the world.
            As for the crown, I felt that was more about how she changed perspective on her responsabilities and priorities than about any trust in Cat. I thought she was simply willing to believe that Cat was the DK’s enemy too, but… I mean, she’s a living being, that isn’t too much of a concession.

            Still, it could be that’s how it starts and I’m simply looking at it wrong. After all, it doesn’t matter why they band together if they do it for a while; it is still a proof of concept, and that is a step forward by itself.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. KageLupus

              I think that you are right, and it is exactly what Cat is going for. You can have a disagreement with another person/nation for whatever reason, just as long as you both accept that there are cases where you have to set that aside and work together against a real monster.

              Malanza doesn’t have to like Cat or any of the stuff that she has done. She just has to agree that the Dead King is a serious enough threat that their history is less important than stopping him. This whole volume, especially lately, has been various reflections on that same theme.

              Leaders get mad because their soldiers fought and died, but that doesn’t mean that they should keep fighting when the Dead King comes knocking. Named can be on opposite teams but can still work together to take down the big threat. I think the fact that the Rogue Sorcerer is so on board with Cat’s plan right now proves that not all Named are so jaded or fanatical that they can’t see the benefit of working together when necessary. Cat has spent so long trying to act reasonably, eventually someone was bound to notice and admit it.

              Liked by 4 people

            2. Yeah, but her idea of the Black Queen was “someone I can go to with this”. It didn’t change, Malanza just had relatively (as compared to say Laurence) high standards for what she assumed of her to begin with.

              >Still, it could be that’s how it starts and I’m simply looking at it wrong. After all, it doesn’t matter why they band together if they do it for a while; it is still a proof of concept, and that is a step forward by itself.

              That’s what I think basically yeah

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Shveiran

                The catch is the transition, though.
                You can go from “we banded together to repel the big bad” to “let’s agree we’ll do it again and decide how we can make that work” (AKA the Accords, whatever the name and shape).

                But… you could also go “well, that was fun, but you are still Evil, so… SLASH SLASH SLASH (Miko Myazaki style).

                The transition is going to be tricky no matter what, but for the purpose of what happens next the ground they band together on does make a difference.
                No matter what, banding together creates a new story that can be called upon in the future. But the extent to which it would change the world depends on the aftermath.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. > But… you could also go “well, that was fun, but you are still Evil, so… SLASH SLASH SLASH

                  Well, consider Kairos with his Compulsive Backstabbing Disorder. Cat’s task is to convince people she is different… despite the fact that she actually knows how to handle Kairos well enough to make use of him!

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. shveiran

                    Pretty much nothing but gender, yeah, but I was referring to the general “side of Good”, not just her. My bet is she’ll end up First Prince, but even if she does she won’t control most of the moving pieces.
                    A Saint faction (not necessarily led by her, but gathering those that share her views about compromise with Evil) may very well survive the war.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Rozala ending up First Prince would go against the grain of her story of realizing Procer needs unity, not ancestral squabbles (which is what her feud with Hasenbach basically is, even if it’s a very close ancestory).

                      Not sure Saint has a faction that consists of more than just her.

                      Liked by 1 person

      2. Rook

        Personally I think the sorcerer might be true, but the real Pivot is yet to come. I’d say it’ll likely be getting through to Saint rather than the Sorcerer, and it’ll be through an act of faith/goodwill by Catherine that’s neither risk-free nor necessarily required of her. Something that can finally get through that impossible door of trust that’s too heavy to move with simple words or small gestures.

        I’m expecting that eventually Catherine will be offered a sweet deal like the one the dead king offered in the first trial, and the pivot will be whether Catherine takes that deal or stays true to her course. A moment where Catherine gets to decide to take the road that’s easier and is no skin off her own back; or the unpalatable road that brooks ‘no truce with the Enemy’, a choice that would finally prove even to the Heroes that Catherine’s ‘Enemy’ was never Good in itself or it’s Heroes, and that her motives aren’t some Evil hidden away beneath the surface.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          It is also very hard to persuade Laurence with either acts or words. “Evil is treacherous and can’t be trusted for any evidence of the contrary is a scheme” it’s a tricky position to change.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Huh.
    Archer arrives, as expected. We missed you.

    I wonder what Kairos is up to here.

    Heh. Saint is going to get to do what she does best. Again.
    So … which team is the Rogue Sorcerer going with, Cat and Saint or Archer and Pilgrim?

    Secret Malicia is whatshisname, the attendant or whatever while they were in Keter, right?
    That was indeed a terrible ally.

    Liked by 10 people

          1. Dainpdf

            I imagine they didn’t, until some point after the adventure. And now EE throws this at us, showing they realized at some point.

            …yeah, I’d have liked to see that scene. It was probably epic.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. When they walked into Keter, they thought he was DK:

            >“So,” I said, “before we get into it. What are the odds that Athal is our good friend the Hidden Horror wearing someone’s face?”

            It’s a pretty short jump from there to realizing Athal (or somebody) was actually Malicia.


    1. caoimhinh

      It’s weird because they never actually found out about Athal being Malicia’s flesh simulacrum. Masego went away to Thalassina immediately after and Cat and Indrani went to the Everdark, so they can’t actually know Athal was Malicia.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shveiran

        True, but the terms of the Malicia-DK deal were leaked by the Tower to the ruling council. Perhaps there was a mention of it there, or perhaps they just realized it from there because a detail made Malicia impersonating someone close to them the most likely scenario.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Perhaps, but still unlikely. Besides, even if the leaked terms state that Athal was Malicia (which I highly doubt because that has no place in a contract), Archer wouldn’t know about it since she left the armies early, after only spending one night after regrouping with Hakram’s army.
          Though Cat could have sent her a message via the Wild Hunt with that info afterwards (I suspect Wild Hunt Fae were their method of contact to summon Archer to Liesse now, since it’s obvious they were coordinating).
          Still, it’s very loose and weak justification.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. ATRDCI

      Cat’s making sure RS is with her, to take down the wards for her. Also, because Tyrant said that the balcony throw is the last RS would see of Tyrant, it’s guaranteed Tyrant will appear at the battle where ever RS is. So keep RS with her keeps Kairos away from the real rescue attempt.

      Liked by 7 people

  3. AdrianGrey

    Whew, that was a good chapter. I’m loving the character development all over the place here. The Rogue Sorcerer turning out to be (hopefully) pretty reasonable, and Indrani finally admitting her feelings for Masego (she never actually used the word “love” until now). Plus, Catherine’s story-scheming is always a pleasure to watch. Hopefully next chapter will be action-packed, it’s been too long since we last saw Cat really cut loose.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. hmmmmm

      What’s more likely?

      A) Someone on team Good is reasonable, isn’t selfish, is prepared to stand up to Pilgrim and Saint over their inflexibility and failures, and is willing to extend trust to Cat.
      B) The Rogue Sorcerer is secretly the Dead King, is secretly in service to the Dead King, or has secretly been filled with explosives by the Dead King.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Oshi

        This right here. It’s also the best indicator that Archer is in real recovery from the shit that went down in the Underdark. She is back to who she chooses to be. A give no fucks baller.

        Liked by 3 people

  4. Cicero

    I think the Saint just wanted confirmation that they were going to play out a Hero’s story this time. The mind controlled hero saved by his love is one of the oldest heroic stories there is.

    Sure, Cat might be able to twist it a little, but there will be limits to the villainy that can come directly from this story.

    Perhaps later, Masego and Cat will write a new story of villainy. But at least this story today will be a heroic one. Saint would prefer to just kill them all, but I think she can live with this one.

    Liked by 10 people

      1. Rook

        I’m chalking a large part of it up to genuine major trust issues from the Saint, rather than any kind of stubbornness. As in she’s legitimately psychotic in a few ways.

