Interlude: Concourse II

“Thus the Gods granted us the third boon: no longer would scales close our eyes, obscuring knowledge of Good and Evil and preventing us from earning just deserts.”
– The Book of All Things, sixth verse of the second hymn

Juniper had done what she could to keep the army on battle footing, but not even the Hellhound’s sternest warnings could keep an air of festivity from hanging over the camp of the Army of Callow. Hakram noted with some amusement that while the ale rations that Legion tradition dictated should be opened after a great victory remained sealed and put away there seemed to be no lack of drink flowing through the cups of the legionaries – be they exiles or the Black Queen’s own. While the Army of Callow had been under strict instructions to refrain from sacking towns and cities even when its columns were detached and the supply situation became arduous, there’d been no order sent down to avoid trading with Procerans. Callowan soldiers were on campaign pay, which meant only half the coin was handed and the rest set aside for return home, but they were hardly penniless and in a war-torn region like Iserre they were the closest thing to patrons the locals would see for the winter. That’d overridden reluctance to trade with wicked heretics some, though no doubt there’d been price gouging. At the very least, most the bottles and flasks merrily being traded around fires were filled with the rich red wines the Principate’s heartlands were known for. The ambitious had sprung for bottles of pleurs de fée, the heady Alamans herbal liquor whose name could more or less be translated into Lower Miezan of ‘fairy tears’. Hakram had tried it a few months back and found the drink foul, though humans seemed to like the taste well enough.

“You’d think we fought a battle, by the revelry,” Vivienne said, tone dry.

Neither of them were fools, and the former Thief was an old hand at this sort of game, and so instead of wandering around the camp in heavy dark cloaks that hid their faces they’d put on officer’s armour and kept their faces half-hidden by helms. Two well-fitted armoured gauntlets, one empty and the other hiding bone, had seen to it that Hakram’s most easily discernible marks would be kept out of sight. The orc followed the human’s gaze, finding a pair of grizzled or goblins cheerfully bullying some Callowan girl-soldier into drinking enough aragh it was a near-certainty she’d puke. The sappers noticed the attention but were unbothered bit it. Not unreasonably so: Adjutant was passing for a captain of heavies, and Vivienne for a mage lieutenant. Neither of them would be in an easy position to punish the drinking of soldiers so far removed from their own theoretical commands.

“Perhaps we didn’t,” Hakram quietly replied, “but it feels like victory nonetheless, doesn’t it?”

“We threw some spells and shot some engines and General Abigail ordered a single cavalry charge on enemy mages,” the blue-eyed noblewoman said. “The drow fought, admittedly, but us? This entire ‘battle’ had seen fewer than two hundred soldiers die, Hakram.”

“Aye,” Adjutant agreed, once more amused. “Fewer than two hundred of ours dead, and we’ve both forced the Grand Alliance into truce and put the League of Free Cities to retreat. They’d make songs of today, Vivienne, even without Choir dreams gilding the legend.”

“Legionaries would make songs of rivers being wet, after drinking,” the heiress-designate to the throne drily replied. “They’ve taken to the sport of it the way Callowans once loved jousting.”

Hakram had never actually seen one of the famous Callowan tourneys, much less a joust, tough he’d read of them in books. Under the Carrion Lord’s rule knightly orders had been banned, which effectively killed the practice, and though under Catherine the Order of the Broken Bell had risen anew it was also part of the kingdom’s army in a time of war – and so not free to pursue such leisurely pastimes. Under the old kingdom the Fairfaxes had often held tourneys to recruit promising knights into the Royal Guard, which had leant the practice a certain legitimizing weight, but Cat had balked at resurrecting it. When Grandmaster Brandon Talbot had pressed the matter she’d told him she’d rather arm another company of regulars or feed a village through winter than ‘piss away gold celebrating the virtue of knocking down people with sticks’. He’d caught Juniper, whose distaste for the chivalric trappings of Callowan knighthood was deeply ingrained, grinning to herself for a solid month after that session of the Queen’s Council.

“Mock if you will,” Hakram gently said, “but you know I speak the truth. Tonight will be remembered for many years to come. It will have consequences, Vivienne. Ripples.”

They’d resumed walking, and though the gloom of Akua Sahelian’s curtain of night had cast darkness over all it was not enough that Adjutant did not see the unease his words had brought to Vivienne’s face. Like him, she had difficult grasping what might yet come of what had taken place tonight. Unlike him, however, that blindness worried her. Their steps slowed as they left the outskirts of the Second Army’s camp in favour of Fourth’s. He’d have to speak less here, as he’d spent months as an observer with the Fourth Army and he might be recognized by some through his voice even in the dark. Vivienne’s gaze was on a young Soninke legionary, standing on the shoulders of a pair of orcs with a clay pot of black paint in hand as he added to one of the army’s banners.

“Wings,” she softy said. “I will not be surprised if the Third is doing the same. Sve Noc were not meek of hand in Sarcella.”

The legionary had some talent, Hakram, though, for though instead of a brush it was the work of fingers dipped in paint the fresh symbols added to the banner could not be mistaken for anything but what they were: crow’s wings.  Two pairs, sharply shaped and feathered, and the Soninke finished the last touches on the last wing only to reveal the Fourth Army’s changed banner: the four in Miezan numerals, gold on Fairfax blue, but now framed with crow wings at the upper corners.

“It’ll spread from there,” Adjutant acknowledged.

The soldier-artist was helped down by the pair of well-built orc women who’d been holding him up – one of them, Hakram could not help but notice, had an enticingly muscled frame and fangs that looked like they’d go right through bone – and the three of them were greeted by cheers from the throng of soldiers that’d been watching.

“I’d say something scathing about soldiers and superstitions,” Vivienne mused, “but for all I know that might be enough to attract the gaze of the Crows.”

“Best to keep on good terms with gods, when death and dying’s your trade,” Hakram said.

“Even those?” the noblewoman said. “I wonder. That Catherine has charmed ancient horrors into some manner of patronage I’ve no trouble believing – Merciful Heavens, it wouldn’t even be the first time – but that does not mean the spread of their influence is a boon. She will not always be there to keep them honest, and when our soldiers return home there might be… complications.”

