Interlude: Repurpose

“Mastery is meekness, for it is the observation of what we are intended to hold. It is the art of the supplicant. Only through usurpation can understanding be reached, for anything less is servitude.”
– Translation of the Kabbalis Book of Darkness, widely attributed to the young Dead King

Firyal had died screaming, boiling heat washing over her. This she still remembered, sometimes, and in those rare moments of lucidity she knew terror. For while she had once been a mage some skill, the shackles around her soul were like nothing she had ever seen. A trained mind had allowed her to drift out of the dreams, once every few days, long enough to dread the return to that strange slumber where she only saw the life she had lived. Again, and again and again, for some obscure purpose. Perhaps, she had thought, this was one of the Hells. Perhaps she had not looked closely enough at all the bargains she had made, and some devil had gotten the best of her. So Firyal wondered, until she was startled awake by her shackles being ripped away. Freedom tasted sweet, for a moment, before she saw them. Eyes above her, burning and unblinking. As if the sun had been imprisoned in orbs of glass. Unkindly, the eyes peered through the span of her life like a bored scribe skimming a scroll.

“Useless,” a calm voice noted. “Pass in peace.”

The sun in the eyes died and then there was only oblivion.

“This is an abomination,” Laurence said. “You know it, Foundling, and would still offer salvation to its architect?”

They’d torn through the last defences surrounding the sanctum like they were parchment, between the Black Queen’s knowledge of their lay and Roland’s knack for taking down wards, but what had awaited them beyond the luxurious quarters and feast halls was an Evil manifest. At Laurence’s feet, like lake water softly lapping at a shore, the translucent and almost shimmering broth of hundreds of thousands of souls was spread out. Above them there was only darkness for a ceiling, whatever foul sorcery was at work here having warped the nature of within into this… sickness. It was silent in here, almost peaceful, and that made the sight of it twice as ghoulish.

“Yes,” the Black Queen said.

She had hesitated, the Saint thought, for barely the fraction of a moment. The loyalty of that was laudable but made a sin against Creation by who it’d been offered to. To safeguard a poisoner against consequence was to share in the guilt of the poisonings that would follow.

“Ah, well they were just Praesi,” the Tyrant of Helike drawled. “It’s not like the Grand Alliance hasn’t been having rousing discussions of their wholesale slaughter anyway.”

The Saint hadn’t known that, not for sure, but then she was not particularly surprised. Tariq’s chomping at the bit for them to head to Salia as soon as this was settled now made a great deal more sense. The boy-villain could be lying, of course, but that didn’t matter nearly as much as whether or not Foundling would believe him. Laurence’s hand casually went down to her sword. There was a pause.

“You’re not even lying, are you?” the Black Queen mused, her tone wry.

She often used amusement to cloak her true thoughts, the Saint had noticed.

“An issue to settle when this is done with,” Foundling sighed. “Pity for Cordelia Hasenbach is not something I particularly enjoy feeling, Kairos.”

Did anyone? Klaus’ niece or not, no one claimed the highest office of the Principate without climbing a mound of corpses. Some justly made, but others? Procer had grown into the kind of beast that would devour the best of intentions and taint them simply by being what it was.

“I cannot assure our safety if we wade into that,” Roland piped up.

His eyes had never left the lake of souls, fascination and revulsion warring within them. Wizards, Laurence unkindly thought. Even the finest of them were only ever one swell of curiosity away from tumbling down a foul slope.

“I’ll be handling that,” Foundling said. “Where there is darkness there is night, and so it stands within my dominion.”

No, not night, Laurence thought. It was ‘Night’ she had said, with a subtle ring of power to the word. Some blasphemous dark mirror to the Light? The Saint had believed the Black Queen’s strange powers to come from a bargain made with lesser gods in the service of Below, but the sacrilege might run deeper than that.

“And where will we be headed?” Saint flatly asked.

“Why, dearest Laurence, that ought to be obvious,” the Tyrant of Helike laughed. “To the throne room, of course.”

No one humoured the madman with further reply. The Black Queen’s staff struck the ground and before it the souls parted. And so, Laurence thought, it begins.

Tariq carried light into the dark, as he had sought to do for most his life.

The sliver of it was enough to push back the silvery sea of souls around the two of them, that tragedy happened and happening. The right to Behold the truth of things, that was the gift that had been bestowed upon him many years ago when he found his own base discernment too feeble a thing to rely on, but there were occasions where it was curse as much as boon. This was one, he thought, for not until the Heavens called him to his rest would the Grey Pilgrim forget this sight: an expanse of shivering souls, wounded and crying out from the sudden brutality of their demise. Shackled to Creation and kept in that torment of a half-existence, sorcerous bindings keeping imprisoned in restless slumber. And where someone else might see only the waters, Tariq… Oh, he could see them all. Every weeping child, every terrified innocent lost to a death they had not even been able to understand. For all that, the Grey Pilgrim did not look away. Someone had to see them, to refuse to avert their eyes. And to free them, when the time came, for this would not be tolerated.

“Huh,” Archer said. “So that’s what it looks like when your blood is up.”

“This place is a blight onto Creation, child,” Tariq quietly said. “You are no priestess, but your senses are keen. You must know it as well.”

“He wouldn’t have let it come to this, if he were in his right mind,” she replied. “But that’s what you get, when you push monstrously talented practitioner over the edge. They fall, and either they die or they make wings of whatever’s at hand at the time.”

“The attack on Thalassina is no excuse for this,” the Pilgrim sharply said. “It does not exempt the Hierophant from responsibility for this abomination.”

“You don’t get to make that call,” Archer calmly said. “He’s not for you to judge, crusader. You take a swing at a nest of vicious diabolists, well, you get shit like this. If he crossed a line in defending his home and family then it’s not the enemy that’ll discipline him – it’s Catherine.”

“And if she simply pardons him?” the Peregrine asked.

Hazelnut eyes met his own.

“If you believe that, then your eyesight’s worse than I’d thought.”

The heartbeat of tension that followed was broken by the flapping of great wings. It startled Tariq into looking up, though he could barely glimpse the shape of the large crow in the gloom until it landed on Archer’s extended arm. The pulsing thoughts and feelings of the young woman that’d he’d been able to behold until that moment were suddenly obscured, as if a shadow was being cast over them. The loss was discomforting, he’d admit, though that was a paltry thing compared to the black-winged horror perched on young Indrani’s arm. Even a casual glance into those night-woven feathers was enough for him to hear distant screams. To smell fresh blood being spilled, as if he was standing by an altar where a throat was being opened. The Ophanim breathed into him and the haunting faded, though like a prowling beast it was not gone – merely held at bay.

“You sure?” Archer said, cocking her head to the side.

She winced before she was even finished speaking, and Tariq noted she never looked directly at the crow.

“I always get stuck with the snippy one,” the young woman angrily growled. “Fine, we’ll do it. Away with you, bird.”

The murder made flesh flew above, and Tariq breathed in sharply when he saw its talons had left bloody marks on Archer’s arm. He raised his hand, silently offering healing, but his companion shook her head.

“The Sisters don’t really do nice, but they don’t bleed people without a reason,” she said. “The blood was taken for a reason. Also because I piss them off but Hells at this point it’d a shame to stop.”

She did not lack courage, though the Peregrine found it regrettable she chose not to exercise it on worthier pursuits than recklessly provoking lesser deities born of ritual slaughter.

“And what did the Sisters request?” Tariq asked.

“Masego’s nearing the end of whatever the Dead King using him for,” Archer said. “We can’t afford this slow a pace anymore.”

“We will hurry, then,” Tariq agreed.

Tired as he was, better exhaustion than inaction.

“Ah, you’re not getting my drift,” the young woman said. “Walking the road won’t cut it.”

“Your meaning?” the Grey Pilgrim asked.

“Snuff the light,” the Archer said, “and stay close to me. We follow the crow.”

Iblin had been so proud to be called to stand among the ritual even though he was young and not entirely schooled in the proper ways. Yet he had power to spare, and that had been needed most of all, and so among the circles that supported the Lord Warlock he had stood. But then it had… where was he? There’d been a light, a terrible Light, and a voice had Spoken. This was not Thalassina, Iblin realized, this was not Thalassina and – blinding eyes were staring down, releasing a pressure that had been keeping him constrained, and the relief lived only until his soul began suffering examination. Like an insect pinned and open so that the entrails could be looked upon, the last moments of Iblin’s life were studied by that burning glare. He screamed, for it was an intrusion unlike any he had felt before. The presence had been calm, at the start, patient. But twice it looked upon the same moment, when the voice had uttered a word and the circle had lost control of the gathered power, and tried to look at the Warlock from where Iblin had stood but found the angle too stilted. The examination grew rougher, forceful, until the grip suddenly loosed.

