Chapter 51: Twilight

“Of all Praesi I trust least those who come bearing gifts.”
– Queen Yolanda of Callow, the Wicked (known as ‘the Stern’ in contemporary histories)

There was a part of me still, after all these years, that expected the momentous to be flagrant. That the closing of an era or the birth of a realm should be an affair of thunder and lightning, a crashing and crackling storm of power. But that was so rarely the way, wasn’t it? The pivots of history that we all got to see, the speeches and battles and coronations, they so often flowed from unseen turns taken months before. Quiet bargains and private councils, decisions made in the dark. Yet I had learned that the truth of Creation was that while at times power in exercise was deafening, more often it was hushed. Subtle. And as the ending that was breathed into the Twilight Court came from the Grey Pilgrim – Mercy’s patient, farsighted and indirect hand – why would its coming be a raucous thing?

Tariq Fleet-foot, the sword of his oldest friend through the heart, let out a soft gasp and slumped onto the throne. Blue eyes fluttered to a close as trails of scarlet tainted the dusty grey of his robes: death blooming in three hues, painted by the Peregrine’s own hand. The Pilgrim’s face loosened slowly from a clench decades in the making, and as he sagged down against the throne he let out one last shuddering breath. That shudder rippled out, the last will of a man whose life had been a thankless struggle to lessen suffering in a world so very intent on wounding itself time and time again. It was a death that would ring out across Calernia, I thought. One not easily forgotten. Yet, looking at the white-haired healer who’d stumbled back with a sword through his chest, I could not help but believe it had been a lesser ending than he’d deserved. I’d had my quarrels with the Grey Pilgrim, but never once had I thought him malevolent or deliberately vicious. The shudder I’d felt slowly faded, and in deference to the death of a man who had tried so very hard to be a good I closed my eyes. I had no prayers to offer, for the goddesses I kept to were not the kind whose attentions would have been welcomed by the Pilgrim, and so I remained silent instead.

The roof that would have been above our heads had been ripped away by my own wroth, when I’d hunted down Kairos Theodosian meaning to kill him, and so the lazy summer breeze reached us unhindered. It shook me out of my daze, enough that I opened my eyes and looked up. What had been darkness above us, Masego’s grief and madness given shape, had became something softer. Almost wistful. It was closer to night than day, to my eye, but the shade of the twilight writ across the firmament of this realm was a pale and starry blue. Speaking not a word, I limped out of this cursed room. The summit of the tall stone stairs beyond the bronze gates allowed me to stand and take in the breathtaking sight splayed below: what had once been a ruin of dust and flame was now a realm in truth. The Hierophant’s devastating use of this broken realm had been turned into something beautiful: a sprawling kingdom of tall grasses and rolling hills, of shadowy rivers and secret paths. It was a warm evening, like a southern summer’s, yet the breeze was soft and its caress almost playful. It was the kind of night, I thought, that would be a pleasure to journey through.

I wondered if a young man called Tariq had once roamed a twilight much like this one, a very long time ago in a land far from here. If the echo of that memory had been enough to leave its mark on this place. For that this was the inheritance of the Peregrine there could be no denial: just as it had been set on the Twilight Crown, the pilgrim’s star shone above in the starry sky.

“It’s beautiful,” the Rogue Sorcerer quietly said.

I’d not even heard him approach, too deeply lost in my thoughts. Long leather coat trailing at his back, the last of the three heroes to have heeded my call came to stand at my right. He was looking not only at this starlit realm below but also had what had been made of thrice-broken Liesse. The City of Swans had partaken of life breathed into this place, and though it was not the same city that’d once been the jewel of southern Callow I could still see the traces of that place in its fresh face. The ruins had not been raised anew but the sight of them had been… eased by the growth of greenery. Tall shaded trees had become the pillars of slender basilicas, gutted churches turned into ethereal gardens of flowers in shades of dusk. Vines with umbral flowers bound together streets like strange arches and soft grass had grown through both pavestones and graveyards. Liesse, I thought, had become the City of Twilight. A resting place for pilgrims and the lost, bell towers and softs beds of moss awaiting all who’d wander to this cradle of tragedy. I found my throat choking at the sight. How could it not, when Tariq’s last gesture had been to make beauty out of the broken shards of my bitterest failure?

“The star’s always watching,” Archer softly said, having come to stand at my left. “You old rascal. Keeping an eye on it all, are you?”

How strange, that I found the thought comforting when the man had tried to kill me more than once.

“He always did,” Roland said, tone quietly fierce. “Gods, he was not a perfect man. And there are things he did, that he asked us to do… But he looked out for us. Even when it cost him. Especially when it cost him.”

It was not a grand eulogy, for a man who for good and ill had done so much for so many years, but I couldn’t truly mind. What kind of words could any of us say that would be more than a pittance to the living, breathing tribute to the Grey Pilgrim that was around us?

“I wished I’d never had to fight him,” I simply said, the honesty of it feeling a little too raw. “I wish it’d never come to this. But we so rarely get to choose, don’t we?”

“Then win, Black Queen,” the Rogue Sorcerer said, eyes burning as they met mine. “Because this was not nothing. Two great stars fell to forge this realm you promised, two servants of Above like few before and few will ever come again. It has to matter. Or else…”

He trailed off, though it was not a threat. It was almost a petition and more than a little desperate. Or else what did their lives mean? Their tears and blood and decades of bitter struggle to bring just a little light to Calernia? If the fall of such old and honoured stars meant not a thing, what could any of us ever hope to amount to?

“This war has only just begun,” I softly said. “It will take us to Salia, to forge a peace. It will take us to Keter, to visit upon the Dead King what he has so often visited upon us. But there’s another enemy, Sorcerer. She breaks kings with sentences and topples kingdoms with but the lightest of touches. None of this can end before she’d been killed. For good.”

Roland dipped his head, not in acceptance but at least in acknowledgement.

“It seems,” he said, “that we have much to speak about.”

That we did, I silently agreed, dipping my own head in a return of courtesy. But not here, not now. Not looking at what could either be taken as a last breath of life freely gifted or an entire realm made into the mausoleum of good intentions.

“Not dawn yet, I think,” Archer said. “But close. It might be time to go back, Catherine.”

She was right, I knew. The Pilgrim had promised that the manner of his death would assure there was no war between the Grand Alliance and my own armies, but his death would still be catastrophic to relations between my people and the opposition. The Tyrant of Helike, by now, would not doubt have crawled back to his armies and begun his hasty retreat. There would be fears to quell, explanations to give, and more duties to see to than there were hours to either night or day. I should go back, for though the triumvirate of Vivienne, Juniper and Hakram could see to much of the situation there were parts that could only be settled by my own intervention. Fearsome as those three could be, my reputation loomed taller still.

“Go,” I said. “I’ll follow.”

Indrani cast a look at me, half worried and half hesitant.

“Are you sure that-”

“Go,” I repeated, a tad more sharply.

Her jaw tightened with displeasure, but she did not test me further. I did not have it in me to be furious at Indrani for getting in my way tonight, not right now – it was like the Pilgrim’s death had replaced sentiment in me with some manner of exhaustion – but her actions there would not go unanswered. It would be a thorny knot to untangle, this mess we’d made together, for she had died and we’d both need knives sheathed if we were to help Masego out of the worst of his grief. But she’d not trusted me, in the end, even if her intentions had been guided by love of me. That would need to be addressed, lest the wound fester between us.

“Archer can guide you out,” I told Roland. “She has a knack for paths like these.”

He nodded, though his face was unsure.

“Come along, Rogue,” Archer said, tone thick with forced cheer. “We’re all in a need of a stiff drink after a night like this, and there’s none to be had here.”