        Is she overall a good person, as well as a Good Hero? Probably. Almost definitely, I’d wager. But no one stays completely whole after living a few centuries fighting things that would make even the Pilgrim recoil in horror.

        Even Catherine is already showing signs of similar tendencies, immediately jumping to doubting the Sorcerer because things were NOT completely going to shit for once. And that’s with only twenty-odd years under her belt.

        In comparison, the Saint likely has a couple hundred years of accumulated emotional trauma and PTSD.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Saint isn’t that old. At most, she’s in the same generation as Tariq.
          They’re both under a century. And she’s probably younger than he is, since hers is a more physical Role.
          Heroes don’t have immunity to aging like Villains. Heroes (who don’t get killed first) have a lifespan roughly on par with that of a normal example of their species, though they are more likely to reach to upper bounds of the life expectancy for their species, given the health advantages of being Named, and the resistance to poisons and diseases, plus probably regular exposure to Above’s energies. They’re more likely to age well, but they do age more or less normally.
          Caster types may be able to use magic to extend their lifespan, but many of the options would be ruled out because ritual blood sacrifice to extend your lifespan isn’t exactly a Good/Heroic act.

          Liked by 10 people

        2. Dainpdf

          Decades. Heroes age normally. But yes, I like your thesis. I’d add that she’s probably had many opportunities like the one with the story she told of the alchemist, to see cooperation with or even mercy towards evil, on her part and others’, end terribly.

          Liked by 6 people

        3. > Even Catherine is already showing signs of similar tendencies, immediately jumping to doubting the Sorcerer because things were NOT completely going to shit for once.

          I don’t think that’s from the same book as Saint’s. Cat is used to “villain’s luck” — when things are going too well, she gets suspicious. (I’m well into a reread, and in her first trip to Arcadia, she actually “weaponized” that to find a squad boss!)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It’s from the same book as Saint’s in that they both learn from experience like rational people. If it happened the same the last 99 times, the odds of it happening the same way now are 99:1 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

  5. caoimhinh

    Yay, Archer is back.

    I wonder if the Rogue Sorcerer’s words are genuine. He seems like a practical man, so I wouldn’t put it beyond him to use his true feelings as a tool to get his objective of finding out Catherine’s plan.

    Typos found:

    -do his work anywhere a well / do his work anywhere as well
    -That the was speaking / That he was speaking
    -more than any praised / more than any praise
    -in quit conversation / in quiet conversation
    -sympathy of the villain / sympathy for the villain
    -get a better glimpse the lay of my intentions / get a better glimpse on the lay of my intentions
    -face shuttering closed / face shuttering close

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Kissaten

        Dead King refused the only offer he had left for him, so there certainly was an additional Malicia in Keter. Solving riddles off the scene is still solving riddles, if reader is informed of answer or of parts of the riddle.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Unlikely given Neshamah’s personality displayed towards Cat so far. He doesn’t gloat about other’s defeats.
          Besides, Catherine spoke to Athal right before leaving Keter and had no hostility towards him; she was later on shown still wondering about the loss, simply saying that Malicia must have had another flesh simulacrum in there.
          She had no suspicions towards Athal

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Well, EE wants to hammer it down that Affably Evil is not Good. Looks like hatred on Saint may have annoyed him, but he writes villains so well and likable, so who’s really at fault? Second chapter in a row he explicitly says that being funny and charming is not actually good traits, for all that they make us like certain people. But alas, the world is unfair, Aqua is witty and charming, and beautiful and smart and useful, so what if she single handedly slaughtered hundred thousand civilians? It’s the Saint who is real Baddy the Bad here, RIGHT GUYS? I mean, the protagonist hates her, ain’t that enough evidence?

    Interesting, didn’t see coming Tyrant using Black as crown. I had theorised that he is unpalatable for Cat as a sacrifice exactly because she planned for him to be an unnamed Praes handller, so nice to see myself right. But he is as adorable as ever, harmlessly throwing people off of balcony, shame nobody recognised ot for a friendly gesture of affection it was.

    Returning to the theme of disliking Saint, whom hou would choose between Saint and Tyrant to be left alive? What does it says about Catherine, that she likes how Tyrant is open about his intentions to screw anyone and wreak havok and destruction, but dislikes Saint who is just as open about her intentions? Yeah, I grew more acceptant of Tyrant as well, damn EE for writing so well. Literally every Villain in this story is affable and likable enough, we forgot abput the monster underneath. Black killed tens of thousand? Well he is main charaters father figure, so he’s not bad, but Piligrim is godawful monster, I hate him! How dare he not willingly cripple himself protecting hundreds of thousands civilians from a rampant mass murderer? Aqua produced probably single spot of mass murdering i recent history, wreaking a third of a moderately sized country, unsleashing Demon [b] as a distraction [/b], and much more? Well so what, she got big tits, that gives her pass in my book! But William, oh he is so bad for trying to prevent Callow from being used by the likes of Aqua and Malicia to trade a small spot of genocide to a magic fortress, for trying to spare Callow being Crusaded on (I don’t put it past Saint and GP to stand in front of Proceran armies trying to invade a Good Callow, and saying “ya shall not pass”), I mean who could’ve seen all of that coming?

    And still we will defend the monsters and belittle the Heroes – yeah, they may not be as good as we’d like to imagine, and they certainly are not heroic enough, [i]clean[/i] enough for as to recognise them as ones. So what if they give everything to throw themselves into the breach, to keep darkness at bay? That’s what they [i]supposed to do anyway[/i], they don’t deserve recognition or aknowledging, they are Heros, so doing all of that is granted and expected, only they also do all those not so pretty things, so they are actually worse than Villains. No, they are not worse. Being honest about being atrocious is a kimd of screwed up logic, I grown used to in this novel, but if we stop and think for a second, it is not an absolution, not even a sweetener. It’s, if anytbing, much worse.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. werafdsaew

      Saint is bad because she’s willing to burn down Procer and sacrifice every single life in Iserre for religious purity. There are worse Villains out there doesn’t excuse the Heroes of their excesses.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Chris

        That does her an injustice. The Saint of Swords has learned, painfully, that there is no acceptable amount of evil. Evil always creates more of itself: therefore anything that is even the slightest bit evil has to be destroyed.
        That’s the thing: yes, she wants to make Calernia “pure”. But her reasoning for that is not blind prejudice. It’s the learned experience that evil is like rotting flesh – you have to cut it out for the body to heal, and to make sure you get all of it the surgeon cuts into the healthy part.
        I’m not convinced that she is right, but I get how she arrived at where she is.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. werafdsaew

          The Saint having good reason for her beliefs just makes her a good character; it does not excuse her when she is just plain wrong. What she wants to do now is more akin to amputating the entire limb when the patient an injury that will heal by itself.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Rook

            The patient does not, in fact, have an injury that will heal itself.

            I think I need to start quoting the Amadeus in these arguments, to put into perspective how ridiculous it is that the commenters are more extreme than the gods-damned Black Knight in stubbornly defending witty/likeable Villains.

            The emotionless killing machine that terrorized half the continent for most of his life disagrees with you, not even out of moral principle but out of concern for their bare minimum survival. The Saint’s perspective isn’t wrong, Catherine is just an extreme exception to the rule.

            Volume 3 chapter 68, Coda
            (Speaking to Akua)

            >’“You,” Black said, “are the incarnation of waste. Of every destructive instinct that must be carved out or repurposed lest we ever reach old ends through old means. Your accolades are as worthless as every single thing you’ve ever said and done. They will pass, and be forgotten. We will all be better for it.”’