“The House Insurgent has been rather amiable to the drow,” he pointed out.

There’d been incidents, of course, but the Firstborn were being kept in hand by their chieftains and to be frank the Insurgents were trouble all around. Hakram had been told of quarrelsome priests, before, but it’d been with the understanding that those quarrels were largely theological. The House Insurgent was rather prone to fistfights, for priests, and it likely did not help that most of them were young and fresh to their rebellion.

“The Insurgents are the hotheads and Catherine’s most radical partisans in the House,” Vivienne said. “It’s the priests in Callow that might have words when the banners come back bearing Night’s wings. Heresy, in particular, comes to mind.”

Hakram had followed the debates within the Callowan House of Light with great interest, to the extent that he’d sought a sister for theological lessons. More than once Sister Mariet had hinted that he should consider conversion for the sake of his soul, but given how clear-spoken and learned the old woman had proved to be he’d hardly minded. The conclave in Laure that’d followed the Jacks seeding the rumours he and Vivienne had agreed on of the Woe’s time in Keter had taken them both by surprise, and they’d both found that as they had no real influence within the House they could only be spectators to what then unfolded. Perhaps a third of the priesthood of Callow, numbering high with the young and those hailing from the heartlands of the kingdom – which had always been the region most eager to embrace the Black Queen’s reign – but also a surprising among of oldest priests from the north who’d been infuriated by the Proceran House being involved at the Battle of the Camps had taken a hard line and pressed for the entire Tenth Crusade to be declared graceless. That’d been judged too extreme an approach by many, even though the Grand Alliance had come to be held in great disdain. It would be, in essence, declaring the entire priesthood of the Dominion, Procer and Ashur to be grasping heretics and any soldier participating in the crusade to have forfeited the grace of the Heavens.

Cooler heads, mostly priesthood from the ravaged south and the wary east, had tried to broker a compromise by instead declaring the decrees of the same Salian conclave that’d declared Catherine to be Arch-heretic of the East to be themselves heresy. That vote had passed unanimously, but the radicals had pushed for denunciation of the House of Light in Procer as a whole and found little appetite for the measure among their fellows. The talks turned harsh when the compromise motion of the House providing a tithe from its coffers to the Kingdom of Callow to support the defence of the realm was flatly refused by the southern priesthood, who was already beggaring itself providing charity to the families displaced by the Arcadian War. With that second compromise collapsing, the radicals scorned their fellows and mocked them for children of Dana – which, Hakram learned from the ever-helpful Sister Mariet, was a reference to the infamous Sister Dana of Laure who’d colluded with the Procerans during their occupation Callow – before walking out of the conclave. They’d come to call themselves the House Insurgent, in the months that followed, and many had flocked to the Army of Callow. Yet it could not be denied that most the Callowan priesthood, more than two thirds of it in truth, had preferred a tamer stance.

In the kingdom the priests who’d remained in the fold had come to be called the House Constant, though that was more story than truth: they were united mostly in their eschewal of harder measures, and in other things remained as prone to squabbling among themselves as the Callowan priesthood was reputed for. They could be counted on to back Catherine against all comers, so long as those comers were foreign, but Vivienne was right in worrying of dark wings painted on banners. The settling of a goblin tribe on Callowan soil had been a hard mouthful to swallow for many of them, as was the entrusting of so many high offices to Wastelanders and greenskins, yet those had only been earthly matters. The Crows earning some devotion of their own, however, would be seen as Below sinking its claws in the hearts of the Callowan flock. There would be trouble.

“Most the soldiers we took in from the old legions keep to Below, if they keep to anything at all,” Hakram said. “And many of what used to be the Fifteenth do the same. It may not be too contentious a matter so long as it is kept ceremonial. Soldiers’ superstition, as you said.”

“I hope you’re right,” Vivienne said.

Yet her eyes were on the cheering soldiers, surrounding a crow-marked banner.

“But if you are not,” she said, “then it might be necessary to back our favoured horse within the House of Light.”

Adjutant’s brow rose.

“Insurgent over Constant, you mean,” he said, tone pensive as he measured the rusks. “It might be it can be done. If we return victors one and all, their reputation will have risen. Yet there are risks to meddling there, especially for us.”

House Fairfax had been embroiled in disputed with the House of Light more than once, over the span of its line, most often over the great cathedral of Laure and what was spoken in the sermons given there. Yet the old kings and queens of Callow had been Named as often as not, exalted in Above’s service. It was one thing for one of that ilk to intervene in the House’s affairs but entirely another for the Black Queen to do so. If a villain was seen as trying to subvert the House of Light, rebellion was certain. Even the Carrion Lord had chosen the soft death when dealing with the priests, preferring instead the stratagem of starving them of coin.

“Too early to tell if it’ll come to that,” Vivienne Dartwick finally said, eyes hooded. “We’ll have to keep an eye on things as they unfold.”

Adjutant rumbled in agreement and they resumed their walk. The First Army’s camp, where they’d begun their wandering, had been quiet and orderly compared to the rest – as was only to be expected, as it was Juniper’s own command and closest to her displeasure should festivities become too obvious. The Second’s, under General Hune, had been tense for other reasons entirely. As Hune’s army had seen fighting during the day and the night, it’d been allowed to rotate most their companies to sleep. Which had turned out less than restful, when vivid dreams began waking the legionaries. The First Army’s entire mage contingent had been awoken to put together answers, as well as the Senior Mages from other armies. So far there’d been little more put together than the string of visions depicting parts of the struggle that’d taken place over Liesse, though the shape of the whole adventure had been taking appearance when they’d left the mages to it. Adjutant would have liked to assign Akua Sahelian to the matter, but she’d had more pressing duties: the soul of the Carrion Lord had been stolen back from the heroes, as had been his body weeks ago, and now the shade who’d once been the Diabolist had been tasked to bind soul and flesh anew after their brutal severing. Still, useful as her expertise might have been the army’s mages and scribes were capable of seeing to the matter. It was less than urgent, anyhow, as Catherine would tell the tale herself when she returned. Most important, as far as Hakram was concerned, was that the most recurrent and vivid of the visions showed that Grey Pilgrim and the Saint of Swords were seemingly dead. The latter would do no favours to Catherine’s reputation, but the former was a deeper concern.

