Chapter 47: Tenet

“You who would be mighty, seek excellence in all things, for the conquest of eternity must be earned with every breath.”
– Extract from the ‘Tenets Under Night’, Firstborn religious text

Well, shit. I guessed you could always count on good ol’ Larat to make a bad situation incredibly worse. And I wasn’t the only one to realized that with a pithy gesture and a few words he’d dropped us all in the deep end, because the moment the fae who’d abdicated the Twilight Crown took a step away from the throne I had to speak up.

“Hold,” I got out, and there was an echo.

Archer’s longknife slowed a hair’s breadth away from the hollow of Larat’s throat, as did the Saint’s longsword – though it’d not been me that Laurence was listening but the Pilgrim. Who had, thanks the Gods, enough of a finger on the pulse of this to recognize that killing the fae now would be a Very Bad Idea. High above us, Sve Noc lazily circled the sky. Yet another fire I was going to have to put out the moment I’d assessed the nature of this turnabout. I inclined my head in thanks at Tariq and shot Indrani a steady glance. Shrugging, she withdrew her blade and with an unnecessarily eye-catching spin she put it away. The Saint I left to the Pilgrim, eyes on the fae who’d been the Twilight King for the span of two sentences. Was he still, though? I wondered with a frown. Not king – the abdication might have been a trick, but not of that particular kind – but fae. There was a flush to his skin now, and while his long hair remained unearthly in its perfection it was no longer… unnatural.

“Larat,” I said. “Look me in the eye.”

Baring a smile of pearly white teeth, the one-eye creature met my gaze and my lips thinned in dismay. When I’d first met the Prince of Nightfall, a simple look in his eyes had sent me tumbling down into fear and darkness. A glimpse into his nature, forced by the matching of gaze. I’d learned to resist that pull, in later years, or at times simply been the greater monster of the two of us. I was not currently using any of those tricks, for there was no need to. Larat held not a speck of power within him. And fae, Masego had once told me, were little more than power made flesh and shaped by stories. The inevitable conclusion of that sent a shiver up my spine.

“Do you even know,” I softly asked, “what you’ve become?”

“Something… unprecedented,” he said, smile broadening.

“And the rest of the Hunt?” I said.

One after another they leapt down, graceful and lithe. None of them bore titles that I could catch the scent of, be it the newborn regalia of Twilight or older and more vicious accoutrements.

“We claim nothing,” Larat languidly replied, “save that we are.”

“Fascinating,” the Saint of Swords said. “You gonna feed them to your drow, or should I just go ahead and finish this? I’ve yet to hear a reason that smirking head should stay atop his shoulders.”

“Because someone’s going to have to put on that damned crown, now,” I said, never looking away from Larat. “And while I can’t say for sure what murdering the creature that first forged it would do exactly, I doubt it’ll be particularly pleasant.”

The former fae’s lips twitched. Seed of madness in the crown was my guess, putting an original sin at the heart of what this realm would become. The clever fox had picked a path that meant we couldn’t kill him without dropping a vial of poison in our own cup.

“There no longer are any oaths between us,” I acknowledged. “All debts have been paid.”

“So they have,” Larat admitted. “Would you believe me if I said, my queen, that my service under your banner was a pleasure?”

“Not even an hour free,” I said, “and already lying? You always were a quick learner.”

He laughed, deep-throated and wild. I swallowed a sigh.

“You fulfilled your oaths to the letter,” I conceded, and raised my voice to the others. “All of you. If we are to part tonight, it is not in anger.”

Larat, viper-swift, raised the sword hanging from his hip. I did not reach for the Night, though Archer was halfway through a killing stroke before she turned it aside – my former servant, after a salute, had dropped the blade at my feet.

“May we meet again, my queen, before the end,” Larat said. “For every gift you gave you took fair measure, and I can pay no higher compliment.”

Much as they had years ago when riding horses, the creatures that had once been the Wild Hunt paid me the mirrored farewell to the allegiance they’d sworn. Lance and blade and bow fell at my feet, and with every last a bow. Some paid respects to Archer as well, though to her they offered only words. They gathered around Larat: slender, beautiful and even without so much as a speck of power still terrible to behold.

“And what will you do?” I asked.

“Whatever we wish, my queen,” the one-eyed fox said. “For be it wicked or righteous, it will be entirely ours.”

I let them go without another word, ignoring the Pilgrim’s weighty look and the Tyrant’s fleeting yet fascinated glances at the former fae. There was another issue about to take hold, after all. For all that I’d chosen to part with the Wild Hunt on a cordial note, Larat had repaid my planned deicide in the same manner. The Twilight Crown was not up for grabs, and he’d known exactly what he was doing when he’d offered it to the worthiest. It was respect that’d stayed the hands of the drow so far, for through the Night I could feel hundreds of them hungrily gazing down. If I ordered them to refrain, I’d strain the limited of my authority as the First Under the Night. Oh, some would listen. At first anyway, until they saw foes and rivals close to getting their fingers on great power and the balance swung the other way. They only way they’d obey such an edict was if Sve Noc put their weight to my words. Yet I had the Sisters in the back of my mind, and so I knew they were eying that crown as hungrily as the rest of them.

“Black Queen,” the Grey Pilgrim began, “given the-”

“Pilgrim,” I calmly said. “I don’t think you appreciate how delicate the situation is right now. I need to… confer with my patrons.”

“Evil clawing at itself,” the Saint bitingly said. “There’s a surprise.”

I ignored her.

“It’d be a mistake,” I said in Crepuscular, addressing the sky.

The first crow that landed on the floor did so smoothly, and just as smoothly rose into the silhouette of a drow. Silver-blue eyes shone, and I saw she was wearing the ancient armour of soldiers of the Empire Ever Dark with at her hip a sheathed blade of obsidian. Komena.  Her sister, fully formed a drow before her crow talons could touch the stone, made ground with serenity. It was the robes of the long-broken Twilight Sages she wore, in flowing shimmering silk, and her hands she hid within long sleeves. Andronike. My patrons, at least, had taken me seriously enough to make act of presence. And a little more than that, even. I caught flecks of dust gone still in the air around me, made visible by the glinting light, and all others in this seat of power stood as if frozen. Save for the Pilgrim, whose knowing eyes followed me still – whatever power was at work here, bending perception, the Choir of Mercy had not suffered that he would be touched by it.

“Would it be?” Komena said. “Twilight is not so far removed from our domain. And mastery over ways… oh, let the offering of travellers be not blood but instead prayer. There would be opportunity in that, and yet more. We have lost the Everdark and the kingdom you bargained for still has to be reclaimed from death. A home for our people would be fair in every way, Herald.”

“You can’t eat two courts of the fae, Komena,” I said. “That would be grave overreach.”

The two of them, long-legged and fluid, began circling around me on foot the same way they had as crows.

“You have warned us of such perils before, of the foes they would bring,” she replied, and glanced at the Grey Pilgrim. “Having seen them, I am less than cowed.”

“The way I see it, there’s two ways that could go,” I said. “Both end up with every single gain you’ve made so far pissed away.”

That had them both looking at me with their full attention.

“You could become ‘the monster that eats courts’,” I said. “And just like that you’re the greatest threat kicking around Calernia, both taking the weight off the Dead King and beginning a death match with every powerful entity in the service of Above up here and gathered to deal with him.”

I paused, letting that sink in.

“Or, perhaps even worse, you’ve just begun a pattern,” I said. “I made a Court of Winter and you ate it. I made a Court of Twilight and you’d eat it. There’s only one court of the fae left, Sve Noc, and I also had a hand in its inception. Where do you think that story leads?”

“We would be mistresses of the greater part of the Garden,” Komena said.

“Would you?” I said. “I wonder. When I stole Winter, it didn’t do anything to the ruling court of Arcadia as far as I could tell. See, what I think is that it’s the neverborn courts they get their blood from: Autumn and Spring, never to be again. Because Summer and Winter had to die so the unification of Arcadia could happen, so they couldn’t be foundation of an entirely new realm could they? So my theft of Winter? Fine, I was robbing a corpse. The crown just to our side might just be what used to be Summer. So at best, o goddesses of mine, you’ll be even. And you know that one viciously clever little bastard that just walked out of here?”

I jutted a thumb towards the open gates of bronze.