No elaborate farewells followed, as they simply disappeared into the city below. Indrani would find a way out, as she had first found a way in when seeking Masego. The Lady of the Lake had shared knowledge with her I’d not asked the lay of, long aware that the keeping of her teacher’s secrets was one of the few things Indrani considered sacred. I sat, after they’d gone, resting my bad leg against the rough granite steps. But for all that I was tired, it was a restless of weariness that’d settled over me. Before long I was hobbling down into Liesse, through the broken palace of the proud and ancient House of Caen – gone from Callow, like the city they’d once ruled. Above me, shadows among the shade, crows flew beneath the starry sky. I had no destination in mind to guide my steps, little more than a wandered in a realm of wanderers. Feeling the breeze stirring my hair, cooling my sweat in the crook of my neck, I passed through the garden that’d been made of Liesse. I trailed my fingers through luminous bushes bearing wine red flowers, limped through fields of soft grass made silver by starlight. It was a surreal city, and one where it would be easy to become lost. Yet I came upon a place, in time, where the scent of old deaths lingered. It’d been a basilica, once, before the walls were shattered.

Now all that remained of whatever beauty there’d been were tall panes of stained glass whose colour had faded, whatever scene they’d once depicted now instead a mere game of blue shades. There had been pillars, within, and though half-crumbled they’d become intertwined with thick and twisty trees bearing small red fruits. Yews, I thought, and what had once been a temple of worship to the Gods Above had instead become a manner of shaded grove, leading to a yew elder and larger than any of the others. It towered tall and broad, its branches spreading out far in a great crown of leaves. The wind set something akin to chimes tinkling when it passed through the branches, and it was when I saw the face of those chimes I understood the source of the taste of death. The ragged remains of a tabard that’d once depicted the golden bells of House Fairfax trailed like streamers, tangled among them the broken shards of the armour last borne by the Good King Edward. Halfway sunken into the earth at the foot of the great tree the last Fairfax’s sword shone from an errant ray of light, the blade still pristine and sharp. I slowly approached, in almost reverent silence: the King of Callow had cowed the Hells themselves, for a time, and done it with little more than will and spite.

The crows threaded through the branches and took perch with only the slightest murmur of a sound heralding them, their shadowy feathers melding into the penumbra of the great yew. They looked, I thought, as if they belonged here. My fingers softly lid across the grip of the sword once wielded by Edward Fairfax, and I smiled mirthlessly.

“In northern Callow,” I said, “the yew is known as the tree of death. In the south and the heartlands it’s the elder trees they claim to be that omen, but even in Laure the story was told different.”

I flicked a glance upwards and found my patron goddesses silent yet watchful.

“It’s because of the Deoraithe,” I told them. “Their longbows, they’re made from yew. And for a very long time, there was no sight half as dreaded in Callow or Praes as a company of Daoine longbowmen. There were older superstitions, too, but in my eyes it was the centuries of reaping lives that hung death on the branches of yews.”

And still my only answer was silence.

“So this is how it goes,” I softly said. “I take up again the sword I lost in the Everdark, and bring war to the Crown of the Dead. It’s an old story. Well-worn, and strong for it.”

King Edward had been taller than me, I thought, with broader shoulders as well. And yet, I suspected that if ripped that sword free from the earth it would fit my hand perfectly. Better than any other blade ever hand.

“The world spins on,” I said. “No matter who lies buried. And so that is the sum of us: we fight and we die and if we’re lucky we’re remembered for a while still.”

All we’d schemed and struggled and bled, and still this night hadn’t belonged to any of us. How could it? When the crabs dragged each other down the only victor to be had was the bucket.

“No,” I murmured. “I think not.”

My fingers left the sword I would not claim.

“Am I not your high priestess, Sve Noc?” I said. “First Under the Night?”

“So you are,” Andronike said.

“In this, we are satisfied,” Komena said.

“Then as your priestess I make this claim – we can do better than this,” I called out to the twin shadows among the branches. “Than a ruin of a victory, handed to us by kindly hand. I don’t care if we’ve been tricked and tripped by the Intercessor or the Dead King or even fate itself. We can do better than this, and so this story has not come to an end.”

I laid my palm against the rough bark of the yew, looking up through the branches.

“I heard you, Good King,” I whispered. “Your warning. I hear and heed, so lend me your aid when I yet stumble.”

Under the twilight sky the great yew groaned and twisted, the scent of death in the air thickening until I could taste it on the tip of my tongue. From the crown of the tree a branch dropped, slender desiccated deadwood still echoing of defiance in the face of the end. I knelt to take it, and found it was of excellent height and yield for me to lean on as I walked.

“We will not go gently,” I promised to the tree-grave of the last Fairfax. “And we are not yet done.”

Turning my back to the grove abruptly, I limped away leaning on the yew branch-staff. The grounds I had tread I tread once more, returning to the summit of the City of Twilight. Through grass and grove, through thorns and flowers and streets of worn stone. Behind me, as if trailing, Sve Noc followed on inky wings. I climbed the great steps of granite, and as I forced open the great gates of bronze I had never closed two great crows claimed my shoulders as their perch. Within awaited silence and something else, for though the Grey Pilgrim still sat dead on his throne with the Saint sprawled at his feet they were not alone.

Like a solemn tribunal, or some aerie of angels, the Choir of Mercy stood vigil over its fallen champion.

Under the stars a multitude of tall and thin silhouettes stood, the only marks of their presence silhouettes like a heat shimmer and ever-spinning eyes like wheels of flame. There were dozens and dozens of them, all bent as if in grief. None turned as I entered the throne room and my own back was coated in starlight, but the weight of their attention was felt nonetheless. I could almost hear a song being sung, as if the wind was carrying to my ear parts of a faraway refrain, and what little I could make out was… heartbroken. Melancholy in a way I was not sure I – or any mortal – could truly understand. The barest fraction of that feeling was enough to put a stutter to my step.

“You actually loved him, didn’t you?” I said, voice wondering. “Or as close to that as you can.”

They answered not. Whatever manner of mourning the angels bore, they would not share it with me. It took a single step forward, and as if a sword had been unsheathed a myriad of burning, spinning eyes turned to me. I swallowed dryly, for though Sve Noc were at my side and I knew well their power the Choir of Mercy was older and colder both, when it deemed it necessary.

“You can’t bring him back,” I said. “I understand. There’s rules, and it’s not in your nature to make exceptions.”

The attention never wavered nor lessened in intensity.

“But I’m not you,” I said. “Your rules don’t bind me. And if you let me, I will.”

I suspected, that if not for the Sisters sinking their talons deep enough into my flesh I bled I would have passed out. The blinding light and heat I felt, for just a moment, would have seen me fall to my knees if not for the staff in my hand. And yet it’d not been strike, for within that heat and light I’d heard whispers and while the words I’d not understood their meaning I’d somehow grasped anyway.

“Why?” I repeated.

It was a fair question, I supposed.

“Because I can, so I should,” I said. “Because even when he was my enemy I did not believe him to be a bad man. Because…”

I struggled to find the words to express it, but perhaps the simplest truth was best.

“Because I don’t want to be at war with you or him,” I quietly said. “And the moment you choose to believe that, the war’s over.”

And I supposed I was a fool, thinking I could make peace with a Choir even if its virtue was that of mercy, but I owed it to all of us at leas to try.

“We kill you,” I said, “you kill us. The wheel keeps spinning, the world keeps bleeding. And maybe that can’t be mended, maybe there’s just something about mortals that’s all teeth and hunger and it’ll never go away no matter what we make of ourselves – but we can do better than this!”

I gestured at the room around us, the realm around us, but I meant more. I meant the armies below, at each other’s throats even in the face of annihilation. I meant the Named scraping each other raw until even the noblest beginnings and the finest intentions became knives to hack at each other with. I meant Praes, hungry and wealthy, and Callow, sated and poor, each capable of helping the other but forever clawing at themselves instead.

“Please,” I said. “I know you don’t make exceptions, and I won’t ask you to. All you need to do is to stand aside.”

We stood there, the Choir of Mercy and the Arch-heretic of the East, and a long moment passed.

They stood aside.