The Dominion was prickly, when it came to the Peregrine, and though the visions legionaries had received made it clear Cat had tried to prevent his death that might not mean too much to grief-stricken killer with more pride than sense. Someone would have to be blamed, and even if it did not outright come to war they might try to kill Catherine upon her return to ‘avenge’ the Grey Pilgrim. Which would lead to war regardless, no two ways about it. His warlord was popular even with the Legions-in-Exile, who of the coalition holding this camp were the host with the least fondness for the Black Queen. The Army of Callow and the Firstborn had deeper loyalties, and very few qualms over killing either Procerans or Levantines if provoked. The truce over the field had been achieved by scheme and force of personality more than great desire for peace by the soldiers, Hakram knew, and that made it fragile. Even more so now that the League’s hosts had retreated some and no longer stood as a close and obvious threat to the other two great assembled armies on the field. Juniper was well-aware, which was why there were scouts out there keeping an eye on the Grand Alliance’s positions and the Army of Callow had yet to entirely leave battle footing.

If the betrayal came, they knew, it would come after dawn rose when the drow would be struck by the sun-sickness and forced into slumber after being stripped of their power. Some would remain able to fight, but few and as little more than tribes of warriors.

The orc was forced out of the thought from the first stirrings of a song in the distance, one he did not recognize. The mismatched pair wandered closer to the source by unspoken accord, until they found a broad bonfire and a crowd half-drunk soldiers around it. Orcs and goblins, Taghreb and Soninke and Callowans. They were, to hear of it, crafting a song in the old legion manner – everyone trying a verse, a chorus of loud voices singing the attempts until something passable had come of the crucible. Hakram missed Nauk like a limb, in that moment. The other orc’s rough humour and gift for song and poetry, his strange yet unrepentant sentimentality. It was not enough to distract him from the sight of one of Vivienne’s agents approaching her discretely, whispering news in her ear when she gestured permission. The orc’s attention turned instead to the song, heart clenching at the remembrance of a friend he’d now twice grieved.

“Came they proud princes, one and all
Great lords from olden, golden halls
And as one they fell, under the moon
When the Black Queen sang her tune

For in lovely Iserre did come undone
Dominion of seven crowns and one

‘lo blood of slayer, brigand, binder
And champion too, binding tighter
Yet what star could shine so brightly
It would not fear our queen’s fury?

For in lovely Iserre did come undone,
Dominion of seven crowns and one.”

The song, he thought, was fiercely proud. Raw and half-done, yet already he could see the grimly boastful shape of it ripping free of a hundred voices. The Jack slipped away and without pause Vivienne leaned close, lowering her voice.

“Juniper sends that the Dominion has begun to gather troops,” she whispered. “So has Princess Rozala.”

The one-handed orc looked up the night sky, so very close to fading. He could feel it in his bones, how close to that veil falling they had come, how near to the end of the journey they’d arrived. It would all end soon, one way or another. And beyond that, Hakram felt another pull. An older claim to him, one he’d embraced body and soul.

“We gather our own, then,” he growled. “And quickly.”

The woman who’d once been the Thief glanced at him knowingly.

“You know where Catherine will return,” she said.

“I do,” Hakram Deadhand said. “So let us gather steel, and march towards it.”

Vivienne did not question him, for she knew the truth of it. In end, Hakram of the Howling Wolves Clan was many things. A soldier, a killer, a steward and on occasion a scribe. He’d served as an advisor and a herald, as an ender of loose ends and watchman of missteps. For the hand taken from him by the Penitent’s Blade and returned by the sorceries of the Sovereign of Red Skies, he had earned the sobriquet of Deadhand. To ensure the succession of everything that had been built in the beating heart of Callow he’d carved through the other wrist, and not once regretted it.  That lesson, like many others, he had learned from someone he loved the way a knife loved a steady hand or sparrow loved flight. For, most of all, he was a bored sergeant on a warm Wasteland night, catching his first glimpse in the eyes of a stranger of the girl who’d topple empires and feeling his blood burn.

He was the Adjutant, and Catherine Foundling was returning.

If any stood between them they would be broken, sure as dawn and dusk and the death of men.

163 thoughts on “Interlude: Concourse II

    1. Ah, good, it seems that Hakram and Viv are getting along better.

      Heh. It’s never a good idea to stand between an orc and his/her Warlord. And they’re going to try to stop Hakram from getting to Cat.
      This should be good. If unfortunate for the Levantines.

      Huh. I would’ve thought that the obvious exit would have been in the circle or whatever the technical name of the ancient quasi-religious site Cat parked herself and her army around.

      Liked by 6 people

      1. Ah, but that exit is not The Dramatic Middle Of Everything

        like, it’s probably the geometric middle of everything, but not the dramatic one

        Also, what’re the odds the Levantines are planning no such thing? We know Rozala is trying to deescalate things (and is very bad at it apparently)

        Liked by 5 people

      2. Taichi

        Had it been a major priority to land there, it likely would have been somewhat possible. However, given the weight and direction the story has headed with regards to their time in the City of Twilight, unless a direct effort was made to subvert the landing zone by someone with a weight in the story, it’s practically guaranteed that events would align one way or another to dump them in the most theatrical spot possible.

        That is to say, in between all the armies.

        Liked by 9 people

  1. Andrew Mitchell

    I really enjoyed the conversation between Vivienne and Hakram because of how far their relationship has developed since Hakram’s sacrifice. And I loved this line from Vivienne:

    > That Catherine has charmed ancient horrors into some manner of patronage I’ve no trouble believing – Merciful Heavens, it wouldn’t even be the first time – …

    Useful insights into what’s happened in the House of Light in Callow.

    Liked by 9 people

          1. RandomFan

            Not even saying “You’re an asshole for being the type of person who would ever consider making a contentless ‘first’ post”? Because that’s certainly nastier. Also, for the record, you can consider me to have said that.

