Interlude: Reckoning

“Fate is not a bridle; it is an arrow in flight. No hand but your own can loose it, yet once loosed there can be no desisting from the path.”
– Dread Empress Maleficent the First

Masego awoke from his dream to a firm hand on his shoulder. The touch was unpleasant, as most touches tended to be, but not so distasteful as to stir him to action when he was so… tired. He’d said something, hadn’t he? Just now. And it’d been important. Yet he could not quite recall, and there were other matters to have his mind aflutter. Masego could feel sights flicker just beyond the reach of his eyes, as if stolen before they ever became his.

“I would have preferred,” a measured voice said, “to use means that preserved your gifts. For that I apologize, Hierophant. You are a rare talent and so this stands a great waste.”

Masego had heard that voice before. Months, years ago. It was not to be trusted. It belonged to an enemy. He tried to extend his will, to claw back the sights that had been taken from him, but it was… difficult. He saw a garden and a pale woman in a dress. He saw a man with a silver coin, spinning and spinning until it dropped. He saw a crowned corpse, a grinning skull – and his will was firmly set aside, like a child whose wrist had been slapped. He struggled against it, but only weakly and ceased when the futility of the act became clear.

“It is necessary, however. If we’d had more time,” the voice said, “it could have been done more cleanly. Yet your mistress forced my hand in this, however kind her intentions. So did that amusing child, though from him I would not presume kindness of any sort.”

Masego had no eyes to blink open blearily, but the glinting lights of Summer’s noon came alight once more. There were arrays around him, in the dozens, that he could not remember making. He wanted to study them more closely but it was difficult to concentrate. He felt exhausted and it was only worsening. Like a barrel draining out. There were other circles of rune he remembered carving himself, the necessities of bringing back his father, but they were skillfully intertwined with the stranger’s work. Someone, he realized, had usurped his work. Wormed runes into his arrays and so repurposed them for a ritual that was almost a manner of scrying, though unlike any he’d ever seen. Still, it was all derivative. There should be something at the heart of it all, empowering and empowered.

Gods, he was so tired.

“Steady now, Hierophant,” the Dead King murmured. “Divination is delicate sorcery at the best of times, and we seek to unmask the greatest liar these lands have ever known. It is too early in our shared journey to falter.”

The hand pulled him up from the slump he’d not known he was falling into, its grip now tight enough it hurt, the sights he was still denied began to flicker even more swiftly.

“We are too late,” the Grey Pilgrim sadly said.

There had been no missing the colossal pulse of power that’d shivered outwards and through them even as they stepped into the sanctum. Tariq had been given pause by what awaited inside, for never before had he seen such works of magic: it was as if every surface of the great pillared hall within had been covered with runes. They had been artfully carved, no mere circles but instead almost a great mural: waves crested and broke, carved into stone, and spun into forests and peaks. The sight of it was oddly beautiful, like a painting made a hundred thousand little brushstrokes, but like rivers returning to the sea all the patterns of runes coursed back to the throne at the centre of the room. On it, a sickly thin man in dark robes was seated, sightlessly looking up at the ceiling through a tattered black eyecloth. The Hierophant, though he looked more than half dead and great strokes of manifest sorcery whirled around him like a storm.

“He’s still breathing,” Archer flatly replied. “Careful what you step on, Pilgrim. Follow my path.”

Tariq felt a swell of grief, for he beheld the young woman’s anticipation of what might yet come and it was like a flinch of the heart. The first time, he well-knew, was always the worst. And no amount of years or seasoning could ever truly prepare you for it.

“He is being used by the Hidden Horror for a ritual, Indrani,” he softly replied. “Even should he survive, there will be little of him left.”

“You don’t know that,” she sharply said.

“I know we cannot let that ritual run its course,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

“If we interrupt it could-” she began.

Like quicksilver, without the slightest hint of warning, the Archer had two bared blades against Tariq’s throat. He’d not even had time to blink. The cool touch of steel against skin would have been relief, after the exertions of the day, if not for the slight bite of the very sharp knives.

“You won’t cleaning up any loose ends under cover of good intention, Pilgrim,” the Archer mildly said.

“I did not intend to,” Tariq said.

She looked at him searchingly.

“Might be that’s true,” she murmured. “Might be it’s not, or just that it won’t matter. The Lady said there’s only one way to deal with your breed, so I’ll speak plain now. Just between you and me.”

She leaned forward.

“You kill him, Peregrine, and I’ll make whatever ten corpses I need to make the Grand Alliance eat itself alive,” Archer said. “You might think Cat will keep me in line, or the war on Keter, or half a hundred different other practical little worries for practical little minds. But look into my soul, Tariq. When I tell you not a single fucking thing will stay my hand, am I lying?”

The Pilgrim looked and beheld the truth of it.

“No,” he quietly said. “You are not.”

The blades left his throat, and a few spins later they were sheathed and put away.

“Glad we have an understanding, Peregrine,” the young woman smiled. “Now let’s find a way to wake him without hurting him.”

“There’s something out there,” Laurence said.

The dark of this abominable place had been chased away by the glow of the Tyrant’s own blasphemy, which brought to mind more than a few passages from the Book about Evil clawing at Evil. Not that the Book of All Things was all that reliable a guide, when it came down to it. Whoever had penned the old thing seemed under the impression that Chosen were naturally prone to holding hands and tearfully joining righteous cause, in contrast to the spirited backbiting of the Damned. Presumably they’d never witnessed two Chosen with different intentions existing in each other’s presence, much less two of Above’s servants coming from different parts of Calernia. Without someone like Tariq to keep the peace or someone bearing a clear mandate to unite behind like the White Knight, you might as well be throwing a whole bag’s worth of angry wet cats in a half a bag. Laurence caught the drift of her thoughts and killed it quick as he could. The mind tended to wander when one tired, and she’d not been this exhausted in a very long time.

“The Hierophant, presumably,” Roland delicately said. “Or our more discreet comrades.”

He was looking at her like she was old, which was fair. She was. He was also looking at her like she was doddering, though, a dowager seeing monsters in shadows, and for that almost slapped him across the face. Her fingers itched with the impulse, though she pushed it down.

“There are other things out there,” the Saint sharply replied. “And they are looking at us. Prepare for trouble, Sorcerer.”

The weight of the attention placed on them did not waver even after she revealed her knowledge of it. It might be that the watchers were not hostile, she acknowledged. It might also be that they were either powerful or ignorant enough to be unmoved at the prospect of two heroes’ wroth. Whatever the truth, they would not learn it by hesitation or idleness. Taking the lead, Laurence quickened her steps as they approached the final stretch separating them from the shadowed silhouette of the throne room. The Saint bared her sword, for anything that would be offended by such a gesture already meant to be a foe. Sharp eyes picked out the watchers, and what Laurence found did not please her. There were dozens, though each stood alone as some sort of sinister of honour guard around the the Hierophant’s prison-sanctum. Only one was seated, halfway up the steps leading to the gates. It was in the shape of a man, though its hair was too unnaturally dark and its lips too unsettlingly red to truly be one. It was like looking at a story made flesh, Laurence thought. Raven-haired and red like blood, something pretending it was made of flesh with a mocking smile and one eye covered by pretty dark silk cloth. On its lap there was a sword, and the thing was sharpening it patiently with a whetstone. One languid stroke at a time, the sound of it a rasp in the strange silence of this place.

Laurence knew a thing or two of swords, and that one had no need for sharpening at all.

“I bid you welcome, Chosen,” the thing said. “You are awaited.”

The Saint spat to the side.

“Been skulking about, have you?” she said. “And turned out about as useful as a wings on a trout.”

“Saint,” Roland softly hissed, having caught up to her. “We greet you in peace, Huntsman.”

The old thing glanced at the boy approvingly.

“Your kind were a mannerly people, once upon a time,” it said. “It is pleasing to know some of those ways remain. In the manner you have greeted me you may leave, to seek your fate beyond me.”

“My thanks,” the Rogue Sorcerer said.

“What’s inside?” Laurence asked, meeting the faerie’s eye.

She glimpsed something like darkness in there, hungry and old, but she bared her teeth and it found no purchase in her soul. The Saint spat to the side again.

“I asked you a question, scavenger,” she said.

“The king of pins,” the faerie laughed. “I see you, cutter. Wounding and wounded, a rag in pale grasp. How much filth can you swallow before the stains no longer wash?”

Laurence snorted.

“I’ve had more ominous from street soothsayers,” she replied. “If you want to earn a copper at least toss around a few fumes and powders.”

Ignoring the creature’s open displeasure she strode forward, making sure her tabard flapped in its face as she passed it. Roland hurried at her side after making apologies to the thing, but he was only a step behind when Laurence passed through the cracked-open bronze gates.

“It’s killing him, isn’t it?” Indrani quietly said.

The old man sucked in a breath, but after a moment shook his head.

“I expect he’ll remain alive,” the Pilgrim said. “Though there will little left of him save a broken mind in ruin of flesh.”

It was difficult to look at him. Masego had thinned, back when he’d first gotten into the Observatory and entranced himself with his own work, but out on campaign afterwards he’d reclaimed back some of the weight. Enough it didn’t look like he was being starved, anyway, though he’d been nothing like the plump man Indrani had first met years ago. Now that was lost, for he was little more than skin on bones with wildly overgrown dreadlocks. He must have eaten on occasion – mage or not he’d be dead by now otherwise – but not often, and he’d likely cheated hunger with spells. His sickly frame would have been bad enough by itself, but there was a river of sorcery coursing through him that was burning his body from the inside. Whatever it was the Dead King was doing, it was not gentle to her… to Masego.

“You need to get me through,” Indrani said. “If I could reach him-”

“We’ve tried, Archer,” the Pilgrim said, pointedly looking at her arm.

It’s just flesh, Indrani angrily thought. The swirls of pure and lingering magic around Hierophant did not immediately breaking through a coating of Light, but it was a near thing. Indrani had tried to speed through anyway, though she’d had to pull back. If she’d stayed any longer she might have lost the entire arm, but as it was all she’d lost was some flesh. You couldn’t even see bone, it was basically a scratch.

“So we try again,” she replied. “Slap some more Light onto me, and I’ll take a running leap.”

“You’ll lose more than a part of your arm,” the old man calmly said.

“Yeah, so I was thinking,” Indrani mused. “Keeping up the protection won’t work, we saw that, but what if the moment it break you just start healing me instead?”

As long as she didn’t lose anything essential, then it didn’t matter in what state she arrived on the other side. Immediately around Zeze was safe, she’d Seen it and the Pilgrim agreed. It was just the outer shell that she needed to get through.

“You may very well die regardless,” the Pilgrim bluntly said. “Neither of us has the means to breach this… defence without risking the Hierophant’s life. I know it runs contrary to your nature, but it would be best if we waited for-”

“We might not have that long,” Indrani interrupted in frustration. “It could be moments or hours, and there’s no way to know.”

Though the strange whistle of spinning sorcery almost covered it, she still heard the footsteps. She already had a longknife in hand when she came to face the fresh arrivals.

“Moments,” the Saint of Swords grunted, striding in sword bared. “So stop whining. What’s this, then?”

Tariq breathed out a sigh of threaded worry and relief. Young Indrani was very much at the end of her rope – there was no need of an aspect to tell him as much, though the confirmation was not without value – and expecting of Laurence sympathy for any in Below’s service was not unlike expecting that very thing of a bared sword, which would be a delicate dance to lead. Laurence, however, possessed means that he did not. Where even the most delicate applications of Light whispered into his ears by the Ophanim had failed, her sword would not. He suspected the Archer would forgive a great many things if they came accompanied by the safeguarding of the Hierophant.

“Laurence,” he greeted.

It was no happenstance his tone was pitched just high enough to cut through the beginning of young Indrani’s no doubt less than diplomatic reply.

“We are in need of your expertise, and perhaps Roland’s,” Tariq said. “It appears the Dead King is using the Hierophant for sinister purposes, and has made reaching him difficult.”

“You want me to cut something,” Laurence bluntly said.

He’d known her long enough to detect the amusement twined to the bluntness, though he doubted anyone else here had.

“In that art you have few rivals,” he said, and immediately realized he’d made a mistake.

Mentioning the Lady of the Lake would only remind the Saint was lending a hand to the most prized pupil of that hated foe.

“Can you cut through that?” Archer asked.

She gestured towards the whirling sorcery. Though he’d been ready to step in and smooth the rough edges before the situation… deteriorated, flicked glances at both told him there was no need to.

“Could your teacher?” Saint casually asked.

What he beheld told him behind the nonchalance was a burn that’d dwelled in her belly for more than forty years, and having closed the wound over it with his own fingers and Light he could not find it in him to reprimand her for it. There were some things that couldn’t be forgiven without losing part of who you were, and the open belly had been the least of the wounds the Ranger had inflicted on Laurence that day.

“I’m not sure,” young Indrani admitted. “It’s just wild magic, so there’s no… principle to it.”

The older woman’s smiled was darkly pleased.

“It’ll flow back,” Saint said. “But I’ll carve you a way through.”

“Good,” young Indrani nodded decisively. “Let’s finish this, then.”

“And you attempt does not succeed?” Tariq calmly asked.

“It will,” Archer growled.

“Watch your mouth, girl,” Laurence harshly said. “It’s a sensible question. If it doesn’t work, best way might be to kill him.”

The Archer had blades in hand before the sentence was over.

“Peace,” Tariq said. “Saint does not mean for him to remain so.”

The ochre-skinned villain looked at him with narrowed eyed.

“Your resurrection trick, it works with villains too?”

The Grey Pilgrim was slightly pained to hear described the act through which he came closest to feeling the will of the Gods Above as ‘your resurrection trick’, yet he smoothed that away. No one would had not done the same could truly understand the nature of the act.

“It does,” Tariq said. “As Laurence well knows. I am not, however, certain it would succeed with the Hierophant.”

It was not only young Indrani that looked him askance at that. Laurence was not deeply schooled in the ways of his gift of forgiveness, for there had never been a need. Even now he would rather keep silence over it, for it touched upon the sacred, yet silence would now cost more than speech.

“His body might be too thoroughly ruined already,” the Peregrine admitted. “I could breathe back life into him only for Hierophant to die again within moments. If the wound were of a different nature I would not hesitate, but if they were inflicted by his own magic…”

Wound inflicted by a foe would be one matter, easily dealt with. A wound inflicted by oneself, even under duress, was a thornier issue. There could be no guarantees, and he was inclined to believe it would fail. The Gods Above observed the order they had created, as did all the boons they bestowed. He could not Forgive a disease borne of one’s own body, old age or the insidious manners of destruction that years of sickness or poison could inflict. Deaths unnatural, those could be forgiven for they went against the meanings of Above. The Hierophant’s malady was not so clear-cut that Tariq could promise a return if the boy was slain. If he could be freed whilst still living, of course, that would be a different story. It was always much easier to stoke the last flame of life back to a blaze than to light it anew from spent ashes.

“It’s his magic killing him, isn’t it?” Roland hesitantly said.

“More or less,” Archer said, brow furrowing as she studied the hero.

It must not be far from her mind, Tariq thought, that at the Battle of the Camps all three of them had stood on the opposite side of the field from her.

“I could take it,” the Rogue Sorcerer admitted. “His sorcery. That would save his life at least.”

In the breath that followed, both Archer and Saint refused and they each eyed the other with displeasure for it.

“I appreciate it, Rogue,” Indrani said, and it was genuine. “But taking his magic might kill him in a whole other way, if you know what I mean.”

“Are you an idiot, boy?” Laurence harshly said. “You want to take sorcery currently in the hands of the Dead King? Are you really that eager to be hollowed out and made into a Revenant?”

A valid concern, Tariq silently acknowledged.

“Roland,” he said . “What you take, can you return?”

“I’ve never tried,” the young man admitted. “I do not confiscate without reason. I suspect not, to be honest, but it is not impossible.”

“Tariq,” Laurence sharply said.

He met her eyes and inclined his head to the side. They had worked together a great many years, the two of them. She should know by now he would not dismiss the concern she’d expressed. After a moment, her face tightened and she looked at the Rogue Sorcerer with considering eyes.

“It’s a risk,” she spoke without looking at him.

“It is the Hidden Horror,” Tariq said. “Can there be anything else?”

Laurence chewed on her lip. He wouldn’t try go through with this, she knew, unless she assented. Could she do it, if the worse came to pass? Oh, if it worked the victory would be more than merely sweet. But if it didn’t, she could be permanently crippling a promising young Chosen. If she’d been fresh, then… No, that was false thinking. It made no difference, whether she was tired or not. The issue was of capacity. And there was not, in the end, a single thing in Creation that Laurence de Montfort could not cut.

“A measured risk,” she said, and it was concession.

Tariq nodded, lowering his wispy head of hear.

“Archer,” he said. “Given choice between the confiscation of his sorcery and death, would you not agree that confiscation is preferable for Hierophant?”

The vicious girl glared, more at the situation than anyone in particular. Laurence could almost sympathize. It’d been a long night for all of them, wicked and righteous both.

“It’s not impossible for him to get the magic back, right?” the Ranger’s pupil said, looking at Roland.