“Useless,” a voice impatiently said. “Leave.”

Oblivion fell over Iblin like a blanket.

Like children wandering into the woods at night they moved in a line, everyone close enough to the one in front of them to see their back even in the gloom – save for the Black Queen herself, who gazed into the darkness with seeing eyes even where there should be nothing to see. Under their boots the translucent liquid souls turned into solid ground, though only as long as they touched and not an instant more. The Saint had claimed the rearguard, for she would not trust the Tyrant to stand at her back – even if he were truly standing instead of letting himself be carried by his ugly creations. She’d kept an eye on him in case he warmed to the notion of striking at the Rogue Sorcerer’s back, whose earlier spoken sympathies had apparently convinced the Black Queen to place behind her. If this was a ploy, Laurence thought, it appeared to be working.

“Catherine,” the Tyrant of Helike said, “I’ve a query, if you would.”

“Do you?” the Black Queen replied. “Imagine that.”

Laurence noted that their pace quickened at that, limp or not.

“We are being guided by one of your crows, are we not?” Kairos Theodosian mused. “I can almost hear the beat of the wings.”

The Saint could not, though she’d felt there was an air of carrion to this abominable place from the start. She’d presumed it to be either the souls of the dead or Foundling’s own powers, though, not the presence of some old monster.

“I don’t have crows,” the Black Queen mildly replied.

She’d not outright denied having a guide, and the Tyrant hacked out a wet laugh.

“And are you not worried, my dear friend, that so wantonly parading pieces of a godhead around the Hidden Horror will have… intriguing outcome?”

“If he wants to catch Sve Noc in the dark,” Foundling said, “I can only wish him good luck.”

“I thought you might say that,” Kairos Theodosian said. “Which is why-”

In a single continuous movement, gathering the power of her Choosing to refine her strength and swiftness, the Saint of Swords unsheathed her blade and thrust it through the back of the Tyrant’s throne at the height where his heart would be. Always tempting to go for the neck, with villains, but while clever Damned often had artefacts meant to protect such a weakness they rarely bothered with more than a single layer of enchanted armour over their chest. The blow went straight through the stone and metal, but it was no flesh that was torn through afterwards. Lips thinning with displeasure, Laurence withdrew her blade and let whatever illusion had been laid over the gargoyle shatter.

“Betrayal,” the Tyrant called out through the mouth of another gargoyle. “Betrayal most foul!”

The Black Queen turned to gaze upon the mess and Saint took a careful step back. If the confrontation began here, then-

“I really wish you hadn’t done that,” Catherine Foundling said.

“He was about to turn on us,” Laurence flatly replied.

“Yes,” she agreed without missing a beat. “But now we turned on him first, and that means-”

Light bloomed in the sky above them, chasing the shadows, and wreathed in a halo the Tyrant appeared – carried by a swarm of chittering gargoyles, seated on what appeared to a measurably gaudier specimen of the throne he’d previously sat on.

“- so viciously scorned, I am left no repose but to meet you all in open and honourable battle,” Kairos Theodosian cheerfully announced.

“Komena,” the Black Queen murmured in that foreign tongue of hers, “sate.”

This time Laurence did feel the devil, or rather her absence – a weight there had been in the air vanished, even as light spread further around the Tyrant of Helike and he revealed what appeared to be a… sword? Saint opened her mouth, but Foundling suddenly extended her staff out in front of her with a glare.

“Do not,” she hissed, “accept that beginning.”

“What say you, blackguards – if you’ll forgive my language – and reprobates?” the Tyrant shouted, openly gleeful. “Will you meet my challenge?”

The Black Queen rolled her shoulder, as if to limber it, and glanced at the rest of them.

“Head for the throne room,” Catherine Foundling said. “I’m the only one who can handle what he’s about to use, which I suppose is rather the point.”

“How will we know the way?” Roland asked.

Foundling pointed at the Tyrant, or rather the light wreathing him.

“You’ll be able to see it soon enough,” she said. “Get moving. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of that.”

Laurence’s lips thinned.

“The sword,” she said. “What is it?”

“In a word?” Catherine Foundling grimaced. “Hierarchy.”

“Well,” Archer said, “that’s not good.”

Tariq gaze upon the light rising in the distance, chasing away the shadows, and knew that once upon a time the stuff of it had been Light. It had been… twisted, after, but the nature of it was not hidden form his eye. The Ophanim murmured in his ear, angry at the perversion but also worried. This was a weapon, and a dire one.

“The Tyrant of Helike has betrayed them,” Tariq grimly said.

“Cat said he’d planned to steal this entire place,” the young woman said. “I guess he’s settled for making a grab at the souls instead.”

“And this does not worry you?” the Pilgrim asked.

“We’re nearly there,” the Archer shrugged. “Although we’re going to lose our guide soon, I suppose. Out in the open in Hierophant’s seat of power she’d be meat on the plate.”

“That Kairos Theodosian could claim such a great bounty of souls,” Tariq clarified.

“Cat’s there,” his companion replied, eyebrow rising.

As if that settled the matter, as if the Black Queen was a talisman of victory. If it had been blind loyalty or even love, the Grey Pilgrim would not have found it half as unsettling. But it was trust, simple and deep. The kind he had never once seen one of Below’s champions so easily extend to another. The Woe defied easy description, in both what had brought them together and what had since bound them.

“Then let us proceed,” the Pilgrim said, tucking away his thoughts.

They moved swiftly, pace racing against the distant blooming of the Tyrant’s light. And the found their mark, moments before the first rays chased away the lesser god that had been their guide and helper both. The Pilgrim and the Archer stood before a flight of tall stairs, roughly hewn and leading to gates of bronze slightly cracked open. Sorcery pulsed like a living thing, hear, a great heartbeat, and the wisps of it were visible in the air. Upwards they hurried and slipped through the opening and into the Hierophant’s last sanctum.

Precision.

It had always been about precision, Hierophant dimly remembered, even before this had begun. It was the fundamental failure of humankind, the inexactitude of what it could perceive in a world that was the most finely tuned construct in existence. And so they all puttered about, sometimes blindly feeling out a segment of the greater whole and daring to call it a theory of magic. And Hierophant had been blind as well, was blind still, but in his restlessness he had found what he craved the most: sometimes, just sometimes, he could see it all. Witness it in full. And so the impossible simply became improbable, and now he must fit all the pieces together. Perfectly, or it would be worse than doing nothing at all. There had been a need for tools, and so tools he had gathered.

The souls of Thalassina, the fuel of his work.

Broken Liesse, the foundry from which he would cast salvation.

The Observatory, eyes for where his eyes could not reach.

The secrets of Trismegistus had been of great use in leashing the souls and keeping them at hand, in shattering what he needed of Arcadia and making of it what was required. Souls alone were not enough, no, they were not. And so he had ruined the realm, and from ruin gained mastery – aspect pulsing, breathing, pulsing. It was… unpleasant. His body ached, and so he had withdrawn from it. There were simply too many distractions and the work could not brook those. It needed to be perfect. But it was not, even through the Observatory. He filled the sky to see, to find the shards and reflections of deepest Arcadia, but it was not enough. Muddled, the shards were, inexact. Papa could not be made anew from that. And then it came to him, the understanding. He had the souls, those who had been there in the last moments of it all. He could see through their eyes, and where their own were imprecise bits of flesh his eyes would not fail. Only there were so many, many souls. And who else could he trust with this? No one.

His mind drifted sometimes, moments were lost, but that was as close as Hierophant would suffer to sleep.

The souls did not get him what he needed. Glimpses, yes, but incomplete. Not even his aspect could bridge so broad a gap. But ah, he was not done. Like jigsaw puzzles, those toys someone he could not recall had loved, he took the glimpses and put them together. Fit them until it could all be seen, and then again. All eyes that could be found, for anything less would mean imperfection. Yet distractions came knocking at his door. Vermin wandering through the ruin, armies and travellers. Named, even, that resisted the storms he redirected towards them. Entities, sometimes, and those he spared thought to catching – there was always a need for fuel, for the foundry was ever hungry – but they were slippery things and skilled at hiding in the shadows. Distractions, distractions he could not afford. The essence he extracted from the Hells had bleed and using old arrays he bound devils with it to put in the way of the vermin. No further thought was given than that, for Liesse was high up and defended. But now, now, there was assault. Things crawling in the dark, Named everywhere and even contamination.

Someone was trying to take souls, to rule them through law and faith, and when Hierophant had tried to swat them out of existence he had found the laws resisted him. They disallowed his interference and sunk further into the sea of souls, poison in the well. One of the entities was trying to contain this – and was this not a familiar presence?

No. We cannot afford distractions.