            Volume 3 epilogue:
            (Speaking to Malicia)

            >’Alaya, we consistently blunder so badly we need to rely on demons to stay off destruction. We would rather irreparably damage the fabric of Creation than admit we can be wrong. There is nothing holy about our culture, it needs to be ripped out root and stem as matter of bare survival. Forty years I have been trying to prove success can be achieved without utter raving madness …’

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Shveiran

              Saint has a lot of bad villains to use as precedent; she is also ignoring any death and mayhem dispensed by her side as a cause, if not justification, of the death and mayhem the other side dishes out.
              She’s also at the point where she sees races as intrinsically Evil rather than having an Evil culture (which, honestly, debatable. Warmongering and scavengers, sure, but it’s not like Procer and Levant seem to value PEACE all that much, so I don’t see how eating the dead is enough to say some are innocents and the others despicable) and doesn’t consider them people, which is pretty much down the nazi road.

              Regardless, Saint has built her philosophy around the assumption that the Good-Evil war CAN be won.
              Amadeus and Cat suspect that assumption is wrong.
              If this was true (admittedly unconfirmed at the moment) any attempt to eradicate Evil achieves nothing; the only sustainable option is finding Evil you can live with and nurture it at the expense of the unsustainable Evils.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                > If this was true (admittedly unconfirmed at the moment) any attempt to eradicate Evil achieves nothing; the only sustainable option is finding Evil you can live with and nurture it at the expense of the unsustainable Evils.

                Good point.

                Liked by 1 person

              2. >She’s also at the point where she sees races as intrinsically Evil


                Like, are you confusing her with William?

                The only people she’s been confirmed as viewing as intristicaly Evil are people who have Evil Names.

                Which is rather like saying “I expect everyone wearing a nazi swastika on their sleeve to be racist”.

                >(which, honestly, debatable. Warmongering and scavengers, sure, but it’s not like Procer and Levant seem to value PEACE all that much, so I don’t see how eating the dead is enough to say some are innocents and the others despicable)


                >Regardless, Saint has built her philosophy around the assumption that the Good-Evil war CAN be won.
                Amadeus and Cat suspect that assumption is wrong.
                If this was true (admittedly unconfirmed at the moment) any attempt to eradicate Evil achieves nothing; the only sustainable option is finding Evil you can live with and nurture it at the expense of the unsustainable Evils.

                Yeah, this is interesting as fuck.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. shveiran

                  Regarding racism, I’m pretty sure she talked along those lines during the war. I may be wrong on this account.
                  Even so, it is a fact she saw starting a war against other people as a perfectly good tactics, which is pretty much equal to consider lives expendable.

                  As to where I’m getting Procer and Levant don’t value peace… The novel?
                  I mean, I don’t want to sound flippant, but I really don’t see what doubt there is in this regard.

                  One is a warrior-based culture where one brings honor to one’s name through killing (whether the target is two-legged or not), confirmed by a number of chapters from Levant POV. We have been told most of the Bloodlines are at war with one of the others.So much so that Tariq says he can’t sit on the throne or it will be total war with Procer.

                  As for the Principate… all of their neighbour have a history of being invaded? Callow, the League, OTHER PRINCIPATES…

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. >Even so, it is a fact she saw starting a war against other people as a perfectly good tactics

                    That’s your criterion now? Really?

                    >As to where I’m getting Procer and Levant don’t value peace… The novel?
                    >I mean, I don’t want to sound flippant, but I really don’t see what doubt there is in this regard.

                    No, I was asking you where you got that Saint considers goblin despicable for cannibalism. She sounded fairly neutral-curious to me when asking Catherine about it, even if it was morbid curiosity.

                    Liked by 1 person

      2. She’s also bad because a lifetime of victories as the Heavens’ personal executioner have made her so arrogant and cynical she’s basically just a Villain with angels holding her leash.
        Without the providence and gifts granted to her, I don’t think she’d even be that good of a sword-master. Her domain is just an Aspect.
        I’m pretty sure shes trying to die at this point, looking for an end that justifies her lifetime of murder and mad decision making. If she takes the continent down with her, all the better.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Arrogant because she believes that Good is better than Evil? Yeah, not like it is obvious for someone without decades of experience on the frontlines holding that very same Evil at bay. She saw Below at it’s worst, and she knows that no cost is too high to stop that. How many tens of millions DK had slaughtered over the millenia? You can’t properly comprehend the number regardless.

          Cynical? Because she does not trust our main hero to whose most private thoughts we are privy to? The thoughts in which, she casually betrayed Rogue Sorcerer (the very one who spoke in her defence) after all the posturing about being good?

          “If he’d wanted to break with me permanently the Tyrant would have killed the man”

          She used the mans life as a bait, with regards to it’s safety as a second thought at best.

          “I wasn’t some cackling Dread Emperor from the Age of Wonders, Sisters bless, and even if I’d actually intended on betraying these people I wouldn’t have been an amateur about it.”

          Read this, now really, READ IT. She sounds downright [i]condencending[/i]. And if those are her true thoughts, than how many villains did even more Good, pretend to be even more amicable, and were underneath even worse? Her mistrust is not unfounded, not in the least. It’s a woman who wanted to shackled an entire race in the chains of ice, because “we gotta have someone to share casulties with”. A woman whowanted to make pact with Hidden Horror himself. I do not condemn her. I always found myself to be closest to Black in my worldview and moral position, but it is not arrogance, nor cynicism, to mistrust the Priestess of Night. It is a rationality backed up by decades of experience.

          “Without the providence and gifts granted to her, I don’t think she’d even be that good of a sword-master. Her domain is just an Aspect.”

          She forged it by keeping the worst of the darknest at bay on a third of a continent for decades. Just what? Seriously? She endured more than Heroes sworn to Endurance, for crying out loud. Undeserving? I am hearing someone parroting Black, but in this case, it is [i]uninspired[/i]. Domain is thing incredibly rare in and of itself, and she is not a god, but a mortal – but holds domain still, what is wrong with that? By that point you just throwing things to see what sticks. How is that an argument?

          “I’m pretty sure shes trying to die at this point, looking for an end that justifies her lifetime of murder and mad decision making. If she takes the continent down with her, all the better.”

          This is a misunderstanding of some terrifying proportions. The core part of Hero philosophy is thus:” To leave shelter yourself, so that you may shelter others”. She does not looing to die. She knows someone has to, and better her, than anybody else. She does not seek a glorious death, or indeed, any glory at all. She does not need an end to justify herself, for nigh half a century, Procer did not suffer a true Evil. That is justification. Hundreds of thousands, happily killing each other over some mortal squablings in peace – instead of dying to a cackling madmen. The former, incidentially, is a reason she is so meddlesome. For while she stood waist deep in darkness, [b]holding the line[/b] the gaggle of princes cheerfully took to murdering their own people on the funds from the one of the monsters of the era. She does not come from nowhere, saying that Procer does not deserve to exist as it is. The Princes’ Graveyard truly showed their ugly faces to the world.

          As for the last sentence, it’s just, just wrong man.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Shveiran

            Personally, the problem is not her mistrust. That can be justified.
            The problem is she sees total, eternal war as the only option. Which I don’t think is ever winnable: Evil can be defeated, but it will return; Evil can triumph, but only for so long as anyone thinks is undefeatable.
            Which means her attitude only creates more death.

            Liked by 1 person

        2. IIRC one of the roles Pilgrim mentioned for the Saint was taking down good heroes gone bad. So it’s canon that a Hero going bad is a thing, and becoming the thing you’ve fought against is a narrative trope if there ever was one. And Pilgrim actively would not *want* to see it coming since Saint is basically the only actual peer he has and he’s trusted her for so long; you can have all the wisdom and all the ability to see through others’ deceptions in the world, and still be able to deceive yourself.