Heart beating wildly I limped forward, until I stood by Tariq’s corpse. He would have looked to be sleeping, if not for the sword through his heart. Night flickered through my veins, strengthening my limbs, and the Sisters flew up cawing like grim omens. I eased out the Saint’s blade, spilling blood all over myself, and dropped it to the side. And then, without warning, I stuck my arm into the Grey Pilgrim as the thief of Bestowal that I was. Three aspects awaited: a star, an eye and a prayer. It was the last I ripped out, a whisper of Forgive touching my mind. My fingers withdrew a small receptacle of wood, which I slid open with shaking fingers. There was a fine red powder within, and a power that would have blinded me if I’d tried to gaze upon it.

“Time to rise, pilgrim of grey,” I murmured. “There’s still work to be done.”

I blew out a breath, and the powder scattered across the dead man’s face. A long moment massed, once more, and my stomach tightened.

Then, above us in the sky, the pilgrim’s star winked out.

Tariq’s mouth opened to a ragged gasp, and within the depths of Liesse death was cheated for the third time at my hand.

299 thoughts on “Chapter 51: Twilight

    1. erebus42

      Well now, looks like our jokes about stealing his Forgive aspect actually weren’t far off. And a Hero being resurrected after a heroic sacrifice by an archvillain under the eyes of Angel’s because there is more work to be done. Cat really needs to keep this shit up. After all, they can’t trap you in the pattern of a story if you write your own story.
      Hopefully this will at least buy her some cred with the Levantines. It might make people more suspicious of the pilgrim though so we’ll have to see.

      Liked by 28 people

      1. RoflCat

        Resurrection is the realm of Good.

        She’s not Good and can’t use it.

        So she just steal the resurrection from Good and use it.

        Well played Cat, well played.

        Liked by 5 people

  1. also there’s something wonderfully dwarf fortress about stealing pilgrim’s aspect and using it to bring him back so he can keep using the aspect
    that’s definitely gonna get patched next time around

    Liked by 16 people

    1. Dainpdf

      Can he? Or did he lose it, like when Cat got an aspect surgically removed? Maybe he’ll have a smaller well, or maybe he’ll get a new third aspect. Who knows?

      Liked by 17 people

        1. Dainpdf

          It’s also an Aspect, though. We don’t know what happens to Aspects Cat steals, these days.

          And this use of Forgive was pretty irregular–Pilgrim said Forgive couldn’t be used on voluntary sacrifice, or at least often didn’t work that way. Yet Cat gave zero shiz, because in her hands the Aspect is not bound by the rules of the Choir or Mercy.

          Still, I don’t think Narrative would let her pull such a trick more than once.

          Liked by 17 people

            1. Dainpdf

              Cat pretty pointedly referred to the Choir of Mercy being bound by rules and her having no such issues.

              If anything, I’d say the story is against her, here–the story of a heroic sacrifice from the mentor figure seems like a difficult thing to overturn.

              I guess she did have the Pattern of Three, tho.

              Liked by 10 people

              1. Gunslinger

                Yup. I think if she had picked up the sword she wouldn’t have been able to raise Pilgrim. Because her Liesse story would end there. She rejects that to bring Pilgrim back.

                Liked by 14 people

              2. > If anything, I’d say the story is against her

                Most of them are… but I think Cat has become a true Trickster. Breaking the rules, winning the unwinnable fight, doing the impossible … those are Cat’s own story now.

                I’m kinda hoping Rogue Sorcerer signs on with her, on the basis of “I am only an egg, please teach me your ways”.

                Liked by 3 people

                1. Raved Thrad

                  If he were to actually say that, I’m betting Catherine would reply, “I don’t grok any deeper than you do, I’m just making this up as I go along.” 😛

                  Liked by 2 people

              3. Depends which story.

                We have a king’s sword in a realm of Fisher King twilight and a resting figure of legend (who sacrificed himself upon being tricked several times by various players into the position) who has been rewoken to meet dire need. This is Grade A Arthurian legend, be he Arthur or Merlin.

                And Callow has proven it does Arthurian before: sword-and-stone.

                Pilgrim needs to bone up on Callowan legends, methinks. He’d get fewer surprises. 😛

                Liked by 4 people

                1. Dainpdf

                  But the sword was not his, and he had given up his life voluntarily, knowing the consequences. Also he’s not Callowan; in fact, being Levantine is intrinsic part of his identity.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  1. It’s not his identity what counts. Nor the specifics of the sword (Arthurian legend is swimming in several plot-critical swords, also staves, too… and a few bows, arrows and axes). All the Callowan story ingredients are there, in a place that was forged out of Callow and used by a daughter of Callow.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    1. Dainpdf

                      It was forged out of a Callowan place, but in the image of Twilight plus the Pilgrim. And, again, he had scrificed himself for something greater. Heroes who come back from death usually do so when killed by adversaries, not after making the ultimate sacrifice.

                      Liked by 2 people

                2. Hmm… I don’t think the Fisher King necessarily belongs in that account. With the damaged crown, it looked like we might get a Fisher King scenario, with a permanently injured ruler reflected in an injured realm… but I think we’ve escaped that story, what with the Choir of Mercy signing off on this. (And the realm doesn’t seem damaged.)

                  Liked by 2 people

          1. Agent J

            Well, we saw her steal an Aspect from the Elf Prince. He seemed unable to wield it afterwards. I suspect what she Takes she keeps. So Pilgrim has had his Forgive stolen, used, and now it’s just gone.

            I mean unmaking death is no small feat, and the Peregrine’s in particular was no small death. There has to be some kind of price for this. Losing his biggest asset seems fair.

            Liked by 18 people

            1. Elena

              I suspect it’s a trap, for either Cat or the Dead King. Since Pilgrim is missing an aspect, he might be able to gain a new one just in time while fighting with a villain.

              Liked by 3 people

              1. SpacyRicochet

                Unless her Theft works differently from other forms of Aspect sundering, I don’t believe this will be the case. Remember that Cath had her third aspect surgically removed, and she wasn’t going to get it back… until she got a total reset.

                Pilgrim obtained and lost his aspect to Cath’s Theft. So unless it’s more of a borrow than a Theft, Tariq has been resurrected at the cost of that very miracle. And her Crows are not gentle.

                Liked by 7 people

                1. John

                  Cat got that reset by being resurrected, right here in Liesse. She’d had the name of Squire stolen by a rival claimant, but then got a fresh start by stealing it back. The former Grey Pilgrim has the Twilight Crown as an alternative well of power.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. Cat got it reset by losing her Name and then reclaiming it. She felt the potential for three new aspects right after killing Chider, while still dead, then got Take in the process of getting her resurrection rather than afterward. So I don’t think it’s really applicable to Tariq’s situation.

                    Liked by 5 people

                2. With the Revenants, she was pretty clear that her aspect-theft left damage in its wake, but I think this is the first time anyone will still be left alive (more than a few minutes) after being subjected to that. My bet is that yeah, Pilgrim comes back but without the ability to resurrect others.

                  Liked by 4 people

                  1. Jurai

                    Question is, is the damage related to the fact that, because they’re undead, they’re incapable of spiritual growth, or is it because of the way her ability to use other’s aspects works?

                    Liked by 3 people

                    1. Well, that’s the question. In all previous cases of Cat’s thefts, the victim has either been dead already, or became so shortly afterwards, and in either case they stayed dead.

                      Also, when Cat lost an aspect, that was the magical equivalent of field surgery, even Masego said he was limited by the available resources and not having a real laboratory handy. (And he was probably “cutting wide” to get all the Corruption out.) So, not necessarily a good example for this case.

                      Liked by 2 people

                1. Andrew Mitchell

                  I don’t think the number of Aspects is relevant to being a Revenant. But being dead is, and now Pilgrim’s alive again he doesn’t need to worry about that. I’m sure the Dead King would love to make a revenant out of the Pilgrim but he’s going to have to kill him first.

                  Liked by 5 people

  2. Dainpdf

    Powerful. Both scenes.

    Although I must wonder at the effect that:
    1) Taking Tariq’s aspect; and
    2) Using it in a manner it was not supposed to be used
    Will have on him. But this is, to my knowledge, the first time we see great cooperation between good and evil at Cat’s hand, and it is awesome.