“I don’t know,” the Rogue Sorcerer admitted. “But I would do my utmost to return it, that much I can swear.”

“Fuck,” the Archer said. “All right, worst case if Cat doesn’t get here we can go down that road. Won’t matter, anyway. Saint, carve me a path would you?”

Laurence looked at the child the Ranger had so fondly raised. She saw there the same indolent pride and skill, only without the weight of centuries behind it.

“Say please,” the Saint of Swords said.

“Please,” the villain replied without missing a beat.

Laurence’s fingers clenched. Oddly enough, she felt more cheated by how easily the girl had said than she would have if the Archer had never said it at all. Sword in hand, the Saint tread across the carved floor and came to stand by the edge of the sorcerous whirls. She adjusted her stance, weighing her sword in her hand.

“Archer?” she said.

“Ready,” the girl replied.

Now,” she hissed, and struck.

Her will cut where her sword could not, and it was enough to disperse sorcery. Long enough for the Archer to race across the opening. The girl grinned triumphantly as she slid before the Hierophant, laughing, and then-


– the seemingly-entrance boy lazily raised a hand, sorcery flickered and Archer’s brains splattered the floor.

“Now that I have your attention,” the Dead King spoke through the Hierophant’s mouth. “That was your single resurrection, I believe. Do not attempt to meddle again, lest your losses expand beyond the recoverable.”

Masego was half-asleep, for not even the painful squeeze of the hand on his shoulder could keep him entirely awake anymore. Almost dreaming, he drifted in and out of consciousness. The sights still came, but he could feel they were nearing the end. They were slower now, like they had to reach deeper for less.

“How mundane,” a voice spoke close to him. “How petty. I expected better of you, Intercessor. This is… beneath us.”

“Oh, Nessie,” a woman’s voice fondly said. “You should know by now the house always wins.”

It was a jolt to his consciousness. Masego’s not-eyed fluttered open. Though this surroundings were still hazy, what had been lulling him into slumber had drawn back. There were two people here with him. One stood behind the sorcerer, and had a hand on his shoulder. He was the Dead King, an enemy. And in front of him a woman. Slender, dark-haired, much too pale to be Catherine. He could not make out everything about her, but there was a silver flask in her hand and she was drinking from it.

“You believe I cannot see your little scheme?” the Dead King said. “The thief and the cutter, to lessen me for every year to come. I need not witness your plans to see that. It is an acceptable trade, for I now know the lay of you.”

“That’s getting a bit ahead of yourself, innit?” the woman chuckled.

“I know,” the Dead King said. “And now that I do, I need not lift a  finger. I’ll tell them, Intercessor, and every last one will turn on you.”

“Yeah, see, that’s the part where you’re getting ahead,” the woman drawled. “You knowing. The little shard of you in poor ol’ Zeze knows, but you-you? That’s a different story.”

“You failed,” the Dead King said. “The Tyrant spread into the souls, yes, but the Black Queen contains him. I will still have room enough to pass what I know.”

“Do you?” the Wandering Bard grinned.

Masego saw her perfectly then. He saw, too, the blood and brains on the floor and the woman they belonged to.

“Dead King,” Hierophant roared. “You did this.”

The Wandering Bard raised her flask in a toast.

“Always,” she smiled, “wins.”

337 thoughts on “Interlude: Reckoning

    1. Some Sarcasm Required

      First, you have to catch a live Dane, this may sound easy, but remember they are descended from the Vikings, a people feared across Europe and beyond for good reason.

      Then you need 4 cloves of garlic, 10 whole onions, a quarter cup of salt, a touch of crushed red pepper and a hint of rosemary.

      Remove the head and entrails, hand and feet are optional.

      Tie the Dane to a large pole, place them above a large bed of coals, ensure no flames lick up and burn the skin, as we want it a nice golden brown, not char. Now, while the dane is rotating over the fire, stuff the abdominal cavity with the chopped garlic, onions, and rosemary, rub the salt over the skin.

      Roast until golden brown and the internal temperature has reached no less than 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes.

      Then sit back and enjoy your roasted Danish.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Rumal Zero

      By “danish recipe” do you then mean a recipe from Denmark or a recipe for the baked goods called a “danish” (to everyone but the Danish of course).
      No matter the meaning I have a Danish danish recipe for you right here, translated, though still in metric:

      Makes 12 pcs – takes 60+ minutes

      For the filling
      2 eggs
      3 tblsp sugar
      3 tblsp wheat flour
      2 dl milk
      the seeds of 1 vanillabean

      For the dough
      0.5 l milk
      1 egg
      1 tblsp sugar
      50 g fresh yeast (dunno how much that is in dry yeast)
      1 teasp crushed cardamom
      500 g wheat flour
      400 g cold butter
      (meltet butter for brushing down after baking)

      For the glaze
      50 g powdered sugar
      1 tblsp water

      WHAT TO DO:
      For the filling
      – Whisk all the ingredients together in a depp pan with.
      – Bring the mixture to a boil while continuously whisking at high heat.
      – Reduce the heat to a simmer (medium heat) while continuously whisking. Do this for about 5 minutes.
      – Remove the pot from the heat and transfer the filling to a bowl. Let the filling cool for at least half an hour; stir the creme once a while as it cools.

      For the glaze
      – Mix powdered sugar and water until all lumps dissapear. This glaze settles somewhat quickly, so maybe do this after the dough is done.

      For the dough and danish
      – Mix milk, egg, sugar, yeast and cardamom with two thirds of the flour until it forms a dough.
      – Roll out the dough out to a square with a thickness of half a centimeter using the rest of the flour as necessary.
      – Cut the butter into thin slices and distribute them over two thirds of the dough, leaving a one third strip without butter.
      – Fold the dough over it self twice by folding the butterless third over the rest of the dough and then folding the dough again over the last third. This should make three layers of dough
      – Roll out the dough to a square once more and fold the dough again like before. Do this rolling and falttening twice. This should leave you woth 3x3x3=27 layers of jummy butterdough for extra fluf.
      – Roll out the dough to a 40 x 50 cm square and cut the dough into 12 equal squares (10 x 10 cm).
      – Fold the four corners of each square partways to the middle (nearly forming a new square) and place some of the now cooled cream (about a tblsp) in the middle
      – put the 12 raw danish’ on a sheet pan and let them rise for about half an hour in a warm place (slightly above room temperature preferably).
      – Brush the dough with melted butter and bake them in an oven at 250 degrees celcious for 10-12 minutes or undtil light golden brown.
      – Let them cool on a baking grate.
      – Top with glaze and serve.

      Tip for preserving!
      – The danish danish can be frozen down for later before rising. Let them thaw for 2-3 hours before cooking.

      (A danish milk company – a danish is, roughly translated, called a “bread from Wienna” in danish.)

      Liked by 3 people

  1. Killing Archer in front of Masego? Bad call.

    I wonder how much of this Masego will remember.
    And how badly Masego is going to be hurt by this.

    And, since Archer is (currently) dead, Laurence might try to kill Masego here and now before Cat can get here.

    Liked by 17 people

    1. Caerulea

      I do not think that the Saint is that suicidal, nor cruel. She is suspicious, violent, and rude, but without Tariq’s advice or Masago acting against her, I think she would wait to see how things unfolded. Furthermore, she knows that if she killed Masago and Archer and then Catherine came to them, Catherine would kill her, and also get angry at Tariq. Overall, a very poor decision.

      Also, you can not beat the Wandering Bard, apparently. She is to godsdamned good.

      Liked by 15 people

      1. Seriously, killing Masego now would probably have EVERYONE turn on her. Even without her knowing about the specifics of the pact Cat made with Tariq, like, COME ON. She’d be on the wrong side of the story, too. Laurence has opinions on who deserves to die, but she doesn’t act on them when the time is this obviously wrong, come on.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Qwormuli

          Not to fully rain on your parade(only a light drizzle, as I agree with you on large part), but our uncomfortably -and metaphysically- sharp old bat did decide to try her hand at skewering the Tyrant at the worst probable moment, fucking herself over at least in part.

          In short, if you’re a sword, everything starts looking like a neck or however it went. She’s not the very best judge of when to *not* stab.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. shveiran

            Agreed. Plus, it’s not really about being cruel or stupid, in my opinion.

            If Saints considers masego to be a dangerous threat (which, to be fair, is not that much of a stretch even without her black and white morality) she might deem wiser to remove him and deal with the consequences.
            It’t true that she has shown to trust Tariq a lot and usually defers to him, but I don’t think that’s a Cat-Hakram level of deference. There may be a point where she becomes convinced Tariq is wrong, and acts accordingly.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. It’s also worth nearing in mind that Archer was nominally the best chance of snapping Masego out of the Dead King’s control

              Archer just got killed, apparently by the Heirophant. Or the Dead King in him.
              Thus, the attempt to break the Heirophant free from the Dead King failed. And so it’s stabbing time.

              Or so Laurence could conclude. And, from her perspective, it’s not a stretch to get there, it is, in fact, quite reasonable.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                IMO there’s no way Laurence doesn’t know that the Dead King killed Archer and that Masego is angry at the Dead King. Laurence is in the same room when we see what’s happening with Masego:

                > He saw, too, the blood and brains on the floor and the woman they belonged to.

                >“Dead King,” Hierophant roared. “You did this.”

                Liked by 1 person

          2. > at the worst probable moment


            “Don’t let the villain finish monologuing” is a lesson that Kairos already taught the Free Cities gang, and it’s a well known one.

            What Laurence failed to account for was Kairos accounting for what she would do accounting for his actions, which is a mastermind meta level higher than “do not stab ally, do stab traitor”. Remember when during the surrender offer moment Tariq commented that heroes were not obligated to be idiots and pre-emptively striking against someone who would definitely betray them did not count as betrayal? Followed by lamenting that he wishes the situation was that simple and he’s fairly sure Catherine does mean to abide by the surrender?

            Normally, what Laurence did would be perfectly okay. Catherine predicted it would not be because of the understanding she has of Hierarch and his warped logic and how Kairos could weaponize that. Laurence not sharing that understanding makes her, as someone graciously put it, “the only muscle in a group of masterminds”, not an idiot.

            Liked by 4 people

    2. RoflCat

      I don’t know, would she?

      While he was acting on the side of Callow, Cath has always managed to keep his restrained enough that he never really fall into the more Evil practices.

      Hell, right now he’s getting the “You hurt my waifu” power up against the Dead King, the Saint has no reason to cut him down and HELP Dead King for it.

      Liked by 10 people

      1. shveiran

        I’m not disagreeing necessarily, but do Saint and company KNOW that Masego is about to duke it out with the DK? I was under the impression that part was within Zeze’s brainspace.

        Liked by 3 people

    3. Rook

      I think the Saint will do just the opposite – she won’t harm a single dreadlock on his pretty blasphemous head. Masego just pinned the blame for this on the Dead King *out loud*, in front of everyone. She knows none of them are his target right now.

      If she takes a swing right now, the price of it would be to break Tariq’s Bargain, lose the Sorcerer’s trust, and all she’d get as a result is to turn the sights of a wounded and cornered Villain onto herself instead of the dead king.

      She could do absolutely nothing at all and from her point of view, it would be letting two hideous monsters claw each other’s eyes out while biding her strength. She might even help Cut the Dead King’s piece of soul off from its path of retreat – literally – to lock those two hissing cats in the same cage.

      Helping Masego attack the dead king right now would gain her a narrative advantage in keeping her word (that specific one being something both she and Tariq sorely need at the moment), weaken two ‘Enemies’, and save her own strength at the same time. Three birds with one stone, and the Bard likely wouldn’t interfere either considering that it’d help her stop Neshamah’s main body/soul from learning what her plot really is.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t think Saint actually knows about Tariq’s bargain with Cat. There’s certainly no textual evidence to that effect.
        And for that matter, even if Saint did know, she’d most likely consider it a mistake.
        The only witnesses to Saint killing Masego right now (as far as she knows) would be her fellow Heroes and the Dead King. As such, Saint can claim that it was necessary, or at least try to. But she would probably figure that her fellow Heroes wouldn’t contradict her story to a Villain, and the Dead King is another Villain, and her story would likely be something along the lines of “the Dead King used Heirophant to attack us and killed Archer, so I had to kill him” … which is probably going to be hard for the Dead King to refute.

        Saint is a blunt instrument.

        Also, if she kills Masego, Cat would be forced to pick and choose which of her friends gets resurrected by Tariq – assuming that Tariq will resurrect one of them in the first place, which Laurence probably figures (a) isn’t a sure thing, and (b) she probably has a decent shot at trying to argue him out of it if he seems inclined to do so.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Rook

          The terms of the original truce made to form the band of five was already meant to last until the Dead King was dealt with. She’s already commented on the PoV

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Rook

            Whoops, didn’t mean to hit post that early.

            *she already mentioned in her PoV chapters of her intention to keep to those original terms of Tariq’s sake, since she was essentially sure she’d be proven right in the end anyway, whether it was during this venture of later down the road.

            And at the end of the day, every time she and Tariq have butted heads against each other she’s always backed down and followed his lead. She’s only stubborn as a mule when it comes to listening to Villains, when it comes to Tariq she usually shows restraint or lowers her pride even through blinding red fury.

            I don’t see her keeping faith here because she’s concerned about being fair or honest, I see her wanting to cut Masego’s head off with all her heart but staying her hand because the wiser Hero told her not to.

            Liked by 3 people

    4. Gibborim

      I think Masego will be more powerful than ever after this. I would expect a third aspect along the lines of Vivisect or Consume that will destroy the shard of the Dead King.

      Liked by 3 people

        1. magey

          Like, perhaps, the miracle the Pilgrim will shortly be using to resurrect Archer, that he’s going to have a front row seat to witness?

          Seems especially weighty right on the heels of his prolonged (and failed) effort to resurrect his father.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. caoimhinh

          Masego’s Name isn’t about making or crafting miracles, it’s about understanding them (and from the magic practitioner’s point of view to understand something is to achieve control of it).
          Remember that the titles that accompany Masego ever since he became Hierophant are “Usher of Mysteries and Vivisector of Miracles”, plus the definition of Hierophant is “a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. An interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles.”

          Masego will definitely emerge more powerful than ever from this experience, after all the great things he has witnessed.

          Liked by 3 people

    5. Decius

      Horrible call. Cat wouldn’t swear revenge on anybody but the Dead King if *Archer* isn’t rezzed, so Rogue takes Magic, Saint kills Rogue, Saint cuts out DK’s influence, Pilgrim brings Rogue back is still a complete victory for Saint.

      For that matter, even when Masego gets angry and takes the Dead King’s power and uses it to find/make/remake his father without further casualties, Pilgrim might not be inclined to res Archer. Pilgrim could credibly claim that it’s not possible because angels are fickle, and the only reason not to is because Archer is needed on the front lines… a reason which goes away if Heirophant wakes up and takes over Dead King.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Insanenoodlyguy

      He’s riding a “You killed the one I love” righteous fury. It might kill or unmake him to ride it out, but during it? He’s A. Pretty much goddamn unstoppable and B. directing that at the greatest enemy Good has ever known.

      If she stepped in now, she’d be killed as an afterthought, or at least dismissively swatted aside. It’s not a story you can insert yourself in except as an easily dismissed obstacle.

      Liked by 7 people

        1. caoimhinh

          I believe they will notice once Masego starts roaring and the magic flow around him starts to change. Pilgrim might also be able to discern what’s happening thanks to his Behold Aspect and the Angel’s Radio that whispers things for him.

          Liked by 3 people

      1. shveiran

        Why do you feel this way?

        To me, it feels like an antagonist that was foreshadowed a lot more than the DK as the big bad, and if she actually enforces stories and through them the status quo, it is precisely the opponent Cat needs to defeat to get the world she wants.

        Seems legit.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Ultimate_procrastinator

        Not necessarily the villain, but at the very least her nature is contradictory enough to the beliefs of most Calernians that they would hate and fear her… which considering that she’s essentially an immortal body-jacker who plays both sides of the whole Above-Below conflict, is not exactly unreasonable.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. Thief of Words

        Are you kidding me? The game being rigged being the ultimate conflict of the story has been evident since Black”s first introduction. This has ALWAYS been a story about stories and the fallability of having only a modest grasp of the elements of them when they rule our lives.

        Liked by 5 people

      4. WuseMajor

        …Bard has been the big bad ever since we discovered she was more than a drunk taven singer. She’s the force that keeps the crabs fighting each other instead of climbing out of the bucket. She’s the crooked dealer at the casino who makes sure no-one else wins. She is why this continent keeps eating itself alive and any attempt to change that is contrary to her wishes.

        If Cat wants Callow to ever be more than the terrain battles are fought on top of, she has to end the Bard.

        Liked by 7 people

      5. Isaac Martinez

        Not only that. The only people to call Zeze as Zeze are the Woe. And in this chapter Masego describes her as “too pale to be Catherine” and that she “carries a silver flask”. So, we maybe have in our hands a time traveler.