Hierophant had to hurry, yes. Containment would fail, contamination would spread, and it would all be made inexact. The pieces were together, though there would be more. If he kept looking, it would be perfect. As he needed it to be.

It is already perfect. We must hurry, they are trying to break it.

Vermin, vermin everywhere. Yes, it needed to be now. Before it was soiled. It all fell together, dozens and dozens of glimpses he had painstakingly gathered, and when they were all fitted Hierophant breathed out.

Witness,” he whispered.

It rang out, went out, and then it was caught.

“Yes,” the Dead King whispered fondly into his ear, “now show me what it is that she’s planning. Show me what the Intercessor seeks, Hierophant.”

129 thoughts on “Interlude: Repurpose

    1. Hmmm.

      Kairos is up to something tricksy, as per usual.
      I’m not entirely sure what it is or how it’s supposed to work, though.
      Or how Cat’s going to stop it.

      On the other hand, I’m really not liking that Saint is probably going to get to Masego before Cat can. Or that’s what it looks like, anyways.

      Interesting, the Dead King wants to know what the Wandering Bard is up to. Can’t blame him for wanting to know that, however much he deserves to suffer for the way he’s going about finding out.

      Well, it seems clear we were more or less right about Masego trying save/recover one or both of his parents.

      Liked by 11 people

        1. Rook

          Understanding the Bard’s intent is the furthest thing from nonessential. It’s likely the singularly most important possible thing the Dead King could learn, bar absolutely nothing.

          The only thing that could realistically threaten an airtight powerhouse like Neshamah is exactly the kind of narrative warfare the Bard trumps everyone at, and the fact that her goals are clouded means it’s next to impossible to resist her at all.

          We already saw an example of that, how easily she played Black, tricking him into wielding the knife that killed Captain. The greatest Villain of his generation, likely the most genre-saavy one in hundreds of years, and she stepped on him like an ant simply because he didn’t know what her goal was.

          It’s even more disadvantageous for Neshamah to be in the dark. There is no recovering for him when he takes a loss. There is no successor to take up his mantle. Every moment that he doesn’t understand her win condition is one where he’s in danger.

          Liked by 13 people

          1. Funny thing is her goal is probably just to make him confused about her goal so he has to play it extra safe and therefore reduce his impact on the world until he can be stopped. The Bard’s is who gets sent in when the saint can’t get the job done.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              > Funny thing is her goal is probably just to make him confused about her goal so he has to play it extra safe and therefore reduce his impact on the world until he can be stopped.

              IMO the DK being confused is, at best, a short term or ancillary goal. The Bard’s up to something we just don’t know what.

              > The Bard’s is who gets sent in when the saint can’t get the job done.

              We’ve never seen the WB do anything except manipulate others to change how they act in order to manipulate the story and the resulting outcomes. I’m not sure who you’re suggesting would be sending her in, and what you’d be expecting her to do. She’s not a direct actor, just a manipulator.

              Liked by 2 people

        2. I have to ask – what story have you been reading where Bard’s goals and endgame are nonessential?

          Because such a story is very different from the one that everyone else has been reading.

          To be fair, most people wouldn’t be able to do anything even if they did know and understand what Bard’s goals and endgame are. And most people don’t even realize that there’s anything going on there that is worth paying attention to.
          I’m not even sure Tariq realizes that Bard has her own agenda.

          Liked by 9 people

      1. Actually, Archer and Pilgrim will apparently get to Masego first (via Night), then Saint.

        Love Cat’s response to Saint’s happystab: “Idiot… go away!” –> “I really wish you hadn’t done that… head for the throne room”. Meanwhile Saint is still worrying about the wrong villain….

        Liked by 5 people

    1. Caerulea

      Thank you, WordPress, for choosing to start displaying my previous comment immediately after I posted this one.

      In other news, the chapter, and the extra chapter, were very good. I wonder of Maesago’s aspect will be disabled by the Hierophant. Also, way to screw up, Saint.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Caerulea

          Hierarch, goddamn it. As in, he ‘puts it on trial’ or something, and it is judged guilty, or whatever he does to attack things that really shouldn’t be attacked, and Masego losses it for a bit.

          Liked by 6 people

      1. Rook

        I feel like the Hierarch won’t necessarily be in conflict with masego at all. In terms of intent the Hierophant is currently more concerned with unraveling the mysteries of creation rather than changing the lay of it in the first place.

        If the Hierarch is a jury, the Hierophant is a witness. They may get along surprisingly well.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. shveiran

          I feel like I’m missing something; you and others seem to assume that Hierarch has an agenda, but that confuses me.
          Isn’t it the whole point of his character that he doesn’t have one? Aggressively so?

          He seems less of a jury per se and more of a “revolutionary jury”.
          Dangerous for sure, but without a plan for what it will do tomorrow or even after lunch.

          I don’t see how he can be in conflict with anyone aside from “the Hierarch is a dangerous madman and must be removed” (AKA Monster of the week) or “I’m/My loved ones are currently sharing a geographical location with the Hierarch, ain’t that a bother”.
          Holding the gods accountable is really more Kairos’ plan than the Hierarch. Andraxes doesn’t DO plan. Schemes are the work of Foreign Despots and against the Will of the People.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. Rook

            Hierarch hasn’t been an aloof observer since the end of book 3. He started out that way, yes, but he’s been making his own moves ever since he was provoked by the bard.

            Putting Hanno and the choir of Judgement on trial, in particular, was something that was decided on by his own volition after getting his aspect of Receive, not a Kairos plot he was forced into.

            Book 3 epilogue:
            ““Your own fucking Gods will bleed you like a pig,” the Wandering Bard hissed.

            “Then they, too, will be hanged,” Anaxares noted. “As honorary citizens of the Republic, they are subject to its laws.”

            “You-“

            “Aoede of Nicae, I charge you with treason,” he said, rising to his feet. “Collaboration with foreign oligarchs and agitation in the name of wretched tyrants.”

            He left the alley, the quarter, the city until he found the boy awaiting him. Kairos Theodosian took one look at him and laughed, his red eye burning. …”

            Book 4 epilogue:
            “The visions came to his eyes and ears on the wind, unbidden and unwanted. He could only Receive them.

            most importantly of all, on some barren shore, a knight in white stood with his sword high. A killer who had taken lives, but never at his own behest. Behind him, looking through a coin, something unfathomable loomed. The Seraphim, Anaxares thought. The Choir of Judgement. The angels who had judged and slain people of the League.

            The Hierarch smiled.

            For that, they would be judged in turn.“

            Liked by 2 people

            1. shveiran

              Does it count as an agenda of you don’t act on it?
              I agree he would judge the gods given a chance, but what did he actually do to pursue that goal? It really seems like he is just along for the ride to me.

              Like

  1. AdrianGrey

    Wait, Catherine called the sword “Hierarchy”. What on earth? I mean, it obviously refers to Hierarch, but how? Pilgrim said it was giving off corrupted Light, but Hierarch is an Evil name. And how could the blade have anything to do with Hierarch’s power in the first place? What the hell is going on?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. erebus42

        It can be, though not necessarily. Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good exist for a reason after all. Though in this case, Heirarch’s whole thing is about putting even the Gods on trial, so seizing the means of salvation is kinda on brand for him.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. luminiousblu

            That doesn’t mean that Good has anything to do with law and order, though. The most explicit forms of law and order in terms of government are slavery and empire, and both of those are cleanly on the Evil side of things. The nominally Good regions include Callow, which we know had a pretty ineffective way of rulership, Procer, which barely has a cohesive set of laws based as it is on the HRE, and the Golden Bloom, which may not even have a government as we envision it considering every elf is a world unto himself.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. erebus42

            No it is not but the ideas behind them do apply. There’s nothing inherently Good or Evil about Order and Chaos (though many seem to forget that). Law and Order can be forged into tyranny, while chaos and rebellion can be used to help others.

            Liked by 5 people

      2. luminiousblu

        Good’s got shitall to do with law and order and hierarchy isn’t order taken to its most extreme, order is hierarchy taken to its most extreme. All order implies a hierarchy, by definition the concept of that which is above and that which is below. It’s more basic than Good/Evil.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. werafdsaew

      The League do have priests, and they’re with the Hierarch. So maybe the Light comes from the League priests and is twisted by Hierarch’s faith in the laws?

      Liked by 9 people

    2. Rook

      The current Hierarch is a Neutral Name, not an Evil one. Likely the only currently existing one of its kind. The Bard herself confirmed as much, when she tried to force him to pick a side and was set back when he refused.

      The essence of it in the first place is exactly what the name implies – it controls authority and ranking. Of course it can do something as trivial as wrestling authority of some minor power from Above or Below.