    Liked by 15 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      That was the first time Cat’s talked with a hero about needing to kill the Bard. I think that’s a big shift because she hasn’t wanted to share much intelligence so far and it’s cost her.

      Tariq’s going to be hard (impossible) to convince on that though.

      Liked by 10 people

    2. Kissaten

      Note how Bard couldn’t tie loose end here – she was the one to manipulate Pilgrim into letting Dead King rip out Masego’s magic, and now that Pilgrim’s alive once more it’s going to be yet another evidence in favor of Bard being the Enemy

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Gunslinger

    I am in absolute love with this story. Smart folks on reddit had called the use of forgive on Tariq already but the poetry of the chapter shone through nevertheless.

    Honestly after 4 books of Catherine facing mule headed opposition from heroes, a freaking Choir of Angels stepped aside for her. So fricking cool.

    Liked by 25 people

  4. Fuck yes. I hate EE a little, for jerking my heart around, but at least not all is lost. It shouldn’t’ve. No I wonder if Tariq will Forgive Saint. I do not give a fuck what anybody thinks, everyone deserves a second chance. And she deserves to see, that her worst fears, for once, won’t come to pass. That in her bitter, unflinching pessimism, she can be wrong. Noone should die failing to save world, without hope, without closure.

    But we can’t have to many people resurrected, for metanarrative reasons, so that the impact of death will not be cheapened in the future, eh? Because someone has to die for the progression of the story to feel earned.

    Turns out, no, we CAN’T do better.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. ciara

      From an in-universe perspective, I wonder if the manner in which Cat killed her precludes resurrection. It’s a pretty common rule of resurrection that you can’t bring back someone who died of old age, and that is technically what killed her.

      Liked by 16 people

    2. Isaac Martinez

      3 times Cat has cheated death.

      The first time she resurrected by stealing her due.

      The second time she was resurrected by choice and freely given by Sve Noc.

      The third time is by forgiving her “enemy” and giving a second chance.

      In what kind of ramifications could it evolve after this?

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Agent J

        First time was in First Liesse. Second time was in Second Liesse. It was when she tore down the scaffolding keeping her soul together got obliterated by the storming Winter and remade/revived/reforged/re-something by that very same force.

        Third time was… is this Third Liesse? Oh gods, it is isn’t it? I’m just happy that poor city can finally rest in piece. That is the truest victory here.

        Liked by 18 people

        1. JJR

          You say that but…

          It’s only a matter of time before a creature greater and more terrible than The Gods, The Choirs, and all the demons in their Hells gets its paws on this story.

          I dare not speak its name for it listens with its ears. And it is by these ears you will know it, for they always face you, no matter where the creature is looking.

          There will be no end to the number of times Liesse is destroyed just so it can be remade.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. C_B

      I’m pretty sure Pilgrim no longer has the Forgive aspect; I think his Name is crippled now, like Squire was after the Demon got to Cat’s third aspect. Cat doesn’t duplicate aspects, I don’t think, she rips them out of you and takes them for herself.

      Liked by 10 people

    4. Insanenoodlyguy

      Won’t work. Even assuming Tariq gets his Forgive back, he specifically said old age is the biggest disqualifier. Cat killed her with time. If he brought her back, she’d die again immediately because she’s hit her number.

      Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      It’s a show of the past, the precedent reputation of those who came before, the image against which Catherine has to fight and prove she is different.

      It’s the prejudice that has to be overcome to build lasting peace and a better world.

      Liked by 10 people

  5. Resurrection has consequences.
    I wonder what the consequences for Tariq will be. Besides having to face the mess he’s helped cause.

    It’s interesting what finally caused the Ophanim to step aside and let Cat resurrect Tariq.

    And yeah, Bard needs to be taken off the board permanently asap. Hopefully, Cat will be able to bring the Heroes onboard with this. Probably be a heavy lift, though.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. “Resurrection has consequences” is an odd meme. I mean, YEAH IT HAS, it usually leads to character development, coz its traumatic and if you work through it thats char dev, but there’s no… “price” narrative rule. The price is usually paid upfront.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. The impression I got from what little had been said on the matter previously, when Tariq Forgave Heroes, they didn’t come back quite right/all the way. In addition to the trauma of having been killed.

        Also, resurrection being imperfect or flawed in some way is a pretty common story theme/trait.
        Hell – in D&D, you lose a level on getting brought back to life until you can cast and afford there material components of True Resurrection.

        There’s often a price to be paid for Resurrections, beyond someone having been killed first.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. >The impression I got from what little had been said on the matter previously, when Tariq Forgave Heroes, they didn’t come back quite right/all the way. In addition to the trauma of having been killed.

          Let me find that quote.

          > Resurrection left a scar on the soul, always. No one could be ripped from the embrace of the Gods without finding Creation and faded and brutish place for the rest of their days, even if the memory of the Heavens was withheld.

          It’s worth noting that WoG is that there’s no confirmed info on the afterlife, so everything Tariq is saying here like a 100% fact is just his interpretation.

          He has also said that Catherine strived for peace ‘because of having seen Light’, which is not the cause-effect chain here.

          I think we’re meant to correct for heavy bias here, and putting aside the issue of ‘having seen Heavens’ even Tariq imho is putting it as ‘just the natural consequences of the trauma’, he just believes the resurrection to be a trauma on top of the death itself.

          >Also, resurrection being imperfect or flawed in some way is a pretty common story theme/trait.

          This is true. However, it does not seem to me like it applies to PGTE. Again, see precedent: Catherine post First Liesse.

          Liked by 3 people

          1. First Liesse Cat is an anomaly, and shouldn’t be considered precedent for other resurrections.
            This is because at First Liesse, Cat’s soul was immediately captured and held for her reanimation – that is, her soul didn’t move on after death. For that matter, IIRC, Cat had no perception of the passage of time between being decapitated and Masego being done.

            In other words, Cat’s soul would not have undergone the regular process for someone who died and was reanimated and/or resurrected. And so is not a valid point of comparison for the way such things “normally” go.

            Liked by 4 people

            1. I just don’t think erratic writes like that. “Arbitrary personality changes because priice” lose out to “the trauma of having helped kill your best friend” any time, narrative value-wise.

              Liked by 3 people

                1. I strongly suspect the ‘taken away memories of Heaven’ are just Tariq’s faith adding on swirlies and paper hearts where there’s just regular near death experience trauma amplified by being, in fact, actual death experience.

                  Note how Tariq comments that one of the heroes was ‘just spurred to greater zeal’ by it, because people’s reactions to stuff like that differ.

                  Liked by 2 people

        2. Well… IMnsHO, D&D levels kinda got turned into BS early on, specifically by having any of various undead able to swipe them (sometimes two at a time) with an effing melee hit. The way the game was designed, each level could represent months of gameplay, but go up against a Vampire and all that could go away. And never mind that they had gameworld consequences like followers and strongholds. (OK, end of minirant)

          But here… it’s not unlikely that the problem with resurrecting Heroes is specifically that they’re being pulled away from the Heavens, especially after “earning” their own deaths. Unfortunately, all of that applies to Pilgrim too. And as I noted last episode, he had already lived past his time in several ways, so I don’t know how he’s going to take this. Aside from at least a brief “WHY YOU LITTLE…”. (thanks, Fayhem;-)

          Liked by 4 people

          1. And I wanted to put this in a separate comment: Yeah, I heart D&D/TTRPGs in a big way but I don’t even *want* to argue against the point that D&D abstracted more than one thing in a way that made it easier to systematize some rules but simultaneously damaged the… eh, how to say this – narrative reality? internal consistency? of the game world. Like, it still kinda shows that it grew out of something put together by wargamers. Your point about levels is well-taken, but man, don’t even get me started on alignment. I would honestly argue that turning personal morality into a set of objective categories did more damage to the actual role-playing aspect of the game than any other single thing.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. > [alignment] did more damage to the actual role-playing aspect of the game than any other single thing.

