Interlude: Renunciation

“We fight not only our own wars but those of our forebears and our children, for we inherit the wounds of those before us and pass our own to those that follow. And so, fools that we are, we keep trying to fill one grave by digging another.”
– King Edmund of Callow, the Inkhand

The damned rat had made a mess on the way out, though that’d turned out of some use: whatever blighted eastern sorcery kept the last stretch of the palace protected it’d been no match for a Horned Lord fleeing without much thought given to its surroundings. Its swinging tail and massive limbs had torn through walls and halls, baring what looked like a set of large private chambers – maybe the lodgings of whatever jackals had settled into this place after the Dukes of Liesse were chased out. Even eviscerated in such a way the palace was not defenceless: the first wave of wraiths to try charging through the opening had dispersed like smoke in the wind. So much, Laurence had thought, for the dead Callowans opening the way. Odds were it’d have to be the boy serving as the key to the locks again, and best he got to that sooner rather than later. It was pretty piece of theatrics the Black Queen had put together, snatching a dead king and appointing to the head of the host meant to meet the Hidden Horror’s last guard. Clever, and not without worth. But if the Saint of Swords knew anything it was that pretty stories came to swift ends, and when this one collapsed she had no intention of being caught out on the open where the devils could swarm them. Foundling must have shared at least some of her opinions, as she’d sent for the other members of this band of theirs.

Roland dragged himself up the mound of ruins looking half-dead, though without wounds. The Rogue was a better hand at avoiding blows than dealing them out, as far as Laurence was concerned, though it took all sorts to reach a journey’s end. Storming a villain’s fortress like this wasn’t really what a boy like the Rogue Sorcerer was meant for, anyway. That they’d yet to run into practitioners while pushing further in just dragged him further out of his depths, though the Saint suspected his particular talents would find sharp use at least once before dawn rose. He spoke a few words with Foundling in a quiet tone – her own was kind, Laurence noted, maybe asking about the state he was in – before coming to a discreet collapse against an upraised stone that could from a distance be taken for him simply leaning against it. Having pushed herself to the edge of what her body could take more often than the boy had seen winter pass, the Saint was not fooled in the slightest. He was on the edge of collapse and his pride must have the lion’s share of the toil of keeping him standing. Laurence approached, as they all waited for the Tyrant to join them.

“Saint,” Roland greeted her without opening his eyes. “Not too worn out?”

“Unlike you,” Laurence bluntly replied.

If Tariq had been there he might have been able to smooth away the rougher edges of that exhaustion with use of the Light, but Foundling had sent him to traipse around secret ways with her foremost assassin. It wasn’t the Adjutant, at least: word was when the Black Queen really wanted something dead it was the orc she sent out. But Laurence knew better than most the kind of lessons the Archer would have learned at the knee of the Lady of the Lake. It’d be a surprise if any of them didn’t involve a corpse in some way. That Tariq had simply accepted being split from the rest of them, where ambush from other forces sworn to Foundling might see him turned into a hostage, had riled her up more than a little. If they were dealing with some raving madman with more minions and powers than sense it’d be one thing to surrender one of their own into their custody – it was a reliable trick to get close enough to a Damned to ‘surrender’ yourself into stabbing distance. Foundling wouldn’t make mistakes that elementary, though, and she’d played them all for fools more than once tonight.  It was one thing to bargain with one of Below’s servants, though Laurence still believed that dire mistake, but pretending arrangement was alliance could only be furthering that mistake.

“I have tonics,” the Sorcerer said. “I will not topple, if that is your worry.”

“Relying on potions is a good way to get killed,” Laurence said. “Trust your Choosing, not anything that can fit in a bottle.”

The boy’s eyes fluttered open, the orange rings around his pupils still slowly fading. Whose sorcery had it been, that he’d been spending in the fights? Hard to say. The Saint was no student of the arcane and Tariq had told her that Roland de Beaumarais’ wanderings had taken the boy far and wide: it could have been anyone’s, from anywhere. There were places on Calernia where even she had not found the road taking her.

“We have different approaches, Regicide,” he replied, almost defiantly.

Laurence’s jaw tightened. Even now, she was not sure of this was a long game of Tariq’s or if the boy had genuinely blundered into halfway trusting someone that’d spend him without a second thought. The Peregrine had an eye for detail and for the long view Laurence had never seen the likes of in all her days, so she would not put this past him. But she was uncertain of the boy was this skilled a liar. The truth might lay somewhere in the valley, she considered. A lie but spoken with real anger. There’d been too many defeats of late for a proud young Chosen like Roland not to feel their wisdom had failed. He was not, Laurence would admit, entirely wrong. It was never enough to be right: you also had to be victorious, or it didn’t mean a damned thing.

“Don’t be a mule,” she said. “Stay in the back save when your talents are needed. Foundling and the Tyrant can take the hits until we get to the pivot.”

Spreading around the hurt a bit ought to even things out, when the villains started considering sticking the knife and taking the while prize instead of keeping to the arrangement. Laurence wouldn’t draw first, not when Tariq had given his word. She trusted him too much for that, inconveniently sentimental as he could be. But neither would she stumble blind into the inevitable. And if he proved to be right? Her fingers clenched.

“Do we not have enough foes, that we must ever make more?” Roland tiredly asked her in Chantant.

“Just because she’s not fighting us,” Laurence gently said, “doesn’t mean she’s not our foe.”

Could be the bargain would hold for a few months, a few years. A decade, Gods forbid, though she would not put coin on that. But it would break. Foundling wanted to wiggle her way into Cordelia Hasenbach’s dreams of a Grand Alliance, that much had come clear, and given the way the ventures was on fire the Saint did not mind so much. If the Black Queen wanted to do them all a service and be taken by the blaze, fighting for the last scraps of decency she still clung to, then Laurence would keep her mouth shut. But Catherine Foundling could not have a hand in shaping the world that would come after the ashes settled, lest the old sicknesses carry through to the foundation that would be laid in the ruins of the old order.