        Liked by 1 person

    7. stevenneiman

      Yep. Bad call. I expect that Neshamah is going to lose more than just the shard of power and the knowledge here. Especially since I think Masego has a much better chance than Laurence of being able to actually hurt or kill him. Laurence might be able to cut anything, but if she tried she would be going against the most powerful and carefully-crafted stories in Creation (or close enough) without even knowing they’re there. Masego, though, is a lot less vulnerable to the Dead King’s stories.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. caoimhinh

        He is going to dissect it, observe it, devour it and then ruin it into such little pieces that atoms will seem like planets.
        A little taste of Deicide for Masego.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. This splinter of the Dead King is hand in hand with one of the greatest living sorcerers of an age, whose soul bears the aspect of Ruin. I expect it is about to have a very bad day.

        Also, really Dead King? An “all according to my designs” moment? Against the incarnation of the narrative? Tut-tut, poor form.

        Liked by 13 people

        1. erebus42

          “Nothing is half as dangerous to a villain as victory. We raise our own gallows.” -Dread Empress Maleficent I

          He’s grown too used to winning (or at least not losing) and is getting sloppy.

          Liked by 9 people

          1. Well, for a given value of “sloppy” anyway. Playing against the Intercessor has been credibly established earlier in the story as pretty much the most dangerous game Calernia has to offer; Black spent decades slaughtering heroes one after another in large part through his superior grasp of the narrative, and then as soon as he went head-to-head with Bard she didn’t just win she practically made sport of him while orchestrating the death of one of his closest friends with his own unwitting complicity. Bard isn’t invincible, as far as we can tell Kairos put one over on her with the Hierarch in the same sequence, but there’s no more dangerous opponent in these kind of games.

            tl;dr – yes he made a mistake, but he made it against an opponent who has been alive longer than him and who has spent that entire time speccing into forcing narrative errors. Also, Liliet’s point is good about how he has at most an academic grasp of what human emotions are like at this point and that’s a real weakness when you need to predict what mortals will do.

            Liked by 5 people

          2. Cicero

            I think it’s more that the Dead King always plays conservatively, to lessen and mitigate his losses.

            But that means predictability, and when that happens, sometimes an unpredictable opponent can flip that around and inflict significantly larger harm on the cautious player.

            “Fortune favors the bold” as they say.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Yup.

              Dead King has his strong points. In this particular story, these strong points are reflected in the part he’s probably not going to suffer greater losses than this entire scheme and the (relatively small amount of) power he invested in it.

              Liked by 1 person

      1. …for someone who still remembers what emotions feel like and doesn’t think them a silly weakness.

        His “wait why are you taking this personally” moment against Cat was in retrospect very much foreshadowing of this 😀

        Liked by 16 people

          1. caoimhinh

            He did that in his very first conversation with Cat back when they were in Keter, warning her that no matter how many fights they had or how much they hurt each other, none of that would be personal as it is merely part of the game that immortals play on the world.

            But I believe Liliet is referring to the most recent one, in Chapter 45: Long Princes, here’s the extract:

            { “You have,” I murmured, “taken my friend and now bargain with his life while scheming the death of others dear to me. You arranged the destruction of my armies, of near everyone I’ve ever cared for. But for my intervention, you would have buried Iserre in death and borrowed Hierophant’s hand for the deed.”

            “You clutch the remains of what you once were, Black Queen,” the Hidden Horror said. “It does no favours to what you have since become.”

            “It was never really personal to me, before,” I told him. “You were a foe, but in some ways an ally as well. In principle I thought it tragedy that others died to your invasions, but no one weeps for faces they never knew nor loved.”

            “A taste,” the Dead King said, “of what is to come. They will be strangers, Catherine Foundling. One day, and sooner than you believe, they will all be strangers.”

            “And if that day comes, I may yet become the horror you foretold,” I admitted. “But today, Dead King?”

            I limped forward, into his space, with cold eyes.

            “Today you are the thing that took my friend,” I hissed. “The thing that would have slaughtered the Woe and the Army of Callow without batting an eye. I ‘overestimate the strength of my position’, Merciless Gods.”

            I struck at the nothingness we stood on with my staff, the sound ringing like a thunderclap.

            “You think after this I’m not willing to try falling off the cliff together, Neshamah?” I said, tone sharp. “To gamble on which of us will find our wings on the way down? Look at my back, King of Death, and see what is writ there – when given the choice between risking ruin and kneeling, I’ve only ever replied one way.”

            A moment passed.

            “Has your tirade ended?” the Dead King calmly asked. “No purpose was served by it, save the thinning of my patience.” }

            Also it’s worth noticing that when Neshamah tells Catherine that Amadeus is also his hostage, promising not to hurt Amadeus as part of the bargain for letting him go, the Dead King merely states Amadeus’ value as a political tool that can bring stability to the region once Malicia dies; hilariously neglecting the fact that Amadeus is the closest thing to a father for Catherine, which the Dead King should at least be able to infer or make a good guess, as he has been reading Masego’s mind, but he didn’t.

            It’s likely that he has become so detached that feelings of affection are strange and foreign for him now, though he has been shown to be able to appreciate and respect exceptional individuals or those he considers worthy (Intercessor, Triumphant, Ranger, the bloodline of Papenheim, Catherine,etc).

            Liked by 5 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          You’re right. That makes so much sense! He’s ready to deal with peers who are becoming like him, and he’s ready to deal with classical evil that’s close enough (triumphant) but he’s either never had to deal with sufficent power to hurt him in a mortal who feels, or he’s simply forgotten.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I suspect there’s a dash of motivated forgetting there in the mixture: this does not fit with my pre-existing ideas about how reality is, so I’m going to ignore it and pretend it never happened :3

            Neshamah is smart, but that doesn’t make him unbiased.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. shveiran

        I’m perfectly in agreement, though that really applies only to being blindsided by the power of love.

        Gloating, not so much. But I’m willing to assume it was the Bard being awesome rather than the DK being an idiot.

        Liked by 4 people

      3. WuseMajor

        Hmmm…. I’m not entirely sure how avoidable it was. If he hadn’t shot her, they’d have had Archer there to try to snap Masego out of it, before he was done. And, because they’re heroes, they’d have cut apart this chunk of him shortly afterward.

        I think the most sensible thing he could have done was to leave things mostly finished and get away once the heroes started their assult. However, it’s possible that might have harmed him in some way too. So, I think the Dead King might have been maneuvered into a no-win scenario here.

        …Granted, the other options are probably less painful ends than this one, but they were likely ends just the same.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. That’s the class of solution you need to already have in mind as a potentially useful tool. This is what “thinking outside of the box” means: being able to easily find in decision space solutions that aren’t the standard set. Amadeus would easily come up with the options you’ve offered, because doing as little damage as he can is part of his MO; Neshamah’s MO is doing as MUCH damage as he can so that his opponents will take ‘not being wholesale slaughtered’ as the best victory they can get, so this is far, far outside of his box.

            And as Cat has pointed out, his box has served him faithfully for so many years, he doesn’t really consider things outside of it anymore.

            Liked by 2 people

        1. Agreed re: no-win scenario here, yeah. That’s the power of a True Love story: it’s specifically the one that says “however it goes in the middle, at the end, TRUE LOVE ALWAYS WINS”. Like it reaches right through and defines the ending.

          Between Bard, Catherine and Indrani’s crush, Neshamah found himself cornered quite neatly 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Hm. I feel like the ending would have been stronger if Masego hadn’t yelled at the Dead King. Not a big deal though.

    What was a big deal, however, was Archer dying suddenly. Did not see that coming.

    Liked by 7 people

      1. When you have a really neat hammer, the story is immensely likely to grow nails in unexpected places, I suspect.

        They weren’t getting through this WITHOUT using up the resurrection.

        And of course it would be Indrani waking up Masego in a somewhat rougher way than ideally intended 😀

        Liked by 7 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          > And of course it would be Indrani waking up Masego in a somewhat rougher way than ideally intended 😀

          That’s a good way to think about it.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Jason Ipswitch

            Well…. Catherine obviously had some plan for getting Masego to turn against the Dead King. Instead of the Alliance that killed his fathers. And this is about the only thing that would accomplish that.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I mean, Masego is Praesi culturally, and culturally speaking Praesi always victim blame. His own side is at fault for losing, not the other side for blooding them. Especially when the fleet that immediately did that is also dead. Masego doesn’t give a shit about politics and he doesn’t really do the ‘who’s the aggressor here’ counting that Catherine does naturally.

              Revenge against the Grand Alliance would hardly interest him even if someone offered imho.

              Liked by 6 people

              1. Yeah, Masego is very much Warlock’s child in this respect. He has absolutely no emotional attachment (either positive or negative) to abstract political entities. E.g., he only cares about Callow because Cat cares about Callow, and for that matter similarly for Praes but more bc of Uncle Black.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Yep.

                  His attitude towards the war was “if I kill some crusaders Cat will like that right?”

                  He just doesn’t give enough of a shit about the Grand Alliance to consider it a target for revenge.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. Not exactly.
                    Masego didn’t care about the Grand Alliance or the related political situation.

                    That was before the Grand Alliance/its Crusade killed his parents. He might very well care enough now to want revenge about that
                    I mean … he just up and boiled the blood out of two people who insulted Cat and the rest of the Woe in front of him. Admittedly they were also irritating him at the time, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to have a more significant reaction to the people he assigns the blame for the deaths of his parents.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Masego is a person who generally does not run on Protagonist-Centered Morality and considers actions against his side to be just as fair as symmetrical actions BY his side. (We know that from his early ethics debate with Cat about Lone Swordsman’s actions)

                      If he considers it perfectly acceptable for himself to kill enemy practitioners (or anyone who annoyed him), he also will consider it perfectly acceptable for enemy practitioners to aim to kill him. Or his father. Especially given that those who killed his father are already dead.

                      The logic of ‘revenge on the side that organized the attack’ is convoluted enough for Masego to not even think in that direction. There are like five separate steps involved all of which he won’t take. He is prone to Praesi victim blaming logic, does not consider deaths in war to be unfair, the situation has ended with his father killing those who killed him right back, and does not consider the Grand Alliance to be an entity of interest any more than the sea the fleet was on. Oh, and also cares about his friends/family above any abstract considerations, which right now means Cat and the Woe and Amadeus with them. Oh, and also was starting to come around on Cat’s point of view on ‘how the world should be’ and thinking that he wants Cat to win because he likes the world better when it works that way.

                      Just… the weight there is like 1:10000

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. … You know you just contradicted yourself, right?

                      I agree completely that Masego doesn’t care about the Crusade having attacked Thalassina or that Thalassina was utterly destroyed as a result/side effect of that attack.

                      And, sure, he doesn’t really object on moral grounds to Heroes and Crusaders trying to kill Villains. It’s just annoying that they take time away from his research.

                      On the other hand … he genuinely deeply cared about and for his parents. Just look at his efforts to bring one of them (presumably Tikoloshe) back.

                      It is entirely plausible that the emotional reaction to the loss of his parents overrides the tendencies indicated by his prior demonstrations of relative indifference to being attacked and lack of caring about it/the attackers once the incident is over (aka, the attackers are driven off and/or dead with nothing he cares about having been a casualty).
                      See his intensely personal reaction to Indrani going down.

                      Frankly, it’s more believable that he has, or more likely will have, an intense reaction of anger oriented towards those he blames for the deaths of his parents, than him not doing something unpleasant to those he blames.
                      He might very well not have gotten to that stage of his reaction yet, having been sidetracked and stuck on the idea/process of trying to bring at least one of them back. But once he’s no longer fixated on trying to bring them back … he’s not going to be able to deny that they’re really truly gone.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    3. It’s not about… augh! Of course he cares about his parents!

                      But like… if your loved one trips on a rock, falls down some stairs and breaks their neck, are you going to SWEAR REVENGE ON ROCKS? Or do you not care about rocks enough for that?

                      Sure, Masego is going to look for targets to blame. They are going to be, in approximate order:
                      – himself, for failing to protect them better;
                      – Malicia, for sending them to fight her wars;
                      – the Gods, for being immediately the ones whose powers/intervention killed Wekesa and Tikoloshe (both Above and Below);
                      – if we start reaching, Uncle Amadeus for not being there…

                      As far as he’s concerned, the Grand Alliance is a non-entity. A landscape feature. You don’t swear revenge on landscape features, you swear revenge on the person who pushed you to tumble down the slope.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    4. The Grand Alliance is not a rock or other inanimate object.

                      Masego straight up did not care about the Grand Alliance back when all it had accomplished was to get its ass kicked out of Callow after conquering a few herds of sheep, and get “invaded” by Amadeus and a couple Legions.
                      In other words, the Grand Alliance had done nothing that did more than temporarily inconvenience Masego by taking him away from his mage tower/lab research.

                      It is quite likely that he is no longer purely indifferent to the Grand Alliance now that it has actually taken people he cares about from him in a moor it less permanent manner(once he’d no longer fixated on bringing at least one of them back, anyways).
                      It isn’t like Masego particularly cared about the Dead King on a personal level (just an academic one) before Indrani went down. Now Masego wants to render the Dead King into chunky salsa. Or something.
                      Sure, Masego cared about his parents and Indrani differently, but you don’t get it both ways.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    5. Masego cared about Dead King in the sense that he acknowledged Dead King as an entity he was very much interested in and in a sense rivals with. Not, like, to the degree of pattern of three rivals, but at the very least Neshamah is a fellow practitioner, and the originator of the Trismegistan theory of magic if you remember to boot.

                      Grand Alliance is a fellow nothing as far as Masego is concerned. I’m not sure he remembers that that’s what it’s called and who the members are.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    6. Oh, if the Ashuran fleet had actually survived the attack, I would very much bet on Masego going all Roaring Rampage of Revenge on them before anything else. But they’re dead, and that line of thinking does not go further. Maybe you angrily kick the rock your loved one tripped on, but you don’t track down all rocks of this specific kind to grind them into dust. They’re rocks. You don’t actually care.

                      Liked by 3 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              I’m not sure if she knew that the Dead King could/would control Masego to kill her but she certainly knew she might die. And her time in the everdark taught her what that (almost) feels like. And still she went.

              Such is the power of love. ❤ ❤ ❤

              Liked by 8 people

              1. Yep.

                “Oh it didn’t even cut off my entire arm let’s try again”

                “Yeah maybe you can’t shield me but consider: what if I keep getting mutilated and you keep healing me would that work”

                This is the Archer that she was always going to be, the Archer that Hye’s weak ass teachings held her back from becoming.

                Her answer to the question ‘what do you want to be?’

                Liked by 7 people

            2. Matthew

              I say yes. I think her plan to snap Masego out of it was always going to include, “Maybe if I get hideously injured or killed in front of Masego… that might work.”

              Liked by 3 people

          2. maresther23

            She didn’t, but they will think she did. This is one of the beauties of this webserial. In book one, before the last battle in the War College, Black told Cat not to make chained plans, but lots of schemes that increased her chances of winning. She ignored him but managed to scrap a win. Books later, the leader of the Deodarite (her name escapes me) considered Cat one of Black’s perfect schemes twenty years in the making that flourished just in the right moment, when we know it wasn’t.
            At the beginning of this battle Cat told Viv it wasn’t a plan, but a set of counterweights that only activate if needed. That is why she always has one more trick, she has a general understanding of everyone in the field, has prepared some contingencies, and is amazing at adapting them in the field.
            Indrani or Masego dying is a “no win” situation for Cat, she has done everything to protect her friends, but she knows the dangers and prepared a counterweight in case it was needed. People will think she planed everything, but they will never realise all the contingencies she didn’t used and all the scrambling she had to do to make things work.

            Liked by 7 people

        2. Eh. It’s way more badass than True Love’s Kiss.

          And, it might shake her out of her suicidal recklessness should she get rezzed. Because the high chance if not getting a rez at all is always a thing to cash cold water on any spirit.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. Yep.

            And I don’t think this was suicidal recklessness in the sense of “danger is not real and nothing bad can happen to me”. Indrani has JUST had that arc, remember? Everdark shook her out of that and she spent several months up to Cloaks stewing in fear and anxiety wrt that? And chewed Cat out for her perception of Cat acting like that?

            Knowing what we know about the arc Indrani’s already been through, this was the kind of calculated recklessness that comes with a cost-benefit analysis that says the reward is worth the risk. Whether Indrani focused on the chance of herself surviving and saving Masego as worth the risk of dying, or considered that her dying would most likely work to save Masego and decided that that outcome was fine with her too, she’s not just being fearless out of lack of understanding of the risks.

            Liked by 1 person

      2. luminiousblu

        It’ll only count if she actually stays dead. I, personally, am now hoping for Masego to bring her back at the cost of getting his magical ability deleted.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Huh, that would be neat also. Only, it would leave a dangling loose end in the form of magic-less Masego. Hmm… what if he keeps the Gift itself but loses the Name and all the abilities / inhuman knowledge that came with it? Or maybe keeps the Name but has all he ever Witnessed nulled? At the very least I can’t see him keeping the knowledge he got in Thalassina…

          Liked by 3 people

        2. shveiran

          If there is a Book 6, better for him to be dead than a cripple. I’m not really sure how he could factor in the story much at that point.
          Same for Indrani, honestly… if Masego dies, I’m not really seeing the shape or her story.