“The ruling King of Arcadia considers him to be a little dim,” I said. “Think on that, before you start believing you’ll be the winners in that scrap even if the weight is even. You’re too young to the godhead, your power is too fragile and your foundations too unsteady. You’re not ready for the kind of attention eating Twilight would bring.”

Komena did not reply. She was not pleased, I could feel it, but she did not dismiss what I’d said.

“I do not disagree,” Andronike said.

And now for the other one, I grimly thought.

“Let us allow the Mighty to find who is worthiest among them, and so establish influence without… overstepping,” the oldest of the sisters said.

“Short-sighted,” I assessed.

I saw Komena hide a smile.

“Pardon?” Andronike said, voice too calm to truly be.

“You’re thinking in terms of gains without also weighing the drawbacks,” I said. “Do you intend to make whoever takes the crown the leader of your people, fold them under their rule and effectively have them stuck in this ruin of a realm forever? Because that’s what you’re headed towards if you make a play here.”

“They have no choice but to make bargains with us if the ways are under our stewardship,” Andronike said. “This war is lost otherwise.”

“You’re robbing them while the Dead King holds them at knifepoint,” I said. “That’s a mistake. What happens when the war is over, Sve Noc? Do you think they won’t go back on treaties you crammed down their throat when they were in duress?”

“And will they come to love us, if we treat them lovingly?” Andronike mockingly replied. “That is surprisingly naïve of you, Herald. If they turn on us for this, they were always going to turn on us. All the more reason to claim what we can before the knives are bared.”

“You’re missing the point,” I patiently said. “There’s nuances to this, Andronike. Sure, the Procerans are never going to put a crown of flowers in your hair, but there’s a difference between ‘the enemy we leave alone because it contains a worse enemy’ and ‘those bastards that extorted us while we were facing annihilation’. You know what’s going to be a lot more useful to your people than one of the Mighty on that fancy chair behind you? An undeniable and weighty precedent for the Firstborn being reasonable, restrained actors. You’re going to have to live up here, after the war ends.”

“You would have us pin our hopes on amity and mercy,” Andronike said.

“I’d have you fight this war in a manner that doesn’t guarantee having to fight another one in twenty years with your current allies,” I frankly said. “You named me First Under the Night because you needed feet on the ground. Someone to steer you away from the mistakes you’re blind to because of your position.”

I paused.

“This is one,” I said. “This might be the mistake. The choice that decides whether you’re a decade-long catastrophe that ends up drowned in heroes or the latest nation to claim a seat at the table up here in the Burning Lands.”

They circled around me still, silent. Thinking.

“This is not our way,” Komena said.

“Your way is a snake eating its own tail,” I said. “Be better.”

“They might turn on us regardless,” Andronike said.

“They might,” I admitted. “Fear or faith, that’s your choice. You can’t cross a chasm without taking a leap.”

The Sisters looked at each other, eyes sliding away from me, and whatever it was they spoke it was not meant for my ears. Pounding heartbeats drummed against my ears, they began circling anew. With every step they further faded into the shadow, until there was nothing left but crows once more circling above. As if they’d never left at all. I breathed out, slowly.

“You are First Under the Night,” Andronike confirmed.

“The Firstborn listen,” Komena said. “Speak.”

My fingers clenched. Above us the Mighty stood, a ring of painted sigils and silver-blue yes. Watching, waiting. And my goddesses had asked me to teach restraint to a people they had taught to esteem gluttonous theft above all. I was not, I thought, clever enough a liar to trick them all into obedience. And that’d be rather defeating the purpose of this, wasn’t it? I was the high priestess of Night: if I found offence with the faith I’d been named the steward of, who but me could be charged with the change of it?

“Are you worthy?” I asked, and my voice rang out.

Not a soul replied. I let out a harsh bark of laughter.

“Your silence says it all,” I told them. “You believe you are, or that the shedding of blood will make you so.”

And why wouldn’t they? The worthy took, the worthy rose. Did the act of taking not make them worthy? That was the sickness inside them, Below’s ever-red altar made into an entire people. It was the old enemy wearing another face: Callow and Praes, forever intertwined and bleeding. Procer as much burden as bearing, sowing its own demise with every conquest. It was bucket holding the crabs, and I was going to break it.

“I see you,” I harshly said. “Scavengers, carrion things crawling in the dark. You make faith of what you’ve taken and call that worth. I see you, who call yourselves Mighty. I have been you, and heard the sweet anthems of might, so hear me when I tell you this truth: a hundred rats clawing at each other does not make a single king.”

Oh, they did not love me for that. I saw it in their eyes, in the way fury and malice filled the Night. But it was a lesson long overdue and love was not what I wanted from them, much less what I needed.

“Did you believe a single moment of excellence would earn you an eternity of power?” I said. “The one-eye fox that left this place head held high forged this crown through ruses that fooled gods and ruined realms. What bring any of you that matches those deeds?”

I bared my teeth.

“The murder of your own kind? I ask you, what manner of creature under sun or moon is not capable of this? Where lies that which would make you worthy?”

I struck my staff against the ground, let the clap that sounded out jostle them.

“You have grovelled in the ruins of your own empire, bleeding behind the Gloom,” I said. “And through that you survived. Yet is that all you seek, you who call yourselves Mighty? Survival? I thought you seekers of deeds. I thought you reclaimed of an empire ever dark. I thought you Firstborn, not grey ghosts haunting a ruin.”

Fury still, but now their pride had been pricked. And there were some who were listening. Hearing what had been spoken but also what had not been.

“It is not enough to take,” I said. “For you must be worthy to take. It is not enough to rise, for you must be worthy to rise.”

Blasphemy, some would have called that, but how could it be when I spoke with the voice of their gods?

“Did you think eternity would so easily be conquered?” I laughed. “Seek excellence in all things, Firstborn. Seek to stand nighty not by lowering others but by rising above them, lest you make your own victory worthless. They who cannot master themselves will never be anything but servants.”

I breathed out, let what I’d said sink in.

“And so I ask you again, you who call yourselves Mighty – are you worthy?”

Sa Vrede. The whisper spread, bloomed until it was on every pair of lips. No, the answer came, and with it the beat of spears against stone. Slow and oppressive, like a dirge.

“Then seek excellence, Firstborn,” I said.  “Ever seek it until the night comes where your answer has changed.”

Chno Sve Noc, they went. All will be Night. And they bowed, for I has spoken with the authority of high priestess of Night and for all their fury they had found worth in the path I laid before them. As the deity-crows circled slowly above us all they withdrew into the darkness, dismissed without my needing to speak another word. I let out a shaky breath and turned to find the eyes of most everyone else resting on me. I doubted anyone other than Archer had understood any of that – Indrani had learned a bit of Crepuscular back in the day, though it was a fiendishly complex language so not all that much – but I supposed even without the learning it’d been something of a spectacle.

“Dawn will come before the hour’s turn,” the Grey Pilgrim quietly said. “And with it the end of this journey, for good or ill.”

“Then there is only one agreeable solution,” the Tyrant of Helike said.

He let a moment pass.

“We should crown Catherine,” he said, and winked at me.

“I’ve ridden that horse before,” I said. “Never again.”

“A shame,” he mused. “I’d volunteer, yet I suspect my dear friends might…”

“Murder you like we were planning to do to Larat?” I finished. “Of course not. Go ahead, Kairos. Put on the crown.”

“Breaking the crown itself might suffice,” the Rogue Sorcerer said.

“How sure are you of that, Roland?” the Saint asked.

He grimaced.

“Half and half,” the Sorcerer said. “As you might guess, there’s not exactly a precedent for this.”

And considering that the hero wasn’t able to understand High Arcana, there was only so much weight I was willing to put on his word. Gods, I wished Masego was in a fit state to speak right now. Hells, I’d even settle for Akua right about now.

“So either we roll the dice over the life of around two hundred thousand people,” I grimly said. “Or someone puts on that crown and then we kill them.”

201 thoughts on “Chapter 47: Tenet

  1. Nicely done, Cat. You’re getting good at this High Priestess thing.

    Huh.
    I’m not entirely sure why murdering the person who puts on the Twilight Crown is still necessary, no matter who that person is.