“An alliance of victors, is it?” the Rogue quietly said.

He was speaking half of a saying old and dear to their people, though some claimed it was some ancient Merovins who’d first spoken it. An alliance of victors is like a hearth in summer. Useless, it meant, doomed to fail. For when the covenant of need passed, the nature of men ran its course instead.

“You’re young,” the Saint tiredly said. “So this seems like the sum of it to you. But there’s always an after, Roland.”

“Is it not this very manner of thinking, Saint, that saw us end up here in the first place?” he replied.

“I hope you can still believe that, in a decade,” Laurence de Montfort honestly said. “That we will live in a world kind enough to tolerate that belief.”

But I won’t count on it, she thought. If she did not keep a watch, who would?

“My beloved comrades, I have returned!”

The Tyrant of Helike landed atop the mound with a sick crunch, the ugly enchanted sculptures carrying his throne everywhere being ground into the stone by the abrupt landing. They chittered loudly in protest, though another gargoyle wearing the tailored robes of a Stygian magister went around swatting them into silence with a stick. Gods, that nasty little cripple was just sick in the head.

“Good,” the Black Queen said, turning to address them. “We’ll be breaching the last holdout, now. Sorcerer, you and I will take the tip of the spear. I have a feel for the weakness in things, and you’ve…”

She shrugged.

“… that thing that you do,” the dark-eyed woman said, sounding amused.

“Understood,” Roland said, discretely wiping the corner of his mouth.

Not quite thoroughly enough for Laurence not to notice the hint of green broth on his lip. So he’d drunk something, then, and ignored her advice. She’d have to keep an eye on the fool, lest he get himself killed overreaching his grasp.

“Is no one going to address the delicious ironic army of the dead currently warring on the Dead King’s host of devils?” Kairos Theodosian said.

“You’ve summed it up,” Foundling drily replied. “Consider it addressed.”

The boy’s red eye was shining wet, like it’d been dipped in blood, and his smile came too easy. Laurence knew that to be the sight of a sharpened knife being bared, and from the way the Black Queen’s own eyes sharpened so did she.

“I was referring to the way that the Good King seems to be falling apart at a quickening rate,” the Tyrant said. “Presumably, his army would follow him into slumber.”

She’d been right then, Laurence grimly thought. Like an arrow sent flying, that ploy of Foundling’s would hit the mark but then turn into little more than dead wood.

“He’ll hold long enough,” the Black Queen said. “Yet we should not linger. Sorcerer, with me. The two of you should keep an eye out for the Skein – somehow I doubt its leaping down a cliff has rid us of it for good.”

The Saint did not reply, for it would have been too much like taking an order, but she did not disagree. It was decent enough sense, for Roland had his tricks but it was Foundling’s priesthood of the wicked that had wraiths parting for them as they advanced on the last bastion. The two took the lead when the arrived at the feet of the walls the Skein’s retreat had ripped open, climbing up and beginning to paw at the wards. Laurence remained below, as much to keep an eye on the Tyrant as to keep watch for the Horned Lord’s return.

“Did you notice,” Kairos Theodosian said, “that she now seems to have no issue spiriting away the sack of crowns where it cannot be gotten at. Strange, that earlier it had to be carried.”

Of course she had. And the way that the Tyrant’s passing defection – one without consequence, as well – had led to sole change that now both the crowns and the Carrion Lord were in the hands of the Black Queen. How long had she been scheming that, the Saint wondered? Still, the Tyrant was being condescendingly obvious about sowing seeds of enmity. He must think her simple, the little prick.

“Has anyone ever hit you in the mouth hard enough to break teeth?” Laurence asked.

“Alas, my friend, I am but a slave to my nature,” the Tyrant grinned. “So are you, of course. It is why we are being played so masterfully by our delightful leader.”

No leader of mine, the Saint thought, though she knew better than to give the villain what he wanted and voice any of her thoughts.

“I expect I’ll get to kill you before spring arrives,” the Saint casually said. “I’ll admit, you wretched little shit, that I’ll enjoy cutting you down a great deal.”

“Interesting,” the boy mused. “So what is it that the Dead King offered you, to make you so angry?”

“Your head on a pike,” Laurence said, leaning forward to look the boy in the eye. “Insulting, that he’d try to rob me of the pleasure of chopping it off myself.”

“You’re taking all the fun out of this,” the villain complained.

The Saint’s fingers clenched. Too easy. That’d been too easy. She’d made a misstep somewhere, and he was now letting himself ‘lose’ this conversation because he’d already gotten what he wanted. Laurence studied the Tyrant, who studied her in turn with a lazy smile. Should she kill him immediately, just in case? That was where her instincts lay. Scheming villains were like termites, the longer they were left to dig the greater the damages. If she turned on a member of their band of five, loosely as that band was aligned, then there might be consequences greater than physical hostilities. On the other hand, were the consequences greater threat than whatever the boy had planned? Could be feint, she noted, him baiting her so she’d strike and he could finagle the others cutting her loose. She couldn’t be sure Foundling wouldn’t put keeping a close eye on Theodosian above whatever use she might get out of Laurence’s sword arm this close to the finish. On the other hand, the Saint thought, it was too late for the Tyrant to sell them out to the Dead King. Which meant if he was going to screw someone, it was likely to be the one getting closest to their chosen victory. That, reluctant as Laurence was to admit it, was Catherine Foundling.

No, it was not worth making herself the truce-breaker of this story for such an ugly prize. The Saint of Swords would wait, hand on her pommel, and judge when the time came. Above them the first ward broke and the Black Queen yelled for them to catch up.

The Saint and the Tyrant had not moved from their matching stares, but it was Laurence who looked away first.

“I had been,” the Grey Pilgrim slowly said, “under the impression your queen disapproved of necromancy.”