      The place it was spawned from mirrors this as well, in Bellerophon giving Below a vote. That isn’t some honor laid at Belows feet or worship towards them, it’s an attempt at ursurpation of their authority. Placing them at eye level of everyone else instead of the pedestal above them that it normally occupies.

      Tl;dr Hierarchy isn’t Evil or Good. It’s the highest form of blasphemy towards both.

      Liked by 14 people

      1. shveiran

        > Hierarchy isn’t Evil or Good. It’s the highest form of blasphemy towards both.

        I think you meant THIS Hierarch? I don’t think the previous one was from Bellerophon, and it doesn’t sound like she was mad or blasphemous either.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Death Knight

        There’s no such thing as a Neutral Name. There are only degrees of alignment. I believe the Hierarch is A Good Name. Only he takes what Above preaches (abide by the rules or be punished and what not) and applies that to everyone, Gods included.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. >There’s no such thing as a Neutral Name. There are only degrees of alignment.

          Source?

          The first time Neutral Names came up, it was Indrani telling Cat not all Names are clear cut at Marchford. It has come up since that Ranger is not quite a villain, and of course, when Bard came to talk to Hierarch, she came to ask him his alignment.

          Oh, and we have WoG that you can’t get a Heroic Name while worshipping Below, so there’s that.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. The so-called “Neutral Names” are Names that can be powered by both Above and Below – Names that can be both Heroic or Villainous, depending on the current bearer of the Name.
            But any given instance of a Name is always aligned to either Above or Below. Even if the previous holder of that Name was aligned to the other side.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Rook

              In general true, but the Hierarch is an exception. The reason the Bard was talking to him at all when she suffered her loss was because he was refusing to comply to that rule.

              ‘“I abstain,” he said.

              The woman sighed.

              “That’s not how it works,” she told him, as if he were a witless child. “Right now you’re sucking at the teat but you’re not swallowing. There’s always a side picked, Anaxares. Always.”’

              ‘Anaxares studied the woman for a long moment then shook his head.

              “I do not answer to your Gods,” he said. “They drew no lots and hold no appointment.”

              Something like surprise flickered across the woman’s face.

              “You’re Named,” she reminded him.

              “I am citizen of the Republic of Bellerophon,” he replied.

              “You were created with purpose,” the Bard said flatly. “Fulfil it.”

              “This purpose was not voted upon by the People,” Anaxares said. “I do not recognize it. Forcing it upon me is unlawful.”’

              But of a long argument they had there, not going to quote the whole thing. But the subject of the argument is pretty clear, and more importantly the Bard actually *lost*. Anaxares successfully picked no side at all.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. Again, source?

              My impression is that a distinction needs to be made between political and metaphysical alignment. They can’t be in blatant contradiction, but political aligment is more polarized while metaphysical alignment strikes me as much more of a permissive gradient, with an accomodating middle for Names whose bearers can switch sides multiple times a week if they want without their Role losing any skin.

              (And that’s separate from Names that can be instantiated as belonging to either side metaphysically, like how Cat’s Name of Squire was definitely metaphysicall Evil, and did not take it well when she let a hero go. Squire can be anything, but Cat was an Evil Squire; meanwhile Thief could be whatever she liked without her Role giving a shit)

              Liked by 2 people

    3. shveiran

      The current Hierarch is the second person ever to bear the mantle of that Name.
      If I’m not mistaken, the previous one was the founder of the League, and was not Evil.

      It seems Hierarch is a Neutral name, tied more to the land it rules than the axis of Good and Evil. Like Ranger, Hunter, Archer and so on and so forth. They are a minority in The Guideverse, but they do exist.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. shveiran

      Right? I mean, on one hand capitalizying on what he does against her is pretty much the only possible way to realistically score a point against the Intercessor. On the other hand… the opposite may be true, so maybe he shouldn’t be allowed to get that insight? How can a situation be a lose-lose and a win-win at the same time!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. erebus42

    Once more Lawrence screws over both herself and her allies.
    Did Kairos turn Heirarch into a sword?
    What have Masego and the Dead King discovered about the Wandering Bard’s nefarious plans?
    And what sort of fuckery does Cat have up her sleeve?
    Find out next time on A Practical Guide to Evil!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. antoninjohn

      Well at least Masego learnt a whole lot about magic, that’s going to make him a lot more dangerous when he teams up with Cat against that backstabbing”Grand Alliance”

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Seems more like a bodyless soul, if anything. He kinda left his body behind after all and is now just “drifting for a few moments” instead of actually sleeping, like those souls in this chapter seemed to do.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. shveiran

      I must say, I AM SURPRISED this time. I was kind of expecting a betrayal before the conclusion of the arc, but not THIS soon.
      Come on, Kairos! If you do it this often you’ll cheapen the tension!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. edrey

    so the bard’s plan is what the DK seek, really mad, great
    kairos taking the souls should also include that king of callow, that looks like a bigger plan

    Liked by 2 people

  4. IDKWhoitis

    I love how the Woe know that Cat will fix it, it’s really only a matter of how many limbs have to be chopped off and how loud the swearing will get before it’s done.

    To a Hero, this is the same level of faith they place in Above.
    To a Villain, this is what is expected of oneself.
    To the Woe, they pray at the altar of Cat.

    Liked by 9 people

  5. Thea

    I worry for Zeze… so many ways this can go where he doesn’t make it in the end, even if Cat manages to stick it to all sides.

    Does she have some levers to pull? Lives he still owes her? Two prior cases of saving him from himself, making this the blessed third one? I only remember one…

    Liked by 6 people

    1. luminiousblu

      I hope he dies honestly
      If he makes it out of this one it’ll reek of asspull, and Cat is long overdue actually losing something for real. Nauk was a nobody, Nilin barely existed before he croaked, Kilian disappeared almost four books ago, and Black clearly isn’t dead yet and didn’t feature prominently for a good long time anyway.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Because it turns out some bitterness is due when Cat’s entire thing is moaning about how much this journey is costing her. The story isn’t a classical triumphalist tale and I’m sort of sick of Cat pretending everything is so hard when at this point the golden luck of heroes seems to be shining on her too. It’s tough to take her seriously when the fact of the matter is that the heroic privilege is also known as protagonist plot armour, and she’s been using that in spades.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. shveiran

            I can kind of see where you are coming from.

            To me, it doesn’t feel that way because EE is very good at making us see how Cat sees the bodies left in her wake as real losses. Sure, they didn’t have names, but I feel their weight nonetheless because she does so keenly.

            But… I guess I see what you are coming from. A named death would be a symbolic wound.
            I don’t particularly want one, but… I guess it would serve some purpose.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. luminiousblu

              It’s hard for me to think of them as real losses when it’s pretty clear that they were introduced solely to BE said losses. I find Catherine’s moral framework unconvincing, which is worse than just being hypocritical, and I find it tough to sympathise with her on any level, or even cheer for her wholeheartedly these days.

              Sometimes it feels like EE has fallen into the trap of making everyone but the main character a total dumb fuck in order to make the main character look smart. Clearly, after all, we’re not meant to think that Laurence, or Pilgrim, or whoever actually has a point. Even when Catherine herself wavers I find myself unconvinced at how one-sided the actual narrative treats it where Catherine is right, and everyone who opposes her is either sadly mistaken or an aggressively stupid moron who’s generally also presented as morally lacking. The best parts of the story are when EE writes about anyone but Cat, past Second Liesse.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Aaron

                > Clearly, after all, we’re not meant to think that Laurence, or Pilgrim, or whoever actually has a point.

                Whaaaaaat? Every time we get a look in their heads we get hammered with the rightness of their position in the general case and their clear-sighted analysis of the current situation in the specific case.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Rook

                  I found that a very strange statement too, since there’s been massive amounts of debate in the comments section over the Saint/Pilgrim’s justifications for like the last 20 chapters.

                  From what I’ve seen there’s actually a fairly even division most of the time, which is a strong indicator of the writing containing nuanced and multifaceted antagonists, not the opposite.

                  Liked by 6 people

                2. luminiousblu

                  The overall narrative. Everyone obviously thinks that they’re justified, there’s not a single person who doesn’t think that they’re doing the right thing considering their personal situation because if they did they’d stop. Even Akua thought she was justified when we got to see her point of view.

                  That doesn’t mean that the flow of the story supports them, considering Laurence’s stubbornness makes things worse and worse with barely any upside while Tariq, for all his goodness in the flashbacks, is portrayed almost as an old fogey trying to meddle where he doesn’t belong and being too stubborn to see the other side of matters.