          I think they’ll either be both around, mostly whole, or both dead/removed from the narrative.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Are we really sure it wasn’t the *Wandering Bard* who did that “pesh”, snap, Indrani is dead thing? The DK’s dialogue seemed to heavily hint at it imho. What with all that “really? that is beneath both of us”. Otherwise, where did that come from / what else does it relate to?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Rook

        The Bard most likely just delayed him until Masego woke up. The Mistake Neshamah made was engaging her in dialogue at all. What was actually discussed was of absolutely no consequence, the import was that she made him waste time talking about his victory instead of fleeing immediately and as fast as he could.

        She most likely set up the situation to happen though. Kairos just happened to delay Catherine, who was likely the one person that could’ve stopped Indrani from making the move that her killed?

        Not a coincidence, I think.

        I think Kairos didn’t just betray them all, he betrayed them to the fucking Intercessor. Catherine knew he was delaying her specifically, when she said “I’m the only one who can handle what he’s about to use, which I suspect is rather the point”.

        This would require a level of foresight that should be near impossible to have, but if anyone can do it it’d be the good ol’ Boogeywoman.

        Liked by 9 people

        1. Rook

          It should also be noted that the event that prompted Neshamah to call out the Bard for being ‘petty’ was masego noting that his visions were slowing down.

          If the Bard’s goal was just to delay, and if Neshamah thought she was just trying to delay his Inevitable Victory (TM) out of petty spite, it’d make perfect sense why he’d make that accusation.

          The situation in itself would be part of the weapon. The Villain, being Assured Of His Inevitable Victory, talks about how inevitable his victory is, foolishly allowing the Hero to delay him long enough for a last minute turnaround. It’s one of the most classic story tropes that exists.

          Which means, if any of these suppositions are true, then Black was quite the smart cookie for considering bashing himself unconscious rather than engaging the Bard at all. Amadeus, at least, recognized that he was about to be whipped, even if he didn’t know what angle she’d strike him from.

          Liked by 10 people

      2. shveiran

        I agree with the gist of Rook’s analysys, but I think the “beneath us” line referred to the Intercessor’s PLAN, as witnessed through the ritual.
        That is why he later says “all I have to do is tell them”, the subject doesn’t change.

        Liked by 6 people

      3. Andrew Mitchell

        The relevant dialogue is


        – the seemingly-entrance boy lazily raised a hand, sorcery flickered and Archer’s brains splattered the floor.

        “Now that I have your attention,” the Dead King spoke through the Hierophant’s mouth. “That was your single resurrection, I believe. Do not attempt to meddle again, lest your losses expand beyond the recoverable.”

        I think this is very direct evidence that the Dead King was responsible for Masego killing Archer. Like 95% certainty level. The Dead King doesn’t actually say “that was me” but its heavily implied.

        Linking this to the later discussion between the Dead King and Wandering Bard is unnecessary as Rook has explained.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Soma

    Ummmmmmmmmm… wow. That was a mistake. I will be supremely miffed is our general comedic relief does get killed permanently, but that is what resurrection is for isn’t it? That includes coming back wrong, as that will probably kill off the freewheeling awesome of Archer. Or who knows the… issues resurrection has might just make Archer more Archer. I’m going to stake a wishful hope on that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I think resurrection just comes with low key depression, and I don’t doubt Indrani will push through it. She’s pushed through worse just in this book.

      Especially with Masego going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against Neshamah on her behalf 😀

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Gamer7956

        Honestly, I think that Tariq won’t be the one to pull off the res. I think Masego’s about to hit his third aspect, and it will likely be one for replicating miracles – including resurrections. How else to get Cat to fuck up than give her an easy escape to a bad situation.
        Because if an angel ressurects a villain, J can’t see it being the same person who comes back.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. I know right? First he chewed out Cat for not playing by his ‘zero attachment rules’ then he acts like Bard kicked his kitten for taking proper&obvious advantage of a skyscraper-sized opening he left.

      Between that and the “Catherine made me do it!” on hurting Masego, its fucking amazing how pathetic he actually is when you cut through the outer layers :3

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Good question. When WAS the first instance? I’d be surprised if there wasn’t one, but… when.

          Hum. Does knocking Amadeus off balance with news about deaths of his loved ones count?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            Is it not only the heroic side of the story who can do that? 🤔Here it is the Woe and their buddies, but concerning Sabah’s death she was on the villainous side.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I think it’s not about which side of the story you are and more about how emotionally stunted you are. Granted, it does tend to correlate!

              But Calamities really were the Woe’s predecessors in the ‘villainous band of 5’ ‘villains powered by Love, Trust, Friendship and Loyalty’ department 🙂

              Liked by 5 people

                1. shveiran

                  The shape was wrong.

                  She engaged to prevent Rafaella from assisting Hanno against Amadeus.

                  The Champion was a complication, not a direct threat, so Sabah wasn’t doing a last stand to protect her buddy => no power up.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Agent J

                    Sabah isn’t the one who got the power up, no. It was Rafaella. And it was a beast vs heroic champion story. Sabah fucked up when she fell into the role of the bestial monster fighting the champion in the arena (domain).

                    I don’t think love played a role in that story at all.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. shveiran

                      Yep, that’s what I was saying.
                      Love was the bait Bard used, but the story had the wrong shape for Sabah to gain the “protecting loved one” power boost.

                      Liked by 2 people

                2. Cicero

                  Power of Love also incorporates a character sacrificing themselves for the one they love’s ideals. Thus making the loved one feel regret and reconsider their life goals.

                  Maybe that’s why Black ended up losing his name?

                  Liked by 2 people

                    1. Unoriginal

                      No, it was in the text mentioned that it was because his name no longer fit him. While the reasons for this aren’t spelled out one can assume that he hasn’t been acting like a Black-Knight should act.

                      In fact, we’ve known this about his character for a long time but it never has gone far enough to lose his name like he did during the campaign. But the reason the Black Knight was so weak in conventional power in comparison to his predecessor is that his name never fit his modus operandi very well and so he never had quite so deep a well to draw upon.

                      Anyways, some have theorized that he may eventually become Dread Emperor Benevolent mentioned in some of the epigraphs but that’s neither here nor there.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. dalek955

                      I don’t think so. As I see it, overusing aspects can get a Named killed (either by exhaustion or by inviting missteps), but couldn’t burn out the Name itself. Amadeus ceased to be the Black Knight because he ceased to fit the Role of the Dread Empress’s strong right hand, first by breaking with the Empress and going his own way, and then by getting so thoroughly trounced by the Gray Pilgrim at the Legion’s expense.

                      Liked by 3 people

                  1. I think Bard was most definitely angling this way. Between ‘go murder your little friend in the Tower’ and ‘feels like a sin doesn’t it’, she basically went full villainous monologue on him. That engenders pushback, and with Second Liesse alienating him from his own side, and better yet leading to Catherine ordering him to go be a better person?

                    Ye p p.

                    Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah 😀

            Really… a quick post-death poll for the selection of: Sabah, Wekesa, Tikoloshe, Indrani. Question: “Do you regret the love that caused your death, and would you have preferred to not be attached to that person and survive? Y/N”

            😀 😀 😀

            Liked by 1 person

  4. IDKWhoitis

    I love the Dead King for the bastard a half that he is. Pretending to be out of it completely to force them into a tricky gambit.

    Also, I shudder to think what the Bard wants, that would make the Dead King the LESSER of two evils. What would cause heroes to turn, and Cat to reunite with the Dead King?

    Is it the meta knowledge of the show must go on? Is it an apocalyptic ending waiting for everyone at the end? Is it a full wipe of the slate?

    Or nothing at all. That the Bard wants nothing in particular to happen, and just pushes things arbitrarily, pretending that a grander plan is afoot? The inventor of the Catherine Gambit, just smile and nod as chaos roils around you?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. haihappen

      If I interpret the DK-WB exchange correctly, the Wandering bard was using the heroes to fight a war of attrition against the Dead king, just like Isabella the Mad against Theodosian (or however his name is written).
      In the process, she is willingly sacrificing heroes and enables villains to commit atrocities. I.e., the whole process up to the point that the Grand Alliance fights the Dead King was engineered by the Wandering Bard to turn out just this way (Rebellion in Callow; Akua’s Folly & its destruction; weakening Malicia to ally with DK)

      The unaccounted/unpredictable variables here are Cat and the Tyrant, yet I am not sure about the Tyrant.
      My personal theory is that the ancient thing that the Tyrants line consults for a prediction is controlled either the DK or WB.

      Basically, DK and WB play Shranti (that board game mentioned a few times now, I may have mis-spelled it) with the entire continent.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think you’re misinterpreting, because absolutely nobody would turn on Bard if that were the big revelation.

        The attrition thing was obvious enough Neshamah didn’t need to ride visions to see it, even Laurence caught the idea from half a step.

        Liked by 5 people

      2. it’s spelled Shatranj, IIRC. Basically just another flavor of Fantasy Chess, which is why Black hates it (for purposes of officer/leadership training anyway, not so much as a game itself) since it’s way too abstracted and orderly and it makes people think you can get away with making 52-step plans like that in an actual war.

        Anyway, to get back on topic I don’t think we have enough information yet to deduce the Intercessor’s plans. We didn’t see what Neshamah just saw, and if the Dead King couldn’t deduce what she was up to from the information previously available I suspect it’s because the necessary information just wasn’t out there. I don’t *think* we in the audience have gotten any privileged info that would fill in a blank that the Dead King wouldn’t have info on, unless maybe it’s the extra chapter where Laurence talked about letting Procer burn to purge out the impurities (still not sure whether Bard’s actual intent there matches what Laurence said though). So I think that the reveal of what Bard is planning is still pending.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          > So I think that the reveal of what Bard is planning is still pending.

          Yes, that is yet to be revealed but it will be for sure… And in the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy all the speculation!

          Liked by 3 people

    2. grzecho2222

      It could be just victory for one side, because than Gods either abandon this reality to build a new one (and given how much fae want to escape their own abandon realm) or they will tear it apart and use it as materials for building a new one

      Liked by 2 people

  5. IDKWhoitis

    Why do I have this fear that one of the Woe may not make it out of this nightmare before its over?

    I feel like Saint wouldn’t either in such a scenario…

    Liked by 2 people

        1. >Nah, I think Bard likes it when everyone loses a little bit.

          Even if it’s generally speaking better for her plans, I can attest with certainity based on textual evidence that she doesn’t personally speaking like it better. Contrition stories are her least favorite :3

          Liked by 2 people

  6. Welp! There goes Indrani’s story, firing off properly. I wonder if she expected this. Like this was obviously not her best case scenario, but… I’ll honestly be more surprised if she did not consider this possibility and did not figure it’d work either way :3

    Also, wow Neshamah is whiny. First Cat doesn’t play by his rules, now Bard doesn’t. And it’s the same thing both times – emotions and attachments fucking up his neat arrangements eh :3

    Wonder who the fuck is ‘they’ that would turn on Bard? I see two options – Gods or Heroes. Or both, but I honestly think that’s less likely, just from the phrasing? Hum.

    (My preferred option, obviously, is Gods)

    Also lmao @ Cat managing to get in on that sweet, sweet Bardic meddling in her favor ❤

    Also I wonder what the plan the heroes came up with was. For Roland to take in the sorcery, then for Laurence to cut it off from Neshamah? That's the impression I got. I like them willing to help, though ❤

    And I love the Laurence-Indrani tension :3

    Liked by 9 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Like Cat said, for all that Neshamah is brilliant and has a vast information network and resources to understand the other players, the Dead King is stagnant in his ways. He has underestimated the strength of emotions, the core of human nature.
      Not surprising when we consider that he has been an undead god for thousands of years. For all that he can have some ‘clear visuals’ thanks to his detachment, it also limits his scope of comprehension and what he can predict.

      Liked by 7 people

      1. Yassss.

        Love this trope so fucking much. Amadeus might have tricked readers early on into thinking one might be able to properly account for Power of Love etc while standing on the outside of it, but let’s be real, no. That was no evidence of any such thing.


        about time Cat & her crew found themselves on the right side of it 😀

        Liked by 4 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Well, we know for a fact that Amadeus can love in many ways (his family from the Green Stretch, the love of his life Ranger, his friends in the Legions and in the Calamities, Alaya, and Catherine) so he might actually have a decent shot at understanding the power of love and account for it.

          I think its not so much that ‘Evil cannot understand Good’ as it’s actually closer to ‘Humans Through Aliens Eyes’. Since this is more akin to Dead King forgetting about the intricasies of human nature due to his experience as a millenia-old undead rather than him not reading the abilities of his adversaries or what they are feeling. He knows Cat is suffering for the death of people in the war and she is angry for what he is doing to Masego and the Army of Callow, yet he dismissed this as something fleeting because he is thinking ‘in a hundred or thousand years this won’t matter’ and ‘all these losses and emotions will be just a memory eventually’; Neshamah has become so detached that he finds the notion of fighting teeth and nail for one’s loved ones a weird or irrational thing, even ignoring how big a reaction can be and how far people are willing to go for their loved ones.

          I suspect the Bard’s plan is something deeply personal, hence Dead King’s disdain for it and calling it mundane and petty.

          Liked by 12 people

          1. >so he might actually have a decent shot at understanding the power of love and account for it.

            I mean. The impression I get from Amadeus is that he’s 100% the kind of Heart-like Leader powered by Loyalty, Friendship and Trust of & to everyone around him. Alaya commented on it once, “attachment has always been your weakness, one you’ve managed to turn into a strength of sorts”. Amadeus rides down those personal level heroic tropes whooping and screaming in terror.

            He’s a farmer’s son wielding his mother’s sword in defense of the weak from the power-abusing nobility, who led a rebellion that led to real reforms and real change.

            Amadeus is exempt from any and all “Evil Cannot Understand Good” dynamics because he IS an antihero caught on the wrong side of the political divide.

            >I think its not so much that ‘Evil cannot understand Good’ as it’s actually closer to ‘Humans Through Aliens Eyes’. Since this is more akin to Dead King forgetting about the intricasies of human nature due to his experience as a millenia-old undead rather than him not reading the abilities of his adversaries or what they are feeling.

            P much same thing. Remember what he did to BECOME a millenia old undead? And how&why Cat is desperate to avoid a similar fate?

            >I suspect the Bard’s plan is something deeply personal, hence Dead King’s disdain for it and calling it mundane and petty.

            Huh. Yeah.

            Liked by 5 people

          2. Morgenstern

            Ah. I guess that would be another thing that comment of the DK can be related to. Thanks. I actually linked it directly to that moment of Indrani dying. Hm…

            Liked by 3 people

          3. Both sides of the Gods might also be in the same “too not human to understand why the game pieces are beginning to get very, very weird and acting in strange ways” boat. :/ If anything, the Dead King is a little god showing the problem off to everybody.

            The Sisters almost went the same way, but are fighting talon, beak and snark to avoid it.

            Liked by 7 people

          4. > I suspect the Bard’s plan is something deeply personal, hence Dead King’s disdain for it and calling it mundane and petty.

            That’s a very interesting inference, I hadn’t considered it at all really but that honestly seems pretty plausible to me now that you’ve pointed it out/argued for it like this. I would be truly fascinated to see what constitutes something “deeply personal” for a millennia-spanning entity like the Bard. Because given that basically nobody except her, the Dead King, and the elves live that long (and the elves are assholes so fuck ’em) any strong personal attachment/motivation she feels I think would have to either be:

            A), very recent. E.g., a story of how an immortal fell in love with just a lowly mortal and blah blah blah, way too trite and I think this is very unlikely as such even if you are right about her plan being personal.

            B), something she’s carried with her since the very beginning, probably from before being committed to this immortal semi-purgatory. I.e., something of such burning importance that she’s carried it with her for literally millennia, presumably without ever even letting on that she’s been building towards it or DK would have figured it out previously. Now THAT sounds more like a story with enough weight to it to matter.

            Liked by 5 people

          5. > yet he dismissed this as something fleeting because he is thinking ‘in a hundred or thousand years this won’t matter’ and ‘all these losses and emotions will be just a memory …’

            Sounds like he focused so completely on the long term that he forgot about the short term and maybe the medium term, and quite possibly the long term. 😉 In particular, Cat at this point is likely to “forgive” DK’s smoking ashes. If he’s right about her immortality, he may already have made her into a nemesis that can persecute him down the centuries..

            Liked by 3 people

    2. shveiran

      Could Neshamah and Masego together really uncover something the capital g Gods didn’t know? I can share the charme of the idea, but it seems a bit farfetched.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. konstantinvoncarstein

            Yes, but creating an entire planet and an infinity of planes is several orders of magnitude more complex than anything imaginable by Neshamah.

            Liked by 2 people

      1. I mean if the Gods were omniscient they wouldn’t have needed the wager in the first place would they?

        I get the impression they aren’t really big on foresight or trying to figure out what’s going to happen as a consequence of anything they’re observing. Consider: Neshamah is officially confirmed as having blindsided Below by betraying them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. > Neshamah is officially confirmed as having blindsided Below by betraying them.

          ??? What are you referring to here? In any case, Praesi theology declares that betraying Below is the truest form of worship to them.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrew Mitchell

    > She saw there the same indolent pride and skill, only without the weight of centuries behind it.

