Chapter 53: Avowed

“Count them all, in the snow
Red and gold and black as night
Count them all, high and low
Seven crowns broken by rite
Brought they forth, in accord
Peace, oaths and a sword.”
-Iserran children’s rhyme

If felt like the fact that my hands were currently filled with a pipe and liquor might be detracting some from the solemnity of this occasion, but maybe it was just me. Gods, I wished I’d gotten ten hours of sleep in me before having to parse this. On the surface this seemed like a coup, but not looking further than the surface was how you lost feathers at this game. Levant was backing my bid for being a member of the Grand Alliance, and Ashur had been struck down into irrelevance by the Battle of Thalassina and then being knifed in the back by the League. I forced my tired mind to keep slogging on, but as far as I could see the heart of what this meant was that if I made a bargain with Cordelia Hasenbach – which, given the amount of things I had to trade, I should be able to – then Callow would be brought into the fold. Was this a case of putting a leash on the beast you couldn’t defeat, an attempt by the Pilgrim to bind me to his causes? It hardly mattered, though, in the end. I’d been trying to get a foothold in those treaties for years now, and if they were seeking a peace because they thought they could win that where war had failed them then I could live with that. Because I, too, sought more than my signature on declarations of alliance from this. I would get the Liesse Accords signed, and whatever else could be said of tonight it was also was a step towards that end.

Discretely as I could in this situation, which wasn’t all that much, I pressed back the flask into Hakram’s hand and hide the pipe behind my arm to empty it into the snow. Already I was half-wishing I’d drunk the whole thing, as much for the wine’s touch of warmth in the face of the cold morning air as the tonic that’d shaken off some the lethargy clawing at my thoughts.  Leaning against the dead yew offering I’d found in the depths of Twilight, where lied the grave of king the world had decreed to be good, I shivered but matched their expectant gazes.

“I have one foe,” I said, “and he dwells north, behind the walls of Keter, where his tyranny lies serene. Everything else is chaff.”

Would that I had my cloak, as much for warmth as for the presence it lent.

“You have bled my people,” I said. “And we have done the same to you, every one of us dancing on damned strings. Let that end with this dawn, for we share one war still and it will not be found on this field.”

“War on Keter,” Aquiline Osena called out, voice loud and clear. “Honour in victory, and should doom find us then honour in defiance unbent.”

The last word clapped out like a challenge, proud and finding reflection in those that heard it.

“War to the north,” Razin Tanja agreed, his words ringing out. “As oath was sworn in Blood and smoke. The shames we will redeem, the graces we will earn.”

“To the Crown of the Dead we bring steel,” Itima Ifriqui smiled, hard-toothed and starved. “Through wasteland and snow, until tall walls come to echo our scorn.”

“Oath was given. War to the knife,” Yannu Marava said, eyes cold and limpid, “to ruin and carrion things and silent dusk. Let Creation know that the Dominion of Levant marches to war, and the sword will not return to the sheath until the Enemy has broken or we are dust.”

Would my countrymen have shivered this way, I wondered as I watched the fire light in the eyes of the warriors around us, if a king of the Old Kingdom had called on their oaths? I remembered still the sight of Edward Fairfax standing bedecked in bells and spite, the words that heady call that’d sounded beyond the veil of death – rise, Callowans, rise once more for we have debts yet unsettled – and called the sum of my failures to war. It was a bastard throne I had made, and bastard was the claim I had on those who had chosen to follow me into strife. This, though? It was older, purer. The stuff fables were made of. I watched it ripple through the hundreds of armsmen around us, that intangible weight that betrayed history’s gears turning. Sometimes, I thought, it didn’t have to be a scheme. Sometimes the stars were aligned and Creation let fate flow like water down the river. A hundred thousand touches too light and too small to have been seen, conspiring to shape something grim or beautiful or both. The Levantines sounded swords and axes on shield, though this was no acclamation: the rhythm sounded like a strange dirge, like grief and doom and wonder.

“The Anthem of Smoke,” Princess Rozala Malanza murmured under her breath.