    Liked by 18 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Because the person would have too much power; because the fae power corrupts; because they would be stuck in the ruined realm and thus useless for the war anyway.

      Liked by 20 people

    2. nimelennar

      If someone wears the crown, they become ruler of a new Court of Fae.

      No one wants there to be a new Court of Fae.

      So they need to crown someone and then kill that person to destroy that new Court before it is established, to leave this realm as a place that can be crossed by any who pay the price.

      Or, they could just break the crown, and it might accomplish the same thing… but they don’t know if that will work.

      Liked by 17 people

      1. Rook

        I think there’s a strong narrative argument for the Saint to be the one that puts on the crown, in terms of a final redemption story. The person that’s puts it on is going to affect the nature of the realm as much what formed it.

        An entire life lived, ever cutting down disasters, ever failing to prevent them no matter how strong the desire to. An unbreakable, incorruptible, unwavering sword that held firm through any and all obstacles, no matter the crucible or the temptation.

        Now for the first and last time, at the end of that long story, she can finally, finally succeed just once in Saving instead of Avenging after the tragedy has already taken place. By willingly being cut down instead of cutting down, she can forge not just a redemption but the Greatest redemption after a lifetime of failures, of being moments too late again and again.

        A realm forged of the Saint wouldn’t be a kind one or a pleasant one, but it would be a wholly incorruptible one, and an unbreakable one, no matter the evil or the storm. It could never be twisted away from its nature. It could never be corrupted, poisoned, or struck with disease.

        More importantly, the Saint would have strong personal reasons to. If she wants to make sure there’s absolutely no Evil influence in the establishment of the realm, it can’t be a Villain being the first and last to put that crown on their head (larat never wore the crown before putting it down). Which in her eyes would leave the Sorcerer – a Good young seedling snuffed out before his time – or the Pilgrim – who she holds in the highest esteem, likely even higher than herself. It would be a self sacrifice play from the one asshole you’d never expect the self sacrifice play from, but still for her own goals until the very end

        Liked by 25 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          I like the way you’ve laid that out. Very satisfying option.

          And she still gets to be used against the Dead King. Just not the way she expected.

          Liked by 5 people

        2. > (larat never wore the crown before putting it down).

          He did. For about two seconds, but he did:

          “Larat, smiling, put on the crown.

          “Hear my first decree, one and all, as Twilight’s King,” he laughed.

          Larat, smiling, tossed it back down onto the throne.”

          Emphasis mine, of course. He was King exactly long enough to be able to abdicate the position, because he’s a little shit. But he was the King, even if only for a moment. But honestly Larat is villain enough to count for anybody paying attention, much less by the standards of the Saint, so your actual point still has merit.

          Liked by 4 people

        3. Dainpdf

          Unless this is all a ploy to kill her. Safer, from the perspective of not letting any villains’ plans work, to just break the thing.

          Like

    3. Insanenoodlyguy

      Same reason Cat doesn’t want to put it on, murder aside. Larat did one thing in his very brief stint as King: shaped the court. And so any who succeed him inherit this. As cat knows full well, this will begin to have… effects. The King or Queen of Twilight, even if a friend today, may become a foe tomorrow.

      This is where King Edwin can still deliver though, if he yet stands. The dead king retreats, but if he does this, his imminent death yet has meaning and he can rest. Of course, this ascension will give him life again first, so it’ll hurt all the more. Though I suspect that’d be too easy a resolution now, so he’s likely dead already

      Liked by 13 people

    4. Guopo

      Am I the only one that thinks that the drow should have teared her apart, First Under the Night or not? She is trying to make power addicts go against their instincts by what basically amounts to moralizing. Imagine trying to make a bunch of Wall Street brokers more aware of the long term by asking them to be better.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Sve Noc can dust them out of existence with a thought, they literally all are alive only on their sufferance.

        Mighty are not just power addicts. They are power addicts who survived, power addicts who got recruited into the southern expedition.

        They are sane enough to respect the Law Of The Bigger Fish.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. And just as importantly, they’re *old*. The Mighty strong enough to be here are all ancient monsters, and you just don’t get to be that old in a meat grinder like the Underdark unless you know how to change. The Mighty aren’t old like Sve Noc, unchanging ageless immortal imprints. They’re ancient mortals who have earned a lease on longer life by being better than ever other damn contender who would have toppled them. They are adaptable, they must be.

          So when Cat, this person who just rolled through their entire civilization like a living wrecking ball and went toe to toe with their gods only to come out as the freaking *High Priest* of their religion wielding more Night than any of them could hope to have, when *she* says backed by their gods “there is a way to be even stronger” … well, none of them are stupid. All of them are adaptable. All of them respect might makes right not merely as a reality but as holy writ, and here speaks the mightiest. And yeah the goddesses who could disintegrate them all are also flying overhead, that too.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. shveiran

            Very well said.

            It’s important to remember that the Mighty are not just power hungry: they are those that succeeded in applying the Tenets of Night, which are a divine writ.

            The Firstborn are experiencing an Exodus, led by a Cat-shaped Moses (staff included). And sure, the path is hard, and they will be tempted to go against the will of their Goddesses and Prophet along the way, but one does not embark on such a path, leaving behind all they once held, without knowing on some level that things will never be quite the same.

            They have the POTENTIAL to change. The story has the right shape.

            Liked by 4 people

    5. Morgenstern

      I saw no need either, after the chapter before this. After this one, though, I believe the reason is in Cat’s suspicion that Larat put a “madness” in the Crown that will make anyone mad who wears it.

      Now, I don’t entirely unstand why anyone needs to put it on at all, after this realm should have already been stabilized by Larat forming the Twilight Court, even if just for two seconds.Does it somehow fall into pieces *again* if the person abdicates? Then, why the heck, shouldn’t it do so with their original plan that would even have KILLED that person and not just forced them to abdicate? oO I’m curious for the revelation there. At least, I very much hope we’ll get one. Without one, it reeks of being irrational instead of a sensible theory.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. naturalnuke

        Problem 1, it’s still falling, problem 2, it currently doesn’t lead where they need it to lead.

        So they need to gain control of it somehow. Best way would be corpse robbing because no one owns it anymore, is someone does own it then they are liable to corruption and or whatever trap may or may not be in the power.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. dalek955

        I think their problem is that they need the realm to be rulerless and unclaimed, and that’s not how Larat left it. By abdicating the crown to be claimed by “the worthiest,” he left it in trust for a specific ruler, even if no one yet knows who that is. If they left the crown as it is, the band of five would be leaving the road-realm and anything they make with it effectively up for grabs.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Gunslinger

    Cat’s speech was fucking glorious. Chno Sve Noc!!

    >Would you?” I said. “I wonder. When I stole Winter, it didn’t do anything to the ruling court of Arcadia as far as I could tell. See, what I think is that it’s the neverborn courts they get their blood from: Autumn and Spring, never to be again. Because Summer and Winter had to die so the unification of Arcadia could happen, so they couldn’t be foundation of an entirely new realm could they? So my theft of Winter? Fine, I was robbing a corpse. The crown just to our side might just be what used to be Summer. So at best, o goddesses of mine, you’ll be even. And you know that one viciously clever little bastard that just walked out of here?”

    Can someone clarify what this passage means? I’m too sleepy to properly parse it.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Cat says Winter and Summer died in the process of making the new court, so her taking Winter was easy. This crown of Twilight is probably made of Summer.

      The new Court is made of Autumn and Spring, so even if Sve Noc ate this one, they would be even (or not even that, since they ate corpses).

      Considering the Fae King’s cunning, Cat says Sve Noc couldn’t beat the Court at even power.

      Liked by 22 people

    2. nimelennar

      There were four Fae Courts, one for each season.

      The power of Winter went into Cat.
      The power of Summer (maybe) went into the Twilight Crown.

      The power of Autumn and Spring went into the new Fae Court, jointly ruled by the former Queen of Summer and King of Winter.

      So, if Sve Noc takes the Twilight Crown, they will be establishing themselves as the other pole to the current Fae Court, and thus war against them will be inevitable.

      Each will have the power of two Courts (hence, “at best, you’ll be even”), but the current rulers of the Fae are a lot cleverer than Sve Noc, so it probably won’t go well for the Firstborn.