          In other words I consider this at minimum a highly plausible take on what Saint is/has become. Well, except for:

          > Without the providence and gifts granted to her, I don’t think she’d even be that good of a sword-master.

          Strongly disagree. Her internalized Domain is a huge power boost and no mistake, but if there’s one thing that Black (and others, but him most of all) has hammered home over and over it’s that power is no substitute for skill. Even with the Heavens’ favor Saint wouldn’t have lived this long or accomplished this much without being genuinely extremely good at what she does. Honestly, if the rest of your take on her is correct then that’s actually strong supporting evidence for that being true. Because if you’re right, then Saint’s story is a tragedy. And the best of us (in her own supremely crotchety way) falling is so much more tragic than an overpowered poser doing the same.

          Liked by 2 people

      3. And had there never been systems or empires, so corrupt, they had to be torn down? And I think you misunderstand something. There is no such thing as religious purity, much less in our world’s sense, when Evil and it’s corrupting influence (which is to say, the side where Black and Malicia are the best they have to offer, never mind systems like Praes, Bellerophon or Everdark, that need to be torn down the same as Procer. Some may argue that Procer needs to be rebuild so that it did not turned into the likes of previously mentioned) is a REAL THING. Paraphrasing EE, faith is irrelevant if morality is a physical reality. And for many similarities and parallels, the Above is just that – a real thing. You can argue, that Good at it’s worst is better than Evil – Cat certainly thinks so, and wouldn’t she be an expert? I mean, none of them is [i]blameless[/i], I would not deny that, but for all their harsh measures and lesser evils, Heros at their lowest still beat Villains at their best. Like, I understand why you would subject Heroes to hate or contempt, but if you will not subject Villains to the same, the judgement rings hollow, and reeks of the exactly the same hypocrisy that seemed to be thrown at the Heroes feet.

        To summarise: if the Heroes are bad, there is noone that is good, for they are better than the rest.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. werafdsaew

          You’re saying a bunch of words that has nothing to do with my post. Saint is wrong *here*; Cat IS trying to bring peace. The Saint having good reasons for her beliefs doesn’t change the fact that she is wrong, and if she had gotten her way would have gotten tons of people killed. Like I said, excesses by past Villains doesn’t excuse anybody.

          Liked by 3 people

      4. Rook

        Saint is probably the least religious person on the Heroic side of the line, let alone a Puritan. She’s not pleasant AT ALL, but outright lying about her motives doesn’t do the argument any favours.

        Saint joined the crusade despite outright disdaining or threatening all the Proceran princes involved because every experience she’s had in her life with Villains ended in the exact kind of wasteful/horrific disaster that caused Black to make a career out of stamping out even as someone on the Below side of the lie. I mean for fucks sakes she’s literally called the Regicide, she doesn’t buy into political propaganda.

        You’ll also note that the Crusade was when they first had contact with Catherine at all. There was absolutely no precedent back then for them to think she was a different breed from the dozens of others, since they’d never had any personal experience with her before.

        Tldr the Saint is good and Good. Period. She’s also paranoid and more than a little psychotic, but the net sum of her actions over her lifetime are likely far more lowercase-g good than Catherine’s own.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. There is a significant amount of accuracy here too, even though as I said elsewhere I think shieldredblog has a very good point (well, on some of it). Essentially I think that what we saw with the Conclave where Saint basically tagged herself as desiring the outright destruction of Procer was a fulcrum; if you assessed Saint’s life overall I think you’re much more correct than shieldredblog, but I think things are changing as far as Saint’s story goes. Pilgrim mentioned just last chapter that one of Saint’s roles was putting down heroes who have gone bad. Becoming what you fought against is very much a narrative trope. Saint going Villain will happen maybe a few centuries after Hell freezes over; Saint becoming a Hero Gone Bad essentially by becoming so burned out she loses perspective would be a classic tragedy, and that’s a story with some real weight to it.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Though, it occurs to me I should add something to my first comment. My analysis there does depend on reading Saint’s speech to Cordelia as sincere. IIRC it was strongly indicated that Saint did that for/with the Bard. If Bard has some deeper game afoot and just drafted Saint into it then that throws honestly basically everything into question, and we really can’t rule it out yet.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. shveiran

      There is no need to pick sides this firmly.
      I may like Akua, Malicia or Black as CHARACTERS, but that doesn’t mean I think they are good (fictional) people.

      Akua is a mass murderer with no real further motive than “notice me!”, cultural blinders notwithstanding.
      Malicia tried to escalate the war with nuclear deterrent. Not something I can forgive, let alone whan you build the bomb out of corpses.
      Kairos is a dangerous madman and should be put down.
      The Hierarch is a dangerous madman and should be put down.

      But there is something to be said for “breaches” not being born equal.

      Saint, for all that I dislike her as a character, certainly did a lot of good battling rattlings. Ain’t nobody arguing that.
      That doesn’t mean she is absolved for the fact that at some point she and a dozen more heroes decided to spearhead the invasion of a country because crusade, and slaughtered folks defending their homes on the battlefield as an invading force.
      Willy doesn’t get a pass for trying to psychich-nuke Liesse before Akua made it mainstream.
      The six heroic parties that tried to slay the Black Queen without spending a moment to think of the consequences of destabilizying a broken country do not get a pass.

      That doesn’t erase the good they did. But there are black spots, and they aren’t owning up to them.

      Good heroes tend to see in black and white, but even in the guideverse that’s not how the world works. The world is complicated, and still they spend a lot of time swinging at what they see as evil. They are often right, but whenever they are not they commit evil acts. I’d like to see them admit it, and I think we’re getting there with Tariq pondering his conversation with Black.

      You are right though: I do hold heroes to a higher standard. That’s because the heroes are assumed to be better by the world, and if they DON’T hold to a higher standard that is just hypochrisy.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Is Kairos mad? He is empowering himself through his act, but until he know his actual goal, it could all be theater.
        The Hierarchic is definitely mad, but his madness is believing that mortals can hold the Gods accountable. That Good and Evil are less important than people and freedom from tyranny.

        And yes, if you go around calling yourself a Hero and believing the Gods gave you the right to kill whoever you want and enforce religious law, expect to held to high standards.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Lacking empathy for fellow human beings is a form of madness. Like, an official one. That is enough to mark Kairos as mad no matter the rest we may find out about him.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I mean if you’re using “mad” to mean “non-neurotypical” here, to the degree that includes that kind of abuse-induced C-PTSD Kairos clearly has, then you gotta count Rozala Malanza, Louis Rohanon, Arnaud Brogloise, Catherine Foundling circa book 4, Amadeus of the Green Stretch, Alaya of the Green Stretch, Akua Sahelian, Masego, Indrani, Hakram, me,

            do I need to continue or are you getting the point that this is not a helpful way of using words

            Liked by 1 person

            1. (Rozala: PTSD, Louis: PTSD, Arnaud: PTSD + ? APD?, Catherine: anxiety + depression, Amadeus: suicidal depression, Alaya: PTSD, Akua: C-PTSD, Masego: autism, Indrani: ADHD, Hakram: ?APD?)

              Liked by 1 person

                1. First of all, Kairos does not lack empathy, he lacks compassion. He’s perfectly capable of reading other people’s emotions, he just doesn’t give a shit.

                  Second, I’m arguing against your usage of “mad” to mean “non-neurotypical”. That’s a really weird stretch that does basically nothing useful other than tap into “mentally ill / non-neurotypical people are dangerous and scary” stereotype. Can we try to use other terminology to convey our points?