It was, I remembered, one of the great story-songs of their people. Not unlike Here They Come Again for mine, or perhaps Red The Flowers. There was an anger to the tune, I thought, and why would there not be? Levant had been born of bloody, merciless rebellion. Their Named were not the white-clad knights of the Old Kingdom, the tricksters and preachers of the League or even the blinkered, colourful exemplars of Procer. No, that lot had tasted the blood in the mouth from the start, hadn’t they? Slayer, red-handed killers one and all. Binder, shackling doom to ride it to war. Brigand – that incongruous Chantant word in Levantine hands, the scornful dismissal of bandit instead turned into declaration of war. Even the Champion had stood for a people who’d preferred burning their own homes to surrendering it. And at the heart of them all a Pilgrim in grey, and how did the famous line go again? His stride rebellion and stirring ember. Oh, theirs were not the finest armies I had seen. They lacked discipline, lacked training, lacked equipment. But they were brave, I thought, and the manner of savagery I saw in their bearing I thought might be kin to the sort I’d glimpsed in another hard people. One I’d come to trust, and in many ways they was still the backbone of my armies.

One served as my right hand, too, and another as the marshal of my hosts.

Savages as they might be, I thought, striking each other at every turn and writing honour’s couplets in blood, but when the dark pivots came they wouldn’t break easy. It was slight, and fading, but there remained something in them of the people who’d humbled the Principate when it stood at the height of its power. May the Hidden Horror yet choke on it. I stood in silence until the hammering of steel on steel ended, trailing off into the clearing sky.

“So be it,” the Grey Pilgrim said.

And oh, he sounded exhausted but there was a brightness to his voice as well I’d rarely heard there before. Pride, I thought, if not without sadness. I could not blame him, for Levant had sworn anew to do the right thing and that never, ever came without a price.

“I stand witness to oaths sworn again, and let none break them while claiming honour,” he said. “Let it be remembered that when the Enemy came for the world, Levant did not shirk its duty.”

The sound of steel sliding out of its sheath drew all gazes to my side, where Rozala Malanza had drawn the slender blade at her side. In the morning’s cast the princess was a sight, long dark curls loose behind her and matched in shine only by the gleam in those equally dark eyes. Tall and curved but hard-handed, as much general as she was princess, the Princess of Aequitan breathed out mist. In war too, had that one been forged. Her mother’s war, the one whose defeat had haunted her life, but other since. The Battle of the Camps, where ambitions were ruined and I first tasted the fear that would lead me down the road to Keter. This one as well, though, had left a mark. A princes’ graveyard, Leonor of Valencis had called it, one from which only one crown emerged untouched. Her own, for having judged it less than the lives of the people it ruled over. I’d admired the gesture then, and still did now. Of all the princes and princesses of Procer I had beheld, none save the First Prince herself could be said to have character worthier of respect.

“I am not the First Prince,” she said. “Yet I stand the sole of my title in Iserre, and the south entire. I speak only to that, which is right enough to my eye.”

I studied her in silence, not alone in this: so did the four of the Blood, and the Pilgrim as well. The Peregrine had been at her side before, I remembered, when he’d led the heroes of the northern crusade.

“We have been foe before,” Rozala said, princess still but in that moment Arlesite even more, “on Levant we warred, unjustly, for many years. And to the east, across the mountains…”

She looked at me then, and I did not soften gaze or offer sympathy. I still remembered the bloody gaps left in the ranks of my army after I’d awoke from Winter’s grasp, on the last day of the Camps, and though war was war even if I did not count it grudge neither would I simply forget it.

“We spoke righteous words, and schemed that which was not,” the Princess of Aequitan said. “A fresh entry to a tally long kept of contempts offered unprovoked. I say this not to apologize, for I bear not so great a crown it can change the lay of the past, but to…”

She hesitated, struggling for the word.

“Acknowledge,” Rozala Malanza said. “That even though treaties were signed, that alliances were made and bargains stuck, we did not earn this. That in the face of the darkness what we have sown might have seen us stand alone, if you all had not chosen to heed beliefs of a higher order.”

She let out what might have been a laugh had it not been utterly without mirth.

“To acknowledge that there were choices to be made and you chose to act in honour,” she said. “Knowing that like the viper of old lore we have sunk our fangs in the flesh of our benefactors before, still you chose. And I cannot – I cannot offer anything for it that would not be insult.”

She’d stumbled, in the last sentence, like it’d been disgraceful to speak it.