            Liked by 7 people

          2. Nothing eh? What about saying that you’d be a pitiful attention seeking human that’s trying to make up for the fact that their parents didn’t give them enough attention when they were younger, so they seek out attention (be it positive or negative) from a community that ultimately doesn’t really care about them because they’re a single insignificant internet denizen whose username noone is even going to bother to remember?
            You’re right, that’s not enough to motivate you. Here, let me give you some motivation. You can do it! You can be a pitiful attention seeking asshole instead of amounting to anything! Yayyy

            Liked by 1 person

      1. Caerulea

        Comments take a minute or so to be approved, and I do not think you would have beaten me. If you did, I would just think something along the lines of “really? Who let the toddler in here?” and then move on. Otherwise you would be in the unenviable position of having a comment saying “FiRSt!!!” third on the list. If you are quick, just put the links up, so people see them, rather than waste space.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Andrew Mitchell

        Honestly Gibborim, I don’t get all the hate being thrown at you here. In my experience our community is almost always a pleasant and civil place to hang out. And I’m quite disappointed that some people here aren’t demonstrating that at the moment.

        I entirely get your angry response to an IMO unreasonable attack.

        I encourage you to stick around and be part of what is a really great community that can add a lot of richness to your understanding of PGtE; as it has to mine.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. I’ll note that EE as specifically said that doesn’t particularly like having to moderate the comments, but he will if he has to (and as lately demonstrated, he does read them).

          In this exchange, I think Liliet muffed her “humor” roll and set off a cascade.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            I concur. One of the indicators of a healthy community is the absence of active moderation. I can only recall one time EE needed to do that, and this incident is far from needing EE’s attention IMO.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. > One of the indicators of a healthy community is the absence of active moderation.

              Mmm… I’m in another very strong and supportive online community, but that one is much more intertwined with other communities on the Internet and the real world, and it also occasionally deals with hot-button stuff.

              That means that on the one hand, we get occasional visits by people who aren’t really in touch with the group’s attitude, and on the other, even the regulars sometimes mess up. A gentle warning almost always suffices for the regulars…

              For the other cases, the blog owner invented a new sanction for the Internet: Disemvoweling. That’s not a typo — sufficiently offensive or abrasive comments get their vowels removed. This effectively disarms the problematic messages, but if you squint you can still make out what they say, so the trolls can’t really cry “censorship”. 😉

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Andrew Mitchell

                > For the other cases, the blog owner invented a new sanction for the Internet: Disemvoweling. That’s not a typo — sufficiently offensive or abrasive comments get their vowels removed. This effectively disarms the problematic messages, but if you squint you can still make out what they say, so the trolls can’t really cry “censorship”. 😉

                I wish I had more than one like to give this. I just ❤ ❤ ❤ this approach. Thanks for letting me know that such cleverness exists.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Thanks. She (also her husband/co-blogger) were already prominent science-fiction editors, and she’s known for her expertise in community moderation (she has written a couple of books). Alas, age and disability are creeping up on her these days, so she’s not very active online anymore..

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. NerfGlastigUaine

    “Thus the Gods granted us the third boon: no longer would scales close our eyes, obscuring knowledge of Good and Evil and preventing us from earning just deserts.”

    Interesting that in this verse this knowledge was a boon, while in Christianity it’s the first sin. And in both cases, I’d like to call doubt on its veracity.

    Liked by 11 people

      1. Asterix the Guy

        First of all, they wouldn’t be *just* desserts if they had had any meal beforehand.

        Second of all, those are just *desserts* that you are thinking about. Just deserts are much drier than that.

        (Also, hey everyone, first post here.)

        *

        Liked by 1 person

            1. Well, usually I start off looking for a good place for an initial lair and just expand from there. In mountainous areas that will be an exposed cave or dug into a cliff face, because I can make it safe with not much wood — in flat areas like this, I’d start with a dirt hut and upgrade over the first few days.

              In this game, however, I got a dominating factor — spawn is in sight of a village! And with the Village and Pillage update, that means guaranteed beds, and much better houses than they used to be! That said, defending the village is still tricky — even with the golems, I just lost some well-traded villagers after I left a perimeter gate open before I went down mining. (oops) And that was after I’d gathered most of them into a common building.

              I think I’m going to finish the job, put their bell in there too, and just lock them in with their job-site blocks and beds. (Maybe add a bit of farm too, mostly I’ve been hand-feeding them from my own farm tower.)

              Liked by 2 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I would say that Amadeus and Alaya are even stronger.

      Even if Alaya’s stupid obsession with securing her throne led them to a separation after over 40 years of loyal friendship and unconditional trust.

      Liked by 10 people

    2. Um, that’s not a romance. There are other kinds of love!

      Also, how many people noticed that Hakram now has a psychic link to Cat? At least, he knows where she’s coming out, and Viv expects as much. I guess that comes with a Name based on being someone’s assistant.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Andrew Mitchell

        Something like Scribe and Black, perhaps… Actually, maybe that means that Scribe’s going to turn up (or perhaps she’s around already) when Black is put back together. It would be nice to see her again.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. JJR

          Speaking of Black’s misadventure. I wonder what Ranger thinks about all this. Is it a “He knew the risks.” thing? Or was she almost about to go all Kill Bill on the Principate?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Andrew Mitchell

            I don’t think Ranger is the rescuing type. IMO she’s more the revenging type. She’ll happily hunt down cut open the person who killed Black, and the person who ordered it.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, good, it seems that Hakram and Viv are getting along better.

    Heh. It’s never a good idea to stand between an orc and his/her Warlord. And they’re going to try to stop Hakram from getting to Cat.
    This should be good. If unfortunate for the Levantines.

    Huh. I would’ve thought that the obvious exit would have been in the circle or whatever the technical name of the ancient quasi-religious site Cat parked herself and her army around.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Normally yes, they would exit there. But they’re coming out from a piece of Arcadia after having gone on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. They will appear in the most dramatic possible location at the most dramatic possible time.

      Liked by 12 people

          1. Shveiran

            If there was ever any doubt, the fact that dawn marks the weakening of the drow and therefore the most likely start of hostilities on the Dominion’s part makes dawn THE moment to return.