                  Liked by 1 person

      2. Rook

        The thing with holding them to a higher standard is that only makes sense if you actually do believe they are better like the world does. Otherwise that’s hypocrisy from the person judging them.

        Regard and responsibility goes hand in hand. It doesn’t make sense to act like they’re no better than anyone else when they get into an argument with Catherine, but suddenly turn around and act like they’re supposed to be better than everyone else when criticizing their mistakes.

        Either they should be judged as just people – the same standard applied to Villains and Heroes for both virtues and mistakes; or they should be judged as morally superior – innately respected much more than Catherine & co/any other villain by default, but also criticized much more harshly if they don’t meet the higher standard that they claim to uphold.

        Anything else is a double standard

        Liked by 2 people

        1. werafdsaew

          There is a good reason for the double standard though; they get a helping hand from providence just for being Heroes, while Villains and ordinary people do not. They’re privileged in a way, and so is held to a higher standard.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Rook

            Someone having an advantage doesn’t justify hypocrisy from others.

            By that logic, Catherine has insane privilege compared to any ordinary person, including the Princes of Procer. You could use the same argument to say that all the hypocritical double standards that the Tenth Crusade judged the Black Queen by are entirely justified.

            Liked by 2 people

        2. Shveiran

          Mhmm… no. No, I can’t agree with that, sorry.

          Them living up to a higher standard is a requisite for me treating them differently.
          As a category, they do not, so I do treat them the same as any other character and judge them by what they appear to be doing in the novel. That is very much NOT a double standard. It is in fact a resolution NOT to have a double standard and hold them in the same (starting) esteemed.

          You disagree with my opinion on the single characters? That’s cool. We are all biased, maybe I’m more biased than you. But I stand by the fact that I don’t treat Heroes differently, I simply refuse to grant them any points for that capital H.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. denimcurtain

      The heroes get rightfully criticized for being unreasonable and usually less clever than the villains. They are Good but in this story Good is not always good even though Evil is almost always evil. Good often supports stagnation and the status quo since the gods rely on a balance between Good and Evil while Evil allows for people to seek their own goals. It’s not clear that you can be successful in seeking your own goals in the long term while working with Evil but that’s what the story is about.

      The Good heroes deserve and do get rewarded for their service with power, luck, and it sounds like an afterlife. That is likely why they tend to have flaws towards entitlement and lack of clever thinking. Those are unlikeable flaws to have. Villains have evolved through their constant failures to be likeable even if only to counteract their monstrousness. No one denies that Tyrant or Akua are and we’re monsters. That doesn’t make Saint’s willingness to sacrifice lives to defeat an opponent less terrible or the Grey Pilgrim’s blindness to hypocrisy more palatable. They’re very flawed people who’s actions have helped shape this flawed world. They’ve kept things from getting worse but their flaws could keep things from getting better. If Good had it’s way then crusades would have rocked Callow and it’s unlikely that Saint and Pilgrim would step in to help when they could be focusing on fighting Evil.

      Good doesn’t mean you’re right in this world but it’ll be interesting to see if there’s an alternative because Good hasn’t created a very good world.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Rook

        The Heroes get unreasonably criticized for being kind to many and unkind to a deserving few.

        Good often supports stability and fundamental principles that benefit everyone, Good or Evil or *ordinary*. Evil allows for people to seek any goal, including ones that cause insane amounts of pain, death, misery, and horror on a massive scale.

        Evil often gets rewarded with earthly power, riches, pleasures, or all of the above, and usually at the expense of others. That is why they tend to have flaws toward an absolute disregard for consequences and an outright refusal to be held accountable for any of their actions. Those are unacceptably terrible flaws that cannot be allowed to exist.

        No one denies that the saint and pilgrim make blunders like anyone else. That doesn’t justify Akua’s genocide, Malicia’s assassinations, Warlock’s experiments, or any other horror unleashed by the dread emperors of the world. They’re awful people whose cleverness and wit do do a single thing to excuse or justify the harm they inflicted on others.

        If Evil had its way, everyone would be dead or worse than dead. Even reasonable Villains like Amadeus agree, even though he has ZERO moral compass other than practicality and an absolute disdain for Above; notably calling Villains like Akua the incarnation of waste, and adamantly claiming that kind of Villainy needs to be ripped out root and stem.

        Evil doesn’t mean you’re necessarily a plague upon the world but it’ll be interesting to see if Catherine can create an alternative, because Evil has done nothing but run the continent headfirst into ruin.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Shveiran

          Ok, first off: please stop bring up Akua, or Malicia’s nuke, or the DK.
          No one is arguing with you. No one is defending them. We are in agreement.
          Let’s move on.

          Second: please list lower-g good acts displayed by the Heroes. Because, for the life of me, I have a very hard time coming up with more than a few once you cross off “killing enemies”.
          You are operating under the assumption Good is good for everyone or at least most.
          I refute that claim, so prove me wrong. Maybe I misremember.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. shveiran

              Healing is a good POWER, but I don’t see their use by the heroes as being particularly good.
              We saw their healer accompany an army and healing soldiers so that they may get back to killing, and that is not good, that’s just sound tactics.
              I don’t mean it’s an evil act, but at the end of the day you are just making your killer machine more effective via a different mean. You are just ensuring there will be more enemy bodies than allied ones going stiff in the end.
              It’s not really different from making portals, or blasting your enemies.

              That’s why I’m saddened we heard from Cat that in the post-coronation, pre-crusade-in-Callow phase, no hero tried to go help with the rebuilding. They just kept trying to kill her.
              If all you do is murder, does it matter if your tool is steel, mind blasts or divine light? The dead don’t care.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. denimcurtain

          Evil is not good. Evil is often evil. Good tends to be good but mostly because they oppose Evil. Good doesn’t always seem to be good because it reinforces a status quo when societal improvements are needed. I’m not denying that the opposition of Evil shouldn’t be counted in your favor since I agree that Evil is often evil. I’m arguing that it doesn’t make you above reproach.

          Black’s reforms have led to less racism and more equality in Praes. That doesn’t mean that he’s Good or good but it means he has achieved some measure of progress and it hasn’t been through mere opposition of Good even if it’s debatably in service to that end. Interestingly, it seems there aren’t many clear examples of that on either side or in this world in general. Isn’t it natural to side with those who seem to have a meaningful chance for such change? The fact that Catherine is the main perspective certainly helps but we’ve seen other perspectives, even Good ones. I think we’re not swayed by them because, while maintenance is required to prevent the world from descending into evil, the world begs for meaningful change for the better. Those who push for it and look for ways to accomplish that are currently lined up around Cat who was created by Black. Those who stand against it are Good.

          If EE wants to drive home the goodness of Good then two things need to happen. He first needs more examples of good involving more than the opposition of Evil. Bonus points if that isn’t driven by someone Evil or unaligned such when Cat would give heroes the ultimatum of helping the needy in her kingdom instead of jumping right to murder. He then needs to demonstrate that the Heavens offers a path towards innovation and progress.

          The world needs more than war and Good hasn’t provided what the world needs, Evil seems to be sabotaged and has a less than dubious track record of pursuing those needs, and it remains to be seen if Cat can provide meaningful change.

          It’s possible Evil can’t achieve lasting good and that Cat’s wrong about Good’s seeming inability to as well. That still means that seeming inability justifies the criticism of Good heroes until proven otherwise while providing a normal incentive for people to root for someone to succeed in making progress in the face of this damning balance.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. You do realize both sides can be right here, right?

            Like, Tariq and Laurence are doing their part for making the world safer as best they could, and Catherine and Amadeus are doing theirs.

            They aren’t in conflict because either side disagrees with the other’s objectives, or even means per se, but because insufficient information produces lack of trust.