“There are no honours I could grant that would be higher than those you claimed simply by making this decision,” Princess Rozala said, raising her chin. “I will not pretend that wealth or promises would be worth the blood you have and will shed, though should you wish them of me you have all I own. Yet I can, Merciful Gods, at least I can say that this was heard. That it will be remembered, that it will not slip quiet into obscurity once the menace has passed.”

She breathed out shallowly.

“Shame on us,” Rozala Malanza softly said, “if we ever forget it.”

Her sword she thrust into the ground, through snow and ice and earth, and it bit deep.

“And if ever comes to that,” she said. “On that day I, or one of my line, will come for that sword again. To take it up and wield it until the shame has been cleansed.”

My fingers clenched. That had not been small oath, I thought, or a feeble one. The Princess of Aequitan had sworn, in her own way, that should Procer turn against those who were coming to its help in its hour of need she would rise in rebellion. No, more than just her. She had sworn as a Malanza and bound her entire line to the oath.

“Rozala Malanza,” the Grey Pilgrim called out, voice clear and bright, “hail.”

Like a snake uncoiling the call spread through the Levantines, Blood and not, until the hail rang out like thunder. Softly I struck the butt of my staff against the ground, looking at the sword and wondering what manner of curse would take anyone trying to take it up save in fulfillment of the oath. There’d been a weight to the princess’ words, Named or not, and such a thing was rarely without consequence. No, they’d remember Rozala’s Oath for many years to come. After the last hail died, like the wind had gone out of all of us we began to disperse. The force that had held us all spellbound had ebbed, used to nothingness or passed afar.

And so the great battle on the plains of Iserre ended with three things: peace, oaths, and a sword in the ground.

I could feel the vigor leeching out of me as we began walking downhill, the half-scattered Levantines parting respectfully for us. Princess Rozala had made her own way down, apart from Hakram and I and directly headed towards the horse and foot she’d brought. I’d traded a meaningful look with Tariq before we parted ways, both of us aware that there would be need for talks of all sorts in the days to come. Gripping as the exchanges on the hill had been in their own way, they would amount to little and less if the diplomatic legwork did not follow behind the grand gestures. Verbal agreements at sunrise made between recent enemies were not actual treaties, though my life would be a great deal simpler of they were. Still, I’d be useless before I got some sleep in me and Tariq was in even worse state: freshly-resurrected, robbed of an aspect and with no finger on the pulse of where his people had been headed before we returned. I, at least, could rest certain that Vivienne and Juniper would keep things running as they should in my absence. With Hakram to watch over them, these days I did not need to keep nearly as close an eye on the Army of Callow’s workings as I had in the early days.

It was for the best, in my opinion. I still believed myself a fair hand as a general and an occasionally inspired tactician, but the army could not come to rely on me. Black, when he’d first forged the modern Legions of Terror, had been very careful to ensure that his presence and Name would be supplement but never required. The Legions, and now the Army, must be perfectly capable of functioning without my being involved. It freed my hand to address other perils, true, but there was also an issue of legacy – I would build no host that would be crippled by my death or abdication, whichever came first. I’d been taught better than that. Two cohorts and a pale-faced General Abigail were awaiting us when we reached the bottom of the hill, which had me casting a mildly reproachful look at Adjutant. She was far too high-placed an officer to be in command here if someone higher up the ladder had not requested it. The culprit seemed obvious, and after the general hurriedly distanced herself from us under pretence of leading the cohorts back to camp from the front, turned out to be unabashed.

“Wanted to see how she holds up under pressure,” he quietly told me in Kharsum.

“She’s held command in battles without folding in the slightest,” I pointed out in the same. “She’s a twitchy thing, mind you, I won’t deny that. But she thinks fast on her feet and she’s got the right instincts.”

“Reminds you of anyone?” Adjutant mildly said.

I rolled my eyes.

“I was never all that shy when it came to getting into scraps,” I replied. “Not every canny Callowan girl is my kin in spirit.”

“If you say so,” he teased.

“I do,” I said. “And you’re being cagey. Haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know, so what’s your actual reason for bringing her along?”

“There’s more than one kind of pressure,” Hakram said. “Many moving parts, tonight, and many ways it could have spun out of control.”