              Well, there’s competition for that. I think the real problem was that when D&D moved past the original booklets to the mass-market Basic/Expert set, it expanded their audience past the historically-educated college students and wargamers, and brought in a wave of middle- and high-schoolers — who would basically become the new population of gamers, but they simply didin’t have the same depth of background in history or SF/F, nor the life experience to fill in a lot of gaps. Thus leading, e.g. to “Erik and the Gazebo” being played out in hundreds of basements and dining-rooms, Chaotic Stupid play, murderhobos and munchkins, and many other ills.

              My biggest frustration wasn’t a role-playing issue so much as a balance issue: The poison system, which allowed a swarm of giant centipedes (and “giant” here was only supposed to be a foot long) to TPK even a mid-level party. I eventually rolled my own, with slow (and slow-healing) damage for “lethal” poisons, and stat damage for non-lethal effects. There was also the initial lack of a “non-lethal” combat system (fistfights, grappling), later “remedied” in AD&D with an unuseably complex system (tucked into a paragraph or two of the DMG and completely independent of normal combat).

              That said, Alignment also helped inspire this here Guide, so something good came out of it. 😉

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Erik and the Gazebo! I was literally just discussing that with my players yesterday. I haven’t played OG D&D so I can’t comment on the balance issues outside of “yeah I’ve heard balance was wonky”, but at least as I understand it the original rules up through and including AD&D were extremely heavily focused around the assumption that players would be dungeon crawling, heading back to town to rest/sell stuff/resupply, and then going dungeon crawling again. I’m skeptical as to whether you can blame murderhoboism on the player base when it’s literally the primary thing the rules were actually designed for.

                My group mainly plays Pathfinder, where I can attest that any balance issues with poison being OP were fixed to the point of overcorrection. If you build a character to inflict poisons you’ve basically made a build commitment to sucking. The combat maneuver system in PF works pretty well though IMO, for NPCs and PCs alike.

                > That said, Alignment also helped inspire this here Guide, so something good came out of it. 😉

                Well hey, I’ll give you that one in a heartbeat at least. If anything the premise of Guide is based on the opposite of my objection to alignment (which is mainly how often I’ve seen players playing their alignment rather than their character), but rejecting or subverting a concept still involves being in dialogue with it so your point def still stands.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. > If you build a character to inflict poisons you’ve basically made a build commitment to sucking.

                  Well, I’d expect such a character to suck at dungeon crawling, anyway! In any vaguely realistic system, poisons will be slow and difficult to deliver. The only reason to poison combat weapons is to (hopefully) turn an otherwise-survivable wound into an eventual kill, in case your target runs away. And even that won’t always work too well, especially if the target has access to cures.

                  Otherwise, it’s basically for assassinations, executions (good examples of both have been seen in the Guide), and perhaps terrorism. (That is, some of the delivery problems go away if you are willing and able to use lots of poison, and don’t care about collateral damage.)

                  By comparison, a venomous snake has a purpose-made delivery mechanism, and some of them can deliver a lot of poison. But in practice, such snakes use their poison on prey or as a “spoilsport” defense. A much larger opponent (say, a cow or local equivalent) is likely to kill the snake before they succumb, and even in its own size range there will be critters with specialist defenses (armor, agility, etc).

                  Like

                  1. Well, it’s not great for literally any of those things. Poisons are expensive, tend not to have especially high DCs, and target the Fortitude save, which is the strongest save of probably a strong majority of monsters and many NPC characters. And yes, Remove Poison as a spell is a thing, so if you’re trying to kill anyone important enough to be worth assassinating you better have a poison that can kill them in no more than a couple minutes or less. And you’d better have a real clever plan for delivering it as well, since Detect Poison isn’t just a spell, it’s a 0-level spell meaning you can cast it infinity times per day. And in the case of monsters quite a few have outright poison immunity. Most bizarrely, if you make the initial saving throw against the poison you’re just “not poisoned”. This doesn’t just mean you’re resisting the effects, it means it’s like the poison was teleported out of your bloodstream by your saving throw. No chance it will affect you later, there’s not even a change to how difficult saving against another dose of the same poison is AFAICT.

                    And when I say expensive, I mean expensive. Only Constitution damage will actually kill someone in Pathfinder, and Con damage poisons tend to be significantly more expensive as such. One of the best poisons I could find, Moonberries, costs 1500 gold. Per dose. If you’ve got the money to buy enough of that for terrorism (or much of anything, really) you’ve got the money for a much better option, like hiring an unscrupulous summoner to whistle you up some demons and set them loose in a marketplace or something.

                    Anyway, poison underpowered plz buff.

                    Liked by 1 person

          2. caoimhinh

            Surely there will be some scene of Pilgrim reflecting about this matter.
            I actually expect that his first reaction to this is to be a bit disoriented, ask Catherine how this happened and why did she do it, and Tariq getting into a conversation with the Angels to give him context. He will probably come to an acceptance of the situation quite fast, made even more easily by the Choir talking with him.

            Liked by 2 people

      2. SITB

        Death is usually seen as a pretty weighty act that can’t be undone, or at least not without sacrifices. Not all settings treat it this way, Dragon Ball for instance with its cheap reviving mechanism that is just inconvenient enough to give tension to fights without it having long lasting effects, but we even know it applies here given the rarity of resurrection aspects, the limits they impose, the aftereffects, and the efforts of characters to bypass death (the Twilight sages and the ruin they brought).

        If death is dealt as it has enough weight and is mostly inescapable then it takes an equivalent weighty act to counteract it. My guess is that Tariq will either be plagued by visions of heaven or lose his aspect (possibly both).

        Liked by 4 people

            1. Rook

              He’ll probably have more narrative weight than normal because his story is tied to the realm, but he wouldn’t be anything remotely approaching a ‘god’. The explicit basis for creating the realm was to destroy the godhead itself before forging it out of the pieces.

              If the godhead was still intact it’d still be the court of twilight instead of whatever it is now, and it would always be a potential disaster in the making. If rulership exists then it can also be claimed by other entities, and not just by well-intentioned kind. I don’t think anyone would’ve agreed to the band of five in the first place if the original plan involved leaving a potential landmine like that just lying around.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. I think as an architect he might have some influence, like the ‘roots get out of the way and branches move to shield from the sun’ kind or knowing entrances & exits, but not the god kind.

              Liked by 1 person

    2. Shveiran

      My prediction is that the next arch will be the peace conference and the climax of Kairos’ plan. In the aftermath, Cat will be able to persuade the main players of the dangers related to the Intercessor.
      And then it’s onward to Book 6 and the final show-down against the two Uber Beings.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. nick012000

    “Why? Because I can, so I should.”

    I wonder how well Cat would get along with Glados. That statement there reminds me of “We do what we must, because we can.”

    Liked by 8 people

    1. > I wonder how well Cat would get along with Glados.

      Cat? Not well; I think GlaDOS’s line there is a sly poke at the trope-y excuse of “sure the experiments/whatever we’re running are morally horrific, but we’re only doing what we must for the sake of progress” by foregrounding how it’s really about having the impunity to do whatever you want and abusing that wildly just because you can. It is if anything actually the opposite of the sort of moral imperative that Cat is describing, even if the sentence construction is superficially similar.

      Now, Masego (or much worse, Warlock)? OH GODS PLEASE NEVER LET THAT HAPPEN.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. Naeddyr

    I really wonder how much the Choirs really have to do with each other. And this is a good reminder than they are not the Gods Above, not the audience but the players and pieces…

    Good chapter, I was wondering what was up with the syrupy and maudlin eulogy at the start, and then you went and stomped on that with a good resurrection. 😀

    Liked by 5 people

  8. erebus42

    Well now, looks like our jokes about stealing his Forgive aspect actually weren’t far off. And a Hero being resurrected after a heroic sacrifice by an archvillain under the eyes of Angel’s because there is more work to be done. Cat really needs to keep this shit up. After all, they can’t trap you in the pattern of a story if you write your own story.
    Hopefully this will at least buy her some cred with the Levantines. It might make people more suspicious of the pilgrim though so we’ll have to see.

    Liked by 8 people

  9. Andrew Mitchell

    Congratulations to whoever tipped that Cat would take Forgive and use it to resurrect Pilgrim. I didn’t think that was going to happen.