                  Liked by 1 person

              2. Thea

                Nauk, John Farrier and the Gallowborne weren’t just introduced as sacrificial pieces. Their stories could’ve gone tons of other places, too. Although I admit that Nauk’s end was drawn out, but that may have been due to changes in the script cutting down on his screen time. We may never know.
                As for Catherine only fighting idiotic assholes and ultimately victims to her greatness… No. Many generic heroes are kinda blind, but that’s a point. Saint and Pilgrim are used to show different angles and there is a proper conflict of ideals going on there. We just mostly see or from Cat’s side and empathize with her punt of view. From another, the restoration of Good Callow and the Grand Alliance might look much better than the insult the former is for Cat… but that’s but this story, is it?

                Liked by 3 people

                1. luminiousblu

                  I wasn’t talking about Nauk, John Farrier, and the Gallowborne, which are actual characters (or in the last case a group of them), mostly talking about Liesse which is literally a case of a million deaths is a statistic. A hundred thousand deaths is, well, okay for starters it’s not even that many people during a war between two large states – Hannibal snuffed out almost as many in one battle, and Bai Qi buried alive anywhere between that number and four times as many. But even if it were a lot it’s hard to give a damn when we’re not really shown any reason to care. What difference does it really make if it were a hundred thousand and a hundred million?

                  As for Nauk and John Farrier, the problem I see with treating them like ‘real’ losses is that Nauk hasn’t been relevant since at LEAST when he got his brains melted and really hasn’t done anything important since maybe, eh, Battle of Marchford? while John Farrier was a nobody and mainly a stand-in for the Gallowborne as a whole, a sort of common Callowan if you will, whose role was fairly rapidly replaced by Abagail. While I see how in-universe Catherine was probably attached to those, I find it difficult to sympathise because at the end of the day they were highly marginal characters who had overstayed their plot relevance (especially Nauk – John Farrier’s death could be symbolic of how little a single unNamed person, even a decent one, actually matters when you’re up against things from the latter half of the monster manual, but Nauk dying “again” can’t be taken seriously because he was clearly there only to either die again or to be miraculously revived, those were the only two plays left for him to make)

                  Saint and Pilgrim have different angles. So, in fact, do William and Akua. Heck you should’ve used Cordelia, who possibly has the most brutally pragmatic line of thought in the series. My point, though, is that Saint and Pilgrim are not actually vindicated by the plot most of the time. Saint thinks she’s right in much the same way Doomguy probably thinks he’s right or Todd Howard imagines himself to be a saint, while Pilgrim, who doesn’t get quite as one-sided of a rap, is still shown to be mostly too stubborn for his own good and somehow a meddler. You could delve into the mind of literally anyone and they’d mostly come off as justified. Masego imagines himself justified right now, because the souls are already dead and he’s helping them pass on anyway in his search for daddy. That’s clearly, however, not what the plot is looking to say.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. shveiran

                    I’m confused.

                    It seems to me you are saying that the characters are diversified and coherent in their own perspective, but you have a problem with the fact that the plot tends to show the protagonist as being right.
                    Is that a good summary?

                    Because if so… I don’t get it.
                    I mean, the protagonist strives to radically change the world. How can the conflict NOT be about people resisting that change? And you too seem to believe that the antagonist are coherent in their resistance, so that’s not the problem.
                    You dislike the fact that… the plot shows the protagonist’s goal is something we can get behind?
                    I’m sorry, I don’t get it. Why would you want the plot to show the main stakes are not significant or desirable? It would be really hard for me to feel for the protagonist if she was shown to be a madwoman.

                    Liked by 2 people

              3. From different POVs, we get looks at various characters’ ideas of why they’re right. The point is to compare the different perspectives, and realize that there really is a fundamental conflict. It’s not simply that one or another is “right”, but their basic goals are in conflict.

                I’d The real hidden bias is on the readers’ side: Most of us belong to an aggressively pluralistic society which supports individual achievement and self-determination. This gives us a clear bias as to what character we favor. 🙂

                Liked by 3 people

                1. luminiousblu

                  Which again isn’t my point. Yes, there is a strong reader bias, which you can see when there’s a Pilgrim chapter and everyone is up in arms over him doing something Catherine does too. Obviously there are different points of view being given, my point is that the overall structure and flow of the story makes it clear who is “right”. After all, Laurence is being portrayed as a hothead who makes things worse for everyone more often than not here. We’re TOLD that she’s sort of emotionally scarred and that she’s helped so many people before but we barely see any of it.

                  Liked by 1 person

              4. Andrew Mitchell

                > the actual narrative treats it where Catherine is right, and everyone who opposes her is either sadly mistaken or an aggressively stupid moron who’s generally also presented as morally lacking.

                It’s almost like you’re reading a different book. I do understand the issue that you’re talking about, having seen it in other books but I don’t think the issues you’re describing apply to PGtE very much, if at all. IMO EE has done a marvelous job building my understanding of, and often sympathy for, many of the characters opposing Cat. I see them act intelligently based on their world view and the information they have.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. luminiousblu

                  Just because you understand the worldview of others doesn’t mean you’re meant to sympathise with them nor does it mean they’re presented as not complete gibbering imbeciles. Based on their worldview is right, but the problem is that 90% of the Named world apparently follows a worldview that borders on objectively wrong.

                  Like

                  1. Andrew Mitchell

                    90% hold worldviews that “borders on objectively wrong”. That’s a pretty strong claim and I can’t see it myself.

                    Could you give me a specific character ( that’s not Saint or Perigrine, they’ve been discussed a lot already) and explain what it is that makes you hold that view for that specific character?

                    I’m genuinely attempting to understand your view.

                    Liked by 1 person

              1. shveiran

                Aside from the fact that the “end yourself” is really uncalled for between people discussing fiction, so please don’t…

                … the point remains that this isn’t any criticism. To me, and I’m guessing werafdsaew by his comment, this is what PGtE is about: an original world trapped in an inescapable conflict by a clever twist on the Good-Evil tropes.
                You seem to feel that the conflict is forced by the author through character stupidity or stubborness, and I am honestly at a loss as to why you’d want to read a book you feel is written that way.

                This is not me saying you can’t post criticism, just me wondering what it is that you enjoy in a story that you portray has having forced conflicts and no real stakes.

                Liked by 1 person

    2. werafdsaew

      To the contrary. The Dead King got getting what he wants, and he also made an agreement to not harm him. So unless the Saint decides to turn on Zeze no-one is even trying to kill him.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Morgenstern

        If I remember correctly, he only agreed he wouldn’t kill him. Doesn’t mean he will relinquish control or that he wouldn’t cut his soul out or that Zeze isn’t *already* dead or … or … or… 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Actually he opened negotiations with “you will receive guarantees as to the Hierophant’s life” which is generic enough it doesn’t really leave room for Overly Specific Wording. The Dead King is interested in upholding the spirit and not just the letter of the deal here, too, because it’s his guarantee that next time he will be bargained with too (instead of just losing to attrition over centuries with people willing to let everything they love burn but not listen to a single word from him)

          Like

  6. The murder made flesh flew above, and Tariq breathed in sharply when he saw its talons had left bloody marks on Archer’s arm.

    >Crow Goddess
    >Murder
    GODSDAMMIT EE

    Wait, Cat is a priestess of murder.
    ahaHAHAGH— khgh… grh … h …

    Liked by 8 people

  7. This really highlights the priorities of immortals. Knowing what your opponent wants is key because if you live forever you always have the luxury of starting over later down the line. Like shooting in the dark, if you have eternity it doesn’t matter how many times you fail you’ll eventually hit the target even if the odds are tiny. This applies to Bard in particular because unlike villains she doesn’t even have a seat of power which makes removing her resources a temporary measure.

    It’s also why Kairos is such a dangerous opponent. Wish allows him to see the innermost desires of the people he sees (among other things) which is essentially half the battle if you’re fighting against a beings like Wandering Bard and Dead King. Really enjoyed this chapter!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Side note: I’m surprised Hierophant can’t beat Hierarch in a straight up metaphysical fight, especially since he has already fought (and learned from) the Beast of Hierarchy. First time I’ve noticed the connection but I’m wandering if this is where Anaxares is going. A being that’s adjacent to Gods, like the demons, rather than working within their framework.

    Side note 2: Bard has now been deeply involved in both instances of the new deities we see. She was elbow deep in Sve Noc, both through the sisters and Cat obtaining her mantle + she was directly responsible for the Hierarch as a Name but also talking to Anaxares. Still not sure if this is part of a grand plan or if she takes the Bob Ross approach of no mistakes; only happy accidents.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ninegardens

      Pretty sure the current Hierarch is totally NOT in her plan (she even stated as such), and it will be interesting to see how that pans out.
      She may have adapted her plan SINCE then.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. ninegardens

    Gotta say, I love the fact that the italics in Zeze’s seciton isn’t HIS thoughts:
    “No. We cannot afford distractions.”
    “It is already perfect. We must hurry, they are trying to break it.”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Aotrs Commander

    Excellent job, Saint, fucking everything up as usual because you are incapable of actual thought, even less so than ACTUAL swords.