I grunted, conceding the point. Keeping the lid on the pot was different than keeping your head screwed on straight when the blades were already out.

“So?” I asked.

“She kept her head,” he said, almost approvingly. “General staff material, that one. She’d also thank you for sending her far from the frontlines.”

“She needs accolades first,” I murmured. “A few feats under her belt. Otherwise the nobles will squeeze her too easily.”

The bastard system of fresh Callowan rule I would be passing on to my successor had governors holding many of the great territories that’d once belonged to the aristocracy, but the nobles hadn’t been stamped out. Yet there were still baronies up north, Duchess Kegan in Daoine and even highborn stripped of their lands still held a lot of influence. Though the unspoken threat of my disapproval – paired with the open secret I was less than fond of aristocrats – had kept a true noble faction from forming since the effective dissolution of the Regals, there was no guarantee such a state of affairs would be maintained under whoever followed after me. Rebellions or even just unrest, would be a nasty turn after the way Callow had exhausted and would further exhaust itself prosecuting war against the Dead King. Best to nip that in the bud with a large standing army whose head would be both popular with the people and not bound to any of the great nobles and dignitaries of Callow. Whether Abigail of Summerholm could be that woman still remained to be seen, but for now she was at least the foremost candidate. I was shaken out of the reverie I’d slipped into when thinking when I caught sight of a familiar silhouette approaching. Ivah, by now well-known in the Army of Callow’s circles, found the shield wall opening for it without a comment.

General Abigail glanced askance at me, silently asking whether her presence would be required for the conversation that’d follow, but I shook my head. And tried not to be too visibly amused at her poorly-hidden relief.

“Ivah,” I greeted the drow. “Still up, I see.”

“My tasks have yet to end, Losara Queen,” it replied. “I bring forth message from your shade, as well as your mantle.”

It did, in fact, have my cloak with it. It spread it out, though not before handing me a small stripe of parchment, and I turned to the side to cast better light on it. He is one again, Akua had written me. Losses were slight. Exhaustion will keep him slumbering for a time. A tired smile stretched out my lips. It’d been a damned ride of a night, but there’d been more victories than defeats. Foremost among them was that my father’s soul had been reattached to his body and he’d wake before too long, whole and not greatly lessened by the experience. Akua had come through for me once more, as she was in the habit of doing these days. Good news. I thought I’d heard a scuffle behind, but when I glanced there was nothing out of the ordinary. Hakram laid the Mantle of Woe on my shoulders and I breathed out in comfort. It was not so warm as that, but I’d grown used to it more than I’d ever believed I would.

“Masego is stable?” I asked.

“He is,” Hakram gravelled. “And still asleep. We have him watched.”

I snorted.

“Archer let you post guards?” I asked. “Which brings to mind, did Roland return to the Proceran camp in the end?”

“The Rogue Sorcerer,” Adjutant frowned. “Archer was not sent out on a task?”

My stomach dropped.

“No, she wasn’t,” I said. “You haven’t seen her or the Sorcerer, I take it.”

“They did not come to our camp,” he said. “And neither were mentioned to me otherwise.”

“Shit,” I muttered. “Did anyone recently move their – no, you don’t even need to answer that.”

I sighed.

“Still got that flask, Hakram?” I asked.

He nodded, though his eyes were curious.

“Hand it to me,” I grunted. “I’ll need the tonic if I’m to have talks with Kairos.”

87 thoughts on “Chapter 53: Avowed

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      IMO it was an honest wrap-up AND one part of the top kept spinning. This feels realistic and appropriate. Karios still wants his seat at the table when negotiations start.

      Liked by 14 people

    2. Agent J

      Yes, I would have greatly appreciated a proper conclusion as well. I’m bloody exhausted, maybe not as much as Cat, but I could use some downtime myself.

      Now we’ve more Kairos bullshit to deal with? Ugh. I honestly thought it’d be a while before he pulled something again. Doesn’t he know when to gracefully leave the stage.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Shveiran

        EE is very good at pacing, but this does feel like a (very rare) mistake to me.