            Heroes have no fucking idea what’s going on in Praes with Reforms. Nobody told them.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. shveiran

              The political leaders have a spy network, and Tariq has an angel whispering in his ear.
              I’m sure Malicia and Black have ways to keep secrets, but I don’t think citizen’s quality of life falls among those.
              If they don’t know, it is because they didn’t care to find out.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. How the fuck were they supposed to know where to look? And how the fuck do you think anyone would measure “citizens’ quality of life”? Go house to house asking them to fill a questionnaire?

                Catherine learned these things from talking to her classmates in War College. She did not expect to hear it, it just came up because she was a part of that society. The heroes aren’t.


            2. denimcurtain

              I think we largely agree unless you truly believe that all actions taken by Tariq and Saint have been above reproach. We could quibble over how much they could reasonably know and how much that lack of knowledge is due to stubbornness or other character flaws but the basic point is that they’re not perfect and, while the Good they do is and was necessary, they don’t exactly have any reliable plan towards a permanent positive change in the status quo.

              That, not just Cat having the majority perspective, is a completely fair reason to criticize them and to root for our protagonist. It doesn’t make them globally wrong or evil. It just means that they aren’t always right or likeable. In my view, that’s okay.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I absolutely root for our protagonist. I root for her to bring them around to her point of view – right now even Laurence seems to be thawing, though I’m not holding my breath too much for that one.


                1. denimcurtain

                  Then we’re pretty much on the same page. Just didn’t like the implication that it was somehow wrong to criticize heroes because they’d done a lot of Good and that it’s unfair that Cat has the audiences backing. I like all the characters in one way or another.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. denimcurtain

                      I sympathize with Cat’s frustration with them at times but I also appreciate how crazy difficult it would be to overcome a dichotomy informed by the existence active involvement of Good and Evil gods. When Evil seems to explicitly endorse evil acts, it’d be pretty tough to even be neutral.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. SERIOUSLY

                      Ranger pulls off being actually Neutral by… being a fucking awful asshole I personally categorize as Chaotic Evil in dnd terms, you know the kind of muderhobo that insists they’re Chaotic Neutral and gives actual Chaotic Neutrals a bad name? “Oh I train both heroes and villains, no I don’t give a shit they then proceed to kill each other”

                      Liked by 1 person

                    3. Archer counted until she actually picked a side and decided to stick with Cat. Ironically what was in context undoubtedly personal growth made her go from Neutral to Villain.

                      Tolltaker wasn’t a Name, I think, but yeah, in principle she should lmao


    4. Ey Amadeus has more going for him than that, and Akua’s story is at its core that of an abused child. There’s more reasons for those of us who sympathize with them to do so than the surface wittiness.

      Then again, I say that as a person who for approximately this entire last book has been on a one-woman crusade of “HEROES ARE GOOD” and “TARIQ WAS RIGHT TO DO WHAT HE DID TO AMADEUS” and as of the last several chapters “LAURENCE HAS GOOD REASONS FOR HER SUSPICIONS”.

      Every inch of slack we give villains is deserved by heroes thousandfold.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. shveiran

        I can symphatize with Akua’s upbringing brainwashing her, but there is a point where the atrocities you lived don’t absolve you of the gallons of blood you spilled. Or small sea, as it may be the case here.
        Especially when you are not even lashing out at those who hurt you, but at the world in general.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. denimcurtain

            I don’t think that people are generally claiming that any of the villains have attained or deserve absolution. They’re rooting for the main protagonist and her allies to achieve progress for the world. The group surrounding Cat can be beyond absolution, likeable, and working towards a greater good. Just as the heroes can be deserving of rewards for their service, unlikeable, and real obstacles towards meaningful good.

            It certainly looks like there’s only one group with a plan to make meaningful positive changes in the world. They may commit atrocities and fail which would obviously be evil and deserving of condemnation. That doesn’t make me feel like the heroes deserve praise at the exact moment they’re refusing to consider progress or offer an alternative path to a better world. They’ll get their rewards if the Gods Above are truly any form of just. This should not preclude noting that if they offered a plan for a free Callow as well as a Praes with filled bellies then they’d likely have allies and praise both. Instead they fight wars while rejecting reasonable discussion on the topics. That has to be worthy of criticism unless you condemn the common man to never experience better lives in peace.

            Evil (both Evil and evil) does not seem possible to be cut from creation purely through the sword due to the games of the gods. A better way must be found and I’ll root for the people trying something new if the alternative is something established as not working.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. >at the exact moment they’re refusing to consider progress or offer an alternative path to a better world

              that was what the Grand Alliance was for, remember? Pilgrim refused to work with Cat for the sake of Cordelia’s dream – the dream to end wars between Good nations and form a lasting peace. It was a smaller ambition than Catherine’s own, sure, but let’s not forget that SHE HASN’T SHARED THAT INFORMATION WITH THE HEROES.

              Either Praesi internal politics or the very existence of Liesse Accords. Nobody knows what she’s actually after, she’s just projecting a vague ‘well intentioned’ impression at best.

              Heroes cannot be condemned for not being aboard with the plan THEY HAVE NO CLUE OF EXISTENCE OF.

              Like… they don’t know about the Reforms. They only heard about Akua’s Folly as it was experienced by common people AFTER THE BATTLE OF CAMP. This is an insufficient information issue

              Liked by 1 person

              1. denimcurtain

                I’m not condemning them but I think it makes perfect sense to criticize someone who isn’t willing to compromise or even fully hear out the other side because they’re sure in their perspective and I fully doubt knowing about the reforms would move the needle for Saint, for instance. Also, the Grand Alliance wasn’t much different than the usual plan to crusade away Evil from Calernia. The best interpretation on that plan is that they might be able to finagle a win against an ancient Evil before corruption and rebellion managed to break apart the empire they would form. Not saying that’s not worth it but it’s definitely uninspired and flawed. The Grey Pilgrim is even confronted with those flaws when Cat asks for reassurances for her homeland. The negotiations fail because he had dubbed the only thing Cat was fighting for expendable.

                I don’t think it’s a purely a lack of information. There’s a difference in ideology and perspective as well that may or may not be possible to overcome in the long term. Tariq is closer than Saint but it’s likely they never fully agree with Cat even of they can come to an agreement someday. Luckily they and Cat just need to come close enough to listen for a bit.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. The Grand Alliance wasn’t meant as an empire, it was meant as something like the European Union. Cordelia gathered for the Crusade, yes, but with an eye towards extending the treaties at the core of it for more long-term cooperation and guarantees: they were specifically made so this would work.

                  And yes, it was flawed, but Catherine was willing to summon the fuckign Dead King to attack Procer for her war. Not to mention what Amadeus did. “The ends justify the means” is a philosophy both sides are touting, here.

                  I don’t think there’s much of a difference in ideology between Catherine and the heroes, unless you’re talking about silly things like her distaste for heroic providence.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. denimcurtain

                    The grand alliance planned on parcelling up Callow and conquering Praes. The initial member states might’ve been EU-like but it was pretty telling that when Cat brought up how Callow would be treated there wasn’t a good answer.

                    Comparisons to how Cat and Amadeus operate aren’t really in conflict with my views. I think it’s self-evident if you put any stock in Cat’s view that there’s plenty to criticize there. I don’t know if you can be a fan of hers without acknowledging that since a huge part of her view is based on her perception on what her mistakes have been. I’m just saying that there’s room to criticize the heroes despite their years of service.

                    I think it depends on which heroes you’re talking about when it comes to ideology. Cat is pretty far from a zealot like Saint, for instance. The main difference between Cat and Heroic named is that she doesn’t believe that Good has a monopoly on good. Heroes tend to believe the Heavens do to differing amounts that would dictate how far they are ideologically.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. The specific situation with Cat and Callow was that Cordelia had a long term plan for putting a nuzzle on her royals’ ambitions. She never planned on dividing Callow, but she couldn’t just say that before her position got stronger or her people would refuse to participate in the Crusade. She was basically leading them on.