      Liked by 22 people

      1. Taichi22

        Even worse, it establishes a dichotomy between the two courts — one of light and one of darkness. One court of stories and fae and light and Arcadia Resplendent, and another of darkness and death and crawling rats.

        You don’t want to be on the darkness side of that story, no matter what you get.

        Liked by 19 people

          1. I think actually Twilight and Dawn courts, currently. But if it mirrors the 4-season cycle that they had before, then yeah presumably we’d get a Court of Noon and a Court of Midnight as well. Which honestly sounds pretty fucking dope as a reader, though it also makes perfect sense why the characters who’d have to actually live with it would be going ALL MY NOPE TO THAT.

            Liked by 3 people

    3. manic Insomniac

      The [unammed current marriage court] gets its Magic Juice from the two courts that WOULD have happened, but didn’t because of Cats bullshit. Cat got her Magic Juice from the corpse of Winter. Twilight might get its Magic Juice from the corpse of Summer.

      Currently, Sve Noc has consumed Winters power, so it has One Courts worth of power. If it eats Twilight, it will have Two Courts worth of power.

      However, since [UCMC] gets its Magic Juice from the TWO courts that didn’t happen, [UCMC] ALREADY has Two Courts worth of power.

      Therefore, [UCMC] and Sve Noc Post Twilight-nom will be equally matched in power.

      Liked by 11 people

  3. Dainpdf

    Obviously, you crown the chair itself, then kill it.

    Or crown the Shining Prince, predating the coronation so that Cat deicided him on the field.

    …or maybe see if there is any of the devils left? Hm…

    Liked by 5 people

            1. joewill5234

              Pun? Is it a pun to do something in the original way, the act from which the word originated? I don’t see it. It would be following old traditions.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. caoimhinh

                Masego would probably say that, and would be correct as you are, but all Cat would see would be the pun. And her group of friends will never stop reminding her of it.

                Liked by 3 people

        1. Insanenoodlyguy

          Agreed. It’d be one thing if one of them made to take it and was cut down, or even Grey did it knowing full well what he’d be sacrificing, but if they just hand it off, it will rot the whole process. The world will continue breaking down, if slower, as it’s last ruler doomed it to ruin and a successor was never chosen.

          Liked by 4 people

      1. dalek955

        The abdicated royals, like Pilgrim, are just that: abdicated. They gave up their divine right to rule, and that specifically applies to any new crown they might get hold of.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I wonder if Cat could simply call Akua there, crown her and finally kill her and be done with her “I’m going to make a good person out of you before I kill you” idea.
      It would be the most efficient way. Of course, it would be hard to kill her and Cat would lose one “ally”, not to mention that it’s pretty obvious at this point that Cat has grown fond of Akua to the point she has to constantly remind herself that she wants to kill Akua eventually.

      Liked by 6 people

        1. caoimhinh

          What’s a bit of Heresy between friends? That’s how the best alliances between ships are made! Besides, I was certain the S.S Catkua was in route through the Platonic Sea?
          I should contact Commodore Liliet for more info, she has the greater amount of ships I have seen so far here…

          Liked by 16 people

          1. Soma

            Commodore Lillet, my sides!

            Whoever started the catkua ship be like

            Shipper “Brothers your uncle fannys your aunt, there you are with two ships. The makings of your very own fleet. Course’, you’ll take the grandest as your flagship, and who’s to argue? But of the Catkua, name me captain. I’ll sail under your colours and give you ten percent of me booty and you get to introduce yourself as Commodore Lillet, savvy?”

            Lillet: “I suppose in exchange you want me to not ship the whelp?”

            Shipper: “no, no, no, by all means ship the whelp, just not yet. Wait to lift the curse for the opportune moment. For instance, after you’ve shipped Norrington’s men. Every *clink* last *clink* one *clink*.

            Shipee: “You’ve been planning this from the beginning! Ever since you learned my name!”

            Shipper: “…yeah!”

            Lillet: “I want fifty percent of your booty!”

            Shipper: “Fifteen!”

            Lillet: “Fourty!”

            Shipper: “Twenty five! I’ll buy you the hat. A reeeeeaaaly big one. Commodore.”

            Lillet: “We have an accord!”

            Liked by 7 people

                1. caoimhinh

                  Well…
                  Catkua would be a Ghostship (Punintended).
                  IndranixCat + IndranixMasego is a mighty Dreadnought with long-range magic missiles and guided by Aspect-powered satellite vision and machine gun turrets on deck.
                  CatxRozala and CatxCordelia are a regular warship and a regular commercial ship with a bit of shady deals if one were to look at their accounts.
                  IndranixAkua would be that type of small but fast yacht that Narcos use to traffic cocaine while having a party full of booze and hot chics on the deck.

                  CatxLaurence is the aberrant one, of course.
                  CatXJuniper is the wooden canoe.

                  And I know you have at least one pirate ship, the CatxKairos. Plus the Viking raiding ship that is JuniperxAisha, from which we are all unofficial crew members.

                  Liked by 3 people

                  1. Well, yeah, I forgot to mention JuniAisha, or rather, I was only listing Cat ships (Indrani/Akua counts bc that whole list is actually one big ship) ❤

                    Don't forget the last two are FRIEND ships. Cat/Juniper is a proud frigate sailing since book 1, and Juniper has even stopped being tsundere about it (they HUGGED in book 3!)

                    I'd argue you can also ship adopted family ships, which adds at least two more to the armada, but I know people ARE going to misinterpret it, intentionally or otherwise, and while I'm vaguely cool with that happening to the friend ships, I am very uncool with that happening to the family ships, so unnamed they will stay. I'll call them submarines ❤

                    Love your classification ❤

                    Liked by 3 people

                  2. Oh, and I’m not sure about Cat/Kairos. It just kind of shows up sometimes, but I know *I* didn’t put it there. It’s like the ship version of a stray cat you put out milk for. Is it yours? Arguable! Is it there? Most of the time, no! What’s up with it? Ask when you learn to speak cat! Or ship, I guess! This metaphor kind of got away from me! Pirate speak? Arrrrr?

                    Liked by 4 people

                2. Ariklus

                  Can a RobbIckler lesser lifeboat fit in the glorious fleet?
                  I still hope for a political consortry resulting in the creation of Lesser Footrest Tribe (creation ow which was sanctioned years ago)

                  Liked by 1 person

          2. I feel like there’s a lot more potential to be milked out of Catkua in-story, but tbh this being the ending (and Akua submitting to it willingly) would also be cool as shit, even if I’d mourn that…

            IDK. I hope there’s another solution >x>

            Liked by 5 people

            1. Death Knight

              Akua’s chain is no longer there but doesn’t she also wield Night? Can’t Sve Noc tell her “get ya thicc ass over here?”She is a shade after all I don’t think getting her there will be an issue.

              Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        I really like this idea for a few reasons:

        I’m pretty sure that Akua’s redeemed by now, and giving her life for a very good cause may be just the end she needs. With the 100,000 lives she will save just by stopping the fall of this land, she may even balance the scales in her favour. And I think Akua needs to die eventually because otherwise Cat’s giving up on an essential aspect of her Callowan identity (long prices).

        It makes so much sense, Akua may even do it willingly and she wouldn’t be hard to kill.

        Liked by 6 people

          1. Agreed.

            Cat’s whole thing from the start was based on putting aside a grudge. “Okay fine the Black Knight conquered us and Praes are mean meanies who suck, now how do we be productive about this?”

            Liked by 2 people

  4. Dainpdf

    So apparently this is the third time Cat refuses a crown.

    So I guess my Pattern of Three theory paid off, but in the wrong way? Unless Cat gets a queen name in some other way before this is over.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      She already has embodied the Black Queen role, and I think we don’t see the markings of a Name because either
      1) Names were the old method of gathering and using power, and Cat is all about breaking the old ways…
      2) The Black Queen is a Name, but it is so new, that it doesn’t have any accumulated power behind it, and Cat’s natural nature is shaping the path (or lack thereof) of this new Name.

      Liked by 5 people

          1. Considering Cat got literally crowned right afterwards and was able to extricate herself from the Dread Empress’s influence specifically because of his actions (and the reason Malicia stopped supporting her WAS that she no longer was dependent on her)… I somehow don’t think that’s it.