        I think the interludes were meant to both make us reconnect with the army and catch our breath; they achived the first objective nicely, but to me the emotional stress primarily comes from Cat’s tension, as I connect mostly with her because protagonist. The fact that she hasn’t stopped since the battle started is draining. Personally, I’d have much preferred if Cat got her nap and, upon waking, found out that Idrani had not yet come back. One chapter ending with the sweet bliss of sleep would have done wonders, IMO.

        Liked by 8 people

        1. I disagree.

          People have been talking about how everything feels too fine. The longer Cat keeps up a streak of victories, the more that tension builds – what’s the next show to drop?

          For people who think in tropes in a manner similar to hers, this is a godsdamned relief, and not a moment too soon -_-

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Dainpdf

            You talk as if losing Masego’s sorcery, revealing her secret weapon, tge Bard getting a victory, the Dead King getting a victory, the Pilgrim losing the Forgive button, AND the Saint dying aren’t all various shoes that hace dropped just over the last couple of chapters.

            Liked by 6 people

            1. Long-term, remember that Cat came into this with a plan to kill Laurence de Montfort and even halfway through Tariq had to bargain with her to get her to agree to try to not kill her. That one was a shoe, true enough, but it was a fairly light one.

              Simply the dramatic timing of everything going well for Cat has never not been followed up with if minor but a hiccup. The hiccup coming on time just… serves as a confirmation that all the rest of it has indeed been a success.

              Liked by 4 people

              1. Dainpdf

                Cat came with a plan to kill Laurence because you always have a plan to kill things and Laurence was often antagonistic. She did not want to do so now, both because she did not want to blow her surprise weapon and because she did not want to kill Saint yet.

                Liked by 5 people

                1. Shveiran

                  Agreed. And even discarding Saint, there is all the rest. Cat had a series of victories, but she bled for them all the way. She has surrendered a lot of control, throughout the thing: e.g. gaining the Sorcerer’s ear is a victory, no two ways about it, but at the same time Masego was crippled. She gained an allience with the drow, while losing Winter: a good thing, and yet a more fragile one because the drow do not, ultimately, answer to her.
                  This is a trend.
                  Now, considering the major victory here was legitimacy, and we had confirmation the heroic scene trusts Bard in a big way, everything here is a balancing act with the (supposed) real Big Bad of the setting holding the higher ground.
                  These victories had a cost, and are not gained once and for all: they have to be defended.
                  How someone can say that things are going too well is honestly beyond me.

                  Liked by 2 people

                    1. She’s also vastly more vulnerable to physical attacks. And probably also most magical attacks.
                      Though she doesn’t have Fae-specific magical weaknesses anymore, either.

                      Cat may or may not have more magical power at night now, but she has way less during the day. And sure, she had limits and limited skill/knowledge with exercising the power of Winter. On the other hand, if she got into a fight, Winter Queen Cat could always (and usually did) rely on her physical prowess to murderize her opponents, even if she couldn’t or didn’t use Winter magical power. Nowadays, if Cat can’t use Night, she’s extremely limited in a fight.

                      She also can’t do the same kind of magically enforced oaths.

                      Plus, Akua’s leash is a whole lot looser nowadays.

                      It’s mixed, but trading Winter for Night is likely a long term net loss for Cat on a personal power level, especially if we exclude Sve Noc and their ability to boost Cat’s powers and supplement them with their knowledge and experience.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. Dainpdf

                      You forgot to count the “won’t act in ways that are actually counter to her own interests”.

                      Some might argue that was not a reduction in personal power, but it was definitely a reduction in effective personal power, which is what matters.

                      Great force is not very useful if applied in the wrong direction.

                      Like

    1. Insanenoodlyguy

      Why would inviting his tired friends to stick with him (no doubt with armed escort in order to ensure their safety in their exhausted state) be a betrayal?

      Liked by 7 people

  1. Soma

    Fucking Kairos. He’s really gone from comic relief to at best an irritation. An agent of chaos who is utterly predictable is tedious.

    It’s a good chapter, I’m just annoyed that Kairos keeps delaying plot and more fun interactions. I suppose I soured on him when he broke up the five man band.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. He acts just too over the top evul for the sake of evulz … and he’s long since past the point where that could still be funny … especially given his recent methods.
      And he’s made of hax and bullshit.

      And he made a deal with Bard.