                      (And then instead of getting a stronger position she got a much weaker one, and she really did want to ally with Cat but would have been deposed within a year)

                      And yeah of course there’s room to criticize. Heroes aren’t much better than Cat here, if there’s any difference it’s marginal and might even be in Cat’s favor.
                      My point is just that they aren’t noticably worse, either.

                      And note that Laurence has very good reasons based on experience to think what she thinks. She didn’t get her ideas from the Book of All Things.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. denimcurtain

                      A mistake informed by experience will still be a mistake. It’s understandable that Saint would be stubborn but she’s still pretty problematic. Maybe not unrecoverably so but she had a pretty callous view on what lives were worth spending to get a leg up for heroes too. She would definitely need to grow a bit as a character to be less of a problem.

                      I’m not sure I bought Hasenbach’s reasoning there. Historically there’s no reason to believe she would be able to keep that promise even if she had felt free to make it. Hindsight kinda suggests that it was unlikely as well. Throw in that there wasn’t any room for even private assurances and it sounds more like a fanciful lie to justify the invasion to herself. Not doubting that she’d do that if possible but it sounds a lot like that if any push came to shove then Callow would pay a fairly clearly unacceptable price.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    3. it wasn’t a promise, she didn’t promise it to anyone, it was the plan she was going by, because she thought the alternative was fucking stupid

                      and you’re not wrong wrt Saint
                      I personally love her, she’s like a mixture of Cat and Juniper with a dash of pure concentrated awesome from like japanese manga, but ‘problematic’ is a great word for her lmao

                      Liked by 1 person

                    4. denimcurtain

                      I meant hypothetically if she made a promise to Cat that she wouldn’t be able to keep it. I think that everybody knew that if Procer took Callow that it wouldn’t be good for Callow and that they viewed it as a necessary cost. To be fair to them, there’s a good argument for that if there’s no alternative. It just means you’re at a particular disadvantage when debating or negotiating with someone like Cat. She wanted one thing and it’s the one thing you don’t think you can honestly offer.

                      Liked by 1 person

                  2. Cat was only in a position where she felt that the Dead King was her only option *after* getting repeatedly and explicitly shot down by both Cordelia and Tariq.
                    Remember, this was when Tariq had her lined for a (probably fatal) redemption play, she was offering to cooperate with it and help the Alliance take out Malicia, Cat had already declared her intentions to *join* the Alliance, Tariq’s Behold was working on Cat and informing him that her greatest desire was peace, and all she was asking for was a commitment to not let Procer carve up Callow for itself (and presumably fair treatment of her people).

                    It’s not like Cat wanted to unleash the Dead King – she didn’t, but she didn’t see any other remotely viable options for her to take. She thought she was out of acceptable and workable options – the Dead King might not be exactly acceptable, but it might have been workable. Ish. And she was planning on betraying the Dead King to the Grand Alliance anyways.


      2. > Then again, I say that as a person who for approximately this entire last book has been on a one-woman crusade

        > one-woman

        Hey now. I did a whole essay about how I think Tariq is way more sympathetic than he was getting credit for. Don’t go hogging all the credit for contrarianism on this. 😛

        Liked by 2 people

    5. Aotrs Commander

      (Leaving aside the fact that it is nice to have some protagonists *I* personally identify with, i.e. Lawful/Affably Evil…)

      If there are neither X-Men nor Avengers (nor the Fellowship of the Ring), I’m going to root for Doctor Doom over less-than-the-Punisher.

      Saint’s worse than the characture RPG murder-hobo adventurer.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Barrendur

      I don’t seem to be able to use the ‘Like’ button, but I’m impressed by your argument and willingness to present a point many posters on this site wilfully ignore, so here:

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Soma

    Saint might seem to have a soft spot for love, the ol’ softie. Look atchu Laurence, you’ll win the audience’s heart yet. It’ll be that much worse when something happens to her after she wins us all over.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Oshi

        There is prejudiced and then abjectly stupid. Catherine spent a lot of time face palming and pretty much showing nothing but contempt for Kairos in public. Saint and Pilgrim are old hands who get at least that much. They might not know Kairos but they know what he is trying to be in the story.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Yeah but Laurence has already questioned why Cat gave Rogue Sorcerer the crowns. This is a very obvious answer: so Kairos could take them and so Cat could have plausible deniability for getting her father’s soul back.
          I admit it seems more obvious from our perspective knowing her logic, but Laurence has already smelled crow there.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. WuseMajor

    Even if it might just be a ploy, it’s nice to see someone call out the Pilgrim and the Saint on their hypocrisy.

    As far as “celebrating villains and castigating heroes” goes, the main place I’m standing is that “Tariq does the Necessary Evil thing and gets lauded for it, Cat does the Necessary Evil thing and gets vilified for it.” I grant that there are degrees. Pilgrim sacrificed a town to save a nation and part of an army to prevent another Triumphant, may she never return, or worse.

    Cat’s current allies include a literal Goddess of Murder and the Doom of Lisse, so one can argue about the “Necessary” part of her Evil, but ….Well, if the Dwarves had just turned the entire Drow homeland into lava, I kinda doubt that the Sisters didn’t have enough in them for one last “screw you” on their way out which might have caused problems for everyone on the continent.

    And Akua’s mind is like a corkscrew. Sharp, twisted, hard to deal with, but very useful for certain tasks. She’s also a product of her upbringing which was more twisted than many. She’s also trying to turn over a new leaf, late though it might be.

    So… I dunno. Cat’s trying for a really complicated omelette, given all the eggs she’s broken, but I cannot in good conscience say that she’s broken more eggs than the alternative.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sometimes… both sides are right.

      Sometimes… it’s not good guys vs bad guys.

      Sometimes… it’s the strife that’s the enemy.


      Liked by 5 people

  9. shveiran

    For all that I dislike Saint, credit where credit is due: she was more willing to be persuaded and talk it through than I would have expected. If this keeps up, it is possible she’ll come around somewhat.

    Also, great chapter period.
    Talks like these are why I may very well start a third re-read just because I want more Guide.
    Nicely done, plain and simple.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Rook

      I suspect that she isn’t beyond persuading, but it’s more than likely going to be something similar to how Akua earned Catherine’s trust, how Catherine earned Sve Noc’s trust, and how Hakram earned Vivienne’s trust. Because there’s too much paranoia and too much at stake for any words or small gestures to really convince anyone.

      It’ll have to be a concession or an act of faith, made such that the goodwill is beyond doubt, with nothing asked for in return. Not a Barter, but a Gift. Either when Catherine holds the upper hand but lets it go for no benefit, or stands by the saint when it’s clear that she could walk away without any skin off her own back.

      Which is good, because Catherine is already holding enough cards for that situation to feasibly become a reality and lately she’s grown a lot in terms of mentality, in bending her own pride or putting the first foot forward when others aren’t too stubborn to. If nothing else, persuading even the headsman of Above would be ironclad proof that the Liesse accords aren’t just a dream but an achievable reality.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Mhm.

        That’s why Tariq’s deal with Cat actually moderately upset me last chapter, now it’ll take something more than sparing Laurence when she attacks her / working to keep her alive to prove actual full on good faith.

        Unless Tariq’s deal with Cat also doesn’t fit Laurence’s worldview and will be enough to blow her mind, but somehow I doubt that.