    How has she lasted this long being this stupid again?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to see you do better in her place.

      Laurence acted like a smart person with reflexes honed by a lifetime of not letting villains finish their sentences.

      >“Sixty-seven: putting an arrow in a villain during their monologue is a perfectly acceptable method of victory. Heroes believing otherwise do not get to retire.”
      >– Two Hundred Heroic Axioms, unknown author

      This is from a Kairos chapter, too.

      >The boy grinned, red eye burning.

      >“I am the Tyrant of Helike,” he said. “Dead or not, they are in my service.”

      >The villain’s sceptre pulsed gold and made a sound like a gong ringing. Hazy silhouettes formed in ranks in front of him. Soldiers, all of them. Ranks upon ranks filled the room and they unsheathed their swords, strung their bows. Lances were raised and horses whinnied.

      >“Shit,” Hedge cursed to herself. “We got monologued. Never let them finish the monologue, Hedge, that’s how they get you.”

      Laurence acted prudently, she simply lacked information / deep insight into this specific situation and how exactly it differs from average that Catherine had.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. > she simply lacked information / deep insight into this specific situation and how exactly it differs from average

        Well, that’s the thing, almost always has been: Cat and the intrigues around her, are intrinsically outside of Saint’s expertise (and comfort zone).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Rook

        Agreed, the Saint is actually quite sharp (no pun intended) as far as sword arms go. She just happens to be the only muscle stuck in a four way fight between master schemers that are all at the top of their field.

        In many ways she is basically ‘Practical Good’ as far as gritty avenging Heroes go. Doesn’t listen to monologues, willing to fight dirty when needed, kills villains before their plots come to fruition, doesn’t rely on external tools, never underestimates the enemy, never indecisive in a crisis, wary of betrayals from within, etc….

        She’s also narratively saavy to an extent, although right now she’s quite outclassed. Most Heroes wouldn’t be able to easily tell that the Good King’s mini crusade was too clean of a story to last, or read when they Pivot is approaching like she just did.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      Honestly, this one’s on Cat as far as I’m concerned. She could easily have told the Saint:

      “Look, Karios is going to betray us, it’s what he does. And I have a counter ready, but he actually needs to betray us first. If you’ve got an opportunity for a preemptive swing at him, DON’T take it or you’ll put us on the wrong side of the story.”

      Like

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      I thought that was his aim too. But EE really surprised me with the Dead King’s focus on the Bard. I makes perfect sense in retrospect, I wish I was i

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Death Knight

    There’s no such thing. EE confirmed as much.

    I’d say the Hierarch is a Good Name since he champions law and order, something Above is implied to preach in the Book of All Things. The only difference is that the Hierarch believes that not even the Gods Above are exempt from their own laws and will hold them to account. Below as well. The other commentor was correct when they said that Hierarchy is the highest form of blasphemy.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think there’s a direct quote but the story very much frames Names as a choice between Good and Evil. We are told they are given by the gods, i.e. Bestowal. Bard said that in the end you have to chose a side when she was talking with Anaxares. Since Creation is a battleground between the gods and Named are their soldiers there’s no impetus for a neutral party with a possible exception of WB.

        Even people that are closest to being neutral champion the philosophy of their gods. Ranger being a pure expression of individualism (Below) and Hierarch being a pure expression of conformity (to laws of man) and community. Granted, it’s not so clear cut and they do warp the power to be their own but I think they are still technically a villain and a hero.

        Speaking more broadly, it would be supremely unsatisfying if “just be neutral” was a solution to a conflict that spans the literal fabric of existence. Per EE, much more advanced nations (Kingdom Under, Yan Tei) struggled with the problem of coexistence between villains and heroes. If being neutral was a valid solution I think they would’ve employed it.

        Like

        1. shveiran

          This is a valid point, but an alternate explanation would be that only a few Names can actually be neutral. That wouldn’t really have such harsh consequences.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. >but the story very much frames Names as a choice between Good and Evil.

          Political, not metaphysical. The distinction is worth making. You’re not allowed to not pick a side unless you’re personally Ranger. That was Bard’s point to Anaxares.

          “Just be Neutral” is
          1) not something you get to pick: Neutral Names are skill-based ones, or results of weird shit like the League of Free Cities which is a mixed Good/Evil polity. Anyone who gets a Name from any other kind of story is stuck with the metaphysical alignment they get (ie Cat was an Evil Squire regardless of her personal theological opinions);
          2) not something you’re allowed to stick to: Bard came to say hi to Hierarch, and everyone else ends up being drawn into the conflict / aligned with one side or another whether they want to or not. I bet Vivienne didn’t mean to formally change alignment from hero to villain when she accepted Cat’s deal, she just ended up stuck with everyone else applying the label to her;
          3) still possible, if you’re fucking Ranger. Who teaches heroes and villains both, and has been remarked as not being technically a villain despite her past association with the Calamities. Archer was Neutral too, until she was formally associated with the Woe.

          (Which gave her a political label, but did not change the fact her Name is Neutral and her Role doesn’t give a shit which side she’s on and doesn’t have either specifically heroic or specifically villainous tropes built into it)

          Also, I don’t get the impression that the advanced nations struggle with the coexistence of Bestowals from Above and Below. They seem to have figured it out just fine.

          Like

          1. Ranger is (and always was) a Villain. Technically. But very nonstandard. And since she’s both not the Classical Evil type out to do Evil for the sake of Evil, and insanely personally powerful, plus lives in an inhospitable spot in the middle of nowhere … she’s not exactly high on the list of priorities for most Heroes to go after.
            Though IIRC, somewhere Saint thinks about having gotten owned by Ranger but not being considered worth killing.

            Archer(Indrani) was also always a Villain. Technically. But, again, a nonstandard one.

            Ranger and Archer are both Villains because their take on their Names is one about personal freedom and not needing to listen to the rules other people play by. They don’t care about “the greater good”, they care about themselves, even more than they care about their friends.

            That is, their Names are empowered by Below, because they earned Names by their own merits and their personal philosophies/outlooks on life are in line with Below’s stance of “do whatever you want to do, as long as you don’t complain about the consequences”.

            In D&D terms, they’re more or less Chaotic Neutrals.
            But in the Guideverse, Chaos is Below.

            Like

            1. >Ranger is (and always was) a Villain. Technically. But very nonstandard.

              Source?

              Like, I acknowledge that that’s what you think. But I think otherwise.

              >Archer(Indrani) was also always a Villain. Technically. But, again, a nonstandard one.

              Is that so?

              >“They’re in range, for you?” I asked.

              >“Sweetcheeks,” she grinned. “There’s not a damn thing in any world that isn’t.”

              >It was talk like that that had me believing the ochre-skinned woman wasn’t a villain. None of us who’d managed to live this long would so willingly dip down hubris and slip it too much tongue.

              Politically, Indrani is a villain because she stands with Cat. Metaphysically, she’s Neutral enough that the ‘hubris punished’ tropes don’t apply to her.

              >That is, their Names are empowered by Below, because they earned Names by their own merits and their personal philosophies/outlooks on life are in line with Below’s stance of “do whatever you want to do, as long as you don’t complain about the consequences”.

              I don’t accept that as a workable definition of ‘affiliation with Below’, because this category would also include… Thief, Hunter, Hedge Wizard, Rogue Sorcerer…

              >But in the Guideverse, Chaos is Below.

              I disagree. From the point of view of rulers, priests and everyone else who is not another Named, Heroes are very much a force of chaos, with a tendency to break established systems that they don’t like and leave behind ruins for someone else to rebuild from. (That was kind of Cat’s issue with heroes trying to liberate Callow, remember?)

              Law/Chaos are neutral in Guideverse. Good/Evil tend to correspond to Above/Below but aren’t closely tied to because Above and Below are political sides, which inevitably muddles the waters.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Good and Evil isn’t the real conflict between Above and Below. Good and Evil are just labels, and Above has a better PR game because they can actively coordinate between their Named.

                The real conflict of Guideverse is between letting people figure things out on their own, or telling them what to do and how to do it. Chaos and Order, more or less. And, respectively Below and Above.
                Above is called Good and Above because they have an inherent PR advantage in coordinating between one generation and the next and between one Named and the Next, plus they have an organized religion for their cause.
                Below got saddled with being Below and Evil because they are hands off, and only get involved when actively requested to involve themselves and only do so to a relatively limited extent, governed by to what extent the requester earned divine intervention.

                There are no metaphysical Neutrals.
                There are Names that can be empowered by either Above or Below, but each instance of such a Name is always empowered by one or the other, and it can easily change between instances.
                And it’s probably a helluva lot easier for one of the “Neutral Names” to be less traditional in their behavior for being a Hero or Villain, to ride the line more easily, without upsetting their Name. Especially if your Name is about personal abilities/skills.