      Plus whatever he’s got going on with Heirarch (who also isn’t funny anymore – he hasn’t been funny since he got the Name and stopped being Anaxares).

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Masterofbones

        I think you are quite close to the truth. I liked Kairos when he was surviving under his own power. He was an absurd but powerful entity that always survived by his own will and craftiness.

        But now that he has the bard’s blessing, he does as he likes and everyone has to ignore him. His survival is no longer a miracle, its just an annoyance.

        Liked by 5 people

        1. Shveiran

          On the other hand, I speculate the next arch will be about him and Anaxares, so I think we can reliably expect him to bite it by the end of the current book.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. erebus42

    Poor Cat, no rest for the wicked indeed.
    Good on Rozala, I do enjoy how they keep setting up potential future Stories and Plot-points even though they probably won’t be relevant or come to fruition during this particular Story.
    Also, Ivah is awsome as always, even when acting as a delivery person.

    Liked by 8 people

  3. IDKWhoitis

    So Archer and Rogue lost due to schenaigns or are they on a hunter killer mission, to wrap up one lose end?

    Im placing a bet on “captured”, which means there will be some light bargains to be made.

    I also expect there to be no negotiation for at least 2 days while Cat and Pilgrim recuperate from the shitshow that just went down.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. > Im placing a bet on “captured”,

      So, it seems, is Cat. Though in fact, it might be her best bet is to send Ivah and a few friends, while she and her people recover. Not like Archer and RS aren’t eminently capable, and with a hand from outside….

      > some light bargains to be made

      Or the opposite: “Kinda dark in here, isn’t it? Now, lets discuss your prisoners….”

      Liked by 3 people

  4. geoffpburns

    We have had enough epigraphs quoting the future history of the “uncivil wars” that suggests that this is not going to end with everyone joining hands and singing Kambaya.

    Praes is likely to get a civil war with a conflict between Malicia and Black.

    Tariq is likely to find it harder to control the Seljun now that he’s given up his crown. So here could be a civil war there.

    Procer has already had a civil war, but could be in for a second one once the threat of the Hidden Horror has passed. Their are 7 principalities that can’t be happy that Cordelia stabbed them in the back straight after their Princes took one for the team and their is bound to be consequences from Rozala’s oath.

    You have to wonder how long Kairos is going to be able to keep Hierarch under control. Having Hierarch place Kairos under trail would be interesting.

    We don’t know what Bard is up too, but once it is reveal their is likely to be some shuffling of who if in which camp.

    Their has be some reaction with 4/5 of Levant and 1/23 of Procer coming under the influence of a Villian. Even if Mercy is okay with it the other choirs are going to object.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Oshi

      She hasn’t forgotten it. The worst thing you can do to Akua is to make her see her life in stark relief and die knowing the only time she succeeded was in being everything she was taught not be.

      I’ve always suspected her death will be wrapped up in either the destruction of the Bard or the death of the Empire.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Shveiran

        This. I really don’t get what the Pilgrim was thinking that time. It’s like cursing Superman to make him incapable of using weapons. It’s not like I can’t imagine a situation where that hinders him, but no such scenario seems very likely.

        Liked by 7 people

        1. > I really don’t get what the Pilgrim was thinking that time.

          As a Hero his options were limited anyway, and the Bard’s parole further restricted them. What he’s done is essentially to take a marker of sorts, one that in turn restricts Kairos’ options. And story-fu can ensure it comes due at the most inconvenient time for Kairos.

          Speaking of which, Cat still needs to have that chat with him about the Bard.

          Liked by 5 people

          1. Shveiran

            This makes more sense, admittedly, but why LIES of all things? Why not, I dunno, betrayals? It still feels off target, and Tariq is usually good at this sort of things.

            Like

              1. Shveiran

                I realize we are in the realm of speculations here, but if he doesn’t get to do that, how comes he gets to enforce a substantial death penalty dependant on something that is highly subjective? The very definition of truth and lies as a concept usually comes with a huge gray field in between, and most people disagree on where the border lies.
                I don’t know, that part sits ill with me.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. He got to impose a probable death penalty (wording — it could leave Kairos mute!) because Kairos endangered everybody else’s lives, including getting Indrani killed, and then also imposing a “one of you shall die” on the party.