            Assuming the Dominion plans to attack, that is. Which is, admittedly, not a given. It almost pains me to say it, but I should probably give the Ophanim the benefit of doubt here and at least consider the possibility that the Levantines are marching in to keep the peace, much like Rozala.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Agent J

              The Levantines are why Malanza is marching to keep the peace. That they’re both marching are why the Army of Callow is mustering now as well. If the Levantines wanted to deescalate the situation, it would have been as easy a task as not mustering their army.

              Are the Levantines preparing to attack? Maybe not, but I can’t see a scenario where their actions could logically lead to a less volatile situation.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Shveiran

                Honestly, I agree with you there, but… I’ve been wrong before, and we were promised the Ophanim would handle it. So… I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, even if my gut says Levant marching is stupid if peace is their goal. Unlike the Procerans, it doesn’t seem like they have reasons to believe their armed intervention is necessary to stop their allies from attacking in a frenzy.

                Liked by 1 person

  4. I always did wonder how the Callowan priesthood rationalized following Cat. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing how the drow interact with Callow proper, at least until they get a home carved out for them from the dead king’s lawn.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. erebus42

      Yeah it certainly will be interesting. I definitely would like to see Sve Noc get some nonDrow followers (I know I’d at least consider converting after having seen what the Night can do).

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        I’m thinking Masego and Black. Masego because divinity has always fascinated him, and when he sees that Cat doesn’t have to kneel and chant to commune with her patrons, he may see it as a good (if perhaps temporary) replacement for his magic. I can see him having long, animated discussions with both Andronike and Komena about death, murder, and the quanta of divinity.

        As for Black, can anything be more awesome than being named Black of Night, father-figure of the First Under Night? 😛

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          First off, kudos because Black of Night sounds fucking cool.

          Though seriously, I don’t think the two of them will ever agree to challenge the power of a deity, lack of bowing not withstanding.

          Liked by 1 person

      2. > I know I’d at least consider converting after having seen what the Night can do

        Well yes, that’s the problem for the House of Light. Cat may need to “introduce” the concept of religious freedom.

        (That said, I snickered at the poor Sister hoping to convert a Praesi-born orc!)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Shveiran

          I quite liked that addition, honestly. Shows she is not thinking in terms of us and them, or at least not in a way that is culture-race based and immutable.

          Granted, it was doomed to fail. But it is good sign, no?

          Liked by 2 people

    2. Andrew Mitchell

      I don’t think Cat’s planning on taking the Drow back to Callow. The point is to find them a home of their own once they’ve helped bottle up the Dead King.

      However, the story may have different ideas. Given the discussion about the potential for conflict, it now feels inevitable that the conflict is going to be an issue.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. NerfGlastigUaine

    “one of them, Hakram could not help but notice, had an enticingly muscled frame and fangs that looked like they’d go right through bone”

    Damn it Adjutant, keep it in your pants. You’re learning bad habits from your Queen.

    Liked by 14 people

  6. erebus42

    A Hakram POV is always welcome, as is a new legion song (I’m curious to hear what it would sound like finished)
    The hype for Cat and the Pilgrim’s grand entrance is getting pretty real though.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I wonder if we will get that expected arrival of Catherine and Pilgrim with the breaking dawn during our next Mandatory Friday Cliffhanger.

      I’m guessing next chapter will be an insight on Dominion’s camp and the current state of their politics and interclan dynamics, with the end being the marching of the Dominion’s army and the tense posturing of the three nations’ armies setting the stage for Cat’s dramatic return and the reveal of Gandalf Pilgrim’s resurrection.

      It will probably be tenser if Indrani and Rogue Sorcerer arrive first and get intercepted or if Hanno arrives.

      Liked by 6 people

  7. Relyt

    “the soul of the Carrion Lord had been stolen back from the heroes, as had been his body weeks ago”

    ErraticaErrata, was it really weeks ago? I thought they traded Saint’s life for Blacks body at a botched treaty-talk-thing like the day before all these shenanigans went down? A lot has happened yeah, and it’s been weeks for us, but hasn’t it been less than a day in-story?

    As always, great chapter, wonderful writing. I’m looking forward to all the tense posturing as folks wait for Catherine to show, then dropped jaws when the Peregrine’s with her.

    Liked by 7 people

        1. Andrew Mitchell

          That’s a good point. I wonder how many have died and been replaced by now. I expect Malica won’t have been able to get any more commands placed in new officers over the last couple of years.

          Abigail comes to mind here. It would be interesting to see Abigail vs. Juniper if Juniper is being mind controlled.

          Also, does Black know about them either from Malica or via other means? And does he have a counter?

          Like

          1. Shveiran

            I think Malicia mentioned in one of her POV interludes (possibly the one about Salia’s death?) that she believes Black doesn’t know she used Rule to overcome the limits of “Speaking” and rewrote the top brass.

            If she was right, it is safe to say Juniper is compromised, since she has been in the presence of the Empress even after becoming Cat’s go-to general.

            As for Abigail v. Juniper… I don’t know, for all that Abigail may have grown, her barely controlled chaos seems like a long, long way from matching the Hellhound… which, it should be mentioned, is still learning and growing, especially now that she is digesting her defeat and planning with Grem One-eye.
            Personally, if it comes to that and Juniper doesn’t eat her alive, I’d be very disappointed.
            On the other hand, Cat squaring off against Juniper with Abigail provviding a measure of unpredicatbility that Juniper fails to foresee and Cat takes advantage of? THAT I’d totallybe behind.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Morgenstern

      Should be, yes. But who knows how much time the five man group spent in the faerie realm… it’s been known to happen. And for rather more time than just a few days/weeks… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Morgenstern

        On second thought… I’m no longer sure I’m not mixing up scenes, too. Where does the scene with Rumena holding the Saint by the “neck” (throat) figure in… Rum”e”nation. 😉
        Let’s conclude I’m confused, but the comment about fairie realms is true in general, no matter what ^^°

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’m not EE, but lessee: She won Black’s body in chapters 26 and 27: Overtures and Civility. Chapter 28 is a single conversation. Chapter 29 opens with “We got three days’ march before Creation turned on us” (the gate in their path). The “Mavian prayer” site Was introduced in Chapter 30: “Weaver; Woven”, and in Chapter 31 she writes the letters and then we get 7 interludes of battle and byplay: a day and a night (the latter interrupted by Pilgrim’s Shine), culminating with “So We Shot Him”; the Shine ends with dawn, which then gets eclipsed.