            What I think is that the “Black” part of her Name referred to Cat’s colder, more vicious side, the part of her willing to fully live up to the “justifications matter only to the just” motto. The pivot in Liesse was, either she rejects Malicia’s plan in favor of “rolling over for Hasenbach”, as she so graciously put it at the time, and gives up on her forming crown… or she locks herself into the way of Evil by agreeing to go along with it.

            Because of how extreme the hellfortress option was, the Name ended up taking shape as dark enough to completely break when the decision was taken away. It would have been the manifestation of Cat’s darkest moment, given enough power to forever take her over and drag her down, with no option to crawl back up.

            After Black broke Liesse, it did not take Cat long to realize that (1) he was not wrong narratively/practically speaking, and (2) fuck no. It really was the Darkest Hour, the one moment of weakness at the lowest point, Cat’s war fatigue playing a cruel joke on her and the rest of Creation.

            (We all know that would have ended with at least a couple new Hellgates open on Calernia, don’t we? Let’s all give collective thanks to Auntie Bard and Uncle Amadeus for that being prevented from happening)

            Anyway, that set the metaphysical/narrative meaning of “Black Queen” so that now p much no matter what Cat does she’s not coming close to embodying it again, especially not after Everdark. She’s only moving up and away, now.

            Liked by 1 person

        1. shveiran

          Sure, but I don’t think that preventing a Name from forming prevents that Name from ever forming afterwards.
          Cat will never be the Black Queen as in “Sovereign of Callow under the Tower”, but she has been the Black Queen to friend and foe alike for books now. I could see her getting Black Queen as a Name that means “Lesser-evil, narrative-focused villain ruler” or something along those lines.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Dainpdf

        1) Uh, maybe. “Priestess to earthly gods” is not exactly an innovation, though, so I don’t think this holds up.
        2) Hierophant was new and it had power. This doesn’t hold water.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’d say a variation of 2: Black Queen might not be completely new (e.g., Heirophant wasn’t considered novel, just unexpected), but no prior holder was more memorable than Cat herself.

        Cat’s exploits have simply taken over any prior stories about the name — at this point, any time anybody on Calernia tells a Black Queen story/joke/song/etc, it’s a reference to Cat. And any future holder of the Name of Black Queen will be shaped by Cat’s story.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Soma

    Oof, human sacrifice reprise. This seems like a line Catherine was always going to come up against again. Curious to see how it plays out. I’m hoping the band stays okay, because I don’t really want to see any of them die. I mean maybe the tyrant, but while he and the saint live there’s still the chance of the saint and the tyrant buddy cop movie. He’s a loose cannon, she’s a loose canon, plot ensues.

    Probably for the best the heroes didn’t understand Catherine’s speech. She’s taking Evil in a very dangerous direction. Fear the reasonable madwoman.

    Excellent chapter.

    Liked by 14 people

    1. IDKWhoitis

      I bet Tariq is going to get the summary from Mercy, and if anything, it’s going to confirm his bone deep certainty that Cat needs to die by the end of this. She is a manifestation of every bloody lesson learned, a Black 2.0, which has gone beyond the cruel pragmatism of the Calamaties. Cat has gone beyond, breaking the Order of the world, and reshaping it into something new, never seen before.

      Watching her in her element is terrifying enough, even without subtitles provided by Mercy. She just cowed a whole pack of hungry murderous creatures by shouting them down, and not with the fury of her god, but with a cruel battering with the truth. Even Kairos isn’t being silly anymore and is as close to serious and honest as we’ve seen him this arc.

      Liked by 16 people

        1. Soma

          Yeah, I mean unsettled I’d get. Hell, Cat just legit claimed to have to have created every fae court in existence. I’m not sure about unhappy though. The remaking of the Drow moves in a direction I think the Pilgrim would be down for, or more down for than what they are, since it would reduce suffering.

          Liked by 11 people

        2. Micke

          Pilgrim would think whatever his Choir or the Bard told him to think, and they are very much against their amusing game of mortal suffering being broken.
          It makes me suspect at least some Gods Below are in favour of breaking the cycle, just to spite Above.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. I think he trusts Bard, not “delegates his thinking to her’. I frankly don’t get where the “slavishly obedient Tariq” meme comes from, it has 0 support in the narrative, either from his current POVs or the flashbacks?

            On top of Tariq being “the one long view hero they have”, this also doesn’t make sense in light of Bard’s Role. She’s forbidden direct touch, remember? She either acts as an entirely neutral messenger, or confirms people’s pre-existing conceptions in a way that nudges them to act the way she prefers. Being allowed to directly tell people “you are doing this wrong, let me explain the right way” and having them actually follow the advice would, coupled with het millenia of experience, give her immensely more power than she currently evidently wields.

            And of course Choirs don’t tell people what to think. On top of previous narrative evidence (hi William the idiot racist), recently we literally had Tariq try to ask them for input, only to get “NaN we trust YOU!!!” in response.

            There IS no divine source of insight/instructions for Good champions to consult when in doubt. Life on Creation would be much easier if there was.

            Liked by 2 people

        3. shveiran

          I think the answer will be a pivotal moment for ol’ Tariq.

          Remember, both he and Saint have always operated under the assumption that Evil can be defeated.

          Under that assumption, allowing the creation of a Black-inspired, sustainable, effective nation sworn to Goddesses bound to Below, is something he must strongly oppose, because it is the birth of nation that must later be fought and conquered if Above is ever to triumph in Calernia.
          Within this assumption, Cat is terrifying; an ever growing manace who refuses to allow labels to restrict her options.

          But that assumption is refuted by Cat and Black, and I think the guide will prove them right; as in, the game is rigged to go on in perpetuity, and there can be no eradication of either Good or Evil.
          And I think the dialogue between Tariq and Asmodeus set the stage for a switch in perspective for the Pilgrim.

          Under that assumption, what you can do as a Hero is not eradicate Evil, but rather groom the sustainable Evil (because if you squash them, more evil will rise in its stead and won’t be the sensible kind, but rather the madman kind, and that is worse for people everywhere).
          Within this perspective, what Cat is doing is amazing. It opens the road for a nation of Below that focuses on excellence rather than constant mayhem, and you can’t but consider it a huge step forward.

          We know, I think, were Tariq’s angel stand on the issue. And we know what the Bard preaches, since she dismissed William’s doubt in book 2 to ensure he’d mind the label of Evil more than how sustainable the regime was.

          Where will Tariq stand? By this point, I think it could go either way. And though I’m awful at predicting EE’s twists, I think teh story points toward a Pilgrim that embraces Cat’s perspective and emends his attitude accordingly. Eventually.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. I don’t think Tariq’s angels stand anywhere on this. Except if you put it as a “what eliminates unnecessary suffering”, I suppose.

            I wouldn’t trust what Bard said to William all that much. Willy’s kind of an idiot, she had to take him by the nose ring to lead him anywhere.

            And finally, I don’t normally nitpick typos, but this one just deserves correction: it’s not Asmodeus, as in a demon or whatever, it’s Amadeus, as in “love of God”, because Guide is beautiful and gives no fucks ❤

            Liked by 3 people

            1. shveiran

              Yeah, I’m DMing Way of the Wicked for my D&D group, my Asmodeus is showing. I KEEP getting it wrong, sorry XD

              Regarding the rest, I THINK we have HINTS of how the Bard and Choirs think on the matter by their actions in previous books.
              I have no trouble admitting they ARE circumstantial, but still:
              – The Bard’s talk to William was still aimed to ensure he didn’t consider long term benefits or the sustainability of the Evil empire and only focused on the Good vs. Evil war. William being easily manipulated, I feel, only reinforces the idea that the result was the Bard’s aim => keep the conflict going. So I doubt a sustainable Firstborn nation that sings hymns to Sven Noc is acceptable in their views.
              – As for the Angels… I mean, let’s leave William aside, the fact remain that the Hashmallim was willing to play ball. We are told it did in the past. Combine that with the glimpse we got with the fledgling paladin the choirs tried to recruit mid-fight, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Angels are more focused on smiting evildoers than worldpeace. I’ll be surprised if the angels support the creation of a drow country.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. You are thinking of angels as a well coordinated hivemind, and one that has involved opinions on the specifics of mortal politics to boot. I don’t think the text supports this reading.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. shveiran

                  I think the ccordinated hivemind, or something along those lines, is rather canon, so I’m guessing you disagree on them being hands on?