                  Have you ever read any of Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdom’s books? They’re excellent light fantasy, featuring a world mechanic called “the Tradition” — it’s the power behind magic in that ‘verse, which likewise responds to “story” (and song). The 500K books are much of my own basis for understanding the Guideverse’s story mechanics, though the Tradition is more interactive. In both ‘verses, “subjective” defers to “popular understanding” — tricksters do get to invoke technicalities, but only if they “make” the story.

                  One point that shows up in 500K a couple of times, is that every curse has to have an “out” — if a caster fails to provide one, the Tradition will, often something like “true love’s kiss”. That’s what I’m thinking here. Saying Kairos cannot betray anyone wouldn’t be leaving him an out, because “betrayal is what he does”.

                  Saying he can’t lie… well, that’s a challenge, it leaves him enough room to maneuver and scheme… and risk getting caught by his own words: “This isn’t the last you’ve seen of me” becomes a geas of sorts, protecting Kairos and possibly Pilgrim (he did get resurrected!), until the two foes meet again. Though it might not protect the Tyrant as much as he hoped, if Pilgrim comes to view Kairos’ corpse (or possibly shows up as a ghost, though ghosts don’t seem to be much of a thing in Guideverse).

                  Like

  5. Shveiran

    It looks like even Yannu has no choice but to get back into the fold, which is good for him: he may even survive this way.

    And damn, that oath was cool. Nicely done, Malanza: owning up your fuck ups is always a plus in my book.

    Everyone is a big family now, which obviously means Kairos has to throw a branch in the wheels… but damn it, couldn’t it have waited until after Cat’s nap? I’m exhausted and drained.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. > damn it, couldn’t it have waited until after Cat’s nap? I’m exhausted and drained.

      I’ve seen a few people comment that, and I get it, I really do (because same!). But I’m thinking that might actually be the point. I think that the point is that Kairos is dragging Cat into dealing with this when she least wants to on a minimum of preparation and rest; I think that’s flagging that he’s going to get something from her that she might not have given up otherwise, because normally she’d be sharp enough to spot the trap. If I had to guess, probably something pertaining to the trial that will seem harmless but ultimately blow up in her face. We know Cat can match wits with Kairos as well as anyone can; I think making her do it while she’s beyond bone tired is the handicap that will threaten to give Kairos the edge. Not just that, but the moment of relief after all your main goals seem to be accomplished is typically a vulnerable, unwary point for most people. So the tension will be how does she navigate this hazardous conversation under this additional handicap, and the feeling of “oh god why can’t this just be over” from the audience is there because it puts us in the same boat as Cat and she’s our viewpoint character so that’s what you want there.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Shveiran

        No, no, I get it. I share your expectations in full.

        It’s just that as a reader I think this is a bad choice. It feels bad. After two archs of upping the ante non-stop, with a lot of victories but never, ever a real denoument after them, *I* need a (fictional) nap. A moment to say: ok, this amazing, exhasuting thing is over and I can digest it before moving on to the next one.

        If I was reading it all in one go… I think I would have started to lose focus half-way through because there was never a good moment to close the book and go to sleep serenely.

        This is, of course, strictly personal. And even in my personal view, I’m not saying anything along the lines of “there is no pause here thus the book is ruined”.

        I just feel it makes the novel harder to read and enjoy.

        If setting up Cat’s mistake here is crucial, as it may very well be, perhaps a way to split between archs I and II could have been worked in? Something like a less strict timeframe for the band of five to depart, perhaps the need to wait for some eldritch reason that could give us a moment to digest Cat getting her truce and band and catch our breath, BEFORE jumping in the current drama? The current roping in wouldn’t feel quite as exhausting on the reader’s side if that was the case, I feel.

        With that said, it is not a major deal: this is the kind of traps that can scare away readers, but this is a 5th book: if someone got to this point, they must trust EE to make it worth it in the end always.
        I guess it doesn’t REALLY matter, if that is how he wanted his work to feel.

        Liked by 3 people

          1. Shveiran

            On the other hand, Wildbow IS doing it consistently and on purpuse.

            I, personally, don’t like that.
            It prevents me from enjoying the work of that extremely imaginative author because, no matter how fascinating I find his (her?) ideas, I end up constantly frustrated to the point of being actively sour. It is not for me.
            That doesn’t make it bad: some enjoy that sensation and find it thrilling, and there is nothing wrong with that.