    Interesting that Saint sees that Archer has the same skill as the Ranger. I wonder if that has implications for later?

    > lazily raised a hand, sorcery flickered and Archer’s brains splattered the floor.

    Wuff, I was NOT expecting that. But certainly a smart move by the Dead King IMO.

    I’m not actually sure what the exchange between the Dead King and the Wandering Bard actually means. So I’m looking forward to reading the ensuing discussions.

    Plus, it seems Masego is pissed. He’s going to take out this fragment of the Dead King, isn’t he?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. >Interesting that Saint sees that Archer has the same skill as the Ranger. I wonder if that has implications for later?

      I think it’s less ‘just as skilled as her’ and more ‘the same general category of thing’ / ‘the same general direction’. ‘Without the weight of centuries’ and all.

      >Wuff, I was NOT expecting that. But certainly a smart move by the Dead King IMO.

      Oh was it now? 😀

      I will admit my favored / most likely prediction for how this would turn out featured dead Indrani over Masego woken up by her death, and Pilgrim using up his resurrection on that, just because of how neat a story it makes… on meta level, on ground level, on ALL levels 😀

      Neshamah left a skyscraper sized opening for the story to fuck him over by using his mastery over Masego’s body to kill the girl who loves him coming to rescue him, and amplified it by being smug about it. The blowback from that is going to blow him cleanly out of all gains from this particular game, as Bard is here to ensure 😀

      Like… this is a Power of Love story, and he tried to swat that aside. That’s how YOU get swatted.

      Between this and his earlier whining @ Cat that she’s not playing by his rules by taking things personally? Neshamah’s getting REAL rusty on those feelings tropes 😀

      (Maybe even in a world of stories – maybe particularly in a world of stories, – it takes a person actually capable of Trust, Love and Friendship to recognize and take into account their Power properly 😀 😀 :D)

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Hexblade

        Personally, I think there is a second game here. The Dead King said that he already was losing a bit of himself to the Cutter (Saint). I think this is a ploy for Masego to take him apart in order to help push Masego and the Woe towards his side with the knowledge Masego will rip from him.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. luminiousblu

        I mean it feels out of character, doesn’t it? I refuse to believe that in the thousands of years between him going Lich-King and Catherine nobody’s tried to pull a “I know you’re in there somewhere” thing on him. It is literally one of the most ancient stories around. The Dead King is the guy who plays the long game and never fails because he leaves no openings. If he isn’t bluffing Bard and isn’t buying time with some sort of hologram (which would explain why Masego can suddenly see again) for his ‘real’ soul to get away and communicate the information I call BS. Neshamah has consistently shown to be someone who refuses to take the bait, and gloating one step short of the goal is the clearest bait there is.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Villains always fail.

          This is how & this is why.

          If the bait was easy to refuse nobody would ever take it.

          He’s not some kind of transcended being violating the laws of narrative. He’s just the most successful villain finding himself a niche. That niche means he’s safe, but it doesn’t mean he’s safe from elementary mistakes 🙂

          >Neshamah has consistently shown to be someone who refuses to take the bait

          Neshamah has shown himself to be someone who acts like he never takes the bait and considers himself too smart for anyone else to keep up with him.

          That does not make his view objectively correct 🙂

          This genuinely feels more in line with the general narrative setup, to me, than the idea that Neshamah is actually unbeatable. Nobody’s in control, not him either. Power means constraints, immortality means deteriorating sanity. Play into tropes that strengthen you enough, and you find yourself trope’d 🙂

          Liked by 5 people

          1. luminiousblu

            >Villains always fail.
            >This is how & this is why.
            This is a platitude. Villains always fail only in the sense that if you fail you’re clearly a villain. This is true even in the Guideverse, because Neshamah is only a villain in the most technical sense of the word when he doesn’t fail. A looming catastrophe isn’t a ‘villain’, it’s a phenomenon to be avoided. That is what Neshamah has always been presented as – clean up unassailable. The way to ‘win’ against him is to merely avoid losing.

            >If the bait was easy to refuse nobody would ever take it.
            Define ‘easy’, because you don’t need to be a genius to realise that gloating before you’ve finished the job makes no goddamn sense in any world, including guideverse. He could’ve had a minor devil nearby waiting to tell the Bard that she’s too late, if he so pleased. This isn’t a curveball bait, it’s not hidden or obfuscated, it’s not buried six layers under like the whole “hunter of maidens” thing that killed off Captain. It’s something Neshamah was arguably not even baited into doing, he simply decided to do it on his own.

            >Neshamah has shown himself to be someone who acts like he never takes the bait and considers himself too smart for anyone else to keep up with him.
            Which, considering he’s styled all over repeated attempts to bring him down for millennia at least, is supported by evidence. Him being a poser believing himself more clever than he is doesn’t make sense when you consider just how successful he’s been. You’re going to complain, ‘oh, but he hasn’t taken over the continent yet!’ but even that we’ve seen comes from how cautious he is and how utterly unwilling to take bait he is. The dude doesn’t like taking risks, so he’s more than willing to wait out any danger that shows up and to engineer the circumstances of his expansion so as to not provoke the dice turning against him. It’s arguably strange he hasn’t already bailed – clearly, Malicia and the Black Queen have long since stopped being the ‘main’ threat in the eyes of everyone involved.

            >Nobody’s in control, not him either
            You don’t need to be in ‘control’, though. I don’t know why you brought it up. From a narrative point of view the idea that Neshamah is an entity to be beaten is already pointless – he’s not presented as Sauron, he’s presented as Moby-Dick, the guy who everyone hates but nobody has ever been able to do meaningful damage to, a lurker in the dark, the boogeyman of every story. An obsession with combating him leads only to ruin through your own actions.

            >Power means constraints
            Power doesn’t mean constraints. By definition power means, in every universe, even in guideverse, the lack of constraints on your actions. What we view as constraints on power is rather just conditions for power to manifest. There’s a few people who have constraints placed upon them but most of those constraints are either fundamentally tied to their power or a result of how they obtained it.

            >immortality means deteriorating sanity
            That’s total BS though. Catherine keeps saying this, probably partially to excuse her behaviour as the Queen of Winter, but what are the facts? The Fae are not ‘going’ insane, they operate on different rules and with different mindsets because they’re immortal and they’re, well, fae. The Elves aren’t insane, just racist and immensely powerful – and no, you don’t have to be insane to be racist, especially in a world where you can objectively show massive and meaningful differences between species. Masego’s “papa” is clearly not insane despite being immortal and around since before the Dead King. Sve Noc and the rest of the drow aren’t insane, just warped, which isn’t the same thing – they’re thinking clearly and logically, just in a manner and against values foreign to everyone else.

            Even if we allow that this isn’t the case, since Catherine pulled off a minor victory against Neshamah using Sve Noc, what bugs me isn’t necessarily just the fact that he’s blundered. It’s that it was so transparently obvious. Nobody didn’t basically facepalm when Neshamah basically went ‘haha you’re too late my victory is assured’. The dude has no right surviving this long if he’s going to do something like that, and it shows what I mean when I said last chapter that it feels like everyone but Catherine is being presented like a total moron at times. Is it that no party but the Woe has EVER tried to bring back a loved one from Neshamah? Is it that he’s never possessed someone before? Are we meant to believe that this is the only trick that works, that none of the other transparently obvious ‘asking for it’ phrases and scenarios can be baited out? None of these explanations make sense. How the hell did he not get finished off ages ago by a bright eyed hero with a hot adventurous girlfriend?

            I’d also say it seriously bugs me that Masego has pulled off what should nominally be impossible by shaking off full possession at the last moment but that’s just guideverse shenanigans. Personally I’ve always wanted to take an axe to the face of every single person who even so much as nods at the Power of Friendship/Love and am therefore super biased, so I won’t comment on the stupidity of that particular interaction.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. >Personally I’ve always wanted to take an axe to the face of every single person who even so much as nods at the Power of Friendship/Love

              Well, this is not the narrative for you then 😛

              Liked by 1 person

            2. DK thinks he owns the long game, but Bard plays it longer. And “who the gods would destroy, they first make proud”. As Liliet put it:

              >Neshamah has shown himself to be someone who … considers himself too smart for anyone else to keep up with him. That does not make his view objectively correct 🙂

              It may well be that Neshamah has been slowly decaying for millennia, and now is slipping into hubris. Or just focusing so closely on his project against the Bard, that he (at least the sliver of him that’s present) fumbled badly against the mortal opponents. His alienation from humanity might also help explain why he completely blew off the possibility of a Power of Love play.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                > It may well be that Neshamah has been slowly decaying for millennia, and now is slipping into hubris. Or just focusing so closely on his project against the Bard, that he (at least the sliver of him that’s present) fumbled badly against the mortal opponents. His alienation from humanity might also help explain why he completely blew off the possibility of a Power of Love play.

                All of those are very plausible IMO and taken together are enough of a reason for the Dead King to have made this mistake. Additional thoughts which IMO add to the plausibility:
                – The opportunity Masego presented (the opportunity to find out the Bard’s true motive) may NEVER have arisen before now.
                – If Masego hadn’t actually thought about, or internally acknowledged, his love for Archer (and we know Masego was almost totally oblivious to those feelings) then the Dead King couldn’t really pick up that knowledge from rooting through Masego’s brain.

                Liked by 2 people

      3. > Between this and his earlier whining @ Cat that she’s not playing by his rules by taking things personally?

        In fact, I suspect that much of his interactions with Cat in this book were “concern trolling”, aka trying to talk her out of a winning position. Too bad Cat is very much on to that game, having been “trained” by Pilgrim and company.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. No, she’s not. My take is that she is creation’s moderator and enforces the balance between good and evil. When one side gets a substantial advantage, she intervenes on behalf of the losing side.

          Liked by 3 people

            1. shveiran

              I get what you are coming from, but let’s remember that the Chain of Hunger and the DK both count as Villains. And they are pretty much undefeatbale.

              BUt yeah, mortal villains really get the short end of the stick.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. erebus42

                A fair point, but she hasn’t really focused her efforts directly on them until recently has she? Not to mention the facts that the two had been relatively dormant until recently, and that the Pilgrim and the Saint have made it so that Villains haven’t been able to make any real victories in most of the continent. She’s only been subverting in the few places where villains do have power. If she’s the embodiment of anything it’s the status quo; specifically the one that states that the villains always loose. Now she probably doesn’t want their complete eradication like the Saint does; after all who then would be around for the Heroes to defeat and prove themselves against?

                Liked by 3 people

            2. denimcurtain

              I’m assuming she usually isn’t very active. I feel like her joining a five man band even is more hands on than usual for any given decade. Just needs subtle pushes.

              As for the balance between villainy and heroes…it’s been pretty balanced as far as we can see. Exceptions being the dead kind, triumphant, and today. Villains achieving dominance followed by swift falls to heroes is part of the balance. Heroes need to win over villains at some point because otherwise villiains live forever. There’s a lot of reasons why heroes aren’t generally threatening to the balance.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. > There’s a lot of reasons why heroes aren’t generally threatening to the balance.

                Well, that’s the thing, per Amadeus the heroes of Procer and Levant were winning too much, enough that they triggered the Conquest as a balancing reaction. I suspect their campaigns were part of why Amadeus and Cat were capable of similarly purging heroes from their territory.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. denimcurtain

                  Maybe. Though it’s Amadeus’ theory and even he only goes as far as saying that it only became a problem when Procer turned it’s eyes towards Praes.


      1. Is she? Or is she just using them to fuck over DK? Because there can be a HUGE difference in how that goes from the party’s POV. When you’re on somebody’s side, you want them to succeed by a standard they would consider success. When you’re using somebody, it doesn’t matter if your tools break as long as they accomplish what you needed them to.

        Like I said; a HUGE difference.

        Liked by 4 people

    1. Faiir

      I don’t.
      I feel like the Dead King doesn’t really need anything from Calernia, and is only moving out to screw with the Bard. With Bard out of the picture, I always felt a real truce could be reached

      This makes me feel like they should be allied with the Dead King even more – if he loses to her at the peak of his power, what chances do our villains have?

      OTOH, Intercessor is THE antagonist. If her job is keeping the Good/Evil war going, then without defeating her there is no way for Cat to achieve what she wants.

      Liked by 4 people

  8. Tenthyr

    On the one hand, damn there Bard, stylish.

    On the other hand what the Dead King said kinda has me rooting for him, if only because whatever he found out about the Bard must be REALLY bad.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. erebus42

        I mean the most probable choices would be the Heroes or the Gods. Either way, it would be cathartic to see the Wandering Bard squirm a little and get knocked down a peg or two.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. luminiousblu

            Neshamah has style though. Bard does too but she’s too inconsistent with her style, on account of the whole “literally doesn’t exist 99% of the time” thing.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. Yeah but Neshamah’s the one who slaughters people for shits and giggles and doesn’t give a fuck about anyone but himself and considers feelings a silly weakness.

              Bard’s POV was actually that of a person.

              Maybe for you a million is a statistic, but I feel otherwise :3

              Liked by 5 people

              1. On the other hand, the Bard literally told him “this time, *eat the baby*” meaning “yeah this time I’ll actually let you take a chunk out of Procer”.

                So however human her perspective may be, she’s also the human who decided to let the Dead King win on some level and kill millions to see her own desires through (whatever they may be).

                Liked by 3 people

                  1. It’s been genuine enough for the Lycaonese to reach the brink of extinction; their goals were shifting to “evacuate enough of our civilian refugees that maybe future generations will be able to return” before Cat’s deal kicked in. I’m positive that DK didn’t just take Bard at her word, because that seems to be the entire motive for what he’s doing literally right now. But him even just committing to this invasion less hard would have made a difference that could probably be measured in tens of thousands of lives.

                    In other words, yes Bard is more human than DK (not setting the bar high, but still it is true). But look at our own real-life world. Is humanity really a barrier to being just as capable of perpetrating horrors as any fantasy villain?

                    Liked by 6 people

              2. shveiran

                I agree. On the other hand, it seems WB is crafting and reinforcing stories that FORCE death and loss as background upon Calernia. For the young orpahned hero to topple the evil empire, the evil empire must have existed for some time and oppressed its citizen so much that no one REALLY expects it to fall. That’s a good story, right?

                If that theory is correct… The bard is just as nefarious, her methods are simply weirder and indirect.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. That conclusion is skipping over many points such as “how willingly is she doing this” and “what even is the alternative”.

                  And I would like to bring your attention to the existence of the League of Free Cities… and its origin.

                  Liked by 2 people

              3. Faiir

                I don’t really agree – I feel like Bard connects to people personally, but is bothered more by the Lone Swordsman’s death than that of thousands around him.

                While Dead King doesn’t care about singular people, but could actually create a stable country for billions. A million losses now could be a statistic if it leads to billions of people living happily over thousands of years.

                I do realize it never ends this way in stories because they would be boring, but this is the reason why in-universe story driven powers cause so much strife.

                Liked by 2 people

                  1. Faiir

                    How much of it did we actually see though? I don’t think it’s clear whether it’s a dystopia or utopia at this point.

                    And the fact that Dead King is a dictator on its own isn’t that different from other monarchs in Calernia.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. It’s a dystopia because the Dead King is not going to allow them any kind of self-determination or exploration that goes against his ambition / outside the bounds of where he wants them to be.

                      Liked by 1 person

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Damn I wish wordpress let you edit, accidentally hit send too soon

          Dead King Shard (When it’s clear it’s going to lose): “Wait! What we’ve learned, it’s too important, to valuable, it must be preserved! She-”

          Heirophant: “You hurt her. I don’t care.” *does something nasty*

          Liked by 4 people

  9. Ritvik Jha

    Well the important part is that the hidden horror won’t be able to pass the information that is vital in defeating the intessesor, the real enemy is not keter but the Bard, she keeps the wheels of conflict turning.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. Kirroth

    Here’s a thought. We now know the fragment of the Dead King that’s possessing Masego doesn’t have an active connection to his main body. It has to dial home, so to speak, to deliver news of what it’s learned. And the Bard’s gambit is to scramble the call until Saint and Sorcerer can destroy the fragment, which it’s implied will permanently weaken the Dead King.

    If faced with imminent destruction, will the fragment choose to accept the loss or will it try to spite the Bard by passing its uncovered secrets to Cat?

    Liked by 7 people

      1. caoimhinh

        She somehow got into Masego’s mind/soul to have that conversation, and even made the Dead King’s fragment loosen its control over Masego. That’s a new trick, and pretty OP (almost like the one she used in her conversation with Amadeus where “by Providence” everyone was asleep and wouldn’t wake up until the end of the conversation). If she hadn’t intervened it would have taken far longer for Masego to wake up and could possibly get him crippled by Neshamah or killed by Saint.

        That is assuming it was indeed the Dead King who moved Masego’s body to kill Indrani; at this point I’m no longer sure if it wasn’t Bard taking control over his body for a few seconds (she shouldn’t be able to do that, but then again she could get some trick out of nowhere and do it, her limitations hadn’t really been established).

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Bard isn’t allowed direct touch, and that’s as direct as touch gets.

          And yeah, she can apparently project herself as an apparition into people’s consiousnesses where one person sees her and no-one else does. Like she did at Second Liesse, where Cat saw her.