                  I don’t think they have” precise opinion on the specifics of mortal politics” either, but I’d argue they don’t need to in order to oppose Cat’s designs.
                  When you get down to it, a general inclination is all you need. Something like “Oppose all Evil ” or “Prevent Evil from taking deeper root in reality” is enough to veto the building of a Firstborn country, and it does seem in tune with what we saw of the angels.

                  I simply think the angels fight to WIN the struggle between Good and Evil, and that is it as far as I’m concerned: if that is your goal, Cat’s objective is something to oppose.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Andrew Mitchell

                    I’m not taking a position in this argument but I am interested in this comment:

                    > I think the ccordinated hivemind, or something along those lines, is rather canon,

                    It seems to me that many people in the comment section would agree with you, I feel like that common feeling could be satisfactorily explained by our (mostly) shared culture about angels rather than actually being canon.

                    Do you think this is a just feeling you’ve developed (and share with others) or if there’s something in the text that actually makes this canon?

                    Liked by 1 person

                  2. >I think the ccordinated hivemind, or something along those lines, is rather canon

                    Every Choir within itself is a coordinated hivemind. Individual Choirs are separate though. Mercy and Judgement can disagree, Contrition and Compassion can disagree. They’re probably not aware of what other Choirs are doing, either.

                    >I simply think the angels fight to WIN the struggle between Good and Evil

                    And I think the angels work to promote their virtue, to support heroes who they identify as embodying it in all their designs, and that’s kind of… it.

                    Again, see: William. His entire storyline, starting from Cat branding his Name, was about how he was really fucking easy to lead by the nose, and the angels weren’t taking up the vacancy.

                    Like

                    1. shveiran

                      (I’ll answer to both comments here to keep the discussion from branching too much)

                      Regarding the angels being Hiveminds, I honestly think this is how they were presented. It was not STATED in a definitive way, so I will admit there is a bit of uncertainty, but I think there is a lot of evidence in this regard.
                      Within a single Choir, angels don’t even have singular names, and that points toward them being parts of something larger. We also know that when an angel dies, the Choir is not diminished as its power is a constant.
                      I think this is more us building on the provvided clues than mistaking tropes with canon. I could be wrong, of course, but as of now I see no elements in the story that suggest it.

                      Also, yes, I meant they have one mind for each Choir. We are of one (Hive)mind in that regard.

                      Regarding Angels, I’m not sure which part of William’s story you are pointing out as an exemple.
                      Even intervening Choirs have limits, because if they push too hard Below gets to push back, so I think there are several reasons why they didn’t intervene more directly when William was branded, when William was defeated by Warlock or when Cat was pulling her sword-in-stone BS-fu; first among them, the shape of the story was too wrong, and that meant fighting against the current and therefore too high a cost.
                      There is also the fact that Contrition was not advising William like Mercy is Tariq: they were empowering him through the Feather sword. A different blessing, but they can’t give them all to each Hero.
                      The fact that limitations exist to their action doesn’t mean there isn’t an agenda.

                      And sure, they operate through Heroes, and sure, they pick Heroes that follows their key virtue, I’m not disputing that. It’s just…

                      Well, it’s not JUST about the virtues though, is it? It really seems Heroes tend to fight Evil more than they do evil.
                      I mean, take Contrition. During the William arch, we are told what would happen if Contrition manifested in a city, and that it has already happened before. And the result is a city-worth of people not just feeling contrite and embracing a new way of life because of that truth – it is a city worth of people taking up arms to fight the closest, biggest Evil there is.
                      I have an hard time believing virtues are enough for the Choir; it seems to me they think the only real way to live up to those virtues is slaying villains or villain’s minions, and therefore that the most important thing is still the GvE war.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. >Well, it’s not JUST about the virtues though, is it? It really seems Heroes tend to fight Evil more than they do evil.

                      I mean, virtues are… kind of tied to that? It’s about virtues (good intentions!) and not being a follower of Below, two cutoff criteria narrowing the possibility space so that the worst case scenario is William.

                      >it seems to me they think the only real way to live up to those virtues is slaying villains or villain’s minions

                      That’s not the vibe I got off Mercy; they came to Tariq the first time when he put an injured beast out of its suffering and returned to him the second when he killed his nephew (a Good ruler of a Good nation, but one who would have led them to a catastrophe).

                      Which, were both, killings, so I, kind of see your point, now that I look at it.

                      Still, Hanno’s crystallization moment was refusing to condemn a minion of Below committing an undeniably Evil act.

                      And yes, by Choir hivemind I mean they’re not all a single hivemind, not that individual Choirs aren’t. I agree that individual Choirs obviously are, I just think they’re independent from there and it’s possible for them to be at odds, even, if their champions disagree on the course of action.

                      Like

      1. werafdsaew

        If killing Drows is free according to Pilgrim’s utilitarian calculus, then sure. Otherwise if he would rather not have to kill any sentient beings then he would be behind what Cat is doing.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. I think they count as morally relevant sentient beings, yeah. We know from Willicakes’ storyline that anti-nonhuman racism isn’t very popular with heroes on average even against literal cannibals they’re at war with right now.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. IDKWhoitis

    A damn shame they didn’t strap Larat onto the throne and dice him up…

    Although nonetheless a good call.

    I’m placing my bet on a throw at the dice and breaking the crown and harvesting the power for another ritual. Catherine has forsaken the crown, and one of the heroes isn’t going to put it on… And we all know how much Cat loves throwing the dice into Fate’s face and seeing what results of the endeavour.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Agent J

      Yet if the dice, finicky as they often are, should turn against them then everyone dies. Everyone. Not just the three armies, not just the people still living in Iserre, but everyone in the Dead King’s path. Y’know, since the only army with a shot at stopping him just fucked themselves royally.

      Yes, Cat loves throwing the dice at Fate, but only after rigging it to explode. Right now, it’s more likely to blow in her face instead.

      Honestly, my money’s on Pilgrim. Wait, strike that. He just gave up the right to Rule literally seconds ago. Kairos sure as shit won’t get it. Catherine’s refused it. Saint is unlikely. She’s not the self-sacrifice type (wouldn’t be an old hero if she were prone to that), nor is she the ruling sort. Besides, her soulsword will be needed against the Hidden Horror.

      That just leaves Roland and he’s too… well no. He’s not enough. We don’t know him enough. We don’t care about him enough. He just doesn’t have enough weight for something like this. I mean, he doesn’t even know Higher Arcana. Wtf dude. You’re a serious downgrade from Masego.

      I’ve no clue where EE’s going with this, but I’m loving every moment of this wild ride.

      Liked by 9 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Pilgrim could take it. He won’t be ruling for long and the curse takes a while to take effect.

        But Saint is actually a good option. Rook made an excellent case early on in the comments, worth reading if you haven’t already.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Sylwoos

          Pilgrim gave up his right to rule to create the very crown you want him to take. Being Fae stuff made of stories and all, I highly doubt he can even claim it and if he did the consequence would be… very, very bad.

          Liked by 9 people

      2. caoimhinh

        But if the ones throwing the Dice are Heroes, then Providence and Narrative would be on their side. And right now they are the Party trying to save everyone, ergo the good guys, the heroes of that story.
        It could work, they have the narrative weight to make it happen.
        That’s also a thing to consider.

        Liked by 3 people

    2. ______

      You know, if Larat is really mortal now, they can indeed salvage it for another ritual. They have Spellblade, Thief of Stars,, maybe Edward VII, Cat, Tyrant of Helike (if he dies), maybe Black; one more crown to shape it and they can reroll.

      Of course, that is contingent on anyone, not just Larat, being able to forge a crown; on them finding the last one and a claimant to it before the realm crashes onto the armies below; on the Tyrant not being warned about the possibility by the Bard. Still, while unlikely, the growing ball of crowns would be fun.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. He doesn’t have to rule, just be crowned and knifed. When they explained what giving that upentails, they mentioned that another crown COULD be taken…

        Just that the consequences would be disastrous. So yeah, he probably will not die. Yay?