    Now that it has, I wonder about the consequences:
    – How’s Pilgrim going to feel about this?
    – What ongoing significance will the yew branch Cat is using have in the future?
    – What effect will the resurrection have on this realm?

    Also, I loved the scene with the Choir of Mercy. I’m glad they decided to step aside. Clearly there’s at least some level of acceptance there for Cat being a good person even if she’s not Good.

    What a great chapter. EE has done it again.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. I think the yew branch doesn’t need to have much significance beyond like, that of the Mantle of Woe has as the iconic clothing item with lots of pockets. Like… that’s the role it’s been playing in the plot. Having pockets.

      I am sure the yew branch will be very significant as allowing Catherine to walk extended distances without falling down.

      It was just… really hard for me to picture Catherine without a staff, for the short while here that she didn’t have one. It’s a part of her brand ™, and while her lacking the cloak for a time just made her look more open and vulnerable (and sharp-edged) in my mind’s eye, the lack of staff was just like… someone prop her up she’s going to fall.

      The yew branch has a very quality origin, and is iconic and symbolic. Beyond that, it just has to do its mundane job ❤

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Tenthyr

        Well, the significance seems mainly to be that Cat chose to refuse the story where she took up a sword once more; instead she swore she could do better, and went back to Tariq to plead her case and bring him back.

        I’m not sure what would happen if she took up the sword; maybe that would allow her to be Black Knight? But shes better off now as First Under Night and considering what she just did, the whole world seems to agree.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I think the theory that would allow her to be a Good Queen is closer than yours, though I disagree with that one too. It would however have cemented the Black Queen role as something more martial, given more weight to the military alliance she’s made here and cast the peaceful inclinations as the means towards that end.

          Where in taking a staff instead, she chose to make the peaceful talks the ends and the military alliance the means, which shifted the story towards one that didn’t give her the +5 ancestral sword of awesomeness and a story of easier victory over DK, but allowed her to bring back the hero who sacrificed himself for this realm.

          Like a character creation choice of where to put points at level up :3

          Liked by 7 people

              1. ATRDCI

                Not only that, but it’s left in a land of pilgrims and wanderers. A place of solace and refuge for the lost and those that have gone astray. And in this realm that is itself formed as a pathway, the worthy can find the means to cut out and forge their own path to a better future

                Liked by 2 people

            1. Future Abigail: “Okay I’m trapped in this weird twilight city and I need a weapon, any weapon. Oh hey here’s one lying around randomly, thank the gods for my luck! *pulls sword, light breaks through the clouds and a Heavenly choir sings* WAIT YOU’RE SAYING I’M WHAT NOW???”

              Liked by 4 people

      2. Jarthon

        I actually see significant potential in the yew branch’s future with cat for a few reasons. Chief among them is that it can be made into a bow as was mentioned in some detail in the chapter; additionally, it likely already has a great deal of story weight as the last gift of a long dead prince chosen in the stead of a sword of incredible power. The more weight got added to the cloak the more magic resistant it became so there is definitely potential for some staff (or maybe bow) of great power shenanigans. Personally, I don’t think the bow fits Cat’s skills especially well, but I believe it will serve her well in the future regardless.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I suspect the kind of wood for a bow and a staff is different. Cat called the stuff ‘deadwood’, bows need to be flexible. So no, I don’t think one can be turned into the other, it’s only a symbolic connection and I think Cat very much likes it that way.

          A reminder of death, but one that will not bring it.

          Liked by 1 person

      3. Well… staves have had interesting symbolism in this story. Cat’s walking stick was of course her staff/sword/prayer for a long time, which she broke in the climax. Pilgrim’s staff served as his crown to shape the world. Now Cat looks at Pilgrim’s corpse, goes out into the new world, where she is given a staff… then she goes back to rezz Pilgrim. (Come to think of it, he’s gonna need a new walking-stick himself.)

        Oh, about that “given”… there’s an interesting question in that scene of just who/what she is talking to? Pilgrim would at at this point be the patron of the realm, but this set-piece is clearly Edward’s grave and uses Edward’s symbolism. Even with Pilgrim’s return to life, it seems that the realm still has at least one stray spirit inhabiting it. (Possibly denied the Heavens due to DK’s interference?)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Also: What she actually said to (probably) Edward’s spirit was:

          > “Your warning, I hear and heed, so lend me your aid when I yet stumble.”

          Since she is in fact lame, giving her a walking stick is both an appropriate response… and an entirely literal one. 😉

          Like

        2. She was literally addressing the Good King. Pretty sure she, the priestess of two goddesses of death, would know :3

          Some shade of his will, at least, remains at the gravesite, though from what the tropes this calls to are, he’s in the happy afterlife AND capable of answering the call of those who come to his grave. Sort of. It’s probably just the auto-responder, but it’s a really well-programmed one (I am not sorry)

          Like

  10. antoninjohn

    So Cat now has the Angels of Mercy backing her peace plan, the Bard is going to be pissed she went to all that work to arrange for Saint and the Grey Pilgrim to die so Cat is in the old evil side of the story then Cat went and did this

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Assuming Bard did not see this coming~

      Assuming Bard isn’t going to be like ‘oh this is so much better than what I was going to do’~

      Assuming Bard isn’t going to be like ‘ok holy fuck this is not what i wanted but the amount of popcorn i have for this just overrides all annoyance’

      Liked by 7 people

      1. SpeckofStardust

        “Assuming Bard isn’t going to be like ‘ok holy fuck this is not what i wanted but the amount of popcorn i have for this just overrides all annoyance’”
        – I think this is the closest take to her reaction right now.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oh yeah, we still need to find out what DK learned about the Bard. Which we presumably will, because his own comments make it clear that the power of that secret (besides bragging rights) comes from its publication.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. People keep comparing Pilgrim to Gandalf, presumably because they both look like old men with magical powers. The thing is, Tariq really is an old man, completely human despite trafficking with angels. Gandalf, in his own setting, is not human; he is himself Middle-Earth’s equivalent of an angel. (This isn’t discussed in the popular works, but is revealed in The Silmarillion.)

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Isn’t there something in (one of) the appendices?
          Admittedly, it’s been a while, so I could be wrong about that.

          Might be in a glossary or character list, rather than the infodump textwalls.


          Yes, Tariq is not Gandalf.
          Admittedly, there are certain (and significant) similarities, but I think the case could well be made that Gandalf has just as much, if not more, in common with Bard.

          Liked by 2 people

            1. No, I know that Gandalf and the other wizards all being Maiar isn’t in the story proper, but I think there might have been something in the appendices somewhere at a step or two removed from Gandalf’s name.
              I’m thinking a character list perhaps, where Gandalf is referenced to Olorin, and Olorin is referenced as one of the Maiar. Or something along those lines. I think.
              There’s a lot of stuff in the appendices after all.

              Of course, I suppose I could be wrong about where that was and that wasn’t in a LotR or Hobbit appendix and was in a Silmarillion appendix.

              Eh. Reason to track down my copies and do a reread.
              Not like it’s a particularly critical a piece of trivia.

              Liked by 1 person

        2. The reason people keep comparing Pilgrim to Gandalf is because he was literally called the Grey Pilgrim and the Peregrine, and (post-resurrection iirc) called on a star to shine from his staff (at least in the movies? i don’t remember much about it from the books, but one of the iconic movie moments involves that).

          So the Name itself is an explicit callback to Gandalf. All Grey Pilgrims are a little bit Gandalf :3

          Liked by 1 person

      1. JRogue

        Will his robes become illuminated by the orange-red of sunlight to one side, while the other side becomes the blue and indigo of night? Or maybe Night? Naw… not Night. Sorry wishful thinking, he will always be a servant of Mercy.

        Maybe his robes will sparkle with almost stars, maybe a purplish color.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        That’s a really, really interesting point… He WAS the Twilight King. But is he STILL the Twilight King?!?

        If he is, what an amazing power up. And you can bet that he’s going to put that power to good purpose.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. IDKWhoitis

    Even the Angels wanted to cheat, but they were bound by their rules. They are capable of deeper thought, just not empowered to act upon it. Dear God, this is so heart breakingly sad.