Indrani glanced at the old man, putting away the bit that he’d apparently been able to sniff out the nature of the trouble above them through several layers of stones and wards without any difficulty. Might have been the angels, though, she corrected herself. Vivienne had been right, when she’d first said more than a year back that putting a finger on what the Pilgrim could and couldn’t do was complicated even for a Named. His patron Choir made it hard to tell where his own sensory abilities began and the secrets they no doubt shared ended.

“She’d not going to put a few corpse-raisers at the back of a battlefield, no,” Archer snorted. “But she doesn’t ride live horses, Pilgrim. Callowan she might be, but don’t forget who taught her.”

The Praesi fondness for the art was as well-known as their Callowan foes’ strong distaste for it, and both likely sprung form the same source. Indrani had thought for a while that Cat wouldn’t mind an undead legion at all, if having one wouldn’t make half her living soldiers desert without batting an eye. Mind you, Duchess Kegan’s people had been stacking up dead souls for a long time before Akua got around to snatching the whole pile so when it came down to it even Callowans weren’t above getting a little corpse on their hands.

“It is unlikely that I shall,” the Pilgrim replied.

In the light of his, well, Light they’d been making good time through the tunnels. The bloody thing had been built to be swum, unfortunately, not walked. Meaning it was broken ground all around, with shapr ups and downs, and while the Peregrine was spry for a relic he wasn’t going to be leaping around anytime soon. That meant every once in a while the rope came out again and Indrani dragged him up an incline, or slid him down one, though at least he was so light she barely noticed the weight of him. Seriously, he might as well have been made of feathers. Archer glanced at the old man’s pensive expression and snorted. Still anguishing about the way it was the Carrion Lord who’d taught her, was he? He should have been more worried it was Akua she’d first cut her villain teeth on, as far as she was concerned. The Black Knight was sensible kind of savage, most the time. Getting into scraps with Akua Sahelian, though, taught lessons about grinding people into dust so they could never swing at you again. Akua had always been too good at squeaking out of trouble for her own good. Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

“My worries amuse you,” the old man said.

His tone was a tad disappointed, like she’d been unkind to someone’s puppy.

“Sure,” Indrani shrugged. “You’re going about this all wrong, Grey. Digging for stories with me, trying to get a read on where she came from and what she’s after now. Bet you put out little test for her since the lot of you entered this place, too, just to see where she fell on things.”

The old man’s silence sounded, Archer thought, just a little contrite. Caught him out, had she? In all fairness, he wasn’t a bad hand at that game. It was deftly done, just enough give someone not looking for it wouldn’t have noticed the take. But Indrani was pretty sure he was used to coming from the other side: already the darling grandfather, the trusted figure. In a word, the old man was used to being a mentor. That wasn’t a void that’d ever needed much filling with the Woe, though, so any such attempt would only ever feel like trespassing and be all the more glaring for it.

“And you say such an approach would be a mistake,” the Pilgrim carefully said. “It would be considered hostile?”

“More like a waste of time, and probably her a trial on her patience,” Archer absent-mindedly said. “If she notices, which she will, because you’ve tried to kill her a few times so she’s paying attention.”

She recognized this particular stretch of tunnel, as it happened. They were nearly at the end: one last climb up and they’d end up in the tragically empty wine cellar where the trap door had been hidden.

“And what would you suggest instead?” the old man asked, voice sounding a little strangled.

She flicked an impatient glance at him.

“Look, you’re trying to deal with us like we’re skittish fucking horses in need of your reins,” Indrani said. “Throw that to the side, ‘cause that ride ends with your throat cut open. Probably by me, ‘cause let’s face it I’m quicker on the draw than Hakram. You want to know what she wants? Sit across a table with her with a decent bottle and politely ask.”

Archer frowned at him, just to make it clear for once she was being serious.

“And she’ll tell you, Peregrine, because the moment you stop being someone trying to handle us you’re back to being someone she wants to work with,” she said. “Hells, Pilgrim, as far as I can tell mostly she wants things to be slightly less on fire everywhere. That really so devilish a scheme you can’t stomach it?”

“There are other considerations to making a bargain with your queen, Indrani,” the Pilgrim quietly said.

“If your Grand Alliance can’t get its shit together long enough to accept help when the Dead King’s about to eat the whole pie,” Indrani frankly said, “then I don’t get why you’re so keen on it in the first place. Kind of a shipwreck, isn’t it?”

The old hero’s face was unreadable in the dim light of his own making, but this wasn’t really her problem was it? Indrani was called in when there was trouble to be had, not to play the diplomat. Besides, but a few moments later they arrived at the end of the tunnel and what awaited them disturbed the Grey Pilgrim enough the other conversation died on its own.

“Souls,” the Peregrine quietly said, blue peering up as if they could see through the trapdoor. “What awaits there, Archer?”

“A wine cellar, for the first few steps,” Indrani said. “After that, well, you had it right. About a city’s worth of souls, and the man who bound them as his instrument.”

145 thoughts on “Interlude: Renunciation

  1. “They chittered loudly in protest, though another gargoyle wearing the tailored robes of a Stygian magister went around swatting them into silence with a stick.”

    Tyrant truly is a best thing to ever happen to the Creation.

    Liked by 24 people

  2. Hah!
    Somebody get Indrani a keg or two on me.
    Finally somebody else said it – if the Alliance is this screwed up, how is it worth keeping?

    And, yeah. Laurence is doubling down on having lost track of the difference between striking at evil amd doing good. As regards Cat, anyways. Laurence is not wrong to want Kairos dead asap.

    The Rogue Sorcerer seems not particularly useful thus far. And I have all kinds of questions about him.