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Sparsebeard

          It’s probably Black, as many said last chapters…

          After all :

          “They say the third step is the cruelest,
          Walk when the moon is at her clearest:
          Love ends with the kiss of the knife,
          Trust is the wager that takes your life”

          Liked by 4 people

            1. Morgenstern

              And it has been stated many times in the story already that there is NO ONE to replace Black for that purpose. While there are still many peeps left over who could act as the claimant for that crown.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Morgenstern

                That third verse would make brilliant sense, too, if it ended up with Indrani / Masego. Poor crappy love story ending in drama. I mean, he’s already robbed of something he at least currently believes he cannot live without (and she does so, too), so…

                Liked by 2 people

                1. Sparsebeard

                  If Black is alive, Cat won’t climb the tower so how the hell can the third verse make sense in that context.

                  Despite Cat’s efforts, it always was foreshadowed that she’d kill her mentor and climb the tower… Plus, she already stated that between her ambitions and Black, she’d choose her ambitions.

                  Plus, Cat might actually be an even more acceptable Ruler for Praes than everyone else (especially since she didn’t torch half Procer).

                  Since the drow are not an option, I truly don’t see anyone else as “worthy” in the vicinity.

                  Liked by 1 person

        2. Zgggt

          Pilgrim won’t take the crown because he would be stuck with the price. The point of him is that he never pays any direct personal price. Someone else always has to sacrifice themselves, or get maimed, or die. Tariq might not like watching it, and might even wish he could do it himself, but that’s like losing your legs but saying that you want to fight in a pro MMA match even if you would get beat up… Nice thing to say in theory, and hey, you might even mean it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Unoriginal

            He always pays the personal price. He’s a brutal utilitarian bent of minimizing suffering, and every time he causes it in the pursuit of lowering suffering overall he suffers the same pain that the victims go through.

            Perhaps not every time, we have no hint that happens when he fights using ‘mundane’ methods but we know that when he ‘cast’ plague on the town that Black was occupying to kill the army with him. The Pilgrim suffered the same as every single person who died from the disease, taking their suffering into himself as the price for doing so.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. JJR

        But that means if he tries to rule any way a curse will destroy the kingdom that he was attempting to rule. And that is kinda what they want right now. The curse was supposed to be a more subtle thing sure, crop failures and the like, building up to more extreme things. But I’m sure it can work with a group of people bent on killing the usurper. Plus, they would have to contend with the fact that anyone who does wear the crown, no matter their intentions before hand, is going to be changed by it. So ideally they would want someone who would put it on and then let themselves be killed, but having a backup “Narrative itself will make you lose this fight” is a good idea.

        That or they could still put it on the goat. A scapegoating if you will. I’m not sure how well that story turns out though.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. > But I’m sure it can work with a group of people bent on killing the usurper.

          That… is a possibility. The question is whether they can shape and extinguish the curse that way, or if it would instead become inherent in the realm.

          Liked by 3 people

    1. Ashen Shugar

      Makes you wonder how well the Bard can see/predict the future. If she saw this coming from Larat and thus made sure Masego wasn’t going to be in any condition to give expert advice in what they could/should do.

      Liked by 4 people

  7. Andrew Mitchell

    “You would have us pin our hopes on amity and mercy,” Andronike said.

    “They might turn on us regardless,” Andronike said.

    “They might,” I admitted. “Fear or faith, that’s your choice. You can’t cross a chasm without taking a leap.”

    Well done EE, this has some very clear parallels to Catherine’s decision to pin her life and her hopes on the Sisters’ mercy.

    =====

    >“So either we roll the dice over the life of around two hundred thousand people,” I grimly said. “Or someone puts on that crown and then we kill them.”

    They’re going to kill Pilgrim. He can take the crown, he just won’t have the right to rule. And he won’t be Twilight King for long.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Morgenstern

        Pilgrim is not needed (as ruler) on Calernia.
        Black is. Unless Cat were suddenly okay with a Praes reverting back to insane Emperors and Empresses destroying everything and returning to the bloody cycle with Callow. She was rather clear that she does NOT trust Akua with that and also none else (who would do it and be accepted enough).

        Liked by 3 people

        1. He isn’t needed as a *ruler* for Cat’s plans, but he is *needed*. Nobody else has both the cultural weight and the basic sanity to drag the Levantines to the table for the Liesse Accords. Do you really want Cat to have to try to talk sense to the Lords/Ladies of the Blood by interacting with them directly? Because while I don’t have the turbo-hate for them that I’ve seen a lot of other people express in the comments, it is still the case that literally nothing I’ve seen in their POVs suggests that would be anything other than a bloody disaster. At every stage, a core desideratum in Cat’s plans has been “I’ve got to keep the Pilgrim alive, there’s no substitute for the role he occupies in my plans”. That hasn’t changed now.

          Liked by 3 people

  8. Abstract

    I am liking Larat more and more.
    Despite having no free will, he has managed to escape Arcadia, cat’s machinations, and walk away a free man, without fear of reprisals in the short term.
    damn fine show.

    Liked by 17 people

      1. > I think he’s got free will now.

        Which is terrifying. Cat ditched being fae because she realized it made her *more* dangerous, not less (well, among other reasons). Pretty sure Larat made a similar calculation. He didn’t change his personality, he just expanded his options. Larat is still very much in play as a Chekhov’s Noun, and the danger factor for whatever he pulls in future just increased wildly IMO.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        That’s what fanfiction is for. AFAIK there hasn’t been any PGtE fanfiction written yet apart from a couple of short scenes in the comments. This is a tragedy.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Shin_Splinters

      It was pretty badass, a creature made of thought and power betting that thought would be sufficient and abdication let him escape the restrictions of power.

      “Cogito ergo” got high stakes in there.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Sparsebeard

    It will probably be Black, after all, the girl will climb the tower…

    “They say the third step is the cruelest,
    Walk when the moon is at her clearest:
    Love ends with the kiss of the knife,
    Trust is the wager that takes your life “

    Liked by 4 people

  10. caoimhinh

    Awesome speech. Someone should add it to the speech section of the Guide on TV Tropes.

    The Drow and Sve Noc are learning to be more pragmatic in their ways, cool. They are going to need that if they want to survive in the world and prove that they aren’t crazy stupid Evil that needs to be put down.

    They need to crown someone and kill that person.
    Maybe get Akua there and finally end her? That could be a good solution, but she is still useful to Catherine (not to mention Cat has come to like her) and she needs a strong spellcaster to handle the Night spells (as evidenced with the Eclipse made by the well of Night, which is still in effect), political advisor and schemer on her side for the campaign ahead and political mess ahead.

    The other interesting and more likely candidate is Good King Edward Fairfax, assuming he hasn’t collapsed already.
    He would suit this Court of Twilight, as he is a Good Hero made into a Revenant by Evil and then granted freedom by Night to fight against the Enemy. He has quite a few elements from both Above and Below in his story, so he is (in my opinion) a suitable Twilight King.
    He is also likely to understand the necessities of the role and make it a willing sacrifice, perhaps even making the nature of the new realm into a better thing than if the ruler is brutally murdered.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Soma

      King Edward would make for a super satisfying ending. Spitting on all of Death’s work till the very end. I very much like the shape of him getting in some real vengeance against the dead king more so than just becoming free. The twilight king gave his life to spite Death.

      I waaaaaaaaaaant it.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Last we saw him he was still around, so we really can’t be sure.
        He must be in terrible shape, that’s for sure.
        Also, remember that time is flowing strangely in that place, due to the power of Narrative and Providence.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          > Last we saw him he was still around, so we really can’t be sure.

          Agreed, that’s why I said “pretty sure”. It’s hard to be certain but I give it a 1:20 chance you’re right. It seemed to me like Edward’s short term fate was quite clear and we don’t have to always get to see deaths on-screen. Plus, to me, it would feel unsatisfying for Edward to come back after he chose what seemed to be certain death.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. > It’s hard to be certain but I give it a 1:20 chance you’re right.

            So in other words, he just needs to roll a nat 20 and he’s good. I’ll take those odds. Remember, for once providence is backing Cat’s team here.

            Liked by 2 people

    1. Agent J

      Mortal always.

      Squire!Cat was cool. Winter!Cat was awesome. Priestess!Cat has been an absolute fucking riot and I’m loathe to relinquish her, be it for a new Name or a new Court.