        I actually suspect the story Cat’s making with Indrani here served to shift her position, because it’s blatantly heroic in a way you can’t really fake.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Raved Thrad

    I wonder just how serious Catherine is when she uses the expression “Sisters bless.” Komena would probably just laugh, while it’s entirely possible Andronike would just be confused by it.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      > I wasn’t some cackling Dread Emperor from the Age of Wonders, Sisters bless, and even if I’d actually intended on betraying these people I wouldn’t have been an amateur about it.

      At one level it’s at least partly serious; she knows her gods personally. But on another she’s sassing her gods, again.

      I loved that part. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m current rereading the first couple of books, and noted how she was like, “well, I guess the Heavens aren’t on either of our sides, I should probably stop swearing by them”. Now she has someone to swear by….

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Aotrs Commander

    Roland *may* if he’s actually genunine, which sadly isn’t a given, be the first possibly genuine hero we’ve come across.

    Colour my a little sceptical, though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re missing Dorian, his Page (spoke up against William’s racism), Hunter (died for Marchford), Vivienne (argued with William about his methods)…

      …the entire Free Cities gang never did anything wrong…
      (obviously not counting Bard here)

      …heroes are OVERWHELMINGLY genuine

      Liked by 1 person

  12. David

    Odd that Kat doesn’t recognize the Tyrant in disguise as Ronald. She’s seen him change faces before.
    Oh well, it will just make the betrayal more surprising.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. So, Rogue Sorcerer is at least vulnerable to comedic damage…. A most entertaining chapter, with even Saint getting the “thrown off a cliff” thing, and Cat smoothly translating Kairos’ “opposite day” talk while picking out the real threats.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. erebus42

    Much like Cat I find the Sorcerer’s behavior extremely suspicious and am having trouble taking it at face value. However if he is indeed being genuine then its incredibly refreshing to see a Hero without his head up his own ass and i must commend him for that.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Stormblessed

    I like that the only thing that’s ever convinced the Saint that our Villains might not be evil is the Power of Love. Nothing else has ever moved the Saint to be anything less than outright hostile.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah that was adorable.

        On reread it was fucking beautiful to see Laurence go “so this is Woe” with distaste and then they immediately demonstrate their adorable side and she just. has nothing to say

        (and noticably warms up, if marginally)

        Liked by 2 people

  16. JJR

    I just realized, a couple of chapters ago Cat mentioned that this was the third time she had come to Liesse bearing a sword.

    The first was when she ended William’s rebellion by stealing a resurrection from his planned angel and killed him (while also stopping Akua from getting her way); a victory in every sense of the word.

    The second was Akua’s folly. Cat avenged, but could not save, the population of the city. She also captured Akua but could not kill her because she was just too damn useful to keep as a tool. She also gained some power but lost her humanity. This one comes up as a draw.

    And now she is here a third time, and it seems like she is destined for a loss somehow. At least it seems that way to me. It’s not the standard Pattern of Three that puts two Named characters against eachother. But in stories patterns if three exist all over the place, do maybe it’s a thing that can happen while also being rare enough that Cat doesn’t realize it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. in stories patterns of three exist all the time but they aren’t necessarily win-draw-loss

      Catherine absolutely won at Second Liesse, her goal was to stop Akua which was successfully achieved

      win-win-BIGGEST WIN is a pattern of three too

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You really think Black would have gotten drunk and slept with a stranger?
        No, I don’t buy that. It’d be wildly out of character for him.
        Besides … Black would most likely have been near constantly accompanied by one or more of his friends/allies/associates. I don’t see any of them letting Black drunkenly wander off with anyone other than Ranger (they all like living too much).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I think Ranger wouldn’t actually care. Indrani got her “this is this and that is that” outlook from somewhere, after all.

          But Amadeus is just… about as likely to have that happen to him as Masego is -_-

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Whether or not Ranger would actually care if Amadeus had an affair with someone else doesn’t much matter.
            What matters is if anyone around Black thinks that there’s the slightest possibility that Ranger might not be completely happy about it.
            And let’s be honest … would you be willing to bet your life on Ranger not caring in the slightest if her lover has sex with some random stranger? Or even that she doesn’t feel that she needs to make a point that it’s not something she endorses? Or that she doesn’t feel even the slightest bit possessive about Amadeus?
            Or, depending on how you feel/how much you care about Amadeus – how having a one-night stand with a stranger might affect his ongoing and already complicated relationship with Ranger?

            Sure … Hye might or might not care that much … but I’d call it unrealistic to think that everyone around Black would be entirely confident that it wouldn’t matter, when the potential consequences of it mattering are so devastatingly bad.
            Plus, for anyone around Black to override any concerns about Ranger’s potential reaction, Amadeus would have needed to end up in this potential one-night stand situation in the first place. Which is improbable enough by itself.

            As far as Indrani goes … while she loves Masego, she also loves Cat, and is fully aware that Masego is both not sexually involved with or interested in anyone. There’s also a massive difference between Indrani having an friends with benefits type thing with Cat (who loves Masego like family), and Black having a one night stand with a stranger. I’m pretty sure Indrani would not be happy if Masego had hooked up with some random person, even if she didn’t show it.
            Also … potentially some room for hypocrisy here. “It’s okay when I do it with someone we both care about and cares about us, but not when you do it with some random stranger.”
            … though, honestly there is a distinct qualitative difference between the two.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I think people around Black would know Hye and what she does/does not care about well enough to know.

              I doubt she was faithful to him, for that matter.

              But like I said that’s fully irrelevant to the point of “Amadeus is demisexual demiromantic and is not. fucking. interested”

              > I’m pretty sure Indrani would not be happy if Masego had hooked up with some random person, even if she didn’t show it.

              I mean no shit she’d be upset and confused, his reason for ignoring her own advances is that he’s asexual, who’s this person and what have they done with Masego?

              Yea it’s true there’s a difference between a polycule and a one night stand. I just don’t think either Hye or Indrani give a fuck either way. But, again, FAR FROM THE POINT

              Liked by 1 person

      2. JJR

        While a fair point, I’m not as sure. Part of the narrative force is how well you sell it after all. So, it might not end up being a thing, or maybe it turns into a meta narrative fight between Cat and the Dead King, with him trying to convince her/the narrative that Second Liesse was in fact a draw and Cat trying to re-affirm herself/the narrative that it wasn’t.

        It seems the kind of thing he would do since even if he fails it doesn’t really leave an opening to strike back at him. Whether he knows enough to try it is another story. And of course it might just not be a thing at all.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. Dotraj

    Of all the times to catch up, it had to be now, didn’t it? Well, at least it’s right before all the planning starts to simultaneously come together and fall apart, and not in the middle of it.

    On a separate note, I’ve been bouncing around a theory for a while. Have we seen any reference to Dread Emperor Benevolent yet in story? Because his quotes are all suspiciously similar to the kind of stuff we’ve been hearing from Catherine especially, to the point that if it’d been Empress I’d have said she takes that name when who/whatever is behind that song gets her onto the Tower. As it is, I have a feeling that he’s Malicia’s successor, assuming I didn’t just miss a reference to him at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, the only mentions of Dread Emperor Benevolent have been as the citations for the opening quote.

      There’s a relatively longstanding theory that Dread Emperor Benevolent is the reign name for Amadeus.

      Liked by 2 people

  18. tnozone

    I’m still catching up, but I’d just like to say the following.

    While the power of love is a useful tool for heroes, it’s usually the opposite for villains. They tend to experience the failure of love as the person they love most/loves them most is often either the first person they kill when their mind is possessed/warped, or the last person they betray when they obtain ultimate power or on their quest to obtain it. It serves as a more personal moral event-horizon for the audience compared to stuff like destroying a city, unleashing a plague, or massacring a thousand innocent people.


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