                Archer is a nontraditional Villain, as is Ranger.
                Archer can get away with flaunting her talent/taunting hubris about her ability with a bow because that’s the essence of her freaking Name. She’s the Archer – it’s what she does. If it has to do with archery, she’s one of the best in the world at it. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop. Being really good at archery contributed to her becoming the Archer, which made her better at archery. Showing off how good she is at archery just further reinforces her Name. Especially since it’s really hard for a Narrative counter to “I’m really good at archery” except in ways that themselves reinforce that she’s good at archery – that is, things that require something other than archery to overcome.
                She’s explicitly not a Hero. Go back to the siege of Marchford – she says that she can’t do much about the demon, that takes a Hero, ie, Hunter.


                Are we seriously having the discussion about the so-called Neutral Names again?
                IIRC, we had it way back in book 2/3. And I’m pretty sure that at some point EE weighed in with confirmation about the nature of the so-called “Neutral Names”.
                Can’t remember exactly where/when, though.
                *We referring to the community in general, not anyone in specific.

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                1. shveiran

                  I kind of agree with your vision of the conflict between the gods, but that is about the players, not the pawns.

                  Above has a vision for the world, and empowers people that shape the world accordingly.
                  Below wants to see what happens if determined people get magical power to enact their own vision.

                  You can argue one is Law and the other Chaos (though honestly, I think it is more complicated than that and those words have too much baggage attached, so I’m not sure it helps having a clear discussion) but even if you do, that is just the gods.

                  A ruler is not about chaos, no matter who powers him or her.
                  A brigand is not about rules or the big picture, no matter who fuels his or her name.

                  ——————————————————————-

                  About Neutral names, I have only started reading comments after catching up with the Guide.
                  I have not seen that comment, and if you can recall where it was I’d be very grateful.
                  I don’t think that point is made very clear in the novel, however. Squire and Hierarch certainly works how you describe, but while we know Hunter was a Hero I really didn’t get that Ranger and Archer were Villains.

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                2. There is nothing like that in the Word of God compilation google doc. Probably never made it there; incidentally, it would be awesome for more than just this discussion if you could find/link the quote you’re talking about 😮

                  What is there, however, is this:

                  >Evil Names thrive on conflict, by their very nature

                  >The Squire Role isn’t always Evil, no. It largely depends on who they’ll be squiring for, though anyone squiring for Black is going to be Evil. Catherine taking the shortcut he offered made that a done deal: since he effectively used his own Name to kickstart hers, there’s going to be bleed over in several ways.

                  >The influence of the gods is usually on the subtle side. You’re right that Evil Roles usually let people do whatever they feel like doing – that’s because they’re, in that sense, championing the philosophy of their gods. Every victory for Evil is a proof that that philosophy is the right path for Creation to take. Nearly all Names on the bad side of the fence have a component that involves forcing their will or perspective on others (the most blatant examples of this being Black and Empress Malicia, who outright have aspects relating to rule in their Names). There’s a reason that Black didn’t so much as bat an eyelid when Catherine admitted to wanting to change how Callow is run. From his point of view, that kind of ambition is entirely natural. Good Roles have strict moral guidelines because those Names are, in fact, being guided: those rules are instructions from above on how to behave to make a better world. Any victory for Good that follows from that is then a proof of concept for the Heavens being correct in their side of the argument

                  >I started writing the Guide in large part because I wanted to deconstruct or avert modern fantasy tropes, and the Principate is a large part of that. It is, undeniably, the largest force for Good on the continent. It’s kept both the Kingdom of the Dead and the Chain of Hunger at bay for centuries when otherwise they would have rampaged through most of Calernia. Living conditions in Procer, even for the peasantry, are better than pretty much everywhere else. Its rulers obey the dictates of the House of Light to the letter, if not always in spirit. None of this changes the fact that they are a feudal empire, with all the nastiness that implies. They still war on each other for petty reasons, see the people they rule mainly as a source of income or manpower and the Principate has tried to invade almost every other nation on Calernia at some point in its history. Heroes die young, villains crash and burn. At the end of the day, most people actually running things are just /people/. Getting a set of rules from the Heavens doesn’t magically make everyone that takes up a crown a decent person.

                  >On a purely technical level, the largest difference between the worship of Good and Evil is that Good is almost always community-oriented (hence the existence of churches like the House of Light) while Evil works on strictly personal relationships between worshipper and deity. There are no priests of Evil, though it can be argued that /everyone/ is a priest of Evil: all prayers can be granted, for the right price.

                  >The Gods Above and Below do roughly correspond to “lower case” good and evil, as far as entities that far removed from mortals can be understood. That neither side of the equation intervenes directly means there’s a lot of room for interpretation in the respective philosophies they preach, but the bare bones are there.

                  (oh, this ^ is the one I went looking for when I dove into the doc; might as well keep going tho)

                  >The way god-sourced powers relate to Creation is an inversion of the broad philosophies of the Gods. Good is centred around community and Evil around individualism, but in their respective Named you’ll more often see villains capable of affecting a great many people and heroes mostly capable of affecting themselves

                  (OOOOH THIS IS THE MOST INTERESTING ONE. I couldn’t find it the last time I went looking; this is largely where I first got the impression that the Lawful/Chaotic aspects of Above and Below balance each other out. Above makes Lawful societies that heroes then liven up / break up / chaos-ize as necessary; Below thrives on baseline chaos where villains are the ones to impose the kind of order they like. Note that this means Names like Ranger, Archer and the like, which are centered around affecting yourself and no-one else, are closer to the heroic end of the scale this-wise)

                  >As for the Heavens/Hells that’s a more complicated issue. Technically the Hells is where the devils are and the Heavens is where the angels are, in a physical sense. Good and Evil cultures believe that their souls go to their respective Gods after they die, unless angels/devils have a claim to them, but no one has ever passed on to the other side and remembered what was there so there’s still a degree of uncertainty. Faith would be a pretty meaningless concept if the afterlife was a physical certainty.

                  (not sure if this is even relevant to this particular discussion but I’m a bit irked by the Triumphant theories popping up every other chapter like clockwork so dredging it up again…)

                  O, here’s an interesting one:

                  >Q: The problem really is this world doesn’t really have an appropriate name for Catherine to transition into. Grey Knight would fit her best of the obvious options but it isn’t a Name as far as we know.
                  >A: There would be no cultural drive anywhere on Calernia to birth a Name like Grey Knight, which effectively ensure it could not come into being.

                  Note how this does not say ‘it’s impossible for a name like Grey Knight to exist because basic metaphysical mechanics’ but only ‘there’s no cultural drive for it on Calernia’.

                  >“I have not specified anything about whether Hierophant is a villainous or heroic Name, no.”

                  (this is a non-answer but still worth dredging up lmao since it implies there is in fact a question)

                  >Proceran Named (that is, both villains and heroes) are rare and tend to have a local focus, heavily tied in to a local legend or story. It can be as basic as protecting a lake or an relic, or something more reactive like commoner Named vs abusive authority. Opposition for a Proceran hero will not necessarily be a villain. Plenty of forces of natures like spirits and monsters still running around, especially in a place as large as the Principate. It wouldn’t be unusual for corruption in the ruling class to be the opposition either. When villains are involved, there’s a bend towards them being sorcerers (magic has a poor reputation in Procer) and they’re usually directly opposed to the hero in some way (want to use the hero-protected lake’s power for their own ends, or have a scheme that would involved something dear to the hero)

                  >All heroes are considered to have a mandate from the Heavens in theory, though in practice heroes who affect the broader continent are very few. The ‘rules’ will be heavily dependent on how they came into their Name, the moment that crystallized who they are. Hanno, for example, would break down if he started going against what he perceives to be justice. William would have been driven suicidal by ceasing to attempt restoring Callow, since it was heavily tied in to his last source of self-worth. It’s not a paladin class feature where you can fall and the powers disappear or turn dark, it’s more that the further a hero strays from their core ideals the weaker and more prone to catastrophic mistakes they become.

                  (This one is important to my understanding bc it differentiates heroes who can do whatever the fuck they think is right from dnd paladins who have to follow a code)

                  >The House of Light didn’t inhibit internal Procer warfare so much as it ‘civilized’ it: the priests are the reason no one burns villages to hurt a rival’s power base. In a sense the House codified Proceran warfare, especially through the introduced concept of ‘just war’ (which means in practice that princes need a pretext before taking a swing at other princes). What makes a war just would take too long to list, but in essence if you’re removing wickedness (fighting someone who did a bad thing) or protecting the innocent (fighting someone who hurt those that are your responsibility) it’s socially acceptable to go to war.