    Also, what’s Tariq talking about? Where the heck did this idea of Cat not approving of necromancy come from? Did he forget the thousands of Winter!dead rising from the glacial lake at the Battle of the Camps?
    I mean, sure, Cat doesn’t have necromancers in her employ or standing armies of the undead, but still.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. ATRDCI

        Unlikely, given during his “accept Cat’s surrender” introspection he had no idea Akua existed, in the context of someone who could use the well of Night

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Soma

      Cat doesn’t like necromancy, or at least is a bit conflicted, especially after Second Liesse. She’s mentioned that, but she’s not going to completely ignore a powerful tool when it might give her the edge. Pilgrim would have picked up on that distaste with his sight especially when he first encountered Catherine it would have been more raw so soon after The Doom.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      > The Rogue Sorcerer seems not particularly useful thus far. And I have all kinds of questions about him.

      I think he’s going to be more useful in the near future. But he’s been pretty damn useful so far by removing difficult wards and killing & distracting a LOT of devils.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Ben Serreau-Raskin

        I’m pretty sure he’s a Spell Thief/anti-magic type. Mostly skilled at tricky applications of small magic until he gets to “Take” a bigger magic, at which point he can turn it back on its users. Against Masego that basically makes him untouchable unless Zeze pulls out some real dire summons.

        The way Saint thinks about the pack of practitioners taking him out of his element really does seem to imply that he’s a specialist regardless.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Cicero

      It appears to me that the Rogue Sorcerer gets his magic by stealing it from others?

      I wonder what sort of magic he might foresee stealing from Cat, and how tempting that must be…

      Liked by 3 people

      1. erebus42

        Ironically, he doesn’t seem to be the type overly interested in the acquisition of power.
        I am curious though if the spells he steals are one offs.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I think he can likely invest them in artifacts to various effects, like his blasting rod, but otherwise I think they are pretty temporary, and it seems that he can only Carry two stolen magics at a time.

          I also don’t think all of his magic is stolen, he seemed to be casting normally in the battle, I think his magic would more effective if it was entirely Name based, instead Cat remarks on it being inefficient in comparison to Heirophant and Diabolist.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. medailyfun

            the gift and deep knowledge of high arcana make great magic, not Names. Heiress could do big stuff even having weak name and I vaguely remember Apprentice was directly mentioning he was not relying that much on his Name

            Liked by 3 people

          2. I don’t know about that: a Jack-of-All can do things a Master-of-One cannot, as well as visa versa. It’s unlikely to be elegant, but… RS is playing with all the toys the sandbox — even the ones outside known theoretical frameworks.

            He and Heirophant are like the work crew vs the architect of using all of the things. They should have synergy, if they ever get to work together.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. Considering his eyes change colours and he’s described as “inefficient” and unable to use high arcana (which is personal to the individual and therefore useless to him) the rogue has something like a Sharingan for magic. He’s then fallen into the trap of knowing alot of copied magic but never bothering to hone his skills to use it properly.

        Liked by 4 people

    4. IDKWhoitis

      Killing Kairos would be a mistake, in most circumstances. He likely has Traitorous level plots to cause trouble long after he’s dead, and killing him would give those plots enough narrative weight to make people regret such choices.

      Crippling Kairos seems better than outright killing him, and likely is easier too. After all, one does not kill the comedic relief…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. shveiran

        Kairos is the kind of character that’s trouble whatever you do.

        You kill him? Contingencies are in place to ensure you remember him.

        You cripple him? He walks around the setbacks and now it’s personal.

        You leave him alone? You will regret it.

        Honestly, I think killing him is the lesser evil. It will STING still, but at least he cannot put more contingencies in place than he already has and he no longer enacts more schemes with far reaching consequences every few days.

        Liked by 4 people

    5. Zourath

      I think that’s actually part of why he thought that. She* went out of her way to use something that isn’t necromancy in order to get an effect identical to necromancy. It’s like hitting a nail with an axe when you have a perfectly good hammer in reach.

      *Actually Akua

      Liked by 5 people

    6. > Finally somebody else said it – if the Alliance is this screwed up, how is it worth keeping?

      The problem in this case is not that the Alliance is screwed up. The problem is that the heroes think they know Cat’s story, and her story is one of… a plague-bearer getting everyone else sick. She doesn’t mean it, she doesn’t want it, she has the best of intentions, but anything she does will just end up making things worse in the ironic prophecy sort of way.

      Either that or she’s just going to betray them all. You know, one or the other.

      The Grand Alliance is not the main consideration at this point.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. > her story is one of… a plague-bearer getting everyone else sick.

        Except… that’s just the basic pattern of stigma, indeed of scapegoating. “We can’t let those people work/live/stay around “decent folks”, they’ll just bring down the whole neighborhood…” Also “anybody who stands up for them is obviously part of the problem”. Whether it’s black folks, gays, drug users, sex workers, Jews and/or Muslims, — any attempt at problem-solving gets thrown away in favor of “we just need to get rid of them, and all our problems will be gone!” Even in the Guide-verse, I don’t think that’s gonna work.

        Liked by 6 people

        1. 1) I am not saying it’s a good idea;

          2) Tariq’s and Laurence’s reasons are very different from the historical irl ones;

          3) they can’t exactly learn from IRL examples from inside their fictional world, can they?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. > Tariq’s and Laurence’s reasons are very different from the historical irl ones

            They’re not that different, especially in regard to the political parallels. Essentialism is explicitly a conceit of the Guideverse, but it certainly has often been popular in our own world, including modern America. Combine it with eliminationism, you get Bad Things Happening.

            Within the Guide, Amadeus made a decent case that in fact, Pilgrim & Saint were successful enough at eliminating Evil from their home ground that they tipped a balance on a larger scale. Which directly implies that no, Good is not “allowed” to win permanently, any more than Evil is.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. >Within the Guide, Amadeus made a decent case that in fact, Pilgrim & Saint were successful enough at eliminating Evil from their home ground that they tipped a balance on a larger scale. Which directly implies that no, Good is not “allowed” to win permanently, any more than Evil is.

              The other way around. IF we accept that Good is not “allowed” to win permanently and the balance tips over as a premise, THEN Amadeus’s case for the heroes being responsible for Dead King holds water. That was his argument: “do you really think you’re allowed to win without tipping the balance over and empowering Evil to strike back?” It’s a known fact already.