      Then Cat comes back to steal the scene from Kairos and begin the Twilight arc, which wraps at Chapter 51 (with 4 interludes). Hints from the text suggest that their journey and battles take that day and the night after it, with them returning at dawn.

      So, 5 days (but 30 chapters!) since they got his body. I think EE lost count again…. 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  8. NerfGlastigUaine

    I think I’ll take a break from this story. Not that it’s not great, in fact I think it’s getting even better recently, but I want to do a binge later instead of reading a single chapter every other day. It’s amazing how fast the author updates and how consistently, but I’m starting to feel like an addict whose hit is never enough and always kept longing for more.

    Thank you Erraticerrata for writing such a great story and thank you fellow readers whose comments are always entertaining and theories wildly interesting even when (especially when) they’re wrong. See you all again in two months.

    Liked by 12 people

    1. caoimhinh

      I’m pretty sure it’s healthier to take one bottle of liquor every two days than suddenly drinking 20 bottles in one sitting. Same principle applies to drugs (where an overdose can kill) and for chapters of a serial, where the Hype will burn us.

      I would recommend to add another novel to your reading time so you can get distracted from the obsession of wanting to know what will happen next chapter in this one by reading what’s happening in others (I’m sure that among the readers here we can get a very long list of web serials to enjoy). Another option is going for a re-read of the novel, there are many things that are appreciated more on a second reading, like character development or the re-living of a particularly epic or emotional chapter, it’s something I personally enjoy.

      Nevertheless, it is your decision, and I can’t deny that there’s something really satisfying in reading and finding the “Next Chapter” button available and working when you reach the end of a chapter, so I understand your urge.

      In any case, enjoy. Whatever you decide, just be sure to have a great time~

      Liked by 3 people

        1. I’ve most been reading webcomics, but one of those stands out: Kill 6 Billion Demons features a Crapsack Multiverse with an Eastern ethos and mythic style, laid out in effing-spectacular artwork. The protagonist was a barista from our own Earth, who had cosmic power handed to her and promptly got caught up in the squabbles of the Demiurges. (Dammit, she was just trying to get laid! 😉 ) Learning how to use that power is a bit tougher, but she’s got an angel teaching her martial arts and a devil teaching her magic (among other things, heh heh).

          Currently she’s about to enter the Grand Tournament held by one of the demiurges, prize being “anything you want”. As it happens, he has somebody she wants, but she may not have thought this through….

          Other excellent webcomic sagas include Skin Horse (a followup to the classic but long-completed Narbonic), and the long-running (20+ years!) Sluggy Freelance, but both of those seem to be approaching their respective finishes.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. caoimhinh

            Oh, cool. Kill 6 Billion Demons is a name I have heard before, it’s about time I embark on that reading.

            I gotta start reading more western webcomics; most of the ones I read are Korean webtoons like Tower of God, Wind Breaker, God of Highschool, DICE: the Cube that Changes Everything, Solo Levelling, Her Summon, I Love Yoo, and the Boss Of School; but I have found some pretty good western webcomics, like Unordinary, Love Advice from the Duke of Hell, Mage & Demon Queen, Always Human and many more that I can’t recall right now.

            I will add your recommendations to my list and check them out this weekend, thanks.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Andrew Mitchell

              I recommend reading the text below the comics as well. It really adds to the depth of this multiverse. Sometimes it’s very short, sometimes it’s much longer.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. caoimhinh

                Just checked, it’s really awesome to have that bit of lore there. It’s kinda like the epigraphs here in Practical Guide to Evil.
                It adds a certain spice to the story.

                Like

        2. Andrew Mitchell

          A couple of complete stories which I really enjoyed:

          Leftover soup: leftoversoup DOT com
          Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: hpmor DOT com

          And a couple of ongoing stories I’ve been enjoying for years:

          Order Of The Stick: google it
          Questionable Content: questionablecontent DOT com (over 4000 comics and going strong)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            I finished the Methods of Rationality a couple of months ago, it was really good, though the end turned weird. I particularly enjoyed the part about death, the Dementors and the desire for sharing immortality as an improvement for humanity.
            I’m reading the Order of the Stick but I’m reeeaaaalllyyy behind, hahaha. At first I read it at random, but I decided to read it properly.
            I will check on Leftover Soup and Questionable Content, never heard of those before, but paired with MoR and OoS, plus recommended by you, I’m pretty confident on them being of good quality story and very interesting content.

            Liked by 1 person

        3. caoimhinh

          Well, there are the most famous options, like The Wandering Inn, The Gods Are Bastards, Worm, and Mother of Learning.

          On RoyalRoad I have found many different types of stories that are very interesting, like Metaworld Chronicles, Everybody Loves Large Chests, Iron Teeth, and Trails of Ascension (I write this one, 54 chapters as of today, allow me a little shameless advertisement XD ).
          You could also take a look at some of the big names of Xianxia genre (chinese fantasy, centered around their mythology, with Qi Cultivation, taoism, buddhism and immortality as important aspects of the story) like I Shall Seal the Heavens, Cultivation Chat Group, Stellar Transformations and History’s Strongest Senior Brother. And there’s also Korean novels, like Everyone Else is a Returnee, Solo Levelling (this one was even adapted to a webtoon, currently ongoing), and Main Character Hides His Strength (kinda weird name, but the story is very serious and sometimes outright grim).

          Those are some of the ones I know, have read, and usually recommend, all are fantasy (my personal favorite genre) but they have vastly different takes on fantasy and their storylines are unique, providing a big number of interesting characters with different characteristics.