    What’s even going into the history books here? Is Grey going to accept this resurrection? Has he lost the ability to Forgive?

    Oh and Roland is going to see a ghost, this is truly going to quintuple the fuckery involved from now on…

    Liked by 16 people

  12. Abram Thau

    This chapter was absolutely beautiful. Cat’s melancholy stroll through Liesse, a city now three times broken, but given a sort of peaceful end by the Pilgrim, was just so well done. And the conclusion, her interaction with Mercy, and how *different* it was from her interaction with Contrition…wow. That’s some incredible narrative echoing; her younger, angrier self stole a resurrection for herself from the angels, and her older, wiser self convinced a different set of angels to let her steal a resurrection for the man the Choir loved.

    Breathtaking, EE. Thank you so much for writing this.

    Liked by 17 people

  13. Andrew Mitchell

    Yes, I think you’re right. Good call. It’s especially this quote that made it feel like a wrap-up to me:

    “This war has only just begun,” I softly said. “It will take us to Salia, to forge a peace. It will take us to Keter, to visit upon the Dead King what he has so often visited upon us. But there’s another enemy, Sorcerer. She breaks kings with sentences and topples kingdoms with but the lightest of touches. None of this can end before she’d been killed. For good.”

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I think that’s more forecasting that Book VI will most likely be focused on sorting out the Bard, but Dead King will be remainder of Book V. Remember, so far each Book has been longer than the one before, and III and IV went to 70+ and 80+ chapters respectively, not counting Interludes. We only just hit 51 here.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Book IV actually got split because it was so long, we’re currently reading the second half. But yeah, there’s a lot of lot threads hanging:
        – Of course, we want to see what Cat’s triumvirate of seconds has been up to. Hopefully they haven’t started any fires that Cat and Pilgrim between them can’t put out!
        – Black’s restoration and the reconsidering of relationships that it will produce.
        – The armies need to get home, and hey there’s a new shortcut!
        – Masego’s fate is another biggie, including his relationship with Indrani.
        – Can’t miss Hanno’s trial: Hierarch and Tyrant against the Seraphim!
        – The Dead King’s armies really need a good thrashing right about now, and in related matters the Drow need to demonstrate why the human nations should accept them.

        A stray thought: Cat clearly isn’t going to start worshiping the Choir of Mercy, but it would be nice if she could find a way to express her thanks to them. Given her position as Queen of Callow, I’m sure she can come up with something,

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Oh yeah: RIP Laurence de Montfort, and all the trouble that will bring even with Pilgrim running interference. Happily, both Cat and (once informed) Pilgrim can say with perfect truth that she died … of old age.

          Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      Celestial Powdered Cilli Pepper, Angel’s brand.
      It’s so supernaturally spicy that it can spark life back into people.

      The product motto is “Hot as Heaven’s Fire”

      Find it on your local Above-sponsored store.

      Liked by 11 people

      1. JJR

        And it only works one because it destroys the recipient’s sense of smell/taste?

        No wonder they come back distant, that’s 2 whole senses that they can’t use to orient themselves in the world anymore.

        Liked by 6 people

    2. caoimhinh

      On a more serious tone, that red powder reminded me of some vermilion powder that’s used in some religious ceremonies of ancient cultures like in India. It could have many meanings and represent lots of possible things.
      But I really don’t know any use of red powder in funerary rites or life-worshipping rituals, though vermilion is a color often associated with life.

      Could simply be EE wanted it to be a random red powder because that’s what came to his mind and we are just looking too much for meanings, though we are sure to find some pretty cool and fitting reference somewhere if we search long enough, even if it’s unintentional.

      Liked by 2 people

  14. caoimhinh

    This was a beautiful chapter, and could have gone in so many ways, ultimately going into a path that so few of us saw coming and yet makes perfect sense into the logic of the story.
    Bravo.

    I imagine Catherine and the Pilgrim walking back into Iserre side by side will cause all sort of reactions, probably only a selected few will know what happened there, but I hope it will make a difference.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. konstantinvoncarstein

      The Sorcerer said that dawn was still to come, in a few moments. I bet Cat and Tariq will emerge from the Highway exactly when the sun will begin to shine.

      Liked by 7 people

  15. ninegardens

    I wonder if the angels knew?

    The angels be like “Chill pilgrim, no war will come of this” and then Cat forgives him, and be like “Hey Tariq- come prevent a war with me” it…. kind of seems like they knew in advance.

    Also, Mercy’s goals/values and Cat’s are actually pretty often aligned. Both care for the greater good.

    Liked by 11 people

    1. John

      “The angels said you could kill yourself and still somehow prevent a pointless Levant-versus-Callow war. I said there’d definitely be such a war if you were dead. Turns out we’re both right!”

      Liked by 12 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I think he can, I really don’t think Cat or Sve Noc can cripple Names that way.

      Cat’s Take was effective on an Aspect for as long as she didn’t Take another, her new way of doing it by making single-use Artifacts (previously as Winter Sovereign and now as First Under Night) probably means that while she hasn’t used the Artifact the Named from which the Aspect was taken can’t use it, but they should have it back once Cat has spent the Artifact.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Maybe. The revenant corpses showed as “damaged”, but a living target might be able to recover. If they can’t then Cat’s powers are OP, because she can effectively attack any Named to destroy one of their Aspects.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. Don’t forget it takes a clear shot with them incapacitated. This is not a combat power, it requires the target to be subdued already. It’s a trick, but it’s not a balance shifting OP trick.

          Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          Not really.
          In the occasions we saw Cat using Take against living targets (both Human and Fae) they never experienced pain, only a surprise of finding that the Aspect or power was gone.
          Never had the chance to see what’s the repercussion of using Night to Take Aspects from a corpse and make Artifacts, but I doubt it’s really a permanent thing; also, Resurrection has already been proven to restore body and soul, so Pilgrim should be back with his full gifts and Aspects.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Forgive never restored the soul.
            Night never has been used against a living person, because you’re supposed to permanently deprive a corpse of the knowledge they’ve gained.
            Take is similar, but isn’t what Cat is using, after all.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Night absolutely can shift between living people. Remember recently Cat punishing the drow who refused to obey by the shift order by withdrawing Night from them for a while so they got frostbite and shit?

              Liked by 1 person

          2. > Resurrection has already been proven to restore body and soul

            I think some people have pointed this out elsewhere, but Cat’s “reset” for Squire came from Chider (dead gobbo from book I) swiping her Name and then Cat reclaiming it upon re-offing Chider. That was all pre-resurrection. So that’s not impossible but is far from proven.

            Liked by 3 people

      2. Shveiran

        It isn’t REALLY crippling Names though, is it? It’s more about looting Named corpses, which just happens to be very effective against Revenants because it bypasses the “kill them first” limitation.

        Stealing a resurrection aspect to bring back its owner is a very borderline case; I think the aspect will be consumed, as was for the revenant. I’m less certain about whether or not he’ll be able to develop a new Aspect in its stead, but my money is on “no”.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. caoimhinh

          I don’t think it’s consumed so much as it’s used. Remember that some Aspects need time to “recharge”, a period of cooldown before they can be used again, and this is especially true for those with large or strong effects.
          When fighting the Spellblade, Cat took one of his Aspects (Ban, I think) to seal his other Aspect, which let him weakened for the rest of the fight and Saint killed him seven strikes later.

          Liked by 2 people

        2. For starters, I do think that this is basically the same power as Take — ultimately Cat’s own characteristic power, expressed with whatever her current magic-base is.

          With the Revenants, IIRC the effect was excplicitly described as damage to the aspect when she examined them post-re-mortem. A living person might be able to heal that damage, but as far as we’ve seen, Tariq is the first person to be and remain a living person after having Cat take their aspect. Masego’s surgery on Cat may or may not be a precedent; besides the demonic involvement, even he lamented having to do it under field conditions, without his equipment.