              A rather uncomfortable one, if you take the view that Good = good. But note that Tariq’s conclusion was ‘and then we beat the strike back, and then we just keep winning anyway and fuck Fate’, interestingly mirroring Amadeus’s own response to ‘this cycle is endless’.

              >They’re not that different, especially in regard to the political parallels

              They really. They’re not blaming Catherine for external problems already happening, and they’re not sticking her with any labels she did not willingly accept. Being a villain is less like a nationality and more like being a member of a political party calling themselves national socialists, yeah? And also wearing a swastika on your sleeve, because Guideverse is not subtle. You can be born into a religion, sure enough, but Catherine’s a politician and all her choices she made herself.

              And ‘discrimination’ against the infectuously sick, also known as quarantine, is also a historical thing. Well-known to be horrifying and unfair, but also effective at preventing the spread of sickness if enforced successfully.

              Liked by 1 person

            1. Laurence would back off, throw her hands in the air and go “welcome to the team kid and congratulations”. Pilgrim would look at political convenience first much like he did when Cat came to him for help pre-Keter, but to the degree that he is the pivot, yes he would do his best to arrange to fold her in. It’d be his best case scenario come true before his very eyes.

              Liked by 1 person

    7. The Rogue sorcerer kept the wraiths from interrupting cat and Kairos when they had their chat. So far he’s been like IT, or a good Butler. Doing a good job means you don’t even notice he’s there (though you’d notice things going wrong if he was gone).

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Rook

        I suspect the only reason he was so worn out is because it was directly combative support here. He’s a versatile character that copies or steals from others, which means narratively he has endless flexibility but takes a hit in raw power – an imitation is almost never as strong as the original, in stories

        I suspect that he’ll actually be massively more effective against Masego than the devils, despite the larger power difference. The key being that the Hierophant’s main strength is primarily his knowledge and the obscurity of his workings, not his sorcerous muscle. The usher of mysteries, not destroyer of worlds.

        He’s may even have the capital to be a threat to Catherine if he wanted to be, considering the less combative role that Catherine now falls into as first under the night.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I don’t think he’s a threat to Catherine, because his main strength seems to be turning an enemy’s own sorcerous strength against them. It will probably work very well against Masego, you’re right, but it’s not sorcery that Catherine uses and we’ve already seen a lesson in what happens when a foe tries to use her strength against her. Angry crows happen.

          Rogue Sorcerer is a narrowly specialized anti-mage :3

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Andrew Mitchell

    “Look, you’re trying to deal with us like we’re skittish fucking horses in need of your reins,” Indrani said. “Throw that to the side, ‘cause that ride ends with your throat cut open. Probably by me, ‘cause let’s face it I’m quicker on the draw than Hakram. You want to know what she wants? Sit across a table with her with a decent bottle and politely ask.”

    Archer frowned at him, just to make it clear for once she was being serious.

    “And she’ll tell you, Peregrine, because the moment you stop being someone trying to handle us you’re back to being someone she wants to work with,” she said. “Hells, Pilgrim, as far as I can tell mostly she wants things to be slightly less on fire everywhere. That really so devilish a scheme you can’t stomach it?”

    So f’ing good. The Peregrine needed to hear that… But did he listen?

    Liked by 11 people

        1. Has it changed?

          Can you describe&prove to me, on the textual basis, that it changed? (Only actual description+explanation qualifies as a positive answer. Saying “yes” doesn’t cut it. Do the explanation)


        2. Rook

          He still thinks in Binary which isnt helping the situation yes, but the paradigm has not changed nor is the pilgrim unjustified for his precaution, as fruitless as the readers (not the characters) know it to be.

          Catherine is an emerging exception among exceptions, but the villains that preceded her, as well as most alive today, and even one in her own band, still fall into the exact same old paradigm.

          An exception isn’t a pattern.

          Which isn’t fair for Catherine, no. But at the same time it’s not as if Catherine alone, in just a few years, has suddenly changed the pattern of Villainy. The Pilgrim isn’t in the wrong for not throwing away a lifetime of experience based on his limited interactions with a single person.

          Liked by 4 people

  4. NerfGlastigUaine

    Ah, Tyrant. He’s not only a magnificent traitor, he also nudges others into betrayal as well. I’m looking forward to the inevitable backstabs (and frontstabs, sidestaps, omni-directional stabs) that will result.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. erebus42

      Honestly, I think it was more about needling the Saint than thinking he’d actually get her to betray them (though I’m sure that would be a bonus). His very existence is anathema to everything she believes in and as she said herself he was being super obvious (probably intentionally so) in his baiting of her. But I agree betrayal is inevitable and I’m sure it will be glorious.

      Liked by 8 people

  5. Andrew Mitchell

    “… About a city’s worth of souls, and the man who bound them as his instrument.”

    So not all Liesse’s souls rose up at the call of Dead King Edward. Interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Caerulea

      I suspect those are the souls that Akua usurped, and that were in the palace already. The shades that rose up at the call of The Good King were the ones that Akua butchered using Still Water. The ones that the Hierophant has are those that were woven into a Gestalt, before Black broke it.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. konstantinvoncarstein

          No, they were returned to the Deoraithe. Maybe the wards on the palace interfered with Edward’s summon?

          And the Gestalt is made of the souls of all Deoraithe who die since their exile from the Golden Bloom, not only from the soul of the Watch.

          Liked by 6 people

      1. Ben Serreau-Raskin

        The fighting souls are the ones Akua killed with the Zombie Army Ritual, the gestalt are back in position empowering the watch, and the souls in the room ahead are all the ones that died at Thallasina when Warlock called in all his markers with Below and let loose a Death Curse that scarred the land into perpetuity. Masego was able to grab them because he watched how the DK did it way back in the day.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. Death Knight

          This rings true. That amount of power would also explain why the Hierophant was seen to be “teleporting” and/or phasing out of Creation when observed by Malicia’s agents as he was making his exodus out of Praes.