      Liked by 9 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Anaxares would never take a crown for himself.
      They would need to kill him first to make him become King, which defeats to purpose of having him crowned before killing him.

      Liked by 4 people

  11. Goddamn, Cat may have given up Winter, but even so she’s seriously chill!

    > the moment the fae … took a step away from the throne I had to speak up.
    > Seed of madness in the crown was my guess, putting an original sin at the heart
    > High above us, Sve Noc lazily circled the sky. Yet another fire I was going to have to put out
    > “Pilgrim,” I calmly said. “I don’t think you appreciate how delicate the situation is right now.”
    > if I found offence with the faith … , who but me could be charged with the change of it?

    The Tuesdays are ganging up on her, but she’s managing anyway. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  12. shveiran

    Ok, so apparently I was royally wrong.
    Both on them no longer needing to stab the crowned individual, and on the Mighty not being an issue.

    And boy, am I glad I was, ’cause this was fucking awesome.

    Leave it to EE to always deliver not what you think you want, but what you don’t know you need.

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Bakkasama

    I would have thought the pick to be obvious. Since the crown was made so that the one to wear it would die and give it up to defeat the Death King, the worthiest one would be that Plproceran princess who didn’t hesitate to give up her crown willingly to beat the hidden horror and was deemed the worthiest among the princes to keep it because of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. ThatOneGuy

    Long story short. They need someone to ease the crown to murder… But if someone does wear it then they could rule a dead empty realm with nothing inside of it.

    Give it a few years and they will want company even if they have to start taking people. Then it’s a slow fall from grace and a rise towards the old, but slight fresher minted brand of fae.

    The old fae have the crown a middle finger walking away so that they could be unbound and do whatever they want. So taking up the crown doesn’t add them to the pot.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. ninegardens

    Quick, give the shiny hat to Wandering Bard!

    Okay, on a more serious note:
    Why do they need to murder whoever takes the crown? I was assuming the plan to Murderize Larat was because … well, he’s Larat. Ain’t no one want that boy with power.
    If it ain’t Larat I’m a little hazy on the compelling need to murder Twighlight Princess.

    Also, who thinks that Akua would make a fitting bearer of the crown?
    A chance for her to experience godhood, and also face the judgement promised to her, here in the ruins of the city she destroyed. Akua’s folly would be remember for generations to come (because of the highway), and depending on the ending it would either be a perfect redemption arc, or a last chance at trechery (which would, in the circumstances be relatively justified).

    Also, Cat mentioned the mantel of Woe being nearby just now, so that’s a cool thing.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The mantle was with Masego, who was spirited away to the camp by the drow.

      I’d write a detailed explanation of why I don’t think Akua dying here is the best option for guide as a story, but I’m on mobile and tired. Maybe tomorrow.

      The tl;dr is that it’s better than she deserves.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ninegardens

        Yeah, I agree, I don’t actually believe that Akua is a LIKELY candidate for the crown… I was just mentioning her as a character that we have largely forgotten, that would somewhat fit all the IN STORY requirements for the crown (Namely, Cat could give her power and then stab her in clean conscience).

        From a narrative perspective, no. Akua is too fun, too useful, and hasn’t been hinted at throughout the arc, so it wouldn’t work at all.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Akua isn’t bound to the mantle anymore — she was back in Creation anyway, but if needed she could easily come back through the Night. That said, I agree this isn’t the best option story-wise, in part because she wasn’t a part of this story. (That’s considering the Shard arc as separate from the preceding battle.) Also, it seems an anticlimax from her perspective… “I gained trust and power as a ghostly servant, until one day my mistress decided to sacrifice me to the Greater Good”.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Come to think of it, putting it that way means that by Cat’s lights, the available candidates are pretty much Laurence, Kairos, and possibly Cat herself (breaks some of her goals, but she’s got that self-sacrificing thing going).

          Liked by 2 people

        2. No, this would actually be very elegant wrt Akua. How exactly did she “not come up” when they are IN Liesse? Remember that aborted conversation about how Roland heard that Cat bound her soul to the array and then destroyed it? Remember the whole “restless souls” thread? Remember how they’re in the Ducal Palace, which is incidentally where Akua died in the first place?

          From the perspective of the story of the Doom of Liesse, this is anything BUT random. It’s tying up her arc with a neat bow, made queen of the very place she killed only to be killed in turn / willing sacrifice to save two hundred thousand where she had previously killed one hundred thousand (and change).

          It would be the ultimate fulfillment of her drive to be noticed, to be remembered, to leave her own unique mark on Creation – she was willing to die for it back when she first MADE the thing, because she was smart enough to understand how low the odds of her surviving the decade were. The argument of Cat being a perfect storm she wants to ride was the one Cat accepted in Everdark as an explanation of her behaviour for a reason – it’s THE drive compelling her.

          In short, Akua getting sacrificed here would be all about HER – all about the *old* her, to boot, with a slapped-on coat of surface “redemption” for glory.

          Her full redemption arc has more potential than that, and step one is her learning to recognize value in things that are not about her at all.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Certainly Akua has been mentioned along the way… and yet, Cat declined to take her along on this ride (possibly because she’d already been assigned to run an eclipse). She’s surely been helping with all the movements through Night from her “back room” back in Creation, but she’s carefully not done anything that would have revealed the continued existence of the Doom of Liesse to the rest of the party..

            There’s probably only two people present (Cat and Archer) who know that Akua the former Heiress and Diabolist still exists in any form; if Cat called her up as a sacrifice, that’s the first thing they’d have to explain to Pilgrim, Sword, etc, and they don’t even have an hour for that. 😉

            Liked by 3 people

            1. I mean I doubt the heroes would demand an explanation when the entire province is running out of time :p

              Honestly, this is kind of the upside. Akua just appearing like “no time to explain, have fun going ??? on your own time” is like half the appeal of this scenario ❤

              Liked by 1 person

  16. Niteman

    I think it will be Masego who dons the crown of Twilight.
    He lost his fathers, now he’s lost his magic. Losing his fathers broke him enough to let the Dead King in, now he’s lost his magic which is a major component of his identity. the Dead King used him like a puppet and killed Indrani and he’s unable to do anything in his current state to make the Dead King pay for it. Donning the crown would enable him to bring order to the realm and stabilize it which would help his friend Cat and also would be used as a tool in the war against the Dead King.
    For someone who likely feels completely useless right now, it could seem like the logical choice to help his friends and punish the foe who used him.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Except that Masego is (a) unconscious and likely to remain unconscious until Cat decides to wake him up, and (b) no longer physically present.

      Masego isn’t going to be taking up the Twilight Crown.

      Now, if Cat or Archer were to take up the Twilight Crown and not need to be killed, I could perhaps see one of them giving Masego a Twilight Court Title or otherwise empowering him through the Twilight Court.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      She has been good at dying but… she’s already had three and the next one could be her last. Plus, I get the feeling that dying here is a permanent sort of death given the ‘highway’ the band want to make.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, but I’m still not seeing why killing the person holding the Twilight Crown is being considered an automatic necessity here.
        When it was Larat, sure, murder his ass thoroughly so he can’t fuck with them …
        But I don’t know why they’d need to murder, say, Cat, if she had the Twilight Crown, in order for the highway plan to work. I fully get why Saint would want to kill Cat at that point (even more than she already does), and why Rogue Sorcerer and Pilgrim would be cautious and probably suspicious of Cat/Cat’s motives, but I don’t get why killing Cat, Sovereign of Twilight, would be required to use the realm as a highway.

        Liked by 2 people

          1. At the time, she was referring to Larat.
            And killing him to get him out of the way makes sense. He’s a murderous nutjob on a good day, after all.
            But I’m not at all sure why killing a Twilight!Cat or a Twilight!Hero would be a necessary component in using the realm as a highway. That hasn’t been explained as far as I can tell.

            Liked by 2 people

              1. shveiran

                Also, last line of this chapter reads:

                “So either we roll the dice over the life of around two hundred thousand people,” I grimly said. “Or someone puts on that crown and then we kill them.”

                I AM confused as of the why, and I was previosuly advocating they no longer needed to do it, but it seems Cat believes it firmly.
                And I don’t kow about you, but *I* am not going to argue with Cat.

                Girl is scary.

                Liked by 1 person

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