          Then too, the angels of Mercy might have something to say about what aspects he comes back with.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Cat’s relationship with Take reminds me of my own early adventures in FRPGs where I tried to make the same character in every setting, a healer with empathy letting them feel others’ pain (both a boon and a problem, for healing). Absolutely different settings, absolutely different magic systems, the same character concept expressed slightly differently.

            Cat likes to do the same thing with whatever powers she’s got ❤

            Liked by 2 people

  16. Can we start rumors that Grey was raised with necromancy tho?

    Not gonna lie i always thought Taric would end up rezzing Cat instead of the other way around till the first time they met.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. kinigget

      And this time she didn’t even have to bully the Choir to get them to do what she wanted.

      Not that this is going to matter when the story gets told. Cat is a villain who has twice now stolen a life from Heaven’s grasp. That shit has *consequences*

      Liked by 4 people

        1. > The “twice stolen” part is true though

          She asked the Choir who granted the Aspect in the first place to allow her to do it, and they stepped aside in response. It’s not theft if you have permission to take it.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. On a shamanic/mythic level, such details fade — both times she confronted angels, and they gave way, The first time was a test of will and story, this time a test of motive and perhaps character. Both count as “mastering” the Choir in a shamanic sense.

            Think of the Pokemon stories, aka “shamanism for kiddies”: Capturing MewToo or one of those mythical pokemon is basically not an option — but even meeting them, much less directly aiding them, is an initiation in its own right. It’s worth noting that though Cat “defeated” the Hashmallim she does seem to have been “marked” by them — we’ve certainly noticed her tendency toward self-flagellation!

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Oh I like this take.

              (Also makes me think of Amadeus in his conversation with Tariq thinking he’s not going to get into an argument about justice – because the last time he tried to, he got smacked down by the Seraphim into fucking dust ;u;)

              Liked by 1 person

  17. Big I

    What I love about this story is that it continues to surprise me. I thought the Good King would become the King of Twilight. Failing that, I thought he might rise as knight in her service, maybe as the Stalwart Paladin. Never for a moment considered that the Pilgrim would survive.

    Glory to the Black Queen. This was awesome.

    Liked by 8 people

      1. Ιούλιος Καίσαρας

        She Took the Aspect from the Pilgrim’s corpse and with it she helped the Pilgrim to Rise, benefitting both and everyone.
        Such a nice parabole for the Gospel of the Tenents of the Night.

        Liked by 4 people

  18. Novice

    Gods, this is some powerful bit of storytelling. Cat’s acknowledgement and use of her pattern of three with Liesse to break established patterns in general is especially poignant. She has come a long long way from her younger, angry teenage self.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Yeah.

      And I love that this is organic character development, that 15yo Cat would look at current Cat and go ‘yo this is awesome’. Her goals never categorically changed, just… expanded and developed and clarified. It’s her approach that changed, not her basic principles.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well, the events might boggle the teenager:

        “So, we’re Queen of Callow, but we’re trying to find a replacement. We were a goddess for a while, but we got over it. After our third resurrection (we found loopholes), we’re First Priestess for a goddess and species you’ve never heard of. On the down side, there’s a Crusade pointed directly at us (they’re comparing us to Empress Triumphant MSNR), so we’re currently at war with all the other human nations (maybe including Praes) and the Dead King for good measure. That said, we’re also working shoulder-to-shoulder with major-league heroes now, so maybe we can do something about that. Oh yeah, we’ve helped kill at least one demon and faced down two Choirs, now we’re going after the immortal who represents both the Gods Above and the Gods Below.

        Cat@15: O_O

        (Okay, getting all of those in there requires catching this particular moment.)

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Well, yes.

          Honestly picturing 15yo Cat’s reactions to learning her older self’s shenanigans is one of my greatest pleasures while reading.

          My point is, after processing all the bullshit, she would not go “I fucking hate what I’ve become and I think she really needs to stop and do a 180”

          Liked by 1 person

  19. Panic

    Ahem.

    AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH

    Jesus this was a good chapter. I got to say I think this is one of the best chapters, if not THE best chapter so far. It’s just so heavy and melancholy but with the hope that a new dawn would bring added to it. This chapters actually had me a bit emotional, especially for the description of the City of Twilight and what Tariq made of it.

    All in all 9/10, would and will read again.

    Liked by 8 people

  20. SpeckofStardust

    Ya Bard likely didn’t foresee everything that happened why?
    “Keeping the bottle, if not the cup, she strode out into the sun. The White Knight was bound to be close, or she wouldn’t be there. Contrition, in the end, had not done the trick.
    Maybe Judgement would.”
    -aka first time she failed in story
    ““I doubt we’ll meet again,” she said. “And fucking Kairos slipped one by me, so I’ll have my hands full.””
    -aka she didn’t see it coming.
    While I have no doubt she isn’t ah out of her depth, I doubt she can know every move before it happens. I mean the dead king, Cat, Kairos, are all kinda dam good at this game.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Yeah — Bard used to do pretty well when most of the big players took her for comic relief. Only DK was a real challenge by her standards for most of her time. But now not only does Cat the Changer of Worlds know what she’s up to, so does Kairos (not to mention Black and Malicia), and soon the Grey Pilgrim (who will probably tell others in turn).

      Liked by 4 people

      1. And… I just realized something. Cat’s talking about slaying the Bard, and some the commenters have suggested that Cat may replace her. But I don’t think that’s gonna happen — Bard explicitly gets auto resurrection, and even capturing her soul would only slow her down for a limited time.

        But you know what could happen? Cat could develop into an “opposite number” to the Bard: Bard weaves stories and binds people to Fate on behalf of Above and Below. But Cat is becoming her Opponent, the trickster to spoil her plans, escape Fate, rewrite the stories, tell the players how the game’s rigged… and especially to stand against Above and Below alike.

        Liked by 5 people

  21. haihappen

    That the Gods would have the audacity to present Cat with a story in the form of, what can not be better described as, a magic sword.
    Maybe They thought “hey, she pulled a sword from a stone once, she will do so again!”, or “Now that she has tasted being on the ‘right’ side of the story, she cannot resist the temptation!”.

    And her Journal (if she kept one) will read:
    Two dead heroes, one by my own hand. They have been angry at me, Above and Below. And now that shit boils over and the continent getting shallowed up, erasing all potential for conflict and stories, they come to me. They offer me story and sword, so powerful and just ‘fitting’, shouting “Take it!”. And there I was, saying “No.”

    Liked by 3 people

  22. No one thinks Pilgrim may still be a god? Or at least a member of the court of Twilight? That would be funny if he was now ageless like the Fae.

    I really hope this is beyond the predictions of the Bard at least.

    I also hope Black gets a body back soon. Maybe shows up at the peace conference?

    Liked by 2 people

          1. Yes they are smarter and that’s why it might have worked, because it wasn’t a trick.
            It was an honest plea that took advantage of their nature to make them do something against the will of the Heavens.
            If they did ‘love’ Tariq then by letting themselves get convinced allow her to resurrect him, they might have fallen even though that wasn’t the intent.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. I don’t think that really works — insofar as they can make choices, they are agents of the Gods Above, not just puppets, so they do get to make those choices. The Marchford angel hadn’t been “corrupted” like you describe, just lured into a trap, which is also what Kairos seems to be planning.

              Liked by 2 people

  23. Shveiran

    Oh my God YES.

    I was screaming at the Heavens after the last chapter, I knew there was just so much potential still to explore with Tariq and his relationship with the other characters, not to mention his key role in the coming alliance that will change Calernia… but the Healer was dead, and in no way I could predict he woudl actually come back, let alone the following chapter.

    And then some amazing commenter said “what if she stole his Forgive and used it on him” and I’ve begun hoping, just hoping, they’d be right, without daring to believe it.

    Turns out, that was still NOTHING. Because EE was not just going to bring him back, he was also going to have Cat have a peaceful conversation with a Choir before.
    Damnation man, stop wrecking my heart so.

    (Just kidding, please don’t stop. Ever. No, really, don’t stop.)

    What a ride. What. A. Ride.

    Liked by 4 people

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