          Liked by 4 people

        1. shveiran

          O god, I hope you aren’t. That sounds it would have long term consequences, and with grief and possession already on the table… will what we get back really be a Masego?

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Walter

    To paraphrase:

    “So what you’re saying is that the one person who’s trying to stop the Dead King should stop doing what’s been effective, and should instead start taking advice from a Heaven approved advisor, even though he’s an oath-breaker who’s tried to kill her …”

    Liked by 10 people

    1. erebus42

      Pretty much yeah. Honestly one the great things about the Pilgrim’s character-as much as he annoys the hell out of me- is how it serves to deconstruct the designated mentor role and show it’s pitfalls. He really can’t seem to meet anyone on an equal footing can he? He seems to genuinely think he alone knows what’s best and that everyone else should take his council. It’s one of the main things that makes him so infuriating. Hopefully the universe continues to disabuse him of those ideas and continues to kick him in the metaphorical balls.

      Liked by 9 people

    2. I mean tbf I still think it would be good for this alliance if Cat and Tariq fell into a mentor/mentee relationship for a bit. This kind of relationship in stories tend to have a lot of feedback for the mentor learning from the student, and of course it’s a brilliant move diplomatically.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Gamer7956

        That really can’t happen. Cat started referring to Black as ‘Father’ before this arc started – presumably to play up thier connection for the story. That would be all for naught if she suddenly took another mentor – a subversion of the strongest part of ber connection to Amadeus

        Liked by 5 people

        1. I mean, Cat has specifically already renounced Black has her mentor. That happened after Second Liesse and was a whole thing. “You’re no longer a Squire”.

          The ‘adopted father’ thing is their only current connection, that and the fact being a mentor is timeless. “My old mentor” doesn’t imply they’re currently teaching you,


          Liked by 4 people

        2. P.S. Also, replace ‘mentor’ with ‘advisor’ if you wish. My point is just Tariq being close to Cat in an advisory role and getting to really understand her decision making process, her political situation and her alliances from the inside.

          Liked by 6 people

              1. Ah, but Cat had seen some of what made the Sisters take the path they did.

                Also, there’s a rather distinct and important difference between “trust unearned”, which was the Sisters, and “demonstrably, and by his own admission, inherently, untrustworthy person who already betrayed you before”, which is Tariq.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Rook

                  Have to agree there, I actually favor Tariq in terms of intent, but I STILL think it’d be a mistake for Catherine to give him control or undue influence at this point

                  Regardless how reasonable his skepticisms about Catherine are based on what he personally knows, the fact is that he can’t be trusted to understand her right now, which means he can’t be trusted not to fuck it all up if given too much of the reins

                  We have to remember that even with Sve Noc, all that the surrender of Winter bought Catherine was the sisters stepping back to take an objective/unbiased look through her memories to understand her character and intent. The trust returned came after, based on what they saw there, based on a full and complete understanding of what and who Catherine Foundling is.

                  That latter part, the understanding, is the key issue between the Pilgrim and Cat in the first place – the Pilgrim likely wouldn’t disagree with Catherine’s goals or intent if he knew them like the sisters do now. But the thing is that he currently doesn’t and can not, to any appreciable extent. Trust alone is naivety, it only has value when it’s paired with understanding.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. “Advisory vote” means you only get as much influence over the result as you can get others to listen to you.

                    I’m not offering to put Tariq in charge of anything. I’m offering to put him in the exact role where he feels most comfortable – providing advice, insight and suggestions to the person who actually is.

                    Liked by 1 person

                2. There’s a long road between “will break his word in situations where doing otherwise would be absolutely catastrophic” and “inherently untrustworthy”.

                  I would argue the former actually deserves a lot more trust than someone who would hold to the letter of their word stubbornly no matter what, being as how they use their head and not their principles to think.

                  Liked by 2 people

              2. > Like handing over the reins of your apotheosis to twin murder goddesses required some unearned trust?

                No, it required Cat getting her butt kicked halfway to a hell and back — remember, Cat was not in control of that situation!

                At least not in present tense… but she had made enough of her self in the past, that when she faced literal divine judgement, the goddesses in question gave her a lot of “unearned trust” in taking her as their representative to humanity and the surface world.

                Liked by 1 person

            1. fireinsideincites

              Yes, but it’s not unheard of. A queen who is misunderstood but trying to do good for the people going against tradition and the institutions, being mentored by an older, wiser advisor who works for/used to work for those institutions. The trust comes from them both trying to do good but approaching it from different angles (see Tyrion and early Dany)

              Liked by 2 people

          1. That (or something similar) could, and probably would, have happened … in Tariq’s redemption play on Cat.
            Y’know, the one Cat was willing to lean into and cooperate with if he’d give his word to prevent Procer from partitioning and exploiting Callow for their own gain, or at least allow her to do so. When he *knew* that her greatest desire was for peace and that sheer cared about protecting Callow and Callowans more than petty much anything else (the thing he *knew* was a hook for Below to pervert her good intentions into non-good actions).
            Also, the one that he broke because having given his word doesn’t mean he’ll keep it.

            So … no, I’m pretty sure that nothing along those lines is gonna happen anymore.
            Unless it’s flipped and Cat becomes Tariq’s mentor figure. Which would be kind of hilarious, but mind bogglingly improbable, IMO. Plus Laurence probably (try to) kill the both of them if that happened.

            Liked by 5 people

            1. shveiran

              Agreed. A mentor relationship implies NON-EQUAL STANDING between the two.
              Lillet mentioned that the mentor usually ends up learning from the student, but while that IS true, that is still the exception within the relationship: most of the teaching flows in the other direction – since one of the two is meant to be, you know, a MENTOR.

              In the middle of book 4, Cat would have been willing to learn from one of the most experienced heroes in Calernia. It would have made a great contrast with her tutorage from Black, and would have helped walked the narrow path.