            I merely brought it up because this book feels a bit different from the others in this regard.
            Usually, we get a break to digest Cat’s ordeals or victories and prepare for the path ahead; not getting it here changes the reading experience in a significant way, IMO.
            I know better than to assume EE has made a mistake; but in the off chance this was not done on purpose, I gave my two cents on the matter to draw attention to it.

            Liked by 2 people

  6. Clint

    I usually don’t do typoes, but this one took my pre-coffee’d brain a bit to parse out:

    “Leaning against the dead yew offering I’d found in the depths of Twilight, where lied the grave of king the world had decreed to be good, I shivered but matched their expectant gazes.”

    should be:

    “… where lay the grave of a king the world had decreed to be good…”

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I guess this is the typo thread.

      If felt like
      Change if to it. I didn’t copy paste more because, as the very first sentence, it should be easy to find. 😉

      Also not clicking to be notified of be comments because the subject line just change for each one because I get every comment in a separate email and that’s just too many emails.

      There were other typos, but frankly I didn’t have time to copy/paste them to a separate thing to hold them until I was done reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. talenel

    Huh. It felt like the first part of the chapter was supposed to be really momentous, but it felt really flat. The typos and poor phrasing in places just made that whole beginning section just read tediously. The whole peace, oaths, sword, thing didn’t do anything for me.

    I guess as other have mentioned, this arcs pacing is starting to feel a bit strained. It kinda reminds me of Worm where arcs lingered too long due to trying maintain a relentless pace.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. ThatOneGuy

    This may sound odd, but maybe perhaps Kairos is not involved in this action or mystery. Archer was up when Kairos had made his hint about the Rouge who actually stole and kept the magic instead of promising to give it back.

    Maybe archer realized this and just maybe… she is out on a hunt of her own?

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Shveiran

          The ability to steal magic soound like a major workaround to his “doesn’t heal” limitation.
          I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if he could wouldn’t he be harvesting mages?

          Liked by 2 people

            1. Here’s the section, from Interlude: Reverberation :
              “Far away, as the slightest shaving of the shard no doubt destroyed by now returned to him, the King of Death laughed.

              This once, it seemed the house had lost.”

              Liked by 1 person

          1. Agent J

            Well, shit. Masego’s not getting that back then. He’s screwed. I forget the wording, but doesn’t that break the deal Nessie had with Cat about assurances?

            Liked by 2 people

              1. magesbe

                It’s not the hero’s fault. It’s the Bard’s fault and the DK’s fault. Pilgrim, at absolute worst, was guilty of unconditional trust in Bard’s judgement, he hardly planned this out. DK could have left Masego’s body peacefully, but he took his magic with him out of spite.

                Liked by 2 people

              2. Shveiran

                Regardless of Bard’s intervention, even in worst possible light she and the Heroes are guilty of no more than not intervening to prevent the fact (and even then is an harsh interpretation, at least regarding anyone not Bard, given that it was a split second decision and the consequences were unclear).

                The crippling occurred because Neshamah chose to cause it. He is fully guilty.
                Saying that Bard is also at fault, though I share the view, absolves him not at all. He crippled Masego willingly: guilty. Bard ensured no one intervened: guilty.

                With that said, the deal was for Masego’s life, not his capabilities. Considering Masego was using his capabilities to actively try to oppose the Dead King, it’s hard to consider this a breach of terms.

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Andrew Mitchell

                  > The crippling occurred because Neshamah chose to cause it. He is fully guilty.
                  Saying that Bard is also at fault, though I share the view, absolves him not at all. He crippled Masego willingly: guilty. Bard ensured no one intervened: guilty.

                  Well said!

                  Like

  9. UltimatePotato

    I started reading book one about 2 months ago and just now caught up. I was super surprised when I looked to see what the next chapter was called, only to see that it hadn’t been published yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andrew Mitchell

      Welcome to the PGtE commenting community! I’m glad you’re here. I really like the community here because hearing other perspectives as really added to the richness of my reading experience. Plus our discussions and interactions are virtually always positive and constructive and that’s all to rare on the internet these days!

      Like

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