          I don’t think she loosened DK’s control though, like I think that was falling apart on its own because his ritual was ending. What she did was distract DK with conversation until Masego recovered enough to process Indrani’s death 🙂

          That is fully within her established abilities.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. > I think that was falling apart on its own because his ritual was ending.

            I suspect the part of DK that was actually controlling Masego, was dependent on the latter being isolated from the outside world: DK knew that any new input from reality (and especially Masego’s friends) could break the control.

            And then Laurence just cut DK’s sorcery, specifically the part that was keeping the outside world away from Magego.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Nah, if he was the underdog he could win. Bard’s genius is always using somebody else’s story. And in that story? Right now he’s the deplorable evil that just used a man to hurt his one true love. At this point, his role is to play the “at this moment, the Dead King realized: he fucked up” ragdoll. Anything he can throw at Masego at this point is no longer going to keep the boy down: at most its going to hurt but not stop. Boy’s probably about to get his third aspect, and hes’ definitely not going to lose. Best case for Dead King is Archer is resurrected and this distracts him long enough for the Dead King to limp away, but since Bard put this together, I’m pretty sure instead it’s “Masego might keep rampaging and/or explode unless we can show him that oh look, the woman he just realized he loved is alive again.”

      Liked by 6 people

        1. caoimhinh

          I wonder about it too.
          He is Hierophant Usher of Mysteries and Vivisector of Miracles, his current two Aspects are Witness and Ruin, maybe the last one would be Reveal? That would suit the nature of who Masego is and what his role as Hierophant is. It could also be Usurp, that would be poetically awesome as Usurpation is being said to be the essence of Sorcery in that world.
          Actually, his third Aspect could be anything at all and I’m sure it’s gonna be badass.

          Liked by 3 people

  11. Kissaten

    Thinking that the Chaos that is Kairos can be contained – a classic mistake. Thinking that Catherine will not find a common ground with Kairos – a classic mistake x2.

    It appears that Dead King planned to use some soul out of thousands as a messenger, Kairos made a play for souls, and Cat was expected to be so appaled by treachery she won’t forgive Kairos and fight him to the victory of one of them? Bard appears to be safe from Hierarch – she is pale now, i.e. hierarchy used on black-skinned thalassinians won’t make her subject to it, but it’s Kairos, he is going to knife her somehow.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Morgenstern

      Nah, the DK is expecting one soul to slip out during their struggle. That Cat will keep Kairos from taking over ALL of them for at least long enough for his (the DK’s) messenger to slip out.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Rook

    Said it before and I’m gonna make the same call again, the Bard’s plot is to be free of Above and Below.

    We already knew that she flees from three things: Promised death, direct touch and her heart’s desire. When she fled from Hierarch the only thing that makes sense is the third, and she fled the exact moment Anaxares refused to choose Above or Below.

    We know that she’s directly involved with Above and Below, per the little shtranj match Cat had with Kairos, and that they’ve put bindings – restrictions on her.

    We know now by what Neshamah just revealed that whatever her plot is, it will cause all of ‘them’ to turn on her. So far she’s been observed to be on absolutely no character’s side, which realistically leaves only set of entities that could turn on her in the first place, by virtue of not already being hostile to her. The ones she’s bound to, the ones she’s working for.

    Whether that’s by striking at them or even at herself in the most elaborate suicide that Creation has ever seen, to be determined; but she’s planning to turn on her makers. I suspect that the entire reason she created the Name of Hierarch all those years ago, and why she was so interested in how a Villain was made in the Arcadia record of Neshamah’s apotheosis, was for the sake of learning how to create a person that could fulfill that purpose, since her own bindings don’t allow her to. The former was a failed test run, the latter was research.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. luminiousblu

      I severely doubt that she can actually do such a thing. Being as she were literally the “house” in question, Above and Below are like the ground and the sky, while roles are merely wood. Bard gets to change what the rules look like, but she’s never even gotten close to outright changing the rules. Even if she burned the house down, I see no reason they can’t just build a new one.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Rook

        Considering she’s a narratively unbeatable abomination that was already ancient when the dead king still had a pulse, the fact that it’d be so difficult to accomplish doesn’t disqualify it in the least, in my books. If her goal was of any sort of mundanely difficult feat she’d likely have already accomplished it in a few centuries just to pass the time.

        But hey, doubt as you will. I’ll be sure to rub it in later.

        Liked by 4 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            To me, that last line was funny and felt like it was meant in the spirit of friendly competition, rather than being cruel or nasty.

            I’m not saying I’m right and you’re wrong, it’s just that we had different reactions.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. luminiousblu

              That would certainly work, but then that just means Rook vastly overestimated how close we are and whether or not it’s appropriate to make ‘friendly’ competition. So either way it doesn’t really come off well.
              Or maybe I’m overreacting. Who knows.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. In both one’s own comments and reacting to those of others, there is a useful rule to keep in mind: “The failure mode for ‘clever’ is ‘asshole’.” It’s wise to be careful what you say yourself; but it’s also worthwhile to forgive the misjudgements of others.

                Liked by 9 people

      2. I think her plan is to use the rules Gods themselves created to effectively cheat the “house”. Even if the house always wins, you can still count cards. I would wager her plan is to present Gods as the villains, herself as the “monster” that will turn on them and humanity as the peasant with a sword – the ultimate heroic underdog.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. luminiousblu

          Eh I dunno

          It depends on how EE wants to write, in the end, but rebellion against the gods is a VERY bad story to be the rebel. It has essentially never ended well prior to the modern era where killing gods is basically the endgame of any angsty hero whose series runs on long enough. Even ‘bad’ gods like, say, Izanami or Ereshkigal were far beyond mortal means to combat on a metaphysical level. Diomedes hits Ares, but only because Athena is rigging his aim. He ”’hurts”’ Aphrodite, but then Apollo immediately shows up to stop him from getting big ideas about hurting a goddess who the author of the Iliad had a vested interest in stripping of her capacity as a war goddess. Ishtar is clearly an antagonist in the Epic of Gilgamesh, but Gilgamesh outright loses. Sun Wukong is a deity of sorts already when he rampages through Heaven, but then the real big wigs show up and make a joke out of him. You can’t win because the very idea of winning against a deity is not defined. They don’t have a loss condition.

          The only real angle for a mortal hero is that even the gods can’t fight fate, but the Bard ISN’T fate and mortals are just as bound by fate as the gods are. I can see ways for him to pull it off. I just am leery of having a ‘rebels against the gods’ story end well for anyone but the gods in a story that relies so heavily on abuse of narrative tradition.

          Liked by 6 people

          1. I can’t see how the story can end in anything but rebellion against the gods. Beyond the numerous discussions of divinity and apotheosis, an actual murder of a god in the Arcadia arc, hints about Bard’s true purpose and the whole Anaxares arc, the most compelling reason to me is that they’re the ultimate villain. The real evil of Guide isn’t a particular polity or human nature, it’s the system (i.e. the gods) which perpetuates and enhances violence, created solely to resolve a philosophical dispute.

            Imo, that’s very much a narrative Bard has been setting up for ages and it’s now coming to fruition. Gods as the ultimate antagonists, mortals as the ultimate underdog heroes, herself as the monster that will turn against her masters. I agree with you in that if a random villain or a hero rebelled against them they would be swatted down – like many of the past Tyrants – but this has been in the works for a long time now.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. shveiran

              I think it ends in rebelling against the Gods’ order, not the Gods per se.
              There has been a lot of talk about dissecting low case gods, not the other kind.
              We are talking about the beings that created the world, magic and that power up Names; what would you even hurt them with?
              To beat them is to escape their Games, not litterally BEATING them up.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. You’d hurt them by using their own rules against them. Judge the Gods Above to be unjust and usurp the power of the Gods Below through betrayal. Underline the hypocrisy of their rules or re-frame them to the mortals’ advantage.

                Because deities must follow certain rules. We’ve seen this with Cat who was calcifying into something unyielding but the most obvious example was the Summer Queen who essentially committed ego suicide in order to fulfil her three duties.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. shveiran

                  Sure, but she was, again, a lower case god. And, you know, she was melting armies as an afterthought still.

                  I mean, everything we ever saw a Named do? That is a sliver of the gods. There is so much of an imbalance of power that… how can you do anything to them? There isn’t even a single STORY to support such a rebellion because it is an unprecedented act, so even story-fu wouldn’t work.
                  I just don’t see how it is possible, sorry.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. ninegardens

                    I agree this is more likely to be a “don’t beat up the gods, instead we must slip the noose” (as Black might say).

                    That said… I do think there are PLENTY of stories that can be used here. There are plenty of stories of heroes standing up to unjust kings, heroes bringing down tyrants, and villians usurping hells.
                    If you want to use the story against the gods, you just have to frame it right so that they fall into the ROLE that the story cares about (even if the story doesn’t apply directly to gods in the past).

                    …. that said, I really don’t know if the Gods above and below are vulnerable to story-fu. The small gods INSIDE creation, yes, but the ones outside it… I dunno.

                    Liked by 2 people

                  2. I realise it’s a lowercase god but the point with the Summer Queen was to illustrate how such being to adhere to their duties. The more power you have the more tightly bound you are to your nature. I think it’s the same with Gods. We’ve already seen they can only intervene at particular moments for example, and that the scales are always balanced.

                    The Summer Queen had to fulfill three duties. Once it was shown to her that she had to commit ego-suicide in order to keep them up she had to do it. It wasn’t really a choice. Gods will also have such restrictions. Above might be based on the belief that the rule of the Gods is always just and good. If you show this isn’t the case they will change just how the Summer Queen did.

                    And there’s plenty of stories here. The particulars don’t really matter: the fact Gods made Creation is irrelevant to their Role of being tyrants over mortals, in the same way Cat being an undead abomination was irrelevant to pulling the sword out of the stone.

                    Liked by 3 people

          2. konstantinvoncarstein

            “He ”’hurts”’ Aphrodite, but then Apollo immediately shows up to stop him from getting big ideas about hurting a goddess who the author of the Iliad had a vested interest in stripping of her capacity as a war goddess”.

            Small correction: Aphrodite was never a war goddess, she is the goddess of love and beauty. It is why Diomède managed to hurt her. Except for that, I agree with you🙂

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Aphrodite was imported, initially to Crete and Sparta. She was Asarte aka Inanna: “all’s fair in love, sex and war — and farming”.

              Crete and Sparta still had her as a warrior, but… for some reason, the Athenians seem to have taken umbrage at two goddesses using shields, spears and armour. 😛

              Liked by 3 people

                1. Interesting sidenote: although mention of a local goddess named something close to “Athena” is made in a couple of translated linear B fragments, there’s no guarantee that Classical Athena isn’t, herself, an Astarte-remix-and-reskin from a different angle. Both Athena and Aphrodite have… suspiciously Astarte-ish origin stories. And other tales.

                  Yup. Sparta and Athens clashing over interpreting similar cultural ideas differently? Shocker. 😛

                  Liked by 5 people

                    1. My dad did: his degree was a first class honours degree in Classics. I just have a passing interest after having grown up around Latin and Greek classics (even though I can read neither languages, let alone their various dialects, at all well).

                      I have learned to avoid pastoral poetry arend plays. Snoozefest alert. And too many random satyrs. 😛

                      Liked by 3 people

            2. luminiousblu

              The Iliad was ‘written’ soon after Aphrodite was introduced to Greece. Aphrodite Areia was her original ‘form’, and she was derived from Astarte (goddess of sex, love, lust, war, and fertility) and therefore Ishtar, the goddess of all that plus politics and judgement. There’s a very peculiar line in the Iliad where Zeus tells Aphrodite something to the effect of “heh, you have no reason to be on a battlefield silly girl why are you doing that?” and Aphrodite doesn’t contest it, instead wholeheartedly agreeing with a super-artificial sounding affirmation of her nature as not a war goddess. That’s basically how you know that the point was up for contention at the time of writing and that Homer was trying to pick sides in one of the more touchy political debates of the time.

              Aphrodite being hit by Diomedes and then Diomedes immediately getting shut down is an extension of that. A mortal hero, albiet a blessed one, isn’t supposed to be able to so much as physically touch a deity who isn’t trying to be injured. That Aphrodite is anyway is supposed to highlight WOW SHE’S REALLY NOT A FIGHTER IDK WTF THE SPARTANS WERE THINKING APHRODITE A WAR GODDESS PFFT HAHA. Then Apollo shows up, just to remind the readers (or listeners, more likely) that they shouldn’t get a big head and that gods are still a big deal and can push their shit in at will.

              Liked by 2 people

          3. caoimhinh

            Except that they actually CAN and rebellion against the Gods has been shown to be possible multiple times in ancient stories. It was actually only in recent times, with the ascent of monotheistic religions like Islamism and Christianism that deities started to be considered unbeatable. Ancient cultures respected their gods but also aspired to be like them, gods weren’t considered distant unachievable concepts nor omnipotent forces, just very powerful beings or spirits and were shown to intermingle with humans and other creatures, they could be reached and even surpassed with enough effort.

            Overcoming of the previous ruler of the Heavens and even a wipeout of an entire previous Pantheon of Gods is in almost every mythology and culture.
            Zeus rose to prominence by beating Cronus, and Cronus himself rose to power by beating Uranus (the very reason Zeus, Poseidon and Proteus made arrangements and intervened to make the sea nymph Thetis marry Peleus was that it was prophecized that her son would be greater than his father and Zeus was afraid of that, hence they forced her to marry a mortal human, her son was Achilles)

            Similar things are true for whoever is King of Gods in other mythologies, they took the throne by beating their predecessor.
            The Egyptians, Celtic, Irish, Nordic, Mayans, Japanese and many more, have examples of Gods killing each other too and dying by the hand of other creatures. In fact, some pantheons are shown to be at war with other races.

            Now, you might argue that the point is mortals can’t do that (either beating or killing gods), but that was considered to be a very real possibility in ancient mythologies.
            Hindu and Chinese myths especially, as in those mythoi humans are actually capable of ascending into deities. It’s just that gods went to very long ways to prevent that, it’s not that it was impossible.
            For example:
            The deities against whom Sun Wukong fights used to be humans and animals but trained in esoteric arts to gain power and consumed special meals that gave them immortality, the Jade Emperor (ruler of all chinese gods) was a human that cultivated his way into the throne of heaven (and he wasn’t their first ruler either) and his greatest General Erlang Shen (the one who stopped Wukong) was born a mortal too.

            Indra, the King of the Devas, was cursed by the mortal sage Gótama Rishi into having vulvae all over his body for having sex with the sage’s wife. Indra had to make amends in order for the sage to remove the curse, which means the king of heaven wasn’t capable of getting rid of the curse by himself.

            Gautama Buddha himself is one of countless ascended humans who stand side by side with the Gods in Taoism and Buddism.

            In Greek myths, humans were shown to be able to beat the Gods even in their specialties; Arachne defeated in their contest of weaving Athena (goddess of wisdom and handicraft) and was cursed into becoming a spider because a Goddess shouldn’t be humiliated, Ares (the God of War) was hurt by Diomedes the very same day that Aphrodite was wounded by Diomedes, even if Athena guided the spear the fact remains that Diomedes wounded Ares and MADE HIM RUN AWAY.

            So the Gods ARE killable. They can be beaten, restrained, sealed, wounded, and killed by the hands of mortals (and other creatures, like Giants, Cyclops, and monsters too) in almost every mythology.
            The only difference is that they have access to greater powers, more knowledge and resources, they are even shown to have longer lifespans thanks to elixirs and exotic fruits (Ambrosia, Nektar, Peaches of Immortality, Amrita, etc). Nordic and Hindu mythologies outright state that anyone can kill a God if they have the adequate tool or spell, showing deities as susceptible to mystic runes, curses and magic weapons (like the ones crafted by Dwarves or the Brahma weapons depicted in the Mahabharata, Ramayana and the Puranas) even when those are used by mortals.

            Only the monotheistic religions depict their deity as an almighty, omnipresent and omniscient being, like some kind of distant disembodied force that can do everything (yet strangely has armies of angels and has to depend on them and mortals to carry on his will).

            Liked by 2 people

            1. shveiran

              That’s all very interesting (honestly), but I’m not sure it’s relevant to the point being argued.

              Calernia and the Guideverse in general are powered by their own mythology, and I don’t see many evidences that Gods (not to be confused with gods) can be touched.
              I mean, they litterally power Named and bestow them with powers. Think how much difference in level there is between people and Named, then imagine how higher the creator beings stand.

              I think they are closer to monotheistic power levels, myself.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. luminiousblu

                That itself is sort of a trap. It’s not about power levels, it’s about the fact that they’re on a different scale. It’d be like the difference in ‘power level’ between a human and the property of heat.

                Liked by 3 people

              2. caoimhinh

                Indeed, the Gods in the Guideverse are too powerful to actually be hurt by the beings inside Creation. Though a sliver of them can be fought and the two sides keep each other at bay from intervening too much in Creation, there’s certainly no way for them to be killed by their creations, as the created simply lack the power for that, they can’t even get in contact with the Gods without their explicit permission.