              Now, though? Now the Black Queen will accept to deal as an equal with nearly anyone, even if it means giving up power and control… but she will not trust someone else to teach her what to do or how to do it. That ship has sailed, that ship has BURNT.

              I’m all for seeing Cat and Tariq reach an understanding, but that will happen as a consortium between equals or not at all.
              Indrani got it right, plain and simple.

              Liked by 6 people

      2. Cat has already learned a lot from Pilgrim… more than he likes, really. But as Archer points out, he doesn’t get to appoint himself her mentor. Especially after so much of her development has been in response to him trying to kill her.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. shveiran

          Quite right, she has learned from him. Because if you survive a fight you have learned from your *enemy*. That doesn’t make Aqua or Tariq a mentor, merely a challenged overcome.
          You can also learn from an ally, through sharing and exemple… but he and Cat are not quite there yet, if they’ll ever reach it.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. Soma

        OOOOOOOOhhhhhhh myyyyyyy. You’ve made my night! I forgot about that. Admittedly, I’d guess the bonus won’t be quite so immediately following people interacting with the Woe, but who knows? And it will be great besides.

        Liked by 3 people

  7. erebus42

    About time someone called the Pilgrim out on his condescending mentor bullshit.
    Good on the Saint for actually making the smart call. I still think she’s a mad dog who needs to be put down but hey, credit where credit’s due.
    Also I’d say we’re about due for that other shoe to drop.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Pokekid01

    I take personal offence at this chapter’s pre-quote. A proverb on the folly of revenge? Written by a CALLOWAN? Admittedly, the Inkhand seems to be a more level-headed sort, but still, this is a most profane heresy of the highest order.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. So, here we have Laurence’s predictions ranging wildly from “Catherine is going to have Tariq captured” to “Catherine is going to stick with this alliance for decades”. Fucking beautiful.

    And Indrani isn’t following, alas. Apparently Catherine did not share her insights into Tariq’s understanding of the situation.

    She’s still helping ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. shveiran

      To continue our discussion, I’m really getting a different read. Her prediction does seem to range in time, but she is not really considering a different end: even if Cat sticks with the alliance for decades, the implication is that at some point she’ll need to be put down and teh longer she stays the greater the damage.

      I assume your read on her clenching her fingers is that she is conflicted and is trying not to consider the possibility that Cat is actually a different breed. And I’m not saying that interpretation is wrong or impossible… simply that when I read it, I think it means “if Tariq was right and this mission goes according to plan, then he will not allow me to slay her before we move north, and that is DANGEROUS, what should I do?” or even “if Tariq is right and this alliance to slay the DK actually works, that means Foundling is somewhat even more dangerous than HIM, and I’ll likely won’t be around to kill her then. So should I kill her now, while I can, and damn the consequences?”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In other words, she’s deeply tempted to kill Cat, regardless of her companion’s advice and everything she’s seen of Cat in particular. The question is whether she can overcome her ingrained pattern of “kill all the eeevviiill”.

        ” “if Tariq is right and this alliance to slay the DK actually works,

        AFAICT She didn’t mention killing the DK, and if she did it would mean she was way off the rails.

        Remember, that wasn’t actually on the table at the conclave And Cat has been very specific that the win condition against DK isn’t killing him, it’s chasing him back into his hole. Given that DK can just withdraw and flee back to his own realm at any time, I wouldn’t bet on a surprise kill either.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. > even if Cat sticks with the alliance for decades, the implication is that at some point she’ll need to be put down and teh longer she stays the greater the damage.

        Yes. Not because of her bad intentions necessarily but because of how they predict the general shape of her story goes. I like the metaphor I used above: a plague-bearer getting everyone else sick.

        > I assume your read on her clenching her fingers is that she is conflicted and is trying not to consider the possibility that Cat is actually a different breed.

        No, actually, my read on it is “he might be right and we’d have to put her down anyway”. Laurence is willing to entertain the thought Cat might be genuine, but not that she might be right.

        She really doesn’t have remotely enough information for that conclusion.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. shveiran

          Right. So…

          …We agree? I mean, I’m not arguing that Saint doesn’t feel like it’s a pity Cat has to be slain; merely that she is not any less determined to slay her than she was a week ago.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Depends on how you try to quantify ‘determined’.

            Laurence is no longer absolutely convinced that Cat needs to be slain right now, the second she gets a stab at her throat. Her conviction can be further weakened. Sure it’s a long journey from here&now to “maybe Foundling really should win”, but she’s already on the road :3

            Her opinion on Catherine has already changed. It hasn’t changed enough to get her to cancel the slaying appointment, but the capacity for change is there, and I predict it’ll change more yet :3

            Liked by 2 people

  10. Ben Serreau-Raskin

    Once again the Pilgrim displays an amazing combo of supernatural discernment (detecting a massive ghost army through however much solid Rock while being lugged through a Tomb Raider level) with a bone deep lack of understanding of Cat’s character (both having that question and then asking it so bluntly).

    Liked by 9 people

  11. Here’s a thought. So far Laurence has been making a conscious effort to avoid going down the expected route of betraying the villains to the detriment of the party, even self-admittedly against her own nature. Of course she has to have a Trial at some point, and the assumption is that eventually that self-control will be tested to its limits. But now that I think about it, there’s another very pivotal thing which could happen around Laurence that would satisfy the Narrative.

    A) Does Tariq know Laurence sabotaged Procer’s ability to unify against the Dead King?
    B) Does the Dead King know that?

    I’m guessing the answer to A is “absolutely not” and the answer to B … well that would be a hell of a bomb for the Dead King to drop on the party now wouldn’t it?