          I’m sure other readers can vastly enlarge this list with their own recomendations and gave us all a large variety of names of every possible literature genre. There are amazing jewels out there waiting to be discovered. If you can share a recomendation too, I’ll be happy to read it.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. caoimhinh

        Yeah, the crazy theories, debates and in-depth analysis provided by the commenters are really amazing. It adds a whole new level to the experience of reading the web novel, having a large community of peers reading alongside oneself and sharing their view, we enrich each other’s experiences.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. KageLupus

      Something that I do on occasion is to go back to a previous book (sometimes even the same book) and then do a big binge on that. I usually find something new that I didn’t catch the first time through, and knowing what happens later lets me find some really neat, subtle foreshadowings.

      A recent example from my binge of book 5 is that during the Saint of Swords v Rumena fight, Mighty Rumena says something along the lines of “Let’s hurry up before one of us dies of old age.” Considering the last couple of chapters that has gone from a witty line about Rumena being ancient to an amazing line because Rumena had seen Cat’s staff and knew what it was for.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. caoimhinh

        Indeed, reading the previous books brings forth a sense of perspective into the story, and we see some of the pieces that were set into motion many chapters ago start taking effect in the current chapters, and it’s also nice to see the changes and evolution of the characters, some of the consistency errors (most of which have been fixed) and even the changes in the viewers impression and feelings towards a character. For example, almost everybody hated Akua during the first couple of books, now almost everybody likes her; the Grey Pilgrim and the Saint of Swords are two characters that have been liked by, hated by, and awed the readers during the many chapters where they have appeared.

        Something interesting I kept wondering about, for example, and confirmed when re-reading book 2, is that Masego was not initially as socially awkward as he is in later books. The Masego of Book 2 was capable of sarcasm, insults and jokes, with also a much friendlier disposition (and his first introduction depicted him as having a leaner body “like a scholar” while later chapters depicted him as fat). At some point around book 3 and 4, this changed and the current Masego is shown as someone who has always struggled to understand social interactions and just a couple of chapters ago we saw him fumbling when trying to come up with an insult for the Dead King, saying that he was doing it because he learned it from Cat and the others and wanted to imitate them, however in Book 2 we saw Masego constantly throw minor insults to his opponents during battles (see for example his two duels with the Bumbling Conjurer in Book 2 and his contempt towards inferior magic casters, even in his fight against Demons he delivered some pretty witty comments).

        Like

        1. Y’know, that’s not actually true.

          “Built like a scholar” doesn’t automatically mean lean and/or skinny. In the context of being compared to well muscled and physically fit soldiers, it could easily mean someone with a heavier and softer build. Especially since a sentence or two later, it is said that “his lips were fleshy”.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. caoimhinh

            Hmm, I don’t know. Historically and in stories, scholars are of a lean build, the merchants are the ones who possess a fat body, while scholars tend to have skinnier looks and more fragile frame.

            Also, fleshy lips have nothing to do with fat or lack thereof. Cheeks and neck, sure, but not the lips.

            Like

  9. IDKWhoitis

    I wonder if the Augar or White Night are also getting the dreams, because out of anyone else, they might be the most interested in what follows.

    Also, the Black Queen legend will truly become a monolith by the end of this crusade, one of those legends so long and insane that people will doubt its veracity.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Maybe you’re right but I also wonder if it might instead be known, and believed, as widely as the stories of Dread Empress Triumphant (MSNR).

      (Sorry for the double post.)

      Liked by 4 people

    2. caoimhinh

      She already is, and that’s a funny thing because everyone comes to fight her having her the reports of her actions and they are all like “Nah, that’s pure exaggeration, she isn’t that strong and terrifying” and then Cat pulls something even scarier than what they heard and it’s too late for them and they are screwed.

      Every opponent that Catherine has faced come with a preconception and prejudice about her, and then finds that such an image was inaccurate and lacking.

      Liked by 12 people

      1. > Every opponent that Catherine has faced come with a preconception and prejudice about her, and then finds that such an image was inaccurate and lacking.

        To be fair, a lot of that is prob because her reputation (especially abroad, given the slowness of most non-Imperial communications) would typically be based on the last thing people *know* that she did, and since becoming Squire Catherine Foundling has triggered the Took a Level in Badass trope, eh, at least three times by my count? Offing the Duke of Being a Little Bitch or whatever his title was to become Duchess of Moonless Nights, embracing Winter to level-up to Sovereign of Moonless Nights to take out Akua, feeding Winter to Night to become F.U.N. I get the feeling that most Named get to trigger that trope like once in their whole career, maybe twice if they’re lucky/special. Also, the last one notably is not so much a straight increase in power like the last two so much as an exponential increase in flexibility, which is an entire other level of wrong-footing if even your prognoses of potential changes are focused around “maybe she got more powerful again”.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Hmm I could see that yeah. I was measuring more in terms of “objective”/external power-ups, and I would personally call the Book I wargames more of a perceptual/political upgrade since for me at least those were more about people starting to learn who Catherine Foundling really was than about Catherine Foundling herself changing. But since the initial topic was Catherine’s reputation your interpretation there is definitely also valid; I just hadn’t considered it because I was just seeing it through my own lens.

            Liked by 3 people

          2. Follow-up: if we’re counting perceptual/political level-ups, then First Liesse should definitely go on the list too. Dread Legion commander/rookie Named on her very first campaign goes from military successes to simultaneously snuffing out the last of the Callowan rebellion WITHOUT her own people turning on her, foiling and scoring points off the heir to the Sahelians (also a Named in her own right), and using her victory over said heir to the Sahelians to extract concessions from her political allies. Then that was immediately followed by Black basically turning over Callow to her like “yeah this has been my primary personal project for 20 years and you’ve only even been Named for like 2 years, but here you go I trust you with this completely”. Alaya/Malicia specifically tagged the High Lords/Ladies as still persistently underestimating Black through sheer force of blind prejudice so I don’t think that did as much for Cat there, but there’s no way that didn’t win her MAJOR points with the Legions.

            Liked by 3 people

            1. Maybe. I’d think that was straight-up “rewards of success.” It did establish her rep in her own country, but the process was “onscreen”. The comparison does help me understand your qualms about considering the War College as that trope.