                I was simply addressing the point of Luminousblu claiming that fighting against the Gods is a modern concept and “the endgame of any angsty hero whose series runs on long enough” as that is simply not true.

                Liked by 2 people

            2. luminiousblu

              None of those actually matter. You’re drawing an artificial line between Abrahamic religions and PIE ones which tells me you come from a culture dominated by Abrahamic values.

              >Zeus rose to prominence by beating Cronus, and Cronus himself rose to power by beating Uranus (the very reason Zeus, Poseidon and Proteus made arrangements and intervened to make the sea nymph Thetis marry Peleus was that it was prophecized that her son would be greater than his father and Zeus was afraid of that, hence they forced her to marry a mortal human, her son was Achilles)
              What you’ll notice is that all of those are deities. Gods fighting gods? Yes, very common. Gods aiding humans in fighting gods? Yes, happens sometimes, especially in heroic epics. Humans fighting monsters, with or without divine aid? Also fairly common. Gods helping humans out and getting fucked by other gods? This one’s weirdly cross-culture. Gods fighting humans, and the humans styling on them? No. This just doesn’t happen.

              Thetis is still divine in nature – all nymphs are minor deities. Narcissus does nothing to Echo, she’s cursed and either kills herself or turns into a flower because Narcissus is just so cute and he’ll never be hers so she has a mental breakdown. Even Sisyphus locking up Thanatos is essentially Sisyphus tricking Thanatos into locking himself up, he himself didn’t do anything because he would’ve gotten crushed had he tried. All stories where the god loses they basically do themselves in.

              >In fact, some pantheons are shown to be at war with other races.
              You’re thinking of the Norse, I imagine. Here’s the problem – the giants are gods too. The Jotun are clearly divine in nature, as are the elves. They’re not ‘gods’, as in they’re neither Aesir nor Vanir, but they’re still divine. If you’re thinking of yokai/yaoguai, those aren’t at war with the gods any more than you’re at war with termites or mice or the coffee stain on the couch.

              >Hindu and Chinese myths especially, as in those mythoi humans are actually capable of ascending into deities. It’s just that gods went to very long ways to prevent that, it’s not that it was impossible.
              Hindu myths are slightly different insofar as heroes are often just outright gods in an avatar, or at least half-deific. Chinese myths don’t work they way you think, because being a god is a job you can be hired and fired from by the Jade Emperor and the celestial bureaucracy, which is why there’s gods of utterly trivial shit like tofu stands or one specific type of shoe. Saying that they killed gods when speaking of mortals is neither here nor there, it’s like saying that sous-chefs can arrest people because they could always quit and get hired as a cop.

              >Arachne defeated in their contest of weaving Athena (goddess of wisdom and handicraft) and was cursed into becoming a spider because a Goddess shouldn’t be humiliated
              That’s one specific version that wasn’t even very popular in Greece (or possibly postdated the classical era, I’m not sure). The more common versions generally have Arachne either
              A. have been outright worse and gotten cursed
              B. have been really good, but Athena criticised the topic manner which was a jab at Zeus’ infidelity (remember, Athena is Zeus’ daughter – you’re telling a girl her dad is a cheating manwhore) and Arachne tried to hang herself because oh my god nobody’s ever criticised my work so harshly I’m a genius I can’t take this but Athena thought this was such a waste so she turned her into something that could still weave beautiful tapestries or
              You also need to remember that Athena, goddess of handicraft, had to have given Arachne that talent. It doesn’t actually matter even if Arachne was better, because it’s still Athena blessing her with such talent. In the original stories Arachne is repeatedly talking shit about Athena, so Athena shows up in the guise of an old lady and tries to warn her off it, to which Arachne replies that in essence if Athena wanted her to stop being a blasphemer maybe she should come down herself, haha! She’s nowhere near as petty as you think in this story.

              >Ares (the God of War) was hurt by Diomedes the very same day that Aphrodite was wounded by Diomedes, even if Athena guided the spear the fact remains that Diomedes wounded Ares and MADE HIM RUN AWAY.
              Firstly, Ares’ job is to job. Secondly, you’re missing the point. Athena is a goddess of war. So is Ares. The message isn’t that Diomedes has the ability or potential to wound Ares, which isn’t actually what happens. The message is that Athena is better than Ares. Athena guiding the spear means it’s Athena doing the work, Diomedes is used as a vessel to show that Athena, patron of Athens, is better than Ares, patron of Sparta – it’s not a coincidence that the Homeric poems were first compiled – and therefore, written down – in Athens. Diomedes attacking Aphrodite is a very strange little thing with little counterpart anywhere else, and was also meant to communicate a message that Aphrodite is not a war goddess the Spartans are talking out of their ass Pandemos and Ouranos ok not Areia long live sea foamer’s fat milkers. It’s not meaningful to use that line as evidence for Diomedes being a match for a deity – Apollo is also not a war god, but Diomedes shits his breeches at the mere idea of fighting him.

              >and other creatures, like Giants, Cyclops, and monsters too
              The Cyclopses are divine. Giants, including Greek ones as well as Chinese ones, are divine. They’re not “gods” but they’re in all respects the same sort of entity, saying the Hundred Handed aren’t gods is like saying Nyx isn’t a goddess.

              >like some kind of distant disembodied force that can do everything
              You’re being both aggressively atheist and also highly misinformed. Most of the deities are empathetically not ‘humans but bigger’, the pop culture vision of pagan gods. They are metaphysically higher up the scale. Zeus rules the skies, but he isn’t a king ruling a fief, the skies obey him because his authority permeates their existence and it exists with his leave, and his physical form is less important than his metaphysical authority. Most deities continue to exist and function even without a physical form, or a stable one at least. Nyx and Gaia have avatars, but they’re irrelevant and arbitrary. Ouranos is still alive and can even still pump a baby into Gaia after being diced into pieces, because Kronos stole his authority as king, being unable to kill him for real. Zeus locks Kronos up but he still affects him, being as he were the titan of – among other things – time.

              In other words, pagan deities are still disembodied forces and though they may or may not have avatars (whether or not some of the more esoteric deities around have a physical form is debateable), it’s not their core and not what really matters. The reason you can’t kill them is largely down to that, or variations thereof. They play on a different field. Humans fighting them is like a 2D object attempting to fuck with a 3D one.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. caoimhinh

                I’m not drawing the line, I’m pointing it out. You were the one who claimed fights against Gods were a modern angsty concept, when it’s actually a part of every culture. Monotheistic religions being the only ones that claim invincibility for their deity (yet there are still opposing forces to it), whereas in polytheistic religions the Gods are shown to be killable, just really powerful hence the need of special methods or tools to do it.

                > “Gods fighting humans, and the humans styling on them? No. This just doesn’t happen.”
                Yet it’s never stated as impossible, and it’s in fact stated multiple times in many cultures as being a very real possibility, enough to make the Gods move to prevent it from happening. If it were outright impossible there would be no need to act in order to prevent it.

                > “You’re thinking of the Norse, I imagine. Here’s the problem – the giants are gods too. The Jotun are clearly divine in nature, as are the elves. They’re not ‘gods’, as in they’re neither Aesir nor Vanir, but they’re still divine. If you’re thinking of yokai/yaoguai, those aren’t at war with the gods any more than you’re at war with termites or mice”

                Actually, war between the established Gods against other races happens in Greek, Irish, Celtic, Hindu, and Mayan myths too, not only in Nordic myths. Even in monotheistic religions like Zoroastrianism and Christianity there’s a war between Good and Evil forces, like Yahveh and the angels against the Devil and demons/fallen angels or Ahura Mazda against Angra Mainyu (which can be interpreted as an abstract conflict but both sides also have supernatural beings supporting them).

                True, Giants are said to be born from the blood of Uranus that fell on the earth (making them ‘children’ of Gaia and Uranus) yet the Giants don’t have the powers that the Gods, right? Even Gods doesn’t have the same powers that others, except for superhuman physical stats and a bit of magic.
                Jotun and Elves aren’t divine, they are simply supernatural races that predate humanity, though they are the descendants of the ancient primordial entities, just like the Aesir.
                The Tuatha De (the old gods in Irish myths) waged war against other races too, though in later myths they are depicted as Ao Sí, one of the inspirations for our concept of fairies/elves. In some myths and legends there are humans who could count themselves among their number by certain rites, marriage or accomplishing deeds.
                Asuras, some Yakshas, and nearly all Rakshasas in Hinduism are examples of other supernatural entities that oppose the Gods and are clearly capable of killing Gods.
                In nearly all mythologies, the underworld is filled with creatures that oppose the gods, to the point that making a journey there is considered a perilous trip even for the Gods, so only the bravest and most powerful manage to do it, sometimes relying on magical artifacts.

                Not everything supernatural is ‘divine’, as the distinction between what’s divine and what isn’t is clearly defined in each mythology, either by the nature of the power or by the authority they wield.

                Being a God is not a matter of race (though in some cases all Gods are members of a family or race), it’s a title, a matter of authority over some aspect of the world (only the oldest deities are seen as abstract forces that can sometimes take humanoid form), but in most cases those elements or aspects of the world already existed and the Gods simply came to gain authority over them.
                That’s what marks the difference between a god and other supernatural creatures. Zeus rules the skies and whoever beats Zeus will be the next ruler of the skies, a similar case with Poseidon, he didn’t create the seas or the waters (that was Oceanos), yet he came to rule the seas and the many minor sea deities that inhabited them. Assuming Poseidon dies, nothing would happen to the sea, as it doesn’t depend on him to exist.

                By the way, Cronus wasn’t the titan of time, that was Chronos, though the two are often mixed-up and in modern times they are considered the same, the Orphic tradition clearly makes a distinction between the two; in the Theogony of Hesiod from which we got most of our info about Greek Gods, Cronus is the patron of harvest (though that is related to time).

                The child of a god might or might not be a god, depending on who the other parent is (the children of Loki with the Jotun Angrboða were outright monsters vastly different to each other and their parents), the conditions of their birth (Dyonisus was a god despite being the child of Zeus with a mortal, thanks to his special birth) and depending on the way they live (doing great deeds was a way for achieving divinity, like is the case of Heracles in Greek myths, and literally anything in Chinese and Japanese myths -as there are Kami for anything at all and objects can gain spiritual consciousness too-)

                You claimed that in Chinese myths being a god is simply a job, but that’s actually similar to what happens in other mythologies. Only the most ancient deities are considered to emerge from concepts, forces or elements, the rest are regents of elements or originators of crafts/arts, not embodiments of those.
                Unlike Greek gods, Egyptian deities were known for the duties they had in the world, not for the powers they wielded.
                Mesoamerican deities sometimes didn’t have any duty or authority over the world until they had matured as is the case with the Twin Heroes who later became the Sun and Moon.
                Zeus wasn’t born with the power and authority to rule the skies, neither did Poseidon nor Hades originally have control over the seas and underworld, they earned the right after winning the Titanomachia and then sorted the three domains among themselves. The rest of the deities had ‘functions’ in the world and that ‘job’ was their power. And while in some cases they are the ones to invent crafts and teach them to humans that doesn’t mean that the humans born with some talent have those talents because they were gifted them by a God (as you claimed was the case with Arachne).

                Also, as I pointed in my first comment, the immortality of the gods is said to be maintained by the consumption of special meals and elixirs in many mythologies (Amrita, Ambrosia, Nektar, Immortality Pills, etc) with the notable exception of the primordial entities that are anthropomorphic concepts (like Chaos, Nyx, Gaia, Uranus) and even then they can be beaten by the later generations (like Uranus was beaten by Cronus, who was beaten by Zeus and Zeus lived in fear that someone would eventually surpass him, likely one of his children).

                But the main issue here is whether humans are capable of beating or killing gods, which as I pointed in my first reply, depends on the mythology. I concur with you that Deicide by the hands of mortals doesn’t happen often (if at all), but we disagree in that you think it’s impossible, whereas I think it is possible and accepted as such by different mythologies.

                We both presented examples of humans (Diomedes and Heracles) wounding Gods, I provided an example of a Rishi in Hinduism being capable of cursing Indra the king of heaven, forcing him to apologize and make amends if he wanted the curse lifted. Chinese texts like Fengshen Yanyi(or Investiture of the Gods), Journey to the West and earlier myths also state that humans can kill gods and elevate themselves to the status of gods, gain immortality and power, the positions in Heaven are not directly related to the power of the person, quite the contrary they attain positions by displaying power. As I said above, the top deity the Jade Emperor and the greatest warrior of heaven Erlang Shen were born and raised as mortal humans yet they achieved power by their own training.
                The deities in Mesoamerican myths could actually be hurt by mosquitos, snakes, birds, and other animals, they could even be killed by poison, suffocation, drowning and landslides, so it’s not farfetched to think humans could kill them.
                So once again I point out that the clearest difference between humans and mythical gods is simply their access to knowledge and resources, any mortal could become immortal if they consumed the food of the gods or drank their beverages (even in Christianity there’s the Fruit of Life in Eden shown in Genesis -with Yahveh stating that humans must be prevented from eating it or they would live forever- and the Waters of Life in the Celestial Jerusalem shown in Apocalypse), also any mortal had a decent chance of killing a God if they were to use special weapons, which were not always made by the deities (Odin’s spear and Thor’s hammer were made by Dwarves) or to use magic.

                TL;DR: there are multiple examples in all mythologies that state that humans killing gods isn’t impossible, just very hard and a matter of lack of access to adequate resources. And it’s definitely not a modern concept.

                Liked by 2 people

                1. luminiousblu

                  I’m really getting tired of reading this shit because of WordPress formatting being utter garbage so I’ll make one more reply and read yours if you make one.

                  >Yet it’s never stated as impossible, and it’s in fact stated multiple times in many cultures as being a very real possibility, enough to make the Gods move to prevent it from happening. If it were outright impossible there would be no need to act in order to prevent it.
                  The fact that it doesn’t happen in makes it effectively impossible in guideverse. Depending on the actual mythos, killing a god can be anywhere from totally impossible to something out of reach of mortals and even heroes. It’s outright impossible in Greek myth, while in Norse myth it’s not impossible or anything but normal people can’t pull it off. People rebel, but it always ends poorly for them. Even temporary victories where you pull a fast one on the gods end with more major defeats, which would make you the villain carrying a huge villain ball and 100% doomed to die in guideverse terms.

                  >Actually, war between the established Gods against other races happens in Greek, Irish, Celtic, Hindu, and Mayan myths too, not only in Nordic myths. Even in monotheistic religions like Zoroastrianism and Christianity there’s a war between Good and Evil forces, like Yahveh and the angels against the Devil and demons/fallen angels or Ahura Mazda against Angra Mainyu (which can be interpreted as an abstract conflict but both sides also have supernatural beings supporting them).
                  I would argue most of those established races are in fact divine. The Asura in Hindu myths are outright gods, for a given definition of ‘god’ since Hindus have a very abstract notion of what is and isn’t a deity and how they’re related to each other. You’re drawing a hard line between the supernatural and the divine but in that case the problem is that such a strong distinction between the two stems directly from the whole thou shalt have no gods before me thing.There sometimes was a distinction, but it often was depicted as a difference of faction and not of kind, or otherwise was close to being differences in level where the gods were even higher up the ladder (or lower, depending on the mythos).

                  >That’s what marks the difference between a god and other supernatural creatures. Zeus rules the skies and whoever beats Zeus will be the next ruler of the skies, a similar case with Poseidon, he didn’t create the seas or the waters (that was Oceanos), yet he came to rule the seas and the many minor sea deities that inhabited them. Assuming Poseidon dies, nothing would happen to the sea, as it doesn’t depend on him to exist.
                  Assuming nobody replaces him, however, Okeanos, who didn’t create the waters but is simply what they are, the ocean will sit there doing absolutely nothing forever. It’s the authority that matters. You can’t steal divine authority as a mortal any more than you can get a fish to take over Mars.

                  >The child of a god might or might not be a god, depending on who the other parent is (the children of Loki with the Jotun Angrboða were outright monsters vastly different to each other and their parents), the conditions of their birth (Dyonisus was a god despite being the child of Zeus with a mortal, thanks to his special birth) and depending on the way they live (doing great deeds was a way for achieving divinity, like is the case of Heracles in Greek myths, and literally anything in Chinese and Japanese myths -as there are Kami for anything at all and objects can gain spiritual consciousness too-)
                  Kami are not really gods the way you’d normally recognise them to be. They’re akin to a sort of vital essence or personification of concept. Everything is divine in Japanese myth, every hair on your head and every bottle of water has a kami associated with it, but they’re not gods.

                  As for your arguments about the Chinese I think one of the things you’re missing here is that firstly 1. It’s not about the role, it’s about the fact that you can be hired and fired at will and 2. The whole idea that you can kill a god as a human only holds true for a flimsy definition of human. A ‘cultivated’ buddhist or taoist is immortal and nearly invulnerable to mundane harm. He is basically halfway there to being divine. That also holds for almost every hero who’s shown to wound gods – Hercules, for example, is half-god, and more than that even drank from Hera’s bosom (who, remember, while not the goddess of motherhood is still the goddess of marriage and wives) which gave him a stupidly huge power spike.