    Liked by 9 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      Laurence don’t sabotage the union of the Principat itself, she “just” burned all diplomatic bridges with Callow. It probably makes it even harder for her to have to work with Catherine.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh no I didn’t mean she sabotaged the alliance. What I meant was how she sabotaged the Callow/Procer peacetalks to ensure Procer had to split its forces in a way that was meant to ensure the eventual complete destruction of Procer.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. TBF I’m not sure she could have predicted the current situation. The inability to let the Legions just go is based far more on Callow’s determination to rescue Grem / Grem’s previous actions, than the Arch-Heretic thing.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. …on the other hand she couldn’t have predicted Callow being willing to offer alliance&help even despite the Arch-Heretic thing either, so actually scratch that, you’re right.

          Liked by 1 person

    2. From the DK’s point of view (or even for story success) Laurence is the real weak point in the party, because she’s got her own mission that directly conflicts with the party’s mission, and she’s having trouble with the conflict.

      Compare to Kairos’s betrayal, which was “all part of Cat’s plan”, didn’t surprise anyone else (except perhaps the newbie RS), advanced the plot… and with his continued rotation, came right around to bitch-slapping the Dead King! Cat’s key insight was simply that Kairos is “crazy like a fox” — he may look unpredictable, but he does remember what he’s about and what the long-term plan is.

      Liked by 6 people

  12. I’m really liking the development of Saint. All of her life she’s been fighting evil that would break others to the point where all she sees is schemes of Below. It’s probably a defense mechanism as much as it is a belief built from experience. The hope that some villains might also want to build a better world would probably break her at this point.

    I think she’ll die by landing a killing blow against the Dead King. It’s clear there’s no place for her in the new world since it requires a modicum of trust and it would be a fitting end.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Death Knight

      Also her realizing that would very likely kill her. Once a Hero starts compromising on their core ideals, they become sloppy and more prone to mistakes which eventually culminates in their death (see W.O.E on Proceran and Heroic Named).

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t think Laurence’s core ideal is ‘villains are irredeemably evil’. Remember, she already had her Name when she still thought villains could be ok to compromise with. Laurence’s core ideal as a hero is protecting others, and I don’t think she’s going to need to compromise on that.

        That is not to say there isn’t a lot in her to shatter other than that core ideal =x

        Liked by 3 people

        1. shveiran

          I don’t know, it feels like it has become the fulcrum of her stories though.
          Cat’s path is one of lesser evils, of making the hard choices and the ugly compromises to try and make the sutuation a bit less awful.
          It sounds like Laurence’s has been about madmen, the tragedies they wrought, and the need to put them down.
          It’s true that in the beginning she didn’t have this ideal, but it has been the fulcrum and moral of the struggles she has lived through. More than protection; she has been “Above’s executioner” . And she is an old one.

          I dunno. It seems that belief is key to her being. To change it would mean she’d need a whole different skillset to deal with problems (to seek alternative solutions, to figure out if a redemption is viable etc). Can she really start anew, after all this time?

          I’m really, really curious to see where EE is going with this character, to be honest. It’s one of those instances where I can find no good solution, and I’m eager to be shown what I missed. Like so many times before since I found this gem of a series.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. A fulkrum, but not a core ideal. Yes, if it were to be shattered she WOULD need to pick herself up from a whole lot of very tiny pieces; but it would not destroy her Name.

            And yeah SAME

            Liked by 1 person

    2. > The hope that some villains might also want to build a better world would probably break her at this point.

      That they might want it, she’s probably perfectly fine with knowing for a fact.

      That they might be able to actually achieve it, that they might be right?

      Now that

      Liked by 3 people

    3. > It’s clear there’s no place for her in the new world since it requires a modicum of trust and it would be a fitting end.

      Compare to the Saint’s POV:
      > But Catherine Foundling could not have a hand in shaping the world that would come after the ashes settled, lest the old sicknesses carry through to the foundation that would be laid in the ruins of the old order.

      One of them has to go. and I’m betting it’ll be the burned-out old hand, not the up-and-comer.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Rook

        I don’t think it’s one or the other, I think it’s both.

        They’re both wartime soldiers, not peacetime builders. The Good King instantly recognized this, and Catherine herself acknowledged that long before the Saint or Pilgrim ever came into the picture. That’s why her intention was always to abdicate once the storm passed – she’s a necessary evil right now, but in the end she’s still an evil.

        “… Lest good become the act of striking,” the Good King completed, tone approving. “You understand, then. That when your evil is no longer necessary, Black Queen, to linger would be to stray from the narrow path you have tread.”

        My fingers clenched.

        “I know,” I croaked out. …”

        The Saint on the other hand is of completely out of place to handle the aftermath even in nations where Good wins the field. She’s an eraser of atrocities, both in role and experience, which is useless when there are no atrocities that need to be erased.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Morgenstern

            I’d say theoretically she has. She might not be *needed*, but not being needed doesn’t have to mean you have to fuck off and die. You might simply retire as well, if you can accept that you are no longer needed. I for one am not sure yet that the Saint might not find a way around to that eventually.

            Liked by 3 people

  13. Hmm, Laurence’s POV here is leaning me back towards thinking she actually was sincere about her whole “let it burn, what rises from the ashes will be purer for it” spiel to Cordelia; doesn’t mean Bard wasn’t orchestrating the moment in service of a deeper plot though.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Raved Thrad

    Ah, Archer. She may be a brute, but she’s an introspective, perceptive brute. I wonder how having Zeze’s kid will change her.

    …and having said that, I’m already feeling sorry for the kid.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not so sure Indrani’s one for pregnancy and childbirth. I see them going the route of Masego’s parents and adopting a Gifted kid as much more likely… if they even decided to have children at all, which they’d honestly need the whole Woe to agree to communally raise lmao

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Daniel E

    Although it is customary in stories like this for a main character to die heroically at the end, I sincerely hope all of our Woe get to sail off into the sunset, as it were. That said, if we had to lose somebody, my money is on Hakram or Masego. The right-hand (no hands, lulz) or tormented protagonist are always the ones who get sacrificed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hakram left this story back at the conclave. And Masego has probably gone immortal, not to mention several people actively trying to save him. Today I think it’s the heroes who have all the death flags.

      Liked by 2 people

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