                  >Heroes don’t fight in the civil wars, as a rule. Some might because of personal attachments, but cooperating with temporal powers would carry a perception of them ‘tainting’ their purpose and serving as enforcers for the House of Light would bring brutal backlash. (As a rule, anyway, heroes tend to consider themselves closer to the Gods than priests. Anyone can be a priest, but heroes got their own pat on the back directly from Above.) Fighting between heroes is quite rare, and usually comes up because of cultural differences from where they’re from: an Alamans hero might see sacrificing three hundred people to put down a monster as monstrous and against every rule of chivalry, while a Lycaonese would consider it a regrettable but necessary sacrifice. Those different opinions might lead to blows, but actual deaths in those fights are nearly unheard of.

                  Wow, I’m a bit disoriented from reading through the entire document again, and also tired and my laptop is refusing to let me scroll using the touchpad, but basically…

                  There’s a lot that supports your point – Good is about community which is what laws are for in the first place, while Evil is about individualism which is in fact connected to chaos. But the archetypical way villains and heroes act, respectively, is from the DnD point of view Lawful Evil and Chaotic Good, balancing it out enough that I’m confident in saying Good =/= Lawful and Evil =/= Chaotic in Guideverse.

                  If you can, please do find that discussion and WoG that you’re referring to!

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            2. shveiran

              I’m very much with Liliet on this one.

              If you have evidence to support your claim, by all means bring it forth, but as is I certainly don’t remember quotes along those lines.

              I also don’t see much evidence that Above and Below are much about chaos and law, or even greater good vs personal freedom. A lot of heroes operate outside the system, and villains generally seem to care only for the rules they set themselves.
              We have seen Brigands, Thieves and Pirates on both sides of the Chessboard, as well as Rulers.

              Not to mention, if caring about the greater good was enough to jump the divide between Above and Below, would Cat still be a Villain? She’s been all about the big picture and greater good for all since before book 4.

              Is the Champion really about order? Are the Stygian about chaos? Does Saint look like she cares much about the proper way to do things, rules and borders and whatnot?

              I really don’t think there is a law-chaos axis here, let alone one that runs parallel to the Good-Evil one. Below’s approach may be to fill determined individuals with power and see what they do, whereas the angels impose rules on the world and wish for their champions to uphold them, but that is the GODS. The Named do not operate that way, and we have seen a lot of contrary evidence that suggests such a rule does not really apply.

              Liked by 1 person

          2. I think Bard’s point is exactly what she said: “Right now you’re sucking at the teat but you’re not swallowing. There’s always a side picked, Anaxares. Always.” As in, if you get metaphysical juice you need to chose a side.

            You’re also mistaking political for metaphysical and vice versa. Ranger teaching heroes and villains both isn’t a metaphysical statement of how the world works, it’s a political statement of how the Refuge is run. A metaphysical statement would be thus: Ranger’s power is completely independent of Good and Evil, thus being neutral. This is clearly not the case since she embodies the totally individualistic side of spectrum which falls within the purview of Evil.

            You might not get the impression Kingdom Under (or other large polities) didn’t struggle with these issues but they nonetheless did. Check the word of god document – this is why Kingdom Under. The fact that their solution is coexistence between villains and heroes and not neutrality supports my argument. Even when everything is peaceful and the conditions are perfect for neutrality, they still have to chose a side. Because that’s how the narrative laws work.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Uh.

              The philosophy an individual supports has nothing to do with their metaphysical/political affiliation whatsoever. Like there’s probably a statistical correlation, but when we’re talking collectivist/individualist, not even a strong one. Come on, which side’s philosophy does Amadeus support? Catherine? Remember how the WoG says villains tend to get powers for ruling and heroes tend to get individualistic powers?

              Ranger’s Name per se, her Role and Aspects, could easily be heroic. Come on, a monster slayer? Someone who perfects their skills? That’s literally Laurence. Hunter was a hero, Archer ended up a villain, you think that’s hard baked into their Names?

              My argument is that:

              – the metaphysical alignment of many Names (though not all) is not set and can vary based on instantiation (see: Squire)

              – an instance of a Name has an alignment hard-baked into it trope-wise, one that depends on the story that birthed the Name and has absolutely nothing to do with the Named’s personal opinions/philosophy/anything else. Only the path they’re actually walking

              – there is a spectrum that can roughly be divided into three sections for that “baked-in” alignment. There are Good Names, birthed and empowered by a hero’s conviction – these are the only ones that get Light granted to them. There are Evil Names, birthed and empowered by a villain’s ambition – note that the villain doesn’t have to actually worship Below or agree with any part of their philosophy for that, unlike heroic Names this does not come as part of the requirements. And there are Neutral Names, birthed and empowered by all the other things – a person’s skill and drive to improve it, most often. I speculate (though I’m less sure of it) that Captain and Scribe, for example, are both inherently Neutral Names, and if say Amadeus managed to get himself redeemed onto the Heavens’ side (just imagine for the sake of the argument pls), they both could have followed him without their Roles having so much as a hiccup.

              Good and Evil Names are ones that weaken if your political affiliation to your side weakens, because political affiliation is part of their stories, at least on Calernia. Yan Tei does not seem to have that particular feature.

              Neutral Names do not inherently give a shit about which side you’re on. Thief is an example of a Neutral Name – Vivi ended up losing it because of no longer doing thief-like things or thinking like a thief, the side transition itself was utterly painless. Archer is an example of a Neutral Name as well – had she hit it off with a crew of heroes she’d have joined them just as seamlessly as she did Catherine’s gang. These Names are not metaphysically speaking empowered by either Above or Below, though characters in-universe might think like they are just out of religious inertia.

              (Catherine was surprised to hear Archer was not necessarily speaking a hero)

              All that said, Creation in general doesn’t really brook Named with Neutral Names staying Neutral themselves. Ranger ended up carving herself a niche and hiding in it, but it’s precisely Ranger-sized and Ranger-shaped, and even then she’s often considered to be at least leaning on the side of villainy because of her past association with Calamities. Calernian stories demand that you pick a side, even if your Name is Neutral.

              And coming back around to the topic of Kingdom Under, Yan Tei, etc, even if you remove the conflict element, your Name when instantiated is still going to be one of the three: hero-type, neutral-type or villain-type. You can’t just pick to be Neutral if you got your Name for your ambitions, that pegs you as metaphysically villainous regardless of opinion.

              >You might not get the impression Kingdom Under (or other large polities) didn’t struggle with these issues but they nonetheless did.

              I didn’t say they ‘didn’t’ struggle, I’m saying the struggle isn’t still ongoing bc they figured it out eventually 😛

              >Check the word of god document – this is why Kingdom Under

              O? Can you quote the part you’re referring to specifically?

              >The fact that their solution is coexistence between villains and heroes and not neutrality supports my argument.

              I’m not seeing where that contradicts my interpretation. It accounts for that just as well as yours does.

              > A metaphysical statement would be thus: Ranger’s power is completely independent of Good and Evil, thus being neutral. This is clearly not the case since she embodies the totally individualistic side of spectrum which falls within the purview of Evil.

              Don’t confuse philosophy and metaphysics, seriously. Ranger’s Name is not any more individualistic than Hunter’s, and her story hardly embodies individualism when she literally has a place she’s ruling and a school she’s running.

              >I think Bard’s point is exactly what she said: “Right now you’re sucking at the teat but you’re not swallowing. There’s always a side picked, Anaxares. Always.” As in, if you get metaphysical juice you need to chose a side.

              We operate by different definitions of “need”, maybe? I’m saying that “need” is in this case “because Bard says so”, aka a political point. It’s clearly physically/metaphysically possible for him to not have chosen a side yet, yeah?

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  12. It’s not like we didn’t already know the Dead King is a monster, but this is a very personal level of callous cruelty on display here. He didn’t just tell Masego that he could bring one of his fathers back, he let him get to the point where he could actually see how to do it (or believed he could, which emotionally is the same thing) just to steal that non-replicable moment of possibility from him so he could twist it to his own ends. I doubt Masego will ever fully recover from that; we just saw the Dead King give him *another* scar he’ll carry until the day he dies, because apparently what happened in Thalassina just wasn’t quite enough trauma yet.

    tl;dr – NESHAMAH YOU GODSDAMNED MOTHERFUCKER

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Interesting idea; my read on that was that DK was hijacking Masego’s aspect and pointing it somewhere else entirely, but it’s def not impossible that Bard was in Thalassina and up to shenanigans.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. NerfGlastigUaine

    Well, that’s one hell of a wham line to end on. B/c really, our favorite not-so-harmless bard has been away for too long. And now we see what the Dead King was going for. Plans within plans, always playing the long game.

    Liked by 3 people

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