                  >So once again I point out that the clearest difference between humans and mythical gods is simply their access to knowledge and resources, any mortal could become immortal if they consumed the food of the gods or drank their beverages
                  This is super arguable. Whether or not you could just eat the food of the gods and therefore become as the gods varies based on account. Usually it’s not the case. The fruit of knowledge/life are clearly metaphors, even in the second century early Christians recognised how absurd it was to obtain knowledge by the physical teeth.

                  As for claiming that gods are more knowledgeable and more powerful humans undermines the entire point of them being gods. I know it’s popular in the modern era to think this way but that’s not how people thought back then, not the context stories were written for, and that’s why most stories where you rebel against the gods ends very poorly, because the underlying message in most of them is an exposition on character flaws of the hero – hubris, restlessness, greed, or simply being delusional. Because at the end of the day the problem here is for ancients that fighting against the gods is a lot like fighting against the rising sun. If you don’t like the fact that the sun is in your eyes every morning, the best bet is to just suck it up and deal with it instead of incessantly complaining and pissing everyone around you off.

                  Liked by 1 person

    2. > So far she’s been observed to be on absolutely no character’s side, which realistically leaves only set of entities that could turn on her in the first place, by virtue of not already being hostile to her.

      I have to dispute your reasoning here. She’s been shown *to us, the audience* to be on no character’s side. Literally no one on the continent has gotten the range of POVs that we’ve gotten. The fact that she isn’t allied to anyone doesn’t mean that no one thinks she’s allied to them.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Valkyria

      well damn. I didn’t actually mean to hit send there.

      what I meant to say was

      Since it was mentioned by “the old thing” I can’t stop thinking of Saint as one of this little wash-cloth thingies you throw into the washing machine along with your clothes so it won’t change color…

      Liked by 4 people

      1. > one of this little wash-cloth thingies you throw into the washing machine along with your clothes so it won’t change color…

        Digression: What “thingies” are those? I’ve dealt with several pink-underwear incidents (and similar) over my decades, and I’ve never heard of such a countermeasure.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Valkyria

          Just google “color catcher sheets” and there’s results… I dunno what country you’re from so maybe do it in your own language if it’s not English anyway.
          How I got to know them? – Watching to much commercials does the trick.

          P.S. I never tried them myself so please don’t hold me responsible if they do not work xD

          Liked by 5 people

  13. It strikes me that the narrative could be going along the Shakespearean lines of lovers united in death. Probably not going to happen and I suspect people would go mental but I would love a move like that. Looking at the visions we have:

    “He saw a garden and a pale woman in a dress. He saw a man with a silver coin, spinning and spinning until it dropped. He saw a crowned corpse, a grinning skull”

    It’s possible the pale woman is Wondering Bard (described so later in the chapter) and the garden refers to Arcadia. Her origins maybe? She could’ve been a fae initially seeing as she’s more like a story pattern than a living being of flesh anyway.

    The spinning silver coin is a reference to White Knight and when it drops, he finalizes his judgement? Crowned corpse is probably Dead King, not sure if the grinning skull also alludes to him or maybe something else.

    We didn’t really get much on Bard out of this exercise. Apparently DK thinks her goals are fairly petty and heroes would abandon her were they find them out. I maintain she wants to get revenge on Gods for forcing her into a life of creating atrocities and maintaining the game.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. ChillyPepper

    Everyone is mentioning how this was a mistake. Did anyone think that this is still design?

    As weird as it sounds, I think the Dead King did not expect to make it out of this, and he just wanted to expose the “grand scheme”, hence the “They will turn on you” part.

    If the shard remains in Heirophant and said Heirophant is able to check it in some manner, wouldn’t this be an ultimate victory rather than a mistake?

    Liked by 5 people

    1. > I think the Dead King did not expect to make it out of this, and he just wanted to expose the “grand scheme”,

      Per the text, the knowledge is still in a DK-shard within Masego, DK didn’t expect that bit of him to survive. He figured it could pass the goods to him… which it might have, if Masego weren’t now awake and prone to summarily obliterating any part of the DK he can reach.

      I think DK is about to rediscover the hazards of “and the next step”….

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Insanenoodlyguy

        He was going for a Xanatos gambit, but unlike the titular man himself has forgotten what it is to be mortal. For those of you who didn’t watch Gargoyles, Xantos is basically the ultimate “I already won, because there’s literally no outcome where I don’t get something I want.” antagonist, hence being a trope namer. His plan B or C was usually the real plan all along and happened during Plan A, which was thwarted sure, but long after it actually mattered. and a glorious bastard voiced (and modeled after) Jonathan Frankes. It looks like Dead King was aiming for “I discover the Bards Plan. I send that part of myself back unharmed.” with backups of “I can still send the message to myself even if I’m thwarted early, worth the crippling if I can get one up on HER.” and maybe a “Masego prizes knowledge. Even if he comes out of this intact, he’ll learn this, and spread it. I negotiate with cat to get the knowledge.” All of these, it honestly woulnd’t shock me, are the plan B after plan A of invade the continent, because I believe he’d be willing to escalate the deal to “I will not come out again unless expressly invited” in order to get that piece of knowledge. The invasion succeeded would be nice but was all a pretext for this more important thing.

        The part he’s missing, having not been mortal for too long, is the part where, given the chance to perserve or at least hear the secret, Masego in the height of his rage says “YOU HURT HER. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU KNOW.” and obliterates him even at the cost of that valuable memory. As a result he’ll keep going forward with Plan A, but in truth the whole goddamn mess fails here and now.

        Liked by 5 people

  15. Valkyria

    Not really chapter related but… am I the only one who sees the Heirophant and Masego as kind of different people? I mean i know they are one Person ans such…
    But to me Masego is the son of his fathers, the socially awkward but likeable weirdo who is in some ways naive and quite the sociopath.
    But the Hierophant is like this powerful mage, who is just mindblowingly powerful when it comes to sorcery who doesn’t really care about people just about his research and finding ways to achieve whatever he’s currently working on.
    Sure it’s basically Him vs his Name but still.

    It’s a little like the Black Queen / Cat thing, like she discussed with Akua. But the Black Queen still *is* Cat in so many ways, what they want or can do mostly differs only on a political level than a personal.

    It’s like Archer is so herself within her Name in a way that I just think Masego is not.
    Only a feeling on my part here so I don’t know though. It’s just a random thought that crossed my mind and that I wanted to share…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > am I the only one who sees the Heirophant and Masego as kind of different people?

      I think the crux of this plot is exactly that they are the same, even if Masego himself might not have accepted that yet. Remember, by our standards Masego is a high-functioning autistic. The classic “Aspie fallacy” is to see themselves as “a brain on a stick”, failing awareness of their body and the emotions coming from it. But we can learn better….

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Valkyria

        That actually explains a lot. I never considered it like that… but now it makes a hell lot of sense.

        also… how do you write in cursive here? Is it possible to learn this power?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. You mean italics? You do that with HTML tags. You don’t get all the tags, but you can use at least:
          <i>italics</i>, <b>bold</b>, <s>strikeout</s>. Let me try a couple of others: <sup>super</sup>, <sub>sub</sub>.

          And now we see if I managed to get all that right.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. OK, looks like superscript and subscript don’t work. The HTML entities ( do though, that’s how to get symbols like hearts (though WordPress also seems to interpret some text-style smileys).

            In my last note I made heavy use of the entity &lt; which gives a < symbol when it would otherwise start an HTML tag. To write the last sentence I used &amp; which I just used recursively.

            Liked by 3 people

        1. The reason I firmly call it a fallacy is that it leads to getting blindsided by emotions, which affect us even if we can’t always perceive them. (It also leads to neglect of the body, which has all kinds of bad effects.)

          Mind you, the “brain on a stick” impression isn’t a new thing, nor unique to autistics. It’s in the same vein as Cartesian dualism — which, let me grant, is natural law in the Guideverse. 😉

          But even in the Guideverse… well, the Hierophant who has been food-processing devils for power, is still the same Masego whose affection Indrani has been gently nurturing for months (years?). And who just woke up to the sight of her corpse. Emotions are going to happen here, and they’re going to happen to someone who isn’t used to feeling them. And who has a fair bit of magical power left. This isn’t going to be pretty.

          Liked by 2 people

  16. Aotrs Commander


    That was such an astoundingly stupid rookie mistake to make, I question how Dead King has actually lasted this long if he’s going to make idiotic mistakes like that – especially since he’s supposed to be paranoid and going up against something he knows is the Narrative.

    Mind you, that said, he does’t seem like a particularly good general, relying on little more than weight of numbers and a few toys to swamp the enemy, so perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised.

    I guess I’m just naturally wired to expect better out of a lich perported master-necromancer….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Well, to be fair, we have seen him use his Undead in pretty interesting ways besides the already powerful Revenant Named: digging underground tunnels to attack fortified positions, forming gigantic snakes filled to the brim with undead soldiers, poisoning rivers and lakes, blighting the land, using flying wyverns that breathe venom, and even undead warlocks to cast spells.

      Also, his defeat in this case is due to the Wandering Bard somehow being able to appear inside Masego’s soul and wrestle control of his body out of the Dead King’s grip. It’s still up to debate if it was him or her the one who moved Masego’s hand to cast the spell that killed Indrani, but the Intercessor made Neshamah loosen his grip on Masego enough that Hierophant was able to see Indrani’s corpse. No one saw that coming.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Do note that this defeat still doesn’t really hurt him. Sure, he’s going to be diminished by one little sliver of himself that he invested into this scheme, and the scheme itself is going to fail.

      But the ‘main’ him is still there, barely scratched, not in the line of fire at all. His favorite gambit: to make heroes’ victory something other than seriously hurting him because that’s just how dangerous it is.

      That part’s still working!

      Liked by 2 people

  17. JRogue

    I think the petty thing that the Bard wants is death, and a little revenge on the Gods the way out.

    Ultimately I believe Cats goal is end the “Name Game” the Gods have going and leave humanity and other races) to rule itself without their intervention.

    So either Bard saw a promising student in Cat (who was taught by Amedaus and has likely exceeded his teachings) and started manipulating this a long time ago. Or Cat sees Bard as a way to end the Gods manipulation narratively speaking somehow.

    I believe DK dies, or ceases to be a real threat, and the “Big Bad” of Book 6 will be the Bard, who ends up beat by Cat, but wins because she dies and Names are destroyed, then the Gods can no longer interfere, even indirectly, in humanities (and other races) destiny.

    Kinda speaking long term here, but this group of scenes presents a chance to look way forward in the overall story.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. shveiran

    Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

    Larat finally entering the picture, ominous and promising at the same time.
    The wasteland of Masego’s being, suggesting the question is not “what he’ll lose” but “will there be something left”.
    Archer being Archer, reminding us once more how each character of the Guide moves in accordance of strings of his own.
    Saint being a dick but a heroic dick nonetheless, and Tariq trying to balance all the moving parts to the best of his limited abilities.
    Roland apparently
    The DK’s casual murder, just in case someone was wondering why he was such a big deal; I’m having a strong Warlock-Bumbling Conjurer vibe.
    Juicy insights on the DK’s power, the intrigue with the Bard’s plan and most of all…

    … the power of love saving the day in such a way I’m rooting for it.

    Marvelous, absolutely marvelous. Thank you, thank you so very much.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Kissaten

      Apocalypse, maybe? Maybe Bard pocketed Triumphant somehow and intends to let her loose on the world once more? Demons are destroying narratives, so maybe it’s Bard’s masterplan.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. JJR

      Calernia has gotten too far outside it’s parameters and she plans to study physics until the gnomes come.

      Probably not, but it would turn literally everyone against her.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. Calemyr

    I haven’t posted here, but I’ve been reading this series for a while (caught up at the start of Book V) and greatly enjoying it.

    My theory is that the Bard’s “disappointing and petty” game is that she’s actively working to continue the war between good and evil. As long as there is a compelling story, the Theory of Narrative Causality remains in effect and tropes are effectively physical law. That is the meaning of “The House Always Wins” in this case: as long as stories thrive, a savvy student of story-fu is just shy of omnipotent.

    The flip side, of course, is why I assume she’s the end-game final boss of this tale. Stories starve without conflict. Peace is anathema to her. Cat’s dream is effectively the Bard’s death.

    Hope that makes sense.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Welcome Calemyr. 🙂 Good to have you join in the commenting community. We’re a very civil and thoughtful group and IMO our discussions really add to my enjoyment of the Guide. I’ve learnt a LOT from many people here who see deeper and/or differently than I do.

      > My theory is that the Bard’s “disappointing and petty” game is that she’s actively working to continue the war between good and evil.

      You’re in agreement with many folk here, including me. There are some interesting dissenting views on this though.

      > The flip side, of course, is why I assume she’s the end-game final boss of this tale. Stories starve without conflict. Peace is anathema to her. Cat’s dream is effectively the Bard’s death.

      Well said. You’ve stated that much more clearly than I could have.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. ninegardens

    So, some people have accussed Nessie of not being badass/impossible cautious enough here… but I think there is an important point to make here:
    This isn’t Nessie ACTUALLY losing.

    By which I mean, he staked something here, and he may lose his stake, but it is entirely possible he is playing this game more recklessly than he would the ACTUAL game, because this is only at 1% stakes.
    Sometimes being ultra cautious always isn’t enough to assure victory, so being able to break off a tiny piece of yourself that you CAN throw into a riskier game is a VERY useful ability.

    So yeah, the the bard may have beaten him. This time. That’s fine.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. JJR

      Except his soul doesn’t heal, maybe. And if that’s the case losing 1% at a time to Bard The Ever Living will end with him losing, even if it takes millennia.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes and no.
        It’s certainly not something he can afford to do repeatedly.
        However, if it’s a one-time tradeoff to find out what’s actually going on with Bard (her true goals and endgame) … it might actually be worth it.
        Especially since he probably didn’t expect that he’d be in serious danger of losing the shard of himself that’s in Masego.

        Also, since tinkering with souls is a thing, and he’d have the most experience, skill, and knowledge at doing so, it is possible that he might be able to graft replacement soul bits to his own, in order to recover from damage, even if he can’t naturally heal.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. ninegardens

        Right, which is why he wouldn’t take this risk if there wasn’t something worth gaining.

        But “Knowledge of Bard’s plans for this Epoch” seems like a worthwhile thing to risk 1% soul damage on. Expecially if you are concerned that her actual plan might be MORE that 1%.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Aside from personal damage, Nessie’s potentially facing a hit team of Powers and alliances which could at least wipe Keter off the map within a hundred years, and might actually be capable of ending DK for real.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. Forrest

    Okay, so… Neshemah messed up badly. Side note: it would appear that many of us were right and that Archer’s (hopefully temporary) demise was being suggested early in the book. Though I have a slight suspicion about the bard’s plans I’ve held for a little while as to why she has been helping Cat get so set up. It pertains to the theory many here expressed that she’s been wanting to escape her role that she’s been fulfilling for ages now.

    I feel like she’s planning on escaping her role by placing Cat in that role instead. Which would also explain why he felt they would all turn on her, including Saint, cause it’s not like she would like having Cat around like that.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Daniel E

    I don’t care how much Goodness the Pilgrim pours into Archer’s resurrection, she is going to have the mother of all headaches when she returns. Like month-long blackout drunk hangover. I also wonder if her errant brain matter will be magically poofed back inside her, or simply regrown. I recall Hierophant mentioning at Camps that Pilgrim’s power is more akin to crazy-fast healing than true resurrection.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Jonnnnz

    OK, I really hate the Karma Houdini trope. The entire world is based around it being impossible, yet one villain pulls it off. I speak, of course, about the Bard. We have seen her help Akua commit atrocities, turn the Drow into what they are now, stopped the dead king from even considering conquering more from Below after she aided his rise, and all the while she never stopped her over the top villainous monologues, revelling in taunting those she torments. Have we ever seen her remotely heroic? Actually helping anyone? Doing anything that isn’t strictly creating larger body counts?

    I get that the Karma Houdini is supposed to make us hate a character, but for me it is just tiring. She brings out the worst in people because reasons, people let her because gods exist, but she’s nothing more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She created the League of Free Cities. She stopped Black from doing what he was doing in the Free Cities and possibly set him on a path to redemption (?). She’s been keeping conflicts from escalating beyond measure, making sure DK knows not to set plagues on the continent and not to get too greedy with the surface. She gave the Sisters their bargain, allowing the drow to survive.

      Bard is not an unambiguous villain, no, and we still don’t know what her endgame actually is, nor who are ‘they’ who would turn against her at apparently one word from the Dead King.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. superkeaton

    To quote the Dead King, “Boom, headshot!”
    Ah, love. Stronger than death.
    Speaking of death, whatever happened to Assassin? Nary a peep from that most tenebrous of knives lately.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Unmaker

    The Dead King, who has survived and prospered by not making narrative mistakes, just made what seems to be an obvious narrative mistake. There have been a number of theories as to why above, but here’s another one:

    He failed, not because he was passionless, but the opposite. His passion since before his death has been working against the Intercessor. For the first time in a long time, he has a chance to do just that. With that intellectual rush going through his brain, his normal error avoidance routines may have been ignored for a moment. And a moment is all it takes.

    Liked by 2 people

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