              Liked by 3 people

  10. caoimhinh

    Ah, Hakram ogling the teeth of the females, that perv. Good to see traditions hadn’t been lost and he is still the same promiscuous Orc that everyone knows, hahaha.

    Those few last paragraphs displaying Hakrams absolute loyalty are truly great.
    That’s love, pure and loyal, untainted by lust or romance, or any other desire beyond the wish of companionship. He can even just follow his heart and know where Catherine is going to appear through pure Power of Friendship. See? Under all that layers of cold Orc, Hakram is a softie at heart.

    So… Concourse III is going to be from the Dominion’s POV? I wonder if they are actually losing their minds over the death of the Peregrine and really decided to attack or if they are doing something else. I wonder how the different members of the Blood are taking it, what decisions are being discussed and how the Dominion leaders are relating to each other.
    We know that Razin and Aquiline are getting closer, while Razin swore vengeance on Yannu, Moro of the Bandit Blood lost one arm, and Yannu seems to be the cold and calculative type, but who knows how he might react to the news of Pilgrim being dead, who knows if they are having another honor duel to decide what to do or if they are united due to the mourning of the Peregrine. There’s quite a mixture for volatile situations there, even more than there is in Proceran camp.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. Raved Thrad

        Well, we’ve seen what Levantine Blood consider to be honorable. I’m betting that someone got knifed.

        It’s even possible that Aquiline and Razin knifed Yannu and then immediately got to boinking in the spreading pool of blood. Razin would have had his blood up, and each time there’s a chance for blood to be spilled it’s like Aquiline’s just drank five cups of coffee, with an espresso chaser.

        Liked by 6 people

  11. frederic

    There are a few OTL iterations of benevolent ( or neutral) deities of the Night (Ratri comes to mind but there was at least one in ancient Nabatean mythology, and a few others).

    I wonder if nascent Gods can be influenced by their worshippers..

    Like

  12. Mammon

    It was already obvious before, and now it only becomes more so. Leave it to Above to cover all bases by hedging their bets. Such slimy and tricksy bastards.

    Callow being defeated? The Arch-Heretic has been slain and her corruption carved out of existence. Hurrah for the Crusade and Above prevailing as always.

    The Alliance being defeated? The House Insurgent of Callow was righteous and stuck to their believes as those Levantine necromancers and scheming Procerans turned to herecy by their selfishness and greed. And isn’t it just like the good guys to be a conclave of young ones in an underdog position fighting against an injustice outnumbering them vastly? Hurray for the Good Preserved and Above prevailing as always.

    Sem: Uhm, Jonathaniël?
    John: Yes, Simiëlle?
    Sem: The armies of the Black Queen are worshipping Night Gods as well, that doesn’t sound like it will work in our favour in a few centuries if they win.
    John: No worries, Sve Noc are created in understanding and trust and are evil but not evil evil. We can always declare the Night a balance to the Light and the other Below the heretics.
    Sem: Are you sure? Don’t you think that’s-
    John: Nah, it’s fine.
    Tyrant, elsewhere yet somehow aware of this conversation: *Rubs hands together* Yesss… Just as planned. Create that precedent for there being an allowed absolute opposite evil for a good. Right, my precious and somehow Light Good Hierarch? Just as planned…

    Liked by 6 people

      1. JRogue

        Where is that documented? I know that the other continent has been mentioned a few times, but not many. Is it in a reddit or some comment from EE? I would very much like to read it.

        Thank you in advance for the info.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Andrew Mitchell
  13. haihappen

    I wonder if the Grey Pilgrim is coming back unchanged. The Tolkien-esque version would be that death changed him, thus him coming back as the White Pilgrim, basically an agent of good living on borrowed time. Did we ever find our how the Pilgrim lived this long in the first place?
    It would have been a great deconstruction if the Saint and Pilgrim took the “live extension” formula from the alchemist that the Saint let go once. But that does not seem the case as I remember the Pilgrim saying he kept the Saint alive for a long time. Curious.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. lennymaster

      Saint literally died of old age just a few chapters ago. When they talk about Pilgrim they always say he did Aboves bidding for the better part of a century. That puts him at roughly the same age as Black, around 80 years old or thereabouts. Black just stoped aging when he got his Name as all Villianous Named do.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Based on Cat’s commentary in the timefield, Saint would have had 10 more years to live. Pilgrim is probably older. Heroes don’t get perpetual youth, but it was mentioned they do get protection from the common infirmities of age, along with immunity from ordinary (plebeian?) disease.

        Liked by 5 people

    2. RandomFan

      Even if they had, it’s heavily implied that the formula is more an “elixir of life” than an “elixir of immortality” in saint’s story. If the Alchemist was very good at what he did, he might have added three seconds to Saint’s life, in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. edrey

      the pilgrim had thirty when her sister became ruler, at the same time nefarious hadnt become emperor,, so i would say eighty and a little more. black had twenty when he take that name so he is sixty and something years and for cat i lost count after that trick but that shouldnt count at all

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Clint

      It is true night, but there’s also Pilgrim’s miraculous early-dawn-it-is-so-not-night-anymore miracle, which is in turn being covered by Akua’s yes-it-is-it-sooooo-is-night miracle.

      True dawn should wipe away all the nonsense, as well as ending true night.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Um, no. The whole point of Cat’s surrender was not to set her Night directly against the Pilgrim’s Light, and especially not to overcome it! So she let him spend his Shine to turn back the night, surrendered, let Viv bargain back the surrender in the face of the League. And then we get:

        (From “Interlude: So We Shot Him”)
        > The orc looked up, in time to see the shining star that held back the night wane, and the truth of Creation replace it. The drow were struck down anew, before they could even properly stir.

        > Akua Sahelian watched dawn rise, a crow on one side and a well on the other. “Fall,” she said. A torrent of darkness shot up in the sky, and from dawn wove an eclipse.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. *shrug* I’m guessing just on the basis of her personality/approach to this whole situation that Cat went on the side of overpreparing vs. underpreparing; there might have been so much Night in that well that the artificial Night has lasted right through real night, but isn’t still strong enough to override the dawn again.

      Liked by 1 person

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